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Divided Council Approves Budget, Nixes Ditch Projects

Several aldermen continued to express misgivings about the effect of annual ditch projects on the city budget.

After a split City Council voted Monday to approve the fiscal year 2013 budget, a heated discussion broke out over several aldermen had throughout this year's budget talks.

The city's annual ditch projects continued to come under fire for how they could impact Darien's long-term economic stability. The discussion resulted in another divided vote that led to the failure of a resolution authorizing the summer 2012 ditch projects.

“We’re basically depleting the funds and kicking the can down the road and not addressing the real issue, which is we have these ditch projects that we started,” said Ward 7 Alderman Halil Avci. “But we don’t have a path for how we’re going to pay for it. In my mind, that’s not the way to budget.” 

The 2013 budget originally contained $758,800 worth of ditch projects on residential streets. The city has enough money to complete the projects this year without going into debt, but Avci repeatedly said throughout the budget cycle that the city’s spending on such projects was unsustainable. 

The city projects it will end FY 2013 with a capital projects fund balance of about $3.4 million, which includes the transfer of $800,000 more from the general fund than in earlier versions of the budget. By 2015, the city estimates the ending capital projects fund balance will be about $910,000. An earlier draft of the budget estimated it would end 2015 with about $268,000, due to declining revenues. 

Avci, along with Ward 6 Alderman Sylvia McIvor and Ward 4 Alderman Joerg Seifert, voted against adopting the budget. The same group of aldermen, plus Ward 3 Alderman John Poteraske, voted against completing the ditch projects as budgeted.

“I’m not taking a position against ditch projects, I’m taking a position against the capital projects budget in total,” McIvor said during the discussion about the ditches. “That is why I'm voting no across the board."

Avci said he wanted the city to commit to developing a permanent revenue stream to help fund the ditch projects. He suggested one alternative could be to create a special assessment for people who live in areas with ditches so they pay a slightly higher property tax rate. 

“I think it’s unfair to residents that live in that area that you would point a finger and say, ‘Sorry, you bought those houses,’” Mayor Kathleen Weaver said.

Park District Commissioner and former Alderman Jim Tikalsky addressed the council after both votes, expressing his disappointment at the decision.

“It’s not fair to blame all the residents of Marion Hills,” he said. “Put on your thinking caps and get a solution. It’s not fair to the residents because they didn’t create the problem, but now they have to live with it.”

With the ditch projects off the table, City Administrator Byron Vana said the city would have to renegotiate its planned 2012 road projects. The city typically completes ditch projects before repaving the associated streets. 

Municipal Services Director Dan Gombac said he would have those figures by the next on April 16 at . 

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Brian Cassin April 04, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Deferring capital projects, due to lack of projected revenues, is sound practice. It does not mean the projects will not happen, but spreads the projects out over a longer period. Same number of projects, but spread over four years instead of three, for example. To continue at the current capital spending pace, despite sound projections that the revenue will not be there to sustain that spending pace, is foolish and poor management practice. Now, it is clear our city leaders need to work harder and more creatively on ways to increase revenue. I am dismayed that there is so little evidence that our current council is being proactive about our city financials, instead choosing to be reactive when a situation like the Walmart tax ultimatum is tossed at them. I see too much lip service and not enough substance regarding efforts to encourage business development in Darien. If we don't have the expertise on our council or in the city administrator's office, then I suggest investing in outside help to make this happen. This is hard work, especially in the recent economic climate, but it is only through sustained effort that success can be achieved.
Mark Kiwiet April 04, 2012 at 09:37 PM
How many ditches could be improved for say ... the amount of Bryan Vana raise? ;)

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