Vot­ers turn down plan to ex­pand Lin­coln Cen­ter

Ref­er­en­dum could re­turn to the bal­lot in a year

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Rob Earn­shaw Post-Tri­bune

There is un­cer­tainty as to what hap­pens next for High­land af­ter vot­ers re­jected a ref­er­en­dum ques­tion to fund a $15 mil­lion ex­pan­sion to the Lin­coln Com­mu­nity Cen­ter and park.

“The pub­lic has ex­pressed its po­si­tion,” ClerkTrea­surer Michael Grif­fin said. “We are tasked with hon­or­ing it.”

The ref­er­en­dum could re­turn to the bal­lot in a year pro­vided there is a pe­ti­tion with 500 sig­na­tures from tax­pay­ers.

“I think that is un­likely,” Grif­fin said.

If that is the case, state statute al­lows the ref­er­en­dum to re­turn in two years.

A few days prior to the elec­tion, Grif­fin and Parks Su p e r i n t e n d e n t A l ex Brown hosted two in­for­ma­tion ses­sions about the ref­er­en­dum, which, had it passed, would have been paid for through prop­erty taxes.

Of­fi­cials said the aver­age High­land home­owner’s monthly cost would be about the same as a McDon­ald’s adult meal and drink.

Fi­nanc­ing for the $15 mil­lion project would be done by a lease pur­chase with an an­nual levy not to ex­ceed $1.22 mil­lion.

Grif­fin said the de­sire for the project to be done by ref­er­en­dum was elec­tive. The Park and Recre­ation Board and the Town Coun­cil con­sented to ini­ti­at­ing the ref­er­en­dum as it was not a re­quire­ment based upon the size of the fi­nanc­ing.

“The elec­tive ref­er­en­dum was rec­om­mended by me as I am con­cerned about the im­pact of cir­cuit breaker loss to the op- er­at­ing re­sources,” Grif­fin said. “High­land is now ex p e r i e n c i n g cir­cuit breaker loss. If a cap­i­tal project is ap­proved by a ref­er­en­dum, the levy to sup­port it will not add to cir­cuit breaker loss.”

Tax cir­cuit break­ers pro­tect tax­pay­ers from an “over­load” of taxes.

“While I think our pub­lic in­for­ma­tion fo­rums should have been held ear­lier, I was al­ways con­tent to ac­cept the pub­lic’s de­ter­mi­na­tion re­gard­ing this fi­nanc­ing,” Grif­fin said.

Had it passed, of­fi­cials said the project would have en­abled the park depart­ment to of­fer a variety of in-de­mand pro­gram­ming year-round. Plans called for build­ing an app rox i ma t e l y 5 0,0 0 0 - square-foot in­door turf sports com­plex with about 32,000 square feet of turf. The turf field would have been di­vided into as many as six soc­cer fields, de­pend­ing on the age of par­tic­i­pants and the size of the needed fields.

The space would have also ac­com­mo­dated lacrosse, base­ball and soft­ball with 60-foot base paths and four in­door bat­ting cages, which can also be used for hit­ting golf balls.

Sum­mer months would have al­lowed for the turf to be cov­ered with a hard­wood sur­face for vol­ley­ball and bas­ket­ball. Dur­ing those months the fa­cil­ity would have 10 to­tal bas­ket­ball courts and draw events like a Nike tour­na­ment, ac­cord­ing to Brown.

The use could have been split among open play, leagues, rentals and as­signed free time for High­land youth or­ga­ni­za­tions. Op­er­at­ing costs for the ex­pan­sion would be fully funded by fees gen­er­ated at the fa­cil­ity, of­fi­cials said.

Coun­cil­man Mark Herak said he is dis­ap­pointed in the ref­er­en­dum’s fail­ure as it would have been good for High­land, es­pe­cially for the youth of the town.

“But the vot­ing pub­lic resoundingly said no,” Herak said. “They didn’t want the ex­pan­sion.”

Herak said one of the signs that led him to be­lieve the ref­er­en­dum was in trou­ble was when a wife of a High­land High School soc­cer coach came to vote.

“I asked her to vote for the ex­pan­sion and she po­litely told me who she was and who her hus­band was, and she was op­posed to it be­cause it wasn’t big enough,” Herak said. “It was the same with other youth o rg a n i z a t i o n s. “Their board of directors didn’t em­brace the project.”

Rob Earn­shaw is a free­lance re­porter.

JOE PUCHEK/POST-TRI­BUNE

Lin­coln Cen­ter, 2450 Lin­coln St., High­land.

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