Rick Mervine: Candidate Profile
Aurora City Council Ward 8
Back to Aurora City Council Ward 8
Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
Family: Wife, Phyllis is a teacher Daughter, Katie is a WVHS grad, Univ. of Iowa grad, and earned a Northern Illinois Master's degree, works as a Rehabilitation Counselor
Occupation: Management Consultant, Strategic Planner
Education: 5 years of study at Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University & Western Michigan University in business, with an emphasis on marketing
Civic involvement: - OnLight Aurora, non-compensated board member and operating team volunteer for this economic development asset for Aurora's fiber network. - Elder, Grace Community Christian Church - Active Neighborhood Rep. and committee chair in the Oakhurst Community Association for 15 years - Member of the Chambers of Commerce - One of the founders and still active volunteer of the Aurora Sports Festival for 20 years - Part of the community development team to build the McCoy pedestrian overpass - Led community committee to expand Eola community Center, build the Vaughan Athletic Center - District 204 Science fair judge for 5 years
Elected offices held: Alderman, 8th Ward, Aurora, IL
What makes you the best candidate for the job?
Overall, it's my experience. Not just my last 7 years as an Alderman but the 20 years before when I was actively involved in city issues and events as a volunteer. It's my 34 years as a business owner and as a management consultant specializing in strategic planning. I am also one of a few Aurora business people that started and volunteer for OnLight Aurora, a not-for-profit organization tasked with connecting the city's Community Anchor Institutions (education, healthcare, social service agencies, arts & entertainment and businesses in economic development) to the City of Aurora fiber optic network to increase their access to Gigabit fiber at broadband speeds and increase reliability while controlling costs. Of value is the experience from the last 7 years as the Alderman of the 8th Ward where we have controlled costs while working hard to improve the level of key services to residents. I have been a member of the Planning & Development Committee and the Finance Committee of the City Council tasked with controlling growth and the cost of that growth for the city. While that experience comes from my business background, it is more important as the economy continues to improve to help make sure we make the smart controlled spending decisions based on sound information and evaluation. Now is not the time to open the floodgates of spending but it is time to invest in the strategies that promote growth of business opportunities and reduce our dependence on residents for tax revenue.
What is your opinion of your community's present level of local sales and property taxes? Is the tax just right, too low or too high? Explain.
As a taxpayer, all of our taxes are high. So are resident demands for services. Meeting the needs of residents takes priority but, in an effort to control rising costs, I have been a part of reducing costs in city government over the last seven years when revenues were down due to the economy. My current position on the Finance Committee continues this work. 180 jobs were eliminated and systems reorganized to do more with less. The Aurora city property tax is 20% of our tax bill, the largest portion going to the school district. We have detailed separately the public safety pension taxation to highlight the need for change at the state level. The general property tax levy continues to remain the same, now at a level below where it was in 2005. I have been a leader in economic development efforts to retain businesses and attract new business to Aurora. This reduces dependence on residential property taxes to carry the tax burden to pay for the services the residents want. I believe our sales tax is a bit too high although this has not kept the additions to the Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora from taking place. This is one example of substantial retail and business expansion that drives Aurora tax revenue, the majority of which comes from people outside of the city. As the economy continues to improve and we see continued increases in sales tax revenue, I would look to moderate the sales tax rate.
Rate the efficiency of your town's police and fire coverage. Are the departments well prepared for the next decade? What, if anything, should be changed? Do you have specific public safety concerns?
We are blessed with very strong and effective public safety departments. Our police department is fully staffed with a new headquarters and up-to-date equipment. They have a strong history of performance and action against the public safety concerns in the community, particularly those more prevalent 10 or more years ago. Now, other police departments are looking to them for guidance to solve many of the same problems they face concerning drugs and gangs. They continue this active fight to resist the attempts by criminals to return to those days. I was an advocate and program evaluator for the new K-9 team adopted in the last year that has proven to be very valuable. The department's Community Oriented Policing team has a strong impact in crime reduction and engaging the community. For our Ward, traffic issues during road construction have become a daily focus for police now and the next few years. Our Aurora Fire Department is fully staffed with newer, up-to-date equipment. I was involved in a grant request and award to provide the fire department with a telepresence system connecting each fire house through the city's robust fiber optic network. This allows the firefighters and advanced life support paramedics to remain available for service in their fire houses while still training using this system. For the next decade, we will need to rebuild one fire station, add a new one north of the toll way and add additional paramedic staffed ambulance units.
Where, if anywhere, could the current budget be trimmed, and conversely, are there areas the budget does not give enough money to?
As a member of the City Council Finance Committee tasked with evaluating the city budget and making those cuts, that work has been done. Our system allows for open comment and review of the budget and includes department head attendance at budget hearings to defend their budget and proposed expenditures. I have made cuts to the budget and modified parts as well. We are still operating under an operating model that was adopted when the economy tanked and we reduced city employee headcount and costs. While the economy is strengthening somewhat, we have not lifted those stringent controls. Budget items remain based on need and priority, not wants and something nice to have. If we don't have funding for something important, we actively pursue grants to cover costs. We believe in employing quality, well trained people and giving them the right tools to perform for residents. There is a strategic plan and we try to move things forward in the direction of that plan. There are always areas where more money is needed. I would like to see more funding for an even broader economic development plan to further reduce dependence on residents for tax revenue. We should invest in a more comprehensive snow plow management system to make the current system more efficient. While we recently received a grant to update and synchronize our traffic lights, I do believe we need to add traffic control signals to a few more intersections, something I am actively watching.
What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
This question may be better suited for someone new to community service but I will offer an idea I have that would add to the community as a whole. We need a quality development for residents 55 years and older. We have park land, golf course and other recreational advantages in the area with quality healthcare at Rush Copley Medical Center. There are tax advantages for residents since this would strengthen schools without adding students and add to local sales and property tax revenues without increasing services. Streets and traffic lights would be included in the development but with a very minimal addition of traffic. There would be commercial developments, stores, services and jobs as well. I have discussed this with city planners and have begun to look at ways to make this happen. There seems to be interest to try to move this forward. While this is one idea that no one is talking about yet, I usually don't keep good ideas on the shelf, I put them into action. Here are a few from the past: •OnLight Aurora, making high speed broadband available for economic development •Started Shop Local to strengthen our local stores •Adopted and tested industry standard traffic calming practices to reduce residential speed and focus attention on driving •A plan to connect our bike paths •Helped start community gardens •Part of starting Aurora Sports Festival •Added Ward meetings to communicate with residents •Added an 8th Ward website
What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?
While I've discussed the need for strong public safety, improved economic development, controlling our costs and keeping taxes lower, of additional importance is the current traffic situation in our part of the city due to an abnormally high amount of road construction. Updated information about road construction is a part of my newsletter articles, Ward 8 website, neighborhood meetings and Ward 8 meetings. I also implemented twice a year Road Construction Update Open Houses for the public with construction engineers and construction diagrams in the Ward to help people understand what is taking place and why. With current construction to rebuild and widen Route 59, rebuilding a mile long portion of New York Street, and building an overpass on Ogden Avenue over the CN Railroad tracks already underway and the widening of Eola south of Montgomery Road to begin later this year, I have worked with engineers and the police department to reduce the impact on the public. This includes monitoring traffic volumes and alternative routes for any needed revision. With the substantial residential growth in this part of Aurora and surrounding communities over the last few decades and the need to widen and rebuild infrastructure, the timing is highly dependent on funding. Unfortunately, the funding and project timetables all converged on this 4 to 5 years with very little option to move the schedule. While all of this is frustrating, the work needs to be done and travel in the area will be better off when completed.
Please name one current leader who most inspires you.
Any teacher in our local schools that is devoted to teaching, nurturing and guiding our next generation.
What's the biggest lesson you learned at home growing up?
To be truthful and honorable in everything you do.
If life gave you one do-over, what would you spend it on?
I eventually learned from every experience, good and bad. Or, just the opportunity to take just one more road trip with my Dad, now deceased.
What was your favorite subject in school and how did it help you in later life?
I can't say I was always the best student but I really learned how to be a life-long learner. That served me well in life.
If you could give your children only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Make every day count in your quest to be a good, productive person that gives back to your community.