TEASER Whispering Pines

Thanks to countywide property revaluation, Whispering Pines on Wednesday approved a 2019-2020 budget that’s 17 percent larger than its last one.

The village’s $4 million budget will be funded without a hike in the existing 37-cent property tax rate — and the Village Council has plans for the additional tax revenue it expects to generate next year.

In its first order of business on Wednesday, the village council agreed to pursue purchasing 19.4 acres off of Niagara-Carthage Road and Hardee Lane as a future park for village residents. After a series of negotiations with the Bibey family, which owns the land, the council agreed on a $350,000 purchase price.

“As most of you know, the village has been desirous of acquiring the Bibey property for many, many years,” said Mayor Bob Zschoche. “I know our normal protocol is to ask for discussion from the floor, but I don’t really think there’s anybody out there who wants to say anything other than ‘go, go, go.’”

Expanding the recreational options available to residents within Whispering Pines beyond the village’s lakes and lakefront parks has long been a goal of the Village Council. In late 2017, the council began the process of purchasing a large parcel on Lakeview Drive just north of the village limits for development as a recreational area. But it later abandoned that effort after legal issues arose concerning the property.

Whispering Pines’ long-term recreational plans involve a large open space with walking trails, athletic fields and an assortment of activities for residents of all ages. To that end, the village will pursue buying the Bibey land, located within the village’s limits between Thagard and Pine Lake, though not directly lakefront.

On Wednesday, the village council set in motion the mechanisms for vetting the property through surveys and environmental assessments and arranging financing before it can take ownership. Zschoche said the village will forward a $50,000 down payment from its general fund balance and finance the balance over five years.

“I know that I speak for all current and future residents of the village when I say ‘thank you’ to this current council for this action, and for previous councils that were involved in this process, and to former Mayor Lexo who worked very hard to bring this about,” he said.

“One of these days, we’ll make a report to the village that we have closed on this property … once we do that, then we can begin the process of how we plan for what we do with this property. That will be a village-wide effort.”

Next year, the village projects collecting $2.2 million in property tax revenues, and $1.5 million from other taxes, permits, grant funding and state funds for road maintenance.

“I think it’s wonderful that we are able to improve the services that we are providing to our residents without increasing our tax rate,” said Council Member Alexa Roberts. “I think it’s fantastic that we make wonderful use of all federal grants and state grants that we have, and I’m very pleased with the budget as it is presented.”

About $250,000 will be moved from the capital reserve fund for major repairs to being paying down debt on a $1.5 million replacement of the Spring Valley Lake spillway that’s expected to start next month.

Other significant projects in the village’s sights include financing $1 million in renovations and expansions at the Fire Rescue Department and installation of a bridge in a flood-prone area of Lakeview Drive near Thagard Lane, estimated to cost about $250,000.

No one from the village spoke at a public hearing on the proposed budget in late May.

The new budget ordinance also increases the “restricted” tax levy for the capital reserve major repair fund from 5 cents of Whispering Pines’ tax rate to 6 cents. In recent years, that levy has raised about $250,000 in revenue annually for capital projects in the village.

Factoring the additional cent, and the increase in revenue expected based on property revaluations, that levy is now projected to generate about $360,000 for Whispering Pines’ capital fund.

“While … we have not increased the tax rate, the truth of the matter is that all the residents of the village are going to pay just a little extra money in taxes,” said Council Member Colin Webster.

“We have resisted the temptation to spend all that money. We’ve taken it to the side and put it into our capital appropriations budget for some of the major projects that are coming downstream. I think that required a lot of discipline on everybody’s part.”

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