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Local News

Officials cite tax backlash in referendum failures

NEW LENOX — Greg Lewis isn’t certain why a referendum to maintain the tax rate for the New Lenox Community Park District didn’t pass Nov. 4. 

For almost a year, park officials pushed for a referendum they said needed to pass for capital improvement projects. Despite the backing of local organizations and marketing efforts, it failed during the March and November elections. 

About 57 percent of voters were against the referendum in the last election.

Lewis, the park district’s executive director, said he can only guess it’s because people don’t want tax increases in a state with already high taxes.

“I can’t control that. When you look at your overall tax bill, it is [high]. Hopefully, it will change,” he said. “That’s the push for the new governor right? To get property taxes down?”

The park district’s referendum was one of three referendums that failed to pass in Will County. Wilton Township’s referendum, which also sought support for a tax increase, and Braidwood city’s referendum for police pensions failed to pass as well. 

The failure of these referendums means the New Lenox park district and Wilton Township will have to make do with what they have. For Wilton Township, that means determining which infrastructure project will cost the most: road improvements or bridge repairs. 

“There’s only enough to keep up the roads. We have snow removal when we have a hard winter. As far as bridge repair, there’s no money for that right now,” said Township Supervisor Gynith Borden. 

Officials in Wilton Township, south of Manhattan and west of Peotone, asked voters if they should increase the tax rate from .4618 percent to .66 percent for road improvements and bridge repair. About 55 percent of voters were against it in the November election. 

Borden said she thinks the referendum failed for the same reason many do. People do not want tax increases, especially in a tough economy, she said. 

“I think people would like to see the bridges and roads repaired, but I can only guess as to why they won’t,” she said. 

With the failure of the New Lenox park district’s referendum, staff will have to build parks at a slower pace, re-evaluate charges and fees for programs, and compete better for state grants, Lewis said. 

“My fear is that [building parks] is going to get slower because the competition for grant money is going to get stiffer than it has ever been,” he said. 

The failed referendum has left park officials frustrated, he said. They conducted a needs assessment survey showing support for park improvements, but that support was not evident earlier this month during the election. 

Braidwood city officials asked for a new tax on taxable property for police pension purposes. About 82 percent of voters were against it. Calls to Police Chief Rich Girot were not immediately returned. 

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