Transportation, the heroin epidemic and holding the line on property taxes are the top issues raised by the six Republicans seeking their party's nomination for two District 4 seats on the DuPage County Board.
The candidates in the crowded GOP primary on March 20 are incumbent Grant Eckhoff and five newcomers -- Paula McGowen, Ron Almiron, Christopher Zaruba, Elizabeth Tatro and Craig Chinchilla.
The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election in November to face two Democratic nominees. During their primary,
Democrats will pick their two candidates from among Trevor J. Orsinger of Wheaton, Hadiya Afzal of Glen Ellyn and Mary FitzGerald Ozog of Glen Ellyn.
The candidates who are victorious in November will each get a 4-year term representing District 4, which includes all or parts of Addison, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Glen Ellyn, Glendale Heights, Lisle, Lombard, Wheaton and Winfield.
During recent endorsement sessions with the Daily Herald, Almiron and McGowen both said they are concerned about the rising death toll from heroin overdoses.
Last year, DuPage had 95 confirmed opioid-related deaths, the same number as 2016, according to the coroner's office.
McGowen said the county must do more to get addicts the help they need.
"We need treatment centers," said McGowen, a 63-year-old Glen Ellyn resident. "We need programs."
Almiron said DuPage may want to consider partnering with a nonprofit group to open a drug treatment facility at the county government complex in Wheaton.
"We could combat this problem and save lives," said Almiron, a 51-year-old attorney from Wheaton.
Every Republican in the race said they want property taxes to remain flat for county government. Last fall, the county board kept DuPage's $66.9 million property tax levy steady, even though the county lost more than $3 million in state funding.
Chinchilla said he wants to use his skills as a business owner to help DuPage be more efficient so it doesn't need to increase property taxes.
"I think we could do more at the county to reduce costs," the 53-year-old Glen Ellyn resident said.
Zaruba said he would work to save money without reducing the quality of services by finding examples of waste and duplicative services in the county budget.
"Just looking through it, I found numerous examples of things that we can cut to try to save costs," said Zaruba, a 33-year-old attorney from Wheaton.
For example, he said, DuPage is paying a retired prosecutor to help enforce its ethics rules. He said the county should use the state's attorney's office to review ethics complaints.
Zaruba also said the county board and the state's attorney's office are using the same lobbyist. He said there should be just one contract -- not separate pacts -- with a lobbying firm.
"There's money that can be saved before we start looking at property taxes," he said.
Eckhoff also provided specific examples of how the county could save money, including a plan to modify courthouse security.
The county currently uses full-time, sworn sheriff's deputies for almost every court security position.
But under a proposal being reviewed by the deputies' union, some lower-paid court security officers would be used at the main courthouse in Wheaton.
Eckhoff said replacing 10 departing or retiring deputies at the courthouse with court security officers could save the county an estimated $500,000 a year.
"My first option is to try and cut where you can," said Eckhoff, a 58-year-old attorney from Wheaton.
In addition to adjusting programs, he said, DuPage should use technology to streamline government.
On the revenue side, he said the county should pursue sales taxes from online purchases.
Several candidates also said the county could improve its sales tax revenue by luring more businesses to DuPage.
"We need to work hand-in-hand with Choose DuPage to continue to develop business here in the county," said Chinchilla, referring to the county's public-private economic development group.
Tatro said DuPage needs to find innovative ways to bring businesses to the county. She also wants transportation to be improved countywide.
She praised DuPage's decision to draft its first long-range transportation plan.
"I think it's important that they reach out to the people that are using the transportation system and figure out what they're looking for," said Tatro, a 36-year-old Wheaton resident who works in corporate communications.
Tatro said she would like DuPage to develop an integrated transportation system where residents could get road updates, pay for public transportation and use riding-sharing with a single app on their phones.