The village of Brookfield is still planning to ask voters early next year for a tax hike in order to pay for residential street improvements. But the village has changed the way the question is going to be asked.
Instead of seeking a general property tax increase, Brookfield now is planning on asking voters to approve a $22 million bond issue, which the village would pay off in 10 years.
While the bond sale would have about the same effect on property tax bills — about $400 more per year for the owner of a home with a market value of about $200,000 — the tax hike would not be permanent.
After the bonds are paid off in 10 years, the village could either seek another bond issue or it could opt not to. In that case, the tax levy for the bonds would simply disappear from tax bills.
“We wanted to put forth our best argument for this,” said Village President Kit Ketchmark. “I don’t picture anyone being excited about it, but we want to show how necessary it is that we do this.
“[Street maintenance] is an integral part of our village and it’s necessary. No one wants to pay more taxes, but it’s a responsibility we all have for keeping on it.”
Village Manager Keith Sbiral rolled out the idea for a general operating fund tax hike for street repairs in September, and, at the time, members of the village board appeared to be in agreement with it.
However, while officials say they didn’t get much feedback directly from residents about the proposal, the plan did not fare well on social media.
That wasn’t the reason for the change in strategy, said Ketchmark. Rather it was a combination of other factors. First, he said, voters might have been faced with more than one referendum question had the village chosen to go ahead with its initial proposal — one for the tax hike itself and possibly another for a separate bond issue.
But the initial proposal had another problem. Although Sbiral and this village board pledged that the $2.4 million annual general operating fund increase would be earmarked for street repairs, there was no guarantee that future administrations would follow suit.
Since the tax increase would have been for general operating purposes, the additional tax revenue could have been used for any purpose — like paying salaries or hiring more personnel.
“There’s no definite way to make sure future boards won’t do different things with the funds,” Sbiral said.
By issuing bonds, officials can specifically pose a referendum question that lists street improvements as the sole use for the funds. That strategy also has the advantage of having an end date on the tax hike, in this case 10 years.
“It’s transparent, clean and locks down boards for the next 10 years to spend this money for roads,” Sbiral said.
The bond issue proposal also altered how street repairs would be attacked. The entire $22 million would not be issued all at once, according to Sbiral. Rather, it would be issued at three separate times during the first five years following a successful referendum.
Bond revenue, according to law, has to be expended within three years of being issued.
If a referendum is successful during the March 16, 2016 primary election, officials would seek to issue some bond proceeds that summer. The plan at this time is to start by resurfacing streets in the former special service areas, principally on the south end of the village.
While those streets are not necessarily the worst in the village, they are about 20 years old and starting to deteriorate. Because it would be fairly inexpensive to complete engineering documents for those street improvements, according to Sbiral, design work could be completed prior to the referendum and then acted on quickly.
Resurfacing those streets first would prevent those streets from getting so bad that their repair would cost much more down the road, Sbiral said.
Brookfield would then begin to tackle streets listed as being in the worst on a survey of roadway conditions that the village’s engineering firm completed in 2013. Streets rated a 1 or a 2 (out of 5) would be the ones targeted for reconstruction or resurfacing.
According to Sbiral, the bond issue would pay for the repair of 15.27 miles of streets, which represents about 36 percent of the 42 miles of residential side streets in the village.
The Brookfield Village Board must approve a referendum question and submit it to the Cook County Clerk by Dec. 28 in order for it to appear on the March 16 ballot.