One candidate running for the DuPage County Forest Preserve commission says there is no significant land left to acquire, so the panel should refund some of the money set aside for such purchases to taxpayers.
But the other two Republican hopefuls running for their party's nod for the District 5 forest preserve seat say there are still more parcels to be gained for residents to enjoy.
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Naperville residents Charles "Charlie" Schneider, an information technology executive, and Mary Lou Wehrli, who works in sales and design, are challenging incumbent Carl Schultz, a horticulturalist from Aurora, in the March 20 primary. In November the winner will face Democrat Dennis Clark, who is running unopposed this spring in his party's primary.
Schneider, who has never held elected office, said the district has done a good job acquiring land, but the policy is now inconsistent. Ultimately, however, he said that's because "we're about out of land here in DuPage County."
"Like it or not, there's hardly any more land available for the forest preserve to acquire," Schneider said, adding that money from a voter-approved referendum should be returned.
"I'd take that money and return it to the taxpayers," he said. "Although they voted in favor of purchasing land, I don't see a conflict with the referendum because there's really no land left to acquire. So that's just being fiscally responsible."
Schultz has been a commissioner since 2002 and said the district's current land acquisition policy -- which focuses on a "loose goal" of 25 acres of open space for every 1,000 residents -- is appropriate, especially since most money used for land purchases is from the referendum. The district currently has more than 25,000 acres for roughly 1 million people.
"It allows us to purchase land in areas that are underserved by the district, as well as improve the quality of existing preserves. With the dramatic drop in land prices, now is a good time to maximize taxpayer dollars for land purchases," he said.
He said there is still land to acquire, especially to connect parcels along the West Branch of the DuPage River aimed at extending trails along the river, protecting the river from encroachment, and improving water quality. The district has plans to take a similar approach along the East Branch, Schultz said.
Wehrli served on the Naperville Park District board from 1999 to 2005, including one year as president. She agrees parcels are still available, although she says they will be "more thoughtful, lean opportunities."
"If there is a chance to acquire land tied into the mission, such as a new opportunity in terms of wetlands, supporting environmental qualities or supporting existing property, we should listen to the people who have passed land acquisition referendums," Wehrli said. "I think the public is trying to look 20 years ahead."
Her one concern is taking potential revenue-generating land off the tax rolls, so Wehrli said balance is key.
"It is also important to be a partner in the balance of property tax revenues possible in land development with the tax expenditure of forest preserve land acquisition and management," she said.
District 5 includes all or parts of Aurora, Lisle, Naperville and Warrenville.