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Daily Journal
     March 18, 2020      #90-78 KDJ

Voters reject tax for Kankakee River 

By Lee Provost

If a plan is developed to deal with Kankakee County flooding issues associated with the Kankakee River, the money to put the plan in action will come from a source other than those who live near the river.

Voters in Tuesday’s primary election rejected the bid to expand the Kankakee River Conservancy District by a 54 to 46 percent margin, meaning 3,543 voters cast ballots against the expansion while 3,018 supported it.

If approved, the property tax would have cost residents within the expanded district about $24 annually on a house valued at $100,000. The ballot question was put forth to residents who mainly live within 1 to 2 miles of the river.

The referendum was not an initiative of the Kankakee County Board, although board chairman Andy Wheeler was among those who served as spokespersons for the referendum which was pursued by a citizens’ group.

“It’s the democratic process,” said Wheeler, who had helped organize and lead the effort to expand the taxing district across Kankakee County. “People voted and said what they wanted. They do not want to address the river in the way it was presented to them.”

Flooding along the river banks has been a growing concern for many years as areas flood at a greater rate than they have in the past. However, that reality did not seem to propel voters to support the funding mechanism that was projected to raise about $450,000 a year.

“I understand,” Wheeler said only moments after the fate of the referendum was sealed. “No one wants their taxes raised. But the river is our biggest asset. This river defines us all. I failed the community in my opinion. I was not able to get people to see the value in this. I will continue to look for ways to solve this problem. But there are still no funds to address what we want to do locally. That’s disappointing to me.”

The money generated by the tax would have been mainly used as matching funds for federal or state grants. Without matching funds, Kankakee County might not be in play for any significant funding streams.

Only days prior to Tuesday’s election, a series of three town hall meetings was held in Kankakee, Momence and Aroma Park to help answer voters’ questions and gain more support for the proposal.

“I thought people would stand up and say this is the time for us to do this,” Wheeler added. “This was our shot. What are we doing to solve this problem and meet this challenge?”

River referendum

Kankakee River Conservancy District referendum

For, 3,018

Against, 3,543

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