DuPage referendum fix awaiting governor's signature

Four property tax increases approved by DuPage County voters in November will stand if Gov. Bruce Rauner signs legislation sent to him Tuesday.

The governor is reviewing the proposal, spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said.

State lawmakers say they needed to get involved because referendum proposals approved on Nov. 8 for Bloomingdale Park District, Helen M. Plum Memorial Public Library in Lombard, Hinsdale Elementary District 181 and Salt Creek Elementary District 48 in Villa Park and Elmhurst were advertised three days too early in some suburban newspapers.

"(The legislation) will fix the publication mistake made by the DuPage County Election Commission last fall and allow these passed referendums to be implemented," state Sen. Chris Nybo of Elmhurst said in an email.

State law currently requires notices to be published no more than 30 days and not less than 10 days before an election. However, local newspapers published notifications about the four ballot questions 33 days before the election because of a clerical error by the election commission.

As part of the legislation, which was approved Monday by the House and Tuesday by the Senate, the state election code will be amended to make notice of a ballot question valid "if given more than 30 days but not more than 35 days prior to" the Nov. 8 election.

State Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park said there was no opposition to the measure in the Senate. So while Rauner hasn't made a decision, Cullerton said, "I can't imagine he won't sign it."

"All four referendums passed with pretty high numbers" during an election with high voter turnout, Cullerton said.

The notification error left officials in the affected agencies uncertain of how to proceed with a variety of projects - or even if they can.

Officials with Bloomingdale Park District and District 48 both said they were waiting for the problem to be resolved before borrowing any money for their approved projects.

Carrie Fullerton, Bloomingdale Park District's executive director, said officials are "thrilled" that the legislation would make it possible for the district to proceed with its voter-approved plan to borrow $9.9 million to repair and improve three facilities.

"We are thankful to our representatives and our senators that supported this legislation, which would allow us to honor the results of the referendum," Fullerton said Tuesday.

Cullerton said state lawmakers needed to move quickly to prevent taxpayers in the affected agencies from paying for costly litigation.

District 181, for example, already is facing a lawsuit challenging the results of the election because of the notification problem.

Voters gave the district permission to borrow $53 million to build a new middle school. But according to the lawsuit, the referendum is invalid because of the improper notice.

"It (the legislation) is a one-time deal," Cullerton said. "It only applies to DuPage and only applies to this (November) election."

Nybo said the notification error "unfortunately" is another incident where the DuPage Election Commission "does not seem to have performed as strongly" as expected.

"That's the bigger issue that we will hopefully address this year," said Nybo, referring to a proposal to merge the commission with the DuPage County Clerk's office.

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