Winfield revives vehicle sticker debate
Winfield officials concerned about a plan to disband the village's police department are pitching other controversial alternatives to pay for road repairs: vehicle stickers and a sales tax increase.
Trustees are expected to talk Thursday night about both plans as ways to raise money to maintain the village's nearly 35 miles of roads.
The meeting agenda item surprised at least one trustee who argues that the best way for Winfield to get the millions of dollars needed to fix its crumbling streets is by outsourcing police services.
"I didn't ask for them to be put on the agenda," said Trustee Tim Allen, adding that the vehicle sticker and sales tax proposals were added to the agenda by Village President Deborah Birutis and other board members opposed to contracting with the sheriff's office.
Allen stressed that he's against creating new taxes. In fact, he said, the goal of the proposed deal with the sheriff's office is to free up enough cash in Winfield's budget so the village could afford to do roadwork without raising taxes.
"But if you can't spend less because they (opponents) are totally against the outsourcing deal, there's only one option left, and that's to tax," Allen said. "They are staking down the tax side of it."
Trustee Erik Spande, who recently revealed that the village board was secretly negotiating with representatives from the sheriff's office, said Winfield must consider other alternatives to pay for the road repairs in case the police outsourcing idea fails.
"There are a number of options that potentially could be put on the table," Spande said. "Don't myopically focus on a solution and then try to justify it after you're done."
Spande said the village needs to have a public discussion about all the road funding options and then let residents provide feedback.
"Some trustees have stated that their preferred alternative is to eliminate the police department and use any savings to fund our roads," Spande said. "Instead, we need to put all the options on the table and make sure we have an open discussion."
When trustees more than three years ago considered resurrecting Winfield's long-dead vehicle sticker program, the idea proved to be highly controversial. At the time, numerous residents urged the village to explore other options to raise at least $650,000 annually to resurface all of its roads on a desired 20-year cycle.
Right now, the village only has about $225,000 for annual street repairs, reflecting what it receives from state gas tax money.
Meanwhile, officials say, there's simply not enough money in the village's general fund to meet the street maintenance needs. Winfield is limited in its ability to raise taxes without voter approval because it doesn't have home-rule status.
Voters would need to approve the proposed quarter-cent increase of the sales tax in order for that idea to become a reality. It would generate $70,000 to $85,000 annually.
But when the idea was discussed several years ago, some expressed concern that increasing the village's sales tax would drive customers away from Winfield businesses.
The last time Winfield residents had to buy vehicle stickers was in the early 1980s. If trustees were to reinstate the sticker program, the $35-per-vehicle cost could bring in about $228,000 annually. That estimate is based on a 75 percent compliance rate.
Even if Winfield had vehicles stickers and a higher sales tax, Allen said, revenue from those sources wouldn't be enough to fix the most deteriorated streets in the village. That project would cost at least $3.5 million, officials estimate.
"Any way you cut it, we don't have the money," Allen said.
Allen said preliminary estimates show that Winfield would save at least $1 million a year if it contracted with the sheriff's office.
Winfield spends about $2.6 million a year to maintain its 19-member department. That amount includes the roughly $462,000 the village contributes to its police pension fund, which is underfunded, according to Allen.
"We're trying to be the most responsible we can be with the citizens' tax dollars," Allen said. "That's why we're trying to spend less and get the same service with the sheriff."
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