Lemont drops property tax option for sports complex
By FranK Vaisvilas Correspondent January 7, 2014 5:42PM
Updated: February 10, 2014 7:29AM
In the face of strong opposition, the Lemont Village Board has rescinded an ordinance that would have allowed the village to raise its property tax rate, if needed, to help pay for the planned Lemont Sports Complex.
Despite the dangerous cold, village officials said they needed to hold the special meeting Monday night to avoid a possible March referendum on a tax increase to pay for the $21 million athletic complex. Dozens of residents attended the meeting, and many spoke against the project.
Last year, trustees approved a bond issue to enable Lemont to raise the property tax for the sports complex if other revenue sources, such as the sales tax and a money from a special taxing district, proved to be insufficient.
After the ordinance passed, several residents organized a petition drive for a referendum and collected about 1,700 signatures in the three weeks following the board’s vote.
“The residents don’t want this sports complex,” Rick Ligthart, who helped organize the petition drive, said. “... We don’t like the way it’s financed because it’s debt whether it’s bonds or private financing.”
The last day to file the referendum for the March ballot is Thursday, so village officials decided to pursue other funding options rather than create the need for the referendum.
“We heard loud and clear, which is the democratic process,” Mayor Brian Reaves said of the residents’ objections.
Sales tax and other revenue could still be used to pay for the sports complex, and Reaves said the project still looks feasible even without the property tax option.
Some residents argued that officials should let the referendum proceed so residents could have a say on the project. They contend that the village should not operate a sports complex.
But Trustee Paul Chialdikas said the private sector is not interested in the downtown property planned for the complex, which used to be an oil refinery, and such a complex would help boost Lemont’s economy and help revitalize downtown.
Trustee Debby Blatzer said the proposed referendum would address how the complex would be funded, not the need for it.
Reaves said Lemont officials have been negotiating with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which owns the land in downtown Lemont where the sports complex would be built.
The mayor said several more meetings would be held on the project and invited residents to participate in a citizens’ advisory board.
Resident Michelle Salazar said she welcomes the idea of a sports complex. She said Lemont children who belong to sports clubs have to travel to different communities, often at inconvenient times, because of high demand for youth sports facilities.
“That money is being spent,” Salazar said. “It’s not being spent in Lemont.”