DANVILLE — The four-way race for three seats in Vermilion County Board District 6 is not lacking candidates with a variety of experience.
Republican incumbent Robert Fox is one of the longest-serving board members with more than 35 years, including several years as Vermilion County clerk. Republican John Alexander has been on the board for more than 11 years, although mostly in District 2, a seat he resigned when he moved from Potomac to Danville. In July, he was appointed to the District 6 seat of the late Russ Pollitt. And Democratic challenger Mike Puhr is a long-time Danville alderman, serving Ward 5 for 11 years, and Republican challenger Dennis Miller has not held elected office, but he very narrowly missed, by a vote, election to the Vermilion County clerk's office two years ago.
In addition to Fox and Alexander, the third seat in the district is held by Republican Craig Chambers, but he decided not to run again.
Here is a map of the district.
On the issues, the candidates' opinions vary, including their thoughts on the future of Vermilion Manor Nursing Home. Voters will be asked in a Nov. 6 referendum to give the county the authority to sell the nursing home.
Puhr said his experience as an alderman will help him as a county board member, because he has worked with multimillion-dollar balanced budgets and made tough, sometimes controversial decisions. On the nursing home, he said, if voters grant the authority to sell, it doesn't mean it will be sold. He said he would need assurances from the buyer that the poor residents of Vermilion County would still have access to care, because the majority of residents, 73 percent, are Medicaid funded. He said he would also hope the buyer would make "much-needed capital improvements and updates to the facility." If it's not sold, Puhr said, then the county needs a capital fund and plan to improve the facility, and the patient mix needs to become more balanced.
Miller said he wants the county board to review all possible avenues to keep the nursing home operational. But, he said, that won't be easy.
Fox said county board members are not qualified to manage a nursing home. He said he hopes whatever entity might buy the nursing home can make it profitable, but the county hasn't.
Fox said if the state would pay its share in a timely manner, there would be no problem, but it hasn't and has indicated there will be further cuts in Medicaid payments.
Alexander said he wants the nursing home to stay open, but that may mean selling to a private entity that can better manage it than the county. But if voters don't grant the authority to sell, he said Illinois statues don't require counties to operate a nursing home, but he's in favor of continuing Vermilion Manor and re-examining all options, including outside management and leasing.
"However, I am not in favor of using large amounts of county reserves to continue operations," he said.
The county board also may soon decide whether to combine the Danville city and county animal control departments and sheltering of animals in one location and turn over operation of the shelter to a third party charitable organization. Fox, Miller and Alexander support the concept.
Fox, a Danville resident, said he pays for the city and county animal operations in his real estate taxes. That's double taxation, said Fox, who supports turning over the shelter to a third party.
Miller said it makes good sense to combine when there's possible tax savings, and if a charitable organization could do a better job running the shelter at a lower cost to taxpayers, the county should review the proposal. Alexander said merging would standardize policies and relieve the county of direct service responsibilities.
But Puhr said he has concerns with projected costs in the proposal and continual fundraising that would be required for a combined shelter. The estimated shelter revenues in the proposal are $387,865 and expenditures are $486,584, which shows a need to raise $98,719 from donations each year, according to Puhr, and $675,000 in private donations or government funds is needed for an addition to the shelter. From the city's perspective, he said, it would significantly raise the annual obligation.
And in reality, he said, the county and city would be giving up direct oversight in the operation and budget of the shelter and care and adoption of animals.
Puhr also has a concern with the county's overall budget. He said the county has been responsible with taxpayer money, keeping the property tax levy steady, but the current budget includes deficit spending.
"If there are reserves to cover that amount, fine, but if you are running a deficit budget you either have to cut expenditures or raise revenues. We saw such a cut happen a couple years ago with the elimination of many of the (Vermilion County) Health Department Programs," he said. Puhr claims that has resulted in a spike in sexually transmitted diseases and a lack of proper pre-natal care to pregnant women.
He said the county also must be careful when purchasing buildings for department expansion or relocation. One example, he said, is the Vermilion County Emergency Management Building on Georgetown Road "which has been a money pit from the beginning." He said the best way to keep Vermilion County financially stable and hold the line on taxes is through economic development.
Alexander said the county needs to continue to monitor state payment delays and tax base declines and search for other revenue streams. The county's elected officials and department heads have controlled expenses and prioritized services, he said, and that cooperation needs to continue.
Miller said he will work to see that taxes are not raised and that the county lives within its means, although that will be challenging with state mandates and shortfalls in state funding. Fox said the county has been in good financial standing the last five years, despite unfunded state mandates, and it's good financial management by the office holders, employees and county board members to do that without a tax increase.