Lake Villa mayor candidates differ on roads, downtown

  • Allison "AJ" Johnson, left, and James "Jim" McDonald

    Allison "AJ" Johnson, left, and James "Jim" McDonald

Updated 3/12/2021 6:53 PM

The race for mayor of Lake Villa in the April 6 election pits an incumbent and a first-time candidate who differ on their assessment of things like road repairs and the needs of downtown.

Incumbent James "Jim" McDonald has held the position of village president for four years after serving as trustee for 24 years. He touted his experience in serving the village.


Challenger Allison "AJ" Johnson, an Army veteran who teaches at Waukegan High School, touted his passion for the town.

Johnson said he's biked around the village a lot, and described the roads as "crumbling." "We have to repair our roads before they are in a state of emergency," he said.

The village uses motor fuel taxes for road projects and develops a plan every two years, all within budget constraints, McDonald said. Downtown streetscaping was funded by tax-increment financing monies, he added.

Johnson said he plans to go through the general fund budget "line by line" to look for ways to divert money to roads. He will also look for grants, he said.

McDonald said the village is doing as much as it can. "You don't want to bankrupt your village over roads," he said. Lake Villa had no increases in the property tax levy for the last three years, and that would have to change with road bonds, McDonald said.

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Johnson said he wants to create an economic redevelopment task force and devise a plan to revive downtown, which he said looks the same as it did 50 years ago. He wants to petition Metra to bring weekend service to Lake Villa and wants more festivals and carnivals downtown, which he said has a lot of vacant buildings.

McDonald objected to that, saying the only vacant building downtown is a former car dealership where Harbor Brewing plans to open this summer.

"I think we are doing pretty good job on our downtown area," he said.

Johnson proposed offering incentives for businesses, particularly ones owned by veterans, to open in town.

McDonald said the village has offered many business incentives, most recently for Xttrium Laboratories Inc., which plans to create 60 new jobs.

The village has hired an economic development firm and has a transit-oriented development plan for the area around the downtown Metra station. "All municipalities want the same thing. It's a tough world," McDonald said.

Both candidates said they would like to add more trails for pedestrians and bicyclists.

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