A couple of weeks ago, Riverside Trustee Doug Pollock floated a trial balloon for funding street improvements on an ongoing basis, namely, a dedicated tax levy for that purpose.
Local politicians suggesting a permanent tax increase for any purpose is risky, especially if that person has future ambitions in an uncertain political climate that could see his words thrown right back at him the next time he runs for office.
Of course, Pollock is in his third and final consecutive term as a trustee, so perhaps that makes such a suggestion easier – though if he harbors aspirations to be president in the future, it might be a liability.
There’s always an anti-tax population that will automatically oppose any suggested increases, and depending on the political climate locally and nationally, that might have an impact. You never know.
That said, when local side streets start falling apart, as they inevitably do, you’ll also hear the chorus of “why won’t anyone do anything to fix the streets.”
Riverside has approached this subject in different ways at different times. Not so long ago, the village created special service areas where the cost for paying for street repairs was a line item on the tax bills of property owners who directly benefitted from having the streets in front of their homes improved.
Of course, that ignored the fact that all of the village’s streets are a public benefit generally. So, close to 20 years ago, elected officials decided on a new tack. In 2004, Riverside went to voters, asking them to approve a bond referendum.
The funds would go toward a three-year road improvement project and the debt would be paid off in 10 years. Residents solidly supported the idea and passed the 2004 referendum, and then repeated that level of support when the village sought another referendum in 2014.
You can see where this is going. The most recent bond issue will be paid off in 2024, and the village would be on track to ask for another referendum that year.
However, as Pollock has pointed out, paying off those debts have resulted in the village also shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest, money which might have been better spent fixing roads.
So, in order to eliminate costly interest payments, Pollock has suggested a permanent tax levy to fund street improvements. It’s an interesting proposal and one that merits more research.
It will be a challenge for the village to set the levy amount at a level that won’t raise the burden on taxpayers once the 2014 bonds are paid off and also take into account the natural cost of inflation on road construction projects in future years.
Whether there’s a magic formula that can satisfy both those parts of the equation remains to be seen, but at least the village has three years to figure it out. If not, Riverside can move forward, likely with confidence, that another road bond referendum would succeed in 2024.
But if there’s a way to solve the universal conundrum of how to best fund municipal street improvements, Riverside may as well give it a hard look.