Q&A with mayoral candidate Dan Staackmann
Morton Grove Saturday, 2/16/13 Dan Staackmann is running for re-election as Morton Grove's Mayor. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT: 01101012A
Updated: March 22, 2013 6:17AM
With Dan Staackmann and Dan DiMaria facing off in next week’s primary election, the Morton Grove Champion sent questionnaires to both candidates, asking them their opinion on major issues in town. Q: What do you consider the three most critical issues facing Morton Grove and what have you done to deal with them?
Q: What do you consider the three most critical issues facing Morton Grove and what have you done to deal with them?
Pensions: The village has an obligation to fund pensions, but many of the factors that affect the cost of those pensions are controlled by state government. I have been and will continue to work with state officials on the pension issue. I currently serve on the legislative committee for the Northwest Municipal Conference, an association of 41 local municipal governments that discuss and advocate on legislation that will strengthen communities and enhance intergovernmental relations. Bringing strength in numbers, this organization is an excellent conduit to change legislation in our State Government.
Communication: Keeping the residents informed on issues pertaining to our village is critical. Because clear and open communication with residents is so important to me, Over the past four years, we have expanded MGTV programming to include public interest programs, features on each village department interviews with local elected officials, and coverage of board and public meetings. The village website has added features, such as the Citizens Support Center, and subscriptions to the email newsletter have increased. Information is also conveyed on social media outlets such as Facebook and YouTube. This year, the village hired a professional in the media field on a part-time basis to better coordinate all these communication efforts, enhance existing communication vehicles, and search out better, more effective ways to communicate with residents. The Morton Grove Exchange newsletter has been revamped to share more information more often with residents.
Q: The village has been reducing staff and outsourcing some activities such as the senior center. Do you see this as a temporary way to compensate for the poor economy or as a permanent way for Morton Grove to provide services?
The primary function of village government is to protect the life, property, and health of its residents. Therefore, the services of fire, police, and public works must be a top priority when making tough decisions, regardless of whether we’re in a good economy or bad. Responsible management is always looking to make government services more efficient and effective. And it is the responsibility of the village officials to find the best provider for any service to its residents; in some cases this may provided by village staff, in other cases a service may be outsourced – but it must be the best service at a cost that fits the budget and protects fire, police, and public works services. By using public-private partnerships, our village has been able to keep and expand services for less cost to tax payers, and find the best possible provider for those services.
Q: Speaking of services, how do you see the current level of services the village provides its residents and businesses? Do you see other services needed or current ones that can be reduced?
I believe Morton Grove does more with less than many other communities. We have the best Public Works Department anywhere. They do an excellent job for us with snow plowing, restoring water when pipes break, and cleaning up after storms. The Fire Department has an outstanding average response time of less than four minutes. Our Police Department never fails to earn commendations from residents and other communities they have worked with.
When you look at the current level of services for seniors, you can see they have expanded and improved markedly. The quality and the quantity of any service provided by our village depend directly on available revenue and working with other organizations to improve village services and reduce cost.
Q: Has the village done enough to try to attract new businesses? If not, what else would you do?
More than 80 new businesses have opened in Morton Grove in the last four years, a terrific number for a village this size and in the economy with which this nation continues to struggle. Storefronts on Dempster Street continue to fill and vacancy rates are very low. The village invested a considerable amount in the past four years to completely refurbish and improve Dempster Street and Lincoln Avenue to set the stage for more development. At the village Board meeting on Feb. 11 village staff presented a comprehensive plan to promote Economic Development to continue this forward progress. I support this course of action to bring business to Morton Grove.
Q: In the past, Morton Grove has entered into revenue sharing agreements as one way to encourage businesses to locate in the village. Do you believe that should continue and are there other incentives Morton Grove can offer companies looking for a place to locate?
Revenue sharing incentives are a common practice used by most communities and has been used successfully to bring in desirable business to Morton Grove. The shared revenue is sales tax. The way it works is a percentage of sales tax is given back to the business for a set period of time. There is no out-of-pocket money given by the village if the business fails. In addition, there are other ways to help bring in businesses, such as waiving permit fees or TIF assistance, if applicable, for infrastructure improvements.
The present village plan to promote economic development stated that “being ready” with appropriate zoning and codes, strong infrastructure, and a streamlined process to open a new business are the most productive and best ways for Morton Grove to build its attractiveness to new businesses.
Q: The village has an option to purchase property that could be used for a new police station or other village facility. How do you think that site should be used and how should a project there be financed? If necessary, would you favor issuing bonds for construction of a new building?
The police department needs more space — period. At this stage, the course I want to take is to form an exploratory committee composed of staff and officers from the Police Department and several village residents to discern what kind of building is needed, what the projected cost of construction would be, and what would be the best way to pay for it. I have already been in contact with all of our State and Federal elected officials and asked for their help in funding a new building. The village has paid off a lot of its debt in the last four years and now has a very good bond rating, which means the village has a lot of options available on how to pay for a new police station. Raising real estate taxes is always my last option.
Q: Are there any circumstances in which you would favor an increase in property taxes?
Property values went way down since 2008, but taxes for many people have gone way up. How can the value of your property be reassessed higher at a time when many property owners lost 30-40 percent of their home value?
I have only endorsed an increase in the tax levy when forced to by budget demands to maintain vital services that protect residents’ life, property, and health. The increase on the village portion of Morton Grove real estate taxes has been only 3 percent over the last five years – four of those years had no increase by the village.
Q: If I’m a resident of Morton Grove, why should I vote for you? What background, skills, experience and education do you have that qualifies you for the post?
I am a lifelong resident of Morton Grove, and I have a broad base of experience and knowledge I bring to the office of mayor. I owned and operated a small business in town. I have served on the boards and as executive officer of many organizations in town, including the Lions Club, Morton Grove Days Committee, Morton Grove Foundation, Liponi Foundation, and Morton Grove Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
In 1987, I was elected Morton Grove Park District commissioner and served for 16 years in that role. I worked with park staff and the other park district commissioners to rebuild our parks and facilities without raising the park district tax rate for 16 years, and I am proud to say that when I left that office, the park district was on solid financial ground. In 2003 I was elected to the village board of trustees and served six years before being elected mayor. I was commended in an editorial by this newspaper for having high ethical standards. In 2009 after being elected mayor, the village board approved a new stronger ethics ordinance for the village.
Common sense is the barometer I use when making decisions “Don’t spend more than you can afford and don’t take more than you need,” this has served me well. In 2009 when I took office as Mayor, our village was looking at a $2.7 million budget deficit. Very difficult decisions had to be made to get our village back on track again. The village board of trustees voted unanimously on many decisions that cut back on spending to financially secure our village. Over time, these decisions have proven to be right and good for the village. Morton Grove has higher bond rating today and our village is running more efficiently, allowing us to rebuild much-needed infrastructure. For example, 37 miles of streets have been repaved and more than half of the critically needed items identified by a capital replacement study I initiated in 2009 have been completed. I will continue to do what is in the best interest of our village with ultimate goal of protecting residents’ life, property, and health.