WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Laying the Groundwork for Streets Referendum

Macomb, IL – Macomb aldermen still have some work to do as they prepare to ask for voter approval of a sales tax hike.

The money generated by the half-cent sale tax hike would pay for street and sewer repairs.

There are so many streets in need of work that it's difficult to decide where the city should start. But Fourth Ward Alderman Mike Inman said it will be important for voters to know the city's plans.

"I think it would be in our best interest to develop and define priorities," Inman said. "I think that would surely give people a good view of what they could expect when and if this sales tax referendum were to be put on the ballot and it passed."

The city's current half-cent sales tax raises $850,000 - $900,000 per year. If approved, the referendum would double that amount. It might sound like a lot of money but it won't pay for much when it comes to infrastructure repairs.

As a result, aldermen are considering whether to bond to pay for the work. Under that scenario, the city would use the sales tax revenue to pay back the bonds.

Fifth Ward Alderman Dave Dorsett would be willing to look at a limited amount of bonding, but he also urged fellow city council members to proceed with caution when it comes to bonding.

"Bonding is borrowing and that's not working out so well at the state level right now. I would hate to start following their path," Dorsett said.

Sixth Ward Alderman Tim Lobdell is also concerned about bonding, but he also won't rule it out.

"I prefer pay as you go. That way you know all your money is going into your projects instead of going into a banker's pocket. Interest is wasted money in these situations," Lobdell said.

"But we have a very great need on several miles of our streets and I don't know if we can catch up in three or four or five years without bonding a large part of that up front and trying to make up some ground so we can go forward."

One possibility is to bond for some of the work while paying for other projects as they're completed.

In the meantime, the need for street repairs in Macomb remains great. Public Works Director Walter Burnett said the city needs to do some level of work on six miles of roads per year just to stay even. But he said the city is not even close to completing that amount of work right now.

Burnett told aldermen progress can be seen on some streets, the city has held its own on other streets, while some failing roads have gotten worse.

"We've slowed down the bleeding but we haven't totally stopped it," Burnett said. "We certainly haven't started healing the patient yet."