Kenilworth Assembly Hall referendum postponed until April ballot

The Kenilworth Park District Board decided unanimously to put off a referendum until April on increasing property taxes to buy and maintain the Kenilworth Assembly Hall building at 410 Kenilworth Ave.

However, between now and December, which will probably be when commissioners next must decide officially on a referendum, they want to educate district residents and learn more about what potential voters think of the idea of taking over the historic hall.

They also want to form a partnership with the Kenilworth Club, which now owns the building, to develop programs for it before making the decision.

“We’d be working hand in hand with them, rather than committing to this 100 percent overnight,” Commissioner Kevin Flannery said during last Thursday’s meeting when the board decided to scrap a November ballot question. “If [club members’] intention is to get this working for the community, they should work with us.

“Then we can prove to the community that we’re not just buying a building to buy a building.”

Flannery also noted the district, which is seeking a replacement for long-time superintendent Lou Maggi, might need to adjust its hiring specs for that position if the building provides the district more programming potential. Holding off on the referendum would provide time to consider that need as well, he said.

Although Commissioner Julie Garrison first said she’d like to take the issue to this November’s ballot, saying the public has had lots of chances to become educated, she eventually agreed with colleagues and voted to postpone any referendum to spring.

Both Flannery and Commissioner Chip Anderson said they were disappointed with the results of a community survey the district sent out earlier this year.

Although more than a quarter of the 840 village households responded, and more than 66 percent wanted the district to take over the assembly hall building and more than 63 percent said they would support a property tax increase to operate it, Flannery noted more than half of those giving opinions were Kenilworth Club members.

“I was hoping for a better overall feel from the community,” Flannery said.

Garrison called the lack of feedback “sort of discouraging.”

Anderson said the decision could wait as could the referendum’s ballot placement because the hall was in better financial condition this year than it had been last year, giving the park district more time to ponder its move.

At the core of any referendum question — which now would not affect park district taxpayers until the 2015 tax year, collectable in 2016 — is the need for $100,000 to $300,000 to operate the building.

Since July 2013, the Kenilworth Club, a private group that has owned the building and supported the assembly hall for decades, asked the park district to consider buying the building and taking over its maintenance to return to its original mission as a place for community activities, rather than a rental hall.

The park district began considering a referendum, which would be needed to raise taxes to for such maintenance needs, last September. Since then, Village Manager Patrick Brennan, who acts as the district secretary, has gathered information on the building, as the two organizations circled the question of how to hand it over to a public government unit. He and village staff, who help with the park district thanks to an intergovernmental agreement, also researched the referendum question itself.

After more research, Brennan and district attorneys revised the referendum options they offered for consideration to commissioners.

Instead of a question asking taxpayers to give the park district the right to level a flat tax for Assembly Hall maintenance, they looked at either increasing the district’s tax extension limitation, or actually increasing its tax rate, which currently stands at .152, slightly more than 15 cents for every $100 of equalized assessed property value.

Brennan and Barbara Adams, the Holland and Knight attorney hired to help prepare potential referendum questions, walked commissioners through both the referendum question nuances, and the tax technicalities behind them.

They also reminded the board it could not advocate for passage of a referendum in any of its educational efforts. Brennan said he and his staff, who are deep in budget preparations, would not have time to help develop such an education campaign, suggesting the park board hire someone.

Adams also cautioned the board December is only a few months away, giving the board a small window in which to do the education and programming investigation that commissioners said they wanted.

“You don’t have a lot of sitting time. You have three, maybe 3½ months,” he warned.

Tags:

HALL MONITOR

WHAT: November tax referendum

BY: Kenilworth Park District

FOR: Kenilworth Assembly Hall

DECISION: Hold off until spring

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