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posted: 3/16/2014 8:00 AM

Some juicy Election Day action to watch in Lake County

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  • Bob Bednar, left, and incumbent Ed Sullivan Jr. are running in Tuesday's Republican primary for House District 51.

      Bob Bednar, left, and incumbent Ed Sullivan Jr. are running in Tuesday's Republican primary for House District 51.

  • Signs outside Brainerd building in Libertyville show a difference of opinion on whether it should be saved.

       Signs outside Brainerd building in Libertyville show a difference of opinion on whether it should be saved.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Round Lake Area Unit District 116 goes to voters Tuesday seeking permission to borrow $29 million for a high school expansion and renovations.

       Round Lake Area Unit District 116 goes to voters Tuesday seeking permission to borrow $29 million for a high school expansion and renovations.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 

Some Lake County voters Tuesday will have a meaty primary ballot, including a Republican state representative race with an incumbent who received attention for supporting gay marriage and a measure seeking millions of dollars to save a former high school building.

Various Lake County government posts, a smattering of local spending referendum questions and state lawmaker seats will be in play on the ballots.

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Primary winners will proceed to the November general election.

While much of the Election Day activity may be perceived as mundane, there are at least four hot spots to watch.

Sullivan vs. Bednar

GOP state Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr. will face Bob Bednar in House District 51 primary. Both men are Mundelein residents.

District 51 includes all or parts of Mundelein, Libertyville, Lake Zurich, Long Grove, Vernon Hills, Hawthorn Woods, Deer Park, Green Oaks, Barrington, Tower Lakes, North Barrington and Lake Barrington.

Sullivan attracted attention last year as one of three House Republicans to vote for same-sex marriage. He said unlike Bednar, he has an ability to work in a bipartisan manner in a state government controlled by Democrats.

"It seems my opponent approaches Springfield as a mouthpiece of one ideological portion of one party, regardless of the needs of the district or the state," Sullivan said.

Bednar said while he differs with Sullivan on gay marriage, that's not the only reason he entered Tuesday's primary.

He said he would provide better representation for his conservative-leaning district than Sullivan, who doubles as Fremont Township assessor. Sullivan's two elected positions also have been criticized by Bednar.

"He is enriching himself at taxpayer expense," Bednar said.

Sullivan has been a state representative since 2002 and Fremont's assessor for 21 years. Bednar, who lost to Democratic Lake County Recorder of Deeds Mary Ellen Vanderventer in 2012, makes his first try at a statewide office.

It's unknown if the Bednar-Sullivan winner will face Democratic competition in November.

Brainerd building

In Libertyville, the question of whether to save the former high school has brought passionate responses from both sides. Voters will be asked whether the village should borrow up to $11.5 million through a bond issue to rehabilitate the nearly century-old structure, known as the Brainerd building, into a community center. Though not stated specifically, $350,000 of the bonds would be used to fund lease payments.

Should the bonds be issued, the owner of a home valued at $300,000 would pay $142 more in property taxes each year for the next 10 years.

Emotions at times ran high during three town hall meetings hosted by the village to provide the public with information on the proposal. Village officials agreed to put the question on the ballot on behalf of supporters who privately have been unable to raise even a fraction of the funds to pursue the project. The village board has not taken an official position.

"A month from now, when this is all over, we're neighbors again," Libertyville Mayor Terry Weppler said during one session. "I don't want this issue to divide us."

But judging by the intensity of emotion, that appears to be the case for an issue that everyone agrees will determine the future of the building once and for all.

Whatever happens, the adjoining Jackson Gym will be demolished. The old school and the gym are owned by the Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128.

Vacant since 2003, the buildings are leased to the village, which leases them to the Brainerd Community Center Inc. That group has been pursuing the project for seven years.

Aside from preserving local heritage, supporters say the building about three blocks southwest of downtown would be rehabbed to include catering services and provide a modern venue for wedding receptions, banquets, theatrical performances, senior citizen activities and space for civic and business groups.

"There's no other space that can host banquets or theater spaces in Libertyville," said John Snow, spokesman for the group. "We think this is a building that can support itself."

Snow said the conversion would enhance the community, and renderings on the website have given voters a chance to see the potential.

"This is an opportunity for the community to step forward and preserve a landmark that's a community asset," he said.

But opponents, who organized as itsanobrainerd.com, say there is no need for such a facility and it wouldn't pay for itself, leaving taxpayers on the hook for operating deficits in addition to the tax hike. The lack of fundraising is evidence of a lack of interest, the group said.

"It just didn't work. There's not the community support," said Joe Bean, who organized the opposition.

He said he respects the passion of Snow and others who for years have pursued the project, but it wouldn't be worth what would amount to a 22 percent hike in local village property taxes.

District 116 project

Another borrowing question will be on the ballot for voters within Round Lake Area Unit District 116. They'll decide whether the district should sell bonds to investors to borrow $29 million for high school renovation and expansion.

While no organized public opposition has surfaced, District 116 officials said they've heard some community concern about the amount of money to be set aside for unplanned expenses.

Officials say a debt restructuring would keep the current tax rate steady over time if the measure is approved by voters Tuesday.

The ballot wording does not ask voters to approve a property tax hike, and specifies the work that would be done at Round Lake High School.

However, officials stressed the lack of a tax-hike request on the ballot doesn't mean homeowners would not pay more toward the bond-and-interest fund, over the life of the loan, if the measure passes. Added cost to taxpayers would come because existing debt is scheduled to end in 2025, but repayments for the new borrowing would last through 2028.

For a $100,000 market value home, the total additional bond-and-interest tax a homeowner would pay over the life of the loan is $3,048 or an extra $218 per year.

District 116 still plans to keep the financial hit on taxpayers to a minimum, said Assistant Superintendent of Business Bill Johnston.

"The way we're going to structure the borrowing is to not increase the tax rate," Johnston said.

He said officials have heard some community concern over the district's intent to place $3.2 million of the $29 million in a contingency fund, if voters approve the borrowing question.

Any portion of the contingency fund not used for unforeseen expenses would be directed to other high school construction work deemed necessary.

"If you're doing it correctly, most construction projects do have a contingency amount," Johnston said.

Round Lake High's expansion and building upgrades would bring the maximum capacity to 2,288 students and allow removal of portable classrooms, district officials said. Part of the school would be demolished to accommodate the new construction.

Long Grove roads

In Long Grove, voters will head to the polls to decide whether the village should issue the first property tax in the suburb's nearly 60-year history.

Officials say the tax -- costing the owner of a $750,000 home an extra $166 each year for the next decade -- would give the village a stable source of revenue for repairs to deteriorating roads.

Opponents say the proposal challenges long-held policies and could set a precedent of turning to taxation to solve problems that pop up in Long Grove.

Saddled with a $1.7 million funding gap for streets, officials also want to turn nearly half of Long Grove's roads private, making property owners along almost 13 miles pay for roadwork through special taxing districts. Or, neighborhoods could create homeowners' associations that would collect fees for road maintenance.

•Daily Herald staff writer Katlyn Smith contributed to this report.

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