3 Dems seek seats in Champaign County Board District 7

CHAMPAIGN — Three Democrats — an incumbent county board member, a former mayor of Urbana and an associate professor of accountancy — are seeking two seats on the Champaign County Board in District 7, which includes much of south Champaign.

So far there is no Republican candidate in the district for the fall general election.

Incumbent Alan Kurtz said that with another term on the board, he would like to pass a "comprehensive building and maintenance code" that would help assure the safety of county residents, work on the transfer of Willard Airport from the University of Illinois to a regional airport commission, and continue to fight the proposed dumping of toxic PCBs at a Clinton landfill that is above the Mahomet aquifer.

Among the goals of Tod Satterthwaite, the former mayor of Urbana, are adopting a county energy efficiency policy, assessing how the county can promote efficient building standards, and discouraging sprawl.

"No business wants to come to an area that repeats the mistakes of communities across the country that have resulted in sprawl and low-density development," Satterthwaite said. "This type of development puts a burden on our infrastructure and creates long commutes."

Rachel Schwartz, a UI professor, said she wanted to enhance the transparency of county operations, restore public access to the county's budgeting process and to upgrade the county board's website.

Kurtz said a building and maintenance code would "protect our residents for a safe and secure living environment." Transferring Willard Airport to an airport commission, with representatives from local governments and commissions, would allow for a more aggressive marketing of the airport and "bring a low-cost airline to our community to lower prices and compete" with the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington.

Satterthwaite, however, said he wants to see the airport remain under the UI's control.

"I would like to see it stay that way rather than having the state pass this financial obligation to residents of Champaign County," he said.

Said Schwartz, "To answer this question we first need to understand the economic impact of Willard Airport on the county in order to perform a solid cost-benefit analysis."

Schwartz also said she did not believe the county nursing home would need a tax increase "in the foreseeable future," nor is there to consider closing it or selling it.

"Closing the nursing home will not be fiscally responsible as it will shift the burden (of bond payments) to the general corporate fund," she said.

Satterthwaite said the nursing home "should never need additional support from property taxes." He said more local pressure should be applied on the state and federal government to recover late payments. Satterthwaite also said the nursing home should not be sold or closed and that it "should continue to be a function of county government."

None of the candidates could suggest an area of county government where spending cuts could be made.

"I do not see any areas of excess spending in the current budget," said Schwartz. "However as the county board discusses expanding current facilities it must consider not only the cost of construction but also the increase in maintenance and operating costs that are inevitable with such expansions."

Kurtz said the county board deserves credit for being proactive about budget cuts and keeping its budget in balance.

Satterthwaite said if cuts need to be made, personnel costs should be examined.

"An assessment of the current staffing levels should be done to determine if there are possible savings in this area," he said.

None of the candidates suggested a county office that could be consolidated or eliminated. Schwartz said the auditor's office "should definitely not be eliminated." Kurtz said consolidation had been discussed and rejected. Satterthwaite said another assessment would have to be made.

Regarding the possibility of closing the downtown jail and consolidating correctional functions at the satellite jail in east Urbana, all three urged caution until consultants had offered their reports.

"My initial opinion is to consolidate all operations at the satellite jail. It will be a safer environment, more effective and less costly than to try and maintain downtown," said Kurtz. "Before will make a final decision I will wait for all the studies to be completed to make an informed decision."

None of the candidates favored a pay raise for county board members.

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