Will new taxes fix neighborhood flooding in Arlington Heights?
As a village that's more than 125 years old, Arlington Heights is facing a slate of looming infrastructure updates, but officials still aren't sure just how much it will cost, or how they will pay for it.
As six candidates fight for four seats on the village board leading up to the April 7 municipal election, incumbents and newcomers are split about whether a tax increase will be necessary to pay the price for the infrastructure fixes.
Although there are no numbers associated with the updates yet, public works officials gave ominous predictions of what two ongoing flooding studies -- due back in the next few months -- may say, including a potential cost in the tens of millions of dollars.
Trustees Mike Sidor and Carol Blackwood said that realistically, yes, a tax increase will likely be part of the equation when determining how to pay for those fixes.
"It's going to have to be a shared cost," Blackwood said, saying infrastructure needs include upgrades of roads, sidewalks, sewer systems and more. "It's all going to take an inordinate amount of money ... It's going to be horrendous."
"I don't buy it," said D. Court Harris, a newcomer challenging the incumbents for a seat on the board. "My main concern is to protect taxpayer dollars. The default answer should not be to raise taxes. It may be the end result, but we need to look at what else we can do."
Harris suggested working with the business community to bring in more sales tax revenue and help ease the burden on the village and the property taxpayers. He also suggested streamlining and cutting back more to save money.
Trustee Robin LaBedz, appointed in 2013 by Mayor Tom Hayes to fill the rest of his term when he was elected village president, said the village has already made cuts, including reducing the staff by 10 percent and not rehiring.
"I don't know how much low hanging fruit there is anymore in terms of cost savings," she said.
Even if there were some savings or increased sales tax, a property tax hike might still be necessary.
"This is such a huge project that it would be irresponsible of me to say that we'll never see taxes being raised to accommodate it," LaBedz said. "Our infrastructure is aging."
Harris also criticized the board's decision to use a $2 million operational surplus, which was generated by the village shifting its fiscal year, to update the village-owned parking garages in downtown Arlington Heights.
"If sewers and flooding is so important, why are we fixing our parking garages?" he said.
Sidor and other trustees said that the parking garage fixes were needed following an engineering report that showed problems.
"Parking garages are infrastructure too, they just aren't underground," Sidor said. "But, we own them so we need to maintain them."
Another newcomer, Tom Schwingbeck who works as an engineer and volunteers in Arlington Heights, said he also doesn't think a tax increase is the answer.
"You can't just go after our citizens with an increased tax all the time," said Schwingbeck, who is making his first run for a seat on the village board. "People are frustrated with the amount of money they're paying and being forced into a situation where they have to move out of our village because they can't afford to pay the taxes anymore."
When the village gets back the results of its flooding studies -- which have been ongoing since residents experienced the effects of a 100-year flood in 2011 -- it will outline a number of solutions with different price points, but one candidate said the goal is not to do everything on that list.
"I don't know that we're going to be able to make all the repairs that are necessary to make this a perfect village where there will never be any flooding," said incumbent Trustee John Scaletta.
He also expects that the updates, and the tax increases that may come with them, would not happen all at once.
"I think this is going to be a phased approach," Scaletta said. "First, we can't rip up the entire village at the same time. Second, we don't have the money to do it."
"I'm the last person in the world who would ever want to see real estate taxes raised," added Blackwood. "But, I think it would be irresponsible, and silly, for us to think that we can overcome that aspect of it. There are some significant improvements coming up that we have to make and I don't think reserves or sales tax is going to cover the majority of that."