BY JENNIFER BAILEY
DANVILLE — Ward 5 Alderman Mike Puhr cites his knowledge and experience in being part of city government for three terms as reasons why he will continue to make a good alderman.
He says he’s “accessible and responsive to my constituents’ concerns, and involved in neighborhood groups and meetings. I take this position very seriously and I vote after carefully reviewing the issues and weighing the impacts of my decisions.”
Puhr is being challenged in the April 9 city election by newcomer Janis Ostiguy.
The Commercial-News sent out election questionnaires concerning local issues.
Ostiguy said she’s running for alderman because “I believe it is our duty to be involved to help lead our community. I have been attending city council meetings as well as department meetings for the past two years.”
She said she became “interested and intrigued about the process of running our city and our country.
“I cannot do much at the national level other than vote, so I decided to start becoming actively involved in local government,” Ostiguy said.
“I feel I would be a good alderman as I am organized, good at problem solving, enthusiastic and passionate about the city of Danville. I have been here all my life and love Danville,” she said.
Puhr adds that he is running again for alderman “to serve and give back to not only Ward 5 but the entire city. I was brought up to put service above self, and being a public servant is an excellent way to make this happen.”
Both agree that one of the city’s biggest issues to address is infrastructure.
Puhr said the three biggest issues facing the city council are: uncertainty of revenues (particularly state); pensions, Illinois Muncipal Retirement Fund costs and health insurance; and the city’s aging infrastructure.
Puhr said the uncertainty of state and other revenues will prove to be another
challenge in the coming years.
Whether the state Legislature robs the local government distributive funds is a grave concern to all municipalities, he said.
“Even though state sales, income and corporate replacement taxes are increasing, we need to be fiscally conservative. The creation of enterprise funds has helped remove the sewer department, solid waste department and Harrison Park from the general fund. The new Tax Increment Financing districts which we have created have helped spur development and thus additional sales and property tax revenue,” Puhr said.
Pensions, IMRF and health insurance will continue to drive up personnel costs, he said.
He said total personnel costs ($15.6 million) have risen more than $563,000 with these items being responsible for a bulk of the increase. A majority of the property tax levy ($3.7 million) goes to fund pensions and IMRF.
“We need to ask our employees to contribute more to fund their health insurance which costs over $4.5 million a year, and a majority has done so. We need to continue to provide the same level of service with fewer personnel, which we have done repeatedly with continued reorganizing and job cuts,” Puhr said.
As for the city’s aging infrastructure, Puhr said it takes in everything from the 187 miles of streets, to the miles of sewer under them and bridges.
“We have proactively implemented strategies to address them. While serving as chairman of the finance committee, we put a program in place which took the city from a 1,000-year sewer replacement cycle to 100-year cycle. With the city Infrastructure Development and Improvement Fund and Motor Fuel Tax funds, we are able to increase the amount of overlay and oil and chip done each year. By continuing to work with our state and federal officials, we will continue to obtain grants and other funds to help with street, bridge replacement, and other major projects,” Puhr said.
Ostiguy said the three biggest issues facing the city council are finances, infrastructure and continuing to grow downtown Danville.
“Our population has been shrinking for years and our budget is growing. We need to pull in the reins and curtail spending,” she said.
Ostiguy said salaries also need to be brought in line with the city’s budget.
She said the city’s roads need serious attention; not just the main streets but all streets.
There are too many potholes and bad surfaces, she said.
“We need more road work, not more sidewalks,” Ostiguy said.
Ostiguy also wants to see the city support small businesses and entrepreneurs to help downtown grow.
Budget cuts, retail incentives
If budget cuts are needed, Puhr said the city council will have to continue to ask each city department to do more with less, streamline operations and continue to reorganize to meet the current needs of the city.
Ostiguy said if cuts are needed, she would look first at managers, heads of departments and coordinate and cross train those positions.
“It seems we have a lot of chiefs and I think we need to encourage the Indians, not cut them,” she said.
Another issue the city council has had to vote on more frequently during the past year is retail incentives for businesses to locate here.
Puhr said in his tenure as alderman, he’s supported any and all incentives to bring in business.
The creation of the TIF districts saw the expansion of Carle and the new Walgreen’s, and will aid in development along Voorhees and Main streets, he said.
The sales tax incentives and use of Community Development Block Grant funds have brought in Kohl’s, Meijer, T.J. Maxx, Ross Dress for Less, Dunham Sporting Goods, Ruler Foods, etc., he added.
“We also saw the redevelopment of the former Courtesy Ford on Main Street to house Courtesy Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and we saw an abandoned dealership on Vermilion take on new life with Courtesy Ford relocating there,” Puhr said. “The minor cost of these retail incentives will, in the long run, produce significant sales tax dollars, property tax revenue and, more importantly, jobs.”
Ostiguy said, “This is an area I admit I am naive in. I think we need to make Danville attractive and competitive, but should not have to pay businesses to come here to make money.”
She supports the city encouraging businesses in some way to locate here, “but like paying Ford to move was something I just do not still understand.
“I think we should practice honest capitalism. If a big corporation or business thinks it can make it in Danville, come,” Ostiguy said.
Another recent council issue for some aldermen has been attendance.
Puhr said in his almost 12 years as alderman, he’s missed few committee or full council meetings.
“I don’t feel pay should be based on a per diem attendance. I do feel we as a council should draft an ordinance to address attendance issues. The state statute doesn’t allow us to change to a per diem at this time, but we could act on something after the election. Again, this would only affect seven newly elected aldermen in 2015 with the remaining seven in 2017,” Puhr said.
Even though Ostiguy is a resident attending city meetings, she, too, said she’s only missed a couple meetings in the last two years of coming to meetings.
She believes pay should be based on attendance at meetings.
“You should only be paid for work you do,” she said.
Puhr said, “It has been my honor and privilege to serve the citizens of Danville, particularly Ward 5. With the recent redistricting I also look forward to representing the residents of Precinct 2, the area around the American Legion. Over the course of my tenure as your alderman, I had to make some tough and sometime controversial decisions. You can rest assured I make those votes after careful consideration by reviewing all information and listening to input from neighborhood groups, and other citizens.”
Ostiguy said there are “way too many empty factories, too many roadblocks to get permits to improve Danville or (the city) makes people feel penalized if they are trying to build a business in the city.”
She said some examples are Classy Critters and First United Methodist Church, 1400 N. Vermilion St.
Michael J. Puhr
Name: Michael J. Puhr
Address: 512 W. Woodlawn Ave.
Family: Wife, Joann; sons, Christopher and Andrew; daughter, Andrea, deceased
High School: Schlarman
College: Danville Junior College (DACC), business and accounting
Current Employment: Retired
Previous Political Experience: Served as Ward 5 Alderman since 2001
Other Organization Involvement: Danville Sunrise Rotary, Knights of Columbus, Turtle Club, Valley of Danville —Lodge of Perfection, Gao Grotto — Revelers, Olive Branch Lodge 38, Leadership Danville Class 9.
Name: Janis Ostiguy
Address: 209 Orchard St.
Family: Husband, Cyril; sons, Brandon (Holly), Aaron (Natalie) and Joshua (Holly); and eight grandchildren
High School: Danville High School, Class of 1970
College: Lakeview School of Nursing, 1973; Community General Hospital's School of Nurse Practitioners in Syracuse, N.Y., 1990
Current Employment: Carle Physician Group, orthopedics
Previous Political Experience: None
Other Organization Involvement: Co-founder of free health center and served on its board of directors for 10 years; member of Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nursing and board member for two years