Mayoral candidates reflect on the city budget

By Ryan Chodora

Tax increment financing (TIF), the city budget and the new city manager are all big topics in the current mayoral race.

“I want to see us stay on the strong fiscal path that we’ve been on the last few years,” said Jennifer Groce, mayoral candidate and NIU research associate in community and economic development. “We really weathered quite a storm financially. We’ve made some really hard but thoughtful decisions, and we need stay on to make sure that our municipality stays in good financial standing.”

Groce said the city needs to become more balanced in regard to the need for more police officers and the core services that the city offers.

Groce called the library expansion project “exciting,” and said and the city needs to be careful from this point onward with its limited bonding ability.

TIF districts are areas in the city that have been designated as blighted; the area will fail if it doesn’t receive extra government support. TIF districts receive funding from property taxes. Current property taxes don’t increase due to TIF; the funds are allocated elsewhere.

“I think that TIF funding is being used appropriately, currently,” Groce said.

Groce believes TIF funds should not only be used to remove blighted areas, but to increase jobs in the community and enhance the districts the TIFs are in.

“The next city manager coming in has some really important opportunities to take advantage of,” Groce said. “First and foremost, they have to be able to work with our university, and looking at doing resource collaboration with our units of local government as well as NIU.”

Groce wants the next city manager to have a strong understanding of the city’s current issues, like crime, economic developing and housing.

“We need a professional who understands the role and to implement policy that the council sets, and [who] will work very closely with our staff and the council,” Groce said.

Mayoral candidate David Jacobson, DeKalb’s first ward alderman, believes the city budget is too focused on short-term goals.

“Our spending seems to be as we need it and as requests come, and I feel that policy has created a system where we’re spending too much and not keeping an eye out on the bigger picture and what our needs are and what our future needs are going to be,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson believes there should be more focus on DeKalb’s water system, roads and public works.

“It’s coming to a point where we need to start addressing how we’re going to invest in those things going forward,” Jacobson said. “We’re allowing old expenditures to stay in the budget just because they have always been there.”

Jacobson believes the current use of TIF money should be rethought.

“We should be leveraging those dollars for considerably better investments and for true economic development that we are seeing a return in dollars and a return on our investments,” Jacobson said. “And that’s why I caution against using TIFs for any public building, the library included.”

Jacobson advocates more use of private money to fund projects like the library expansion.

He believes the new city manager will have to be a “jack of all trades.”

“They are going to have to learn very quickly how to work alongside the City Council and a new mayor; they are going to have to have the ability to reach out and work with the university administration as partners, not just as people you know and things you know, and I think that’s the biggest benefit that the city manager will have to bring to the table,” Jacobson said. “I would like to see someone that is very fiscally minded and understands the reality that we’re in right now.”

Mayoral candidate John Rey, retired SAP consultant at Monsanto, thinks city services should come first in the city budget.

“I would see prioritizing the basic city services, being police, fire and public works,” Rey said. “I think the steps that have been taken in rebuilding the contingency fund balances have been positive steps. I think we’re not at the stated goals that city council has defined. The new City Council needs to reaffirm those goals.”

Rey believes the library expansion project is an excellent example of public and private partnership.

“I think that type of project has a very positive impact on jobs and local development,” Rey said.

Rey believes that usage of TIF funds has been done appropriately.

“I think the application of TIF that has been done to date has been appropriately used to stimulate private development in the local economy,” Rey said. “I think the basic infrastructure has been upgraded to enhance the environment in which private development can occur.”

Rey wants a city manager with an appreciation of and experience with city government.

“I would see wanting to attract an individual that has skills and experience to positively contribute to the implementation of policy,” Rey said.

Mayoral candidate Mike Verbic, instructional media systems technician at NIU, wants to have more community input in regard to the priorities of the city’s budget.

He believes the budget should be focused more on police, fire and public works.

“I believe that we need to use dollars more wisely to think for ourselves rather than hire consultants to do the work for us,” Verbic said. “We need the professionals that we invest in, our city staff, our city manager to be able to bring those recommendations to council without the use of consultants if possible.” Verbic believes priorities need to be set for TIF funds.

“TIF was not used well in the downtown renovation. There were no private dollars matched up without public investment of the downtown TIF,” Verbic said. “We need to look at the broader community with regard to TIF and where can those dollars be better placed with regard to infrastructure, housing improvements. Those kinds of options don’t necessarily relate to economic development.”

Verbic has specific qualities he wants to see in a city manager.

“One that is highly qualified, one that will be responsive to the agenda directive of council/mayor, as well as citizen priorities, and one that has a familiarity with other governing bodies such as our university–someone that has that experience to form better relationships with our partnering governing bodies and make more efficient use of our resources,” Verbic said.

Election Day for DeKalb is April 9.