So, what’s the point of all this? Why start speaking up? What benefit does this have … what motivates people to take a stand? PRIORITIES. We all have them – the line in the sand. Everyone, to varying degrees, will tolerate a certain amount of dishonesty in our leaders, and we’ll tolerate service changes, but everyone also has a line in the sand where enough is enough. And, for me, that line was crossed when the Trustees continued their reduction in public safety services and, when asked to, refused to call me to discuss it with a concerned citizen. It’s time to take a stand and let our elected politicians know what our priorities are. Everyone needs to contact their trustees and tell them what services they expect to be available in the town.
To start it off – here are my priorities that I expect my elected leaders to both consider and advocate for on my behalf, and, as I’ve always said, these are my own opinions – I hope that everyone else will post their opinions here as well: (I use the word “We” a lot .. it’s my nature – I’m referring to “we” as a Village as a whole – not one particular group that I might belong to such as the residents, and it’s also not imply that when I use “we” I’m advocating for other people’s position – just my own.)
1. Create a Pro-Business Environment!
Property taxes are something that can be counted on year after year – unless someone is building a new property or tearing an old property down, every structure in the village is owned by someone – a bank, a business, a landlord or a Resident. Each property owner pays property taxes – and the amount of property taxes is pretty consistent every year – it’s a known source of revenue and can and has been an accurately projected number every year. What is more volatile (which is obvious when looking at the budgets) is the sales tax revenues.
The reality is that we spend an awful lot of time and money trying to generate revenue from licenses and permits, instead of trying to promote a business-friendly village. The increase in sales tax could dwarf the lost revenue from licenses and permits. It works a little like this … currently, every time a business moves into the village, in addition to any permits for work like electrical or plumbing, they also have to have occupancy permits in order to move in. If you are a landlord, such as the Alliance Retail center at 91 S Kennedy (where Little Ceasars is) every time one of your tenant spaces changes businesses, the village makes money off the new tenant. It’s like having guaranteed cash over and over again, for the life of the structure. The problem with this form of revenue generation, is that it assumes that more businesses are moving into the village than moving out – and implies that the sales tax revenue generated will continue to increase. It also assumes that the Village is such an attractive option for new businesses moving in that they won’t mind the added expense. In my mind, it’s a kind of like double-dipping on the businesses in our community with permit fees and any recurrent fees with the Village. Landlords tend to do their part by keeping their rental prices competitive in the area, but they can’t control the costs that the Village will impose on new businesses.
So what’s the point of permits? It’s one of those things that’s designed to generate revenue, right? No, not really. The point of permits and inspections is to ensure that buildings are built and modified in a manner that is safe and consistent with other buildings. The Village has permit requirements for many different aspect of property and structure modifications. Occupancy permits then, really are just a way to double check that a building meets all of the building and fire code requirements prior to being occupied by the owner for the first time. If a business makes a change later, and it’s a change that is regulated by the ordinances, then they need to pull a permit. Forcing multi-tenant buildings to always have an occupancy permit for each new tenant then is no longer about checking (since it’s already been done,) it’s about artificially raising the permits and revenue generated by the tenant spaces for the village.
Now, I’m not advocating for elimination of all permits, just elimination of recurring multi-unit occupancy permits. A landlord who has tenant spaces knows what the rules and regulations are – the Village already told them when they bought or built their building. The building itself already underwent an Occupancy Permit, Inspection and Approval. Individual Business owners don’t have to have an occupancy permit every time they make a change in the building, just a permit for the changes they are making, the same as a homeowner. Forcing multi-unit landlords to have an occupancy inspection for each individual unit every time a business moves in just doesn’t make sense. Eliminating this would allow these Landlords to be the deciding factor in whether a business moves in, and be an attractive incentive to the actual business moving in. And I firmly believe that Landlords want to rent their tenant spaces out. Allowing the Landlords to dictate their prices based on the market in the area and removing the unknown factor of Village imposed fees out of the minds of the prospective renters would make our town a more attractive option.
This process also applies to the way the Fire Department does inspections. Every year, the department inspects the “common” areas of multi-tenant spaces, and it also individually inspects each space, whether vacant or occupied. But the inspections aren’t scheduled for the building spaces in any particular order, so 3 different crews could be going to the same building multiple times over the course of the year to inspect different individual spaces. This practice can cause some confusion for the businesses in the tenant space, in that the fire department checks for extinguishers, fire code violations, sprinkler and fire alarm checks, etc. Some of the items are handled by the tenants, some by the landlord, all depending on the lease agreements. By streamlining this process, and doing a single yearly inspection for a building that includes all the tenant spaces, setting up the inspection with the landlord, allowing them time to gather the necessary documents for the inspection, and providing a single point of contact, it can streamline the inspection process, allow for more efficient use of fire department personnel AND reduce the work and overhead of the landlords and tenants when trying to make corrections to found Fire Violations. The same also goes for Fire Department Occupancy inspections for new tenants. Once the building has been approved for the first time, it shouldn’t be necessary for each individual space to be inspected by the fire department. The Landlord has been notified of all applicable codes that their tenant must adhere to, and once the building undergoes it’s annual inspection, any potential issues will be caught then.
In addition to that, it’s sometimes the customer service aspect that often doesn’t get addressed. I’m not talking about being nice and friendly, that’s something that our Village departments should do no matter what. When I say Customer Service I’m talking about programs to assist businesses. Things that don’t need to cost the Village Money or have a nominal cost, but will give the businesses in our community an edge. For instance, why not provide part of the website for any business in Carpentersville to advertise their business on it for free? How about having part of that website area to connect potential businesses with tenant space landlords? Why not provide a little bit more space for employers in our Village to post job advertisements that could actually reach our Residents? It wouldn’t cost the Village anything, and I don’t see why it would be a conflict if ANY business in Carpentersville could register and place a small text-only ad. Perhaps a pamphlet for a new business that would explain who to contact with questions on permits, fire department regulation, alarm hookups, building codes etc. The Village could host a monthly “coffee and donuts” at one of it’s facilities, which could enhance the business’s reach with the residents and provide for good networking opportunities for residents as well. Creating a “Business Advisory Committee” with business leaders and residents serving on it could help to create ordinances that are both “business friendly” while preserving the Village’s and residents interest. Developing and Implementing programs that highlight our Village’s strengths, assisting business’s with some basic marketing and providing for some input on the ordinances that are enacted that may effect them would go a long way to encouraging new businesses to move into the excessively high amount of vacant store fronts and buildings in our town.
Customer Service oriented programs combined with the elimination of the multi-tenant occupancy permit fees could go a very long way to improving the business outlook in our community, while providing for a much needed increase in the amount of sales tax collected into the coffers of the Village.
2. Change to a Priority Driven Government
As it stands today, our Local Government is a money driven government. Decisions are made based on money – how much it costs, how much we have coming in – it’s all about funds, budgets and revenues. It has been this way for years. The decision to add or cut staff is based on money, and it appears to make the world go ’round. But, is this really necessary? And is being “penny wise” really saving us in the long run. I use the following example to illustrate my point … Say for example that a new car will last you for about 7-8 years before it starts to exhibit problems that require you to bring it to a Mechanic for costly repairs. (Assuming of course that all maintenance items have been done, brakes changed when necessary, tires rotated, etc.) The Mechanic explains that the repair will cost 600.00, and you might want to consider a new car. A new car will cost you 15,000.00 (because we aren’t talking about an expensive car) But, you can’t afford $15,000.00 right now, so you opt for the 600.00. Because your car is getting older, repairs to the main components of the car are to be expected – at least once a year, but probably more often, there’s the engine, transmission, drive train, fuel pumps, engine parts, interior condition – etc. Plenty to go wrong now that it’s aging. While your car is getting fixed, you spend another $100.00 (at least) on a rental. How many times can you do that until you’ve paid enough to repair that car that you could have bought a new one? In other words – by the time you need to start repairing major parts of the vehicle, your vehicle’s value is already far lower than you paid for it, so each additional repair further decreases it’s value compared to what you spent. So, each repair is “worth” more to you than the actual repair. If you traded the car in BEFORE it needed it’s first major repair, it would be worth a considerable amount more, making that $15,000.00 car cheaper AND saving you the time, hassle and additional spending for the rentals. In our Village however, we keep vehicles long past the time they are worth next to nothing – or just what we can get for the scrap metal. We keep “kicking the can” down the road, preferring to spend a little now to keep it going, only to spend over the next 5-10 years in repair what we would have spent on a new one, and not getting any value out of the vehicle. It’s penny wise because we aren’t spending large amounts today, but it’s dollar stupid, because we get NO return on our investment and we always have to spend full price on top of the repairs of the old worn out equipment. While there are many other examples of penny wise – dollar stupid spending habits – they all point to one similar cause – focusing so hard on the money means that we forget what we are doing or why.
A PRIORITIES driven process however, leads to providing the best service and materials for the money available. When priorities are set, and proper revenue projections are done, then we know how much we have to spend and what we want to spend it on. Say we determine that we have 23 million to spend from the income that we will receive this year (revenue.) We can use our previous year’s actual numbers, by using an average of the actual revenue dollars (removing the lowest year and highest year), to determine if the “projections” we’ve received are anywhere near correct, or to correct the projections we’ve received. Then, with the input of the residents to their trustees, the Village would set the priorities for what the residents want. The power of the internet to create and use polls and surveys – to gather information from the residents as to their priorities is severely under-utilized in our Village, and I think it’s safe to say that most households now have at least one computer with internet access. (By the way, any household who has Children on Free or Reduced Lunches qualifies for extremely low cost internet service from Comcast, one of their community programs.) Using those priorities, the budget would then get divided and the amount given to the departments. The staff members trained and educated in that department would then develop a budget for services based upon the priorities set for their department and submit it to the trustees. As long as what the departments have submitted meets the priorities that have been set by the electors of the village within the percentage/dollar amount given to them, then we have a budget.
When operating under a money-based policy, small requests are more often granted before large requests, because they require a small expenditure and it is more easily absorbed into the budget. We could get say 20 small items for 1 large item, which seems more beneficial to the village even if the 1 large items is “needed” and the 20 small items are “wanted.” This leads us to neglect the needs of the village, and allows our Trustees to not be held accountable because the “needs” come at a time when there is not enough money to fund them. The opposite is true – when the need for cutting comes around due to insufficient revenues, the largest areas available to cut tend to get cut first, as they have the biggest impact to the budget process. Because personnel is the largest area, it’s the first thing to cut, even though cutting many small programs or changing how the Village operates itself to save some money could add up to the same large area cut. Again, we neglect the needs of the town so that we pay some lip service to “fiscally sounds policies.” Eventually though, this process isn’t sustainable, and we incur more costs trying to bring ourselves back to where we were. It’s short-term penny wise, but long-term dollar stupid.
When requests or needs come up – priority driven policies make it easier to determine whether something is a “Need” or a “Want.” Items that are “needs” under the priorities would be preserved ahead of items that are “wants.” This way the Village ensures that in the event of a need to cut, all of the community demanded and needed services are preserved until there are no other areas that the priorities have identified as less important to those services. It also helps to identify more appropriately how much of a tax levy, motor fuel tax, water/sewer bills (etc) the Village needs to keep it’s revenues stable. When we start with our priorities, and these priorities are communicated openly and honestly amongst the Village departments, Trustees and Residents, we begin to enjoy a more transparent and open government while engaging the residents of the Village, who are the beneficiaries of the services. Priority driven policies also set verifiable goals that allow the public to judge how well the Village has done, while ensuring that the available money is spent wisely, and that long-term purchases receive equal weight in the process to ensure that we are spending our money wisely.
3. Public Safety as a Priority
Let’s face it – we don’t need to live in a town. We could chose to live in an unincorporated area, and we would have basically the same things available to us. The County would provide, although more limited, permit services for building safety and inspections, we would have a well for our water, water softener, etc, we’d have a septic system, our streets would be plowed and maintained by the county, we’d pay quite a bit for the fire protection district tax, and our police protection would be the Sheriff’s office somewhere in the county if we needed them. We moved into a Village because a local government is not only cheaper, the combined resources are supposed to provide the services that we would otherwise have to provide for ourselves – water, sewer, police and fire. If our focus of the Village is it’s Administration, then there’s no need for the village to exist, because the county can already provide us as residents with an Administrative department at a lower cost. Therefore, it’s my belief that Administrative departments are there to support the function and funding of the Essential Public Safety Services, and to a large degree, they are a want, not a need. So, it’s my belief that we need to determine what the minimum level of Administrative personnel is needed to support the function of Public Works, Police and Fire departments, set them as such, and ensure the residents have the best possible services. We may even find that our budget could be reduced significantly, offering a mild amount of tax relief to the residents while improving business sales tax income. I’m a firm believer in Public Safety as the primary mission of a village, and as such, I believe that during the busiest time – we need to have each beat have 2 officers in it – that way one call doesn’t take officers out of other beats for backup. I believe, as I’ve stated previously, that we need 15 firefighter/paramedics on duty daily in order to achieve the best possible response times. Finally, I think it’s imperative that we restore the number of personnel to our public works department to ensure that the water quality and safety is maintained and that the underground utilities and streets are maintained properly. Frankly put – if the Village isn’t going to provide it’s citizens with the benefits of excellent Public Safety services – there’s no need for the Village to be a Village.
4. Representation as a Key Component of Government
Anyone that decides to run for an elected position in our local government must truly understand what their function in the chain is. They are the representatives of the people, and they serve us with our blessing. There’s a reason why every budget document in every village, including ours, has the Residents at the top of the “Chain of Command” flow chart. It’s my sincere belief that Trustees are there to represent the will of the people they represent, not themselves. Issues, Concerns, Priorities and Ideas of their constituents must be the Trustee’s primary concern – and must be what the Board Meetings are used to talk about. When the only people that the Trustees have “talked to” are those that aren’t questioning their local government’s function, there is a fundamental breakdown in the way the system is supposed to work. The suppression of voters in The Village of Carpentersville should never occur, and varying ideas and opinions should be embraced, not ignored. The Trustees should provide both the means and opportunity with which to be contacted – not by impersonal mail or e-mail, but in person or by telephone. If that means that the Village should provide a cellular phone with which to be contacted, and the number put on the village website for residents, then that is what our Village should do. Open, Honest, Transparent, Open-Minded and Approachable Trustees and Village President are exactly what is called for in local government.
Next, I think that our Village should establish an online forum designed to be used for communication between the residents, trustees and various departments that the residents would interact with. For example, If I want to put in a wooden privacy fence, there’s a good chance that I’m not the only one who wants to know what the requirements are for permitting, or perhaps someone already asked. If I could ask that question on a forum that would be answered by the village inspectors, then it would be available to others. It’s similar to a FAQ, but allows a more interactive approach to Residents, while maintaining the benefit of transparent government.
Finally, all documents that are requested by residents through the Freedom of Information Act should be not only sent to that resident, but posted somewhere on the Village website. If one resident wants to know, others probably do to. Why waste the Village staff’s time answering the same FOIA requests multiple times? By posting them in a public documents section on the Village website, it decreases staff hours AND increases transparency.
Finally, entering into Closed Executive Session is permissible under the Open Meetings Act, NOT Mandatory. I can understand it’s use to some degree, but should only be used for discussion of matters which require the utmost in privacy of an individual, whether it be a resident or an employee – NOT as a matter of course to discuss a wide range of topics that HAPPEN to meet the criteria. It’s use automatically makes the public suspicious of the discussions, especially when they are followed by a quick vote in open meeting without public discussion. Unless it’s a matter described above, please – conduct the business of the Trustees and Village in Open Meeting to increase transparency and trust of the Residents.
——— Please add any priorities that you have to the comments section – or things you think I should correct ———