Taxes, city spending and economic development top the list of concerns for three candidates vying to represent Des Plaines' 4th Ward for the next four years.
Elk Grove Village firefighter/paramedic Mark Pytlewicz, a political newcomer, is challenging one-term incumbent Jean Higgason and former two-term alderman Dick Sayad -- who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2009 -- in the April 5 consolidated election.
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Higgason and Sayad have a long history of political challenges.
Higgason, 54, was originally elected to the 4th Ward in 1995, when she defeated Sayad for the seat. She served until 1999, when Sayad, 67, beat her and served as alderman until 2007. Then he was ousted by voter-imposed term limits, and Higgason was elected.
Higgason, who is chairwoman of the city's finance and administration committee, said during a recent candidate interview that the city has made great strides with its finance department and with reining in spending.
"We've downsized city government," Higgason said. "That's the only way to keep down the tax bill."
The city has cut 54 positions and has privatized services, combined department heads and is still streamlining, she added.
Sayad said the city needs to curb its spending further, hold the line on taxes and put an end to no-bid contracts such as the $766,000 year-end purchase the council approved for new software to streamline city processes.
"This is things that I want to stop," Sayad said. "These no-bid contracts have to stop. We have to be accountable for ourselves. This is something that is not needed today."
Higgason defended the council's decision, saying the city's information technology department did look into various companies offering similar software and opted to purchase this one because of a one-time discount offered by the company. It will be funded over two years through general fund revenues, she added.
"Yes, it is a lot of money, I agree. But it will always be a lot of money to replace the software system," Higgason said.
Pytlewicz said he is concerned about the city raising taxes in a troubled economy, though no levy increase was approved this year.
"There are other ways of doing business without always going and raising taxes," Pytlewicz said.
He supports revitalizing the downtown area, improving existing businesses and attracting new business.
"To me it's time for some fresh ideas," said Pytlewicz, 40, who hasn't been involved in city government or attended council meetings.
Pytlewicz would like the city to offer programs to help low-income and middle class families with home repairs, and strengthen core city services like police and fire.