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Tax hike unlikely in Kiwanis Park deal

DeKALB – Park district leaders haven’t determined how much they might pay for Kiwanis Park or how any payments might be structured, but a property tax increase referendum is not likely.

“That’s a drawn out process, and I’m very sensitive to how the community feels about a referendum,” park district Executive Director Cindy Capek said. “... I’m not sure that would be something that would be supported by the community.”

Kiwanis Park, a 41-acre parcel owned by DeKalb School District 428 and maintained by the DeKalb Park District, has been at the heart of a controversial land swap proposal that would transfer ownership of the property to Geneva-based developer ShoDeen, in exchange for 33.46 acres of property near the new DeKalb High School. Kiwanis Park is the site of 14 youth soccer fields that primarily serve the AYSO league.

School district leaders announced Tuesday that they would put the land-swap proposal on the back-burner and discuss transferring the property to the park district instead. Last month, Capek told the Daily Chronicle the park district hadn’t been asked about acquiring the property and likely couldn’t afford it without voters agreeing to higher property taxes.

Then, the proposed land swap met with public outcry from local residents, who distributed bumper stickers and about 100 yard signs encouraging local leaders to “Keep our green; it’s not for ShoDeen.” A Facebook page by that name had 447 members Wednesday afternoon.

Former DeKalb Mayor Bessie Chronopoulos, who led the opposition, said she was “cautiously optimistic” Wednesday about the future of Kiwanis Park. She encouraged both governing bodies to reach an affordable agreement without focusing too much on appraised values. The park district and school district both serve DeKalb, although the school district includes residents of Malta and Cortland.

“It’s the same pocket it’s being pulled out of,” Chronopoulos said. “... Maybe there’s some money available through local grants. Maybe the city can help a little bit. I don’t know.”

Kiwanis Park was appraised in May at $15,000 an acre, or about $625,200.

On Wednesday, Capek expected a deal would be discussed without a referendum. Possibilities included payments that would fit within the park district’s annual budget or using private donations. She expected negotiations would start after the holidays.

“There’s a concern in the community about preserving the green space,” Capek said. “I think the school district is very interested in doing what’s right for the community. I don’t think we want to put this off. I don’t think it will take that much time. I think the bigger decision is both parties saying, ‘Yes, we should come together.’ “

The park district’s current budget anticipates having $2.97 million cash on hand Feb. 28 after spending $5.95 million and receiving $5.95 million in the current fiscal year. The park district is saving money from its annual bond issue to replace the aging pool at Hopkins Park for the 2015 season.

Meanwhile, District 428 has a $2.3 million deficit after spending about $68 million of its operating funds for the 2012-13 school year. The district anticipates having $23.7 million cash on hand in those funds June 30, according to a budget presentation posted on the district’s website.

District 428 also will have to start paying ShoDeen $42,000 a year next year.

When District 428 bought the land for the high school, school leaders got a lower price in exchange for giving Macom Development an impact fee credit. School leaders also agreed to start annual payments of $42,000 in 2013 if Macom Development didn’t develop the property next to the high school and start using the impact fee credit by then. ShoDeen inherited that agreement when it acquired the property.

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