A year of 'out of sight' of achievements in Oswego : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|A year of 'out of sight' of achievements in Oswego |
|LeClercq cites capital plan, other initiatives among highlights; capital funding talks ahead|
|by John Etheredge|
Oswego Village President Brian LeClercq has always been an advocate for transparency in government, but he believes some of the village's most significant achievements over the past year occurred out of sight from most village residents.
Among the "unseen" accomplishments, LeClercq said include the preparation by village staff of a comprehensive 20-year capital improvement plan and the hiring of a planning consultant to update the village's eight year-old comprehensive plan.
Presented to the village board last fall, the capital improvement plan identified the village's infrastructure and capital needs for the next two decades.
The plan shows the village will require, on average, $1.3 million in additional funding annually over the next five years alone to pay for its street maintenance program.
The plan also identifies $55 million in potential infrastructure improvements that could be completed over the next five years, but notes that the village has only $2.7 million in funding available.
LeClercq traced the village's rapid growth over the past two decades to the now looming need for additional revenues to maintain streets and other public infrastructure.
"We grew in leaps and bounds and there are going to be a whole bunch of roads that will 'come due' for resurfacing all at once," he said.
LeClercq said the next step for the board is to discuss how the village will pay for the maintenance work.
Asked what he, as village president, would like the board to do, LeClercq said the village should pay for as many of the projects "through our current taxing structure as possible ... that is the ideal."
But he continued, "If we do need to raise capital, we have to look at ways that are the least impactful to people. For example, if we were to pass a property tax increase, it would be 100 percent on the people living here, whereas if we increased our sales tax, 40 percent of that increase would be paid for by people who don't live in our community but shop in our stores or eat in our restaurants. That would allow us to spread the pain out."
Referring to a sales tax increase, LeClercq continued, "To me that makes more sense because you don't impact only your own residents."
Another potential funding option available to the board, he said, would be a gas tax. Like a sales tax, a gas tax would be paid by not only village residents, but other people who purchase gas while visiting the village, according to LeClercq.
In addition to the capital improvement plan, LeClercq identified several other, less visible accomplishments for the village over the past year, including the village's participation in a multi-community insurance pool that should net the village some costs savings.
He also mentioned the village's collaboration with Montgomery and Yorkville in obtaining a Chicago Metropolitan Area Planning (CMAP) grant to study potential service sharing opportunities between the three municipalities.
LeClercq said he expects the study to identify multiple ways the three municipalities will be able to jointly save on purchases and other costs.
For example, he said, "Most communities don't need the services of a full-time plumbing inspector. If we can hire one inspector and say that individual works for us 60 percent of the time and then we let that person work for Yorkville for the other 40 percent, both communities get the benefit of a full-time employee."
At the recommendation of Steve Jones, village administrator, LeClercq said the village moved to further professionalize its administrative staff by hiring Jennifer Mary Hughes, an engineer, to serve as the village's public works director. Before joining the village staff at the end of November, Hughes had served five years as the director of public works for the Village of Lincolnshire. She is the first engineer to serve as public works director for the village in more than two decades.
In hiring Hughes, Jerry Weaver, the village's public works director for the past 14 years, was assigned to the newly created position of utility services director, overseeing the operation of the village's water system.
In addition, LeClercq noted the village hired Christina Burns, formerly the assistant to the village manager in Clarendon Hills, to serve as the village's first-ever assistant village administrator. In accepting the position, Burns also took over the responsibilities of the village's human resource director.
LeClercq added the village took another step to make municipal government more accessible to local residents by beginning live online streaming of board meetings and posting audio from all board and board committee-of-the-whole meetings on the village's website.
"People can now attend our meetings virtually and get the facts," he said.
2013: Mostly a good
year for business attraction
LeClercq noted that 2013 was mostly a good year for the village and its efforts to attract new businesses to the community.
In November, Vijay Gadde, the village's economic development director, announced that a South Korean-owned yogurt and dairy drink manufacturer will locate in the village's Kendall Point Business Center. Initially, the firm is expected to employ between 30 and 40 workers, but will require as many as 180 workers when the facility is built out, according to LeClercq.
Another positive on the business front, LeClercq said, was the decision by Lowe's to sell its vacant former store to a real estate development firm. The firm plans to subdivide the massive former home improvement store into smaller units.
"Instead of one Lowe's store, we're going to have three stores in that space," he said.
LeClercq said he expects to be able to announce the first new tenant for the former Lowe's building within the next few months.
LeClercq also acknowledged the village received some bad news in October when Safeway, Inc., the owners of the Dominick's supermarket chain, announced it would close all of its Dominick's stores in the Chicago area, including the local store in the Oswego Commons shopping center.
Jones said the closure of the store at the end of last month meant the loss of 56 jobs. In addition, he estimated the store generated between $150,000 and $175,000 in annual sales tax revenues for the village. However, Jones said he was hopeful that those sales tax revenues would remain in the village as food shoppers take their business to other supermarkets within the village.
LeClercq said the village will assist the shopping center owners in locating a replacement tenant for the former Dominick's space. He added that he personally would like to see a Miriano's, Trader Joes or even a Costco move into the space.
"We are calling all those usual suspects (among retailers), but we are finding that there is uncertainty over whether a grocery store wants to now move into an area that already has four or five grocery stores nearby," he said.
LeClercq noted that some village residents may consider the demolition of the former Alexander Lumber yard building on Washington Street at Adams Street in the village's downtown just three weeks ago as among the highlights for village during 2013. The building had become a target for vandals since the lumber yard shutdown in 2006.
Alexander Lumber officials are still seeking a buyer for the property.
LeClercq has a vision of what he would like the property to become.
He said, "I would like to see the park (Hudson Crossing) expanded across Harrison Street and then some additional businesses locate there like some restaurants. People could sit out at the restaurants and then walk down to the park after their meals. I think there are some opportunities there-but just remember 60 percent of that land is located in the 100 year floodplain."
LeClercq continued, "I see us (the village) really trying to partner with the park district and other folks to try and make this happen. But, again, I think the first step was taken when that building came down a few weeks ago. It has to make that land more marketable now."
In October, LeClercq began a one-year term as board president of the Metro West Council of Government, a lobbying organization for municipal and county governments in Kendall, DeKalb and Kane counties.
LeClercq said he enjoys working with Metro West because it helps foster cooperation and sharing among area municipalities, which ultimately can benefit local taxpayers.
That spirit of regional cooperation was also evident last July, LeClercq said, when he along with Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, Montgomery Village President Matt Brolley and Yorkville Mayor Pro Tem and Alderman Chris Funkhouser kayaked together down the Fox River from Aurora to Yorkville.
The purpose of the trip was to highlight the importance of the river in the four communities and its potential for increased recreational use.
LeClercq said he enjoyed the kayak ride with the other mayors.
"And out of that (trip) I have personally developed some great relationships with Matt (Brolley), Tom Weisner and (Yorkville mayor) Gary Golinski. It's been fun and great working together with them and now I'm hoping that it will spill over into the business side of things as we plan for things like major regional transportation routes and things like that," he said.