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Mayor: REC Center purchase ‘dead’

Brett Hoffman lifts weights Yorkville Rec Center earlier this year. Yorkville residents will be asked November referendum whether they want

Brett Hoffman lifts weights at the Yorkville Rec Center earlier this year. Yorkville residents will be asked in a November referendum whether they want to purchase the Rec Center by making payments not to exceed $2.5 million over the next 20 years. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 30, 2012 3:47PM

YORKVILLE — Mayor Gary Golinski favors the city buying the REC Center here, and, in fact, this week declared it the most fiscally responsible thing for the city to do. But he also declared the potential purchase by the city as “dead.”

The mayor said he knows he is in the minority in his town, and on the City Council.

“There was life before the REC Center, and will be life after, so we have to get over it,” the mayor said this week, after the council met with members of the Park Board. “I don’t see a purchase contract coming forward. It’s dead as far as I’m concerned.”

The REC Center has been a controversial issue in town for several years. The city leases the former private health club and operates it as a part club, part host for its recreation programs.

Yorkville does not have a Park District, but rather a city parks department. The department runs organized recreation activities in the town.

There has been vocal opposition to continuing to lease the center, or to buy it. The City Council held three public hearings on the subject, and discussed it at other meetings for more than a year. At one point, aldermen voted to opt out of the lease, but left buying the center open.

In November, the city put a non-binding question about the purchase on the ballot, and Yorkville voters opposed the purchase, 3,704 to 3,408, a vote indicating how close opposing public opinion on the purchase is.

“It was pretty close,” said Alderman Marty Munns, 3rd Ward. “When I walk around the ward and talk to folks, people with kids are for it, people without kids are dead-set against it.”

But many are treating the non-binding referendum as if it were binding, a sort of winner-take-all mentality. Rather than interpret it as close, mostly opponents to the purchase have said “the people have spoken,” and the council should honor the vote results as a win for those opposing the purchase.

“Our residents clearly said no,” said Alderman Rose Spears, 4th Ward.

Spears also railed against the suggestion made by several Park Board members that people did not understand the issue.

“I’m getting tired of hearing that our residents are morons,” she said.

But some Park Board members said they feared people did misunderstand some of the issues involved. For instance, many have tied the REC Center issue to taxes, but city officials insisted that buying the REC Center would not affect property taxes. Golinski predicted that if the city purchased the center, it would be operating in the black, supported by its own revenues, within two years.

Others said they want the city to walk away from the REC Center so there will be more money available for other priorities, such as infrastructure, and roads. But Golinski said that also is not an issue.

“Walking away from this facility does not provide any money for roads,” he said. “If we walk away, we have to come up with money.”

Those opposed to buying the REC Center have said that even if the city has to pay up front to get out from under the center’s lease, it would be more costly in the long run to maintain what they refer to as a white elephant. They also have said, as Alderman Chris Funkhouser, 3rd Ward, reiterated this week, that the city owning the REC Center would be competing with private business, such as the YMCA.

Park Board member Kelly Sedgewick called “purchasing the REC Center the best thing for all citizens.” He pointed out that there are at least 1,400 members, and another 3,000 who attend programs at the center. He said the city would lose 90 percent of its recreational programming without the REC Center.

While supporting the REC Center purchase, Golinski said he is treating the referendum as if it were binding. He also conceded he does not have enough votes on the City Council — he would need at least four — to get a purchase agreement passed.

He charged the Park Board with looking at what to do without the REC Center. Already, the winter program brochure has been on hold, waiting to see if there would be a place for many of the programs.

“I’m very disappointed with the results, but we’ve got to start looking at the future without it,” Golinski said.

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