Forest Preserve: June 6 Hearing Set on $50M Bond Sale Option

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By Nick Reiher

The Will County Forest Preserve District Board will hold a public hearing at 9:15 a.m. Thursday, June 6, on a plan to secure the option of selling up to $50 million in bonds for land acquisition and capital projects.

If the board approves the plan at a future meeting, staff would sell only enough bonds to cover its plans, and only if the economy is suitable for a sale, said Ralph Schultz, Forest Preserve Executive Director.

Because a bond sale would take place after current bonds are soon retired, the owner of a $300,000 home would see a drop in the year’s amount of taxes to the district from $116 to $95 if the full $50 million in bonds were sold, he said.

Schultz explained if no bonds were sold, those same district residents would pay about $86 a year, saving an additional $9 a year.

Most of the Forest Preserve Board members at the May 9 meeting considered the bond sale option a “win-win;” allowing the district the means to expand its preserves, while cutting taxes as well.

Initially, commissioners were presented a proposal for the option to sell up to $150 million in bonds, which Schultz said would have provided no tax savings to residents. But negotiation came up with the lower amount and the tax savings.

“This is an opportunity to provide new trails and new infrastructure and reduce property taxes by 18 percent,” said Commissioner Joe Van Duyne of Wilmington. He added the district’s trails were important during the pandemic, giving people an open-air opportunity to experience nature.

“When we plan to spend money, I always ask how we’re going to pay for it,” said Commissioner Frankie Pretzel of Frankfort. “This is a perfect example of how we pay for something.”

Commissioner Steve Balich of Homer Glen wondered about selling bonds in an uncertain economy. Jim Richmond of Mokena, District Board Finance Chair, said a voting for the bond issue would provide only an option to do so. If the situation weren’t right, he said, they would not have to sell the bonds.

Schultz added that voting for the bond sale option would sunset in December, meaning the board would have to reconsider the issue if bonds haven’t been sold before then.

Commissioner Mark Revis of Plainfield was adamantly against even holding the public hearing, saying government overspending has caused poor economic issues locally and nationally.

He ignored comments by staff and fellow commissioners of the property tax decrease associated with the prospective bond sale option. After the meeting, Schultz said the 40 emails he read into the record from the Plainfield area resulted from a message put out by Revis on a social media platform in his district.

Writers of those emails pleaded against and/or chastised the board for raising taxes.

Revis promised there would be many people from his district at the June 6 hearing to voice their opposition to what he insisted was a tax increase.

Commissioner Sherry Newquist chastised Revis in a thinly veiled comment for attempting to mislead his constituents.

“I’m really disappointed so many people think we’re going to raise taxes,” she said. “Whoever is responsible for that misinformation should clear that up.”

Conversely, Commissioner Julie Berkowicz of Naperville said not investing further into the district could cause taxes to rise ultimately.

If the district doesn’t acquire the open land, she said, it likely would become sites for more subdivisions, meaning higher taxes for police, fire, maintenance and, especially schools, which are the highest amounts on people’s tax bills.

Revis and Board Secretary Raquel Mitchell of Bolingbrook, who sought a further reduction in the bond amount, were the only commissioners to oppose voting for the public hearing.

The hearing will be held in the second-floor board room of the Will County Office Building, 302 N. Chicago St., Joliet.

 

 

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