Candidates for contested county board races were given the opportunity to answer a series of questions about county government. Here are the answers from Brent West, a Democrat candidate in District 11:
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1. Name five things you would like to accomplish in the next two years on the Champaign County Board.
As much as possible, I hope to reduce inefficient spending, reduce inappropriate regulation and services, increase the value and effectiveness of core services, increase public participation, and provide honorable representation.
2. What criticisms do you have of the current county board?
I believe the current county board could operate more efficiently with a more focused approach to debate. I believe the board would benefit greatly by soliciting increased public participation into decision making. Increased involvement by the public will foster a sense of ownership and vested interest in the outcomes.
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?
I would take direction from my constituents but, personally, I would expect a significant return on investment through an increase in value received and/or a long-term net decrease in costs incurred in order to justify the increased cost to taxpayers.
4. Under what circumstances could you vote to sell or close the Champaign County Nursing Home?
I would take direction from my constituents but, personally, I would evaluate the long-term return on investment. If the net cost to continue operations is greater than the net cost to sell or close, it would be logical to sell or close so long as the services it provides and the needs it meets, particularly for low income residents, can be met by private assisted living facilities.
5. Would you vote to increase the $60 per diem paid to county board members?
No. I would be in favor of eliminating county board member pay and I plan to forgo the per diem myself.
6. Which county offices, if any, do you believe could be eliminated or consolidated with another county office?
I would take direction from my constituents but, personally, I would examine consolidating the coroner, state’s attorney, and sheriff offices; the circuit clerk, recorder, and county clerk offices; and the auditor, assessor, and treasurer offices. These three domains – legal, recordkeeping, and financial – are logical and still maintain voter oversight through an elected sheriff, county clerk, and treasurer. Any effort to consolidate or eliminate offices would require significant review and public participation.
7. What specific actions could be taken to cut the county budget?
Consolidating or eliminating offices, improving or eliminating low value services, and reducing pay for elected officeholders would be “low hanging fruit” for prudent savings. Additional savings will require a constant vigilance to ensure wise stewardship of county funds.
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?
It seems logical to consolidate the facilities. I would also support initiatives to divert incarcerations to reduce the space and staffing requirements such as fines instead of jail for drug possession, increased use of house arrest over centralized incarceration for nonviolent offenders, additional support for mental health and social services, and additional resources to support productive activities and employment for at risk youth.
9. What programs and services that the county does not provide, if any, do you think are needed?
I believe the programs and services currently provided by the county are largely adequate but I would welcome any input for additional appropriate and valuable services.
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?
I am not personally in favor of subsidizing Willard Airport. It seems questionable as to the benefits to the taxpayers and alternatives exist for the transportation infrastructure purposes Willard provides. For instance, the money spent on an airport subsidy might be more effective in operating a shuttle service to Bloomington where the consolidated demand increases airline competition and provides lower passenger ticket costs.
11. What can the county board do to enhance economic development locally?
The board can enhance the local economy by removing unnecessary and burdensome regulations, investing in fiber optic and transportation infrastructure, and partnering with the University community to commercialize technology developed at the U of I locally. Partnering with Parkland to develop workforce skills in these technologies would aid this commercialization effort.
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 would support minor changes in layout by simply rearranging furniture but I would be hesitant to perform any major modifications due to the construction costs and limited benefit.