Sean Michels: 2021 candidate for Sugar Grove village president
Village: Sugar Grove
Occupation: Project manager
Employer: McCue Builders, Inc.
Civic involvement: Village President, coached for Sugar Grove Park District, member St. Katherine Church, Between Friends Food Pantry, Fox Valley Marine Fundraising Committee, Past Silver Stars Board Member, Corn Boil Volunteer, Past Kaneland Foundation Fundraising Committee Member
Q. How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state and federal authorities?
A. When the pandemic first hit our area, I took the position that the Village should be a source for current information on the pandemic. I initiated a weekly phone call (before Zoom meetings were popular) with all of the local governmental bodies to keep them up to date on current developments. This allowed the police chief and the Sugar Grove Fire District chief to pass vital information on to the Library District, Park District, Township, Community House, and School District. When PPE were needed, this group was able to purchase masks and other needed equipment in bulk to save time and money. A local business donated hand sanitizer, when it was in short supply at retail stores, and through this group, each organization was able to get a supply to meet their needs.
To notify the residents of what steps the Village was taking to confront the virus, we updated our Web page frequently and sent out emails with the latest news. We posted links to County, State and Federal sites so residents could make sure they were getting current and credible information.
The Village continues to push out current information now that we are in the vaccine stage of the virus.
Q. Did your town 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 providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. The Village did continue to serve the residents despite the pandemic. The Village made a number of operational changes and passed new ordinances to serve the community despite the lockdown. One of the first changes was to pass a new ordinance to allow restaurants to sell package liquor with carryout meals. This was done in response to requests from the local restaurants in a matter of a week from the start of the lock down. The Village also allowed flexible utility payments right away, knowing many residents were laid off from work and would need assistance.
To allow building permits and other essential work to keep going despite the lock down, the Village turned to electronic filings. The Village instituted safe distancing guidelines for inspections to ensure that the inspectors and the contractors were safe, but still able to perform the necessary step of building inspections.
To ensure that the Village would continue to operate over the long term, the Village split departments by responsibilities and restricted employee movement in buildings. Several steps were taken in the Public Works department. First, water department employees worked out of a well house that had office space. The streets department employees continued to operate out of the public works facility.
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. The actions taken by the Village for COVID-19 seem to have worked well for this health crisis. Just like every disaster can vary, so can health crises. It is important for the Village to get information out as soon as available to keep everyone up to date. The Village, in cooperation with the Fire District, has instituted Nixle notification software so that information can be distributed in a moment's notice. Collaborating with other governmental bodies allows a unified response as well. Therefore, we can learn from this experience and do these items initially, and then develop new strategies based on the current situation.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. With the investment made in technology to help business continuation through the Pandemic, the Village will be able to maintain a low employee per resident ratio. The Village has been more efficient in providing services to residents. This will translate into fewer employees needed in the future. Additionally, a number of one-time costs have been incurred, which will not be needed for future conditions. This includes shields or dividers to keep separation from customers and staff.
Q. What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A. The most important project for Sugar Grove is to widen State Route 47 south of Cross Street to Galena Road. This is of critical importance for two reasons. First, the state of Illinois will need to address the stormwater that collects in the underpass for the railroad which flows to the rear yards of the Mallard Point residents. The residents and the Village have made significant improvements to get this area to drain, but not until the state redirects this water will the residents have relief.
The other reason that widening Route 47 is important, is that when there is normal traffic (pre-COVID-19), residents were unable to get to local businesses or their homes due to a backup of traffic. Route 47 is a major north-south route that carries numerous trucks and cars from I-88 south to Kendall County. This traffic has a direct impact on business and quality of life within the Village. Widening Route 47 will allow local traffic to move safely and without delay within our community.
The widening of Route. 47 should be funded through the state of Illinois. Funds that are left over from the failed Prairie Parkway should be used to fund this project as well as the recent increase in the motor fuel tax.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board/council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. The Village took the correct course of action by not permitting the sale of recreational marijuana when the state first allowed communities to decide this matter. There were too many unknowns for a community of our size to allow this to occur. I still believe that questions need to be answered. For instance, do you limit the dispensaries to industrial locations only, or do you allow them to be located in retail areas? Even if the Village allowed the sale, would a facility open since the state limits the number of licenses and has been slow to issue licenses during the pandemic? What is the actual tax revenue received by a municipality versus the cost to have a facility in our community? Sugar Grove is a small community compared to other communities that have allowed the sale of marijuana, and those larger communities are still waiting for permits and have more resources.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. I would like to see a town center developed on the 25 acres north of East Park Street and east of Route 47 (north of McDonald's). I envision retail and restaurants along Route 47 and 1st floor office/retail located in buildings elsewhere in the development, with residential living on the 2nd floor. Then there would be an open park in the center to host concerts, farmers market and other civic events. This would give the residents the walkable area that they have been looking for over the years.
Q. What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A. If you like how the Village of Sugar Grove has developed, then I am the candidate to vote for on April 6.
I have been fiscally responsible by limiting the Village's expenses when times were tough in 2008 and 2009. I have reduced the Village's debt while investing surplus funds back into streets. I voted against raising the tax levy this year because revenue has far exceeded expenses. My opponent ran on lowering taxes but voted to raise the levy.
I have worked with other taxing bodies to get the Village funds to go farther. The Village could not have funded projects alone, like the improvements at Bliss Road and Route 47. By working with the state of Illinois and Kane County, the Village was able to get a much needed project completed with a quarter of the funding required to do the entire project.
I have worked hard to ensure bike trails and open space are included in every subdivision and at the same time linking bike trails with other trails. I have championed quiet zones at our railroad crossings. This attention to detail has allowed many residents to enjoy the rural setting that attracted them to Sugar Grove.