City Beat: Thank you for supporting our infrastructure

From Larry Morrissey 
Mayor, City of Rockford
and Jim Ryan 
City Adminstrator, City of Rockford

We would like to thank the citizens of Rockford for once again resoundingly supporting the 1 percent Infrastructure Sales Tax Referendum last Tuesday, as part of the March 15 election primary.

With almost 30,000 voters going to the ballot box, over 66 percent of Rockford voters approved another five-year extension of the sales tax which is used to rebuild and maintain infrastructure throughout our city. Every ward in the City supported the measure, and 84 out of 86 precincts supported it as well. Only four wards, representing 17 percent of the voter turnout, had support less than 60 percent.

From the early 1980s until 2005, the City of Rockford had historically asked voters every year to raise the property tax levy in order to finance road construction.

The problem with that approach was that year after year, we were losing ground. Not only was it raising our property tax rate every year, but it was also not enough to pay for all the infrastructure improvements we needed to maintain a vibrant and healthy city.

Lastly, we were falling behind because we were selling 13-year bonds for ten-year road fixes, and getting less work done because we were paying for one-third of the bond issue in interest and issuance costs. In 2005, State law changed and gave non-home rule communities like Rockford the opportunity to ask voters to implement a 1 percent infrastructure sales tax.

In 2006, the City asked voters to move towards this infrastructure financing option, but unfortunately it was defeated with 56 percent of the voters rejecting the measure. In 2007, despite many that said we should go back to the old way of paying for roads through property tax debt, we again went to the voters to move towards the 1 percent infrastructure sales tax.

Thanks to a grassroots, citizen-led effort, the referendum passed with approximately 58 percent support. Since then, the citizens have supported the last two referendums by 74 percent and 66 percent respectively, and the results of these decisions to invest in our infrastructure have been dramatic.

Since 2007, when the City replaced the old way of financing infrastructure through bonds, the City has reduced over $60 million from the city property tax rate. In 2018, all prior bond issues for road improvements will be retired, resulting in the elimination of a property tax levy for debt service.

In the same time, the City has generated over $129 million in sales tax revenue to invest into improving Rockford’s infrastructure. One real benefit of this financing is that approximately 35 percent of sales revenues are paid by non-City of Rockford residents. Since 2007, over 90 miles of neighborhood streets have been resurfaced, 35 miles of arterial and collector streets, 250 alleys have been repaired, over 40 miles of new curb and gutter installation, 30 miles of sidewalk replacement/installation, over 1600 handicap ramps, and major improvements have been made to the City’s commercial and industrial street network, including the downtown, 7th Street, and the E. State Street retail corridor, to name just a few.

Another major benefit, and perhaps most important, is that having a steady stream of revenue to deploy pay-as-you-go capital financing has enabled the City to leverage over $220 million in State, Federal, and other non-City funds to complete major corridor improvements such as South and North Main Streets, West State, and 12 bridges, including the Morgan Street and Harrison Avenue Bridges over the Rock River.

We have made significant progress in every corner of our city, but we have much work to do. On behalf of the Rockford City Council, thank you to the Citizens for Rebuilding Rockford for providing grassroots support to educate voters on this important initiative, and thank you to the voters of Rockford for endorsing our efforts to rebuild Rockford, and invest in our community’s future growth and prosperity.

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