URBANA — Democratic mayoral candidate Les Stratton on Thursday continued his attacks on Mayor Laurel Prussing and said city officials should be putting more focus on fixing "crumbling roads" in the city's core rather than improving streets on the fringe.
Prussing responded by saying every post-recession city has a backlog of road projects, but Urbana is doing a good job of fixing streets that need it the most.
Voters will decide in a Feb. 26 primary election whether Prussing or Stratton will be the Democratic nominee for mayor. The nominee will be put up against Republican Rex Bradfield in the April 9 election.
Olympian Drive has been one of the most hotly debated city projects in the past few years, and Stratton said that "Prussing has allocated millions of dollars on Olympian Drive, which is located outside the Urbana city limit."
But the estimated $15 million Olympian Drive project will be funded completely by state and federal sources — not city tax money. The city only will make a $1.67 million contribution to a $3.6 million extension of Lincoln Avenue to connect to what will eventually be Olympian Drive.
With state and federal money paying for Olympian Drive, Prussing pointed out, the project is not at all deferring money from other local roads.
"The argument that we should use Olympian Drive money for local streets makes no sense," Prussing said.
She expects Olympian Drive and North Lincoln Avenue to bring more business to the northern part of the city.
"We have a huge poverty problem in this city, in this county, and I think we need to bring some jobs," Prussing said.
At his press conference on Thursday, Stratton enlisted the help of Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband, the owners of Prairie Fruits Farm, who have been very vocal in opposition to the Olympian Drive project.
They said there just is not enough development in that area to justify a major road project.
"There's no question that at some point down the road this will be an important project," Jarrell said. "But right now, it seems too far off, too nebulous."
Stratton said that he would commit to fixing roads in established parts of the city that need work, including Windsor Road, Race Street near Urbana High School and Florida Avenue between Race Street and Lincoln Avenue.
That segment of Race Street outside of the high school is already scheduled for repairs this year, and city officials have said the Windsor Road problem is a multi-million-dollar issue for which there is no available money.
"We do spend money on the core streets," Prussing said. "We spend a lot of money on core streets."
Stratton thinks the $665,000 the city spent to upgrade South Philo Road between Windsor and the southern city boundary could have helped.
"These things are being neglected to expand on the city's edge," Stratton said.
Prussing said the Philo Road project was important for homeowners in that area.
"That road was improved because there are houses there, and we brought it up to city standards," Prussing said.
Comments from both sides made it appear on Thursday that there are differences in where budgeting priorities lie for the two candidates. Stratton said "street maintenance has been underfunded in recent years," while Prussing said the situation was hard to avoid through the recession unless she was willing to lay off city employees.
"Every city has a shortfall, a backlog of projects. Every city. Including Champaign," Prussing said. "So to say that Urbana isn't doing it right is completely false."
The Urbana City Council in 2010 approved a gas tax for which drivers are now paying 4 cents per gallon. Prussing said that is bringing in about $700,000 per year for roads.
Stratton pointed out that it only, at best, replaces the amount that has been redirected from capital improvement projects to the city's day-to-day operating expenses — like employee salaries — since Prussing took office in 2005.
"You take a dollar from one pocket and put it in the other pocket," Stratton said.
But Prussing said you have to balance that against what the city has been able to maintain.
"We don't have to fire police and firefighters," she said.