Bensenville offers help in return for annexation
After losing hundreds of homes to O'Hare International Airport expansion, Bensenville wants to increase its residential tax base.
Meanwhile, the White Pines subdivision near the village has an aging water delivery system that needs to be replaced.
So Bensenville officials are proposing a deal they believe could benefit both the village and White Pines residents.
If the subdivision agrees to annex into Bensenville, the village will pursue an estimated $7 million project to replace the neighborhood's water mains. The village also is promising to pay a significant portion of the cost.
However, several White Pines residents say they and their neighbors are strongly opposed to the annexation idea. They're hoping DuPage County replaces the water system so their subdivision can remain unincorporated.
"Anybody that I've talked to does not want to be incorporated," said Gina Mellenthin, a longtime White Pines resident.
Mellenthin said the neighborhood of about 280 homes has been staunchly independent since it was founded in the 1940s. But the neighborhood gets Lake Michigan water through Bensenville.
Village President Frank Soto says that's why Bensenville is offering to help the residents. "At some point, somebody has to do something," he said.
In a recent letter to White Pines residents, Bensenville officials said the water system, which includes decades-old water mains, is in "very poor shape." In addition to frequent water main breaks, the system produces substandard water pressure to combat fires.
"Nobody really doubts that the system is in desperate need of being replaced," Soto said. "The problem is who pays for the project."
Soto said the village has been seeking grants and contributions from other governmental entities to pay for the water system replacement. "There isn't a source for these people to go to get the system corrected," he said.
The village's plan is to use $1 million it collected from a surcharge that White Pines residents have been paying on their water bills.
The village would borrow the remaining $6 million for the project from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
If White Pines agrees to annex into Bensenville, the village would agree to repay half of the loan. The residents would repay their $3 million share over a 20-year period through a special service area.
So what does Bensenville get in return? More property on the tax rolls.
Soto says the village lost hundreds of homes and businesses because of O'Hare expansion. As a result, remaining property owners are paying a higher tax rate than they would if Bensenville still had the nearly $10 million in equalized assessed value that it lost.
"What we're really doing is replacing the housing stock of what we lost and kind of resetting ourselves back to where we were," Soto said of the offer to White Pines.
If the annexation happens, the village wouldn't need to add staff to provide services to the White Pines subdivision.
"We're giving these people the assistance with the water system," Soto said. "And in the long run -- not in the short run because the system has to be paid for -- the benefit for the village is that you're replacing some of the EAV that we lost when the airport took these homes."
Still, White Pines residents such as Andrea Caragher say they feel like they're being pressured by the village to support annexation. One option presented to the residents is to have the subdivision disconnected from Bensenville's water system.
"I think it's a scare tactic," Caragher said.
She said White Pines residents should be given the chance to find a solution that doesn't require annexation.
"I understand that they say there's issues with the water," Caragher said. "But there's other ways to find funding. What we want to see is if there's another option."
Mellenthin said one option could involve getting water through the county. But DuPage officials estimate the project would cost $10 million because extra work would be needed to connect White Pines to the county's water system. The residents would have to come up with $9 million of that.
Still, Mellenthin says it's an option worth considering.
"If we can get some funding, it would be a different story," Mellenthin said. "I don't think it's been explored enough. We are going to find someone somewhere to help us out."
In the meantime, Soto said it's up to the residents to decide whether to accept the village's offer. An informational meeting is scheduled for next month.
"We're looking to get a majority of the residents to want to do this as a partner," Soto said. "If it doesn't happen, I hope they are able to get the project done through other means."