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Candidates attend DARA forum

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

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DeKALB – Aldermanic candidates agreed with the DeKalb Area Rental Association that the city overreached on the funding and inspection mechanism of the new housing ordinances.

The candidates – Stephen Clark and Bill Finucane, for the 2nd Ward, and James Mitchell and Bob Snow, for the 4th Ward – expressed varying degrees of disagreement about the inspections, which are funded through fees paid by landlords.

“It’s a big waste of time, and a big waste of effort,” Mitchell said. “Having them inspected is one thing, but they shouldn’t be tagged with a fee, but with a fine if there’s something wrong.”

The candidates for alderman and DeKalb mayor fielded questions from the landlord association at a private forum Wednesday night. The Daily Chronicle and other local media were invited to attend.

As landlords, their questions to the candidates focused on housing issues and economic development. The city’s relationship with Northern Illinois University also was touched upon as well.

Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker was present, but declined to answer most of the questions because he is running unopposed.

In November, the DeKalb City Council approved a series of ordinances designed to improved the city’s housing stock. Two of the key disagreements between the City Council and DARA were the fees and staffing levels to implement them.

The candidates also expressed cautious support for creating new tax increment financing districts, something the current City Council hired a firm to evaluate.

However, they differed on whether the special tax mechanism should be used as an incentive to lure private business to the area, as the City Council had done with a $900,000 loan to Olive Garden.

“If you have a business that says ‘I can’t come into DeKalb unless I get money,’ I think that’s a bad business model,” Snow said. “But sometimes there are times we can help.”

The prospect of the new Irongate subdivison – which will have more than 1,000 houses in it – also hung over the discussion. While Finucane and Snow expressed caution on going forward with developments like it, Mitchell was more critical of ShoDeen Construction, the developer behind Irongate.

“We have many, many homes that are empty. It’s all around us. Why do we need your new development at Irongate?” Mitchell said.

Clark said he was fine with more housing developments, as long as the process was fair.

“So as long as we are fair with who’s paying what, in a fair marketplace, if they can sell things, let them try to do that,” Clark said.

The city’s relationship with NIU was also referenced. Each of the candidates have or had some kind of NIU connection. Snow and Mitchell’s involvement was limited to their student careers. Finucane is currently NIU’s transportation manager, while Snow used to be the assistant to the dean of the NIU College of Law.

One landlord asked if they’d say no to the university on building new structures. Only Baker expressed a willingness to declare a moratorium on new university buildings.

Finucane defended the new residence hall, saying they are replacing beds, not adding them as the landlord suggested. Snow and Mitchell, and to a lesser extent Clark, said the university needs to limit itself in terms of construction, but did not offer any serious policy suggestions.

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