Back in 2004, the Riverside village board was successful in asking voters to support issuing about $2 million in bonds to fund road repairs. Apart from a 2006 referendum asking residents to support a 1 percent sales tax to fund infrastructure repairs, it was the last time the village successfully asked residents for additional money.
Part of the sales pitch in 2004 was that the new bonds would be replacing a bond issue that was retiring, so taxpayers wouldn’t notice the new debt on their tax bills. That’s part of the sales pitch again in 2014.
What people might forget is that back in December 2003, when the village board was kicking around the idea of a new bond issue, trustees also considered tossing in the restoration of the historic water tower as part of the bond issue.
But that strategy quickly was abandoned, and instead of risking the restoration of the water tower on a referendum, the village board decided to use reserve funds to pay for the project.
So when voters went to the polls in the spring of 2004, the referendum question was a simple one: Do you want to issue bonds to fund street repairs?
The support was overwhelming, to the tune of about 4 to 1 in favor of issuing the bonds. Over the following three or four years, Riverside was able to repave (and in a couple of cases reconstruct) roadways that were in desperate need of repair.
While it’s taken 10 years to pay off the 2004 debt (it will be officially paid off in December), the funds were expended long ago, and it’s been some years since Riverside has been able to repave streets at a rate approaching 2004-06. In recent years, Riverside has relied on motor fuel tax money and the local 1 percent sales tax — neither of which amounts to a whole heck of a lot in Riverside — to fund small road projects.
The Riverside board has until about mid-August to craft a referendum question for voters. What they would do well to keep in mind is that simpler is better when it comes to these kinds of things.
Multiple referendum questions, or questions combining several projects, are likely to be eyed suspiciously by voters, who have shown in recent years that they’re in little mood to pass any kind of tax referendum.
Issuing bonds to repair streets is appropriate. Streets represent long-term infrastructure that needs to be maintained, and it is almost impossible for Riverside to be able to save the kind of money needed for such repairs from year to year.
As trustees eagerly point out, while Riverside residents’ property tax bills continue to rise, the village’s portion of that bill, while growing incrementally over the years, continues to shrink as a percentage of the total bill. The village’s share of a homeowner’s tax bill is less than 15 percent at this time.
Reissuing bonds to repair roads is not going to change that equation much. Riverside should move ahead with its plan, but keep in mind that it needs to be direct and easy to understand.