Oswego: Uneventful year proves eventful : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Oswego: Uneventful year proves eventful|
|Village OK'd new trash pact, hired administrator, nixed video gambling |
|by John Etheredge|
Asked recently to look back on the past year in Oswego municipal government and Village President Brian LeClercq said the word "uneventful" immediately came to mind.
But upon further thought, LeClercq said 2012 proved a busy and eventful year for village government.
He listed the board's adoption of a new strategic plan, approval of a new solid waste contract and the hiring of a new village administrator as among the village board's chief accomplishments.
In addition, LeClercq said the board re-financed the village's debt to take advantage of lower interest rates, which saved the village thousands of dollars and freed up revenues for capital improvement projects.
Using a grant secured for the village by State Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, the village also had a contractor resurface busy Wolf's Crossing Road between Ill. Route 71 and U.S. Route 30, and Minkler Road from Route 71 to Morgan Creek.
In addition, LeClercq said the village used its annual allotment of state-reimbursed Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds to resurface several sections of roads in local subdivisions.
"Resurfacing streets is not something that most people think much about, but it impacts them daily," he noted.
LeClercq said he was also pleased the village was able to boost funding to the police pension fund.
"We are in much better shape with the police pension fund," he said, adding, "Now it is about 68 percent funded. It should be at around 85 to 90 percent funded, but we had been at about 50 percent."
The board and village staff also took action to help residents save some money on their village utility and ComEd bills, according to LeClercq.
In May the board approved a five year contract with Groot Industries to provide weekly garbage and recycling service in the village. Under the contract, village residents are now saving about $3 per month on the garbage portion of the utility bills they receive every other month from the village.
LeClercq noted that village residents are also saving about $20 per month on the electric power supply charge on their monthly ComEd bills as a result of action taken by the board. In the fall of 2011, the board voted to place an electric aggregation referendum on the March primary ballot. Village voters subsequently voted by a wide margin to approve the measure which empowered the village to seek competitive bids on the electric power portion of their ComEd bills. As a result of the referendum's passage, village residents began saving on their ComEd bills beginning late last summer.
In April, the board also voted unanimously to approve LeClercq's appointment of Steve Jones of LaGrange, a veteran municipal administrator, to serve as the village's administrator.
LeClercq said he has been pleased with Jones' performance over the past eight months, describing him as an "excellent addition" to village staff.
Referring to Jones, LeClercq said, "He is incredibly cordial and thoughtful. He also knows his job well. He's a consensus builder and a collaborator. But what I really appreciate about him is that when a decision has to be made, he has no hesitation about making it and moving forward."
LeClercq added the village also hired its first grant writer, Tia Brooks. He said over the past several months Brooks has managed to secure several grants and more are "in the hopper."
He noted that the village will use one of the grants to replace hundreds of parkway ash trees that have been cut down over the past two years due to infestation by the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) beetle.
But while the board hired Jones and Brooks, LeClercq said village staffing levels remain as they were after the board initiated a series of budget cuts in 2009 due to the recession.
"Since 2008 our population has increased about 35 percent, while we cut staff by 20 percent," he said.
What recession? Over
100 homes permits issued
New home construction in the village peaked in 2004 when the village issued 635 permits for new single family homes. That figure dropped precipitously in 2008.
But LeClercq noted that home construction has never completely stopped in the village. As of two weeks ago, he said the village had issued 109 building permits for new single family home and another 76 for attached single family residences. Combine those figures, he said, and new residential construction in the village is up 31 percent over 2011 levels.
Even as the village's population has increased to over 30,000, LeClercq said it remains a desirable place to live and raise a family.
"I still have folks coming up to me and telling me they moved here to be closer to their families or they grew up here and are moving back to the area," he said.
A few of the new residents have complained about the lack of public transportation in the village, LeClercq said.
But LeClercq said the board took a step towards providing public transportation when it approved an agreement with Kendall County to have KAT (Kendall Area Transit) provide dial-a-ride service to village residents.
In addition, effective as of yesterday (Jan. 2), KAT will be providing bus service between the village's Metra Park-n-Ride lot near Mill and Orchard roads and the Metra station as the downtown Aurora Transportation Center. Previously, Pace had furnished the bus service for the Park-n-Ride.
"With KAT now providing the Park-n-Ride bus service, we're going from a total of three morning departures and three evening return trips to five each way and our cost is going to go down from about $100,000 each year to $80,000," LeClercq said.
LeClercq acknowledged 2012 also posed some major challenges for the village, including the departure of the village's first-ever full-time economic development director, Tony Lucenko, in October. Lucenko had served in the newly created position for just over 14 months.
LeClercq said Jones is handling the village's economic development efforts along with the village's community development and community relations staff. In the meantime, he said efforts to hire a full-time economic development director are continuing. LeClercq said he hopes to be able to present the name of a finalist to the board for their approval by the middle of this month or in February.
Referring to the position, LeClercq said, "It's a tough job. You need someone who is a cheerleader for the village, but also someone who can make some tough decisions and work with the board. It's a political job-there's no doubt about that and that's not unique to Oswego."
LeClercq noted the village lost both jobs and sales tax revenues when Circuit City closed its store in the Gerry Centennial Plaza shopping center off Douglas Road and Lowe's closed its store in the Prairie Market shopping center off U.S. Route 34.
A dress shop moved into the Circuit City, but the expansive former Lowe's store remains vacant.
"We have been working tirelessly to try and get a new tenant in that building," LeClercq said, adding, "But a drawback has been that a lot of retailers want to come in with their own prototype and they would rather build a building on raw land that retrofit an existing building."
Also on the economic development front, LeClercq said he and other village officials are moving forward with some downtown re-development initiatives.
LeClercq declined to specify any specific projects, but confirmed the plans involved the shuddered Alexander Lumber Yard property.
"We are not just sitting on our hands," he said, adding, "We think the downtown is very critical to any community and it really defines the community. Looking back on this a year from now, I hope we can say that we made great strides on that."
Revisit video gambling,
capital projects funding?
Last summer, the board voted 3-2 with one abstention against a motion to lift a 1935 ordinance that prohibited gambling in the village. The board had considered lifting the ordinance to allow bars and restaurants to have up to five video gambling machines in their businesses, as permitted under a new state law. The machines would have had a maximum payout of $500. Neighboring Montgomery, Aurora, Yorkville and Sugar Grove all adopted video gaming ordinances. Among the Oswego businesses seeking to install the games were the Oswego American Legion and the Oswego Inn, both located in the village's downtown.
Municipalities that permit video gambling receive five percent of the revenues generated by the machines, under the state law.
LeClercq-who did not take a position on the issue-said state officials initially said they would handle law enforcement issues with the machines, but are now saying they will look to local law enforcement. He noted that if the board were to eventually allow the machines, it would mean the village police department would have to oversee them, which would be an additional cost to the village.
Another concern, LeClercq said, is the state might reduce the amount of money it reimburses to local municipalities from the machines.
LeClercq acknowledged that representatives of the Oswego American Legion told the board last summer they need the machines to continue to compete for business with similar establishments in other towns.
LeClercq confirmed the board could vote to rescind its anti-gambling ordinance and permit video gambling at any time. He also suggested the issue might be up for debate among candidates seeking election to the board in the April 9 board election.
Another potential issue is the establishment of a capital improvement fund, as recommended by the village's finance director, Mark Horton, with the support of Jones.
LeClercq described himself as an advocate for a capital improvement fund, but is uncertain on how to raise revenues to place in the fund.
"The fact of the matter is we were able to move forward with the Route 71 water main project (last month) because we had built up a reserve," LeClercq said, adding, "The sales tax rebate agreement we had for the Oswego Commons shopping center ran out and that freed up more revenues for us. But we certainly are not cash rich. I don't want people to get that impression. Once the money is spent on the Route 71 project we are back to the ground floor here."
Asked what should be done, LeClercq said, "That's something the board will have to work out. We'll have to have more dialogue on that."
He added, "If you look at our strategic plan you'll see different capital projects and staff will be presenting those to the board in a month or two and we're going to have to figure out how to pay for them. That's the bottom line."
LeClercq continued, "You talk about things that will keep you up at night...I know I won't be the village president when this happens, but I think about all those roads that were built about the same time. They are probably all going to break down at about the same time. You are talking about a multi-million dollar problem. So I think it is incumbent on us to make sure we have the proper resources to pay to maintain those roads."
Heading into the new year, LeClercq is approaching his sixth year as the village's top elected official. He won his first four-year term in 2007 when he defeated two-term incumbent Craig Weber. He subsequently won election to a second four-year term two years ago by fending off a challenge from board member Judy Sollinger.
LeClercq said the job has proved to be, among other things, an educational experience.
"I've learned to let some things roll off my back and I think that is important. But I still feel it is important that everyone gets heard whether you agree with them or not. Everyone is entitled to their opinion," he said.