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Our View: Land purchase a good first step for park district

Sycamore Park District officials have taken another step toward executing plans to expand the recreational opportunities they can offer residents with the purchase of 25 acres of land.

The park district purchased the property last month for $450,000, or $18,000 an acre.

The decision to buy the land looks like a good one. Its location just east of the park district’s sports complex on Airport Road is ideal, and importantly, it is outside the Kishwaukee River flood plain.

About two-thirds of the park district’s other land holdings are in the flood plain, which prevents them from building any new structures or improvements that will impede water flow. In other words, on much of their property, they can’t add to what’s already in place.

The decision to buy the land was a good step, but it might also have been the easiest one. The harder part will be convincing the public to pay for what they want to build there. But they have not gone into this blind.

The park district has invested time and resources to enlist residents to help shape a plan for how to expand the park district’s offerings. They have surveyed community members and enlisted citizens in a long-term strategic planning group.

Based on their opinions, park officials envision the new property will eventually include a new community center, dog park, a zero-depth aquatic play area called a splash pad, and a sledding hill. More detailed plans have not yet been developed.

Not all of those need be big-ticket items: The DeKalb Park District was able to convert a seldom-used baseball diamond into an off-leash dog area at relatively low cost last year.

Park officials said they plan to raise money through state grants, a fundraising campaign and offering naming opportunities to businesses or other donors. But any project that requires building a lasting public structure would probably require a property-tax increase referendum.  

Could such a measure pass?

The property tax rate for homeowners in the City of Sycamore is approaching 10 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation, and there is a difference between what people say they would like to have available and what they’re willing to pay more to create.

Park board President Ted Strack said the amenities could be added at an estimated cost of $7.61 a month to the average Sycamore homeowner – and people in surveys have said they are willing to pay as much as $10 a month for these new features, Strack said.

There’s no plan yet for a referendum, so at this point, park board members can take as long as they deem necessary to pursue other sources of funding and develop a plan they think they can sell to the public.

A tax increase is never an easy sell, but one targeted at the desires of residents could succeed. As with any measure put to a popular vote, however, there are no guarantees. 

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