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updated: 8/15/2012 12:04 AM

Arlington Heights parks referendum on the November ballot

Arlington Hts. park board divided on asking for tax hike

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Arlington Heights residents will again be able to vote on a major parks renovation plan with a referendum in November.

The Arlington Heights Park District board Tuesday approved placing a scaled-down, $39 million proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot after a larger $48 million plan was rejected by the voters in March.

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"The park district has since then rethought, reworked and re-engaged the community to start planning the district's future," said board President Maryfran Leno, who said renovations were necessary considering the expansion of park programs and increased use of park facilities.

The motion passed by a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Robert Whisler and Robert Smith voting against it.

"As far as I'm concerned, the timing is just not right," said Whisler, who did agree that all of the proposed upgrades were necessary.

The approved proposal includes significant upgrades to Recreation, Camelot and Frontier parks, as well as a smaller, maintenance-only plan for Heritage Park to keep the building in use for the next few decades. The plan also calls for major improvements to Olympic Indoor Swim Center.

The suggestion of another referendum on the heels of the failed measure in March led to some vocal opposition from residents who argue the district has not done enough to curb spending.

"It's a nice plan, but it's very expensive. The board is out of touch with reality," said Pat Pontrelli.

The board and audience heard from several presenters during Monday's meeting to explain the financial implications of the referendum and the park district's explanation of the need for the renovations.

While the population of Arlington Heights has stayed relatively stable over the past 30 years, the number of registrations for the park district has more than doubled, said Steve Scholten, executive director of the park district.

In fiscal year 2012, the park district had to issue nearly $40,000 in refunds for people who could not get into full programs, he said.

"Sometimes with facilities, a community doesn't know they want them until they have them, and then once they have them, they don't know how they lived without them," said Dave Emanuelsen of Public Research Group, a firm brought in to study park usage and possible support for renovation.

Some residents did speak out in favor of the renovations, though they were frequently interrupted during their comments by opponents.

"I'm tired of hearing about how everybody's taxes are going up. It's a part of life and it's going to happen," resident Tim Gelinas said. "This is absolutely something we need to do. I'm more than happy to pay for it. "

According to numbers presented at the meeting, for a home with a market price of $300,000 in Arlington Heights, a referendum proposal of around $38 million would increase a resident's tax bill by an average of $65 per year.

"We do answer to the taxpayers, and all five of us are taxpayers," said Commissioner Robert Nesvacil. "The question is not, do we want to raise taxes? This is asking the community, do you want to make this investment? Do you want to put this effort forward and change the future of Arlington Heights? If you don't support the referendum, then vote no."

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