Compared to the challenges facing urban communities the candidates for local offices in the Village of Kirkland discussed more simple issues. High taxes and less people to share the burden of them so survival of their identity as a community was the topic of discussion at the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce candidate night at the Kirkland Fire District station. Ken Brooks moderated the event.
The forum was held at the fire station built in large part through annexation agreements and impact fees collected from the first buyers of homes in those subdivisions. Those subdivisions now have an ample supply of homesites available as are there bank-owned properties here and there around. The distressed property rate in Kirkland is the same as most northern Illinois communities but they seem to have more impact on the town spirit.
Construction debt and staffing plans at the Hiawatha School district acquired to meet growth projections in the peak of the construction boom lead the incline in the property tax rate but the potential of losing the school district to consolidation is real. The real or perceived threat that poses to the community’s identity or even its existence was a constant in the presentations made by all candidates.
The station was packed with a standing room only audience.
The Village of Kirkland itself has no long term debt according to Mayor Les Bellah who is seeking re-election. He said the streets and sidewalks are in pretty good shape and public services are run efficiently providing value for the portion of taxes residents pay the village. But economic development is at the forefront of his efforts as he seeks to continue to assist in local business attraction and retention.
His challenger Tony Parker wants the opportunity to show what he can do. Parker believes he can help to attract businesses into the village and cut costs. He moved to Kirkland in 2004 and got involved in the community right away forming a neighborhood watch group. In 2008 he was appointed to the village board by then Mayor Mike Becker and served for four years.
Parker didn’t take issue with Bellah’s job performance as much as he did the amount of time the mayor spends in the office. Parker said Bellah spent six hours a day in the office and there just wasn’t enough work to justify that amount of time. He said that if elected he will be at the office every Tuesday and a Thursday or Friday each week.
Bellah said he probably wasn’t working every minute he was in the office but he was there when people needed him or someone to listen to them. He said if elected he would continue to try to please too many people all of the time.
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His daughter Jamie Bellah is seeking a seat on the village board. She aims to get more input from citizens and attract new residents with jobs created from new businesses.
Sarah Ziegler pledged to help attract new businesses but she reminded the audience to support existing businesses in Kirkland. As a former member of the Kirkland Police Department she believes she has a good grasp on the community’s needs.
Colleen Ford an incumbent on the board said she would continue her independent thinking and preparedness for village business. She said Kirkland needed responsible growth to maintain quality public services.
Wanda Murray, also an incumbent, said she’s learned to communicate readily and honestly with the public. Residents deserve a truthful answer to their questions even if they don’t want to hear it, she said.
Scott Zondag is an independent contractor with businesses in DeKalb and Kirkland. He believes he’ll bring outside of the box thinking and one on one problem solving skills to the table.
There wasn’t a lot of disagreement on the challenges facing Kirkland expressed by candidates for any of the seats on the village board including that of village mayor. All seem to favor the use of their TIF district for economic development and public improvements.
For the Village of Kirkland only $190,000 of the general fund comes from property taxes plus a projected $46,500 funds the library. Total revenues for village provided public services for the fiscal year ended April 30, 2012 were $1,123,476, including $57,761 in “operating grants” that represent state shared motor fuel taxes. The largest functional expense was public safety at $372,037.
In a town where everyone knows everyone’s name the follies of permitting golf carts on the village streets to get to and from the local taverns can become an item of political debate and chuckles. It’s those kind of low key pause for a smile issues that made Kirkland attractive for many residents.
But it isn’t as simple for Hiawatha District 426. The school district collected more than $3,3 million in local taxes, mostly from property taxes. Local taxes account for about 60% of the District’s revenues. In FY12-13 the district budgeted $1,208,499 from the state and $470,576 from federal sources. While FY12-13 revenues were budgeted at $5 million expenditures were $5.7 million and much of the state’s share of the revenue is past due.
In Illinois Hiawatha residents face the same dilemma of almost every other community in providing good schools for their kids — figure out how to pay for the state’s constitutional obligation with increasingly local funds.
That’s why Tim Hall is running for a seat on the Hiawatha school board. He’s concerned about taxes and concerned about good schools.
Incumbent Pam Plote-Clark hopes to continue to apply skills acquired in a family farm business to help maintain Hiawatha District 426 as the provider for public education in Kirkland.
That’s important to Mike Luepkes, too, a born and raised Hiawatha graduate who values the morals and academics learned as a student.
The state promoted and sometimes mandated consolidation plans of earlier decades regionalized the service boundaries of many rural farming communities. The nexus of that plan was dependent upon the state subsidizing the increased transportation costs. In District 426 the state was paying 80% of those costs. That will soon be 20%.
Sharon Miller, currently listed as Secretary of the Board of Education, warned cuts were going to happen and/or fees increased but she thinks the community has the talent and will to overcome those challenges.
Peter Johnson said the Board should look anywhere and everywhere to eliminate waste but salaries and benefits is more than 70% of the school budget.
2013 Candidates for Village of Kirkland
* Scott Zondag and Rebecca Lamont are running for the open seats on the Kirkland Public Libary board.
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