Is Naperville-area road feud about money or politics?

  • Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico, left, and Naperville Township Highway Commissioner Stan Wojtasiak continue to be at odds over a proposal to have the city assume responsibility for township roads.

    Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico, left, and Naperville Township Highway Commissioner Stan Wojtasiak continue to be at odds over a proposal to have the city assume responsibility for township roads. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/16/2016 12:16 PM

Three months into public discussions of a proposed road services deal between the city of Naperville and the Naperville Township road district, Highway Commissioner Stan Wojtasiak faces mounting pressure to agree to the plan.

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico says the deal promises $700,000 a year in savings, and every move Wojtasiak makes to fight it decreases that benefit.

 

"We're not going to let it go," Chirico said about the proposed road deal, adding it would take a step toward consolidating the duties of a government office he calls "inefficient."

"We're going to pursue this because we do believe that this is absolutely the right thing for not just Naperville, but for the state," he said.

Township Supervisor Rachel Ossyra also backs the plan, saying it's a sustainable way to provide road services at the lowest possible cost.

"Every day we hear from people who are concerned about their taxes," Ossyra said. "We have to begin to address it."

The supervisor and two township trustees approved cuts to Wojtasiak's budget that were based on the city's pricing for road maintenance, landscaping and snow plowing services, lowering his line item spending on salaries and fuel.

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"It's going to be a short year once I run out of salary money," Wojtasiak said. Although he's examining ways to adjust his spending to continue paying his employees, "I'll probably have to let people go."

One township trustee even proposed cutting the salary for highway commissioners after the 2107 election to $25,000 with no benefits and no car. The post currently pays $81,300, with benefits bringing total compensation to $114,000.

"I think they can live on less," township Trustee Janice Anderson said. "Those are additional savings that could come out of an (intergovernmental agreement) as we think forward as a board to minimize the highway department."

Yet Wojtasiak says he's not through fighting the deal and his attorney is drafting a lawsuit to overturn the township's 3-2 vote that made "hefty cuts to everything" in his budget. He's seeking reinstatement of the full $2,619,330 he planned to spend, along with continued independence to maintain his district's 49.3 lane miles of roads with his staff of four equipment operators, one foreman/mechanic and one administrative assistant.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"To cut the highway commissioner's budget at that time was a little bit of intimidation, a little bit of retaliation," he said.

Meanwhile, unincorporated township residents are raising concerns about the political nature of behind-the-scenes discussions about the proposed road deal, the speed with which city officials are seeking approval and the idea of involuntary annexation that has begun to come up as an alternative if a road pact can't be reached. Some say they don't want their highway commissioner forced into a deal with the city, and they don't want to become city residents under the government led by Chirico.

"If he does annex us in," resident Heather Bejda said, "I guess we can vote him out."

Nearby township highway commissioners have concerns, too.

"It's unfortunate because the people that sit behind desks typically don't have any idea of what we do with the shared services already," Milton Township Highway Commissioner Gary Muehlfelt said. "We're all about certain types of consolidation, but it seems like politics always get involved in this and people try to make names for themselves."

Some say the city's offer to maintain township roads smells of a "takeover" or a "money grab."

"I think it can be a fruitful discussion," Lisle Township Highway Commissioner Ed Young said. "But I don't think this was approached in a friendly manner."

The next steps lie with Wojtasiak, both sides say. His township road district is a separate taxing body, so he's the only one able to approve or deny an agreement with the city.

The latest version of the agreement would provide brush collection, emerald ash borer treatment, forestry, general road maintenance, leaf collection, mosquito abatement, mowing and herbicide, storm sewer maintenance, street sweeping and winter operations. Roughly $450,000 a year of capital street maintenance such as crackfilling and resurfacing could be added beginning April 1, 2017, during the agreement's first full year, as could roughly $11,000 a year of sidewalk repair and replacement.

The city and the road district still can't agree on a fair way to compare costs for each entity to conduct the work. Township Trustee Bob Wegner suggested getting a third party to evaluate city and road district spending.

Wojtasiak said that's a good idea because both sides are biased and he doesn't know if they'll ever be able to come to an agreement.

Chirico and Ossyra hold out more hope for a potential deal, and with the mayor saying the city's door remains open for Wojtasiak to negotiate terms. But Wojtasiak pledged to discontinue meetings with the city when his budget wasn't approved in full earlier this week.

Bejda said she and her neighbors are becoming concerned this swirl of service proposals and mess of financial arguments are not about road maintenance or even cost savings, but politics.

"They have their own agenda," she said about the city and township officials feuding over the potential deal. "I don't think any of them are acting in the best interest of city residents or township residents. I don't think any of them are acting for the right reasons."

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