Repairing streets, adding police officers and encouraging economic development top the agenda for Nicholas "Nick" Helmer as he takes office as mayor of Prospect Heights Monday.
"Residents see potholes and craters and they don't see squad cars, and they see vacant store fronts like Dominick's," the mayor-elect said in a recent interview.
Helmer and his supporters won a majority of seats on the city council in the April 5 election, and now will try to improve things in the economically beleaguered city.
He praised City Administrator Anne Marrin, who he said has applied for grants to help the city's financial condition, and Police Chief Jamie Dunne, both recently hired. He also acknowledged that the administration of Dolores "Dolly" Vole, whom he defeated, had been "focused on making the city solvent."
While fire hydrants to protect homes are important to Helmer, he said neighborhoods will have to establish Special Service Areas to bring public water to their areas.
The mayor-elect also suggested the city might sell "naming rights" to streets and could get businesses to support signs welcoming people to the city.
The streets under city control with the worst condition will be repaired before the end of the construction season, said Helmer, hoping that construction will start in two months. He plans to spend up to $5 million of the $15 million road bond voted by residents last year on this first phase.
The areas he's targeting include: cul-de-sacs in Rob Roy Country Club Villas; an area near Hersey High School, including Olive Street and surrounding side streets south of Willow Road, north of Oakton Street and west of Schoenbeck; Kenilworth Avenue from Route 83 to Schoenbeck Road; Ridge Avenue between Elmhurst Road and Schoenbeck Road.
Wheeling Road from Euclid to Palatine will also be repaired starting this month, he said. Most of the project is Cook County's responsibility, and the city has grant money for its share.
The police department has been cut from 25 to 14 officers on the streets, said Helmer. His plan is to rehire up to three officers and add some part-time officers. Helmer said he would meet with officials of the police unions as early as next week to discuss his plan.
Eliminating the overtime paid now to keep the shifts staffed will allow the city to bring back some officers, he said. The city council laid off six officers last year after the police unions won a grievance that said furloughs were not allowed in the contract. Relations between the city and the police unions have been very contentious, and the unions have opposed hiring part-time officers. All other city employees take 30 unpaid days off each year.
"I think it will be give and take," said Helmer. "Some things we can give; other things the union will have to give. It will be solved."
Important areas of economic development include the vacant Dominick's site on Rand Road near Thomas Street, and the Palwaukee Plaza at Milwaukee and Palatine roads, which needs some help, he said.
"That's what I do best -- development," said Helmer, who is a developer in the region, but said he has not done much business in the city. "I can negotiate and understand the business and know where to go to get the answers."
If as threatened, the state takes state income tax funds that the municipalities have been counting on, that will be a blow, said Helmer. He also noted that Prospect Heights lost 600 people in the recent census and has 16,400 residents.