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updated: 1/18/2011 11:05 PM

Batavia borrowing criticized, but only by 2

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Many people were upset in November with how the Batavia Park District proposed to borrow money to build a recreation center. Besides speaking at meetings and venting online, they spoke via their ballots, prohibiting the district from doing so.

But only two residents spoke up Tuesday about the district's plan to borrow $440,000 for its capital development fund, which well pay for yet-unspecified capital projects and purchases.

Husband-and-wife Carl and Yvonne Dinwiddie addressed the board during a public hearing about the proposal to borrow the money, which the district has the authority to do without having a referendum. The Dinwiddies have repeatedly criticized park district and city spending.

Yvonne Dinwiddie suggested that instead of borrowing, the district examine its project list, such as replacing equipment at some playgrounds, and see if some things could be put off a year or two.

"I think in this economy and at this time you need to prioritize what absolutely has to be done," she said.

The board will vote on the bond issue at its February meeting.

The park district staff has a list of projects to be considered, and will rank those projects at a staff meeting later this month, according to Allison Niemela, its marketing and public relations director.

The district, like many taxing bodies, has the authority to issue non-tax-cap-restricted debt; the Batavia district's limit is about $600,000. Commissioner Gary Foiles pointed out the board decided to borrow less than that in order to not have a tax rate increase.

The Geneva Park District, for example, held a hearing Monday night on a plan to issue $1.4 million in short-term debt, to be repaid over three years. The Batavia district has issued such bonds from time to time over the last 20 years.

Last year, when the rec center plan was floated, the district planned to use its borrowing ability to pay for it, with the idea that revenue from the center would repay the loans. Some taxpayers protested, saying that they would rather the district not borrow the money and pay off existing debt, reducing their tax bills.

"The park board never promised that we would stop doing anything" after the failure of the rec center referendum, said Commissioner John Tilmon. He also said that, while the district's actual tax levy has gone up in the last 20 years, the population has also, from 16,000 in 1990 to about 27,000 today. The district had to increase parks and programming to serve that population, he said.