Elgin council hopefuls on leaf collection, health benefits and more
Candidates running for seats on the Elgin City Council shared their views on health benefits, leaf collection and infrastructure projects at an election forum hosted by the Elgin group Octave.
There are five open seats in the April 2 election. Seven candidates are running for four 4-year council seats: challengers Dustin Good, Anthony Ortiz and Fred Moulton and incumbents John Steffen, Rose Martinez, Tish Powell and Toby Shaw.
Newcomers Baldemar Lopez, Steve Thoren and Jerri McCue are running for a vacant 2-year seat.
Martinez and Lopez did not attend the forum Thursday evening at Wesley United Methodist Church.
During the forum, the candidates said they wouldn't change the leaf collection program, which allows residents in older areas to rake leaves onto the street while others have to bag leaves.
Shaw said he'd only change the program if a majority of residents demand that.
Powell and Moulton acknowledged early snow can cause delays in leaf collection. McCue suggested allowing people to rake leaves onto the tree bank.
Good said he wants to encourage people to mulch.
Ortiz said he doesn't want fees to go up. Thoren pointed out the fees pay for Waste Management's contract.
The candidates said they generally support continuing to fund the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin.
Moulton said that's OK "as long as results are tangible and positive."
McCue questioned the agency's membership system. "It's a tax-funded organization. We're all supposed to benefit," she said.
Shaw said "down the road" he wants to look at whether the agency can be combined with the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce.
Elgin's council positions are part-time -- the mayor's salary is $16,869, council members get an average $11,200 -- and include health benefits.
Shaw said he supports cutting those benefits because people who work part time for the city don't get benefits.
Ortiz said he plans to donate his council salary to a youth-focused nonprofit he wants to start.
Good said the city has grown enough to have full-time representation -- he suggested implementing that in four years -- which will yield more accountability. Moulton agreed he'd want to look at that "down the road," perhaps for the mayor's job only.
Steffen said the current part-time system is fine.
Regarding infrastructure projects, Powell said she pushed to budget this year the beginning of improvements to Dundee Avenue north of Summit Street.
Ortiz and Good said the city needs to look into building a fiber optics network, particularly downtown.
Shaw and Moulton said the city is underfunding infrastructure projects. Steffen said it's because the city has seen a decrease in casino revenues in the last few years.
Thoren said he supports "smooth roads."
Most candidates said they support continuing historic district architectural grants for residents.
"The word 'historic preservation' is in my name," said Thoren, who owns the historic Wing Mansion in Elgin.
Shaw said the program needs to be revamped and be consistent across the city, because not all neighborhoods are historic.
Ortiz said more money instead needs to be spent on the city's parks and youth.
The forum's video is available on YouTube.