One candidate for park board in Naperville says she wants the district to continue increasing property taxes by the maximum allowed each year.
Incumbent Marie Todd said collecting the most money allowed under the state tax cap allows the district to afford new buildings such as the $24 million Fort Hill Activity Center, where a groundbreaking is scheduled April 9.
"By collecting the maximum amount, the park district is able to appropriately collect taxes for any new construction," she said.
Todd was the only one of four candidates seeking three park board seats in the April 7 election to come out in favor of levying the maximum in property taxes each year.
Incumbent Rich Janor and challengers Jim Ensign and Melvin Kim offered different views on taxes during a forum sponsored by the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation.
The forum opened with a question about the park district's habit of increasing its property tax levy by the maximum allowed by law. The law limits the increases that non-home rule taxing bodies can impose to 5 percent or the increase in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less.
"Do you foresee continuing this policy, and, if so, why or why not?" the homeowners confederation asked candidates.
"The short answer is no; I don't foresee us continuing this policy," said Janor, a 37-year-old business owner who has served four years on the park board. "I would certainly like the district to work toward reducing the property tax levy over the next four years."
The most recent increase charged the owner or a $304,700 house, which is the average in the district, $4 more. That move brought the total owed to the park district to an average of $322, Finance Director Sue Stanish said.
Property taxes have been increasing since 2008, but Stanish said the district only is asking the average homeowner for $19 more now than it was five years ago.
Todd said the increases have allowed the district to fund construction projects, such as the Knoch Knolls Nature Center that opened last fall and the Fort Hill Activity Center projected to open by fall 2016. Stanish said the district has $34 million in reserves, but $23 million of it is allocated for the activity center and other construction and $2 million will be used to pay debt. That leaves a $9 million cushion.
Janor said the district should look for efficiencies in its budget to lower property taxes while keeping popular parks like the downtown Riverwalk well-maintained.
"Naperville is a community of high standards," Janor said. "I feel that our board is in tune with resident demand and there are certain maintenance standards we don't want to cut."
Ensign, a 54-year-old computer consultant and former parks and recreation professional, said property taxes should be based on financial needs at the time, not set in advance.
"A policy that says we're always going to charge the most -- that's just a bad policy for the residents," Ensign said. "As a math problem, if it does require we have to maximize taxes, so be it. But the goal should not be a policy of always charging the most."
Kim, 36, who works as grants and research coordinator for DuPage County, said the park district already provides a high value for the small portion of the average homeowner's property taxes it collects. Taxes due to the park district account for 5 percent of the average total due to all taxing bodies, Stanish said.
"There is a demand in our community for park district services for programs and it really is something that we value and it adds to the quality of life," Kim said. "For me, that's an incredible value to be able to leverage our tax dollars."