Q&A with Brent West, Democrat, Champaign, candidate for District 11, 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?
The Champaign County Nursing Home continues to fill a need for our community and has been consistently supported by taxpayers in referendums. At a cost to the median homeowner of about $13 per year, 200 of our neighbors can receive safe and affordable care while generating 200 decent jobs. The uncertainty of healthcare is even more reason to support the Nursing Home to ensure that some of our most vulnerable residents are not put at further risk.
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?
Before it considers jail expansion, the County should focus its efforts on diversion programs to reduce recidivism and the costly incarceration of mentally ill and non-violent offenders. At the same time, modest improvements can still be made to existing facilities to enhance safety and efficiency and such improvements should not be delayed.
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?
A referendum should be placed before the voters to decide which offices, if any, should be consolidated or converted into hired, not elected positions. Certain offices with similar duties such as the recordkeeping duties of the recorder and county clerk might realize some efficiencies through consolidation but these gains would likely be modest. Merged offices require strong leadership and increase the negative impact a poor leader can have.
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?
The reduction in the number of board members has helped the County Board operate more efficiently and effectively while the increased number of districts provides smaller districts with more accountable representation. Both of these changes have had a positive impact for taxpayers.
5. Should Champaign County have its own building code and building inspection program?
Yes, the County should have its own building code. All County residents deserve safe, efficient, and durable homes and businesses where they can live, work, and shop.
6. What can the county do to prevent housing problems like the notorious Cherry Orchard complex outside of Rantoul?
A County building code and strong enforcement for critical public health and life safety violations would help prevent these issues from occurring and limit their severity and duration when they do occur.
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?
The county should continue to partner with local job-creating organizations and invest in critical infrastructure to support economic development. In particular, the County can continue to support local, clean energy and technology innovation through partnerships with experts such as at the University of Illinois.
8. What's your opinion of the county's current financial condition?
The county's current financial condition is relatively stable. The County has a strong bond rating and low debt-to-revenue ratio. There are risks and challenges ahead, however, which require continued focus to responsibly steward taxpayer funds.
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.
Full-time elected officials should be fairly compensated, including cost of living increases. A 2 percent annual raise seems reasonable given the limitations imposed by the State that prohibit changes to elected officials' compensation during their term in office. It is also reasonable in comparison to salaries for similar positions in other counties. However, the County Board should further evaluate the compensation levels including benefits for these offices in comparison to private-sector positions to balance cost-savings with stability, accountability, and leadership.
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?
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District is well-suited to administer the rural transit service given its size of operation and economies of scale. I support public transportation, actively using it most weekdays. A limited rural transit service serves an important role for low-income and mobility-impaired residents in smaller communities to commute to jobs, seek out healthcare, and otherwise empower themselves. The county could provide a small amount of support in certain circumstances but, if sustained support were required, a referendum to create a proper mass transit district might be more appropriate.