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Gurnee faces financial infrastructure crisis

Deteriorating pavement MagnoliAvenue north GrAvenue Gurnee.

Deteriorating pavement on Magnolia Avenue north of Grand Avenue in Gurnee.

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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:11AM

Gurnee trustees were shocked to hear Monday night, Feb. 3, that nearly 60 percent of their streets and roads are in either fair or poor shape requiring immediate attention, according to a recent independent study.

Village Engineer Scott Drabicki told the Board that within four years he expects that half of the roadways in Gurnee will reach the end of their service life with costly structural damage expected to follow.

“In my professional experience, asphalt roadway pavements in this climate will typically last from 15 to 20 years with no maintenance, and from 20 to 25 years with well-timed preventive maintenance to minimize water intrusion,” he said.

Damage on most roads throughout the area this winter has been extensive. Repetitive freeze and thaw cycles have distressed and cracked many village streets causing frequent potholes that have damaged many vehicles.

Drabicki said his staff’s goal has always been to provide the best value to the community by repairing roadways to maximize their service life. For the past five years, Gurnee has resurfaced an average of 2.4 miles out of 121 miles of pavement per year.

“However, this rate of preventive maintenance is not sustainable and is the primary reason for my concern about the future of our roadways,” he said.

He pointed out that the village has never had a designated capital improvement budget for its 121 miles of streets, 146 miles of sidewalks, 182 miles of water mains, and 1,683 village street lights. He asked the Board where the money would come from to maintain all these municipal essentials in the future?

Village Administrator Patrick Muetz said he estimates it will take as much as $6 million a year to establish a dedicated infrastructure capital improvement program, and he said that kind of money just isn’t available in the General Fund right now.

Trustees then held some frank discussions on how they could provide such funding by considering the possibilities of increasing various taxes such as sales, property, utility, gas, and/or other taxes when they plan their fiscal budget beginning next month.

Reinstituting a property tax was a long shot with most trustees. The village dropped such a tax back in 2000 and replaced it with a municipal home rule sales tax (currently at 0.50 percent). It is largely dependent upon nonresident visitors who seek shopping bargains at Gurnee Mills Regional Shopping Center.

However, the recent recession and competition with new discount stores in southern Wisconsin have made competition keen between the two shopping areas.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik summed up the evening’s discussion when she told the Board, “We must find a funding source for providing ongoing maintenance of our irreplaceable infrastructure. It’s the single most valuable asset the village maintains.”

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