Why DuPage voters approve higher spending on library, parks, schools

Leaders in three DuPage County jurisdictions who gambled by asking for tax increases on a presidential ballot are thanking their lucky stars and their referendum supporters.

Voters in Lombard's Helen Plum Library district, Bloomingdale Park District and Salt Creek Elementary District 48 all approved measures to increase their property taxes in exchange for a $22.3 million library, $9.9 million of park improvements and $8 million of basic repairs to three aging schools.

Officials say now clearly was the time to pose their questions, despite the historical hesitance to ask for money in general elections, when more voters hit the polls.

Despite - or possibly because of - the expected higher turnout, the taxing bodies chose to ask voters for what they need, and voters chose to grant it.

"We just felt the time was right; it's going to be now or never. That's what led us to do it," said Buzz Puccio, Bloomingdale park board president. "We timed this with the general election because of the numbers that would turn out. It worked."

Here's a look at why the proposals succeeded.

New Plum library

Helen Plum Library was the only organization seeking a tax increase from Lombard voters in Tuesday's election, spokeswoman Sue Wilsey said, giving an advantage that the request wouldn't fall on an already burdened electorate.

Plus, proving the need for a new library - with more meeting space, more rooms for teens to study and a heating and air conditioning system not from 1963 - was easier now than it was the last time the library tried in 2004. A tax increase failed 12 years ago, but 53 percent of voters approved it this time around.

Wilsey said referendum consultants told officials 2016 could be a good year. A female Democrat like Hillary Clinton running for president would be a boost for a library, they said, because the strongest supporters of libraries tend to be Democratic women. Plus the building, which hasn't seen an addition since 1978, couldn't wait much longer.

"It needed to happen as soon as possible," Wilsey said about the construction of a new library, a $22.3 million facility planned for the same site on the edge of Lilacia Park. "We didn't feel that we had the luxury to wait."

Homeowners can expect an increase of about $72 per year, or about $6 per month, on their property taxes for every $100,000 of their home's fair market value.

Better parks and rec

Since the last failed pitch for a Bloomingdale Park District tax increase 10 years ago, park board President Puccio says the panel has worked to build trust and listen to residents.

What they heard led to what they sought funding to fix, he said. The ball fields at Springfield Park frequently flood, causing frustration among young athletes and their coaches. Seniors need more space at Johnston Recreation Center. And the preschool program could be much improved if given more room.

Officials determined it would cost $9.9 million to make the upgrades. About 57 percent of voters said go for it, according to unofficial results.

"It was the money we needed to make the improvements that were requested by the community - nothing more nothing less," Puccio said. "It was not a lot of money. The bang for the buck was there."

The move will add roughly $66 a year to the tax bill for a home valued at $246,500, the median value in Bloomingdale.

Repaired schools

With two schools built in the 1960s and another from the 1990s, Salt Creek Elementary District 48 has a long to-do list of upkeep. All three buildings have leaky roofs and crumbling masonry. And each needs its own infrastructure improvements that cost too much to make within the typical yearly budget, Superintendent John Correll said.

That's where the tax increase came in, with 63 percent of voters approving $8 million in spending that will cost the owner of a $300,000 house roughly $235 more a year.

"This referendum was 100 percent based on needing to make some basic repairs at our three schools," Correll said. "The kind of things we want to do are the kind of things you would do on your house."

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