by Barry Dredze
Village Trustees have called an emergency meeting of the Village Board on Thursday, July 26 at 7:00 p.m. at Village Hall to draft a referendum for the November ballot asking Winfield voters to approve raising the Village property tax rate to pay for the Village’s public services including police services, road maintenance and tree removal for emerald ash borer infestation.
As the Village anticipates the release of a police efficiency study by REM Management Services, Inc. of Lansing, IL to examine the public safety share of the Village budget, Trustees have insisted that all options are on the table.
On Wednesday morning, July 18, residents filed petitions with the Village Clerk to place two referendums on the November ballot, to reinstate a video gaming ban lifted by the Village Board last March and another to take the disbandment of the Winfield Police Department off the table. In response to the residents’ referendum efforts, some Village Trustees decided to issue an ultimatum.
“I don’t think there’s one person in Winfield that doesn’t want to keep their police, I really don’t,” Trustee Tony Reyes said during the regular meeting of the Village Board on Thursday, July 19. “The referendum might indicate that everybody wants to keep their police department. I think we already know that. What the people don’t know is what it’s going to cost. And if it means doubling your village [property tax] rate, well, we don’t have that high of a rate right now. So, maybe doubling it isn’t a big thing. But it might be more than that, we don’t know.”
It is unclear that the necessary financial summary and referendum language will be ready in time for the special meeting on Thursday.
Under Thursday night’s Committee of the Whole agenda item to review the process for presenting the anticipated REM study to the public, Trustees decided to form a subcommittee to draft the referendum at a special meeting at 2:00pm on Monday, July 23 at Village Hall. However, Village attorneys had advised that Open Meetings Act provisions prohibit any votes and other substantive actions under the process taken.
The subcommittee was proposed by Trustee Tim Allen and the referendum was proposed by Trustee Tony Reyes with the support of Trustees Jay Olson and James Hughes.
“Substantive action to create a committee or subcommittee must be taken during the regular Board meeting as an items listed on the agenda in order to comply with the Open Meetings Act,” Village Attorney Kathy Elliott wrote on Sunday, July 23. “Both state law and village code provide that the village president appoints committee members with the advice and consent of the village board. Second, the subcommittee was not properly formed under state law or village code. The village president has the authority to appoint committee and subcommittee members, subject to the advice and consent of the village board. The village board does not have the authority to make appointments.”
While review of the process for releasing the police study to the public was listed on the public agenda for Thursday night’s Committee of the Whole discussion, Village Manager Curt Barrett, Trustees Jack Bajor and Erik Spande were caught unaware of the specific measures calling for a subcommittee to draft the Village referendum. Village President Deborah Birutis was absent from Thursday night’s Village Board meeting which was led by Trustee Bajor as President Pro Tempore.
The initial draft of the Village referendum submitted to the Committee of the Whole by Trustee Reyes read, “Shall the citizens of Winfield increase their property tax paid to the General Fund by $X per $100,000 of assessed value to fund village services and infrastructure maintenance?” The deadline to place a referendum on the November ballot is August 30.
On Wednesday, July 18, residents including volunteers who circulated petitions to place their two referendums on the November 6 general election ballot witnessed the filings.
Steve Romanelli of Winfield submitted 2,547 signatures to place a referendum on the ballot asking voters, “Shall the Village of Winfield keep its own police department?”
Winfield resident Harold Besch submitted 2,261 signatures to put the question, “Shall video gaming be prohibited in the Village of Winfield?” before the voters in November.
“There’s alot of folks who are paying attention,” Trustee Erik Spande said. “I think the Village will work alot better when the residents are in tune and are paying attention and holding the Board accountable because that’s ultimately what we need to have done.”