Park District Candidates on a Community Center

Besides questions on competition with business and open space, another asked of Crystal Lake Park District board candidates concerned the proposed recreation center.

That’s the one park commissioners just voted 3-2 to spend $93,000 on, despite a request from challenger Bernie Van Ham to wait until after the election. (He had some ideas for more inexpensive building alternatives.)

Comments were also solicited about amenities and financing.

Richard Sexton was first up.

“The question is whether we can afford it,” he said.

“The other question is who’s going to use it.”

Sexton told of visiting Aurora’s facility, which cost $20 million and on which they “are making their bond payments.”

He pointed out that Aurora is a bigger community than Crystal Lake. In Aurora there are three pools, basketball and batting cages.

“The 35 million price tag scares me a little bit,” he added.

“Yes, I want it,” he said.

Next to answer was Eric Anderson.

“I think it needs to be built for the people who are going to pay the freight,” he said.

Anderson mentioned NISRA, the local special recreation association.

“The Crystal Lake Park District levies the maximum rate for special recreation.”

I didn’t know that, but, if so, that would be 4 cents per $100 of assessed valuation and park districts are allowed to levy the tax without a referendum.

Maybe I misunderstood Anderson, because he added that levying the tax “to the maximum” would yield “in excess of $2.5 million a year.”

He said that $40 million in bonds would require a debt repayment of $3 million per year.

His suggestion was that the facility be designed “for people with handicaps,” so that special recreation tax money could be tapped.

That would leave “maybe $1 million” a year to come from somewhere else.

Anderson, a park district attorney elsewhere in Illinois told of how a golf course was purchased in Countryside with the city and the park district each picking up half of the cost.

In a letter to the Northwest Herald Anderson corrected an earlier article about his idea:

The Crystal Lake Park District already levies the maximum amount for special recreation. The park district recently levied more than $732,630 even though its expenses for the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association were $254,403.

My rough calculation is that there might be more than $2.3 million a year being levied by NISRA members in excess of expenses. If these funds go to NISRA, it will need to add facilities and programs, which could include participation in the community center.

As a Crystal Lake park district board candidate, my position on taxation is that if tax proceeds are not going to be used as required, they must be reduced.

Michael Zellman, one of the two incumbents running for re-election was present. (Incumbent Candy Reedy and challenger Michael Walkup were absent from the forum.)

“Yes,” was Zellman’s answer to whether he favored a community center.

He envisions an indoor pool, track, basketball courts (currently rented from schools), something I didn’t catch for seniors and health and NISRA components.

He proposes selling some buildings now owned by the park district to finance part of the center, but noted that a cost estimate for facility is needed first.

With regard to the “health component,” Zellman wants to “put that out for bid.”

Other financing could come from “sponsorship opportunities” and “bonds” and something I didn’t catch.

I know the park district has consistently sold bonds without a referendum, a practice I find objectionable, but I don’t know if that is what Zellman was talking about.

“A referendum is obviously the last thing we want to look at, the last line of defense on that,” he concluded.

The former Freeport Park District Commissioner, Bud Schmauss, who has lived in Crystal Lake for about five years, answered the recreation center question, “Yes.”

“What I’ve seen is that we’ putting the cart before the horse.

If anyone had told me (20 years ago that I would be paying) $500 a month rent to the government, (I wouldn’t have believe him), Schmauss said, referring to his tax bill.

But, he added, “We’ve got to be ready for what this community is going to need in 2015.

“I do have some questions with competition with private enterprise,” he continued.

“They’re many options out there.”

I think he said he belonged to Centegra’s Health Bridge.

“How’re we going to pay for it?” Schmauss asked. “What’s it going to cost?”

Angel Collins was next.

Her answer was also, “Yes, but, more importantly the community of Crystal Lake is in favor of it.”

She pointed to a community needs assessment. I think it was limited to Crystal Lake residents, but I may be wrong.

“In the financial part of it, there’s been a lot of discussion. A price tag hasn’t been determined,” she continued, adding that the “land is not included.”

Sources of financing could be “corporate sponsors.” She noted that in one community center she had visited, a hospital had paid for part and the park district was leasing it.

John Burton gave a “qualified yes” at “the level the community supports.

“I don’t think it should be a tax burden to the community,” he said, suggesting that it be built with the thought of adding onto it “as the community grows.”

“Maybe,” Bernie Van Ham answered.

“Yes in 2000, residents said they wanted one. They also said they wouldn’t pay any taxes for it.”

Van Ham asked why Centegra would want to put another health club at a park district community center.

He pointed out that two taxing bodies (the McHenry County Conservation District and Nunda Township) are going to referendum for the identical thing—open space.

“McHenry County College is talking about building pretty much the same thing (a recreation center).

“A new school building referendum (will) probably be needed for the schools because of Terra Cotta (the huge Prairie Grove development),” he added.

“All of a sudden $50-100 more per month (in taxes),” Van Ham said.

As you can see, there is a wide variety of opinion among those running for the Crystal Lake Park Board.

The candidates’ night was held at Park Place and sponsored by
the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce.

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All the photographs can be enlarged by clicking on them. In descending order, the candidates are Richard Sexton, Eric Anderson, Michael Zellman, Bud Schmauss, Angel Collins, John Burton and Bernie Van Ham.

On top I have also added a photo of the most photogenic community center swimming pool I have seen as a McHenry Marlins Dad. It is in Elgin’s Center, which never comes close to breaking even on operating expenses, let along paying off the cost of the land and constructing the building.

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