Signs point to an escalation in the dueling campaigns to sway Libertyville voters on whether to convert an old high school building to a community center.
"Both sides are really getting into it, and it's getting hot," Mayor Terry Weppler said Wednesday, just hours before the second town hall meeting on the Brainerd building proposal.
In the latest wrinkle on the issue, which will be decided by voters in a March 18 referendum, an opposition request to install a sign on the property at Brainerd Avenue and Route 176 was rejected by village officials.
At issue is a sign featuring the web address www.savebrainerd.org that has been in place for more than a year. Opponents wanted itsaNOBrainerd.com to be advertised as an alternative to that of Brainerd Community Center Inc., which supports the plan.
"All I want is a level playing field," said Joe Bean, a Cook Memorial Public Library board member and opposition group organizer.
Bean said it was "grossly unfair" for the Brainerd supporters' sign to be allowed without an opposing view.
"It's a public building. It's fair play," he said.
Weppler said the village doesn't have the legal authority to allow another sign because it doesn't control the property rights.
The village leases the Brainerd building and Jackson Gym from Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 and subleases them to the Brainerd group.
That opinion was voiced by Village Attorney David Pardys at Tuesday's village board meeting. Bean asked that it be put in writing but Weppler said he didn't want to waste village funds on that.
"It's on record. It's on the video," of the meeting, he said.
So what of the sign that remains?
"It really didn't matter a year ago because they were soliciting private funds," Weppler said. Now that the matter is on the ballot, it becomes a political issue and not-for-profits are not supposed to campaign.
"I've already asked the Brainerd people to take the sign down. They've agreed," according to Weppler.
John Snow, point man for the Brainerd group, said Wednesday the sign has been up for three years.
"Joe Bean interprets that as advocating a 'yes' vote and the mayor has asked us to take it down. We're going to replace it with a different sign with a website that doesn't have the word 'save' in it," Snow said. "Our website is purely informational. It is within what we are permitted to do."
Snow added the group, which was established in 2006, recently posted the past three years of financial information on its website and filed with the Illinois Attorney General's office as a not-for-profit group.
Voters will decided whether to authorize the village to borrow up to $11.5 million by issuing bonds to pay for the conversion of the nearly century-old building into a community center. Property taxes would be increased each year for 10 years to cover the bonds and interest. For example, the owner of a home valued at $300,000 would pay an additional $136.30 per year.
Supporters say the renovation would provide a now unavailable space for banquets, weddings, theatrical productions and other uses, and preserve a building central to village history.
Opponents say projected revenue numbers aren't realistic and consider the endeavor to be fiscally irresponsible, particularly since the village could be responsible for any operating shortfalls.