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updated: 4/4/2013 4:45 PM

Elgin candidates spar on taxes, budget, arts

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  • Craig Dresang

      Craig Dresang

  • Toby Shaw

      Toby Shaw

 
 

Voters will have a clear-cut choice in the two-man race for a two-year seat on the Elgin City Council.

Candidates Toby Shaw and Craig Dresang disagree on everything from local taxes to the budget surplus, to the arts and downtown development.

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Dresang believes Elgin's level of taxation is fair, and that the city is on sound financial footing. He is not in favor of new taxes, he added.

"It's good fiscal management to have a (budget) surplus," he said, pointing to Elgin's AAA bond rating. "In practical terms, we have some flexibility to fund projects and to fund capital projects moving forward."

Shaw, on the other hand, says the city overtaxes residents.

"Taxes are too high across the board, and Elgin is a piece of that," he said. "We need to hold the reins."

It's imperative to maintain a balanced budget, but the city should acknowledge residents' economic hardship, Shaw said. "(The budget surplus) is not the city's money, that's not the city council's money -- that's the residents' money," he said.

Dresang said it's important to focus on downtown by reaching out to developers who want to build rental units.

"Elgin needs to anticipate what's going to happen in three to five with the housing market, and needs to capitalize on that," he said.

Shaw, however, said other parts of Elgin get ignored at the expense of downtown. Instead, the city should focus on its existing businesses.

"There's strong and vocal folks for supporting downtown, but I think there's a large body of people where downtown isn't a key issue for them," Shaw said. "They're looking for more equity across the town."

While Dresang said it's imperative to foster a vibrant arts community, Shaw said that's not a key issue for him and the majority of residents.

Shaw proposed asking residents in a referendum question what to do with the Hemmens Cultural Center, which has been losing money for several years. City officials say it's too large for local acts, and too small for major performances.

Dresang said that a referendum might be a good idea, but first the city should look at partnering with other organizations, such as the Grand Victoria Casino, to build a new performing arts center.

The candidates also have opposing views on video gambling, which the city council voted to allow last month.

Dresang said it's important to support video gambling for the sake of local business owners, and support gambling in general because of Grand Victoria Casino and the revenue it brings to the city.

Shaw, instead, opposes video gambling.

"Just from a religious perspective, my Christian faith -- I have a moral issue with it," he said. "We're always looking at the pluses of video gambling and gambling, but we don't look at situation when families are torn apart."

The two candidates agree on one thing -- the code department must loosen up some of its restrictions.

Dresang said building sprinkler requirements are excessive, while Shaw said business signage permits need to be more flexible.

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