DeKalb Alderman Ward 4 candidate Robert Snow submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb Alderman Ward 4 race.
Name: Robert Snow
Office sought: DeKalb Alderman Ward 4
1) Why are you the best candidate?
I am a lifelong resident of the City of DeKalb. Therefore I know its successes and its failures. Having a historical perspective of the city is important to understanding it potential, where we are headed as a community, and what direction we need to be heading toward. I have attended DeKalb schools. I have participated in local community organizations such as church, Kiwanis, United Way and Boy Scouts. I have Accounting, Business Administration and Law degrees.
I am a small business owner. Having worked at NIU and been raised in the City of DeKalb, I have a strong appreciation and commitment to see that we work together and prosper. I am currently completing my first four year term on the city council. I am the city council representative to the City of DeKalb Economic Development Commission. I have the experience and knowledge to evaluate city issues and to work with city staff.
2) What can the city government do to reduce crime?
As recently presented in the DeKalb Police Department Annual Report, since at least 2013 the Police Department has been involved in a variety of proactive policing strategies and community policing programs. From 2013 through 2015 crime declined significantly. In 2016 reported crimes jumped. DeKalb and NIU Police departments are cooperating and co-policing in ways never before achieved. We need to continue working together as a community. Programs such as our resident officer program and Camp Power have seen positive results. A Safe Parks program is being initiated along with the Park District in 2017. An emphasis this year for the Police Department will target gang crime and violence reduction.
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 current TIF districts expire in 2018 and 2020. Since 2013, the city staff has been engaged in planning for the use of remaining funds. While the early years of the TIF districts showed an emphasis on the improvement of the city infrastructure (i.e. downtown and street improvement), now the emphasis needs to be on specific transformational projects.
In addition to the recently approved Cornerstone Project, we are likely to see other new projects and business opportunities come forward for consideration.
4) What is one issue that is important for your ward?
The 4th Ward includes much of the area south of the railroad tracks and east of 1st street. While street maintenance and crime are important items for the entire city, I believe improvements to East Lincoln Hwy and South 4th Street are of particular importance to the 4th Ward. These “entrances” to the city need to be improve to provide an inviting and attractive path to the city. The cleanup of the old junk yard on South 4th was finally started last year. I would like to see increased business activity in these areas.
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?
I do not see the need for the city to take over operation of the Egyptian Theatre. The Egyptian Theatre needs improvements and enhancements to make it more usable by the community and outside groups. The potential is there to make better use of the property. Outside Grants, fundraising activities, and corporate sponsors need to be found. The Egyptian Theatre is an important asset of the community.
If a public and non-profit partnership will provide structure to the operation, then that can be explored. This model has worked well for the Ellwood House Association and the Park District. A dedicated group of DeKalb citizens is the best plan to oversee operation of the Egyptian Theatre. As the Egyptian Theatre is able to increase its revenue, the City of DeKalb should be prepared to share its increased tax revenue to help maintain the Theatre.
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?
The STEAM learning center is an intriguing proposal but needs to be carefully thought out. I have seen some exiting science and technology demonstrations that show the potential for this type of project. It would take the right leadership and cooperation of NIU, Kishwaukee College, school districts, and corporate sponsorship and support to succeed. It should not be only a city project. A Public/Private Partnership could provide consistent operating revenue and support. I would like to see the City’s share of this project be kept below $4 million in TIF funding.
7) What is one thing the city spends money on now that should be reduced or eliminated?
Since my time on the city council, staff has consistently looked at ways to become more efficient, productive, and cost-conscious. Some staff positions have been eliminated and others created where necessary. Improvements in centralized purchasing, phone line audits and usage, refinancing bonds at a lower interest rates, have all produced annual savings. Liability insurance costs have been reduced. Employee Health Insurance plan offerings have been increased, resulting in lower costs for employees and the city.
Since 2010, the city has increased its general fund balance from about 20 thousand dollars to a projected balance of over 9 million dollars by the end of 2017. This is about 25% of our annual general fund budget and is considered an important achievement. Despite this progress I feel we need to continue to find ways to reduce overtime costs. Money spent wisely now on technology improvements will produce savings in the future. I believe in being fiscally responsible, which means providing for Police protection, Fire protection, Street maintenance, and Economic Development in a consistent and cost effective manner.
8) The city government sometimes is criticized as not being “business friendly.” Is this fair? What changes can be made, if any?
The City’s Economic Development Department has been almost completely re-staffed and reorganized. It now has a commitment to increase its outreach to existing businesses and to new business wishing to locate in and be part of DeKalb. They are striving to provide a clear and concise procedure to follow when dealing with businesses. The success of this strategy can be seen in the recent expansion of the 3-M facility in a timely manner and the recent approval of the Cornerstone Project. We should continue this strategy of being pro-active to the business community and working with them to bring about economic prosperity to the City of DeKalb. In the coming months, we will see additional success stories for the City of DeKalb.