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updated: 11/28/2012 12:33 PM

Arlington Heights Park District to poll 'no' voters from election

Arlington Heights officials looking for answers on why ballot question failed

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The Arlington Heights Park District is trying to figure out why two attempts to pass tax increases have failed this year by going straight to the source -- the voters.

The park district has contracted with Public Research Group for $7,200 to do a telephone poll of people who voted "no" in the November election, said Executive Director Steve Scholten on Tuesday.

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The group, which has done surveys for the park district in the past, will gather answers from 300 "no" voters about why they were against the $39 million bond issue that would have gone to renovate several of the district's major parks. A paper survey will also be available at park district facilities.

"There was an interest in knowing the top reasons people voted against it, so we can prepare for what to do next," Scholten said.

About 51.5 percent of voters rejected the bond issue in November; only 800 votes separated the yes and no sides. In March, voters rejected a similar $48 million proposal, also by a close margin.

The debate has split the community and even led to outside groups getting involved.

Americans for Prosperity -- a national, issue-based, conservative nonprofit -- made about 7,000 robocalls to Arlington Heights residents the week before the election telling them to vote "no" on the referendum question.

Opponents of the tax increase argued that with the economy still recovering, now was not the time to raise taxes.

If the bond issue had passed, a resident with a $300,000 home would have seen an increase in the property tax payment to the park district of an average of $71 per year over the next 25 years, according to park district calculations.

A group of residents, Arlington Heights People For Our Parks, formed this fall to promote the plan, arguing that the parks need to be updated for the future needs of the community. The parks that would be updated were built either in the 1930s or 1960s.

Going forward the board has a few options, including a third attempt to have voters approve a multimillion-dollar bond issue April 9 during the consolidated municipal elections. The deadline to place a referendum on the ballot for the April election is Jan. 22.

One resident spoke at Tuesday's park board meeting and asked the board not to place the matter on the ballot again.

"You put it up in March, and it got defeated. You put it up in November, and it got defeated," Mary Vickers said. "We didn't get it right, so it shouldn't be put up again."

Another possibility is to use all money in the district's bonding authority, which is about $8 million, for renovations, but park board President Maryfran Leno said that would leave the district unable to do any other big projects for another 18 to 20 years.

The park district does have a $2.5 million grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to be used only toward Camelot Park, but the park district needs to either match that grant or lose the money.

Public Research Group will present the results at the Jan. 8 meeting of the park board, when commissioners will decide how to move forward, Scholten said.

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