$400K for Ehlert Park?

? Village ordinance appears to nullify a vote to transfer $400K from the garbage fund to pay for park work.

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By BOB UPHUES

The Brookfield Board of Trustees voted Monday night to earmark $400,000 for future improvements to Jaycee/Ehlert Park, but whether the vote was valid is in question.

Trustee Linda Stevanovich introduced a fund transfer from the village's garbage fund to the general fund in order to guarantee money for the development of Ehlert Park, the village's main park on the south side of Brookfield. Since the village has over $1 million in its garbage fund, Stevanovich said, there is a surplus that could be used for other purposes, such as park improvement.

The village, Stevanovich said, is currently pursuing a federal grant to help with that effort. The maximum grant amount is $400,000, provided the village matches that amount. The federal government previously awarded Brookfield $750,000 to purchase park land adjacent to Ehlert Park. But one of the requirements of the grant was that the village begin improving the new park land within three years of the land purchase, which was finalized in 2004.

"We have a surplus in the garbage fund, and I want to see improvements done quickly because we have the money to do it," Stevanovich said. "If we postpone this, it will take years and years and years. If we don't get the grant we can still spend the $400,000 for improvements."

But Trustee Michael Garvey, who will be sworn in as Brookfield's village president May 9, said that the money should be retained in the garbage fund until the village won the grant. "The danger is that if it's in the general fund, it might get spent," Garvey said. "It's safer in the garbage fund rather than in the general fund."

Trustee Kit Ketchmark sided with Garvey, adding that residents may wonder why they were overbilled to create a $1 million surplus in a fund that ought to be a pass-through.

"How do we justify having residents pay garbage bills to the tune of $1 million [in a surplus] and now we're going to spend it on whatever we want?"

Trustee Wil Brennan argued that the surplus in the garbage fund was built over a long period of time and that the fund may not have been appropriately charged for expenses through the years.

"The money may well belong in the general fund to begin with," Brennan said.

According to the resolution at issue Monday, trustees voted to declare a surplus in the garbage fund and transfer the funds at the same time. When the matter came to a vote, trustees split 3-3, with Stevanovich, Brennan and Thomas Nowicki voting yes and Alan Dorobiala, Garvey and Ketchmark voting no. Village President Bill Russ broke the deadlock by voting to approve the surplus and transfer.

But, according to the village's own statute regarding declaring a surplus and transferring money out of the garbage fund, Monday's resolution failed. The village ordinance clearly states that no transfer can take place without a vote "of the majority members of the board of trustees." The village president is not given a vote in such matters, according to the wording of the ordinance.

"My experience tells me this did not [pass]," said Village Manager Dave Owen Tuesday morning. "I'm not going to transfer the money, unless [Village Attorney] Mike McGrath gives me something in writing."

SSA taxes abated

Russ made good on his promise to the residents in Brookfield's Special Service Areas Monday night, abating taxes residents pay for prior street construction. Russ has maintained in recent years that setting up SSAs for street work is unfair, even though the SSAs were created by a majority vote in those areas.

Trustees voted 4-2 (with Garvey and Ketchmark dissenting) without discussion to approve the abatements, which will shift the burden to the village general fund. In all, some $441,000 in taxes were abated.

Whether that vote will stand up is also in question. After Monday's meeting, Garvey indicated that he "may ask the new board to reconsider rescinding" the abatements. When Garvey takes over as president on May 9, he will bring with him a board majority that has opposed the SSA abatements in the past.

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