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News Coverage of Kane Open Space Referendum

The Daily Herald
Nov. 11, 2016

Kane Co. forest district could ask voters for $50 million


BY JAMES FULLER

If Kane County officials believe the results of a recent poll, residents could vote on a $50 million tax increase for the forest preserve district in April.

The forest district just spent the last of the money voters approved in 2011 for buying open space. Last month, district staff reached out to the Conservation Foundation to explore how receptive voters might be to giving the district more cash. The Naperville-based nonprofit ran the promotional campaigns of the district's tax increase requests in 1999, 2005, 2007 and 2011. Voters approved all four increases.

The foundation then paid for a telephone poll of 400 likely voters in the April elections. It's the same process and same polling methodology used in the district's previous ballot questions. The foundation's polls have all come within about 2 percentage points of predicting the actual voting percentages.

The poll showed 58 percent of people asked will support the district if it asks for $50 million or even $30 million. Support declined in a big way when asked about a $70 million tax increase, foundation President Brook McDonald told county board members, who double as forest preserve commissioners.

"You don't want to put something on the ballot if it's going to get slammed," McDonald said Tuesday. "Nothing is guaranteed, but you want to go into it feeling fairly confident it likely will pass. Based on this, I think you should consider moving forward with confidence."

The poll showed 20 percent of the respondents will vote against the tax increase no matter what the district asks for. The remaining 22 percent are potential swing voters.

The poll also showed the forest preserve commissioners have an 87 percent approval rating. And 81 percent of likely voters trust the district will spend their tax dollars wisely.

"You've done what you've said you were going to do with the previous referendum money," McDonald said. "People like the Kane County Forest Preserve District and the forest preserves."
Commissioners said they will make a final decision on a referendum in January after the new commissioners elected earlier this month take office.

The owner of a $250,000 home would pay $1.83 more each month in property taxes to the district if voters approve the tax increase. That works out to about $22 for the year.

However, the district is also about to pay off the loan from the 1999 tax increase. The retirement of the debt would drive tax bills to the district down. District officials did not have final projections on hand, but they expect the impact of a $50 million referendum would result in a lesser tax decrease, rather than an increase, because of the amount of debt coming off the books.