Aaron Reinke: 2021 candidate for Bartlett Village Trustee
Five candidates for three 4-year terms
Age on Election Day: 45
Civic involvement: Village trustee. I'm an active member of the Bartlett Lions Club, volunteer legal counsel and active member of the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the board of directors for The Oaks at Bartlett Senior Living, formerly Clare Oaks Senior Living.
Q. What is the primary reason you're running for office? What is the most important issue?
A. I love Bartlett and believe it will continue to be a great place to live if we use good judgment and hard work to meet these challenging times. The single most important issue is how Bartlett confronts our "fiscal" environment which includes, among other things, the tragic and stunningly poor fiscal health of the State government, crushing property taxes, the retail apocalypse, and of course, our recovery from the pandemic. For example, if the State makes good on its nearly perennial threat to abolish the Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF), it would leave Bartlett with an almost $5,000,000 hole in its budget. Despite this hole, the Village would still need to maintain Village streets and infrastructure, provide police protection, furnish water and sewer services, fund pension obligations, and otherwise support our residents and businesses. The most common refrain of government is to raise taxes and in this context property taxes, but as every resident and other property owner in the Village knows, our property taxes are already stifling. Instead, we must first control spending and encourage long term growth to grow the tax base. Bartlett has made great progress but it needs to constantly evaluate its spending and finances.
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. As we all know, there is an incredible diversity of views on the pandemic ranging from those who consider it an urgent and existential threat to those who feel it is a hoax. Regardless of your view, the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our daily lives and that cannot be ignored or discounted. My role is to listen and synthesize these varying voices, advocate on their behalf in a rational manner, and above all, keep Bartlett healthy and working until our underperforming Federal and State governments are able to get the pandemic under control. Confronting the pandemic requires local leadership that can be unpopular, giving voice to constituents, even including those I disagree with, and following the legal directives of State and Federal authorities-however flawed or uncoordinated.
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. I think the Village adequately served the community by exploring new and different ways to deliver services. The most obvious example would be the use of Zoom to conduct Village Board and other public meetings so residents could view and participate in a meaningful way without leaving the safety of their home or office. In doing so, the Village did not have to invest thousands of taxpayer dollars on a fancy camera system for the board room! Further, Village staff observed CDC guidelines and continued to process the increase in requests and service calls for important items like building permits, tree trimming, broken sidewalks, and the like. The finance team quickly focused on deferring or eliminating spending where possible and carefully tracked COVID related expenses to maximize Cares Act reimbursement. The Bartlett Hills Golf Course evolved to provide curbside dining programs and facilitate play in accordance with the ever-evolving state and federal guidelines. The Village used social media and other channels to provide the best information available to residents and businesses. While difficult and imperfect, the Village of Bartlett was still very much in business.
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. This is a difficult question to answer given the broad variety and scale of potential public health crises, be it an outbreak of a known or hitherto unknown infectious disease, a natural disaster, or our environment. Relative to COVID-19, I wish we would have had a stockpile of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to share with local health care providers, care facilities, and residents as a whole. I acknowledge, however, that standard PPE might not be effective against other diseases or even relevant depending on the nature of the crises, so flexibility is key. We must be vigilant and plan for the broadest range of crises by ensuring the Village staff, including the police department, are the best trained and organized, and focus on communication and coordination with other units of government to serve our community.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. The Village must continue to find new and more efficient ways to deliver services and, as alluded to earlier, the Village should defer or eliminate spending where possible and track COVID-19 related expenses to maximize reimbursement. For example, the new building permit tracking and approval system promises to provide applicants with convenient real-time status reports while reducing expensive staff time. Residents will not be burdened with trips to the Village Hall. Sadly, I anticipate the Village continuing to eliminate spending on public events that it supports until and unless the myriad vaccine delivery promises are fulfilled.
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. While hardly glamorous, the most important infrastructure project is the Devon excess flow facility and renovation of the wastewater treatment plant. I am talking about sewage. It is imperative that the Village move excess sewage from the Cook County portion of Bartlett to the wastewater treatment plant and upgrade the aging plant itself to process the increased demand from all parts of town. Failure to do so in a timely manner can result in service issues and regulatory penalties. The Village is working diligently on the design and procure various types of funding, including grants, IEP loans, and bonds. The Village also has to finish the transition to Lake Michigan water by removing unneeded facilities and constructing new infrastructure. The Village's capital improvement program is carefully crafted to focus on important "must-have" infrastructure without adding "fluff." I cannot predict when America and the world will return to "normal," or even what the new "normal" will look like, but I can predict that Bartlett residents and businesses will still rely on our critical infrastructure to live and work each and every day.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your municipality has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. I would characterize Bartlett's position on recreational marijuana sales as "cautious" and I wholeheartedly agree. I was initially opposed to the sale and cultivation of marijuana in Bartlett; in 2013, I voted in opposition to a marijuana cultivation/dispensary in the Brewster Creek Business Park because I was concerned about public safety and the message it might send to our children. While I remain skeptical and vigilant, Illinois' expansion of marijuana sales and distribution has not yet resulted in the public safety issues I was concerned about. Accordingly, I agree with Bartlett's decision to permit sales only in limited industrial/commercial areas of the Village. If marijuana sales and distribution prove to be a public health, safety, or welfare issue, I would not hesitate to change my view.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. Reinstatement of the "coffee with the mayor" program to foster better communication and public education. The previous program was terminated because it was poorly attended and unproductive. In the era of Zoom, we can experiment with different formats whereby residents can remain in their homes and yet still participate. The program should also include the trustees, and an educational component about otherwise esoteric Village processes. Serving as a Village Trustee, I have learned so much about the operation of the water system, traffic calming measures, snow plowing, employee health insurance, processing water bills and so many other things that are vital to our quality of life in Bartlett, but which most people do not have experience. I think it would be helpful to explore these areas and others in a format that is open to residents. We also need to help the west side of town as there is a great deal of frustration with truck traffic, trains, lack of development, and geographic isolation. Bartlett is not ignoring our friends and neighbors "out west"; we have fought the rail interchange at Spaulding Road, we are studying traffic, we are starting long-term planning for an overpass, among other initiatives.