A strategy to ask voters if they would pay more in property taxes to convert the former Libertyville Township High School into a community center will be deferred for about a year.
In a surprising move, representatives of Brainerd Community Center Inc. decided a single, binding question put to voters in March 2014 would give them time to sell the public and answer tough questions posed by the Libertyville village board. The board would have to approve putting the tax hike question on the ballot.
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"That pushes it off, but it gives us a good opportunity," Scott Adams, a member of the Brainerd group's executive committee, said Wednesday. "By moving it back to March of 2014, it really will give us a better chance to educate the community."
The abrupt decision came during village board discussion Tuesday of a resolution to authorize an advisory referendum for the April 9 ballot, which the board had already informally agreed to do.
"I think you've managed to surprise me this evening," Mayor Terry Weppler told Adams and fellow Brainerd board members Walter Oakley and John Snow after the dust settled. Adams and the others had been peppered with questions by village trustees, who received four pages of projections and estimates not long before the meeting.
Trustees also learned the amount sought to renovate the shuttered school at Brainerd Avenue and Route 176 had jumped from $3.5 million to $6.5 million. The first figure was a bare-bones plan and the second was for a ready-for-lease finished product.
"You're opening up more questions than you have answers," village Trustee Drew Cullum said. "There shouldn't be this sense of urgency put on us right now. Good luck in the next two weeks to sway me."
Adams said the group thought a positive vote in an advisory referendum would be enough for the village to issue bonds to fund the project, but recently learned it could be done only via a binding referendum. That meant voter approval could be sought in two steps or the village board could authorize a binding question for the April 9 ballot, with the deadline to do so in two weeks.
"Can we truly educate the public and get a reasonable turnout that would be worthy of a binding referendum?" Trustee Rich Moras asked. "If we do this, we want to do it with our eyes wide open."
The consensus was that one binding referendum would be the best course of action.
"Hearing the concerns about information and looking at the time frame," the preference is to wait, Snow said.
Weppler began the discussion Tuesday with four concerns, including the cost to run the building and the extent of village involvement in the operation of a venue envisioned to be handled by a separate entity. He said the village shouldn't subsidize the building with taxpayer funds.
"I support Brainerd, but I have a concern the operating numbers are correct," he said.
Brainerd was built as Libertyville Township High School in 1916. It and the adjoining Jackson Gym, built in 1929, are owned by Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128. In 2006, both were leased to the village, which subleases them to the Brainerd group.
With fundraising falling well short and facing a substantial lease payment in summer 2014, the Brainerd group opted for a make-or-break plea to voters to fund the improvement to the school building only.
But the landscape changed in recent weeks.
"I don't want to be at a meeting three or four years from now with a number of people asking, 'How did this occur?'" Moras said.