Prospect Heights mayoral hopefuls talk flood relief
Though agreeing that flooding and drainage problems top the list of issues to be addressed in Prospect Heights, Mayor Nick Helmer and challenger Larry Rosenthal see slightly different paths to finding a solution in a timely manner.
The main reason the topic remains such a high priority this election season is voters' rejection last November of a referendum that sought to give the city home rule powers that could have directed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the problem from hotel taxes and the licensing of video gambling.
Rosenthal, the city's current Ward 2 alderman, said his own financial analysis puts that lost potential at more than $800,000. He believes what last year's referendum campaign lacked was the time to fully educate citizens about what home rule authority could do for the city, as well as how it would not be used.
Rosenthal proposed a resolution that was unanimously approved, stating that home rule powers would not be used to raise property taxes without resorting to a separate referendum. He feels the effort was too little too late, and agrees skeptical residents were correct that the resolution could be overturned by a future council.
Another referendum on home rule authority must wait at least two years from the last one, but a ballot question aimed more specifically at the drainage problem could happen sooner, Rosenthal said. Either way, the next educational campaign must rely more on the help of citizen volunteers, he added.
"They're probably more trusted than we are as politicians," he said. "The use and participation of citizens is going to be very, very important to me in having those things happen."
Helmer spoke more about what fixes can be found before another referendum opportunity, and focused largely on additional revenue produced by economic development.
He said he learned from staff there are about 20 specific problem areas, then asked for a breakdown of the top five that could be addressed first.
The very worst flooding was determined to be in a 38-house subdivision near Rand Road, across from Tony's Fresh Market, Helmer said. "They get flooded when a raindrop hits the ground," he added.
He believes the city may be able to find the first $4.5 million it needs from a combination of the sale of a 10-acre site near Chicago Executive Airport and public improvement funds from a tax increment finance (TIF) district near the flooding area.
Such funding may not stretch to the remaining four areas on his top-five list, Helmer said, but he believes more revenue from the sales taxes of new buildings and building permits for some larger new houses may be able to have some impact on the worst flooding problems.
He added that many residents' fear of the word referendum is so great, he's reluctant to hang all hope of solving the city's flooding problems on that single option.
Election Day is Tuesday, April 2.