DANVILLE — In the race for Danville alderman in Ward 5, longtime incumbent Michael Puhr is pitted against newcomer Janis Ostiguy.
While Ostiguy is new to running for an elected position, she is not new to the Danville City Council.
She and her husband, Cyril Ostiguy, have been regularly attending city council meetings for more than two years. Initially, Ostiguy said, they were just interested in how the city is run and how the city spends taxpayers' money, but eventually, she decided to make a run for alderman.
"I believe that I can't really make a difference in national politics, but I certainly can become proactive locally, so I decided to put my mouth where my money is," she said.
About 12 years ago, Puhr was the newcomer, but since his first term as alderman he has served as vice mayor on the council, chaired special committees formed by the city and currently is chairman of the city council's public works committee.
Whoever wins in the April 9 election will be representing Danville residents new to Ward 5. In the ward redistricting last year, residents in voting Precinct 2 around the American Legion Post 210 on Jackson Street were moved to Ward 5.
Puhr said he looks forward to representing those new constituents and with his knowledge and experience from three terms as an alderman, he will continue to be a good representative of Ward 5 by being accessible and responsive to his constituents and their concerns and by being involved in neighborhood groups and meetings.
"I take this position very seriously, and I vote after carefully reviewing the issues and weighing the impacts of my decisions," he said.
Ostiguy said there's nothing wrong with the job Puhr has done as Ward 5 alderman, but sometimes there's a need for "a fresh pair of eyes to see a different way through the forest." Ostiguy said she's a person who does her research and becomes well-informed.
"We really need to make some changes, or we won't be viable (in the future)," said Ostiguy, adding that the city just gave some administrators big pay raises. She asked how the city could now go to the rank and file seeking cuts.
Puhr said the two biggest issues facing the city are financial ones, the uncertainty of state and other revenues that flow into the city coffers and pensions and health insurance, which will continue to drive up personnel costs for the city. The Legislature could cut the local government distributive funds that go to all municipalities in the state.
"Even though state sales, income and corporate replacement taxes are increasing, we need to be fiscally conservative," he said.
Puhr said total personnel costs, $15.6 million, have risen more than $563,000 mostly due to pensions and health insurance while a majority of the property tax levy goes to fund pensions and the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund for other city employees.
"We need to ask our employees to contribute more to fund their health insurance, which costs over $4.5 million a year, and a majority have done so," he said. "We need to continue to provide the same level of service with fewer personnel, which we have done repeatedly with continued reorganizing and job cuts."
Ostiguy said she questions the city's priorities when it gives the Ford dealership incentive money to move to a new location, from the downtown to a vacant former car dealership on North Vermilion Street, but yet the city sends letters to many businesses telling them they have to take down their temporary signs.
In regard to the city giving financial incentives to businesses, Puhr said one must have a knowledge about how economic development works and must be able to see the future when spending money on projects that benefit the whole community, with the Ford dealership being one example. Another example, he said, is using grant dollars for city projects, like the shared use paths, which will eventually connect the whole community and transform the city into a more livable, walkable community, a long-term goal of the city.
Ostiguy said she's a tea partier, not a politician, and she doesn't want to be a politician. Ostiguy said that not just locally, but nationally, the reason government is in a mess is because people have abdicated their responsibility, letting someone else worry about things.
"So I think part of our responsibility is to educate people in the process of how the government runs. I want them to be involved," said Ostiguy, who explained that she and her husband have hosted small town-hall-type meetings in their home, and she would continue to do those in her ward if she's elected alderman.
Puhr said in his 12 years as an alderman, he has made some tough and sometimes controversial decisions.
"You can rest assured I make those votes after careful consideration by reviewing all information and listening to input from neighborhood groups and other citizens," he said.