County board candidates disagree on DuPage's finances

The Democrats seeking election to two District 1 seats on the county board say DuPage is facing a possible budget deficit.

But their two Republican opponents argue the county is on solid financial footing.

On Nov. 6, Democratic challengers Ashley J. Selmon and Zahra Suratwala will face off against Republican incumbents Sam Tornatore and Dino Gavanes for two 4-year seats representing District 1, which includes all or portions of Addison, Bensenville, Bloomingdale, Elmhurst, Glendale Heights, Itasca, Lombard, Roselle, Villa Park and Wood Dale.

Selmon said during a recent endorsement interview with the Daily Herald that she and Suratwala are running together because the 18-member county board has only one Democrat.

"We need some new voices on the county board," said Selmon, a nonprofit professional from Addison. "We've lived under one-party rule for a really long time. It's put us in a fiscal situation that's untenable for the future."

She said DuPage is "approaching a possible deficit" in its budget "if we don't reevaluate our spending."

Selmon and Suratwala both said they oppose raising property taxes. But they say the county could save money by eliminating no-bid contracts and spending less on state and federal lobbyists.

"We're spending almost $300,000 a year on lobbyists when that's the job of the county board members," Selmon said.

Earlier this year, county board members froze their salaries and the salary of the board chairman through fiscal 2022. DuPage board members make $52,102 a year and are eligible to receive health insurance and a pension through the county.

To save money, Suratwala said the pay freeze should continue for at least a decade. She also says board members shouldn't get benefits unless they have a demonstrated need.

"If they are not able to show that, then I don't think that benefits are necessary, especially when many of these people have full-time jobs or own their own businesses," said Suratwala, a writer and editor from Elmhurst.

But Republican incumbent Sam Tornatore says the financial challenges the county is facing were caused by the state's Democratic-controlled legislature. For example, Illinois earlier this year approved a 5 percent reduction in the amount of state income tax revenue municipalities and counties receive.

Despite the state funding cuts, Tornatore said he doesn't see doom and gloom for the county because it has balanced its budget by cutting expenses.

"We don't need to raise taxes right now," said Tornatore, an attorney from Roselle. "I'm really happy with the fact that we haven't had to raise taxes like some other governmental bodies because we have been living within our means."

Tornatore said officials will continue to look at more efficient ways to run the government. However, he said the county's overall revenue projections are good.

"So I think we're on pretty solid footing," he said.

Gavanes said he believes DuPage has done "an excellent job in keeping costs down."

The insurance broker and investor from Itasca said "increased efficiency in every area" has been the key to maintaining a balanced budget. He said he would oppose any proposal to raise property taxes.

"I believe that tax revenue grows with economic expansion," he said.

Sam Tornatore
Ashley Selmon
Zahra Suratwala
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