BY CAROL HICKS
The city’s mayor’s forum drew a large crowd Monday evening to hear the views, plans and ask questions of each candidate running for mayor in the April 9 election.
The event, sponsored by the Hoopeston Chronicle, was conducted at Ira Owen Kreager American Legion Post 384 with Valarie Paulson, Hoopeston Chamber president, acting as moderator, and Jordan Crook presenting the candidates.
Ten questions were asked of candidate incumbent Mayor Bill Crusinberry and challenger Jeramy Dobkins, with each given a minute to respond to the questions and 30 seconds for rebuttals following the answers.
Crusinberry said as a former independent business owner of Crunch’s, he "has the insight to the business climate" and as the present mayor, the experience behind him as a facilitator and, with the council, has been a good budget manager.
Dobkins said as part of the younger generation, he will bring more ideas to the position and take the city into the next generation. He wants to "make sure my generation takes an active part for the future of the community."
Both men agreed that finances were among the most important issues for the city, but differed on the ways to continue to achieve a balanced budget.
"We had a balanced budget all eight years, zero debts and pensions completely funded," said Crusinberry of his administration as both alderman and mayor. "The elected officials’ job is to watch the line items, keep its budget in check and work within the budget as finances allow." He added the city puts money into accrual funds for each department each year to prepare for needed or unexpected repairs to equipment.
He also said the state now wants to "rob local governments" of part of its distribution funds, which it receives each year from state taxes. States officials want to take part of the municipality’s taxes to bail themselves out of debt. The city plans to join other municipalities to fight the state’s plan.
Dobkins feels lack of jobs, industry and an aging infrastructure are part of the issues facing Hoopeston. He proposes cutting expenditures to improve finances by using employees to do some of the work that is contracted out, training employees to do jobs such as concrete work to revitalize sidewalks, fix vehicles in-house and make smaller carpentry improvements to save money.
Crusinberry said the city does not have the number of employees it had 20 years ago to do repairs in-house.
"I would not add construction to city employees," Crusinberry added.
Projects that are federally or state funded, according to Crusinberry, cannot be done in-house. These jobs are required to be done professionally at prevailing wages. Financially, the city could not afford to do some of the projects that run into the millions of dollars without federal- or state-funded projects.
Dobkins also said looking at green energy jobs is a growing field to pursue for Hoopeston.
"Green energy jobs are what’s growing. One hundred and four of those companies are looking to expand," said Dobkins. "We should actively go after them."
Another hot item that received a lot of attention was the problem of empty buildings and houses. Currently Hoopeston has about 30 houses that need rehabilitated or torn down, according to Crusinberry, plus several businesses.
Dobkins feels that Hoopeston needs to enforce the building codes more forcibly and possibly use the Tax Increment Financing funds to rehabilitate or tear them down. He added Danville sent some of their employees for training and they tear down a house for $4,000.
Crusinberry explained this is a sensitive area and it all comes back to money and absentee owners that have to be taken to court. The cost to tear down buildings is not the problem, it is disposing of the debris. Disposing of 30 houses would cost the city about $180,000.
Crusinberry added the city is looking at a new approach to abandon buildings, adding a $1 to the sales tax with the first $50,000 collected to buy the property and take the houses down and the next $25,000 to buy and take down the buildings. A sales tax increase would have to be voted on by the residents of Hoopeston, he said. Hoopeston’s sales tax at present is 6.75 cents on each $1 while Danville and Champaign are more than 9 cents.
Resident Claudia DeWitt asked about the Willdon Building, which the city has tried unsuccessfully to rid itself of in various ways, including giving it away.
Dobkins said, “We have to ask if it’s cheaper to tear it down or market it. We need to look at the options out there that we don’t know about at this time.
Crusinberry asked "What is it the residents want us to do with it and where to get the money?" The building, he added, is secured and structurally sound. It is a five-story, steel-structured building.
In closing statements, Crusinberry commented on the improvements made in the last fours year by local businesses to the tune of $30 million in improvements to buildings and in construction of new buildings and homes, a DACC satellite campus, balanced budget, working with the Economic Development committee, Vermilion Advantage and the possibility of a motel in the future.
Dobkins also spoke of a multifaceted plan, working with the Economic Development committee and Vermilion Advantage to increase Hoopeston’s continuing comeback, and using vacant structures as capital.