Going into last week’s primary election, we would often get asked, “How do you think it’ll do?”
The “it” was the Brookfield referendum asking voters to approve a $22 million bond sale to fund an eight-year street improvement program, the likes of which the village had never seen.
After attending three of the four town hall meetings and hearing what residents had to say, particularly those who either live or lived in neighborhoods once designated as special service areas, we thought the referendum was a toss-up.
But the parochialism that accompanied the development of Brookfield over decades — the north vs. south finger-pointing in particular — vanished last week. From an electoral standpoint, the Brookfield street referendum wasn’t even close.
In essence, 60 percent of voters who cast ballots (and turnout was much higher this time around than it was during the last presidential primary) were in favor of the bond issue.
What surprised us the most was support for the referendum in the very areas where we thought it would have the toughest time — the former SSAs on the south side.
We’re not entirely sure what accounts for this, but for us it represents a seismic shift in Brookfield thinking when it comes to street improvements. And it’s for the good of the entire community.
Just think of it, until 1999 — that’s just 17 years ago — it didn’t appear that anyone in Brookfield, not government leaders, not residents ever gave serious thought to a comprehensive, village-wide approach to infrastructure improvements.
It’s part of the reason, we surmise, that the village’s alleys are still covered with gravel and many streets haven’t been repaved for almost a century.
When officials kicked around a street improvement plan in the late 1990s, later abandoned, folks in what became known as Special Service Area 7 were so ticked off and wanted their streets repaved so badly, they accepted the poison pill offered by the village and agreed to pay for two-thirds of the cost themselves.
Of course, a referendum of the type passed last week would have faced a revolt in 1999 on the south end of town, where six special service areas had just been created to construct streets.
But forever using the special service-area method for street repairs was a recipe for never keeping pace with needed repairs, and elected officials after the turn of the new century decided they weren’t going to do that anymore.
That’s not to say the passage of this referendum won’t squeeze residents some. Their tax bills are going to rise as a result throughout the next decade. But the village — both elected officials and residents — have committed to the same vision, and Brookfield can move ahead together, rather than in spite of one another.
It may seem a little overwrought to state it this way, but March 15, 2016 started a new chapter for Brookfield. This isn’t north vs. south. This is a community, and we are all in this together.