In January of 2004, Brookfield Village President Bill Russ, with the backing of a VIP Party controlled village board, made good on an earlier campaign promise to abate taxes in the village’s six Special Service Areas. The move lifted a roughly $450,000 tax burden from the residents in the SSAs, some of whom had been paying the debt service for street construction since 1991.
To make good on the debt service, the village dipped into its general fund, which spared anyone else in the village from seeing an increase in their property tax bills. At the time, Russ declared that he would continue the practice of abating the SSA taxes as long as he was in office.
But some residents living in the SSAs are wondering what has become of that promise in 2005. The issue of SSA debt repayment has not appeared on any board agenda, nor has the subject been broached at the board table.
A couple of weeks ago, an anonymous letter appeared on the doorsteps of some 150 SSA residents, asking “what’s the hold up”? In response, in a letter dated March 1, Russ sent his reply, which was mailed to residents in the SSAs, roughly 15 to 20 percent of the village’s population.
“It is the current administration’s intent to abate those taxes,” Russ wrote in the letter.
“But you can bet that if the PEP Party gets into office, both [PEP presidential candidate Michael] Garvey and [Trustee Kit] Ketchmark will make sure that you will have to pay those taxes again.”
Garvey and Ketchmark voted against forgiving the SSA payments in 2004, saying the village couldn’t afford it.
Garvey denied any PEP involvement in drafting or circulating the anonymous letter regarding the SSA payments. The letter, in fact, was written and circulated by Brookfield resident James Taylor, a frequent critic of Russ. Taylor’s brother, William, is involved in a legal battle with Russ over alleged threats William Taylor made against Russ in 2003.
But James Taylor, who lives in one of Brookfield’s SSA’s, said the letter was simply asking for an explanation.
“I had $480 taken off my taxes; I benefited from this [abatement],” Taylor said. “My whole point is why he isn’t doing this before election day? The reason is because 85 percent of the people don’t get a tax refund.”
Taylor said that money was refunded to him from his mortgage escrow account at the end of last year due to the abatement. If the abatement doesn’t happen in 2005, he says he’ll now come up short.
When asked why the SSA abatements had not come up for debate yet in 2005 at the village board level, Russ said he didn’t know.
“I do not know why we did not do it sooner,” Russ wrote in an e-mail response last week. “A lot of other things were going on as you know. Maybe it slipped staff’s mind. Maybe last year someone told them to put it up first of the year, because we have to pass it then and we did. Maybe they found out it was not necessary till the end of May and put it off? I don’t have an answer but our majority will vote to pass it soon.”
Garvey said he was surprised the issue hasn’t come up for a vote, since it came to the floor in January last year. His position hasn’t changed on the abatements, however.
“I don’t favor paying off the SSAs,” he said. “I don’t think we have the money to do it. But I’d like the issue to come up again, so we can talk about it another time.”
John Dolasinski, the village’s finance director, said the rush to abate the taxes in 2004 came as a surprise to him.
“I never understood the rush to do the abatements,” Dolasinski said. “The abatements have to be done before the county clerk extends taxes. Generally we need to get [abatements] into the county by about June.”
From the perspective of village finances it might not have made much sense, but abating the taxes in January did have a political basis. Doing so short-circuited a referendum on the issue that was scheduled for the March 2004 election. The referendum question never made it to the ballot.
All Dolasinski said he would like is clear direction from the board regarding the abatements.
“It gets confusing to the public to have taxes fluctuate,” Dolasinski said. “I wish the board would adopt a policy they would follow. If the board adopts a policy, that’s what the village manager and I have to deal with when we prepare the budget.”
Dolasinski said he is in the process of preparing the 2005-06 budget, which begins May 1, now. The abatements have not yet been figured into the new budget either way, Dolasinski said.