Debra L. Piscola: 2021 candidate for Winfield trustee
Four candidates are vying for three seats on the Winfield village board.
Age: 56 (on Election Day)
Occupation: Senior Director of Government Affairs at Comcast
Civic involvement: Appointed to statewide 9-1-1 Advisory Board; Easterseals DuPage and Fox Valley executive board; active member of the Winfield Lions Club; volunteered at community events such as Winfield Good Old Days and the Winfield Foundation Golf Outing; volunteer for Second City Canine Rescue as both a foster and adopter
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 Winfield Village Trustee, my role in the pandemic is to ensure that residents have the most up to date information needed, such as location of vaccination sites and health safety requirements, support local businesses with creative measures such as expansion of outdoor dining and lowered fees and through expense management and oversight to ensure the Village is in a sound financial position with the ability to maintain services. As a Trustee, I will make myself available to listen to the concerns of all residents, including those negatively impacted by the pandemic, and work to put in place policies, such as expanded water bill payment plans or a means tested lower refuse sticker fee, to alleviate some of the financial pressures these residents face. I will also model behaviors, such as mask wearing and maintenance of social distancing, while attending Village meetings and encourage fellow elected officials to do the same.
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 of Winfield wasn't as financially impacted as neighboring communities given the Village's reliance on property tax, rather than sales tax, as a source of funding. As a result, the Village was able to maintain the level of services to constituents. However, because the Village is so reliant on property taxes and operates on a very lean budget, the Village wasn't able to add any services that could have addressed pandemic related concerns or improved communications with residents. With increased distribution of vaccine and the anticipated economic recovery associated with it, the Village should place additional emphasis on creating sensible business development, particularly in the Roosevelt Road and North Avenue corridors, that will increase Village revenues and enable it to be better positioned to succeed during future events that may impact the economy.
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 of Winfield has a limited ability to create public health safeguards since both the Illinois and DuPage County Public Health Departments have the jurisdiction to do so. Winfield does have police powers that enable it to create and enforce standards and requirements in the Village Code. Title 4 of the Village Code addresses public health and safety matters and includes items such as public indecency, weed control, garbage and refuse and sound pollution. It would stand to reason that best practices developed during this pandemic such as capacity restrictions and social distancing measures be included in the Village Code as part of a new chapter. Placing these best practices in the code will enable the Village, through its police powers, to enforce these measures. The Village should consult with agencies with expertise to assure that the measures put in place are reasonable and are created with the public health in mind. Additionally, the Village, working in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, create regular touch points with businesses potentially impacted by these measures with the goal of addressing questions, concerns and ensuring no overreach.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: The Village of Winfield operates on a very lean budget. The general fund has a budget of just over $5.2 million with the bulk of the funds supporting the Village's police department. Simple measures such as evaluating day to day operating expenses to reduce and/or eliminate expense should be put in place. An example of an expense management measure is the elimination of the printed meeting materials submitted to board and staff. Switching to a digital format will vastly reduce the amount of printing and delivery costs. Another expense management tool is the refinancing of debt at lower interest rates resulting in annual savings.
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 development agreement with Northwestern Medicine will enable the Village to develop the Town Center area of the Village. This development will be funded by Northwestern Medicine and will provide the Village with a once in a generation opportunity to fully realize the vision of Town Center. I support the development of Town Center and the amenities it brings with it including a Riverwalk park and the potential of increased dining for restaurants and new retail spaces. In the future, the Village will have to address aging infrastructure including the Village's police station. Revenue sources that don't require a tax increase should be explored and evaluated for its merits.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: I am concerned that the family-owned businesses that help to make Winfield a place to discover have beared the brunt of this pandemic and won't be able to reach the economic recovery that is on the horizon. As a Village Trustee, I will do everything I can to support these businesses by creating increased outdoor dining, temporarily waiving business and liquor licenses, encouraging residents to shop and eat local, developing a program to provide information regarding the local businesses to residents and listening to the concerns of these business and addressing concerns to the best of my ability. I will not advocate that these businesses openly violate the Governor's orders and efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. It is my understanding the Village Code has no enforcement mechanisms permitting the Village to enforce the mitigation measures put in place, even though the Village continues to operate under emergency orders. Compliance with the orders rests solely with the DuPage County Health Department.
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 of Winfield has permitted the sale of cannabis in the Village and I am in support of this position since it has the potential of creating additional sources of revenue for all of the taxing bodies in the Village. My opinion will change in the event a cannabis dispensary seeks to be located in Town Center. I don't believe Town Center is the appropriate location for a cannabis dispensary since Town Center includes the Winfield elementary and middle schools. My preference is to locate a cannabis dispensary in the existing available warehouse space in North Avenue or any location away from schools and residential neighborhoods.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: All of the taxing bodies in Winfield operate on lean budgets. It would stand to reason that the creation of a local Winfield council of government enabling the taxing bodies to meet, share ideas, purchase items in bulk to reduce expense and collaborate on projects will save taxpayer dollars and allow for the potential development of bigger projects. As a Village Trustee I will advocate for the formation of this council and work to build relationships with the other taxing bodies.