Attorney: Ballot issues made Fox River & Countryside tax request 'fatally defective'

The attorney for the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District plans to form a group of resident to challenge the results of a March 20 referendum in which voters shot down the district's request for a property tax hike.

A portion of the binding question that explained how the 16-cent tax rate increase would affect homeowners was cut off on the Kane County ballot, fire district attorney Ken Shepro said. If the question hadn't been truncated, district officials said the outcome might have been reversed, especially because the request failed by only 32 votes.

"Most people when they see a question like that (ask), 'How much are my taxes going to go up?' That's what was cut off," fire board President Bob Handley said Monday. "I think we've got a pretty good case to get it overturned."

Successfully contesting the referendum won't turn a failed tax-hike request positive, Shepro said, but it would invalidate the vote and give the fire district a do-over. That means officials could place an identical question on the November ballot, rather than changing their request or waiting two years to ask for the same amount.

In March, the fire district asked voters to increase its property rate to 43 cents from 27 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value. The measure would have generated about $1.48 million annually to fund increased personnel and equipment replacements.

If the tax hike were approved, the owner of a $100,000 house would have paid an additional $53 per year in property taxes. State statute requires that explanation be included on the ballot. Without it, Shepro said, the question becomes "fatally defective."

The fire district and county clerk's office became aware of the missing information during the early voting period, Shepro said. To remedy the situation, he said, election judges were asked to hand out a card with the full question to voters. But some residents, including Trustee James Wegman, said they never received a card.

The district also is questioning whether some people outside the fire district erroneously received a ballot containing the referendum question, though Shepro said he hasn't found any evidence to confirm that.

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham could not be reached Tuesday.

Shepro now intends to round up a group of residents to ask for a discovery phase, in which county officials would check for any errors that could have affected the results. Though it's unlikely the vote count would change significantly, he said, the process could ensure mistakes are not repeated in future elections.

The information gathered during the discovery period also could help the group contest the referendum results, Shepro said. After the county releases final election results Wednesday, registered voters have five days to file for a discovery period and 30 days to challenge the vote, he said. The process also could be repeated in DuPage County.

Neither step can be taken directly by the fire district, though the board does expect to discuss a plan of action Monday.

Fire chief: Property tax hike still the best option

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