Facing the music

THE LANDMARK VIEW

Opinion

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Raising taxes and increasing fees for municipal services is never popular. In Brookfield the thought of raising fees or even collecting ones due to the village has proven so distasteful that some village boards have refused to do so.

The current village board has taken up that challenge, and may pay a political price for doing so. Whether voters will respond in kind is unknown. Whether opposition political forces will drive that nail home is pretty much assured.

In the past month, the Brookfield village board has suggested a variety of tax or fee hikes, but they all have been in the wake of the village board's inability?"across the political spectrum?"to deal with these issues in the past.

For example, for years the village has done in-house health inspections of its food service businesses. In many towns, inspection costs are part of the cost of doing business, and they are passed back to the businesses. In Brookfield, no one knows if the fees were ever recouped, but they haven't been recouped in years.

Of course, the village had also fallen down on the job of providing health inspections for years as well. The cost to the village, therefore, wasn't great, but public safety wasn't at the forefront either.

On Monday, the Brookfield village board voted to roll the cost of food service inspections into the cost of an annual business license. Is the board risking backlash from businesses? Perhaps. Will Brookfield residents be better served? Absolutely.

The board also voted Monday to increase commuter parking fees substantially. Fees hadn't been raised in, well, there was no definite date on when parking fees had been set previously. Trustee Kit Ketchmark suggested it was 15 years. Doesn't really matter, however. It's been so long no one can remember.

Parking fees were doubled for commuters who park along the BNSF. It's a significant increase that's sure to tick off commuters. Could a compromise have been reached? Probably. It may even have been politically wise to do so. But the increased revenue from the approved hike should allow the village not only to maintain the rail station at Prairie Avenue, but improve it.

Trustee Linda Stevanovich noted that money for recent capital improvements made to the station came from grants, which is true. It is also true that the village had a significant grant in hand for several years, but couldn't cobble together enough cash to do any work on the station until a second grant came through.

And even with the second grant, several improvements to the station?"such as platform shelters and security cameras?"were slashed from the budget. The station will need ongoing maintenance and improvement, and the village has to be able to recoup money for those costs without delving into its general fund and cutting other village services.

Finally, the board appears to be in favor putting a sales tax referendum in front of voters in the spring. In an era where every community is looking to find revenue streams to fund expensive capital projects, the board would be right to put this solution before voters, who can decide whether they support it or not.

Regardless of perceived support, the question should be put on the ballot as early as possible, and the village shouldn't refrain from doing so just because other referendum questions may appear on the ballot.

There's never a "good" time to ask for a any kind of tax increase. But there's no time like the present.

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