Riverside trustees at a special board meeting this morning were expected to join both Brookfield and North Riverside as towns putting a local sales tax referendum on the March 21 primary election ballot.

Riverside is expected to ask voters to approve a 1-percent tax on local sales, which is expected to bring the village approximately $177,000 per year, in order to help the village fund both road and sidewalk improvements. Riverside currently imposes no local sales tax.

If approved, the tax will be levied on all purchases in Riverside except for food from grocery stores, drugs and other medical items and auto sales. Previously, non-home rule communities were allowed by state statute to impose up to a half-percent local sales tax, if passed by referendum.

State legislators increased the local sales tax ceiling by overriding Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s veto of Senate Bill 272 in November 2005.

“A sales tax can be a very significant component [for raising revenue],” said Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr. “It isn’t as significant here in Riverside, but anything we can do is helpful. This is a potential for us to enhance our revenue slightly, without putting a heavy hand on our residents.”

Trustee William Scanlon noted that non-residents would likely be contributing most of the new tax, stating the village received a majority of its sales tax revenue from gas stations and Brookfield Zoo, which lies partly within Riverside.

Trustees had expected to approve the referendum question last week at a special meeting on Jan. 5, but couldn’t agree over the wording of the actual ballot question. Trustee John Scully, in particular, felt the original wording of the question was too vague. The matter was tabled until today so the village attorney could rework the question, if possible.

Still, Riverside trustees were unanimous in their support of the sales tax.

“I agree it should be on the ballot,” Scully said. “I disagree that this will be a panacea. On the other hand, I’m willing to commit the money to road construction.

“It will pass if people understand who is paying the tax,” he added. “People buying gas and visiting the zoo are paying the tax. The golden agers will be jumping all over this if we don’t make that clear.”

While trustees focused on road improvements as the main beneficiary of the new tax, Village Manager Kathleen Rush also suggested the board could direct some of the funds to help increase sidewalk replacement in the village.

The village, which dedicates $50,000 to sidewalk replacement, is currently on a pace to replace sidewalks every 100 years. She suggested that the village double that amount and put the excess in the village’s capital projects fund.

But Trustee Candice Grace cautioned that voters might not go for simply depositing money in the capital projects fund, and suggested focusing the new tax on both road improvements and sidewalk replacement.

Trustee Thomas Shields and Scanlon also felt the tax could help the village address the issue of who should fund road reconstruction. While the village issued bonds in 2004 for street resurfacing, it did not address complete reconstruction, which has historically been paid for through unpopular Special Service Areas.

“In the long run, it’ll be easier, more efficient and less controversial that roads are improved when they need it,” Shields said. “The sooner the village accepts this responsibility the better the roads will be.”

North Riverside looks for .5% hike

Trustees of the Village of North Riverside, meanwhile, have already voted to ask residents to approve an increase in that village’s local sales tax. On March 21, the ballot will ask voters for a half-percent increase in the tax, which is already at a half-percent.

North Riverside voters previously approved a half-percent local sales tax in 2003. Adding another half-percent to the tax will bring in an estimated $1.8 million to the village, which is home to North Riverside Park Mall and two other large shopping strips along Harlem Avenue.

“This will have the least impact on our residents,” said Village Administrator Guy Belmonte. “When you rely on sales tax as much as we do, it means a lot to us.”

According to the state statute allowing the sales tax, money collected must be used for either infrastructure improvements or tax relief.

Belmonte said the funds will not be directly targeted toward infrastructure improvements, but would instead be used to help the village hold the line on property taxes. He suggested, for example, that the money could be used to help fund the village’s police pensions instead of asking to raise property taxes to fund them.