Next Tuesday, Nov. 4, Riverside voters will go to the polls faced with a question that’s asking for what appears to be a tax increase.
Specifically, the question on the ballot will be asking voters to approve a $2.5 million bond issue the funds of which will be used to complete street improvements over the next several years.
That’s a lot of money. But, for us, this kind of referendum question is no-brainer. It’s a referendum question that deserves voters’ support.
First, while the question is asking voters to approve new debt, the impact of this bond issue to homeowners’ tax bills will be neutral. Ten years ago, the village issued $2 million in bonds for the same purpose. Those bonds retire at the end of 2014.
While taxpayers could see a minimal tax decrease by simply letting those bonds retire and foregoing a replacement issue, the fact is that streets are a perpetual infrastructure concern.
Sure, the village could simply rely on motor fuel tax funds and the 1-percent local sales tax approved by voters several years ago to fund street repairs. But that would mean a much slower timetable for those improvements.
The village estimates that it can repair and maintain 49 percent more streets over the next decade if the bond referendum passes.
Prior to issuing bonds whose burden was shared by all village taxpayers, streets got repaved by virtue of special service areas where only residents whose properties abutted those streets paid for the improvement.
That, to us, is incredibly short-sighted. First, there are some streets in Riverside that qualify for federal grant funding. Are residents supposed simply to hope they can be a winner in street-improvement roulette? That solution has the potential to lead to very serious street disrepair if residents fought the creation of such a special service area because they feel they can’t afford improvements.
Having village streets in good repair benefits all Riverside residents. In addition to the street repairs, the village routinely does spot sewer repairs as well. These are part of the community’s infrastructure, not just one block’s infrastructure, and the community as a whole should help pay for their upkeep.
The result of a successful referendum means that Riverside for the next three years or so can increase its capacity to improve its nearly 31 miles of residential streets. It also means that sewer improvements identified by the village’s engineering firm, which can address chronic flooding, can move ahead at a faster rate, since they can be coordinated with the street improvements.
This is the right way to invest public money in public infrastructure. If property owners can pass a new bond issue that doesn’t raise (or raises only slightly) taxes every decade, that’s a model for the future.
Riverside many years ago made the hard decision to raise their property taxes to complete street improvements. This one won’t raise them any further, but it will allow the village to continue to address its streets in an organized, sustainable way.