Geneva mayoral candidates Kevin Burns and Bob McQuillan pressed their major themes again Thursday night at a League of Women Voters-sponsored forum.
Incumbent Burns reiterated that he believes the professional city staff is doing a good job, that the city is spending tax dollars wisely, and that McQuillan doesn't have the right approach to the job.
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McQuillan said the city shouldn't increase its property tax levy, even though it is allowed to do so to capture the value of new property. He also disputed the notion that the city has had balanced budgets in the last five years, saying "balanced" should mean expenses equal income, without using reserves. "My theory is, you take what you need, not what you can get," McQuillan said of the city's tax levies.
Burns responded, "If you let it go, then services are impacted, opportunities are impacted and, quite frankly, it is a short-term slogan but not a long-term solution."
Asked about spurring redevelopment of the closed Mill Race Inn restaurant site, Burns said "the biggest challenge is A. cost, B. location, C. parking and D., to some extent, whether the community believes it is a historic building, or just an old building," part of which could be razed."
McQuillan suggested the east-side tax increment financing district be expanded to include Mill Race, so that the city could offer financial incentives for development.
A question about whether the city's "checkbook" -- including accounts payable -- should be posted permanently on its website opened the door for McQuillan to mention how a city worker embezzled $28,478 several years ago using city credit accounts to buy items for himself, because financial statements weren't reconciled and invoices were approved without the employee having to attach receipts. The embezzlement happened over eight years; the worker, former streets superintendent Steve LeMaire, pleaded guilty to theft and is repaying the city $200 a month.
"For him (McQuillan) to dig up what somebody did years ago and somehow tie it in to lack of leadership by the staff is, quite frankly, desperate," Burns said.
After the theft was discovered, the city hired a firm to review its practices and is following its recommendations, Burns said, including requiring receipts with invoices. "Nobody felt a bigger kick in the gut than myself, the city council or the professional staff, because Mr. LeMaire was our friend and a good employee for 32 years," Burns said.
McQuillan noted it has long been a standard practice in the private sector to require receipts for expense accounts.
"What happened before (the audit)?" he said.
The candidates also made subtle digs at each other
Burns urged people to vote for a candidate "with experience, and appreciation for long-term planning and thinking." McQuillan has questioned the value of the Downtown/Station Area Master Plan, which he called "pie-in-the-sky thinking" because participants were told to not consider costs when they brainstormed at workshops.
Burns noted that he and his girlfriend pay more than $10,000 taxes on her house, but only $800 of that goes to the city. McQuillan said, "My wife and I, who actually own property in Geneva, pay more than $9,000 (total)," and that it is especially unfair because the value of his house has dropped by about $75,000.
Burns said the mayor sets the tone for its government and is a cheerleader for the city. "What kind of community do you want to live in: one that matters only about the dollars and cents, or one that is about so much more?" he said.
McQuillan said, "My goal is to listen to the taxpayers and do what is in the best interest of the citizens ... to think like a taxpayer and act like a taxpayer and spend taxpayer money as they would spend their own money."
The forum was videotaped and will be shown on cable-television Channel 10. Channel 10 also streams on geneva.il.us.