Erica Bray-Parker: 2023 candidate for Wheaton City Council, At-Large
Age on Election Day: 52
Occupation: High school social studies teacher
Employer: Glenbard Township High School District 87
Previous offices held: Wheaton City Councilman At-Large since 2019
Q: What is the most serious issue your community will face in the coming years and how should the city council respond to it?
A: Environmental sustainability will have the greatest impact on our residents and systems in our future. This is not a problem that is unique to Wheaton and I have encouraged working collaboratively with county, state and federal representatives.
These open lines of communication have led to joint solutions and grant funding.
As our city continues to purchase hybrid and electric vehicles, we will need to tackle the infrastructure to maintain our fleet along with adjusting our reliance on the motor fuel tax as a strong source of revenue.
Heavier rain falls are projected and we must put funds toward the continued maintenance and replacement of our stormwater systems and additional impacted infrastructure.
As outlined in our strategic plan, we need to increase our recycle and compost programs for schools and business, increase pedestrian and bicyclist pathways, and increase biodiversity landscaping. No intervention is too small and often education is the key.
Q: How would you describe the state of your community's finances?
A: Our general fund balance is at a healthy level and our finances are strong. There will be no property tax levy increase for the fourth year in a row.
In some years this has caused the city to lose out on capturing growth revenue, however the city received close to $8 million in federal and state pandemic relief funds and we have spent those on projects knowing this is a onetime injection of funds.
The pandemic has impacted our commuter parking and our Parking Fund. While Metra ridership is increasing, the city is not seeing the same revenue in leased parking.
We have begun the work to shore up the future funding gap by generating a parking survey for residents, businesses and visitors as a first step in our compressive analysis of parking throughout Wheaton.
While the financial impact on the fund is key, this will also allow us to reassess our parking restrictions, signage, and overall traffic issues in downtown and our major business districts in the south and north.
Q: What should be the three top priorities for spending in your community during the next four years?
A: Since 2021, we have aligned our spending priorities to our strategic plan which has led to fire, police, library, and public works departments that have the resources to do their job and provide services for our residents. I'm proud to say that despite COVID, services have expanded.
Continuing these high-quality services in a fiscally responsible manner is a top priority.
A second priority is parking and the Parking Fund. Taking a comprehensive look at our community needs in downtown and the south and north business districts is vital. Businesses, commuters, and visitors have all altered their behaviors since COVID and changes need to be made as revenue shrinks in this area.
Storm and sewer issues are a third priority that we have begun to address with the flood prone area capital project, water lead services program, yard flooding improvement program and additional capital projects.
Reducing the city's carbon footprint as outlined in the strategic plan will help in this area as well.
Q: Are there areas of spending that need to be curtailed? If so, what are they?
A: Being on the Wheaton City Council over the last four years and actively working through five budget cycles (one during my first campaign), I continue to be impressed with the knowledge, skill and dedication of our finance team and city manager.
As of the most recent budget, I believe we run a tight ship, spend responsibly, align spending to our strategic plan and look to the future financial needs of the city. I have also advocated for positive working relationships with our county, state, and federal elected officials and boards.
We have been successful in receiving grant money and matching fund programs for many essential items. The residents of Wheaton should feel confident in our stewardship of their money.
Q: What do you see as the most important infrastructure project the community must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what project(s) can be put on the back burner?
A: When elected 4 years ago, I heard from many that action on flooding was needed sooner rather than later. When residents speak to you about their neighborhood, it comes from an emotional place and rightfully so. It is their home. Those interests are balanced with the city's ability to assess and properly address multifaceted storm and sanitary sewer issues.
We are now in the action phase. Tracking resident requests with possible expansion of our overhead sewer, sanitary sewer and yard flooding programs is key. Cleaning and inspecting sewer lines at an optimal level will help to avoid high-cost projects in the future. We have healthy fund balances, and these projects will get done.
It was the right move to hire a grant writer during my tenure on the council, which is expected to earn the city $2.3 million for storm sewer capital investments alone. We may be headed into slightly uncertain financial times, but purposeful budget development has put Wheaton on a strong financial path.
Q: Describe your experience working in a group setting to determine policy. What is your style in such a setting to reach agreement and manage local government? Explain how you think that will be effective in producing effective actions and decisions with your city council.
A: As an active professional educator for 29 years, I have participated with a wide variety of diverse groups dealing with issues that will have long term effects on hundreds of students. I carry this knowledge and skill with me as I make the best choices on behalf of all Wheaton residents.
My experience has taught me to carefully look at each of the possible outcomes, weigh the benefits and concerns, ask the tough questions, listen to community members and highly trained staff, and make the choice that has positive results.
By asking insightful questions, listening and doing my homework, I have had a positive impact on the decisions we have made including our response to COVID, Roosevelt Corridor Plan, support of our police, fire, library, water and public works, and the final stages of the Downtown Streetscape.
I will continue this respectful dialogue with all stakeholders over the next four years and continue to encourage equity and inclusion as we make policy and implement programs.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: Of all the candidates, I have the experience. What I have learned from staff, the residents I have met, the stories I've been told, the community events I have been a part of, and the community leaders I've made relationships with, has been eye opening and truly an amazing experience. Every interaction has made me even more proud to be a Wheaton resident.
As a Wheaton mom who's raised her family through the public schools, the library, the park district, and so many community groups over the past 26 years, I provide a valuable and unique voice on the council.
A council with diverse experiences and voices that closely represents our community will make the best decisions for all members of our city. I come to this council with a "love your neighbor" philosophy and look forward to serving for another four years.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: As a mom of two young men and a high school educator, I believe youth services needs our attention. Wheaton has many positive religious organizations and nonprofits, an amazing police department, fire department, library, and great public schools. Kids in our community still slip through the cracks.
It is essential that we partner with these well-established groups along with our 708 Mental Health Board, our new social workers, and DuPage County services to ensure our kids are getting the mental health services and drug prevention and rehabilitation programs they need. I was proud to vote in favor of an additional part-time social worker that will assist with substance use disorders and opioid use disorders.
Overall, young people in our city need to feel that this community is theirs too. Making events and creating space throughout the city for our kids is critical to our future. I can't wait to see young people just hanging out in their downtown plaza areas this summer!