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News Coverage of Kane Open Space Referendum

Aurora Beacon-News
April 14, 2017

Editorial: Transparency, please, as Kane County proceeds with massive land buy

Too bad money really doesn't grow on all the trees Kane County taxpayers are buying. They could just pluck the free bucks off the branches.

With another Forest Preserve District of Kane County loans-for-land tax increase approved by voters the fifth since 1999 the preserves referendum bill stands at a whopping $310 million. With that much money, couldn't the forest preserve have just bought Yellowstone National Park and had it hauled out here?

All kidding aside, you could do a lot worse than being taxed for preservation of land. Each acre acquired is one less ravaged by development. We would bet that if taxpayers had a choice between gazing upon buildings a grocery store, beauty salon, hardware store and takeout pizza joint rising from an ugly asphalt parking lot or seeing a majestic herd of deer amble into a clearing in the woods on that same spot, it would be thumbs down to yet another strip mall.

Indeed voters have approved, by fairly good margins, a massive expansion of the forest preserve district. The number of acres set aside for public enjoyment has grown from 13,492 in 1999 to 20,819 today.

And though the borrowing plan just approved by voters gives the district permission to borrow $50 million to buy land and improve preserves, it doesn't deliver a huge hit to taxpayers. Taxes will go down as old debt is being paid off and restructured. Of course, taxes would fall even more if the bond referendum had been rejected. Nothing in the world is free, particularly that provided by government.

Still, the forest preserve district can proudly boast of giving the people of Kane County a great outdoors.

But it is important to keep in mind that that tax bill climbed to $310 million during one of the worst economic downturns in our history. And people are still not doing that great financially, despite any declarations of an end to the Great Recession or the soaring stock market. Wages aren't going up much for most people, and those who finally got a new job after being laid off for years have a lot of catching up to do.

The forest preserve district needs to be mindful of this as it sets out on another spending program. It should do so with a policy that insists on specificity and transparency.

What parcels are to be bought and from whom are they to be bought? Don't retreat to safety from taxpayer backlash with indefensible admonitions that making such information public risks driving up the price of land, or betrays privacy, or cannot be divulged because the land in question is secretly held in a blind trust.

What, exactly, will the parcels be used for, and to what public benefit? Explain the rationale for improvements.

How will the district pay for the management of new and improved lands (operational costs)? The district should give taxpayers confidence that land appraisals are obtained independently.

We are encouraged that the forest preserve district seems to agree that transparency is the path to take in maintaining public trust in another multimillion-dollar land buy/improvement program. We would urge the district to maintain this direction to honor the faith taxpayers have put in the forest preserve district with their vote.

And, we might remind, money does not grow on trees.