In the end, Wilmette Park Board President James Crowley’s Monday announcement from the dais was anti-climactic; in case members of the audience were wondering, he said, the board wasn’t going to vote on a bond sale referendum.
Indeed, the referendum question did not make it to the board’s Aug. 18 agenda, and public attendance at the session was almost non-existant. That didn’t stop Crowley and other park commissioners from talking about the reasons they decided not to ask voters’ permission in November to buy $14.5 million in bonds to finance their lakefront master plan.
Crowley said holding off until April of next year to put the referendum question on the ballot means voters won’t have to deal with two bond issues in November – the park district’s and the $89 million New Trier High School referendum that school board members approved last week for ballot placement.
“I think it’s a wise decision on behalf of this board, to try and be as kind to our residents and our taxpayers as we possible can, without putting undue burden on them, so that when they walk into the polling place they don’t have to try to figure out ‘What do we do with these two referendums?’”
Commissioner John Olvany agreed, saying “this will give people the time to take in what we’re doing … and give the community the opportunity to focus on one project at a time.”
Crowley praised the communications efforts of New Trier officials, saying “Hats off to (New Trier board president) Al Dolinko, who has gone out of his way to talk to us, telling us what the mood has been and what’s been going on.”
The delay gives commissioners and park board staff the time to “regroup” and do more due diligence on the bond issue, he said: “It will be a beautiful program, very well coordinated and well defined, with great budgets, and I think the likelihood of the community accepting it with open arms is going to be very valid.”
To that end, the district has hiked its public education campaign on master plan components. That includes hoisting large-scale banners at both Langdon and Gillson Parks with renderings of projects that will affect them. Park board commissioners plan to be on hand at community events like outdoor markets over the next weeks and months to answer residents’ questions about the plan.
Regrouping also refers at least in part to commissioners’ efforts to make sure selling the bonds to pay for repairs and improvements at Gillson and Langdon Parks won’t raise taxes for district property owners, or at least not immediately.
In May, the board endorsed a repayment plan for what was then envisioned as project that would cost less than $14 million; under that assumption, the board could sell $14 million in bonds and repay them over 15 years in a structure that avoided tax levy increases for the first five years and hikes thereafter of just over 2 percent.
When new estimates hiked the overall cost higher in early summer, finance committee members, staff and consultants eventually decided they could keep the same repayment structure, by stretching out the payback period beyond 15 years.
Still, Olvany said, he expected his financial planning committee to “dust off” the last financial analysis done on the plan closer to April, to make certain that all the assumptions remain valid.
WHO: Wilmette Park District
WHAT: November referendum
FOR: $14.5 million lakefront bond sale
WHAT NEXT: Board looks to April ballot