Survey results force Elmhurst park leaders to reconsider capital projects
Elmhurst Park District commissioners are expected to decide next week whether March is too soon to seek a possible referendum question to raise money for capital projects.
But at least one park board member is making it clear how he plans to vote.
"The March referendum is pretty much a no-go to me," park board President Vince Spaeth said Monday. "There's just no way we can responsibly do that with the information we have."
Spaeth's comment came after the board had a lengthy discussion about the results of a survey that gauged support for funding projects in the district's long-term improvement plan, called Vision 2020.
The projects include acquiring land, building an indoor sports center, building an adult center, creating a dog park, building a maintenance facility, and replacing the Wagner Community Center and Eldridge Park Recreation Building.
Doing all that would cost an estimated $105.2 million and require an annual operating subsidy of $2.5 million.
To raise the money, there was talk of a referendum that would ask to roughly double the district's property tax levy. But then officials got the results of the survey of more than 1,100 registered voters.
According to those results, a majority of voters oppose spending $105 million. Some, however, expressed interest in a plan that's smaller in scale and less expensive.
So park commissioners are examining several options, including reducing the overall cost of a possible referendum, pursing a referendum in November or abandoning the idea for a referendum.
One decision the board needs to make involves the future of the Kieft Brothers Inc. property at 837 S. Riverside Drive. In September, the district placed a contingency-based offer on the 16.4-acre site for the new indoor sports center.
It's possible the board could postpone the estimated $57 million building project and still want to buy the property for $15 million.
As part of its contract with the property owners, the district is required to have a successful referendum in March. But Spaeth said after Monday's meeting that officials are working to address that issue.
"We don't want it to go away," Spaeth said, "and they really seem to want to work with us. That's really all I can say at this point."
The board has until Dec. 30 to decide whether to put a question on the March 17 ballot.
If the decision is made to aim for a November referendum, Spaeth said it would give the district time to do another survey. Officials could then use that information to re-prioritize projects and develop a new plan.
"Getting more information can't hurt us," Spaeth said. "It just tells the community we're listening."