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Local News

Voters to face $10 million bond issue for Flossmoor streets, storm sewers

A summer 2019 view of the pavement at the intersection of Maryland and Lawrence in Flossmoor. (Chronicle file photo)

Flossmoor’s streets are badly in need of repair and flooding around the village has increased as storms have intensified in the last few years.

Village board members Monday took a first step toward a major infrastructure initiative designed to tackle both those problems. They unanimously agreed that a $10 million general obligation bond issue should go before voters in the Nov. 3 general election.

A summer 2019 view of the pavement at the intersection of Maryland and Lawrence in Flossmoor. This particular rough spot was patched by the village shortly after the photo was taken. (Chronicle file photo)

If approved by Flossmoor voters, proceeds of the bond issue will be used to address both street repair and flooding. Most of the money is likely to be slated for street repair and village officials are hopeful that grants will pay for a significant portion of upcoming flood relief projects.

Three years ago, a study of village streets found that it could cost nearly $20 million to properly repair and maintain Flossmoor’s roads. Plans for a referendum first surfaced after that study, and it was generally assumed that a bond issue would be solely committed to street repair.

But as flooding has gotten more severe in the village, Flossmoor officials now say it is also important to prevent neighborhoods and the downtown area from being inundated by water following storms. Fixing the Flossmoor Road viaduct – and containing water in its nearby drainage area – is now seen as a major priority for the village.

In a memo to the board, Village Manager Bridget Wachtel suggested three possible options for the referendum question. The first option proposed that the bonds be used to fix both the streets and stormwater sewer system. The other two options dealt solely with money from the bond issue being used exclusively for street repair or flooding at the Flossmoor Road viaduct, where improvements are likely to cost between $5.7 million and $6.5 million.

Wachtel said the first option gives the village flexibility since more money could be used for streets if, as expected, grants are made available for storm sewers. Mayor Paul Braun and the six trustees all said that the first option gives the village better choices in using the bond money to fix both sets of problems.

Trustee Brian Driscoll said the first option gives Flossmoor the necessary flexibility to address infrastructure needs.

“I’m strongly in favor of the combined question,” he said. “Water problems weren’t even on the radar when I first started running for the village board four years ago. Now they are and need to be addressed.”

Braun said he’s been telling residents for the past two years that a major referendum to repair infrastructure is needed, but that it would only be possible after bonds used to build Flossmoor’s new library are retired.

About $8 million in bonds for the library were issued in 2002 following a referendum. Once that debt is taken off the books in early 2021, Flossmoor will have the financial capacity to support the street repairs and storm sewer projects, Braun said. 

State law allows municipalities to issue general obligation bonds with voter approval. Bonds are based on a community’s good faith and credit, and are paid off by local taxes. Flossmoor, which has repeatedly won awards for its financial practices, has an excellent credit rating and would likely get an interest rate on the bonds that is very favorable to the village. 

Braun said that 80 to 90 percent of the bonds from the November referendum would be a replacement for the former library debt that is being retired. He added that Flossmoor continues to be “very, very conservative” about going into debt.

He also pointed out that residents will have the final say on whether the referendum passes.

“It will be up to the community if we want to pay for these improvements,” Braun said. “If the community doesn’t want this we will all continue to do the best we can.”  

Village board members did not take a vote on the referendum question Monday but agreed on the first option and the $10 million figure. Municipal staff, including Village Attorney Kathleen Field Orr, will prepare the referendum question for approval at the Aug. 17 board meeting. Wachtel said the referendum question needs to be submitted to the Cook County Clerk’s office by Aug. 27 so that it can be included on the November ballot.

There was also general agreement that a robust educational campaign is needed to inform residents about why passage of the referendum is important. Board members are not permitted to actively campaign on behalf of the referendum but are allowed to put educational efforts about bond issues before residents.

As part of educational campaigns for past referendum issues, board members have gotten the word out by going door-to-door in Flossmoor neighborhoods. That last happened in 2018 prior to residents approving a referendum issue increasing the village’s sales tax percentage.

Trustee Diane Williams said a new educational strategy might be needed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the past we’ve knocked on doors,” Williams said. “We can’t do that now. People aren’t answering their doors.”

If the referendum is successful, Public Works Director John Brunke said it will probably take at least three years to repair streets in the village. During the 2017 study, all of Flossmoor’s streets were rated between 10 (“excellent condition”) and 1 (“failed”). Repairs would be scheduled first at the worst streets with much of the work expected at streets rated fair or poor. The overall goal, Brunke said, is that all village-owned streets have a rating of 8 or better.

Brunke was asked Monday about the likelihood that Flossmoor will get grant money that can be used for Flossmoor Road viaduct repairs and related anti-flooding measures.

He said that a grant from the Army Corps of Engineers, probably between $1 million and $1.5 million, is looking very promising and that Flossmoor could receive word in a few weeks if it’s been awarded to the village. With the grant, some construction work at the viaduct may be possible next summer.

Flossmoor has also applied for grants from FEMA, Rebuild Illinois DCEO and for “green grants” from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the Illinois EPA. Money from those grants would also go toward anti-flooding measures.

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