Q&A: Al Kurtz, Champaign County Board, District 7
Q&A with Al Kurtz, Democrat, Champaign, candidate for District 7, Champaign County Board
1. Why should the county government continue to support a nursing home that needs financial assistance from taxpayers and the county government and serves, at most, about 200 citizens at a time? All of this during a time when the future of health care is so uncertain?
My unflinching support of our county nursing home has been well documented. (See, e.g., my Guest Commentary, "County Nursing Home is Solvent Facility", in the Sunday, October 06, 2013 News-Gazette). Champaign County will continue providing this invaluable and essential service to the residents of Champaign County for as many years in the future as it has provided this essential service in the past." For the following reasons.
The census has risen over the last few months of 2013 to a high of 210 in February 2014. Monthly admissions were 14% higher compared to 2012. A drop in census in 2013 was due to a high number of discharges to home, an excellent example of quality care. December 2013 financials showed a net income of 104K. Cash generated from operations totaled 165K. January and February 2014 should also show good numbers. The CCNH rating system from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) are based on three component surveys, quality measures and staffing levels of nurses and CNAs. The overall rating for CCNH rose from one star to two stars in January 2014, the surveys in the past two years are much improved and the quality and staffing rating are both four out of five stars. The food quality has improved markedly, and the comments from the residents have attested to that. Family satisfaction has grown steadily. As for the question (would you recommend the CCNH facility to others?) in 2013 this quality measure exceeded the national average.
2. Should the county do anything toward planning for the construction of a new county jail, or an addition to the existing satellite? Or should the county government wait until it institutes a reentry program and any other criminal justice initiatives aimed at reducing the jail population?
The jail population is the lowest in many years. The last count was 160 inmates, well below the beds that are available. We must accommodate the special needs inmates. We are not set up for the increased flow of these inmates.
The reentry program was passed by a bipartisan super majority vote of the county board Thursday, Feb 20.
We will now enter into discussions with the sheriff and all our board members on how to accommodate the mentally ill, physically ill and safety concerns for our corrections officers and inmates.
The women inmates have been moved to the satellite jail in temporary quarters until we can plan for a permanent solution to this issue.
A new jail will not be necessary, but an expansion of the satellite jail may be the only solution to moving all the remaining inmates from the downtown facility to the satellite, and to accommodate the special needs inmates.
The state's attorney has initiated a number of diversion programs that over the last few years and has reduced the inmate population. As a member of the Drug Court Steering Committee,I am happy to say that the Drug Court is one of the most successful programs in the state and a role model for other jurisdictions, and we hope to get a mental health court off the ground.
3. Would you support merging any county offices, in particular the county recorder and the county clerk? How about any other combinations? Are there offices or programs you'd like to eliminate?
This statue is relevant to question 3.
Counties (55 ILCS 5/) Counties Code. (55 ILCS 5/3-5001 ( from . 34 , par . 3-5001)
In part it reads that in counties having a population of 60,000 or more inhabitants, there shall be elected a recorder, as provided by law, who shall hold his office until his successor is qualified.
4. What is your opinion of the recent change to the county board, reducing the number of board members from 27 to 22 and increasing the number of districts from 9 to 11?
I originally opposed this change, for a number of reasons; I have since changed my mind.
The committee meetings are going well and the COW (Committee of the Whole) has been equally effective. All the research and information compiled by the three, seven member committees (ELUC, Facility's and Highway) is quickly communicated to the entire board for their review before the County board meeting at the end of the month.
The districts have become smaller and we can communicate better with our constituents.
5. Should Champaign County have its own building code and building inspection program?
A wide-ranging discussion at a future upcoming ELUC meeting should be placed on the agenda. It has been long overdue. Researching the state codes versus what we might adopt for the county.
6. What can the county do to prevent housing problems like the notorious Cherry Orchard complex outside of Rantoul?
Even the state's attorney does not know all of the ways that adopting a building code might help with the problems like Cherry Orchard but the following is clear: Adopting a building code and property maintenance code and rental property inspection program would not have prevented the problems at Cherry Orchard: but it could have brought the problem to the county's attention earlier and thus possibly prevented Cherry Orchard from getting as bad as it is. It would make it easier to have the right of inspection rather than having to go to court for that right.
7. What can the county do to encourage economic development? Are there particular businesses you would like to attract, any incentives you think should be offered?
I would continue to search for wind farm developers; they bring clean renewable safe energy and hundreds of new temporary and permanent jobs. The tax revenue over the next 2 decades can and will amount to millions of dollars for schools, roads, and bridges in the county. The lease agreements with farmers and land owners will also add millions of dollars of economic impact. Bio Fuels and solar energy will also bring additional revenue and economic development .
On my trip to Washington D.C. with the Champaign County Chamber first group, we lobbied for high speed rail and increased rail service from Champaign to Chicago. A study is ongoing. We also met with the FAA for funding to upgrade our airport.
Tax incentives can be a way of attracting business to Champaign County, but must be discussed with transparency and have our constituents input.
For further info visit alkurtz2014.com
8. What's your opinion of the county's financial condition?
The county board, Ms. Debra Busey, the county administrator and her department heads, have exceeded all expectations for a successful budget based on the extremely long recession. We froze hiring and salary increases and held our expenditures to a minimum, while making some difficult but necessary cuts without cutting services to our residents. Coming out of the recession we have seen the opportunity to restore some of these cuts without exceeding our revenues. We are in good shape for this current year and if nothing changes and we receive the money from the state that we are owed, we come close to a balanced budget. I refer all our constituents to the Champaign County website where you will find the complete explanation of our entire budget. Our website has been awarded a top 10 rating for transparency in the state by an independent study.
9. Do you believe the county government should offer 2 percent pay raises for the next four years to the sheriff, county clerk and county treasurer? Generally, according to the county administrator, they are paid less than officers in similar counties.
In an open meeting pertaining to our budget Ms. Busey, our county administrator, stated:
"The recommendation is to reinstate some equity between the salaries of the elected officials based on the size of the jobs and how they have been classified historically. She explained the equity was comprised in 2011 when during the midst of the economic crisis, these officials salaries were set at 0%in 2011; 0% in 2012; and 2% in 2013. The officials whose salaries were set 2 years before this were still receiving 4 percent increases".
I am having difficulty deciding if these highly paid officials should be given an increase. By state statute this is a 4 year raise, 2% for each year. The issue was deferred to the March COW. I am still researching and evaluating this issue. The recommendation does not require action until the May 2014 meeting. The salaries must be set 180 days before the individuals take office.
10. What's your opinion of the plan to contract with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District to take over operations of the Champaign County Rural Transit Services later this year? Is this a program you support? Would you ever want to commit county resources to it?
This program has blossomed into one of the best programs as an essential service for our rural population. For the past few years we have been transporting our rural residents to their jobs, doctor and dentist appointments, and shopping trips. We now count over 800 trips per month. 10% percent of our rides are people with disabilities and 25 percent are senior citizens, 35% account for medical trips. There are 1.146 total registered riders. For 2013 CRIS average daily trips was 69. Vermilion County has been our partner in this venture. They have decided to go their own way, and now we must find an alternate partner. I felt the C-U MTD was a good choice for the following reasons, which were presented by Ms. Rita Morocomia-Black of the Regional Planning Commission to the county board at our last county board meeting:
1. The MTD is already providing high quality maintenance on our vehicles.
2. They house all of CRIS rural transit staff.
3. They are familiar with our service needs.
4. Numerous C-U MTD employees are from the rural areas of the county.
5. They are part of a large vehicle insurance pool that will reduce insurance cost for our rolling stock.
6. The size of their system, their professional staff allows for a faster transition to take over the system.
7. They are well known for good polices and practices that result in great customer service and they are nationally known.
I do not see the need for county resources. This is a federally funded program, if the funding stops so will the service until the funds are restored. If that takes place and after careful review and constituent input, than I would consider and discuss local resource's to keep it running.
I agree with Ms. Black's assessments .