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posted: 10/23/2012 5:30 AM

Some Winfield trustees don't even back tax hike

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  • Winfield residents, many of whom have posted signs in support of keeping the village police department intact, will vote Nov. 6 on whether they're willing to pay higher property taxes to prevent the disbanding of the department to pay for road repairs.

      Winfield residents, many of whom have posted signs in support of keeping the village police department intact, will vote Nov. 6 on whether they're willing to pay higher property taxes to prevent the disbanding of the department to pay for road repairs.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

When Winfield appealed to voters two years ago for millions of dollars in new property taxes to fix roads, the measure had the unanimous backing of the village board.

Still, voters rejected that proposal.

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In two weeks, a similar measure that would double the property tax rate homeowners pay to the village is back on the ballot in Winfield. This time, though, support from elected leaders is nearly nonexistent.

Village President Deborah Birutis and two trustees didn't even want the question on the Nov. 6 ballot. And out of the four trustees who did, two have said they personally won't support the measure in the voting booth.

So why propose another tax hike under those circumstances? Trustees say they had no choice because of two other questions on the ballot.

Concerned about the possibility of the village hiring the DuPage County sheriff's office to provide police protection -- a cost-saving measure that would free up road repair money -- residents submitted a petition to put an advisory question on the ballot that asks if Winfield should keep its own police force.

Another question on the ballot would, if it's approved, force Winfield to reinstate a ban of video gambling that the village board repealed in March.

Trustee Jay Olson said the property tax hike is the only proposal that addresses Winfield's need for "sustainable" revenue.

"I believe all three questions are definitely related," Olson said. "Without having the tax referendum question, there is no context to the police department question or the video gaming question."

Trustee James Hughes said residents must have the opportunity to make "a valid choice."

If voters are willing to pay higher taxes to keep the Winfield Police Department intact, he said, the village could afford to abandon the idea of outsourcing the department's duties to raise money for road repairs.

If approved by voters, the tax increase would mean about $160 extra in village property taxes each year for the owner of a typical $200,000 home, officials estimate.

That would mean between $850,000 and $900,000 annually in additional property taxes, with which the village plans to accomplish several objectives.

First, the village would be able to borrow about $3.7 million to immediately repair its most deteriorated streets. It also could establish a 20-year maintenance cycle for the network of local roads.

In addition, the extra revenue would allow the village to contribute about $250,000 annually to its police pension fund.

If residents vote to keep the police but reject higher taxes, Hughes said the board might have to seriously consider downsizing the police department.

The plan would reduce the size of the force from 17 sworn staff members to 13. To achieve that number, buyouts would be offered to four senior staff members who are at or near retirement age.

"It changes our patrol level very little," Hughes said. "It modifies the police department but keeps the quality of service."

No matter what happens on Nov. 6, Hughes said the village must do something.

"The problem is going to remain," he said, "and it isn't just a police department issue. For all of our services, our costs are high, and our revenue is low."

An informational town hall meeting about the tax increase question is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the CDH Pavilion Auditorium in Winfield.

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