Villa Park seeks road money to 'start investing in our town'
Villa Park voters on Nov. 4 will face a referendum question that relates to their cars, their homes, their wallets and their town's infrastructure, safety and visual appeal -- all at once.
The question asks whether voters will approve a tax increase to allow the village to borrow $23 million over 20 years to reconstruct and/or resurface 20 miles of streets.
Village officials say they aim to maintain their roads on a 14-year schedule, but a lack of funding has pushed them closer to a 40-year timetable, which means many streets are deteriorating.
Increasing property taxes to create more money for roads could help take what Village Manager Rich Keehner called "a blended approach" to completely reconstructing the worst streets while maintaining others so they remain in good condition.
"I'm a realist," Keehner told a group of residents gathered at a recent town-hall meeting. "This is the only way we'll get these streets done."
Villa Park has paid for street improvements since the mid-2000s using roughly $1.4 million a year generated by a half-percent sales tax charged throughout the village, Public Works Director Vydas Juskelis said. Before that, roads only were repaved when extra money was available in other funds. That led to some streets, especially in the oldest portions of town, beginning to deteriorate to the point where replacing the surface layer no longer addresses structural problems, Juskelis said. Those streets now have to be completely reconstructed.
Others, though, can be salvaged if money is found to resurface them before they begin to fall apart.
"If we can catch up now, it will be much more cost-effective than waiting for them to deteriorate further," Juskelis said.
The village paid a consultant, Robinson Engineering of Itasca, $60,000 to study all 74 miles of streets to determine which need to be reconstructed and which can continue to function with a new surface layer. Robinson Engineering gave the village a list of 122 sections of streets that will need work within the next seven years and village staff members prioritized them and placed them on a timeline.
If voters give the village authority to borrow the $23 million for road repairs, projects will be planned to coincide with work that must take place underground, such as separation of combined sewers into individual storm and sanitary pipes.
"A lot of times, financing is going to drive when a street gets done because it's not just road work," Juskelis said. "There are underground utilities that take longer to design."
Fixing Park Boulevard from Villa Avenue to where it ends on the eastern edge of town is one of the first priorities that could be funded if voters OK the village's request to borrow $23 million. Keehner said the project is expected to cost $1.3 million for a complete reconstruction of the street and installation of new curbs, which also have crumbled over time. Other streets on which work is slated to begin next year are Adele Court, Armitage Avenue, Belden Avenue, Grant Avenue, Home Alley, Ridge Road, Second Avenue, Summit Avenue, Sunset Drive, Terrace Street, Third Avenue and Yale Avenue, according to a spreadsheet listing the proposed uses of money voters could approve on Nov. 4.
"If it doesn't pass, we'll scale those projects back to what we can afford," Keehner said.
Several residents who are promoting passage of the tax increase through a group called Your Neighbors for Better Roads in VP Committee say they're hearing questions about the cost of the work and concerns about the proposed increase in property taxes, but not much outright opposition.
"This community has a lot of potential, but the big challenge is the infrastructure is falling apart," said Pete Renn, co-chairman of Neighbors for Better Roads. "I understand people don't want to pay more property taxes, but the fundamental issue is, if we want the community we all desire, we're going to have to invest in it."
Village officials are telling residents the proposed borrowing plan would increase property taxes for 20 years beginning with bills homeowners receive in 2016. For every $100,000 of a home's actual market value, the measure is expected to increase taxes $73.20 a year. Keehner said $200,000 is a fair estimate of the average home value in Villa Park, and in that case, taxes are estimated to increase $146.40 a year.
"We feel it's time we start investing in our town," Village President Deborah Bullwinkel said.
The official wording of the ballot question limits the interest rate on any loans the village takes out to 5 percent. But Finance Director Kevin Wachtel said it's likely the village will borrow the money in two or three smaller chunks instead of gathering all $23 million at once, so the interest rates are not yet known.
Still, supporters of the measure say smoother, safer streets are worth the money.
"I'm retired, on a fixed income, my street won't get fixed and I'm still voting yes," said Ray Bacci, co-chairman of Neighbors for Better Roads.
Bacci, Renn and other committee members are trying to motivate neighbors to vote on Nov. 4, saying, "the longer we wait, the more it will cost."
"The vast majority of people agree," Renn said. "The challenge is to get them to show up."