Joanna Sojka: Candidate Profile
Des Plaines City Council Ward 7 (4-year Term)
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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
City: Des Plaines
Website: Candidate did not respond.
Office sought: Des Plaines City Council Ward 7 (4-year Term)
Age: Candidate did not respond.
Family: Candidate did not respond.
Occupation: University Business & Finance Administrator
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Economics, Political Science, and International Studies, Northwestern University Master of Science in Social Policy, Northwestern University
Civic involvement: Candidate did not respond.
Elected offices held: Candidate did not respond.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No.
Key Issue 1
My top priority as alderman would be providing the Seventh Ward residents with open, transparent access to City Hall. The Seventh Ward is spread out geographically and very diverse. We have single family homes, townhouses, duplexes, rental apartments, and condominiums; some neighborhoods are older while others are still being developed. As alderman, I would make it my priority to be aware of all the different needs of these neighborhoods and their residents. Along with regular Ward meetings, I would make myself accessible through a webpage dedicated to Seventh Ward issues. I would also disseminate a quarterly newsletter, either via email or regular mail, to keep residents updated on the most important happenings in City Hall. Finally, I would solicit input and ideas from residents via social media and the Seventh Ward webpage. This is all in addition to regular Ward meetings and being available to meet in person. Open communication between the alderman and the constituents is a priority. I would utilize these various communication channels to keep the Seventh Ward aware of what is going on in City Hall, but I would also expect my constituents to keep me informed of what they see as the important issues affecting both the Seventh Ward and Des Plaines. Any alderman that does not prioritize openness, transparency, and accessibility is doing their constituents a disservice.
Key Issue 2
Another important campaign issue is sound fiscal policy, including saving casino revenue for debt purposes, practicing restraint in spending, continuing to hold the line on property taxes, and eliminating as many non-crucial special projects as possible. The national and state economies are already burdening Des Plaines residents and businesses, and the local government should strive to alleviate that burden wherever possible. I believe that using casino revenue to pay down the debt would benefit both residents and businesses (more on that below in the Questions from the Editor). City Council should also take the time to scrutinize every dollar that is spent to make sure that the spending is necessary. The operating budget should be also be reviewed carefully to make sure there are no additional cuts that can be made (without adversely affecting the quality of services). The Seventh Ward is home to some new residential developments. A sound fiscal image is important in attracting new homeowners. Property taxes, cost of utilities, and a strong business presence all weigh on a buyer's mind, and Des Plaines should strive to make itself appealing to potential new residents. Arlington Heights and Park Ridge are frequently cited as desirable places to live because of their proximity to the Metra and a vibrant downtown. I don't see why Des Plaines cannot be seen comparably. I believe a sound fiscal policy and restraint in spending could improve our image amongst the Northwest suburbs for both businesses and homeowners.
Key Issue 3
Des Plaines has the infrastructure for a vibrant, attractive downtown area that is easily accessible via Metra. Our downtown could rival that of many neighboring communities. Yet, it does not, mostly due to the lack of business in Metropolitan Square and the rest of downtown. If we focus on attracting new businesses to the downtown area, there will be a domino effect that attracts even more new businesses, new residents, and visitors. I outline a plan for how to achieve this below in the Questions from the Editor.
There's been talk about using casino revenue to update the city's infrastructure. Where is that money most urgently needed?
Casino revenue is a very welcome source of income for Des Plaines. Unfortunately, it is not a predictable source of income. Casino revenue has the potential to vary from year to year, and there really is no way to predict what that annual revenue will be. Thus, I believe it would be imprudent to use casino revenue toward the city's operating budget. What would happen if next year's casino revenue is half of what it was this year? The city would be left with a gaping hole in the budget that would have to be filled through other means. At the same time, using casino revenue toward one-time projects that benefit only specific constituencies or special interests is not fair to the rest of the residents. Casino revenue should benefit all of Des Plaines. That is why I support the policy of only using casino revenue toward paying down the city's outstanding debt or using it toward urgent infrastructure improvements. Paying down the city's debt benefits everyone because everyone saves on the interest that otherwise would need to be paid through taxes. Getting the city out of debt should be a priority, because it directly decreases the amount of interest owed and lessens the burden on residents and businesses. I also believe that using casino revenue toward city infrastructure is appropriate. Updating the city's infrastructure benefits all residents and businesses since we all use the roads and sidewalks. In some instances, infrastructure issues are also public safety issues, and that is something that needs to be addressed in a timely fashion. Thus, I do not see a problem with using casino revenue toward updating the city's infrastructure.
What can be done to fill vacancies and draw new businesses to the downtown area? Be as specific as possible.
I believe that sound fiscal policy, one of my top campaign issues, is the foundation to filling vacancies and drawing new businesses to downtown. Business owners take a lot into consideration when deciding where to open their business?from the city's tax policy, to regulations, to the bureaucracy and red tape that they need to navigate before even opening a business. All this information needs to be readily available to business owners, and the entire process needs to be seamless. City staff needs to be available to assist and answer all the questions of potential new business owners. As Alderman, I would lead the effort in exploring how Des Plaines can be more competitive amongst neighboring communities in attracting business. I would meet with local business owners to find out what they see as the major issues. What can we do to convince a business to open shop in Des Plaines, as opposed to a neighboring city? Do we have policies that scare businesses away? Is it local taxes? Local regulations? Is there something that other communities have that we do not? Based on these findings, I would then work with the rest of City Council to determine whether there is anything that the City can do to attract new businesses and encourage current businesses to stay. However, I will not advocate any incentives or policies that would require new sources of revenue. I do not believe we should try to draw new businesses by further burdening homeowners.
What is the biggest issue facing Des Plaines at present, and what are your thoughts on it?
One of the biggest issues facing Des Plaines is how casino revenue should be spent. I believe it is a big issue because the current City Council can determine the guidelines for how this money should be spent in the future. Irresponsible policies that are put in place could negatively affect the Des Plaines for years to come. Alternatively, a sound policy of limiting the use of casino revenue would restrain future City Council members from using it toward the operating budget or wasteful special projects. I am an advocate of sound fiscal policy that focuses on paying down the city's debt, controlling spending, and making cuts where it is prudent. One of the biggest cuts we can make is eliminating the interest that the City pays on its outstanding debt, which is why I support limiting the use of casino revenue toward paying down the debt. The lower the debt, the less we pay in interest, and the lesser the burden on residents.
Given the delicate balance between the need for revenue and over-taxing local businesses, what is your opinion of Des Plaines' present level of local sales taxes? Is the tax just right, too low or too high? Explain.
Taxes are always going to be too high. As homeowners and residents of Des Plaines, City Council members are also subject to taxes just like every other resident. A a resident, I would like to see taxes lowered, or at the very least do everything possible to prevent any further tax hikes. With regard to the sales tax specifically, we have to remember that Des Plaines does not exist in a vacuum. If sales tax rates are not comparable to those of surrounding communities, then residents could easily divert their purchases outside of the city limits. City Council needs to be mindful of the risks associated with any increase in the sales tax. Right now, our sales tax is comparable to that of surrounding communities, and we should strive to keep it that way.
What are the city's biggest public safety concerns? Explain the concern as you see it, and discuss how you think it should be addressed.
The city's biggest public safety concern is the recent gang activity in parts of Des Plaines. To me, it is the biggest concern because it can dangerously and directly affect the city's children and youth. Gangs make the streets unsafe for children to play, ride their bike, or even walk to the bus stop. Other than the violence that can result from gang activity, the presence of gangs endangers the community-oriented environment that attracts families and businesses to Des Plaines. No one should be afraid to go outside in their neighborhood. This problem is already being addressed by police patrols and sweeps over the last few months, and this police presence needs to continue in certain areas. But it can also be addressed by the city hosting community-oriented activities, both at the city-level and ward-level. Whether it's a picnic at the local park or a movie at the library, I believe the city needs to provide our young people with activities and space to help keep them off the streets. We also need to continue fostering an environment in which residents take the lead on reporting suspicious activity so that it can be properly addressed. The aldermen do not live on every street in every neighborhood of the city, so it is the shared responsibility of all residents to bring forth these issues to the proper authorities.
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