Nunda Township sees 2 contenders for highway commissioner, several trustee seats open in primary

The Republican primary election in Nunda Township pits incumbent Highway Commissioner Mike Lesperance against Eric Dowd, and several trustee seats are contested as well.

Within the primary, two slates have formed: one called "Team Nunda," consisting of Lesperance, along with trustee candidates Mark Daniel, Justin Franzke, Karen Tynis and Robert Koidahl. Franzke and Tynis are also incumbents.

The other slate, called "For a Better Nunda," includes Dowd, incumbents Rob Parrish and Tim Parrish, and newcomer Johanna Donahue.

Lesperance touts in campaign materials that he lowered the tax levy in Nunda Township by 5% and paid off more than $700,000 of debt, something he told the Northwest Herald he accomplished by bringing equipment maintenance in-house and purchasing used instead of new equipment when replacements are needed.

If reelected, Lesperance, of Oakwood Hills, said his plan is to continue not raising the levy.

"For the next four years, if I'm reelected, I will not raise the tax bill here at the Nunda Township road district," Lesperance said. "We're constantly looking for ways to save money, and to increase our productivity."

However, Dowd, a McHenry resident, said he is disappointed in the job Lesperance is doing and thinks he can improve on the job.

For instance, Dowd said, Lesperance's in-house paving crew spends a considerable amount of money, and Dowd would rather see these paving projects competitively bid.

"He paves roads, and that's his No. 1 concern, it seems, to lay down all this asphalt," Dowd said.

The road district does go out to bid on its asphalt, Lesperance said in response, and doesn't have to go out to bid on paving because they do it themselves. This allows the road district to put down three times the amount of asphalt every year, he said, noting roads are paved based on their condition and age.

"We have our own in-house paving program, and we have an excellent paving crew that is paving three times as many roads as they were able to do before I got here," Lesperance said. "That really is due to the hiring of the correct people."

Lesperance said he first took the highway commissioner job to start controlling spending.

"We are providing more services today than we were eight years ago, when I took over," Lesperance said. "We do more ditching, more paving, we're plowing the roads, ... and I don't foresee that changing."

What Dowd would do as a high commissioner is put road paving projects back to a competitive bid process, so the road project would be engineered and quality controlled.

"The road district shouldn't be paving roads," Dowd said. "The road districts should be plowing roads, salting roads, maintaining roads, maintaining ditches, trees, things of that nature. They shouldn't be paving a complete road."

Dowd said his issue is that if the roads done by the road district's paving crew need to be replaced, that cost would be absorbed by the township taxpayers. By going to a competitive bid, Dowd said, the township would be able to hold the contractor accountable.

What Dowd wants to do, he said, is scale back the scope of the department, "make it back to what it was intended to be," he said. "And that's a maintenance, not a construction, company."

By this, Dowd means the focus should be on plowing snow and ensuring the roads are safe, instead of paving.

Lesperance called the organization of the road district's yard, including a 24-foot-tall, 200-inch-long retaining wall built with in-house labor, his crowning achievement.

"We have an exceptional facility to work from," he said. "When I got here, it was a muddy mess, and now it is a very organized construction yard that we're able to pull our materials from and properly recycle our byproducts."

Dowd said Lesperance spends money he doesn't need to, saying he overbuilt to the road district property, leading to lawsuits.

In 2013, McHenry County filed a lawsuit against Nunda Township, contending Lesperance developed in a flood-prone area without a permit and changed the direction of stormwater runoff without a permit. This lawsuit was later dismissed.

Regarding other future plans for Nunda Township, Lesperance said he wants to keep working on flooding issues and get as much of the drainage as possible corrected in the township. He also wants to upgrade the township's sandbagging equipment and get an inventory of pre-filled sandbags for when the Fox River starts rising.

Currently, 100,000 empty sandbags are in stock, with an inventory of 2,200 filled sandbags. Lesperance said he wants to get this up to 5,000.

When it comes to his spending plan, Dowd said he wants to have a "need-based budget."

"I want to start at the bottom. A need-based budget is where you start at zero, (and ask) 'OK, what do we need?" Dowd said. "(If) we need to buy salt, how much does the salt cost, and you add it on."

Other plans Dowd has is to rebate taxpayers and to improve transparency.

"I want to keep a six-month reserve, but anything over that I want to have rebated back to the taxpayers," Dowd said.

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