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updated: 10/27/2010 5:45 PM

Bartlett parks say Villa Olivia price is right

Tax hike sought for Villa Olivia, aquatic center

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  • A skier makes her way down the run at Villa Olivia Country Club, which the Bartlett Park District plans to purchase if voters next week approve an $18 million bond issue.

       A skier makes her way down the run at Villa Olivia Country Club, which the Bartlett Park District plans to purchase if voters next week approve an $18 million bond issue.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Skiing, snow boarding and tubing at Villa Olivia Country Club could soon be park district activities if voters next week support an $18 million bond issue to help the district buy the 138-acre site.

       Skiing, snow boarding and tubing at Villa Olivia Country Club could soon be park district activities if voters next week support an $18 million bond issue to help the district buy the 138-acre site.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

The Bartlett Park District board knew voters would need to approve a tax increase if they wanted to go forward with renovations to their aquatic center.

When the chance to buy the Villa Olivia Country Club came along, district officials saw an opportunity to address two needs with one vote.

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Voters on Tuesday will weigh in on a ballot measure allowing the park district to borrow $18 million to purchase the country club, including the golf course and ski hill, and to update the 18-year-old Bartlett Aquatic Center.

A tax increase needed to pay off the loan would cost the owner of a $250,000 home another $35 a year in district taxes until bonds are paid off in 20 years.

Of the $18 million, $5.9 million would pay for the Villa Olivia site, another $6.2 million fund renovations of its banquet hall and chair lifts, and the rest would pay for the aquatic center update.

At no point did the park district consider asking voters to approve separate referendums for the pool work and Villa Olivia purchase, said Steve Eckelberry, the park district board's vice president.

Park district officials don't think the proposed tax hike is high, given the amount of work that it would accomplish.

"It's not an exorbitant amount," Eckelberry said.

Those against additional taxes, regardless of how the money is spent, have provided the majority of opposition for the measure, Eckelberry said. No one has attended board meetings opposing the increase, and opposition was scarce when the park district held an informational session last month.

The 138-acre Villa Olivia property at 1401 W. Lake St. lies in Elgin, and would have to be annexed by Bartlett for the park district to make the purchase and keep that land as open space.

Bartlett Village President Michael Kelly declined to comment on the referendum, saying only that "it doesn't make sense" for the village to take a stance on a park district issue.

The Corrado family owns the country club, and had tried to sell the property to developers. A legal battle ensued, as the land comes with protective covenants preventing commercial development until 2022. Those covenants expire in 2022.

Residents attending last month's information meeting suggested linking the two projects would help, as supporters from different parts of town with different interests would unite to support the referendum.

Among those supporters is Dave Cheatham, a swimmer who's started handing out fliers backing the increase.

"It will strengthen the economy in Bartlett," Cheatham said.

District officials point out that the price of Villa Olivia likely will increase as the covenants limiting its development get closer to expiration.

"I'm assuming the housing market will eventually rebound," Eckelberry said.

But even if the park district could negotiate the same price, it would still pay more in interest. If the voters approve the tax increase next week, the park district would buy Build America Bonds, part of the federal stimulus package allowing for lower interest rates than typical bonds.

"I just think it's a perfect opportunity," Eckelberry said. "Again, the time is right, and we're preserving open space, that's what we do."

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