Q&A with mayoral candidate Dan DiMaria
Morton Grove mayoral candidate Dan DiMaria celebrates after bowling a strike at his Roll Out The Vote rally at Classic Bowl. | Ari Neiditz ~ for Sun-Times Media
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 or would you do if elected to deal with them?
1. We need to do a better job attracting and retaining new businesses. Residents want opportunities to shop and dine in Morton Grove; new businesses will bring new sales tax and property tax dollars for the village. When commercial property is vacant, the assessor reduces the property taxes for it and we, the residents, make up the difference. That is why your property taxes often go up even when the village does not increase its levy.
If I am elected, I will make economic development a priority. Currently the position of Community and Economic Development director is vacant. I will fill it immediately. Then I will work with the director to establish a strategic economic development plan, something we currently do not have. I will allocate resources to help current businesses and attract new am businesses to the village. For example,
2. The Village lacks a vision for the future and a strategic plan. One of my main concerns is that our village is reactive when we should be proactive. It is unacceptable that an entity with a $55 million a year budget such as Morton Grove does not have a strategic plan.
If elected, I will engage the community to establish a collective vision to determine what we want Morton Grove to be five, 10 and 20 years from now. I will direct our staff to establish short-term midterm and long-term capital project needs – public safety equipment, road and sewer repairs, etc. Then I will ask our park district, school districts, library board, and local leaders to work together to establish a plan to meet our needs and achieve our goals.
3. Our expenses and needs are rising at a faster rate than our revenue. As our Village matures, so has our infrastructure. Many of our streets need to be repaired and improvements are needed for our water and sewer system. Our police station is in dire need of replacement or remodeling. Employee health care and pension costs have skyrocketed. During the last four years we made some, but not enough capital improvements, and we borrowed $10 million to do so. We can’t keep borrowing money to keep up with these expenses. At the same time, residents’ property values have gone down while their property taxes and Village’s fees for water, vehicle licenses and garbage pickup have escalated.
If elected, I will work with our employees and our state officials in Springfield to encourage pension reform. I will utilize innovations which have proven successful in the private sector to reduce our health insurance costs.
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?
Outsourcing makes sense in some, but not all cases. Outsourcing can save the village money, but can also, as in the case of the senior center, result in the loss of personal relationships that village employees provide to our residents. Three years ago the village eliminated virtually the entire building department and outsourced the functions of plan review and code enforcement. The results were not good. Prospective businesses and residents suffered with increased costs, inspection and permit delays, and code enforcement fell by the wayside. Since there was no staff to monitor the subcontractor, the village did not save any money.
Q: Speaking of services, how to you see the current level of services the village provides its residents and businesses? Do you see other services that are needed or current ones that can be reduced?
Morton Grove is renowned throughout the northern suburbs for its excellent level of service. Our residents and our employees take great pride in our stellar snow plowing, leaf pick-up, and quick response times for police, fire, and ambulance calls. As long as we can afford to pay for these services, they should remain the same. That’s why I will focus on economic development that will bring additional revenue without further burdening our residents. With a vibrant economic base, we may be able to restore some of the services that our residents came to expect (such as the village nurse) that were cut over the past four years.
Q: Has the village done enough to try and attract new businesses? If not, what else would you do?
Absolutely not. Please see my response to the first question. In addition, I will work with the Economic Development Commission and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to market our village’s many attributes. I would like to implement a grant program, reinstate our façade improvement program, and help new businesses obtain SBA 504 funding and county tax incentives to start or expand their business in Morton Grove. Finally, the mayor should be the face of the village. Our mayor calls me a salesman; I think that’s exactly what Morton Grove needs. I am passionate about promoting Morton Grove. I will personally seek out businesses that our community wants and needs and that will have a positive impact on our neighborhoods and property values.
Q: In the past Morton Grove has entered into revenue sharing agreements as one way to encourage business 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?
If a revenue-sharing agreement brings in new tax dollars and gives our residents better opportunities to dine and shop locally, I’ll always support it. The goal is to create a win-win. In order to be competitive in today’s economy, we must be open-minded to providing revenue sharing and other incentives to highly desired businesses. In the past I have supported economic incentives to businesses such as Menard’s, McGrath Acura and Culver’s. The results have been very beneficial to the village. Please see my answer above for additional incentives that the village can offer.
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?
For safety and security reasons, our police station needs to undergo major remodeling or be relocated. Our current building is far below the standards required for today’s public safety needs. I supported the purchase of the property on Lehigh Avenue because the price was attractive, interest rates are historically low, and this site will meet the police department’s needs. The cost to remodel or build a police station will be approximately $15 million. I am not opposed to issuing bonds for needed projects, as long as the impact on the taxpayers is minimal. A long-term facility like a police station should be paid over the long term. This can be done through the issuance of long-term debt (bonds), and now happens to be the most favorable time in a generation for the village to borrow to finance a long-term project.
Q: Are there any circumstances in which you would favor an increase in property taxes?
Raising property taxes should only be done as a last resort and when our residents are confident that an increase is needed. Higher property taxes deter businesses from locating in our area and can have a negative property values. In better economic times, our current mayor and I have supported increasing the village’s property levy to fund necessary capital projects and meet our legal obligation for our public safety pensions. However, raising the village levy in today’s struggling economy is not a good idea.
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 have the enthusiasm, energy, vision and determination to move the village in the positive direction that it deserves. My campaign is based on a simple, positive message: We can do better. We can do a better job listening to our residents. We can do a better job cooperating with our school, park district and library officials to find ways to cut costs and save taxpayers money. We can do a better job fixing our roads and water systems without going further into debt. We can do a better job providing needed services for our residents, especially our seniors, and we can do a better job attracting and keeping businesses in the village.
My background, skills, experiences and education have all prepared me to lead this village forward. I have been honored to work with three different mayors, serving on the Morton Grove Appearance Commission, as village clerk and currently on my second term as village trustee. Some of our accomplishments I am most proud of include:
Revamping the Economic Development Commission, by including residents and business people with fresh energy and perspectives. This commission has been proactive in hosting business friendly community events like our health fairs and summer car shows and promoting our business;
Turning vacant industrial property into the Woodlands Condominium Development, which has increased our population and tax base, set the stage for a rebirth of the train station area, and produced funds for the beautification of Lincoln Avenue.
Working effectively with three mayors, four village administrators and numerous state legislators over 11 years to complete the funding, planning and construction of the Dempster Street resurfacing and streetscape program
I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Loyola University of Chicago. I ran a local business for 15 years and am currently a member of the Chicago Board of Trade. I understand the challenges faced by residents and local businesses today. I have a proud record of serving my community as the vice president of the Morton Grove Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a director of the Morton Grove Foundation, a director of the Liponi Foundation, a member of the Taste of Morton Grove Committee, a director for Camp Independence (a camp that helps children with spina bifida), a volunteer for the Morton Grove Days Committee and as a coach for youth baseball and softball.