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Darlene Heslop: Will Scrutinize Budget to Avoid Tax and Fee Hikes; Supports Changing Timing of Budget Process

Heslop faces two opponents in the race for the 4th Ward.

  • 4th Ward candidate:  Darlene Heslop
  • Web site:  www.darleneheslop.com
  • E-mail:  dsheslop@juno.com
  • Family:  brother, Tim, sister-in-law, Karen, and niece, Lauren, all 7th Ward residents.  Lauren is in sixth grade at Bryan Middle School.  My uncle, Robert Hodges, is a retired high-school teacher and resides in the 1st Ward.
  • Education: bachelor of science, chemical engineering, Northwestern University; bachelor of science, nursing, Rush University; core curriculum completed for master of business administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Occupation:  Registered nurse
  • Previous elected offices:  None
  • Applicable experience:  I currently serve on the City of Elmhurst Commission on Youth.  Additionally, I have been attending City Council meetings on a regular basis for several years and am current on the many different issues facing our community.

What is the primary reason you are running for this office?

Due to my active involvement in Elmhurst issues, I have been encouraged by residents who desire a representative who will be responsive to their inquiries, listen to their needs, and act in an independent manner on the City Council.  I believe I will provide that representation.

What will be your priority if you get elected?

In general, my priorities are designed to result in increased home values and avoidance of further tax and fee increases.  As alderman, I will:  support needs-based city budgets, spend tax dollars wisely, treating them as though they were my own, and work to increase our tax base by supporting current businesses and attracting new ventures.  I will place citizens first by soliciting constituent opinions in the decision making process and reaching conclusions based on concrete facts.

What sets you apart from the other candidates?

I take an active interest in the issues facing our community by regularly attending City Council meetings.  I am determined to put this experience to good use by serving as an independent representative and an advocate for all in Elmhurst City Hall.

How long have you lived in Elmhurst?

I moved to Elmhurst during 2004 in order to be closer to my family and to my  work place.

What's your favorite thing about Elmhurst?

Taking advantage of the wealth of amenities that Elmhurst has to offer, such as visiting the library, riding my bike on the Prairie Path, mentoring at the schools, taking tap classes at the Park District, touring the Art Museum and working out at the YMCA, just to name a few.

What is the biggest problem in Elmhurst?

One major issue is the ever-increasing cost of residing in Elmhurst.  As a consequence of our revenues not keeping up with our expenses, the city has increased property taxes in each of the last two years.  Additionally, residents are repeatedly burdened with increasing fees on necessities such as water and sewer services and trash pick-up.  We need to look closely at every item in our budget and at every contract in which the city is engaged to save the residents as much money as possible.

Are there any challenges or problems in your ward? If so, what needs to be done?

The 4th Ward has a number of infrastructure issues.  Three of the 10 targeted areas in the Comprehensive Storm Water Study are located here (Pine Street, Geneva Avenue and Bryn Haven).  The recently contracted engineers will identify at least three potential solutions for each area.  We need to evaluate these proposals for cost effectiveness and impact on residents, as well as solicit the availability of private, state or federal funding.  We will then be able to implement the best solutions.

With the retirement of Tom Borchert, what do you think are the most important attributes for a new city manager?

At the recent open house held to solicit resident input on the search for a new city manager, I heard many residents express their opinions, including the desire for new ideas and perspectives to be brought from outside the Elmhurst community.  I believe this is an extremely important decision for our next City Council and for Elmhurst.  I intend to make certain that we select the best city manager possible.

Do you think the city is spending taxpayer money in the most efficient and effective way? What, if anything, would you change with regard to budgeting and spending?

The current annual budgeting process of setting the tax levy amount prior to determining the spending budget is counterintuitive and might not lead to the most effective decisions.  I am firmly in support of a plan to change the timing of the budgeting process to assess spending first, prior to setting the tax levy.  I believe this will have a major impact on avoiding further tax increases.

We’ve heard residents of all ages, but especially seniors, say that it’s getting too expensive to live in Elmhurst. What can be done to make Elmhurst more affordable for all residents? Do you think the city will need to raise taxes again in the near future?

Several proposals before the City Council are directed towards supporting lower income residents.  These measures should benefit seniors the most.  Increases in fees for city services have the same effect as tax increases on those with limited incomes.  The city should reassess all contracts for services to ensure that residents are paying only necessary costs.   Additionally, changing the timing of the budget process to establish spending levels prior to setting the tax levy should avoid future tax increases.

Do you agree with other aldermen who are proposing several new TIF districts in town? Why or why not?

Retaining and attracting new businesses to Elmhurst is vital to our economic growth, and the creation of TIF districts is one of many options.  Our City Council needs to look at offering incentives that reflect both short and long-term financial returns.  TIF districts are designed for long-term redevelopment and have significant governmental restrictions placed upon them; consequently, at this time, other choices may be better for Elmhurst.

What is working and not working in terms of economic development in Elmhurst? What, specifically, would you do to encourage businesses to come here?

We have a very active Chamber of Commerce and a City Centre grant program designed to attract new businesses to our downtown.  We also need to work on retention of existing businesses and, if necessary, offer financial incentives to do so.  Attracting new ventures to Elmhurst will become increasingly difficult if the city is viewed as being unable to retain businesses once they are here.  We want new businesses to augment our current business environment.

Spring rains are right around the corner, and a flooding mitigation plan could take years to implement. In the short term, do you think the city is doing everything it can to assists residents who experienced the bulk of the flooding problems last year? Will you be nervous when the rains start?

I know that many residents, including members of my own family, suffered dramatic financial losses and emotional effects as their homes were filled with and surrounded by water during last year’s storms.  Because our infrastructure problems have not yet been solved, the risk of repeated flooding in the event of major storms again this year is on everyone’s mind.  The city needs to remain actively involved in the engineering studies as they proceed and move to implement sound solutions as swiftly as possible.

Nearly a dozen water mains broke within a one-week period this winter and, separately, failing infrastructure is listed as one of the reasons for flooding in Elmhurst. What needs to be done with infrastructure and how is the city going to pay for it?

We need to make infrastructure a priority.  Patching is no longer an option, in many instances, so we need to replace.  We need to explore public/private partnerships as well as, funding from the state and federal governments before we increase taxes or issue bonds to fund this work.

Do you think city officials and aldermen have a good relationship with citizens of Elmhurst with regard to trust and transparency? Is there anything you would do to improve that?

I plan to follow as role models those aldermen who communicate regularly and who have exceptional relationships with their constituents.  Trust and transparency are essential in our government, as they are the cornerstone of our democracy.  I pledge to be a responsive representative, to participate in open, honest debate and to be an advocate for all in Elmhurst City Hall. 

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