Lake County forest preserves want to know whether or how much voters would support in potential referendum

Forest board to vote Tuesday on contract for voter survey ahead of potential referendum on November ballot

Lake County forest preserve officials want to learn if and how much voters would support before deciding whether to put a tax hike referendum on the November ballot.

Forest commissioners Tuesday are expected to approve a $36,800 contract with aQity Research and Insights, Inc., for a voter survey. Specific questions are to be determined but the intent is to test the willingness of likely Lake County voters to support a referendum under various scenarios.

As proposed, the survey will seek voter feedback on two or three bond amounts and questions such as reasons for support or opposition and the effectiveness of different messages. Up to 600 likely voters would be surveyed and the results would guide decision making on whether to proceed.

If the question advances, it would be the forest district’s first referendum since 2008, when two-thirds of voters agreed the district should borrow $185 million. That money has been spent or spoken for with about 80% used to acquire land.

The forest board last June directed staff to prepare for the potential referendum question on this November’s ballot to fund land acquisition, habitat restoration and public access improvements. Officials stressed the request would not be for operating needs.

A voter survey was approved as part of the adopted 2024 budget. Tuesday’s vote is for a contract to do the work.

A potential referendum request could range from $155 million to $255 million depending on how much is sought for land acquisition. As envisioned, $90 million would be targeted to complete projects like the Millennium Trail and proceed with large-scale habitat restoration leaving the amount for land acquisition as the wild card.

The district has dealt with aQity Research, which previously operated under another name, for about 30 years. The firm surveyed voters in advance of the 2008 referendum and completed countywide attitude and interest polls of residents in 2016, 2019, and 2022.

In a discussion earlier this month, Commissioner John Wasik of Grayslake asked whether the survey would consider other referendums on voter opinion.

“I suspect it's going to be a very pronounced issue that voters will be experiencing referendum fatigue for lack of a better word,” he said.

Rebekah Snyder, director of community engagement and partnerships, said it's useful to look back on the history of the polling results and compare it to the success of past referendums.

“The poll has always been right on,” she said.

Pending contract approval, survey questions would be finalized by the end of March and polling done in April. Initial results are expected by the end of May with full reporting and analysis by mid-June.

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