Candidates for the Marseilles City Council announced their desire to get straight to work if elected to office.
Both mayor and commissioner candidates identified their biggest issues with the city and their hopes for the next decade at a debate hosted by 1430 WCMY at the Marseilles Lions Club on Wednesday night.
Four candidates are running for mayor and 11 candidates are running for four commissioner positions.
A variety of issues came up, from working toward a downtown resurgence, getting water and sewer lines further north toward Interstate 80 and increasing communication and transparency with the community.
Filling empty stores
Mayoral candidate Don Sinclair was the first to list his largest concern regarding the city: filling the many empty storefronts on Main Street.
Sinclair thinks it's worth getting in touch with owners of the properties and lowering rent.
“I’m sure we have a lot of entrepreneurs in Marseilles, and if we could get the rent lowered to move into these stores I’m sure they have some great ideas,” Sinclair said.
Incumbent Commissioner Bobby Kaminski said he doesn’t have a “big problem” with the city and thinks together the community can tackle issues like filling storefronts, but it’s going to take visionary citizens, with some cash in their pocket, to rehab storefronts as he has with nine buildings on the city’s west side.
Mayor Jim Hollenbeck said the city should be getting tax increment financing money next year from a new TIF district that's designed to help downtown development.
Commissioner candidate and former treasurer Mary Oslanzi said she’s not fond of TIF districts because they take money from schools.
Hollenbeck said the schools reap the benefits of the TIF once it’s complete and if it attracts business.
“When we do TIFs, we look out for the schools. They’re very important to us. TIFs get a bad rap because people don't understand them,” he said
Stretching out to Interstate 80 and infrastructure concerns
Mayoral candidate Michelle Klock said her biggest problem with the city currently is trying to bring in new revenue. She questioned why the city does not have a capital improvement plan nor have money put aside annually to be able to pay for a project to move sewer and water further north.
Hollenbeck said he’s crafted a list of projects and forwarded them to grant writers in the last two weeks. He also noted the city has been pursuing financing options for the project of stretching north and is currently assessing another. Hollenbeck said two developments recently came forward; one would have been a $35 million investment with 60 jobs, but required sewer and water lines.
Commissioner candidate Jay Delay agreed about looking north for development, but felt attention may be due elsewhere.
“It’s great to go out north and grab (Interstate 80), which would be nice to get the property so Ottawa can’t get it, but at the same time it would take several millions of dollars to get out there.”
He said the city’s streets and infrastructure need attention, including the city’s sewers.
Infrastructure seemed to be the main concern among many commissioner candidates, including incumbent Bob Davis, Ed Cavanaugh, Kevin Fleming and Oslanzi agreeing the issue should be a top priority.
Updating the current infrastructure was one of Hollenbeck’s concerns as well and lamented “hoops and red tape” as being barriers that have slowed down the city’s progress.
Sinclair suggested the city look into a zero-based budget with all remaining funds at the end of the year going toward an emergency fund after natural emergencies or for infrastructure needs.
Commissioner candidate Jim Hanlon suggested properties such as the former Washington School need attention as kids play in the dangerous building. He also suggested the city should reassess who they hire for city work because he's noticed certain projects, such as a curb on Lincoln Street, fail to hold up longer than a year.
Increasing transparency and communication
The city’s communication with the public also was critiqued by many at the event.
Klock said it’s difficult to determine what work is being done by the City Council.
“The City Council has not been transparent at all. Everything is hush-hush. Everything is hidden,” Klock said.
She asked how former Police Chief Jim Hovious could steal from the city without anyone noticing.
Kavanaugh also suggested that any future council should do better to connect with the public, and incumbent Commissioner Jim Buckingham said more of an effort should be made to encourage communication between the mayor and the commissioners.
Hollenbeck said he believed poor transparency was unfair criticism and that he’s available to discuss issues with anyone at City Hall.
Incumbent commissioner Gary Lewey said he's "a firm believer in teamwork" and suggested that the public always air concerns at the City Council meetings in order to ensure they're heard.
Commissioner candidate Nathan Schaefer suggested communication was necessary not only in government but also among volunteers and residents themselves to ensure success.
"Communication to me is key. I've been on a lot of different organizations and really want to see some changes," Schaefer said. "I've never in my life felt like I've had to fight to volunteer in a town. That aggravates me more than anything."
Mayoral candidate John Grooms and commissioner candidate James Sloan were not in attendance for the debate.
To listen to the debate in full, tune in to 1430 WCMY at 1 p.m. Thursday or visit 1430wcmy.com.