Wilmette park board may back away from November ballot questions

Wilmette Park District commissioners, who have spent much of this year working out the dollars and cents of a multi-million dollar lakefront park upgrade plan, appeared Thursday to be backing away from putting a bond referendum to finance the plan on November’s ballot.

They don’t have to make that decision until their Aug. 18 board meeting, set to start at 7:30 p.m. at Wilmette Village Hall. As of Thursday afternoon, however, the expectation that their New Trier High School counterparts would approve an $89 million bond referendum when they met appears to be driving several to hold off until at least next April’s election.

Park board president James Crowley said that he believes most park commissioners don’t want to risk voter referendum overload by asking for roughly $14.5 million in bond approval at the same time.

“I’m fairly confident that they will vote to go to referendum,” Crowley said Aug. 14, hours before the New Trier board meeting, “I’d say I’m equally confident that we are leaning away from doing it.”

Commissioner Shelley Shelly agreed and said Thursday “it just looks like too much, whether it is or not. I think it’s in our best interest to wait until April, and it gives us even more of a chance to get all our financial ducks in a row.”

“I like our plan, but having said that, we live in a community where there are many demands on our taxpayers’ pockets,” Commissioner Jim Brault said Aug. 13. “We’re all taxpayers.”

All three commissioners emphasized their support for their own lakefront plan, in the works for several years. They also said they understood New Trier’s need for large scale demolition and rebuilding at its Winnetka campus. Both are necessary community needs, but they don’t have to hit the taxpayer at the same time, the three suggested.

“We have a great message, but unfortunately, I think it’s a little difficult for voters to distinguish the differences between the requests our two boards are asking, and that’s understandable,” Shelly said.

Brault said he didn’t believe a five-month ballot delay would throw park district financial projections off track, or increase the necessary cost of a bond referendum, because board members, district staff and district financial consultants have worked to include reasonable cushions for both contingency and inflation into their bond structure options.

All three said their Aug. 18 discussion would be different if the New Trier school board decides against its own referendum. The school board was scheduled to meet tonight at 7 p.m.

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CRYSTAL BALL

WHAT: $14.5 million bond referendum

WHO: Wilmette Park District

WHEN: November

PREDICTION: Probably not

WHY: New Trier referendum likelihood

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