618 W. Hill St., C.
Occupation: Assistant dean of students, University of Illinois since 2005.
Political experience: Four years on Champaign City Council; four years on county board; appointed commissioner on C-U Cable Commission since 2003; three years on Champaign Human Relations Commission; member, state Commission on Volunteerism and Community Services; member, National Association of Latina/o Elected Officials.
1. What do you believe is the biggest problem in Champaign County government now, and what can you, as a single county board member, do about it?
State funding. Making budget to pay for our fiscal obligations. Our county does not stop generating payments on our bills just because the state is late in their monthly obligations to provide funding. So we are forced to take loans in the form of bonds to make ends meet each pay cycle. In addition, our portion of the state's designated funding does not get bigger, so we have to make hard decisions on where to reduce spending, or increase revenue in order to keep our county up and running in the black without being overly burdensome to our taxpayers. In order to ensure I am making the best decisions, I have established a working relationship with all of my fellow board members, regardless of what side of the aisle they sit. It is the ability to communicate with a mutual respect for one another that helps keep dialogue open, and discussions balanced, so that all of Champaign County's citizens benefit, not just a lopsided few.
2. What county services currently offered should be eliminated or reduced?
Though there are always areas that could be eliminated or reduced, the issue would be, how those would impact the taxpayers in services they need and or deserve. At this time I do not see any services headed for the chopping block. At the end of FY2008, the year I was elected to the board, the county's outstanding balance for all debt service was $61,398,318.00. Currently, at the end of FY 2012, the county's outstanding balance for all debt service is $47,856,757.00 In four years we have lowered the county's outstanding balance for debt services by $13,541,561.00
3. What services should the county provide that it does not offer now?
The difficulty with this Catch-22 question is that there are always a number of needs for additional services: the indigent, the seniors, courts, etc., but our county simply has no available funds to create more services at this time.
4. Are there circumstances under which you would vote for another increase in property taxes to support the operation of the Champaign County Nursing Home?
I am not in favor of new taxes or increases and will continue to explore ways to keep our county's nursing home operating within state standards without overly burdening our county's taxpayers.
5. Are there circumstances under which you would vote to sell or close the Champaign County Nursing Home?
My vote represents my district's constituents. I have heard no opposition for keeping the nursing home open nor any constituents in favor of selling to a private agency. This suggests that we, in Champaign County, have displayed responsible stewardship. This shows we continue to care about those taxpayers who no longer are able to afford care for themselves. My view is that these seniors were once productive taxpayers that helped build and shape this county, and it is our responsibility to ensure they have a place of dignity to reside.
6. Do you believe the downtown jail should be closed as soon as possible? If so, do you think an addition would be needed to the satellite (east Urbana) jail?
Four years ago, before I was voted a seat on the Champaign County Board, I thought there were no other options and a new structure would be needed. However, with additional information and community outpouring, the county board voted to review the matter through a needs assessment study for Champaign County corrections that the Institute of Law and Policy Planning was chosen to conduct. Though still in negotiations, the proposed cost for that study will be $119,865. Until that study is completed there will be no decision to take any long-term action on the downtown jail or new construction for an addition to the satellite. Through the study, the county board will have a clearer understanding of alternatives to incarceration, creating new or combined alternative spaces for women, the mentally ill, separating those with minor offenses from those with major offenses, possibility of expanding the ankle bracelet program as an alternative to lockup, home detention, as well as a new structure, to name just a few of the issues we will explore once the study is completed.
7. What can the county board do to enhance economic development?
Allow for new amendments and rezoning to take place in agricultural districts. One way to accomplish this would be revising the zoning map to change from the existing Agricultural Zoning District (AG-1) to Agricultural Zoning District (AG-2). This change would encourage new development and businesses to grow and flourish. The caveat here is being mindful to avoid spot zoning and unnecessary approval of "Special Use Permits" that may be imposed on farmland and other agricultural use. The delicate balance the county board faces is economic growth while preserving our natural resources and maintaining the existing character of the district in which proposed changes would occur. Any proposed changes to the agricultural districts should be evaluated and properly assessed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, who then make recommendations and seek approval by the Champaign County Board. In addition to the AG-1 / AG-2 discussion, I would encourage the county to provide incentives to businesses that build and expand in the county which could include, but are not limited to, tax breaks, lowering rates on their electrical power usage, providing water sewerage and drainage, and adding infrastructures such as roads for easy access to accommodate commercial and emergency vehicles in and out of their facilities.
8. Does Champaign County need a building code?
Yes, but not as a stand alone. Currently, many municipalities in the county do not have building codes. In addition, there should be uniformity throughout the municipalities. Building codes benefit public safety and support the industry's need for one set of codes without regional limitations. I would encourage our county to look into adopting the International Code Council (ICC) and becoming a member. This organization works with the building safety community and construction industry to provide safe, sustainable and affordable construction through the development of codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process. The International Codes, (I-Codes) published by ICC, provide minimum safeguards and are a complete set of comprehensive, coordinated building safety and fire prevention codes. Ongoing training and education are also provided to its members to ensure the latest standards for health and safety codes are continually updated, adding to the protection of our citizens in Champaign County.
9. Should the county or the county board do anything about a coal mine proposed for the Homer area?
Yes. Champaign County's aquifer is our most precious resource. The coal mine threatens this with the possibility it will leach toxic waste and create hazardous sinkholes. Our county board should network and collaborate with surrounding counties who also disagree by building a unified coalition and present our disapproval to the state legislators and governor.
10. Are there county offices that you believe can be eliminated or consolidated?
No. I refer back to my answer in number 2. However, to add a footnote, our county board continues to work closely with our county's administrator and staff to ensure mandatory additions, expansions, and or construction of our county's facilities remain within budget constraints. One example is our most recent effort, the construction on the 202 S. Art Bartell project. This building houses the office of the coroner, county clerk storage and physical plant maintenance operations. The project also included the stormwater management upgrade for the county's east campus. The entire project is coming in under the projected budget and it's expected to be completed by the end of the current fiscal year.