DIXON – The Dixon Park Board decided Friday to pull its referendum asking voters to expand district taxing boundaries until community center plans are more worked out.
The district planned to put the issue to a vote on the March 17 ballot to annex property that would widen the Park District’s taxing boundaries from the city limits to the School District lines in order to pay for a community center and finance future improvement projects.
Plans were to iron out estimated costs for the facility this month after reviewing a feasibility study, but they need more time before moving forward because they didn’t get the information they expected, district Executive Director Duane Long said.
The three main aspects of the project they wanted to release to the public prior to the vote were the center’s location, expenses and how the district would sustain operations; the latter two still are unanswered questions, Long said.
“We made a commitment to our community that we would not run this referendum until all questions were answered and all partnerships were finalized,” Long said. “We have made great strides toward both of these goals, but we need a little more time to guarantee fiscal responsibility and to create space for transparency with the community.”
The goal is to solidify a partnership with the Dixon Family YMCA and determine what operational costs, such as staffing, could be shared.
“We don’t have it figured out enough to tell the public how it’s going to work,” Long said. “This is not to stop the process but to delay it.”
Board Vice President Shane Miller said rescinding the referendum was the right move because they’ll have a better chance of success if they can provide more answers to the public.
The referendum would need to be passed by those now in the district and those who would be brought into the fold. The district last tried to expand the boundaries to include Dixon Township 2 decades ago, and it failed.
Next steps will be to gather more information from a consulting firm, tie up loose ends with operational costs, and finalize a partnership with the YMCA, Long said.
“We are excited to work as a true partner with the park district on the community center,” YMCA Executive Director Andy McFarlane said. “We have made great progress in the planning process and are committed to creating a partnership that is a win-win for Dixon.”
Board President Ron Pritchard said that going forward, he would like to see the board included more with the planning and information. Miller agreed.
“We need to be kept in the loop more,” Pritchard said. “There’s lots of discussions and decisions being made apart from us.”
Project recommendations were spearheaded by the #Dixon Strong Leadership Team, a group of 15 people pegged for their leadership roles and volunteerism to plan the foundations for a center and also help with projects for the Park District, city, School District and YMCA.
The group conducted two community surveys for the center, and needs assessments were also done for all the involved organizations. Their meetings are closed to the public.
Long said it’s the board that makes the final decisions, and he will work on keeping board members more informed on meetings and findings.
He’s constantly in meetings and on conference calls about the project, with the YMCA, City Manager Danny Langloss, the Dixon Strong team, and the design and construction firm, Cherry Valley-based Ringland-Johnson Construction.
Long said he had hoped to have a detailed plan to present to the board, but they didn’t get the numbers they were hoping for from the feasibility study, and they’re not ready to present it publicly.
“We need time to get this right,” he said. “We want to get this right the first time around; that’s our best chance to make this work.”
It’s possible they could be ready for a referendum on the November ballot, but they’re not going to rush the process, Long said.
“This complex will serve our community for generations, and we all realize this cannot be rushed,” Langloss said. “Our community deserves a guarantee of long-term success before making a decision on this project.”
The district estimates bringing in $917,000 more a year if a referendum is successful, and those coming into the district would see a property tax increase of $150 for a $100,000 home.
The proposed center would be built in Meadows Park and could include a teen center, study area, cafe, park district administration office, two community rooms, a fitness center, basketball courts, indoor track, turf fields, and an indoor/outdoor swimming pool.
The Dixon Park Board next meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the district office, 804 Palmyra St.
Go to dixonparkdistrict.com or the park district office, or call 815-284-3306 for an agenda or more information.