DeKalb Alderman Ward 6 candidate Mike Verbic submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb Alderman Ward 6 race.
Name: Mike Verbic
Office Sought: DeKalb Alderman Ward 6
1) Why are you the best candidate?
A newly elected alderman has a steep learning curve to begin understanding the complexities of governing a city. Beyond preparing for meetings are contemplation and decisions of critical policy matters. Budgets, ordinances, zoning and infrastructure are only some of the issues that aldermen face.
Mayor Rey recommended and City Council approved of my current position on DeKalb’s Finance Advisory Committee (FAC). This position, in addition to previous service on the school board, has prepared me to contribute immediately.
Our continuing work on the FAC includes five-year financial planning, maintaining pension obligations and recommending improved policies to City Council. It is through this committee work, along with eight years of building consensus as an elected official, that has best prepared me to serve and work for DeKalb’s Sixth Ward.
I am also the only candidate for DeKalb Sixth Ward Alderman as the other, Michael “Max” Maxwell, withdrew his candidacy March 4th.
2) What can the city government do to reduce crime?
All key municipal entities must play a role in cutting crime and violence. Our City government, schools, businesses and social services must work together.
We need to engage in specific, trackable actions and work with data on what the problems are, where they are and what’s causing them. We need to know what’s working and what isn’t to use resources effectively.
We should also further establish a dual commitment to targeted enforcement and prevention like making sure children stay in school. Moreover, deploy law enforcement services consistently with broader crime prevention objectives.
Helping young people build better lives does not happen overnight. DeKalb needs a long-term, collaborative commitment among governing bodies to improve their future and thus improve ours.
3) Both city 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?
Our Mayor and City Council need to collect significantly broader-based input regarding our remaining TIF investments. The opinions of the 300 or so people gathered for strategic planning are important but alone should not determine our course.
We should engage our partner taxing bodies publicly, like the school district, to best determine if or how TIF monies should be utilized. This process will only be useful if investment strategies are aligned with the priorities and goals of each entity.
City operations have relied too heavily on the administrative dollars allowed by TIF. We need to ween ourselves off using any property tax dollars for operations. Once our two TIF’s expire, we need to direct all captured property taxes toward pension obligations.
4) What is one issue that is important for your ward?
Slowing traffic down in neighborhoods. Many families with young children have moved into townhomes and apartments that were once occupied by college students. We have streets that continue too long without stop signs where residents have offered many ideas to slow traffic.
Knolls and Moluf streets have become main thoroughfares as drivers cut through the Knolls to get to the Devonaire Farms subdivision. Drivers can enter and drive the Knolls to Devonaire Farms, through areas with many playing young children, without one stop. We need to engage residents to determine our best course in solving this safety issue in the Sixth Ward.
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?
My first motion picture experience in 1970, Pinocchio, was at the Egyptian Theater. Performances by R.E.M. and Los Lobos are among the finest I’ve attended. The Egyptian helped lead the music scene during those years when Otto’s once thrived with shows like Snoop Dogg, Wilco and the Robby Krieger Band among others. Additionally, acts played at NIU’s Diversions and Duke Ellington Ballroom during that same period. Private ownership and operations should continue while the City reviews its historical investments in the Egyptian. This will help Mayor and Council, along with those they serve, determine the desired outcomes from any further funding.
As an FAC member, I’ve become keenly aware of the City’s financial position. Operating expenses continue to exceed revenue so there’s no room to operate the Egyptian without an unacceptable tax increase.
I recommend a more thorough analysis, including all of those this may impact, of how a Special Service Area (SSA) may be used to help support the Egyptian. An SSA is a local tax district that could fund this expanded project through a localized property tax within a designated area like downtown. This approach will place more of the burden on property owners that directly benefit from such a project instead of all of us.
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?
A STEAM learning center is a good idea which would require significant private investment. The City should only consider TIF investment if the property is blighted and a private developer guarantees returns through substantially increased tax revenue for all taxing bodies.
The indirect tax revenue received through nearby businesses is a small percentage of what’s necessary to justify use of TIF. Any project involving use of TIF funds must remain on the property tax rolls and include businesses which generate sales tax revenue. Added visitors to our downtown are critical but the tax revenue realized is a small percentage of what’s needed to justify tax incentives.
I suggest consideration of an existing building in DeKalb with private investment to cover necessary improvements. The owner could retain the property while private dollars cover the overhead. If the taxable property is blighted, and in one of our two TIF districts, then TIF may help up to 25% of the total project cost. We could then carry forward the partnership with NIU and corporate sponsors to provide people and materials necessary to successfully operate the center.
7) What is one thing the city spends money on now that should be reduced or eliminated?
8) The city government sometimes is criticized as not being “business friendly.” Is this fair? What changes can be made, if any?
This is fair considering the history of our City administration. More recently, though, City leadership has realigned efforts to be more responsive. This has required improvements in personnel, technology and communication.
I recommend a more user-friendly and efficient way to serve our business community through a four-step process. Space is limited in this article so please find details of this suggestion at https://www.verbicfordekalb.org/citizen-questions Scroll mid-way through questions from Irene Rubin to find my response to expanding business with quick approval and one-stop shopping.