Editorial | Hot contest for mayor in Danville

Editorial | Hot contest for mayor in Danville

The city has more candidates for mayor than it has solutions to its problems.

Danville voters are being treated to a spirited four-way race for mayor. But the fun will stop when the votes are counted, because it's much easier to promise solutions to the city's deep problems than to actually solve them.

Danville faces severe financial problems caused by a shrinking tax base that has led to high property taxes. Its poorer neighborhoods are the site of gun-related violent crimes that, so far at least, have defied cure or amelioration. The city's contributions to its deeply underwater police and fire pensions have become so large that they eat away at the funding necessary to maintain infrastructure and provide vital services.

The four candidates are acting Mayor Rickey Williams Jr., Alderman Steven Nichols, former Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon and city employee Donald Crews Jr. In our view, the top two choices are Williams and Nichols.

Nichols receives our endorsement because he brings superior management skills from his years in business to the table and, as a city council veteran, has a deep familiarity with and understanding of the issues the city faces. Both Nichols and Williams agree the city faces strong financial problems. Williams said circumstances are "dire," while Nichols said "dire is a pretty strong word" that he does not accept.

But they both agree finances are tight and the pension issue is especially serious. Williams insists that "anyone who tells you that we can get out of the hole without additional revenues is dishonest." Nichols insists that raising property taxes further "on a constantly shrinking number of homeowners" will only make the problem worse.

Addressing the pension-underfunding issues, Nichols said, requires combining "with other communities downstate and forc(ing) real reform."

The two candidates agree on hiring separate fire and police chiefs now to replace outgoing Public Safety Director Larry Thomason. Why? If money is as tight as they suggest, hiring two chiefs to appease turf-conscious firefighters and police officers is just too expensive.

Regarding gun-related crime, Williams and Nichols offer a variety of proposals to address the problem. Williams proposed hiring three additional police officers. New officers may be needed to address manpower shortages. But that won't get at a root of what is a nationwide problem that so far has defied solution.

The biggest problem, however, relates to the economics of Vermilion County. Until the economy starts to hum — attracting job creators who provide jobs and generate increases in municipal tax revenue — there will not be adequate resources to run Danville in a way that all the candidates would like.

It's our view that Nichols is better prepared to take on this daunting task.

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