New members take seats on Urbana council

New members take seats on Urbana council

URBANA — Nearly half of the city council will turn over Monday night as three new members take their oaths after victories in uncontested elections this spring.

Incoming council members Carol Ammons, Bill Brown and Mike Madigan say they will bring a lot of the values of their predecessors, and they will be ready to focus on new problems facing the city.

They will be sworn in when the city council meets at 7 p.m. on Monday in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St.

Ammons, D-Ward 3, will be taking over for Robert Lewis, who is leaving the city council after two terms. Ammons has held a seat on the Champaign County Board for several years, but did not seek re-election in November.

Ammons said her first priority will be learning about the city government process, but after that, she said she has some new ideas she would like to explore.

She said she would like the city council to "look at other ways to increase public safety, without spending a whole lot more on traditional public safety like police, and focusing more on community-based approaches."

She said she would like to look at the concept of "participatory budgeting," where anyone can submit ideas about how the city spending plan is composed, and she wants to take another look at Urbana's rules about marijuana.

"We're interested, and I'm interested in particular, in expanding city ordinances around decriminalizing marijuana," Ammons said.

Meanwhile, Bill Brown, D-Ward 5, will replace Alderman Brandon Bowersox-Johnson on the city council. Bowersox-Johnson did not seek re-election after serving two terms.

Brown is a past president of the Champaign County branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and has been on its steering committee for 14 years.

He said it’s hard to point to a single issue in his own ward, but among the most immediate problems in the city are the Carle tax exemption and redevelopment of empty space in the downtown area. He said appropriate development of housing downtown and elsewhere could be an opportunity.

“It seems like the demand for single-family homes in the $200,000 price range has mostly been filled by Champaign in recent years, so I think there are opportunities to encourage development in targeted areas that won’t result in too much sprawl,” Brown said.

He added that payments in lieu of taxes might be the approach to take with Carle, and there could be opportunities on the horizon there, too.

“Their service area includes more than a million people, and Urbana should be proud of the work they do and the employees we contribute to that effort,” Brown said. “I consider this as an opportunity to put in place policies that may apply to any large tax-exempt properties so that if a large national non-profit wanted to establish a campus here, they would have similar requirements.”

Finally, Mike Madigan, R-Ward 6, will replace Alderwoman Heather Stevenson, who is leaving after two terms. He says he is joining the city council to fulfill what he feels is his civic duty.

"I'm doing this out of community service," Madigan said. "I don't have political ambition."

Like Stevenson, Madigan will be the only Republican on the seven-member council. He and his wife own Hickory River smokehouse in Urbana and have three other locations in Springfield, Decatur and Peoria. He describes himself as a "pro-small business conservative."

"Champaign has grown quite a bit more than Urbana, so I think there needs to be more focused placed on making Urbana more competitive with Champaign," Madigan said.

The main issue there is tax rates, Madigan said, but that discussion will be complicated by a recent property tax exemption given to the Carle Foundation by the state of Illinois, which rendered $61 million worth of its Urbana property tax-free.

"I think the city of Urbana needs to look really hard and really focus on how we can bring ourselves in line with Champaign" on taxes, Madigan said.

Madigan said he does not expect to have many issues working with six other people who have a different party affiliation than his.

"One thing that I like about local government is that it's not so highly partisan as Congress is or that sort of thing," Madigan said. "It's seven people who love their community."

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