ROCHELLE — It appears that the voting results of the upcoming April 2 referendum will be the sole determining factor on whether or not a community recreation center will be built in Rochelle in the next year.
At a special park board meeting on Jan. 7, Flagg-Rochelle Park District commissioners unanimously approved a proposal to ask voters through a referendum vote for authority to issue general obligation bonds in the amount of $14 million to build and equip a recreation center on the April 2, 2019 consolidated election ballot.
However, in a second move, board members also voted 5-1 in favor of passing an ordinance that authorizes the district to issue alternative revenue bonds not to exceed $14 million for the same purpose of building and equipping a recreation center.
The dual actions gave district leaders two different paths in an effort to possibly secure tax payer funding for constructing a community recreation center planned on the south property of the Helms Athletic Complex next to Walgreens. Passing both options enabled the district to put the issue to voters in 2019, rather than waiting until 2020 and risking higher project construction cost bids, but it also left open the possibility the board could legally issue the bonds regardless of referendum results.
The difference in the two options is not only the type of bonds being issued (general obligation vs. alternate revenue), but also how Flagg Township voters participate in the process. A referendum proposition is decided during an election by yes or no simple majority vote, while the ordinance requires a minimum of 7.5 percent (or 526) of current registered Flagg voters to petition the district and force the issue to be put on the ballot.
A public legal notice related to the alternative revenue bond ordinance was published in the Jan. 9 edition of the Rochelle News-Leader, which explained the legal process and gave registered Flagg Township voters 30 days to petition the park district and basically force a binding referendum on the matter.
Since that time, local resident Christa Seebach, who is also a former park board member from 2011-15, spearheaded an effort to gather petitions to assure all Flagg Township voters would have a say in whether tax dollars can be increased to pay for the proposed facility.
“It seems complicated to have two different motions and when I read that public notice, I realized that the park board could legally issue the bonds if there weren’t enough petitions turned in,” Seebach said. “So, I got together with about a dozen other people and friends who feel the same as I do that the public should make the final decision and we made an effort to gather enough petitions.”
Seebach said she and other helpers went door-to-door and talked to people around town to secure approximately 600 signatures of what she claims are valid registered voters of Flagg Township.
“The signatures were due at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7, so on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 we dropped off more than 80 petition sheets with seven signatures listed on each at the park district office,” she explained.
Park director Jackee Ohlinger confirmed on Friday that the petitions were received and indicated there is a process in place for validating the signatures and there is a five-day period of time that citizens have to review and possibly object to any signatures.
In the meantime, she and other park staff and leaders are making plans to hold upcoming public meetings to educate the public and share plans about the proposed recreation center amenities and funding prior to the April 2 referendum.
“We will be organizing some presentations for the community so that voters understand and have a clear vision of what we are proposing,” Ohlinger said. “Plus, we want the public to know exactly what is being asked on the ballot proposal.”
In the past few months, district officials have discussed plans for an 80,000-foot community center that would include a large turf playing field for a variety of indoor sporting events, a gymnasium with multiple courts, a fitness center with workout equipment and weights, a perimeter walking track, program and classroom space, locker rooms, staff offices and public meeting areas. A second phase of the project would include a large competitive swimming pool.
District officials have indicated that memberships would be sold to residents to fund the majority of the operational costs of the facility, while youth sports tournaments and possible usage contracts with Rochelle Township High School and Kishwaukee College could also provide reliable income.
The cost to tax payers for building the facility have been estimated at approximately $80 per year based on a $150,000 value home.
Park board commissioner Bud Norcross, who voted yes to putting the proposal on the ballot for referendum but voted no on the ordinance to issue alternate revenue bonds, said he is impressed to see residents secure the large number of petitions.
“I am not against this project, but based on the amount of tax dollars involved, I do believe the registered voters of the township should all have the opportunity to vote on it in a binding referendum,” he stated. “All I want is that the residents and tax payers have final say if we should build this facility or not.”