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Article posted: 4/12/2013 5:53 PM

Elgin council more fiscally conservative, newly elected say

By Elena Ferrarin

The five newly elected members of the Elgin City Council have different priorities, but all agree that the makeup of the council has taken a turn toward the fiscally conservative.

Newcomer Toby Shaw was elected to a 2-year term, while incumbents Richard Dunne and John Prigge, newcomer Carol Rauschenberger and former city councilman Terry Gavin were elected to 4-year terms.

"Are things going to be more conservative on the council? Probably," Dunne said. "Is that necessarily a bad thing? No."

Rauschenberger agreed. "Nobody wants to pay more taxes and nobody wants to throw more money out the window. I think that's true of everyone that was elected to the city council," she said.

Council members' priorities ranged from fighting a proposed stormwater utility fee to working more closely with Elgin Area School District U-46.

Shaw said he wants to look into a federal lawsuit filed last month by TLC Pregnancy Services.

TLC is a faith-based organization that claims that the city's new zoning restrictions prevent women from accessing free ultrasounds offered in its mobile facility.

"I'd like to understand a little bit more what's going on in executive session ... and see if we can do something out of court and solve that quickly," Shaw said, adding he supports TLC's mission.

Shaw also said he wants to focus on keeping spending in check during the rest of the year, and then take a serious look at reducing taxes once the council begins to discuss the 2014 budget in the fall.

Gavin, who served from 1995 to 1999, said his priority is to discuss putting the garbage and leaf collection fees back on residents' property tax bills. That way, residents can deduct the expense from the federal income tax returns, he said. Those fees are currently tacked onto water bills.

Gavin has been a vocal opponent of a proposed stormwater utility fee in 2014. There are no specific plans for it, although officials have said it could be used to pay for the stormwater sewer separation project.

"The 'rain tax' is hugely unpopular," Gavin said. "They should decide whether to impose an additional tax, before they start spending the money."

Rauschenberger said she wants to focus on the economic development of downtown, and study the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce's 5- and 10-year strategic plans,

She wants to capitalize on a project to bring a Shared Harvest Elgin Food Cooperative downtown to look into turning Elgin into a hub for sustainability that will also help local farms, she said.

She also wants to push for more partnership between the city and the school district, she said.

Prigge said his priority is to fight the stormwater utility tax, because Elgin residents already are paying too much in taxes and fees. "We need to restore some fairness and empathy toward residents," he said.

He also wants to look into "true revenue diversification" by establishing more public-private partnerships, he said.

Dunne said he wants to maintain a cordial working relationship with all council members.

"I encourage everyone to get involved with their local government. To have (the new members) on ... I think it's positive," he said. "We all want to accomplish the mission of having a better Elgin."

The new members will be sworn in at the city council meeting on May 8. The council will grow from seven to nine members, after the 2010 Census count necessitated adding two new seats in Elgin.

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