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Local News

Following referendum failure, Braidwood turns to development

Hopes new businesses will help cover pension costs

BRAIDWOOD – Residents told the City of Braidwood a referendum wasn't the answer to the city's snowballing police pension problem through an overwhelming defeat of a referendum in November.

City officials in October warned the referendum's failure would erode police services through cuts in hours, staff and eventually the whole police department.

"Honestly I didn't think it would pass to begin with," Mayor Bill Rulien said. "I believe people should have a right to decide how their tax money would be spent and we gave them a choice."

Now Rulien said the answer lies in bringing more business to Braidwood.

"We need to cover the pension shortfall," Rulien said. "And we can do that if we bring enough sales tax revenue."

The referendum would have brought in about $225,000 in new taxes each year for the police pension fund, a separate levy from the city's portion of local property taxes.

The city pays $250,000, or 8 percent, of its $3 million budget to pay for the police pension fund each year. That number is expected to rise in the future as disabled officers and those who are retiring dip into their pensions.

"It takes away from paying for road repairs and other things the motor fuel tax doesn't pay for," Rulien said.

Braidwood Police Chief and City Administrator Rich Girot previously said there could be severe cuts in hours and staff at the police department if the referendum failed.

Girot did not immediately return Thursday several requests for comment. Rulien said a majority of the City Council didn't believe in cutting police services.

To avoid that, in October the City Council approved a $50,000 contract with retail consultant Buxton Group to help strategize and bring more commercial business.

According to a contract, Buxton Group will research the community, define and evaluate the trade area, profile the trade area's residents, match retailers and restaurants to Braidwood's market potential and create marketing packages for 20 targeted retailers.

"We were going to work with them anyway, but we made it more of a priority now," Rulien said, adding that the city also gave its input by suggesting desirable businesses.

The city also recently annexed 40 acres of land and zoned it industrial.

"We believe that because prices for this property is lower than neighboring ones, we expect someone to come in really soon especially because of [Ridgeport Logistics Center] in Wilmington and the new rail yard in Coal City," Rulien said.

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