You are right.
It was taken the weekend before.
There was Lakewood village president candidate Erin Smith.
She is running against John O’Hara.
And, she wasn’t alone. Her husband and entourage were there seeking my family’s votes, too.
I don’t think a local candidate has ever come knocking on my door before.
Smith handed out a sheet outlining what she had learned while campaigning for office.
From the signs visible on Lake Avenue, she obviously has knocked on a lot of doors.
I’ve never seen such a feedback report before, so I present it below:
Candidate for Village President
April 7th Election
Top Issues for Lakewood Residents
My pledge throughout this campaign for Village President was to reach as many residents as possible on a personal level. I believe that face to face meetings, phone conversations, and email exchanges provide the best opportunity for an interactive discussion. It is important to me to know what is on your minds. I knew that I would have follow-up questions that would increase the depth of my understanding. And I wanted to provide you with the opportunity to test my knowledge, inquire about my leadership style, and share your opinions with me.
Thank you to all of you who have welcomed me into your homes and contacted me at my home to talk with me. In addition to the 4-page position paper I provided that summarizes the broad responsibilities of the office of Village President and discusses my qualifications for the position, I thought you would appreciate a brief summary of the issues we’ve discussed over the last few weeks. Some of these issues impact all residents, while others impact only one or two neighborhoods. But, I believe all of you will have an interest in the outcome of these issues:
Many of you have expressed concern about our property tax levels. These are the most challenging economic conditions most of us have ever experienced, and yet our taxes have not decreased.
The most important thing to me is that each of you has a complete understanding of all of the variables that determine your tax rate, and an accurate picture of the potential for tax relief.
Your property taxes are based on the assessed value of your property. Assessment values are not determined by or influenced by the Village. They reflect a 3-year average and there is a one-year lag. Decreases in the value of your property that might have occurred during this recession will not be included in the 3-year average until 2010, at which point there will likely be a significant reduction in the tax base provided to the Village.
The Village tax rate, which is applied to this assessed value, is determined by a strict State property tax statute, which limits any increase to a 5% increase over the previous year’s tax base or to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) – whichever is lower. For many years, 5% has represented the lower amount and because our growth rate exceeded 5%, the actual Village tax rate has decreased by approximately 17.5% since 1977. Next year, the CPI will allow the Village to increase taxes by only 1/10th of 1%, against a smaller tax base, which will reduce taxes for residents, and make it more and more difficult for the Village to maintain existing service levels.
I have heard many complaints about the tone of the Village Board Meetings and the failures to communicate with residents in a professional manner. I have attended meetings where I witnessed the frustration of residents first hand.
I believe that one of the most important responsibilities of the Village President is professional, transparent communication with residents and fellow Board Members. Professional means timely, respectful responses to resident questions and concerns, and following through on any commitments made. I would agree there is an opportunity for improvement in this area.
My professional background is particularly well-suited to this responsibility. As Director of Compensation and Benefits for a Fortune 100 company, I have responsibility for the global Consulting and Communications Team. My job is to listen carefully to the leaders in each business, determine the most appropriate compensation and benefits strategy, coordinate all of the technical experts to define an appropriate solution, and formally communicate all compensation and benefit programs to employees.
I believe that two changes would immediately improve the nature of communication with residents and within the Board. First, I would immediately change the meeting rules to allow for an interactive discussion during Public Comments regarding any item not on the agenda, and to allow residents to participate in the discussion on any agenda items. Second, I would seek to establish and empower formal resident committees to work on issues that cannot be top priorities for the Village Staff (e.g. bike path development, lakes maintenance, and Village entrances). Individual Board Members would be appointed as liaisons with the committees to ensure Board support for any recommendations. This model worked very well when Tom Hendricks was the liaison to the Golf Course Committee and Carl Davis was the liaison for the Public Works Department.
Commercial development, particularly along Route 47, will be one of the top priorities for the Village of Lakewood over the next four years. Decreases in the taxes collected by the Village will inhibit our ability to maintain existing service levels. Carefully managing operating expenses such as labor costs will help to offset these losses, but without additional sources of revenue, service levels will decrease.
Lakewood is well positioned for commercial development along Route 47 in the very near future. The type of development I envision includes destinations that reflect our highest architectural standards, and our long-standing commitment to protecting and promoting open space and natural resources. The Comprehensive Plan that I helped create and the Planning and Zoning Committee model created when I was a Trustee have met with the highest praise from developers. They appreciate that our standards are clear and our process is efficient.
The signs that you will see on the private properties of existing developers on Ackman, Halligus, and Ballard Roads are an indication of the level of support I have personally from developers who have worked both with me and with my opponent when I served as Trustee and as a member of the Planning and Zoning Committee, and my opponent served as Chairman for the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Commercial development is an area where my opponent and I do not share the same vision. He has openly stated that he believes all commercial development opportunities should be considered by the Board, even if they do not meet the architectural standards and environmental standards defined in the Comprehensive Plan. I am confident that we can grow our commercial tax base without compromising our values.
ORIGINAL LAKEWOOD / EAST SIDE WATER PROBLEMS
Most of my extended family (21 family members in total) live on the east side in the Village of Lakewood. This is also where I grew up. I understand the water issues faced by east side residents on a very personal level. My understanding as a former Trustee is that fixing these water issues would cost tax payers in this area millions of dollars to fix.
Cost is also the reason that a long-term solution to the deterioration of Turnberry Lakes had been put off for so long by the Board. Yet, this year, thanks to the volunteer efforts of a group of dedicated residents in Turnberry led by Jesse Waldron and the formal support of the Turnberry Property Owners Association that I led, we identified a long-term solution later approved by the Village Board that was a small fraction of the cost.
I am not comfortable ignoring the east side water problems due to cost. Perhaps a committee of residents with technical expertise in this area could identify a more cost effective solution here as well. At a minimum, we need to invest in accelerating the progress of the sewer re-lining project currently underway and improve communication with residents regarding water issues.
Redtail Golf Course is one of the most important assets within our Village. I am convinced that we will not realize the full potential of Redtail Golf Club until a real clubhouse is constructed. As a Trustee, I voted in support of beginning the architectural design of a clubhouse and also voted in support of selling Village-owned lots that would provide revenue to fund the construction of a clubhouse. However, given the current real estate market, these lots have not sold, and given the current economic environment and the decreases in taxes expected, I believe that funding this construction is highly unlikely in this year’s budget. Our only hope for building this clubhouse sooner is a dramatic increase in sales tax revenues from commercial development.
TURNBERRY LAKES / SSA-1 TAXES
SSA-1 is a Special Services Area which serves as a taxing district to provide funding to maintain the lakes in the Turnberry area. Included in SSA-1 are original Turnberry and Loch Glen and all of the newer subdivisions immediately south. The Turnberry lakes are essential to the property values of residents in original Turnberry, and all of the neighborhoods that surround Redtail Golf Club, as the water from these lakes is used to water Redtail.
Originally, a Turnberry Lakes Committee existed that monitored the health of these Lakes and provided recommendations to the Village Board in terms of the tax dollars required to fund the maintenance of these lakes. This Committee was dissolved immediately following my term as Trustee, as the Board felt this work should be managed by an independent contractor, Integrated Lakes Management. The reality is that the original Lakes Committee, led by Jesse Waldron, continued to do all of the work, including regular sampling of the water and researching the aeration solution recently approved by the Board. The Board approved an increase in taxes for 2009, which represents approximately $175 per SSA-1 homeowner, in order to fund the aeration solution.
Increasing taxes in SSA-1 was a controversial decision, with residents outside of original Turnberry unhappy with the increase. I support the Board’s decision to increase taxes, as this is the only means of funding the solution that will address the root cause of the problem. However, I understand the frustration of residents outside of original Turnberry. Even though all SSA-1 residents have access to these private lakes, certainly residents that live on these lakes enjoy greater benefits.
In order to ensure fair representation in all future decisions regarding SSA-1, my recommendation would be to reinstate a formal resident committee, but rename the committee “SSA-1 Lakes Committee”, add representation from every neighborhood in SSA-1 (the Greens of Turnberry, the Hills of Turnberry, Loch Glen, etc.), and consider increasing the scope of the committee to include some of the smaller waterways in other subdivisions within SSA-1.
TURNBERRY BIKE PATH
As a Trustee two years ago, I was engaged in early discussions about creating a bike path to improve the safety of children and adults walking or biking along Lakewood Road. I was surprised to see how little progress has been made since then. I left the March 10th budget meeting that discussed this issue convinced that the strategy for accomplishing this goal needs to change dramatically. There is no money available in the Village budget for this project, yet I know this project is very important to the safety of our residents.
Since this meeting, I have met with several residents to improve my understanding of the engineering challenges and to suggest a different approach for funding the bike path. Specifically, I have identified a committee in Lake in the Hills that has already completed bike path development using grants and other private donations, and have set up a meeting between the neighborhood leader of our effort, Sharon Bean, and this committee. In addition, I have met personally with the owner of a paving company and have secured a commitment from him to donate the engineering services for the bike path. This donation will enable us to secure funding from the Crystal Lake Park District and grant money to complete the construction of the path in the near future. This is the type of leadership residents can expect from me as Village President.
I have been surprised to hear Home Rule brought up as an issue during this campaign, as I perceived this as “yesterday’s news”. As a Trustee 3 years ago, I believed there were enough advantages to Home Rule that it was worthy of consideration by our residents. As a resident, I voted in support of Home Rule, as I believed the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. However, I represented both the pros and the cons to any resident who asked my opinion. I am confident that I effectively represented the cons, since many of my closest friends, who claim I was their only source of information on the matter, voted against Home Rule. Given that the primary responsibility of any elected official is to represent the collective voice of the residents, and the residents of Lakewood clearly do not support Home Rule, I would not support another Home Rule referendum during my term as Village President.
If I have not addressed an issue that is important to you, please feel free to contact me at home (815-356-8005) or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My desire to be elected to the office of Village President is motivated only by my passion to preserve the quality of life we all enjoy and improve communication with residents. I hope I will have your support on April 7th.