Taxpayers suggested ways to reduce the $48 million price tag for remodeling and rebuilding centers at four of the five major Arlington Heights parks Saturday during the final information session before the March 20 election.
Ideas included building a few larger centers instead of four regional ones, prohibiting nonresidents from using parks and dropping the plan for artificial turf on some fields.
The Arlington Heights Park District is requesting voters' approval to borrow the money for 25 years, saying it will cost the owner of a $300,000 house $36 more each year than the current tax bill or $100 more annually than future bills would be without it.
The main complaint among speakers at Pioneer Park, 500 S. Fernandez Ave., was that tax bills have increased markedly during recent years despite tax caps, and residents and potential homebuyers cannot afford to pay more. One resident, Pat Pontrelli, said his taxes have climbed $1,000 each of the last five years. Steve Scholten, executive director of the park district, said the district's portion makes up 6 percent of homeowners' tax bills.
Bob Ruffatto said the survey of residents the district commissioned last fall should have asked whether they would prefer to give up the neighborhood centers to save money.
"Frankly, our children's problem is not access to parks; it's government's addiction to debt," he said in the statement he read at the meeting.
Scholten said building a few central facilities rather than neighborhood centers goes against what the community has said it wants and would not produce a 50 percent savings.
Scholten said residents of neighboring communities cannot legally be kept from using Arlington Heights parks, although nonresident fees can be higher. If there is a problem of overuse by nonresidents in a certain park, that will have to be addressed, he said.
Artificial turf is needed because fields at Sunset Meadows do not stand up to all the soccer and football played there, he said. The work on the centers will cost more than $44 million, and improvements in other parks, including turf on some fields, will be almost $4 million.
The centers being replaced were built in 1969 except for Recreation Park, which dates from the late 1930s. The four new centers -- Camelot, Frontier, Heritage and Recreation -- are to be comparable to the one built in 2008 at Pioneer, although Frontier will be larger because the extra gymnasium space is needed in the village, and that park offers the best place to build it.
Use of Pioneer Park's new community center rose by 49,000 people in 2010-11 compared with the last year in the old center, while the number of users at other centers declined last year, Scholten said.
Pontrelli said the board should work with objectors to come up with a more affordable plan, saying Frontier Park's center obviously needs replacing, and there are issues at Recreation Park where the center was built during WPA times of the late 1930s.
Scholten said the park district has cut expenses by $325,000 in three years by staggering the dates that outdoor pools open because the weather often is not cooperative by Memorial Day anyway, and saved $1 million in interest costs by refinancing bonds
Of 12 bond issues put to voters since the district's founding in 1934, nine have passed.