What We Have Here Is Failure to Communicate

commentary editorial opinion

By Nick Reiher

Will County has a new communication system for its County Board room on the second floor of the Will County Building.

I was glad to hear this was in the works. Anything would be better than the previous system of holding a meeting on the County Board floor. Meetings where some board members believed shouting “POINT OF ORDER” meant they could interrupt another board member, including those who had evoked “POINT OF ORDER” to talk over another person.

I’m sure it had to be a faulty microphone system causing all this trouble; not a thorough lack of knowledge or total disregard for Robert’s Rules of Order, devised by Henry Martyn Robert in 1876 after getting his butt figuratively kicked trying to lead a public meeting in a church. (Go figure).

Anyway, the last County Board meeting held in April did seem to be much more civil, although the buttons to determine who’s microphone was whose caused some confusion.

But at least one County Board member seemed to have a problem hearing. He also showed that the previous week during a meeting of the Will County Forest Preserve Board. (Will County Board members also serve as Will County Forest Preserve Commissioners).

A while back, Ralph Schultz, Forest Preserve Executive Director, presented to the board the proposed 2025-2030 Forest Preserve District of Will County Capital Improvement Program. Including a very thorough explanation of a sale of $50 million in bonds, pending board approval.

Again, if approved, the bond issue would allow the Forest Preserve District to, according to the presentation:

• Dedicate $25 million to preserve 1,000-1,250 acres in perpetuity.

• Dedicate $12 million to make critical regional and local trail connections, provide new points of access into nature and enhance their visitor centers.

• Dedicate $13 million to restore 2,500 acres of habitat providing for clean water, clean air and increased biodiversity.

Forest Preserve officials figure with the amount of development going on, it would be good to acquire additional preserves, as well as take care of and improve what they have.

OK, yeah, but how much is this gonna cost me?

Well, as the presentation explains, the Forest Preserve District will be retiring 60 percent of its current debt this year. Is the past, the district has used that extra capacity to expand and improve, as staff wants to do this time.

So, Schultz said, the district would be able to borrow $50 million and reduce annual property taxes by an estimated 18.5 percent. As an example, the owner of a $300,000 home who is paying $116.70 toward the district would pay $95.11.

Now, those are estimates, since the county’s assessed valuation is increasing, as it is for your own properties.
OK, but how much more would my taxes go down if the Forest Preserve District doesn’t sell any bonds?

Nine bucks more a year. That same owner would pay about 86 bucks toward the district. So, for an extra $9 a year, residents can see $50 million in improvements to district lands over the next five years. That’s still an 18.5 percent drop in your property taxes toward the district.

Commissioner/County Board Member Mark Revis of Plainfield is selling a different story to his residents. Government spending nationally and locally is the root of our disastrous economy, he said during a Forest Preserve Board meeting.

Revis went even further. Before that meeting, he used a social media platform to incite 40 of his constituents to send emails, some begging and pleading with the district not to increase their property taxes.

Schultz dutifully read them in to the record at the meeting, and Revis said to expect many of them to show up in person at a public hearing on whether to sell the bonds, not the actual vote to sell the bonds, mind you – at 9:15 a.m. Thursday, June 6, in the aforementioned board room on the second floor of the County Office Building, 302 N. Chicago St., Joliet.

Certainly, anyone is welcome to attend a public hearing and speak at the same. But I caution you: Please know what you are commenting on. If it truly bothers you your property taxes toward the district would go down only 18.5 percent, have at it.

The argument of, yeah, but the district is only one of a dozen or so government entities on my tax bill.

Then attend the meetings of those government entities, especially the school district, where most of our property taxes go to. Seriously, go. And make sure they are spending the money where and how you want them to.

If you’re coming on June 6, I hope you know why. And you should know, only two commissioners voted against holding the public hearing: Secretary Raquel Mitchell, and Revis. The vote passed overwhelmingly, with Board Chair Judy Ogalla saying public meetings are important.

Potential attendees: I really hope you don’t have to hire a sitter or miss work for this. And I hope it’s worth your time, now that you have all the information.

Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review.

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