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News Coverage of Kane Open Space Referendum

Elgin Courier-News
March 10, 2017

Some forest preserve referendum funds for restoration: officials

Gloria Casas

Kane County Forest Preserve District officials are presenting details of a referendum question to allow the district to acquire more land. But a resident asked if the district will also be maintaining the areas.

"You can have all the land you want but if it is covered with weeds, what difference does it make?" Herb Sharpless said.

Speakers at a presentation by District officials and Kane County District Commissioners talked about the referendum at the Barbara Belding Lodge in the Brewster Creek Forest Preserve Thursday. Another meeting is scheduled from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 16, at the Prisco Community Center 150 W. Illinois Ave., Aurora.

Mary Ochsenschlager admits she is a "nature nerd" who spends a lot of time out in Kane County's forest preserves.

"I am out there… I see a lot of people enjoying" the preserves, said Ochsenschlager, chairman of a Conservation Foundation citizens' advisory board. The Foundation is helping spread the word about the Forest Preserve District of Kane County's $50 million referendum question on the April 4 ballot.

Forest preserves are "kind of like infrastructure, if you want to think about it," Ochsenschlager said. Open space provides a visual break from development, she said. Forest preserves also provide a place for families to enjoy nature and bond, she said.

An audience of 12 people listened to Executive Director Monica Meyers give some history of the District's past Open Space referendum — passed in 1999, 2005, 2007 and 2011 — and how monies from those bonds were used to expand its holdings to about 20,800 acres of land. Meyers also outlined how the District will spend the money if the referendum question passes.

A concern for Sharpless focused on maintenance. He wanted to know if the District is spending enough money on maintaining its open space lands, he said. He has noticed the District has not done any burns in the area near his home as part of any restoration projects.

The problem with not having restoration projects is weeds and other plants can overtake the land, Sharpless said. There needs to be more restoration done, which will help in the long term, he said.
Conservation Foundation's Director of Land Protection Dan Lobbes said the April referendum is the first time there is a large percentage of monies set aside for restoration projects.

"The need for (maintenance) is not lost on us," Commissioner Mark Davoust said. "It is a balancing act. (But) if we don't acquire it, we will never have a change to maintain it in any fashion."

Mark Schmit, of St. Charles, wanted to know what assurance the District could give taxpayers that the referendum money will be used only for land acquisition and not be shifted to fund other things.

Under state statutes, the District must keep monies from an Open Space referendum in a land acquisition fund, the District's Director of Finance Ken Stanish said. The District also undergoes an independent audit and reports all the dollars invested to the Commission on a monthly basis, he said.

Schmit said he felt the meeting should be more of a forum where residents could ask more questions rather than having District officials providing information.