Lombard residents push for new vote on tax hike for library

In a move that could scuttle plans for a new Lombard library, a group of residents wants to put a question on the November ballot asking if a tax rate increase approved more than a year ago should be reduced.

Voters supported the property tax increase in November 2016 after Helen M. Plum Memorial Library officials promised to tear down and replace their existing building at 110 W. Maple St. But the project has been stalled because the library hasn't been able to get permission from the park district to build more than one story on land that used to be part of Lilacia Park.

The lengthy delay has some residents arguing that voters should be given another chance to weigh in on the tax hike before the library borrows up to $25 million for the project.

"It's clear the library cannot move forward on the project that they presented to voters," said Robert Biddle, the resident leading the petition drive. "It's been well over a year. They're no closer to shovel-ready than they were when they presented this to voters in April through November of 2016."

Biddle and other residents are trying to collect signatures from at least 2,900 Lombard voters and have gathered hundreds so far.

Even if they collect enough signatures, there's a debate about whether the proposed referendum question would be binding or advisory.

Library officials say lawyers have told them the petition drive could result in only an advisory referendum. But a government watchdog group says Biddle might be correct when he says the question would be binding.

"The residents would certainly like to see this on the ballot - even if the library can argue it's not subject to that provision," said Ben Silver, an attorney for the Citizens Advocacy Center in Elmhurst.

"It's been more than a year since the previous referendum," Silver said. "There's a good amount of public opposition to the library's plans. They want to have another shot to have a say on that."

If it's determined the question would be binding, the petition must be submitted by early May. However, there's a possibility the library could be poised to start construction by that time.

In October, library officials released details of a plan they hoped would resolve the monthslong dispute with the park district. It called for constructing a facility with two linked pavilions - one for the public and the other for the staff.

At the time, Helen Plum officials said the proposal wouldn't encroach on the park's air rights and would be built only on library property.

The park district gave the library land on several occasions, including when the library was built in 1963 and when its first floor was expanded in 1977. The roof of the addition was made into a plaza that overlooks the park as part of the 1977 deal. Even though the library owns the plaza, the park district owns the air space above it.

Sue Wilsey, library communications manager, said the plan for the pavilions has been reviewed and tweaked by library and park representatives. Details of those closed-door discussions aren't being released, but she said both sides are "hoping to come to an agreement very shortly."

So while they are aware of the petition drive, library board members aren't focusing on it because it's not imminent.

"What is imminent is moving forward on this building," said Wilsey, adding that officials are optimistic that construction will begin in the summer.

"The public voted in favor of the referendum, which allowed the tax rate increase," she said. "Basically, we're following the will of the public at this point."

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