Democratic candidates for La Salle County treasurer and clerk were on hand to answer questions at an Illinois Valley Community College forum Thursday.
Part-time IVCC and Aurora University instructor Kyle Fogle, of La Salle, explained his desire to invest money locally as county treasurer and cut back on spending while financial planner Nikena "Nikki" Baer discussed consolidating resources and giving full-time attention to the department.
Vickey Leadingham, a clerk in the sheriff’s office and president of the local AFSCME, expressed interest in putting a cap on what politicians can spend during a campaign if elected county clerk while Lori Bongartz, current chief deputy clerk, discussed her nearly three decades of experience in the clerk’s office and her desire to increase education and outreach.
The event was sponsored by the College Democrats of Illinois Valley Community College and consisted of questions written by the group as well as the roughly 25 to 30 students in attendance.
Fogle said revenue is $65 million in property taxes while spending is at $75 million, and he wants to work toward curbing that divide.
He said the county needs to work toward spending tax money more wisely and cut back on spending, including salary increases.
He referenced a 6 percent pay increase for his position, which he said he plans to donate to one student at IVCC each year.
Baer noted the county is not as financially strong as it should be, which she credits in part to some budget line items. She also has plans for staffing and salaries for management but not AFSCME members.
She said she has “realistic” goals for what she can achieve in office and can’t control spending across the county, but will reign in spending on a local level including her own pay scale increases.
She also added the position requires full-time attention.
“I don’t feel the position of treasurer should be a part-time job and that’s what we have in an incumbent right now,” Baer said.
County clerk candidates
Leadingham had a number of changes in mind and started with discussing putting a cap on what politicians are able to spend in campaigns.
“It’s pretty sad that we may have some pretty knowledgeable people who want to run for office but can’t because they just cannot finance a campaign,” Leadingham said.
She also added she’s negotiated contracts with the county board and would like to see the county board reduced in number.
She did not have plans for cuts for AFSCME workers. She said AFSCME members in her office have an average wage of $32,000 and membership took a pay freeze in 2015.
Bongartz said she hoped to offer more classes to educate people on the system and encourage interest in becoming a judge. She noted the office is in “dire” need of judges.
She also has plans to implement credit card processing for customers.
“Other offices have credit cards and I think more of our offices should (work together) to help taxpayers,” Bongartz said.
What is one issue currently happening in (the treasurer's) office and how do you plan to address this issue if you’re elected?
Fogle said a key goal of his is to ensure money is being invested locally. He noted a large amount of money is leaving the county and the state he believes should be invested in local banks.
He added he invested his money locally and would set out to do the same as treasurer.
“Somebody that cares about our community should be utilized,” Fogle said.
Baer noted she’s reviewed the 2018 budget and has already found some line items that have raised question wherein an item was in two different categories.
Additionally, she’s found departments do not communicate or share resources, such as credit card processing, which could save money or add efficiency.
“We would be able to get better rates if we combine our usages,” Baer said. “It’s things like this that we need to work together to combine department resources.”
What will you do (as county clerk) to promote voter participation and access to voters?
Bongartz said more participation is needed and currently the office works with schools to encourage voter participation.
She suggested the numbers need to be higher and suggested further work with schools as well as a social media push.
“We just need to get more participation with the schools with the young kids,” Bongartz said. “Some of them want to register to vote and there are some that are not interested.”
Leadingham said candidates go to union meetings and attempt to engage voters to let them know their stance on issues. She said the key to encouraging voter turnout is to reach younger voters, such as the students attending IVCC, and explain the importance their vote could have.
“You are going to be the next generation of this country and we need you engaged in what’s going on and we need you to understand the topics and hold everyone accountable,” she said.