In the next couple of years, depending on new village revenue streams and the state’s decisions regarding shared tax revenues, Brookfield village presidential candidate Michael Towner says he’d support going to referendum to fund long-term infrastructure improvements, e.g. on streets.
During an endorsement interview with the Landmark last week, Towner sounded off on a variety of issues, including what he believes is a need for more comprehensive planning, goal setting and follow through, involvement of advisory commissions and a more pro-active approach to economic development.
Criticized by his opponents for pushing for a property tax referendum to increase revenues, Towner altered his position somewhat last week, saying that any future referendum ought to address infrastructure improvements, not just general operations.
“I would not be averse to going out for referendum,” said Towner, a two-term trustee who broke from the PEP Party last fall in order to run as an independent for president. “If we went to referendum, I would like to specifically say that it would be for infrastructure.”
Towner, however, said that any decision on whether to go to referendum would be at least a year out, after seeing how new revenue streams, such as video gambling, affect village finances. He would also like to see whether the state of Illinois follows through on its threats to cut the amount of tax revenue it shares with municipalities.
“If they keep chipping away at us like they’ve been threatening to every year, that’s huge,” said Towner, who nonetheless argued that residents are getting a bargain for the taxes they pay for village services and should be open to an increase if it means infrastructure improvements.
“Looking at my tax bill, I pay a little over $1,000 to Brookfield,” Towner said. “About $200, $250 of that off the top goes to pension funds. So I’m paying $750, $800 a year and we maintain a good fire department, everybody gets clean water, everybody gets police [protection], we have public works plowing the streets.
“If you break it down, it’s a little over two bucks a day that you’re paying to maintain these services,” he added. “Would another 50 cents, 75 cents a day to have your streets done, would that be worth it? I know how I would vote.”
Despite coming out of the same political organization as his rival, Kit Ketchmark, Towner said he would bring a different approach to the role of president.
“With Kit, they’ll get the status quo,” said Towner. “With me, you’re going to have a chance to vote for the possible.”
For Towner, that means a more pro-active village board, one more interested in planning and acting on staff and advisory commission recommendations. While the village board has had a couple of goal-setting sessions in recent years, Towner said the board has lacked follow-up and has failed to give staff the specific direction needed to achieve those goals.
“I don’t think the problem is with the capabilities of the [staff] people,” said Towner. “I think the problem has been what’s expected. … I’m not sure they’ve always had a clear sight. We’re a reaction-responding group; we’re not pro-active.”
That goes for economic development efforts, said Towner, who would like the village to make itself more inviting to would-be developers by finally getting its code book online and courting developers through such things as developer breakfasts.
“Right now we just need to start moving,” said Towner.
He also criticized the current board and Village President Michael Garvey, who is running for election as a trustee in April, for ignoring potentially touchy advisory commission recommendations.
“We send our ideas to our commissions to die,” said Towner.
Towner pointed to the board’s punting on a recommendation by village staff and the public safety committee to change on-street parking rules in the village.
“We sent it back until we got the answer we wanted — don’t do anything,” said Towner, who would still like to see one-side-of-the-street parking tested in the village. “When you’re doing that, what kind of message are you sending?”
He also expressed disappointment in the village board for sidestepping any input by the parks and recreation commission with respect to improvement plans at Ehlert and Kiwanis parks.
“If I was on the rec board, I would have been very upset,” said Towner. “I don’t know why we don’t go through the process. Now a lot of the [recreation commissioners] will tell you it’s become all baseball. They want to be more productive than griping about baseball.”
Asked if he thought he and Ketchmark might split the vote and open an avenue for Bill Russ to reclaim the village presidency, Towner brushed off that idea.
“I really don’t think Bill is a huge threat,” Towner said. “I think part of his base was a large chunk of people who just hate PEP. Now that I’m out there as an alternate, and Bill’s been beat up for the last eight, 10 years, I actually think I’ll be taking some of his base away from him because I’m not a PEP guy.”
Will not being a “PEP guy” affect his ability to lead a village board that potentially could be made up of six PEP trustees?
“I look at village board meetings like a team meeting at work,” said Towner. “My role as a team leader is to get all the ideas out there and discuss them. I like to ask specifically, ‘What do you think?'”