DeKalb Alderman Ward 4 candidate Michael Bauling submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb Alderman Ward 4 race.
Name: Michael Bauling
Office Sought: DeKalb Alderman Ward 4
1) Why are you the best candidate?
I am passionate about representing the issues and concerns of 4th ward constituents to help ensure our local government is making the best long-term fiscal decisions for entire community. Previously I’ve been approached to seek a position as alderman and have been unable to do so a city employee. As a former Professional Civil Engineer for the City of DeKalb, I have insight into the budgetary process and parliamentary procedure of city council. I am qualified to ask specific questions about all construction projects and help keep staff accountable for budgeting and spending Motor Fuel Tax and Local Gas Tax funds. Roads are one of many priorities facing our community. I am not accepting financial contributions for my campaign as a statement of my desire to represent all citizens and not special interest groups.
2) What can the city government do to reduce crime?
The city should continue to be proactive in establishing relationships with the community, increase presence in high crime areas, and make it uncomfortable for criminals to ‘set-up shop’ in our community. Residents should be encouraged to ‘see something – say something’, get to know their neighbors and watch out for each other. It’s a community problem and both government and community members need to address the issue together.
3) Both of the city’s tax-increment financing districts and the millions of dollars they generate each year will end during the next four years. How should the city prepare for this?
The city can prepare by aggressively using TIF funds over the next four years to fix and maintain infrastructure (alleys, bridges, sidewalks, storm sewer, streets, etc) within the TIF district so that once the TIF districts are dissolved the city won’t need to raise taxes to pay for much needed repairs and maintenance.
4) What is one issue that is important for your ward?
An issue important to the 4th ward and the entire city, is infrastructure. Two potential solutions to help ensure monies are allocated to infrastructure (and not used for other purposes) are 1) creating a special fund for infrastructure and 2) ensuring State Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) is appropriately allocated.
Here are examples: TIF districts, which are a type of special fund, contributed to keeping infrastructure up-to-date when little was been done outside of TIF districts. Between 2001-2016 the 4th ward TIF district alone funded the reconstruction of over 30 alleys, replaced thousands of hazardous sidewalks slabs, and more than 20 street resurfacings. Local gas tax funded reconstruction of only four alleys, replaced a few hundred sidewalk slabs and 2 street resurfacings outside of the TIF districts between 2012 -2016.
The State Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) allocation bad habit started in the fall of 2002 and spring 2003 when monies were used to pay for street lighting and salt @ $450K annually. The initial plan in 2003 was to use $600,000 in MFT funds to cover general fund expenses and reduce the allocation $100K annually over five years (ending in 2008). This did not occur.
5) A recent study called for the city to take over operation of the Egyptian Theatre, renovate the venue and contribute to its operating budget. Is this a good idea? Why or why not?
This is not a good idea at this time. The Egyptian Theatre is a wonderful historical building and I appreciate its potential. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t have the funds to address its own infrastructure needs let alone improvements to the theatre and annual line item to support the theatre in the operating budget once the TIF District expires in four years. The theatre is an asset to DeKalb County and options to fund it at the private or county level as part of an overall regional economic development plan should be explored.
6) Under what conditions would you support development of a STEAM learning center in downtown DeKalb? Do you think the city should contribute $4 million in TIF funding toward the project?
I would support the development of a STEAM learning center in downtown DeKalb if a market analysis supports the proposal and a marketing plan is developed that would be supported by a local bank. This is a litmus test as to whether or not the investment is a sound business decision. Existing opportunities for partnerships should be investigated – such as NIU, Library, Park District, YMCA, and the School District. NIU enrollment is dropping. Do they have property in downtown DeKalb that can be utilized? Ask tough questions – Do we have the demographics and revenue to support a STEAM learning center? What is the 5-10 year infrastructure maintenance/improvement plan? Projected expenses overall? City council needs to take a hard look at priorities and weigh them carefully.
7) What is one thing the city spends money on now that should be reduced or eliminated?
My answer is slightly different than your question. My suggestion is what the city should be spending money on now to save money in the long-term. The city should fully staff the Engineering Department rather than pay consultants to do the work. Consultant fees are higher than the annual salary of a staff person to do the same work. One may argue that it is cheaper to pay consultants over $100,000 annually than a long-term pension obligation of an employee. I’d like to see the numbers to support this position and the cost benefit analysis of the quality of work provided by consultants versus full time personnel and live and work in the community.
8) The city government sometimes is criticized as not being “business friendly.” Is this fair? What changes can be made, if any?
Yes and No. My answer is yes and no! The city needs to clean up the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and define a clear, concise and straight forward process for developers to submit project proposals. This will enable developers to understand costs, timeline, approval process, start and end dates, before submitting a proposal. Transparency about the process and diligence by both developers and the city to follow the process will help set realistic and consistent expectations; which will ultimately benefit both city residents and the developers.