Village of Park Ridge looks for approval of April 4 referendum
By Melanie Rossi
PARK RIDGE – An important referendum question awaits village of Park Ridge residents on their April 4 election ballots.
A “yes” vote would approve an increase in their property tax levy, and the village could increase spending for civil services, such as fire protection, garbage collection and street updates.
Village Board President Steve Menzel stated, “15 years ago, the state put restrictions on municipalities for what they could have for their local tax levy. So, when you want to exceed the levy limit for your municipality, you need to have a referendum to do that.”
“There are quite a few communities in the state of Wisconsin that are having budget problems. Many of those problems are the same as what businesses have — as what anyone has with recent inflation.”
With inflation increasing and municipal budgets unable to keep up, the village board hopes that the increased levy will give the village more revenue, allowing them to address certain issues in the community.
One such issue concerns the village’s fire department.
Menzel explained that since the 1940s, the village had their own fire department; however, they recently hadn’t been investing money into funding its necessary upgrades.
“The fire department is in a situation where we had a consultant come in and tell us what we needed to do to maintain our own department and what some of our other options would be,” Menzel said. “They determined that we needed to replace all three of the trucks in our fire department and build a new building or add a significant amount of space.”
Financing those improvements would cost the village $150,000 a year, so they instead made the more fiscally-responsible decision to contract with the Stevens Point Fire Department.
“It was either pay a significant amount of money to purchase new materials and building space, or contract with another provider,” Menzel explained.
While this decision to contract costs more than previous Park Ridge spending on the fire department.
Menzel said that this increase is “because the village hadn’t been investing enough money to maintain its own fire department.”
In addition to the fire department, the levy would go towards maintaining the village hall and financing the heat, electricity and salaries that have all increased as a result of inflation; money would also go towards updating Park Ridge’s streets.
Menzel emphasized the months of strategic planning that went into making all of these decisions.
“The village has done a considerable amount of planning in the last year and a half or so,” Menzel said. “One of the plans is the strategic plan which outlines some of the priorities that the Village wants to take on in the coming five to 10 years.
“One of the major priorities that our village residents have indicated is improving our streets. The streets are pretty bumpy, and we haven’t had resurfacing done in decades.
“If we had invested a lot of money in our fire department, we would probably not have been able to do the streets. So, the feeling amongst the village residents was that bringing the streets up to standard was more important than maintaining our fire department.
“That’s what came out of our strategic planning: how important maintaining/upgrading the streets was. Included in the streets is improving the stormwater drainage. . . We just rely on the water draining through the sandy soil, so in the springtime our streets get flooded and pretty messy. One of the things that we would do while upgrading the streets is also upgrading the stormwater management of the streets.”
The village has focused not only on strategic planning but also on comprehensive planning, updating their state-required comprehensive plan for the first time in years.
Forming these plans would not have been possible without the efforts of the village’s own residents, through both volunteer work and input at public Q & A sessions.
“The amount of planning that was done and work that was done with volunteer residents is pretty amazing for a small village,” Menzel said. “So, what we’re doing now is really the next step after completing both of those plans, moving forward with the things that we have discussed and worked out in our strategic plans.”
For the village of Park Ridge residents, voting to approve the referendum would facilitate the implementation of these plans.
Menzel said, “The portion of a homeowner in Park Ridge’s property tax that actually goes to the village is 19%. Most of their property tax dollars go to our public school district, to our county and to our technical college. So, even though we’re asking for $130,000 a year more from the Village budget, that’s actually a relatively small piece of the pie.”
For village residents interested in learning more about the referendum, the board is hosting public Q & A sessions – one on Wednesday, March 15 at 6 p.m. at the Iverson Park All Purpose Lodge, and the second at their monthly board meeting on Monday, March 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Park Ridge Village Hall.