DeKALB – Of the four mayoral candidates, Mike Verbic has the best claim to the title of DeKalb’s native son.
With the exception of a few years spent in Naperville, Verbic has lived in DeKalb his entire life. He’s a fifth-generation resident, and during the DeKalb Area Renters Association forum in January, he rattled off a laundry list of local businesses where he frequented and worked.
If Verbic beats out his opponents – Jennifer Groce, David Jacobson and John Rey – in Tuesday’s election for DeKalb mayor, he wants to welcome newcomers to the city.
“As I go door to door, people feel like they are on their own,” Verbic said. “They don’t know what day ... is trash pickup. They don’t know where the schools are right away. They don’t know what city services are available. ... They need to know who we are, what we believe in DeKalb, and how they can get involved.”
Verbic said his “Making the Most of DeKalb” kit would contain resources people for new arrivals. Verbic said it coud be either a packet of paper documents or a website.
Verbic is an instruction media systems technician at Northern Illinois University, but he doesn’t believe his job would present a conflict of interest if he’s elected mayor.
Verbic began working at NIU around the same time he won a seat on the DeKalb School District 428 board. When he was board president, he negotiated with NIU many times.
“If I was a policymaker, that may be a different story,” Verbic said. “But I never envisioned myself working at NIU as a policymaker.”
Verbic said his run for the school board in 2005 was motivated by what he saw as the board’s failure to connect with the public after a referendum for a new high school failed.
“I felt that if I would be elected a school board member, I could deliver more of that entrenched community input we needed to run a successful capital improvement project,” Verbic said.
After he won the election, Verbic led a successful referendum, which in turn led to the building of the new DeKalb High School. But he also was on the board when the district negotiated a $1 million impact fee credit, a credit for which the district might have to pay interest.
Verbic said the impact fee credit lowered the price of the land purchased for the school, and Macom Development – now ShoDeen – was to pay that money back when development started.
“None of us could see what was going to happen with the housing market,” Verbic said.
The district will have to pay $42,000 a year in interest on that impact fee credit starting this year. Verbic noted it’s a complicated situation, as ShoDeen also will owe the district money for the public improvements the district made next to the high school.
Another factor in this is ShoDeen’s Irongate development, which if approved, would add more than 1,000 homes to an area north of the high school. Verbic said he could support Irongate if it offered something unique to DeKalb, but there are several open lots in the city.
“With new development comes more services,” Verbic said. “Do we have the dollars now to provide those services to more people? Where do those dollars come from?”
Verbic’s desire for uniqueness extends into economic development as well. Verbic said he would not be in favor of extending economic incentives to retailers and restaurants unless they brought something new to DeKalb.
He said he would not have voted for the $900,000 loan in tax increment financing proceeds that was awarded to Olive Garden. Tax increment financing is a special mechanism local governments use to cure blighted properties. Darden Restaurants, the owner of Olive Garden, later canceled their plan to build a DeKalb location.
“As much as it is popular and people like it ... it’s a multimillion-dollar corporation. ... It has a lot more dollars than the city of DeKalb,” Verbic said. “I believe it would be their responsibility to find that location and develop it if they so desire.”
In general, Verbic said he wants to bring in businesses that will give DeKalb residents meaningful wages and benefits, but thinks different incentive packages can be offered.
“We’ve had the same package for a number of years, and we need to revisit that,” Verbic said.
Verbic also is not a fan of the housing bureau the city council created in 2012 to implement new housing rules. He described it as being an extra layer of government that will cost the city more than it is worth.
“I believe we can enforce codes that we have on the books by not having to invest that much money,” Verbic said.
He described the bureau’s funding mechanism as a double tax on landlords, and pointed out that the bureau pays no attention to single-family homeowners, which can have the same issues as apartments.
“We can’t differentiate one or the other,” Verbic said. “We have to approach all of these properties with these challenges in some equal way, but at the same time, not charging really everyone more.”
Verbic said he doesn’t believe crime in the city is overhyped, and crime rates must be addressed within the city’s means. Although there have been a number of headline-grabbing crimes, Verbic said people generally feel safe in DeKalb.
“We have to bring more of the real data that will address some of the perception issues,” Verbic said.
Verbic felt tighter parking restrictions and better enforcement could help crack down on unwanted visitors to the city, as well as investing in items such as better lighting and photo-enforcement cameras at certain intersections.