Deepasriya Kumar: 2021 candidate for Villa Park trustee
City: Villa Park
Age on Election Day: 50
Occupation: Professor-Lecturer Management Strategist at Northwestern University
Civic involvement: Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer, and Volunteer Salt Creek District 48 FTC; Taproot Pro-Bono Strategic Management Consultant;
Board Member Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam (A Worldwide Nonprofit Indian Classical Music Organization); Citizens to Repair Salt Creek School Referendum Committee Member; HTGC Sunday School Teacher for 15 years; Library Referendum Volunteer
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 a leader with a caring and methodical approach to all issues, I feel the safety of Villa Park citizens is my first priority during the pandemic. In general, Villa Park citizens and businesses have been compliant with state and federal authorities on this issue. As my husband is an Infectious Disease specialist and first responder, I have come to realize the devastating effects that this trying time has had on many families -- both emotionally and financially. Quick dissemination of appropriate information to all individuals irrespective of socioeconomic roadblocks, quick access to necessary supplies, and mass vaccination of all those who wish to be vaccinated are the keys to overall recovery from this situation. The quicker society returns to normalcy; the quicker all individuals and businesses can start to recover.
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: Villa Park is a diverse population with many elderly, ethnically diverse, and low income individuals. The village should have had a pandemic page on the village website with clear cut links to national and statewide guidelines, specific local policies, local testing and vaccination sites and other pertinent information such as food pantry info and social services information. Some of this information was sent through Facebook but this was not universal. A separate page of facts pertaining to businesses with local expectations and considerations with a personal note from the Village president was not beyond expectation. On the positive side, the Village Board did discount liquor licenses to local businesses and send out local expectation communications to some businesses through the Village notification system. No changes were made however to the local restaurant tax which has made it hard for many local businesses that count on sit down traffic. Supporting local business in any small way can only lead to retention of much needed future tax revenues and sustained village growth.
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 Village needs to definitely develop a best practices guide for future catastrophic events whether it be another pandemic or a natural disaster. Information is very important in these situations and the village needs to improve and standardize its process of getting out this information. Also, some village codes need to be rewritten to include automatic adjustments when such events occur rather than adjusting on a case-by-case basis. There could also be automatic adjusters built into local sales tax rates in the event of a similar instance in the future. This allows for transparent universal application of codes and tax rates to all businesses and residents alike during trying times.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: Some possibilities for reducing the tax burden on individual taxpayers include tax abatements for funds not used on public services due to the pandemic. However, as the actual Village of Villa Park tax collected on your property tax bill is minimal as compared to that from school districts and other entities, these possibilities do not lead to great changes in taxpayer burden. It is better to increase business tax revenue by drawing in a variety of new businesses into our ideally-located town, which will better reduce the local tax burden while also serving our residents. Villa Park needs to diversify its business offerings, and this is the key to post pandemic recovery. We can meanwhile continue supporting our current local businesses by temporarily reducing any local sales taxes such as the restaurant tax and local fees such as the liquor license fees by a fixed universal percentage. This should help with business retention as well.
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: First, the village needs to try to access allocated funds from the State of Illinois and come up with a clear cut plan for an outdoor pool to serve our community at Lions Park, along with some community program space. This program space should be constructed after clearly surveying the wants and needs of our community at large. Preliminary feasibility studies showed that there is no need for a costly community center. Certainly, Iowa Community Center and Wildwood Community Center can be updated to serve the needs of Villa Park citizens. The village needs to be cautious with all funds as Villa Park recovers from the pandemic. However, this does not give the village rights to delay scheduled road referendum projects that have been placed on the back burner such as Charles Rd, Wisconsin Rd, Maple Avenue etc. These projects need a definitive timeline as they have been delayed too many times. The road referendum which passed seven years ago should technically have been completed this year, but many projects remain on the to do list. The status of the roads and sidewalks directly affects housing values and housing sales of the community at large and should not be ignored.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: The pandemic has been especially difficult for certain industries such as restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues. Most businesses have complied with the governor's orders, and I would thank them for keeping the community safe. Indoor dining is now allowed, so it is a matter of ensuring they comply with capacity limits and distance requirements, which I believe the village should help enforce. If a business is in clear violation of the orders, such as hosting a large indoor gathering using inadequate spacing, there should be some consequence for that business. The scope of the consequences should be related to whether the business is committing a first time violation or has repeatedly violated capacity limits.
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: I agree with the stance that the board/council has taken on in permitting recreational marijuana sales in my community. The board has also done a good job in diverting some of the tax revenue from these sales to important expenses including pension funds and parks and recreation. Pension costs are predicted to go up in the next couple of years, and this strategy will certainly protect taxpayer burdens in the long run.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: As a fiscally responsible nonprofit strategist, statistician, and educator, I think that every village should have a long-term community plan to address both short-term and long-term goals with "definitive timelines and measures of success." We as a community have goals but no way to track them at present. This plan should be simple, transparent, and quickly updatable while taking into account the needs and wants of the community at large. The plan should include a set of strategic goals for each village department and committee along with appropriate measures of success and expected timelines. The plan should be developed in a partnership effort between the village management, village employees, and community at large. I know I could help develop such a plan for Villa Park which in turn will ensure better parks and recreation services for residents, expanded business offerings and business retention, improved communication, and timely completion of infrastructural projects such as road and sidewalk improvements and repairs.