Last year's challenge a new year's success? : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Last year's challenge a new year's success? |
|TIF district, infrastructure funding top Montgomery president's agenda |
|by John Etheredge|
Montgomery Village President Matt Brolley is hopeful that one of the major challenges that has confronted the village board over the past year may become one of the village's success stories in 2014.
That challenge has been the establishment of a proposed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district that would encompass approximately 700 acres of mostly undeveloped land along sections of Orchard and Aucutt roads on the village's west side.
By establishing the TIF district, village officials are seeking to spur business development along and near the recently widened four-lane Orchard Road corridor.
If approved, property owners in the TIF district would continue to pay property taxes to local taxing districts based on their current assessed value for up to 23 years. However, the taxes the property owners would pay resulting from the increasing assessed value of their properties would be placed in a separate TIF fund that would be controlled by the village. The village, in turn, would use the TIF funds to pay for public improvements in the TIF district.
Among the projects the TIF funds could potentially pay for include flood control measures and other infrastructure improvements, including streets.
However, over the past several months, representatives of the Sugar Grove and Montgomery and Countryside Fire Protection Districts along with some existing business owners have voiced objection to the creation of the TIF district.
Fire district officials are concerned at the prospect of losing any growth in property tax revenues that may occur while the TIF district remains in place.
Brolley said village officials are continuing to talk with Montgomery and Countryside Fire Chief Tom Meyers, Jr. in an effort to address his concerns over the fire district's potential revenue loss.
Brolley added that he now expects the village board will vote on a motion to approve the TIF district during their first meeting of the new year set for Monday, Jan. 13.
Noting the concerns raised by the fire districts, Brolley said, "The TIF project has been challenging, but I think it will be one of our key successes of this past year and the new year."
A new era in municipal government began last May when Brolley was sworn-in as village president, succeeding Marilyn Michelini who had served in the position for 12 years.
To gain election to the board, Brolley defeated long-time village board member William Keck.
Brolley, who grew up in the village and is a professional engineer, ran for the village's top elective position as part of the self-described "Return to Reason" slate of candidates. Also on the slate were long-time village board member Denny Lee and two first-time board candidates, Steve Jungermann and Theresa Sperling.
Along with Brolley, village voters also elected the three "Return to Reason" board candidates.
In one of his first actions as village president, Brolley appointed Doug Marecek, a newcomer to municipal government, to fill his vacant board seat.
Brolley said he is pleased with how the newly elected board put aside prior disagreements and began working together.
Referring to the more cordial atmosphere at board meetings since the election, Brolley said, "I have to give credit to everybody, but if I had to single someone out it would have to be Doug Marecek. I appointed Doug to that vacant board seat to be a kind of bridge builder between the new board and the old board and it's worked out. It's been huge for us."
In addition, Brolley said he has made a concerted effort to discuss village issues with individual board members as often as possible.
"You know I have 45 minutes going to and from work every day, so I spend a lot of that time chatting with them, trying to find out what their needs are," he said.
Brolley said the board's unanimous approval of his appointment of long-time village finance director Jeff Zoephel as village administrator was another positive development.
Zoephel, with the board's approval, subsequently hired two former Sugar Grove officials to positions with the village. Justin VanVooren was hired as the village's finance director, replacing Zoephel in that position, and Rich Young was named the village's community development director. Young will begin work with the village Jan. 6.
Shortly after being elected village president, Brolley said he reached out to other area mayors and village presidents, including Tom Weisner in Aurora and Brian LeClercq in Oswego.
"I have a real good working relationship right now with Mayor Weisner and Brian LeClercq. I have met with both of them frequently at various events and I'm currently working on some projects with them right now," Brolley said, adding, "They both have mentored me and it's been amazing to have their insight and help. They've done this job before."
Last July, in a unique event that attracted the attention of Chicago media, Brolley, LeClercq, Weisner and Chris Funkhouser, a Yorkville aldermen and mayor pro-tem, took a kayak trip together down the Fox River from Aurora to Yorkville. The purpose of the trip was to highlight the importance of the river in the four communities and its potential for increased recreational use.
Brolley described the kayak trip as a "bonding experience" for the four communities.
"I think that really kicked off the good mojo we have right now with Aurora, Oswego and Yorkville," he said.
Brolley noted that he and Weisner are continuing to work together to secure state support for improving the canoe chute in downtown Aurora and to develop a whitewater course at the dam in Montgomery.
"We'd like to turn it into a whitewater facility just like the one in Yorkville," he said.
Brolley said another highlight for the past year was the decision by the board to approve a tax levy that froze the amount existing village residents will pay in property taxes to the village this year. The levy will provide the village with some additional revenues, but those revenues will come from properties that were added to the tax rolls over the past year.
Looking ahead to the new year, Brolley said a sales tax referendum is at the top of his agenda for the village.
Brolley added that the village requires additional revenues on an annual basis to pay for capital improvements in the village, especially roads.
"We have a capital problem with our roads," he said, adding, "The only revenue that goes into our capital program right now is about $300,000 to $400,000 in state-reimbursed Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds," he said.
"Our engineers estimate we need to spend about $2 million on our roads (annually)," he said.
Brolley continued, "This is one of those problems if you put it off for one year or two years, no one will notice. But we would not be doing our job if we let this roll for 10 years when every street on the far west side of town is going to be due for maintenance."
Brolley said he expects the board will take up the issue of a sales tax referendum early in the new year, possibly in February.
"I want the board to talk about the funding gap we have and what we can do to solve the problem," he said.
Asked if doing nothing is an option, Brolley said, "That's not what we were put here to do. Obviously, we're supposed to be good stewards of what we have here."
He added that he would like to have a "good financial picture" of the village finances forecasted over the next 10 years to serve as a starting point for the discussions.
Brolley noted that unlike neighboring Aurora and Oswego, the village does not have Home Rule authority. As a result, he said, the village board can place a sales tax referendum on the ballot, but it will be up to village voters to approve it.
Among Brolley's other priorities for 2014 include the installation of a tornado siren on the village's far west side, the development of a strategic plan for the village and a review of the village's current staffing levels.
West side siren
'has to happen'
Last summer some residents of the village's far west side told the board they could not hear any sirens moments prior to an approaching severe torm. The board, in turn, had the village's engineering firm and police department evaluate and develop cost estimates for the installation of a siren near Dickson Road, south of U.S. Route 30.
"The tornado siren on the west side of town simply has to happen-even if it means something else has to get cut," Brolley said, adding, "We will not be doing our job if we don't get that siren put in."
In addition to safety Brolley said he and other village officials will continue to work with the Montgomery Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) in an effort to attract restaurants to the village-especially on the far west side.
He noted that roughly half of the village's population of nearly 18,000 people now live west of Orchard Road. However, he said most of them drive to neighboring Oswego or Aurora when they wish to dine out due to a lack of local restaurant options.
"Part of the problem is as you're driving down Orchard Road from Aurora, you have everything along the road in Aurora and then you drive a little bit more and you have the same things in Oswego. None of those users are going to also locate in between (in Montgomery)," he said.
However, Brolley said he is optimistic that some new restaurants and stores will open or announce plans to locate in the village during the new year near the new Sam's Club store now under construction in the Settlers Hill shopping center at U.S. Route 30 and U.S. Route 34 on the village's far east side.
Brolley said he is also looking forward to the completion of three major public infrastructure projects in the village in the new year: the reconstruction and widening of Route 30 between Briarcliff Road and Goodwin Drive, the reconstruction of the Route 30-Ill. Route 31 interchange, and the first phase of the Boulder Hill Subdivision water main improvement project.
Contractors for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) are expected to finish the two Route 30 projects later this year.
Brolley said he is excited at the prospect of motorists being able to drive on a widened and improved Route 30 in the near future.
He noted that merchants along Route 30 and adjoining roads are also anxious to see construction come to an end so customers can again reach their stores and restaurants.
"I was talking to the guys at Planet Fitness (in the Settlers Landing shopping center) the other night and they were asking me, 'Can you please push them (IDOT) to finish' (the Route 30 project) because it's killing us.'"
Brolley said yet another highlight for the village in the new year should be the opening of the newly expanded Stewart Sports Complex along the north side of U.S. Route 30, adjoining the village's police station. The Fox Valley Park District-owned facility will include soccer, baseball and softball fields and a dog park.
"It's going to be a huge event," Brolley said, referring to the opening.
However, he also noted that it may serve to hasten discussions between the village and the park district concerning the construction of a pedestrian bridge that would span Route 30. The bridge, proposed by village engineer consultants several years ago, would provide safe passage to the park for people living on the south side of the highway.
"It's a project we will have to do jointly with the park district," Brolley said of the bridge, adding, "We'll have to find out what park district officials think about it. I live on the south side of Route 30 and crossing that highway to get to the park is undesirable and I don't think I'll ever let my kids cross that highway. So, a pedestrian bridge world be key, but, for now, getting the park opened and people using it and the dog park is going to be awesome."
Another initiative on Brolley's agenda is to work with neighboring Oswego on a possible joint purchase of new parkway trees as replacements for the ash trees that have been destroyed over the past few years by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle.
By jointly seeking bids with Oswego, Brolley said both villages may be able to realize some savings .
However, he cautioned that the village's funds for replacement trees are limited.
"The village has minimal money available for a tree replacement program--$10,000 to $20,000 at best. We did receive a grant one year and we had hopes of getting another but every community now has this problem and they're all going for the same grants," he said.
Given the limited funds available, Brolley said, "It's probably going to be a ten-year process to replace all those trees."