CHAMPAIGN — Both candidates say this year's City of Champaign Township supervisor race is about fiscal responsibility, but challenger Andy Quarnstrom thinks his opponent's office could be doing more.
Republican and incumbent Township Supervisor Pam Borowski said last month that, after four austere years, the township had reached a point where it could start thinking about paying for city services it now receives for free. That would not have been the case under her predecessor, she said.
"I've cleaned up the finances," Borowski said. "That was the biggest thing. We were about to go into state receivership. There was so much waste going on. I reduced the staff. I have two people here in my office now. I have tried to be conservative with the money and spending it."
The township supervisor's office has two full-time employees in addition to Borowski and uses city staff where needed in the administration of general assistance, a form of welfare and the office's primary function.
The township and city share a board of elected officials, but other than that, the two operate independently, and the township has not been paying the city for those services.
When Borowski said last month that the township had reached such solvency that she had begun considering lowering taxes, town board and city council member Marci Dodds suggested that, instead, the township could start reimbursing the city for use of city staff time.
That probably washes out the tax break idea, Borowski said on Wednesday, but that does not mean she will be any less frugal with township money if she wins re-election on April 9.
"I'm going to continue to do what we've been doing," she said.
Quarnstrom, a Democrat and a Champaign firefighter, thinks the township could be doing more.
"I think that the supervisor can be and should be an advocate for the needy in Champaign," Quarnstrom said. "That advocacy should include working with those social service agencies and increase some of the services offered."
Quarnstrom said the township's budget surplus is proof that the agency could be doing more. Borowski said she expects to have about $75,000 to $100,000 in unspent cash at the end of the fiscal year — the township runs on a $733,000 budget.
"I am concerned by the fact that now we have enough money to lower taxes," Quarnstrom said. "That means one of two things: Either we've been taxing residents too much, which I don't think is the case. Or we haven't been providing enough services, which I do think is the case."
Quarnstrom said the township could offer more services at the same tax rate.
Under Borowski, the township has run a baseline welfare program called "transitional assistance." The township grants $245 monthly to people who have almost no income and are physically or mentally incapable of working.
Borowski has also instituted a one-time emergency assistance program for people in exceptional situations: "Not so much a handout as a hand-up," she said.
Borowski's predecessor switched to transitional assistance from a broader form of general assistance — available to more recipients — when the township was running low on funds, and the township has never switched back.
Borowski said she seriously considered going back to the broader form at the beginning of her term four years ago, but it seemed cost prohibitive.
"I just pretty much put it aside because, essentially, it cost too much money," Borowski said.
Borowski said transitional assistance has served the township and taxpayers well.
"This program is working because we're not just handing out money to every single person that comes in here," Borowski said. "There are lots of people out there who don't want to work or aren't even trying because they've just given up."
Quarnstrom stopped short of saying he would switch back to the broader form of general assistance if he were elected, but he said he is not ruling anything out.
"I want to really look at the process of general assistance," Quarnstrom said. "It's statutory, it's really difficult to receive it in the sense that the application process is stringent, and there are a lot of rules and regulations. But I want to make sure that it's the least prohibitive as possible."
He said he would make sure his office works with those who are denied general assistance. Just because the law says a person is ineligible for assistance does not mean they don't need help, he said.
"Ultimately, I think it's important that the supervisor work with those groups as an advocate and find some sort of assistance," Quarnstrom said.