Rolling Meadows mayoral candidates offer economic development plans
From attracting new businesses to implementing a utility rate freeze, each of the four Rolling Meadows mayoral candidates has his own vision for reducing the property tax burden on residents.
But to accomplish any major goals, commerce-related or otherwise, they said they first would need to mend what has been a frequently divided city council.
Incumbent Len Prejna, who was elected in 2017 to fill the remaining two years of Tom Rooney's term, is facing planning commission member Dave Whitney, and aldermen John D'Astice and Joe Gallo. They addressed a standing-room-only crowd Sunday at the Rolling Meadows Library during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.
Candidates agreed strengthening the city's economic portfolio is a key way to offset the tax burden placed on residents.
The city already has been making progress in this area, Prejna said, pointing to about a dozen new restaurants slated to open in the next year. Improving the business climate will only make the community more attractive to visitors.
"We need to have residents from surrounding areas come to Rolling Meadows and make us a destination location," Prejna said. "Their money will help with our taxes."
He also believes voters should be able to weigh in via referendum on any future bonds that go out for sale.
Property taxes are "out of control" at all levels of government, Whitney said, noting he'd first work with other taxing bodies to search for economies of scale.
He also wants to better promote the city, prioritize business retention and improve the permit and inspection processes.
But Whitney said officials can't lose sight of necessary expenses such as pensions and roadway upgrades, which he thinks deserve more funding.
"What I'd like to see is a little more council input into what the budget will be ahead of time," he said, particularly in terms of the property tax levy.
D'Astice said he has a "vision of economic growth," which includes developing open land and repurposing empty buildings.
As an alderman, he said, he already has been able to push forward business-friendly initiatives, such as allowing video gambling and offering restaurant incentives.
"Economic development comes in all fashions," he said. "I think all of those areas will help to reduce our future property tax levy increases."
Additionally, D'Astice said he wants to introduce a property tax freeze for seniors so they "no longer have to worry about being taxed out of their homes."
He also would support keeping the water, sewer and stormwater fees flat for the next four years.
As a Chamber of Commerce board member, Gallo said he believes the city should be working closely with the organization to develop "creative ways of bringing in new business," including in areas of health, academics and technology. He said technology initiatives and better regional collaboration could help renew Rolling Meadows.
A large chunk of the city money is allocated to the construction of two new fire stations, which Gallo says is causing the city to miss out on infrastructure and parks and recreation projects.
"It's important that we go ahead and focus on realigning that which we want to accomplish after these two major expenses are completed," he said.
A changing city council offers an opportunity for an "entire new set of dynamics" that should prioritize giving residents a voice, Gallo added. Whitney said his goal is to improve communication among aldermen and ensure "everybody is heard."
If re-elected, Prejna said he intends to continue working closely with aldermen to meet the needs of their wards. D'Astice said his vision for the job is to "bring all the wards together" and create more of a team environment.