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updated: 11/21/2013 11:32 PM

Winfield decides to borrow millions to fix roads

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Winfield property owners will pay higher taxes next year now that village board members have made a split decision to borrow up to $4.4 million to fix the town's worst streets.

The board voted 3-2 on Thursday night to approve the controversial plan, despite the fact most of the residents who spoke before the vote urged trustees to reject it.

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Trustees who supported the measure said repairs are needed because more than 30 percent of the town's 35 miles of roads are in poor to failing condition.

"We can't stall any longer," Trustee Phillip Mustes said. "If we're trying to appeal to people to invest money in the village ... we need to show them that we have the courage, the stability, the responsibility and the maturity to do what's right and take care of basic services."

As a result of Thursday's decision, Winfield will get $4 million for a massive road repair project that's expected to begin in the spring.

Meanwhile, homeowners will see an increase on their property tax bill starting in June. It's estimated the owner of a $235,000 home -- the average value of a house in Winfield -- will pay an additional $49 in property taxes to the village during the first year.

However, Trustee Tim Allen said it's hypocritical for the village to not seek voter approval before issuing the so-called general obligation certificate, which will be repaid over 20 years.

Allen referred to an advisory ballot question that was overwhelmingly approved in 2012. That measure said trustees shouldn't spend more than $1 million unless they get approval from voters.

"Now trustees that promised to listen to the residents were getting legal opinions on how they could ignore the referendum that they themselves collected signatures for," Allen said.

But Village President Erik Spande, who supports the borrowing plan, said previous boards have largely ignored staff's advice to adequately fund road repairs.

"Now the bill has come due," he said.

Failing roads that aren't resurfaced in time, officials say, would need to be reconstructed at a cost that's up to four times more. They added that delaying the road repairs would increase the total price tag for the work by more than $1 million a year.

Spande said it would have been "irresponsible" to let the existing $4 million bill for repairs become a $10 million expense in five years.

Trustee Tony Reyes, who joined Allen in opposing the borrowing plan, questioned that and other claims about the town's road problem.

"I'm not saying the roads don't need to be repaired," he said. "However, we are misleading the public in telling them that it's going to go up $1.2 million per year."

Reyes also expressed frustration about how it's projected to cost the village $6.3 million to repay the loan. "None of things that I am bringing up tonight have been discussed," he said.

Even with the $4 million for repairs, Winfield still needs about $650,000 a year to maintain its roads on a 20-year resurfacing cycle. The village gets about half that amount annually from gasoline taxes and other sources. Officials are hoping to bridge that funding gap with future development revenue and a local sales tax.

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