In their own words:
By Rex Duncan, Mayor, City of Du Quoin
I"ve been working hard to share with you my vision for Du Quoin – a vision of growth and progress that we can all join in. I"ve been knocking on doors, visiting the coffee tables, emailing, Facebooking, and anything else to point out the positives we enjoy, the challenges we face, and to correct inaccurate information.
Let me first express my gratitude to the hard-working employees of the city, to the current members of the city council, and to all those citizens who serve so faithfully on the city boards and commissions. The progress we"ve seen is the result of a shared effort toward the common purpose of improving the quality of life in Du Quoin.
Truly we are progressing in remarkable ways. The good work in Downtown Du Quoin is paying off with new businesses opened and more on the way. Entrepreneurs are energized by the opportunities they see here. Downtown Du Quoin is again considered a destination.
St. Nicholas Brewing Company, Baked by Gene, Ultimate Gaming Championships, and Green Mountain Meat Market are up and running. We were able to help the Grand Theatre with 21st Century technology upgrades that have led to record-setting attendance. We"re working with Du Quoin Insurance to replace their building. Discussions with other building owners are starting to pay off for our historic downtown.
The Main Street overlay is scheduled to begin on April 27. IDOT has finished the North Hickory Street overlay and will soon give South Washington Street similar treatment, resulting in fresh pavement and crosswalks. Grants and IDOT funds will pay for most of the costs of this work.
Du Quoin"s Bottom Dollar Cost Plus Foods and other new additions have filled Southtowne Shopping Center. Chip Banks Chevrolet-Buick sports the look of modern dealerships. The new Dairy Queen will open in August. Businesses old and new are showing confidence and voting for the future with their dollars.
There is such a positive vibe about Du Quoin throughout Southern Illinois! We are recognized as a good place to invest, to live, and to grow, with a Norman Rockwell look and feel that isn"t found anywhere else in the region. How beautiful our downtown looked during the Christmas season, and how festive the Holiday Lights Fair was!
The unemployment rate has fallen from 11.2% over a year ago to 8.0%. There"s room for improvement. I"ve worked with Man Tra Con, John A Logan College, and Southern Illinois University Carbondale to make sure the services are there for job search support, training, and small business assistance. Champion Community Investments has lent over $2,000,000 to 31 area businesses. Perry CEO offers the hope of keeping our bright young citizens here at home to start their careers. The tools are in place for growth and the results are clear.
We certainly have our challenges. Increasing water storage capacity, rebuilding the sanitary sewer lift stations, and maintaining our state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant are top priorities. The new water lines installed in the past couple of years are keeping water loss to a minimum. Infrastructure will be a never-ending need, but today we have fewer breaks and boil orders.
I"ll continue to professionalize city administration. Should a school board member serve as a principal? Do you want a member of the hospital board operating on you? Of course not. City council members should not be supervising professional departments. Professional city administration increases departmental accountability, keeping elected officials involved at higher levels of planning and advocacy.
Unfortunately, my opponent has chosen to politicize the position and he"s done so in a very personal way to our city administrator. Brad Myers has done little wrong and much right during his service in Du Quoin. He and his wife are good people who own a home and attend a church here. Brad has made the mistakes of one learning a complex job, but he certainly is learning. I made those mistakes, too, when I was a new city clerk as has every one before me and after me. As a reminder, I was city clerk when my opponent was finance commissioner. I can tell you from experience, those same mistakes and more were made on his watch.
Brad has worked hard, putting in long hours (no, he doesn"t get overtime, comp time, or similar benefits). After a career spent honorably serving our country, he is learning how to conduct business effectively in Du Quoin. He"s softened his tone, continues to learn the job, and has come to love Du Quoin.
In return, Brad and Jennifer get to read in the newspaper that my opponent will fire him and bring in his own financial insider. How sad that these good people have been so threatened, especially given that my opponent has refused to have substantive discussions with Brad. We"re better than that as a community, and Brad deserves more respect as a veteran, a public servant, and a citizen of this community.
As mayor in the coming years I"ll continue to support the city administrator role while demanding excellence in performance from all of our employees. In contrast to my opponent, I will not go back to a 1940"s style of local government that is best viewed in the rear view mirror, not through the windshield ahead.
I"ll work with others to smartly use TIF and the Sales Tax Business District to attract more small businesses, the real job creators in today"s economy. As our fund balances continue to grow we"ll again be in a better position to seek grants and improve our infrastructure. I"ll continue to encourage community participation from everyone, welcoming young and old alike who share in the vision of a better and more inclusive Du Quoin. I"ll continue to invite all citizens of good will to serve on our boards and commissions.
As I always have, I"ll conduct the affairs of the city in a manner that is consistent with your highest expectations of mayoral and personal conduct. I"ll work hard, using the office of mayor at City Hall regularly as I have since I retired. I promise that I won"t call the fire department out for anything other than emergencies. I"ll keep my own house clean, both figuratively and literally.
I"m asking for your vote for mayor on April 7 because I am the more qualified and the more experienced candidate. I recently retired from a career in job placement and economic and community development. I look forward to working applying those skills every day to make this a better place for current and future generations to live, play, learn, grow, and prosper. It has been an honor to serve as your mayor. I look forward to four more years of that service. Thank you so much for your consideration and your vote.
By Guy Alongi, Candidate for Mayor, City of Du Quoin
"We will do things differently if elected as Mayor, and we will change the twenty plus year political climate of Du Quoin."
The City of Du Quoin, at its December 2014 meeting, raised property taxes an additional 3.9%. Just a few years ago the voters passed a referendum so Du Quoin could be a Home Rule community. Although I am not against Home Rule, it was with the promise that our portion of the city real estate tax would be abated as it was for two years. Our elected officials should have never made a promise they couldn"t keep. In just a few short years all of the city real estate taxes were placed back on the books, and we continue each year to see an increase.
Just because we can raise taxes by 4.99% each year without a public hearing doesn"t mean it should automatically be done. Real estate taxes are a small portion of the city budget, and we need to do whatever possible to keep property taxes in check. You can"t always go to the citizens of the community to bail your way out. You must find ways to better save and use every dollar available in an efficient manner. I don"t buy the statement when our city officials say that we need property taxes to fund all the pension debt. Maybe what we need to do is live within our means and not go chasing every beautification grant that comes along. That type of thinking could break the bank. Also, as you are all aware the city council at the November 24th meeting passed a water and sewer rate increase of 18% effective January 1st 2015, the biggest increases in Du Quoin history. Someone went to sleep at the wheel. You just don"t all of a sudden say we need an 18% increase in the water and sewer rates. You look years in advance and plan what you need. Poor planning and poor financial leadership led to the massive increase.
The best kept secret at city hall are the funds that the State of Illinois reimburses the city of Du Quoin for video gaming. As of January 2015 of this year, the city had collected over $100,000 in gaming revenue. That currently comes to around $6,000 a month from video gaming? We need to ask ourselves how that money is being used. Does it go in the general fund to pay routine expenses? Is it used to fund grants when they are available? Is it used to keep our roads updated? If I am elected, instead of putting the video gaming revenue in the general fund, I"m going to establish a separate account called parks and recreation. We will use that money to upgrade and repair our swimming pool and parks as needed.
Both the mayor and the finance commissioner recently stated that the city will be in a saving mode because our reserves have fallen below what they should be. They point to the funding that was needed to install sidewalks, lighting, repaving Main Street, and trees. We should never spend what we don"t have, and we should never spend all the money at one time without a rainy day fund. We need to get away from a tax all you can and spend all you can attitude. We need a five year plan for the city of Du Quoin, and if elected we will put in place a plan that doesn"t spend every dollar we take in.
This leads me to the discussion of the new sidewalks on Main Street. Yes, our downtown is very nice with the new sidewalks, lighting, trees and the repaving of Main Street. Maybe we should ask ourselves this question. Should we have spent money on this project without an engineering survey being done of our existing buildings to see if repairs were needed first on the infrastructure of the buildings? With the collapse of the Higgins building in May of 2014, and knowing that other buildings are in need of repair, maybe we should have looked at securing grants using our TIF funding and low interest loans to help preserve our downtown first. We should help our businesses with the never ending routine maintenance that these aging buildings desperately need. I personally feel what we did was, put an expensive paint job on an automobile when the motor needed repaired first. Our downtown needs to be preserved; it is our heritage, our foundation. The integrity of our buildings comes first, then the beautification of sidewalks, lighting and trees come after. The sidewalks were an expenditure of $720,000, and the city"s part was $144,000. The paving of Main Street and decorative crosswalks were an expenditure of $560,000 and the city"s part was $100,000 with an additional expenditure of $50,000 to repave a portion of South Washington between Main Street and Popular Street. These figures don"t include the water fountain, which wasn"t covered by the grant. That cost the taxpayers an additional $5,600. Yes, $5,600 for a water fountain. The Clock had a price tag of $28,000, and we the taxpayer"s picked up 20% of that cost as well for an additional $5,600. So to add up what the Main Street project cost you, the taxpayer, is a staggering $255,250. With all the aforementioned tax money spent to improve Main Street"s roads and sidewalks, we are left with the structure problems of these aged buildings.
There have been many missteps over the past few years. Our City Administrator is paid more than $80,000 a year. Our past city administrator, who was dearly loved by all, received an annual salary of around $70,000 a year. Why do we pay someone with less experience more than our previous city Administrator? Why during the search process for the position did we have to look beyond our own local applicants to hire someone? My first thirty days in office, I will re-evaluate the city administrator position, and I intend not to renew any contracts for that position. We are going to move in a different direction that will save the city money. Also the recent dismissal and then the reinstatement of an employee by an arbitrator has cost $63,000.00 in settlement fees from the city general fund not to mention the legal fees incurred by an outside legal firm at a rate of $275 per hour at a total $18,308.90 in additional costs.
As your Mayor, I will keep public safety at the forefront. We will continue to keep our Police and Fire Departments strong and be assured you can also be certain that our street and water departments will serve the community in a decent, safe and sanitary manner.
The bottom line is, if you elect me as Mayor, more options will be left open for new opportunities for the creation of jobs and new businesses for our community. Control will be given back to the Commissioners that you elect by letting them once again run the day to day operations of their department. You will have a city government with a more conservative approach, and your city government will not continue to spend with the thought we can always go back to the taxpayers and increase taxes. More ordinances sometimes create more problems. The content of ordinances passed will be more thoroughly examined so that those passed have purpose and meaning in our city. The city of Du Quoin can"t be the problem, we must help to be the solution in any way we can.
My door will always be open to all citizens. No appointments necessary if I am elected. Also, I want to change the political climate of the past twenty plus years in Du Quoin. My roots are in Du Quoin as is my heart, and I wish to serve our community as Mayor. The citizens have a choice on April 7. If I am elected, I will do things differently with a "New Voice and New Vision" and a New Direction for Du Quoin.