Harvard putting 1% sales tax question on April ballot, again

Local sales tax earmarked for road construction in city

Officials in Harvard said the roads in town are in need of work as they have deteriorated for more than a decade. They're hoping to fund the upgrades with a municipal sales tax, which residents will need to approve first in June 2022.

The city of Harvard is putting a 1% sales tax referendum to fund infrastructure repairs on the April 4 general election ballot.

City Council members voted last week to place the question on the spring ballot for municipal elections.

Voters turned down the same question in the June 28 primary, with about 64% of residents voting no to 36% yes.

This time, Alderman Charlie Gorman said the city’s transportation committee has a study to help demonstrate to residents the need for additional road construction funding.

The council also wants to create a citizen’s committee to inform the public on why the proposed tax is needed, Gorman said.

“What we want to try to do is a little better job of communicating what we want to do and how important it is,” Gorman said.

The question will ask, again: “Shall the corporate authorities of the city of Harvard be authorized to levy a municipal sales tax at a rate of 1% of eligible sales for expenditures on public infrastructure?”

“The only real method of fixing the problem is bringing it to the community and bringing the problem to them ... the enormous deficit that there is” to address road repairs, Mayor Mike Kelly said.

Before the June referendum, City Manager Dave Nelson said additional money from a sales tax would allow Harvard to triple its yearly road resurfacing schedule. Currently, Harvard resurfaces six or seven blocks each construction season but could increase that to 20 or 21 blocks with the additional funding, Nelson said.

A pavement management report by Infrastructure Management Services, presented last week to the city’s transportation committee, shows 65% of Harvard’s public streets are in very poor to serious condition. Another 21% are related as poor, with just less than 4% of streets rated as good.

The report, paid for by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, spells out the cost residents could expect over time if additional funding isn’t found, Gorman said.

In May, IMS used a laser-based system to collect imagery, measure surface distress and determine roughness for the city’s roads. That data is used to create an overall Pavement Condition Index (PCI) for 52 miles of city streets, according to the study’s authors.

The most-stressed streets show alligator cracking, rutting, larger transverse cracking and potholes.

A section on West Diggins Street from Front to Fourth streets, was rated as “failed” in the report, meaning it is too late to just grind down the asphalt and resurface. “This street requires a full reconstruction,” according to the report.

It rated Blaine Street from Jefferson to Lincoln streets in serious condition, noting that if left untreated, the road would need a full reconstruction soon.

Harvard currently receives about $210,000 a year for road repairs. The backlog of needed road work has an estimated repair cost of about $57 million, according to the report.

To eliminate that backlog in five years, the city would need to budget $8.7 million a year over that time, according to the study. To leave the city’s streets with a targeted average pavement condition of 50, the city would need $5.1 million a year in road construction. Currently, the overall pavement condition average is 38.

“The money we have to repair roads is not enough to maintain them,” Gorman said. “They are deteriorating faster than we can repair them.”

As an alderman, Gorman said, he often hears residents complain about their street’s condition.

“It is not hard to find an example [of bad roads] and not hard to find a complaint,” he said.

Kelly agreed, saying people complain either to him or on social media, saying the city “isn’t doing anything” to address roads.

“If we want to tackle this problem, we have to work together and find a funding stream. This sales tax is the only vehicle to attack the problem,” the mayor said.

The city is not trying to go for the “Taj Mahal” of streets, Kelly said, but bring them up to a level residents will find acceptable.

The city will need community members to help educate residents about the proposed sales tax for street projects, he said, including why it is needed and which products are included in the local tax.

“We need to find a champion” who will help lead that committee, Gorman said.

Anyone interested in serving on a citizens committee may contact Gorman through the cityofharvard.org website.