Voters turn down plan to expand Lincoln Center
Referendum could return to the ballot in a year
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.
Lincoln Center, 2450 Lincoln St., Highland.