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News Coverage of Kane Open Space Referendum

Daily Herald
January 8, 2017

Sales pitch begins for Kane County forest referendum

James Fuller

Describing it as a chance to let the public decide what they want their taxes to be, Kane County Forest Preserve District commissioners ramped up their rhetoric Friday in support of a $50 million referendum for the April ballot.

The referendum pitch carried a familiar theme for the district in recent years. Since 2013, commissioners debated tax levy increases for operational expenses. The debates carried the reality that the looming retiring and expiring of huge amounts of bond debt would result in steadily lower tax bills even with minor increases to the operating levy. Still, commissioners held off on any operating levy increase until committing to a small tax hike for 2017 a few months ago.

The levy increase ate up only about 63 cents of what will still be a $41.17 tax cut for the owner of a $250,000 home.

Commissioners Friday again pointed to vanishing debt as a reason residents can support more tax dollars for open space while realizing a reduction in overall taxes paid to the district.

If voters support the tax increase for space, that $250,000 house will see another $22 of tax reduction go away.
Commissioner T.R. Smith was the lone "no" vote Friday on moving forward with the referendum.

"My constituents are concerned about the land being taken off the tax rolls," he said. "They want to see their taxes go down. And, to a lot of people, $50 million is an exorbitant amount of money."

Commissioner Theresa Barreiro voted for placing the referendum on the ballot on the strength of polling that indicates up to 72 percent of Aurora voters will support the $50 million tax increase.

"If someone is not in agreement with this, they need to vote 'no.' It's also important that if they do agree with this that they vote 'yes,' " she said.

One of the referendum's strongest advocates, Commissioner John Hoscheit, said keeping open space from transforming into large residential developments is the best way to keep tax bills down. He pointed to purchases near the former Glenwood Academy and the Brunner farm as land buys that blocked major residential developments that would have forced construction of new schools. School districts are the largest portion of local property tax bills.

"I'm totally on board about minimizing taxes," Hoscheit said. "This is not an operating referendum. This money is not being used to pay for salaries and pension. This is a referendum to invest in property. My support of this is to support my property values and to minimize my taxes on a long-term basis."

Hoscheit made it clear in 2013 he believes voter support for land purchases includes tacit support of operating levy increases. The district must be able to maintain the land it buys, he said at the time. The referendum request would include cash to improve accessibility to existing forest preserves.

Commissioners also emphasized a desire to use the new money to buy land that helps connect existing forest preserves.

The full forest preserve commission will vote Tuesday on placing the question on the April ballot.