Ron Almiron: 2021 candidate for Wheaton Park District board
Four candidates for three seats
Occupation: Attorney at Law Office of Ronald A. Almiron
Civic involvement: Wheaton Mosquito Abatement District Trustee (2015-present), City of Wheaton Planning & Zoning Board (2015-17), St. Michael Church Lector (2015-present) & Parish School Board Member (2016-19)
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A: Wheaton's children are not getting any younger. The Wheaton Park District ("District") should continue to keep parks beautiful and maintain playground equipment It should have a 10-year Strategic Plan in the long term so that capital projects, such as a small boutique hotel or community indoor ice center, can be well thought out with public input and feedback. Ultimately, I see the District having elite facilities such that families will be attracted to moving to Wheaton, and the current families will have an even better place to raise their children. Hopefully property values would rise as a result of the District's capital projects that I envision. Still, based upon my public board experience, I understand that low tax levies and operating efficiencies are important in providing value to the taxpayers. I will bring that mindset to the Park Board, and be a watchdog for the District's taxpayers.
Q: Did your park district continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to continue providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A: No. As of February 22nd, the first slide shown on the District's website homepage emphasizes the spring 2021 registration for activities, even though the column on the right side includes the same link. Granted, those same COVID-19 links appear below the seasonal activity registration links, but the former ones are in thin type, not bold. It was not until the fifth slide did the COVID-19 guidelines appeared. The District should have made these guidelines appear immediately upon a user coming across its website.
Q: In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A: One safeguard/guideline that the District ought to consider is that it ask resident users if they would consent to text messaging of emergency alert public service announcements, especially if an ongoing activity needs to be canceled immediately due to weather concerns, or if activities are suspended due to COVID-19 precautions. Regular mail could be used for those residents who do not use email messaging.
Q: How has the pandemic affected the park district's offerings and use of facilities. Are there other ways the park board can fulfill the mission of a park district during these times?
A: The pandemic greatly affected the District's offerings and facilities use. The latter were shut down from March through June last year. In July, 2020, facilities became open for limited use, until the Phase 3 shutdown again last November before opening up again only recently. The District is now preparing to bring back some furloughed employees, which is a good sign for the reopening of programs and facilities. In the meantime, the Park Board can do what it can to be in "recovery mode" to restore existing programming and maintaining facilities toward an eye at Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan, hopefully to come in 2022. The Park Board can also celebrate the District's Centennial by bringing back this fall Cream of Wheaton, replete with merchandise.
Q: How has the pandemic affected the park district's revenue? How has that been addressed on the expense side?
A: It is my understanding that by the end of FY2020 (January-December), gross revenue for the District was down $7 million compared with FY2019, representing a reduction of approximately 50%. The pandemic clearly adversely affected District revenue. As for expenses, the District broke even. Presumably, it like other governmental entities during these times found it necessary to dip into the reserves. I also know that the District a lot of expenses as a result of not offering the usual programs. Indeed, last March the District faced putting 304 part-time employees into furlough. Some of them returned later in July.