After hearing heated debate, accusations of lying and criticism about campaign funding, Batavia Park District voters Tuesday said "no" to borrowing $20 million to build a recreation center. According to unofficial tallies, 57 percent voted against the proposal.
"I think it means people have a massive mistrust of government," said park board President Patrick Callahan. "I think we got caught in a national shift of (wanting) change." He also blamed a "fairly well-orchestrated campaign of erroneous information" by opponents.
The center was to have included a fitness center, a gym, an indoor pool, offices and multipurpose rooms.
In January, city and park officials announced Preferred Development Inc. of Chicago had suggested a plan for a site between Wilson and Houston streets, west of Island Avenue. PDI would buy and knock down a strip mall, trade land with the McDonald's next door and build a recreation-retail-parking garage complex.
In April, the park board decided to borrow $20 million, using alternate-revenue bonds, to build the center and part of the garage. In May, resident Yvonne Dinwiddie led a petition drive to force the bond issue onto a ballot.
Park officials said the loan could be repaid with money made available as current debt was paid off, and then extend the debt collection another 20 to 25 years. They promised taxes would not increase and that fees charged for memberships and programs would cover the operating costs.
Opponents criticized the board for not broadly publicizing the April vote. Some said the district should retire its current debt and let tax bills decrease. "We need to ensure that government is not competing with private enterprise, and it is my hope that all of you will join me in working to make this town a better Batavia," Dinwiddie said in a prepared statement. "Let's work together to improve communications, feedback and a healthy debate and exchange of ideas. We all need to live here and we need Batavia to be affordable to everyone."
More than 60 percent of eligible voters voted.