In the past two months, the Brookfield village board has initiated discussions about two critical infrastructure issues?"ongoing street improvements and paving the village's gravel alleys.
After police and fire protection, the streets and alleys are the two things that affect Brookfielders the most on a day-to-day basis. Over the past five years, the issue of street improvements, and how to fund them, has received a good deal of attention. At the same time, a long-term funding solution has proven elusive.
In the case of the village's busier thoroughfares, federal grants have been used in conjunction with motor fuel tax funds to great effect. Washington Avenue and Maple Avenue have been examples of how that kind of funding strategy can be used.
For side streets, the solutions haven't come so easy, since street improvements are incredibly expensive propositions. Until recently, the solution was to create Special Service Areas and have residents pay for the improvements through a line item on their property tax bills.
The current practice has been to have the village fund street improvements by issuing debt. In either case, residents end up paying for improvements as they pay their taxes. The only difference is the timing and the perception of the burden.
Brookfield funds alley improvements through Special Assessments, and it has proven a popular solution, particularly in the area between 31st Street and Washington Avenue.
Since it is unlikely that the village could afford to fund both street and alley improvements at the same time, it may make sense to continue with the creation of Special Assessments for alley paving, at least during this initial round of what could be called alley construction, rather than simple resurfacing.
As to increasing the number of alleys paved each year, it's probably a good idea. The village currently waits to receive petitions from residents (and then only if there's 51 percent who want to create the Special Assessment) before moving ahead. In the interest of moving the village into the 21st century, the village may want to begin creating a master plan for alley paving, so that all of the village's alleys will be paved within 10 years.
The village engineer estimated that Brookfield has "50 to 100" alleys still unpaved. Using his estimate of $12,000 to $15,000 in engineering costs per alley, it would cost the village between $1.2 million and $1.5 million over 10 years for engineering costs for the new alleys. There may even be some savings on engineering costs due to the increased scale per year.
At least now, the entire board seems to be behind the idea of using a fortuitous surplus in the village's garbage fund?"some $1.15 million?"to help pay for engineering for alley paving. Having paved alleys in Brookfield can be a reality. Now the board needs to move beyond the talk and begin implementing a plan to make that happen.
As far as street improvements go, that's an open question and a hard one. Residents should realize that one way or another, it's going to come from their pockets. Whether it's through a referendum targeted to funding street improvements (as Riverside did in 2004) or issuing bonds, there's no cheap or easy way to do it.
It is the board's duty to lead that discussion and have the courage to formulate a plan and then stick to it. Changing from debt to SSAs to debt isn't going to work. Brookfield residents need and deserve a uniform solution to this never-ending process.