Sewer work could slow other projects

Board has to find 'balancing point' of what to do and when

Feb. 16, 2011

Shorewood — How will the village continue to fund upgrades to an ambitious $71.5 million comprehensive sewer plan - borne out of the torrential rains that hit the community in July - while earmarking funds for existing capital projects?

Members of the Village Board and Community Development Authority hashed over this issue Monday, and a decision could be coming in the near future.

Village Manager Chris Swartz presented members of both bodies with a proposal that called for reductions to a number of initiatives within Shorewood's long-range financial plan to make way for the ramped up sewer work.

The amount of funding in years ahead could be reduced for such projects as the bi-annual road program, parks improvements, alley reconstruction and a new or refurbished facility for the Police Department.

"Within a month … we will know more about the sewer process," Swartz said. "We can get into a more definitive plan of action when all the costs become known."

At the moment, Swartz and other village officials are working under a number of assumptions that are subject to change. Plans call for taking out debt for storm and sewer utility projects over a 20-year period of time; all other projects would likely be funded with debt within 15 years.

Based on existing assumptions, Swartz presented estimated increases for tax and utility bills that would help fund the general obligation debt being taken out to fund the work.

For instance, the owner of a home valued at $300,000 could pay an additional $104 on the village portion of their 2012 tax bill - not including special assessments - based on existing assumptions. According to estimates, the increase could run as high as $790, from today's figures, in 2031.

Bond rating could be affected

Michael Harrigan, a financial adviser with public finance firm Ehlers, said the village needs to keep its bond rating in mind as the borrowing process hangs in the balance for the sewer work.

"What it comes right down to is what are you comfortable affording?" he said.

Harrigan outlined three key options the village has to address with the sewer projects: reducing or adjusting other capital projects, shifting timelines and taking out revenue bonds, a form of debt that would be supported by user fees and property taxes.

The Village Board generally agreed the sewer work is a high priority item, given the magnitude of last summer's flooding. Concerns, however, were raised about scaling back work on road improvements.

Concern for road work

"I would like to see what we're planning to do and for what duration," Trustee Margaret Hickey said. "We need to know, long term, what kind of impact this will have because you can't delay (road work) forever."

While portions of the sewer work are important - particularly in some of the hardest hit areas of the village - Trustee Michael Maher said some components of the comprehensive plan could be deferred to address road maintenance.

"I think this is true if we're talking about something in a 30- or 40-year flood," Maher said. "People drive on the roads every day. At some point, there is going to have to be a balancing point."

Also in question is how much money will be allocated to address the aging police facility. Recent consultant studies have indicated the existing building is inadequate by today's standards.

"I think we have to address this," Trustee Jeff Hanewall said. "I don't think a quick fix like renovation makes a lot of sense. It's a crappy facility to be working in, and it doesn't serve the public well when they're in there."

Another line item that will be examined is funding for parks improvements. The school and village boards have agreed to work on funding for Lake Bluff and Atwater schools playgrounds. The school district earmarked $300,000 for the Lake Bluff playground and the village originally pledged $250,000. When the plans for the playground were developed, they had an estimated cost of more than $700,000.

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