When Winfield voters go to the polls Nov. 6, they'll be questioned on four issues:
1. To double the village's tax rate.
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2. To ban video gambling in local establishments.
3. To preserve the Winfield Police Department.
4. To force the village to seek voter permission before spending more than $1 million.
The first two questions are binding; the latter two are advisory. And as is often the case in Winfield, all are steeped in the political turmoil that permeates most issues. In a nutshell, the ballot questions revolve around the village's seemingly endless quest to find the money to fix its deteriorating roads, half of which are deemed by the state to be in fair to failing condition.
A tax increase proposal just two years ago was defeated by a narrow margin. That helped spawn the hugely controversial idea to disband the village police department and contract with the county sheriff to provide coverage. The village also agreed to allow video gambling in local bars and restaurants, but the resultant revenue, given the paucity of such places in Winfield, is relatively paltry. Moreover, residents didn't seem to think much of the ideas, and easily collected the signatures required to put the gambling and police issues before voters.
OK, said some village trustees, if that's want you want, you should know the only revenue-raising alternative is a tax increase. So, by a 4-2 vote, the village board put the tax increase on the ballot. But some of the trustees who favored the ballot question said they'd vote against it.
Against that confusing backdrop, what is a voter to do?
While we are loath to recommend a tax increase in this skittish economy, we strongly suggest voters take a hard look at the information presented by the village administration. Winfield has one of the lowest property tax rates in the area, noteworthy for such a bedroom community. Winfield's rate is about half that of neighboring West Chicago and a little more than a third of Wheaton's rate. And while a doubling of the tax rate sounds odious, it's worth noting the actual increase to the owner of a typical home valued at $200,000 is about $160 a year.
We are a little troubled that the $850,000 to $900,000 in new revenue would go into the general fund, so we urge the village to take some action that provides at least some measure of assurance the money will go to roads and police. But we still believe the tax increase is fair and the need is real and recommend a YES vote.
As for video gambling, we recommend a NO vote. Video gaming is not called the "crack cocaine of gambling" for nothing and does not provide nearly enough revenue to justify its ills.
The alternatives strike us as untenable: If residents vote for the police department but against the tax increase, a downsizing of the force seems a real possibility. Even if left intact, video gambling will raise only about $45,000 a year. And the idea of bringing in sheriff's deputies is fraught with problems. In addition to problems of logistics, the county board just this week voted overwhelmingly to confirm a reduction of the sheriff's head count. Would board members support an increase in staff? We're skeptical.