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News Coverage of Kane Open Space Referendum

Elgin Courier-News
January 6, 2017

Forest Preserve District OKs resolution for $50m referendum on ballot

The Forest Preserve District of Kane County's Executive Committee approved a resolution to place a $50 million Open Space referendum on the April 4 ballot, with Commissioner T.R. Smith voting against the idea.

"My constituents are telling me they are concerned about the land being taken off the tax rolls," said Smith, who represents District 9. "They want to see their taxes go down. They are concerned about the fact that we just had a referendum, which in their minds was a short time ago."

Friday's vote was to pass a resolution to place the referendum on the ballot. The resolution needs to be approved by the entire Commission. It will be on the District's Jan. 10 meeting agenda.  The $50 million referendum would be used to add Open Space to the District's holdings as well as to restore and maintain current properties, officials said. It would not be used to fund operating costs, such as salaries and retirement benefits, officials said.

A homeowner with a home valued at $250,000 would see a $22 annual increase on the District's portion of the tax bill, Director of Finance Ken Stanish said. It would break down to $1.83 per month, he said.

The District's taxes are going down because it refinanced its debt, he said. The referendum would not increase taxes, but if passed, it would mean slightly less of a savings for homeowners, Stanish said.

Commissioner Mark Davoust encouraged the Executive Committee to vote yes on the resolution so voters can decide the issue.

"You give (voters) the power," Davoust said. "By saying yes, you put this on the ballot and the public says yes or no. I don't think there is a better example of Democracy in action."

Commissioner John Hoscheit said he considers himself a conservative when it comes to taxes, but he is supporting a referendum because it would help minimize taxes in the long term and views it as an investment.

Over the years, the District's purchases have helped stop the development of properties that would have meant more homes, schools and higher taxes, Hoscheit said.

Brook McDonald, president and CEO of the Conservation Foundation, helped conduct a survey of residents' opinion on a referendum. The Foundation would market and campaign for the referendum. An Open Space referendum is the ultimate tax cap, he said.

"If you want to keep your taxes down, investing in Open Space is a way to keep your taxes from skyrocketing," McDonald said. Preserving Open Space keeps development and the cost of development, such as new schools and roads, down he said.

Commissioner Becky Gilliam said the referendum will help the District purchase land to make its forest preserves and trails more connective as well as help with restoration efforts.

"I want to remind people we have gotten away from our restoration efforts," she said. "This referendum provides an opportunity to act more aggressively on reforestation and restoration of our prairies."

The District's Chairman Mike Kenyon said the referendum is a quality of life issue. "It's a better place to live" when there is open space, he said. "Trees make you happier. Clean water makes you happier."