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News Coverage of Kane Open Space Referendum

Kane County Chronicle
March 27, 2017

Kane County open space referendum to appear on April 4 ballot


By RENEE TOMELL

GENEVA – Kane County voters will be asked to decide on a $50 million land acquisition and improvement referendum put on the April 4 ballot by the Kane County Forest Preserve District Commission.
Mark Davoust, treasurer for the commission, explained the tax implications at an information session. Because previously issued bonds have been retired or refinanced, taxpayers who own a $250,000 home are scheduled to see a reduction of $104 in their tax bill. If voters approve the new referendum, those homeowners would see $22 less in savings annually for the 20-year life of the bonds.
“[We] go to residents and ask for their approval,” he said. “It puts democracy front and center. You tell us yes or no. You decide with your votes.”
He said 80 percent of the money would go to acquiring about 2,000 acres of land, and about 20 percent to capital improvement. The funds cannot be used for salaries, pensions or operations, he said.
There have been four previous referendums since 1999, when the district owned about 7,000 acres. Holdings number almost 21,000 acres today.
“We’ve done it with almost the same amount of staff we had in 1999,” Davoust said, adding the referendums also helped the district receive nearly $35 million in additional grants to date.
A growth in personnel has been seen in the number of volunteers soaring from 50 in 1999 to more than 600 today, Davoust said.
“People who care about what you’re doing … volunteer to come help,” he said.
The Conservation Foundation provided its own poll on the referendum, and asked what residents would like to see done.
Responses included natural areas improvements, habitat restoration, water access, water quality, and trail and preserve linkages, said Monica Meyers, the district’s executive director. She noted the district has a double-A-plus rating with Standard & Poor’s.
If the referendum passes, future land acquisitions would focus on expanding and connecting existing holdings, a strategy designed to be operationally efficient, Davoust said.
The forest preserve district would collaborate with municipalities and park districts in pursuing connectivity.
Commission President Michael Kenyon called the preservation of open space a legacy.
“What are we going to pass on?” Kenyon asked. “Empty stores, parking lots, piles of asphalt and concrete or grass and trees?”
Davoust said open space also serves as a tax cap because areas that are not developed with homes do not require the same services or schools to be built.
“I think it’s the biggest bargain Kane County has ever had – we get so much for so little,” said Mary Ochsenschlager, volunteer co-chairwoman of The Conservation Foundation’s committee promoting passage of the referendum.
The Sugar Grove resident is a retired naturalist and ecologist, and a current volunteer and site steward for the county.
“It’s not just open space and a place to recreate and renew your spirit,” Ochsenschlager said. “It works for you cleaning water and … air. You don’t have to go there to benefit. Natural lands do a lot.”
A co-chairman of The Conservation Foundation committee is Jon Duerr of St. Charles, former forest preserve district executive director. He said natural habitats improve drainage and impede flooding, while trees remove carbon dioxide from the environment.
After a presentation on the referendum hosted March 13 in Batavia by the Valley of the Fox Group of the Sierra Club, Dan Lobbes, director of land protection for The Conservation Foundation, thanked the organization for its support.
“There’s nothing more wonderful than open space and green energy,” said Mavis Bates, who chairs the local Sierra Club group.
In voting on whether to place the referendum on the ballot, three commissioners of 22 dissented. And Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen expressed opposition in a letter to the editor sent to the Kane County Chronicle.
“We are frequently told that we do not have sufficient budget to operationally take care of the forest preserve property we currently own … $50 million more in additional purchases will make this even more difficult,” he wrote as part of the letter.
“I am told repeatedly and emphatically that you and I are ‘being taxed out of our homes.’ … It is inconsistent and seemingly irrational to then vote to increase your property taxes.”
Elgin Mayor David Kaptain voiced support for the referendum in his letter to the editor. “It takes a long-term view to see the value of these open spaces for future generations,” he wrote. “Elgin received gifts of land for Lords and Wing parks in the late 1800s.
The families that made the donations believed that those properties on the outskirts of Elgin would someday become parks surrounded by the city that would be enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year.”