James Ruffatto: 2021 candidate for Wheeling village board
Six candidates for three seats
Occupation: Retired from a long career in information technology at AT&T, most recent employer.
Civic involvement: I was on the Appearance Commission, 15 years on the Plan Commission and most recently appointed to the village board in 2019
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 trustee, we of course are stewards to our residents and businesses and during this pandemic year has been very challenging. We have done an excellent job of balancing the states mandate with our businesses by being very accommodating to our retailers by working with them to stay open.
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: Throughout the pandemic, we did not have any degradation of service to any resident or business and has been a very difficult task with the ever changing mandates. When we decided to limit the number of personnel that would be in our building, we made accommodations for our employees to work from home where possible or in isolated shifts, but still provide quality service. To ensure the safety of our employees we constructed appropriate barriers and enhanced the cleaning services throughout our campus.
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: Let's hope we never have another situation like we have experienced in the past year, but we are prepared if another public health crisis does occur as our staff did an outstanding job of adjusting to the many mandates and directives coming from the state. Like most municipalities we experienced shortages of PPE. This is hard to regulate because if our staff has an oversupply of equipment it could expire. Perhaps a regular rotation of inventory and expanding our vendor list would be in order. Our goal is to not have any degradation in service at any time. But the pandemic has challenged the village, but our procedures that we implemented for our staff will most likely stay in place. Our ability to be transparent, when it came to our public meetings was challenging but we implemented procedures that again will stay in place.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: Services provided by local governments are all essential particularly in these challenging times. We have kept our levy flat for fiscal year 2021. From a retail perspective, we waived our fees for business, liquor licenses and health inspection fees for Fiscal 2020. For 2021 we will cut these same fees by 50%.
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: We currently have not had to issue any bonds for our planned five-year Capital projects. By using the model of "pay as you go" gives the village the flexibility to adjust on the fly. We anticipate keeping all of our capital projects in our budget but with regular reviews and if the need arises we will delay projects. The ongoing Lead Service Line Replacement Project which has been ongoing will be completed in 2021.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: We review all complaints and concerns that come to our village and work with the businesses to bring them into compliance.
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 our stance on permitting recreational marijuana. As of today, we have one retail operation approved. At this time one craft grower has been approved and awaiting state licensing. The marijuana legislation was properly vetted through our Village and Plan Commissions meetings. The Plan Commission approved ordinances that will allow the village to monitor any recreational marijuana Special Use.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: Prior to being appointed to the Wheeling village board I was a 15-year member of the Plan Commission. We already had a plan in place for future consideration of the property west of the Metra rail line -- Station Area Plan. In 2019, the village partnered with consultants to produce an update to this plan which was incorporated into our Comprehensive Plan. As indicated the area is west of the Metra rail line along Dundee stretching to our village boarders. The retail and townhouse development west of Elmhurst Road and the proposed apartment complex on Wheeling Road are within our Station Area Plan. Our Economic Development (ED) Department has consistently updated several of the ED subpages on the village's website. They provide current photos and information to those interested in opening a business or developing a property. I would like to see in the future a more focused approach to this area and our plan.