Elmhurst City Hall was packed Sunday with residents wanting to learn more about candidates for City Council and District 205 School Board.
All the City Council candidates showed up for the League of Women Voters-sponsored forum, with the exception of 7th Ward candidate Dean O’Brien, who was unable to make it, League President Laura Kratz said. His responses will be a part of the League’s online voters guide, however.
Only candidates with opponents present at the forum were allowed to participate in the question and answer session, as dictated by League rules. Participating were:
- 1st Ward: Diane Gutenkauf (incumbent) and John Raniere
- 3rd Ward: Dannee Polomsky and Paul McLafferty
- 4th Ward: Steve Hipskind (incumbent), Darlene Heslop and Mark Anglewicz
- 6th Ward: Steve Morley (incumbent) and Rachel Kern
The 2nd and 5th ward races are uncontested.
Candidates answered five questions posed by the LWV, then took a few questions from the audience. Following are some of the questions asked and candidates’ responses in the order they were given.
What is Your Vision of Elmhurst in 20 Years and what Action will you Take to Realize this Goal?
Heslop said it is not her vision, but the vision of the community that is important. She said she would solicit input from residents on making Elmhurst one of the most desirable places in the United States. She would like to see increased use of electric transportation, more green space, and expansion of the library with the relocation of the post office, among other things. “Elmhurst will be known as the city where geniuses are raised,” she said.
Many candidates said they have high stakes in the future of Elmhurst because of their children. Incumbent Hipskind said he sees his six children becoming more integrated in the “Elmhurst way of life.” He wants to continue the “great traditions” of Elmhurst so it will be a place his children want to raise their own families, and a place other Elmhurst families will keep coming back to. As a member of the Finance, Council Affairs and Administrative Services Committee, he said he will ensure the financial stability of Elmhurst. “I will not mortgage the future” on the backs of Elmhurst's children.
Anglewicz, who said government spending has increased 25 percent over the past five years but revenue has only increased 3 to 4 percent, sees the future as being similar to today—a quaint downtown, good schools—but with a greater number of businesses. He said he would be more selective in granting business licenses to eliminate the threat of too many of the same kinds of businesses in town. He said there are expansion possibilities due to Elmhurst’s proximity to O’Hare Airport.
Morley also wants Elmhurst to be a city in which his children and grandchildren will want to live. He said in order to make the future great, “you have to keep an eye on the past.” He recalled businesses no longer in Elmhurst, such as Korvette's, Soukup's and the York Restaurant. Today, it’s businesses like Kohl’s, along with the long-time businesses like the York Theatre and Al’s Hobby Shop, that will shape the future together. He touts controlled, responsible development while maintaining history.
Kern said tough choices need to be made and Elmhurst is at a turning point. Kern, who in her 20s is the youngest of the candidates, said her generation is the future of Elmhurst. She will work toward responsible and responsive government and eliminating wasteful spending, and she said she will vote against any tax increases.
Polomsky said the city first needs to assess its current identity, its strengths, needs and assets. The citizen survey should be broadened to help guide a long-term plan for the city. Elmhurst can better align its efforts and pool resources to come up with a 20-year road map using best practices in financial management.
McLafferty said it is critical officials do what’s right for the north side of town and redevelop areas north of North Avenue and I-290. The city should encourage development and embrace the changes that are happening at O’Hare Airport.
Raniere said the work must start now. Elmhurst needs sustainable and incremental business growth, not just a quick fix. Elmhurst must recruit businesses, but it must do so after researching what types of businesses would fit here. As a family man, he would seek to maintain Elmhurst’s safe environment, quality education system and business growth.
Gutenkauf said Elmhurst will be “a great place to live” in 2031 as a result of wise development choices, aligning public policy with investments, and partnering with residents and developers for a shared sense of community. The City Council will have to be open to new ideas, she said.
What are your budgetary priorities?
Anglewicz said city spending has increased 25 percent since 2006 and Elmhurst has had budget deficits for the past two years. He said the cuts and pay freezes haven’t been enough, and the council must re-evaluate what may or may not be “essential” services. Then, the city must plan for its eventual surplus, when the economy recovers, by establishing a rainy day fund. He would use a revenue surplus to lower expenditures.
Heslop said the city must change the way it does things. The current process of determining the levy first and coming up with a budget second is “counterintuitive and counterproductive.” The city must determine what is needed, budget accordingly, then determine the levy. “Residents are tapped out,” she said, adding she would “work hard to avoid tax increases.”
Hipskind said his job as chairman of the Finance, Council Affairs and Administrative Services Committee is to look at the entire budget and balance it. As residents look at the increases in taxes over recent years, “we must also look at efficiencies,” he said. Elmhurst has one of the lowest tax rates in the region, he said, and has done a good job of keeping taxes low and services high, and preserving property values.
Raniere said aldermen must look at the factors that led up to this point and past budget issues: How did it happen that there have been 25 tax increases in the past 30 years? Long term planning is key, he said. In 15 to 20 years, the city will continue to face deficits and tax increases without careful, long-term planning.
Gutenkauf said a top priority is to rebuild the working cash fund. It is now down to $30,000 because officials have borrowed from this fund for the past two years, she said. It was intended as a last recourse for emergencies, and anything borrowed must be paid back according to policy. Right now, the city owes the working cash fund $950,000, which “puts us in a precarious position.” The presence of a healthy working cash fund also favorably affects the city’s bond rating, she said.
Morley said the city needs to continue to pay its bills, so it doesn’t end up with budget problems like the state of Illinois has. Elmhurst is issued unfunded mandates, like pensions, which is a burden on local finances, he said. The city must maximize every dollar so it translates into a high quality of life with superior services. The tax base must be increased with controlled growth.
Kern said taxes are going up while services are going down and that should not be tolerated. She said there is room for efficiences in the budget, and she used as an example the pending garbage contract. The budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the taxpayers, she said.
Polomsky said more police presence is needed at Crestview Park and along York Road at Interstate 290 because of the drugs that are passing through town along the highway. Other priorities include funding the flooding problem and looking at establishing new tax increment finance districts. The city needs more economic growth and a larger daytime population, she said.
McLafferty said serving on the city’s financial task force was an eye-opening experience. He worked with city officials to “dig deep” into the books. Elmhurst has one of the lowest tax rates in DuPage, and the goal is to keep taxes down while continuing to provide a high level of services, he said.
On the question of improving infrastructure, all candidates emphasized the need for ongoing repairs and maintenance to preserve a high quality of life. They agreed it is among the “core responsibilities of local government” and funding must be available to keep up roads, sidewalks, water and sewer systems. Kern said flooding solutions aren’t happening fast enough, as the “spring rain season is approaching.” Morley said the problem won’t be fixed—or funded—over night.
Candidates also addressed staying current with new legislation, green initiatives and sustainability, attracting new businesses and turning residential properties into retention ponds. The video of the forum will be shown in its entirety on Cable Channel 6 beginning in March. Candidates also completed a questionnaire, which will be available online at www.lwvelmhurst.org.