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updated: 12/14/2011 10:33 AM

Arlington Hts. residents to vote on tax hike to revamp parks

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Arlington Heights residents will vote in a March referendum on whether the park district will be able to sell $48 million in bonds for major renovations to four of the village's five major parks.

For an average $300,000 home, the bonds, which will be repaid over 25 years, would increase residents' annual taxes by about $36, Executive Director Steve Scholten said.

After hearing from a dozen residents, with the majority against putting the referendum on the ballot, commissioners voted 4-1 to pose the question to the entire Arlington Heights population.

The $48 million would go to renovate Camelot, Frontier, Heritage and Recreation parks. Recreation Park opened in the 1930s and the other parks opened in the late 1960s. Officials said the parks are long past their life expectancy and not up to accessibility codes.

Pioneer Park was redone in 2008 and in the first year it was reopened saw 50,000 additional patrons, while the other four centers had a decrease in visitors, Scholten said.

He said that with low interest rates and construction rates, now is a good time to invest in the future.

Without a referendum the park district can sell up to $11 million in bonds, but then it wouldn't be able to sell more until 2037, Scholten said.

Several residents spoke out against the referendum being on the ballot, and the bonds in general, because of the economy, foreclosures and unemployment in the village.

"We don't need to spend that kind of money. That's extravagant," said resident Pat Pontrelli. "People are sick and tired of being taxed to death. People just can't take it anymore. Sure it's nice to have beautiful buildings and a beautiful park district, but not if you can't live in your house."

Art Ellington, founder of the Arlington Heights Tea Party, said his group is committed to defeating the bond issue and will even go door-to-door to campaign against it.

Board President Maryfran Leno said the park district will be having an informational campaign over the next few months but legally cannot encourage people to vote one way or another.

Other residents said they would happily pay the increase, or even more, to invest in the community and improve the parks.

"These programs build good kids and good students," said resident Michael Gordon. "I don't know that there is ever a good time for this, but I know that we should give people a choice, let them vote and let them decide."

The commissioners agreed, with only Robert Whisler voting against putting the question on the ballot.

"The only way we can know for certain is to ask the question, to put democracy to use," said Commissioner Robert Nesvacil. "It could get voted down. That's democracy. The timing's not great, but I don't know when a great time would be."

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