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posted: 11/14/2012 12:01 AM

Arlington Heights Park District weighs options after election loss

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After residents last week rejected a park district tax increase for the second time this year, Arlington Heights Park District officials are contemplating their options for moving forward.

On Nov. 6, the $39 million bond issue was rejected by an 863-vote margin, a slightly larger margin than the 600 voters that separated residents when a larger $48 million plan was on the ballot and rejected by voters in March.

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"The town is really split. It was very close," said Commissioner Rob Nesvacil.

The bond issue would have paid for major renovations at several of the large parks in Arlington Heights, including an enhanced walking path at Lake Arlington, major overhauls to accessibility and program space at Camelot, Frontier, Heritage, Olympic and Recreation parks, and more.

"Bringing a referendum of that magnitude just turned people off," said resident Pat Pontrelli, who has been critical of the tax increase plan all along. "I knew it was not going to pass."

Park board President Maryfran Leno said she was "devastated" by the outcome of the election, but has asked the staff to go back to the drawing board and come up with options.

One possibility is to use the district's bonding authority, which is about $8 million, for renovations, but Leno said that would leave the district unable to do any other big projects for another 18-20 years.

The park district does have a $2.5 million grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to be used toward Camelot Park; the rest of the money for the planned $5.83 million renovation was expected to come from the tax increase voters rejected, Leno said.

The district may have to ask the Department of Natural Resources if the grant money can be increased or spent on other parks, she said.

The next opportunity for a referendum to appear on a ballot would be the April 2013 consolidated municipal elections, but that wouldn't leave the park district much time to reformulate a plan that would appeal to voters, Executive Director Steve Scholten said.

Several of the upgrades to parks were necessary for safety and code regulations, but Leno said those upgrades will be taken care of somehow.

"Safety always comes first," she said. "It's just disappointing because either way the buildings need to be replaced or upgraded whether it's sooner or later. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be."

Leno said she really isn't sure what move the park district will take next, but the board will be hearing options from staff at the next meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27.

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