Winfield seeks to double its property tax to fund roads, pensions

Winfield voters likely to decide in November

  • Winfield residents have been showing their opposition to any proposal to disband the police department to raise money for road repairs. Now they could be asked in the fall to approve a property tax increase to pay for roads and police pensions.

    Winfield residents have been showing their opposition to any proposal to disband the police department to raise money for road repairs. Now they could be asked in the fall to approve a property tax increase to pay for roads and police pensions. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 7/26/2012 11:36 PM

Winfield voters likely will decide this fall whether to give the village hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in new property tax revenue to prevent roads from crumbling and to bolster the town's underfunded police pension fund.

The proposed referendum question, which would double the property tax rate homeowners pay to the village, comes as Winfield trustees are facing public pressure to keep the town's police department intact.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Concerned about the possibility of Winfield hiring the DuPage County sheriff's office to provide police protection, residents earlier this month submitted a petition to prompt an advisory question on the November ballot that asks if the village should retain its own police force.

But some trustees say the village may not be able to abandon the outsourcing idea unless there's an alternative.

So the board voted 4-1 during a special Thursday night meeting to ask residents to approve the tax increase in November. Trustee Jack Bajor cast the only negative vote, and Trustee Erik Spande was absent.

Village President Deborah Birutis, who questioned the motivation for the referendum proposal, said she hadn't decided whether she would veto. But Trustee Tim Allen says there's enough board support to override a veto. He said he's confident that the question will be on the ballot.

"We're trying to make it so adults could make adult decisions," Allen said. "If the public comes back to us and says, 'We don't want to outsource the police, and we're giving the village the money it needs,' then who am I to argue with that?"

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If the tax increase is approved by voters, it would cost the owner of a $200,000 house roughly $155 extra in village property taxes each year, officials estimate.

Meanwhile, the village would collect between $850,000 and $900,000 in additional property taxes each year to accomplish several things.

First, Winfield would be able to borrow about $3.5 million to resurface 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 $250,000 annually to its police pension fund.

"One of the reasons our revenues have become so challenged is because our police pensions are underfunded," said Allen, adding the village had to move about $243,000 out of its general fund to make this year's police pension payment. "I want that cash flow back in our general fund where it belongs."

Still, Allen and two other trustees who agreed to put the question on the ballot said they won't support it when they get to the voting booth.

"I will not vote for a referendum to raise your taxes," Trustee Tony Reyes said to dozens of residents who filled the board room. "I will vote for a referendum to give you the opportunity to tell us ... if you want to pay for it (police services)."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Outsourcing the Winfield Police Department's duties is among a variety of scenarios officials are considering to raise the money the town needs to pay for road repairs. Preliminary estimates show the town would save at least $1 million annually if it outsourced its police force.

Before trustees make any decision, they are waiting to hear from REM Management Services, a consulting firm doing an evaluation of the police department.

In addition to the police question and the proposed tax hike, Winfield voters will decide if the village should reinstate its ban on video gambling. A fourth question, which is advisory, will ask if the village should be able to spend more than $1 million without voter approval.

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