Candidates for contested county board races were given the opportunity to answer a series of questions about county government. Here are the answers from Rachel Schwartz, a Democrat candidate in District 7:
Faculty member, Department of Accountancy, University of Illinois
Served on the UIUC faculty senate, chaired multiple committees
1. Enhance the accountability of the board. 2. Enhance transparency of county operations. 3. Restore public access to the budget process. 4. Promote the discussion of fiscal implications of facilities decisions. 5. Improve the county board’s web site to allow for a text search of all agendas and minutes, including those of the board’s committees.
2. What criticisms do you have of the current county board?
The county board is comprised of a diverse group of people that possess a variety of skills and experiences. Joining the board will allow me to bring to that group my financial expertise and strong analytical skills.
3. Under what circumstances, if any, would you vote for another increase in property taxes to support the operation of the Champaign County Nursing Home?
The nursing home finished FY 2011 with a modest gain and is expected to be profitable in FY 2012. Hence, there is no need for a property tax increase to support the nursing home in the foreseeable future.
4. Under what circumstances could you vote to sell or close the Champaign County Nursing Home?
The nursing home is not only self supporting, but it also makes payments on the $4 million bond that is obligated with the county's 1% sales tax. Closing the nursing home will not be fiscally responsible as it will shift the burden of these bond payments to the general corporate fund.
5. Would you vote to increase the $60 per diem paid to county board members?
6. Which county offices, if any, do you believe could be eliminated or consolidated with another county office?
One office that should definitely not be eliminated or consolidated is the office of the county auditor. In order to provide an effective internal audit, the county auditor's office must remain independent.
7. What specific actions could be taken to cut the county budget?
I do not see any areas of excess spending in the current budget. 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.
8. Do you think the downtown Urbana correctional center should be closed and all of its functions moved to an expanded correctional center on Lierman Avenue in Urbana?
The county board is currently setting a process for a needs assessment study and an evaluation of various options of addressing these needs. A determination of whether or not the downtown jail should be closed prior to the conclusion of that study is premature.
9. What programs and services that the county does not provide, if any, do you think are needed?
The county board is establishing a justice task force that will gather information about existing programs and look at the question of whether additional programs are needed.
10. Do you believe the county should take on part of the financial obligation to operate Willard Airport as an economic development tool? Why or why not?
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.
11. What can the county board do to enhance economic development locally?
In addition to continuing its current efforts of supporting local economic development, the board must consider the potential negative impact of higher taxes on economic development. In particular, any fiscally responsible discussion of the jail expansion must include a discussion of the additional taxes that will be necessary to fund that expansion.
12. With a smaller county board in December, do you think the county board meeting room should be reconfigured at an undetermined cost to improve communications among board members and to enhance television coverage of the board?
I believe that some reconfiguration is necessary. The current setting hinders communications, and could have negative effects on the process of deliberation and decision making. However, the cost of any reconfiguration plan should be evaluated carefully.