In 2004 and 2014, the village of Riverside went to voters asking them to approve issuing about $2 million in bonds to fund street improvements. The debt service for each bond issue was to be paid over 10 years, with the expectation that the village would ask residents for another bond issue to keep village streets in good repair.
Facing the prospect of another street improvement bond issuance in 2024, elected officials are now trying to determine whether they ought to issue new bonds or ask voters to make that financial investment a permanent tax increase.
And with other capital needs – like a new public safety facility – still unfunded, trustees may also want to use that new perpetual revenue stream to fund capital improvements other than roads.
Elected officials engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about how to fund future road and public facility improvements at their Sept. 1 meeting. The discussion also was a first pass at capital funding generally for 2023 and beyond, but with the 2014 street bond issue set to retire in 2024, trustees are looking at a larger policy decision regarding property taxes.
“Everybody wants to reduce taxes; I do too,” said Trustee Doug Pollock, who suggested a referendum to make the revenue the village receives every 10 years to fix streets a permanent part of the village tax levy. “But I just think we have needs that haven’t been met, that we’ve postponed, and that just get more expensive every year.
“We have an opportunity to not increase anyone’s taxes but still have some revenue to start meeting some of these needs that we’ve passed up.”
Pollock said converting the bond issue revenue into tax revenue would have the added benefit of not having to pay about $200,000 in interest for debt service.
“We need $200,000 or more to budget, every year, for street maintenance, and that doesn’t even get us up to a high level of maintenance,” Pollock said. “That’s just to maintain the minimum.”
Instead of asking voters to approve levying a tax permanently just for road improvements, Village Manager Jessica Frances and Finance Director Karin Johns suggested making any such new levy available to a wider range of capital projects, since the condition of village facilities must be addressed and there’s no funding source for that.
While using any new tax levy funds for facilities might take away funding for road improvements, Johns argued that new businesses coming to the village – in the form of a Sherwin Williams paint store and a cannabis dispensary, will result in more non-home rule sales tax revenue.
Non-home rule sales tax revenue, by state law, must fund street infrastructure maintenance. The new revenue, along with motor fuel tax revenue may get Riverside close to the $200,000 per year base level funding that’s needed for residential street improvements.
A new permanent tax levy to fund capital projects, including village facilities, could also be bolstered by issuing limited tax bonds every two years to help fund facility improvements.
In 2020, the village issued about $1.5 million in limited tax debt bonds to fund the first phase of the Selborne Road reconstruction project. Prior to that those bonds were issued every two years to pay off the debt issued to build the public works facility in Riverside Lawn. Limited tax debt bonds are not subject to referendum, although they can be forced to a vote through a petition process.
Specifically, Johns suggested using future limited tax debt issuances to help fund either renovating the old Youth Center into a new public safety facility or building a new one in its place.
Frances told trustees that she, Public Safety Director Matthew Buckley, Public Works Director Dan Tabb and Preservation Commission Chairman Charles Pipal had already sat down to discuss options.
Such a project would have to be vetted in public meetings. It’s unclear what such a project would cost.
In 2018, Riverside commissioned a comprehensive facilities review which indicated it would cost between $7 million and $9 million alone to simply renovate existing buildings. The cost for building new more elaborate facilities was pegged at more than $20 million.
With those figures staring them in the face, officials decided to put further discussion regarding village facilities on hold.
However, the need to upgrade police and fire facilities, in particular, remains. But not all trustees are sold on the Youth Center location for that purpose.
Trustee Megan Claucherty wondered if there might be another location in the village suitable for a public safety facility, saying the Youth Center riverfront location might be more suitable for a different use.
“I want you all to have what you need, and to have great facilities,” Claucherty said. “I am not fully committed that that is the right use for that space, and I think some of our residents at least have other thoughts on what beautiful riverfront property – what opportunities might be there. … I don’t want to fully commit to that being the only avenue.”
Pollock said he doubted there was another location in Riverside suitable for a public safety facility, short of eliminating green space to do it. Restoring that property to its original use, in the 1870s, of being part of a hotel, Pollock said, was unlikely.
“As romantic as that idea is, I don’t think it’s practical,” Pollock said. “But I haven’t studied it; I can’t say for sure. I agree with Trustee Claucherty, it is worth looking at again, but I’m very skeptical that given its location, tucked away in the middle of our little village – I’m skeptical there’s a revenue-producing use that would ever go there.
“But even if there was, I would only want to do that if we solve our facilities issue.”