DeKALB – The city becoming a more business-friendly community was a common theme during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters for all of DeKalb’s mayoral and aldermanic candidates Thursday.
The four mayoral candidates, Michael Embrey, Misty Haji-Sheikh, incumbent John Rey and Jerry Smith, as well as all of the candidates in contested aldermanic races, fielded written questions from about 80 attendees.
Regarding city funding for capital projects, Rey said it is important to look at projects with a long-term idea of where the revenue will be sourced. This is becoming especially important because of the expiration of tax increment financing districts over the next few years.
To maintain the city’s posture of being business-friendly, Rey said this must be done through locally approved code so that small businesses expressing interest in DeKalb aren’t surprised by city regulations.
“We are constantly seeking opportunities to improve,” Rey said. “People are a major asset in this city, both the skilled workforce and investors in projects.”
Smith said city projects should be evaluated based on their merit when providing funding and the city should work with groups such as the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp. to show small businesses that DeKalb is the right community for them.
“During the early days of this campaign, there have been a number of remarks about Jerry Smith being too nice of a guy,” Smith said. “I’d only ask that you look at my background and look at where I’ve volunteered, and you’ll find that this nice guy can be decisive, can say no when no needs to be said and can get people around a table to reach consensus when an issue needs resolution.”
Embrey, a local businessman, said being more business-friendly involves being more proactive with projects to avoid any time-consuming setbacks or conflicts.
“We need to embrace someone coming to this town, not throw rules and regulations making them hesitant to come,” Embrey said.
He also encouraged all of the candidates to participate with the city, regardless of the outcomes of the election, and would be open to having candidates serve in roles suited for them.
“We the candidates don’t have all the answers, and one of my focuses is nurturing future aldermen and mayors for future growth,” Embrey said.
Haji-Sheikh said that as a member of the DeKalb County Board, she has not been afraid to perform cuts to balance the budget, which the county has done successfully.
She also suggested a property tax freeze and changing the city’s municipal code if necessary to attract businesses, which she said had to be done on the county level to bring Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. to the county.
“We need to celebrate the wonderful things we have and make everybody aware of that,” Haji-Sheikh said. “I want to be the type of mayor you want: responsive, energetic and effective.”
Second Ward Alderman Bill Finucane discussed the need to attract new businesses and help existing local ones while also maintaining a 25 percent reserve balance, which would become a greater issue when funding pensions.
His opponent, William Lamb, talked about reducing crime in the area through the cooperation of Northern Illinois University and DeKalb police.
“People say crime is not something I could make a dent on at this level, but it’s important to keep it in the forefront,” Lamb said. “Safety is the primary responsibility.”
Bob Snow, 4th Ward alderman, and his two opponents, Michael Bauling and Patrick Fagan, were asked about their positions on the downtown development project along First Street and Lincoln Highway to convert a series of buildings into an upscale apartment complex.
All three were supportive of the project, but Bauling was concerned with the amount of trash and lack of parking the building could generate. Fagan said that $3 million in TIF funding for the project was mitigated by the fact the developer was assuming $1 million in liability that might otherwise fall to the city.
Snow said it is important to attract visitors to the community.
“The city runs on sales tax, utility tax and transportation taxes,” Snow said. “Property taxes don’t run buildings or fund police cars, which is why visitorship is the best way to increase revenue.”
Sixth Ward candidate Mike Verbic said one of his ideas is to evaluate how tax incentives offered to businesses have affected the city. His opponent, Michael “Max” Maxwell, said the city needs to look into more than a five-year plan and make realistic projections about where the city is headed.
Tony Faivre, the lone 7th Ward Alderman candidate, and James Elliott, a candidate for Afton Township highway commissioner, both gave brief statements without taking questions.
The League of Women Voters will host a similar forum for the 10 DeKalb School District 428 board candidates at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the DeKalb Municipal Building, 200 S. Fourth St.
Voter registration also will be available during this forum. Anyone wishing to register can bring in a photo ID and a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, pay check or any other government document that has their name and address on it.
Note to readers: This story has been corrected to clarify aldermanic candidate Patrick Fagan's stance on a proposed redevelopment plan downtown.