Anyone worried about a taxpayer protest derailing a $22 million Brookfield referendum to fund street improvements breathed a sigh of relief on March 15 when the bond issue sailed through, with 59 percent of voters showing support.
But the most surprising aspect of the vote was that the strongest support for the referendum question came from Lyons Township, the very place village officials expected backlash.
“That surprised me a little bit from the comments we heard at the town hall meetings,” said Village President Kit Ketchmark. “I was surprised to see how consistent the vote was all over the village.”
At town hall meetings held prior to the election, several residents of the former south end special service areas — which were created when those streets were initially constructed in the 1990s — resented the referendum, which they claimed was unfair to them
They had paid for the construction of their streets over a 20-year period and now they were going to be taxed again to pay for streets throughout the village; that was unfair, the argument went. It turned out that if the resentment was real, it didn’t deter people from voting in favor of the referendum.
South of Shields Avenue in Lyons Precincts 6 and 67 — the heart of the SSA country — support for the referendum ran at 60 percent. In Precinct 6, bounded by Congress Park on the north, 47th Street on the south, Elm Avenue on the east and Deyo Avenue on the west, 63 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the referendum.
And in Lyons Precinct 4, which includes the Congress Park neighborhood and a part of what used to be known as SSA 4, support for the referendum ran at a whopping 69 percent — the single highest percentage of “yes” votes of any Brookfield precinct.
“I probably thought the SSAs would be a little tougher sell,” said Ketchmark. “But when you look at the condition of those streets, they’re awful.”
Many streets in the former SSA areas will also be among the first to be resurfaced as part of the eight-year road improvement plan devised by village officials.
The SSA streets are not among the very worst in the village, but they are considered in need of resurfacing. Because the design engineering and construction of those improvements will be relatively easy and quick to complete, the plan is for those streets to be resurfaced this fall.
The village will then begin tackling the very worst streets — the ones that need to be reconstructed from the bottom up — in the spring of 2017. At the same time, the village will be able to shift motor fuel tax funds from road resurfacing projects to road maintenance, extending the life of streets that have been improved more recently.
“This puts us in such a better position moving forward,” Ketchmark said. “We’ve had this hurdle that we’ve tried to deal with as best we could. But we’re at the point where we can’t do it anymore.”
Support for the referendum was also strong in Proviso and Riverside townships. In the six Proviso Township precincts of Brookfield, 58.6 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the question while 57 percent voted to approve the question in the village’s lone Riverside Township precinct.
There was not a single Brookfield precinct where negative votes topped positive votes.
Brookfield Village Manager Keith Sbiral said that the clear message of the referendum couldn’t be overstated.
“I think it’s a complete game-changer,” Sbiral said. “It puts us in a post-SSA world. Now we move into the maintenance and ongoing replacement phase.”
Sbiral and his staff began planning the implementation of the first phase of improvements immediately following last week’s vote. At the village board meeting scheduled for April 25, Sbiral said he will present a “referendum action plan” to the president and trustees, which will address the financing, construction engineering, street maintenance and resident outreach.
Officials plan on selling the bonds in late June or early July. The village will seek bids for the first round of improvements later this summer with construction taking place in the fall. Communicating the effort will be critical, Sbiral said.
“We’re really committed to making sure we do a good job of communicating with the residents who are going to be affected,” Sbiral said. “And we’ll monitor the projects, so residents will get the best outcome for the investment.”