A change in plans for borrowing $30 million to fund construction of the Longmeadow Parkway would now place some risk on taxpayers.
On Tuesday, Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen joined the county transportation staff to unveil a plan to use RTA sales tax money as financial backing for the bonds.
"This is an example of innovation to produce better results," Lauzen said.
The move also would reverse course from nine months ago, when county officials made a public show of saying neither the county nor local taxpayers would be on the hook when officials issue bonds to pay for a toll bridge. The bridge is the final key part of the 5.6-mile parkway designed to ease traffic congestion on the northern end of the county.
The new proposal arises as studies on traffic estimates and toll revenue projections near completion. The county has never built or managed a toll bridge. That fact would result in a rating for the toll bridge bonds that would be below investment grade. The low rating means more costs for the county to issue the bonds.
Putting up the RTA sales tax dollars as collateral would raise the bond rating to an AA level. Lauzen said that would shave $4.5 million from the costs, resulting in less need for income from tolls to repay the bonds.
The full county board must approve the plan before attorneys move to sell the bonds in August or September.
However, such a vote may fuel an I-told-you-so moment for Longmeadow opponents. For years, Stop Longmeadow members and other opponents have predicted financial failure for the tollway. There are other ways to cross the Fox River for free. They've also feared that failure will result in local taxpayers being on the hook to repay the $30 million the county wants to borrow for the bridge.
While property tax dollars won't be on the line, county board member Jarett Sanchez said the plan announced Tuesday creates a scenario he and the other opponents want to avoid.
"It's different dollars, but it's still coming from a portion of taxpayer money," Sanchez said. "The county is doing everything it can to make the project happen, and I completely understand that. They have to finagle any way to get it done, and this is what they've come up with."
Sanchez is often the only board member to vote against anything to do with the Longmeadow project. He believes the RTA tax plan for the bonds will move forward. About 70 percent of the total project is already complete or under construction.