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News Coverage of Kane Open Space Referendum

Daily Herald
March 16, 2017

What will Kane County forest district's $50 million buy?

James Fuller

Perhaps the biggest question for Kane County voters weighing a $50 million tax increase referendum from the Kane County Forest Preserve District on April 4 is how will the district spend that money. District officials said Thursday voters won't have to look far to find the answer.

Protecting wildlife habitats and clean water, expanding open space recreation in natural settings and improving hiking and biking trails are the primary goals. About $40 million of the total would go toward the purchase of additional land, an estimated 2,000 additional acres. The focus would be on property adjacent to existing preserves or that could help connect existing preserves. But that doesn't mean district officials won't seize an opportunity for a single major purchase if one comes along.

District President Mike Kenyon and finance committee Chairman Mark Davoust pointed to the Brunner Family Forest Preserve, off Route 31 in Carpentersville, as an example of a "once in a generation opportunity" the district always has on its wish list.

"When an opportunity like that presents itself, you don't turn your back on it," Davoust said.

The district spent significant portions of the 2007 and 2011 tax increase referendums, about $40 million, on buying and opening the 723-acre preserve to public use. District officials see the property as a major win for open space and local taxpayers despite the expense of so many dollars on one property.

Davoust said he knows opponents of the Longmeadow Parkway project have been critical of a section of the project that will bisect Brunner. However, the district's involvement in that project was only to minimize the impact of the project on the surrounding area, he said.

"Longmeadow was planned and was going to happen one way or another long before we bought that property," Davoust said. "If we didn't buy it, it was going to be the parkway surrounded by townhouses or other residential development. Instead, we minimized the impact by keeping the open space intact."

While much of the district's open space dollars went into Brunner, there is no added pressure with the $50 million referendum to spread the funds across the county, said Monica Meyers, the district's executive director. It's all about the best value and best properties that come available.

"We've been very lucky in that we haven't had commissioners who demand the money we've received has to be spent in particular areas," Meyers said.

The other $10 million would go toward capital improvements. Meyers said, at a basic level, the plan for every preserve is to have a parking lot, shelter, restroom and trail that's open to the public. The district moved away from the old practice of putting roads through preserves. The idea has been to let people experience the preserves in as natural a state as possible. Even including the ice arena, golfing, soccer facility and pending Settler's Hill project, 98 percent of the district's property is currently dedicated to passive recreational use, officials said.

None of the funds from the referendum will go to fund operating costs, such as staff salaries.

"They never have; they never will," Meyers said.

No matter what happens April 4, local taxpayers will see the amount they pay to the forest preserve district decrease. Thanks to expiring debt, the owner of a $250,000 home will see a tax reduction of $104 over the next two years. If the referendum passes, that reduction will shrink to $82.

"You're going to get more open space and still pay less for it," Davoust said. "You can't really write a better scenario than that."