Mayoral candidate Guy Alongi describes Du Quoin as a great community, certainly big enough to have a vision. But, that vision has to be tempered by a strict fiscal discipline that includes trading in the designer checkbook--with no mistakes along the way.
Alongi sat down for his first interview since announcing last year he is a candidate for Mayor of the City of Du Quoin. And, he didn"t mince words. His remarks were unbridled and his talking points, at times, stinging.
"Within the first 30 days of my administration I want to re-evaluate the position of city administrator (Brad Myers) and I don"t intend to renew any contracts for that position," he said. "We"re paying $80,000 plus benefits, $10,000 more than we paid Blaine Bastien, a man dearly loved by all," he said. "This isn"t Marion or Carbondale. This is Du Quoin," he said.
"I have no idea why the city went beyond reasonable financial means and locality (Myers was recruited from Colorado). We should have strongly looked at applicants from in and around our community. With that said, I would entertain an idea of hiring more of a person at city hall with a financial background that can better serve the community with finance and accounting abilities at a lesser salary," Alongi said.
Alongi says he wants to turn one clock back and says the other one--installed in downtown Du Quoin last year--was an extravagance, as was lacing the Du Quoin High School"s signature "DQ" into the manhole covers on Main Street and plans for designer crosswalks once the downtown repaving is completed.
"I"m not against the clock. Eighty percent was purchased by the grant. The water fountain was $5,600. But, there"s a fine line between vision and recklessness," he said.
"With that said, I think downtown Du Quoin is beautiful. The sidewalks look nice. I am sure the Main Street repaving will look nice. But, our overspending got lost in our beautification. We have a champagne appetite with a beer pocketbook," he said.
The clock he wants to turn back has to do with the way the city does business. He wants deputy city clerk Tami Burdel to work alongside not a city administrator, but an administrative appointee with a background steeped in budget and finance. "Then, I want the department heads to run their departments and report to their commissioners. That"s the commissioner"s job," he said. If they can"t do it--or, are afraid to do it, they shouldn"t run.
"We are going to give power back to the commissioners that the voters elect. My administration is not going to be a rubber stamp! Department heads will answer to the commissioners. It worked well in the past and it can serve us well in the present and future," Alongi adds.
"I am going to create--by ordinance--a budget and finance committee made up of people who have budget, finance and investment experience. They will meet with the city council, with department heads and with he newly created position of accountant. We are going to establish a four-year rolling budget. It will let us look at the last four years. We are going to project income and expenses for the next four years. We will plug in actuaries quarterly and we are going to adjust that budget quarterly. I have already talked to people about serving," he said.
The 18 Percent Water Rate Increase
Alongi addressed the recent city council vote to raise water rates 18 percent. "Someone was asleep at the wheel and should have seen this (water department shortfalls) coming down the road months or years ago. I don"t think--from a candidate"s standpoint that JUST happened. To raise water rates 18 percent has a domino effect on everything from our dialysis center to our hospital. "People can"t afford this. I don"t know what the problems were that got them to an 18 percent water rate increase, but planning should have alerted them that something was awry."
Video Gaming Revenue
"Du Quoin"s best kept secret is revenue from video gaming. As of Nov. 30, 2014--from the inception of video gaming--the city has collected $94,012. Instead of putting it in general fund I am going to establish a separate account called "parks and recreation." That money will be used to keep our pool upgraded as needed and repairs in the park. That"s not enough for a rainy day fund, but it would help with maintenance at the pool and park.
Mayor Duncan remarked in his latest "Dear Du Quoin" column that pool repairs could cost upwards of $100,000 and the cost of replacing the pool could hit $1.5 million.
Economic Development Director
Alongi said economic development director Jeff Ashauer has been very good for the city and he respects the initiatives Ashauer and Duncan have undertaken--from finding a replacement grocery for the Kroger building to assisting Chip Banks Chevrolet with its renovations. But, he adds, the mayor speaks of the fact he is so entrenched in grant writing that one thing people need to think about, if he is such a good grant writer, why are we paying Jeff Ashauer over $33,000. Ashauer makes this council look good."
That said, Alongi adds that Ashauer is an important asset to the city.
He appreciates the creativity of the TIF and development tax opportunities and gives "Duncanomics" a "B."
But, it also drove him crazy when he passed by a redevelopment project using city money and saw new exterior sheathing that said "Wright"s Do-It-Center (Murphysboro)" imprinted on it. "We have two lumber yards right here in Du Quoin and when we loan money we must insist that a percentage of it be spent on labor and materials locally," he said.
Drew Porter"s Employment
"I am not here to judge whether what happened with Drew Porter was right or wrong. What we do know is the mayor and council fired him wrongfully and the case went to arbitration. The city lost and city was ordered to pay him back pay, which will cost the city tens of thousands of dollars. After the decision it was determined they would lay him off and apparently the mayor and city council didn"t read the union contract that said people must be laid off by seniority. Because of the misgivings of the city having to pay tens of thousands of dollars and the shortfall in water department we now have three people who have been laid off and lost their jobs," he said.
A New Amtrak Station
"The other thing I take to heart is the mayor, on a whim, met with the Amtrak people and agreed to spend between $150,000 and $300,00 to build a new Amtrak station. The city"s share could be between $30,000 and $60,000. The building would have no heat, no running water and no restrooms. We spent money a few years ago on a high efficiency air conditioning and heating system for the Amtrak station (and chamber office) we have now. No where did he say: "We don"t know if we will have a train stopping in Du Quoin five years out. Where does the chamber go? We already have a good building that has heat and air. There has been no planning on where you put the chamber. If I am mayor we are not going to build that Amtrak station. Amtrak is going to have to adapt to us," he said.
"With all this said and all this spending, one of the things that got by everyone is that they went back and raised the levy Bond payments are eating them up." he said.
"The other misstep is they borrowed $50,000 out of motor fuel tax to help pay for the water lines. They said they are going to trickle money back into the motor fuel tax fund to repay it. The city will be hit quickly as soon as they have a motor fuel tax audit. When I was finance commissioner (1994-2000) we never touched motor fuel tax money," he said.
" My candidacy is about giving Du Quoin the best bang for the buck and. If I am elected it will be about the people of Du Quoin. Self-promotion is not for me," he said.
Alongi was within 16 votes of defeating long time mayor John Rednour in the last election. Alongi retired from the Perry County Housing Authority about the time he and housing commissioners had a falling out. Rednour argued that Alongi had overstepped his bounds. Alongi said he entered the race for mayor because Rednour had said he wasn"t going to run again--then did.
During his former service on the council he was criticized at the time for winning passage of a new utility tax, which subsequent councils never rescinded because the city can"t live without it.
There were a couple of other missteps which can best be described as errors in judgment, but nothing worth talking about.
"First and foremost I was born and raised in this community. This community made my grandfather, my father, my mother and myself a good living. At some point in time you are done with your so-called career and turn your skills to community service. I"m young enough. I think I have good health. My family is behind me. I have a lot of friends behind me. I can move this community in a different direction. I can change the political environment of the last 20 years. I have the time and experience," he said.
"I intend to use the Du Quoin web site as a communication tool for the residents of Du Quoin. We are going to be better connected through the internet. We are going to make the web page more interactive with the citizens of Du Quoin," he said.