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News Coverage of Kane Open Space Referendum

Elgin Courier-News
January 11, 2017

Kane Forest Preserve District to put $50 million referendum on ballot

By Gloria Casas

Kane County voters will get the chance to decide a $50 million referendum question for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County to continue its efforts to preserve open space.

Forest Preserve District Commissioners approved a resolution, by a vote of 19 to 3, to place the referendum on the April 4 ballot.

"This is certainly an investment for our children and grandchildren, it is an investment for the next several generations," Commissioner Philip Lewis said. "This does offer an excellent opportunity for our community to support an investment in our future. Open space has proven to add to the quality of life to our community. This $50 million will do that."

District officials estimate a homeowner with a home valued at $250,000 would see a $22 annual increase on the District's portion of the tax bill. It would break down to $1.83 per month, officials said. The District's taxes are going down because it recently refinanced some of its debt. If approved, the referendum would be used for Open Space, not the District's operating costs, officials said.

The District first sought an Open Space referendum in 1999 and has passed subsequent referendum questions, with the last one approved in 2011. A recent poll conducted by the Conservation Foundation found 81 percent of 400 likely voters were confident that the District is spending referendum money wisely and 87 percent had a favorable view of the District, said Brook McDonald, president and CEO of the Foundation. The data shows it's a favorable environment for a referendum, he said.

"People understand that parks, forest preserves, clean water and clean air are very, very important to the quality of life in Kane County," McDonald said.

Commissioners Jarett Sanchez, Doug Scheflow and T.R. Smith voted against the resolution.

Scheflow questioned the results of the poll showing 81 percent of voters would favor a referendum. The state already has the highest tax bill in the country and Illinois is "virtually bankrupt," he said. The goals of government are always laudable…there is no government agency asking for money for a goal that isn't worthwhile, but what we have is the highest tax bills in the country, he said.

"It is just kind of the wrong time," Scheflow said. "Let's take a break. Let's digest the land, the 20,000 acres we have and let's address it in the future."
Smith has received numerous calls from his constituents who "just want to see taxes lower," he said. People are questioning if the District purchases more open space, there will be a need for more manpower and more manpower means more pension payments, he said.

"I am just echoing the concerns of constituents," Smith said.

Kane County resident Janice Jasper said she read through the resolution for the referendum question and found it was vague. "I am rather alarmed at how unspecific it is. How exactly are you going to spend the money?" she said.

"I certainly hope before you ask the voters of this county to approve a $50 million bond referendum, you will be more specific on exactly how you are going to spend the money," Jasper said.

Commissioner John Hoscheit said the District must use a standard format for the referendum question and cannot release a complete list of properties it may buy because it could affect negotiations. But, "there is no hidden agenda," and the District would be as specific as it can be about how it will spend the referendum money, he said.

The District plans to continue with its open space effects as long as voters support the idea, Hoscheit said.

The Conservation Foundation will begin a campaign to get information about the referendum out to the public, McDonald said.