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News Coverage of Kane Open Space Referendum

Elgin Courier-News
March 9, 2017

Wildlife expansion, residential appeal focus of Kane County referendum

Rafael Guerrero

At 22,819 acres, Kane County's forest preserve acreage is among the smallest of the Chicagoland counties. But as Kane County Forest Preserve District officials said, there is room to grow it more and continue making the county more appealing to current and prospective residents.

"You look to our neighbor to the east, DuPage, is landlocked and built out as much as it is," said forest preserve district commissioner Mark Davoust. "Their task would be far more difficult. We have a wonderful opportunity to make it right upfront."

On April 4, voters will decide the county forest preserve district's latest referendum question, this edition to the tune of $50 million. The ultimate goal is to add at least another 2,000 acres to its land acquisition, which has grown almost threefold since 1999.

"You get a return on your investment that lasts forever," added Davoust.

In addition to acquiring land, the money would allow for various preserve improvements. According to the forest preserve district, critical natural area improvements include the revitalization of the Dick Young park in Batavia, the restoration of the Helm Woods flatwoods and migratory bird habitat in Carpentersville, a new wetland in Pingree Grove, and a habitat expansion and connection at Freeman Kame in Huntley.

Some of the money would also be used to further study connectivity among the different parks and habitats, such as how to connect trails. According to the district, Kane County has more than 211 miles of trails used for activities such as walking, jogging, biking and horseback riding.

"It's not just a financial issue, it's a quality of life issue," said referendum co-chair Mary Ochsenschlager. "Do you want to live in a place that has no parks? Do you want to build a business where people want to live nearby but don't have a place to recreate?"

The district has successfully passed four referendum measures since 1999, but with each successive one the support has decreased. In 1999, almost 67 percent of voters approved it, then 66 percent in 2005, 64 percent in 2007 and 54 percent in 2011.

One caveat of this latest ballot measure is the fact two bonds will expire just as this one would start, if approved. Officials said even though the bonds will be retired, a new tax in their place would still cost them less than what they are already paying.

District officials said that over the next two years, if the ballot measure passes, the average owner of a $250,000 home would receive a tax reduction of $82, from currently paying $185 to $103 annually. The proposal from the forest preserve district sees annual payments decreasing over time, although there is a small increase in 2024 and 2025 up to $106 and $108, respectively, before sliding downward again.

The average owner of a $250,000 home would pay $1.83 per month if the referendum passed, or $22 annually.

If approved, land acquisition could begin immediately, officials said. The district is following a countywide plan leading them through the year 2040. The plan anticipates significant growth through the central communities of Kane County areas where residents could benefit from new trails and wildlife habitats.

However, the district will not focus solely in buying land in central Kane.

"From the acquisition history, we have equally gone out and bought land," said forest preserve executive director Monica Meyers. She pointed to 2011 referendum-based purchases as examples. "You want to do that because that's what continues the support when people see you are doing things in their community, whether it's the trail connections, the improvements or land acquisitions."

Kane County's forest preserve's 22,819 acres pale in comparison to neighboring counties. According to the district, Cook County has 69,000 acres in forest preserve. State statute caps acreage of potential Kane County forest preserve to 55,000 acres; Davoust said it is too early to tell if the agency will ever reach the cap in the future.