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Voters resoundingly rejected three referendums on the ballot in Tuesday’s election that would have raised taxes in Highland and unincorporated Calumet Township.

A Highland parks referendum — which would have raised $15 million to expand and improve the town's Lincoln Center — asked voters to increase the town's tax rate by 12.43 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

By the end of the night, however, it was clear voters were not happy with the idea of increased taxes. Nearly 6,500 people, or 69 percent, cast a no vote, whereas only 2,893 voted in favor.

Bernie Zemen, Highland Councilman for the 1st Ward, said he believes the project would have greatly benefited the town as a revenue generator, but the idea of raising taxes — albeit only the monthly equivalent of a McDonald’s adult meal and drink — did not resonate well with voters.

“I can’t really tell you (why it failed). I can’t pick people’s brains, but I do think people, at least older individuals on fixed incomes, they thought 'we have no use for this' and wanted to keep their taxes down,” Zemen said.

The plan was for a 49,874-square-foot indoor sports arena at the southeast end of the center, as a way to appeal to the town’s younger families with children in sports, he said. It would have been an indoor turf facility for soccer, baseball, softball and football.

Town officials previously said the average Highland homeowner’s monthly rate increase would amount to a McDonald’s adult meal and drink.

He said it’s possible some voters were ill-informed or listened to misinformation from opponents, leading to the referendum’s defeat. But he also said town officials could have done more to get the message out.

Officials advertised and held multiple public informational meetings, perhaps too late in the game when taking strong early voting numbers into account, Zemen said.

Earlier public meetings may have helped the campaign's cause, he said.

Zemen said it’s uncertain if park board officials will take another stab at a similar referendum in the future.

“That’s always a possibility,” he said.

Highland Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin said the referendum was a success in that the question was presented to voters and town leaders received honest, public feedback. 

"We have to respect their decision," he said. 

When the majority of voters oppose a referendum, the earliest the matter could be revisited is 350 days, but only with a petition of 500 signatures, Griffin said, citing state statute. Without a petition, the earliest officials may revisit the referendum is two elections from now — at least 700 days since the question was first posed, according to state statute. 

Park Board President Alex Rivera could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Lake Ridge schools referendums fail, too

Voters in unincorporated Calumet Township also rejected two referendums on the ballot for Lake Ridge schools.

One referendum would have raised $44.34 million to renovate various New Tech School buildings, and the other would maintain the district's current instructional spending levels. It would have increased property taxes in the school district by $1.1192 per $100 assessed value on private property.

Nearly 1,400 voters, or 59 percent, rejected that first referendum.

A second Lake Ridge referendum would have raised property taxes another $1.0028 per $100 assessed valuation for teachers and education programs for the next eight years.

About 6,480 voters, or 63 percent, turned down the second referendum, compared to the 2,893 who voted in favor. 

Lake Ridge Schools Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley and Business Manager Laura Hubinger were not available for comment Wednesday on the outcome of the district’s two referendums on the ballot.

However, Johnson-Shirley issued a statement through the district office thanking those who supported the campaign. 

"I wish to thank so many in our community who worked tirelessly in support of the referendum. Those of you who knocked on doors, made phone calls, and kept us going with your support, please know how much you are valued. Needless to say, I am very disappointed in the results of the referendum for Lake Ridge New Tech Schools, but the community has spoken. The Board and I will continue to work in support of our students, staff, and families of the Lake Ridge New Tech Schools," Johnson-Shirley said. 

Through an assistant, Johnson-Shirley did not immediately respond to emailed questions about the district's financial future.

When school leaders had pitched the referendums this year, failure appeared not to be an option with state-mandated tax caps on the horizon and desperately needed infrastructure improvements.

Now, the district must seriously consider massive budget cuts, with the closure of Hosford Park New Tech Elementary, the elimination of the district’s bus transportation and all but one security officer, officials have said.

Election Day: Complete Region results

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.