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Montgomery Board unanimous on referendum bid : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Montgomery Board unanimous on referendum bid
Should sales tax be raised to pay for street maintenance? Voters to decide

by John Etheredge


Now it's unanimous.

Long-time Montgomery Village Board member Pete Heinz voiced his support this past week to a village staff recommendation to hold a Nov. 4 referendum to ask village voters to approve an increase in the village's sales tax.

Village President Matt Brolley and the board's five other members voiced their support for the referendum effort during a meeting March 10, but Heinz was absent from the discussion.

But during the board's most recent meeting March 24, Heinz told his board colleagues he believes that a referendum would be "the best thing to do."

"That way, if they (village residents) want a tax the people can vote for it-not the village board," Heinz said.

Village staff has recommended the board seek a one percent increase in the sales tax on non-food and prescription drugs to provide funds needed to pay for street maintenance and other capital expenditures.

During a February board meeting, Peter Wallers, president of Engineering Enterprises, Inc., the village's engineering consultants, said the village will need an additional $1.8 million to $2.3 million annually to maintain local streets.

Wallers said his estimate is based on an in-person inspection of the village's streets and the use of a computer program.

He noted the number of streets requiring maintenance in the village has increased dramatically since 2000 due to the development of several new subdivisions on the village's far west side.

The board has yet to determine how much of a sales tax increase they will ask voters to approve, but Jeff Zoephel, village administrator, has recommended the board seek a one percent increase.

The village's current sales tax rate is seven percent in the Kane County portion of the village and 7.25 percent in the Kendall County portion. The two rates are lower than the rates currently charged in Oswego (7.75 percent), Aurora (8.25 percent) and Yorkville (8.25 percent).

Justin VanVooren, the village's finance director, has said each one-quarter of a percent increase in the sales tax would generate approximately $425,000 annually in new revenue for the village.

As a result, if the village were to seek passage of a one percent increase, Montgomery would receive an estimated $1.7 million in additional revenues annually, based on VanVooren's calculations if voters approve.

During last week's meeting, board members reviewed a calendar, prepared by village staff, that the village would follow in holding the referendum.

The calendar calls for village staff to develop and disseminate "factual information" concerning the referendum between now and April 27. The board is then scheduled to discuss the referendum during a meeting on Monday, April 28.

During a meeting May 12, the calendar calls for board members to consider a resolution placing the referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The last day for the board to pass the resolution would be Aug. 18, while the last day for the village to file and certify the resolution with election officials in Kendall and Kane counties would be Aug. 27, according to the calendar.

In a related matter, Steve Andersson, village attorney, told board members that under state law their "job is done" if and when they put the referendum on the ballot.

Referring to the law, Andersson said, "No moneys, employees or assets of the village be used either for or against a political candidate or political proposition. (So) once you make the decision to put this on the ballot your role is done and so is the village's role-for the most part."

However, Andersson said state law would permit the village to distribute "factual information" concerning the referendum.

Referring to Village President Brolley and the six board members, he said, "You can speak factually of the proposition, but that's about it."

He continued, "If you want to advocate (for the referendum) you can't do it when you're using village funds or facilities or employees or staff time. You can't pressure staff to volunteer their time-it's up to them. They are free to do nothing."

But Andersson said board members are "are individuals and you have not checked at the door your right to exercise your First Amendment rights. Therefore, when you are not sitting in this room, acting as the village board, you are free to do whatever you want and say whatever you want and do whatever you want. You can donate money, raise money, whatever you want as long as you are doing it in a personal capacity and not as a member of the village board."

He added that board members can identify themselves as board members if they decide to make a personal endorsement on the referendum.

Andersson recalled that former board member Andy Kaczmarek used to publish his own online newsletter under a name that identified him as a village board member.

Referring to the newsletter, Andersson said, "In it he (Kaczmarek) advocated for all kinds of things, but at the bottom there was a disclaimer that said it did not involve village dollars and it was not endorsed or approved by the village board or staff. It was personally his own thing, but he did use his title as a board member because that was his at the time."

Andersson said some government agencies prohibit their elected officials from using their titles, "but they do it locally, not by state law."

Board members, he said, can use their titles without violating any current village rules.

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