By Marney Simon | Enterprise Staff
When voters head to the polls on April 4, their decisions will help shape the future for Plainfield.
Four residents are vying for three open seats on the Village Board of Trustees.
The candidates came out to meet the public at an event on March 14, hosted by the Plainfield Area Chamber of Commerce. During the event, each candidate offered an opening statement, to introduce themselves and their plans to village residents.
Here, those opening statements in full:
Margie Bonuchi – 22-year resident of Plainfield, running for a third term as Village Trustee
“I’m really, really proud of this community. I’ve lived here 22 years, when I got here I was welcomed with open arms from so many wonderful people that I wanted to meet everyone, and I think I’ve almost done that. I try very hard to get out there and give back as much as I possibly can. I’ve been involved in many organizations and long term time in those organizations. Ten years with the Y advisory board, three years as the chair of the Foundation for Excellence, ten years helping out with the Harvest 5K, past president of the Rotary. And that’s not to tell you about all the things I’m doing, it’s to tell you about how much I truly love being part of all this. And I think that truly makes up a lot of who you really are.
“My background for the village is that I was appointed as a voting member of the Planning Commission for two years, then ran for two new terms as Trustee and as I said, I’m very proud of that time. In 2009 we inherited a budget in the red. But with the work that we did and the promised made in that 2009 election, my promise was to find an experienced Village Administrator. We did that and we were out of the red and into the black in pretty much record breaking time ahead of schedule in the 2011-2012 timeframe. And that speaks volumes, because laying off people is never fun.
“I’ve done a lot of things in the village that I want to keep doing, and I want to see Plainfield have their seat at the table. We have communities around us right now that always seem to be getting the best of everything in ways, and we are ready to go. We have shovel-ready projects, we have roads that we’re trying to get funding for and we’re trying to make as ready as possible for when those funds come in. We’re working very hard with intergovernmental and state agencies to get those funds, and I really hope I have your vote again to continue our good work in this board.”
Cally J. Larson – 16-year resident of Plainfield area, has lived within the village boundary for the past five years
“I’m a former business owner with a former insurance company that was in Plainfield, and have a background in risk management, insurance sales, marketing, underwriting and territory management as well. I currently am a realtor, and I know why families choose Plainfield. I know the economic sacrifices that they make to keep their kids in our school system, to keep their families here in town, because of the amenities that are available. And I know that we are currently facing a housing issue.
“Forty-five percent of our population is between the ages of 25 and 54. And our strongest economic buying power, our influence, resides with those that make between $100,000 to $200,000 a year, and these are village statistics available on the village website. So, we know that that age demographic is what we have to be catering to. We also know that we are missing the boat, we are completely missing the boat when it comes to some of our residential options. We are sending those retirees who would love to stay within the community, and some of that millennial age group, we are sending them outside of Plainfield. We are sending them to other towns further north that have the luxury of condos People who are saying, look, I can’t afford $13,000 in property taxes anymore.
“But I love the community, I love the accessibility, and the downtown shops and the dining. So, we need to make sure that we’re accommodating those who are actually paying for everything in this community, that age bracket, as well as making sure we’re retaining our population.”
Larry D. Newton – has lived in the community since 1998 but has more recently moved inside the village boundary, and an active member of Plainfield United Methodist Church
“I am currently a commissioner with the Plainfield Park District, some of the skills that I’ve developed over the time there have been budgeting with long range planning, cooperating with other board members to get things done in the community. We have encouraged staff to be very creative with the limited funding that we have. I’ve also developed the ability to say no to constituents when the time calls for it.
“Why am I running for village trustee? Well, I believe that local government needs good people to serve on boards of our various governmental agencies. I’m an experienced servant of the public. I don’t have an agenda necessarily that I try to get passed, I have no higher aspirations. I do want to bring my experience dealing with tight budgets to the village. We have had tight budgets and low tax rates for the park district for quite some time, it’s not going to change anytime soon. I just want to remind everyone that zebras don’t tend to change their stripes. This is who I am, my personality probably will not be changing any time soon.
“I just wanted to mention also that economic development is one of my primary goals that I would like to see in the village, to relieve the tax pressure on the homeowners. And also, investments and infrastructure, which I believe are great for our community in the long term.”
Garrett M. Peck – current Trustee seeking a third term, a resident of Plainfield since 2005, and an Air Force veteran
“I already had some previous involvement in some different layers of government, lobbying for different things that I thought were beneficial or against. I was appointed to the Planning Commission with Trustee Bonuchi, it was a huge learning curve. I ran for village trustee in 2009, and most importantly, even two terms in, we’re still learning. It’s a very complicated position, and it takes, God’s honest truth, about 15 to 20 hours a week if you’re going to do it effectively.
“The most important thing that we’re going to be seeing in the village, we had a lot of subdivisions that were built at the same time. A lot of those same roads are going to be depleting at the same time. We do need to find, God’s honest truth, about another million and a half dollars a year to put into our capital fund to do that. We’re going to have to make a want and needs list, start slashing some of those wants so that we keep up with our infrastructure.
“The two most important lessons that I’ve learned, obviously, everybody makes mistakes. I think it was either McArthur or Patton who said, it depends how fast you bounce back when you make that mistake. What I’ve learned most is, and it sounds kind of harsh, is that sometimes we have to take the cotton out of our ears and into our mouths and listen to our constituents. One board member isn’t going to change the world, we need a consensus.”
The candidates were also asked to answer the following questions:
The 143rd Street extension is an important regional project for the viability of our community. Do you support this project, why or why not?
“Yes, I do support that project, because as I said before, we need the roads. The bypass that that would bring would take the truck traffic out of downtown and off of 59, relieve some of the traffic pressures, and the most important part besides that is the fact that we would have economic development. The main figure that we have is, if you have a business and you can’t get to the roads easily to deliver your product, how are you going to sell that, how are you going to be able to keep the costs down and make money? We need that road access to get back and forth to the highway, so we can enjoy the same viability as the other communities around us. I supported 143rd Street before I ran the first time, and I continue to do that. At the village, we’re making it shovel ready as we speak, so that hopefully, when the government grants come in, because the cost of this is too prohibitive for just us alone to do, we’re hoping that we’re ready to go and that we’ll get some money for that infrastructure.”
“I’ve been a proponent of this project since before I ran for the position of Village Trustee. Once elected in 2009, I immediately started communicating with our former Congressman Judy Biggert. At that time, we did not have her support, and thankfully now we do have two congressmen, we have Hultgren as well as Foster, and I have contacted both their offices and there is no opposition from the federal side of it. We have made a priority of ours, the entire village board has reached a consensus on this project. We have actually had our mayor and our administrator chose to go to Washington to help lobby for funds for this project. We’re looking for a Tiger Grant, and we got into the final stages of it. I believe Springfield, Illinois was able to obtain that grant instead of the village of Plainfield. We did get far into it, and I’m hoping that we will be able to obtain the grant in the next round. As Trustee Bonuchi said, the particular project will open up industrial opportunities here. I’ve had several commercial realtors tell me that they’ve had individuals pass up opportunities to either build or buy right in this area, because they don’t have quick access to the highway. So, it is going to keep being an important project. I’ve even included that, I’m involved in a… master’s program at U of I right now, and the 143rd project is actually one of the thesis papers that I’m writing. I do support that project, if anybody has any questions, we have a lot of detailed information at the village hall. The planning department, we can communicate with any residents who have questions about it.”
“Absolutely, I completely support the 143rd extension. I don’t think you need to be in any higher-ranking office to understand that when you drive through Plainfield, you better time it right. And it’s true, as a realtor, I do try to schedule some of my appointments in the area knowing that my client needs to find access back to the main highways and get them back on 55 to where they need to go. With that being said, it’s absolutely linked that if we were to have this extension come though, and I’m hoping fingers crossed that everything goes as smoothly as Mr. Peck has stated, that it would be an economic driver, it would have an impact, and we can look at more industrialization. And if we bring that industrialization development into town, it will alleviate the homeowner property tax, and that’s something that a lot of people have been looking at, saying, the tax levy has been the same, but market values are increasing. So regardless, we will be seeing increases because our market values are going up. And if we can do anything we can to drive those down, including industrial development, the 143rd extension would be crucial to help those costs be reduced as well as drive an economic factor into our community. Transportation again is one of the largest factors we face as commuting. You can have the 45-minute commute into the city, but you’re going to spend another 25 sitting off of the extension currently to get into town, and it’s an unfortunate issue. So, between transportation and industrial development, that 143rd extension is going to be crucial. So, I fully support it.”
“I guess we’re four for four. I fully support 143rd Street as well. I would like to see it continue all the way down to Lockport Street, all the way down to the right of way through the quarries that are there, then extend it all the way west back over to 126th, to take the logical road directly west. I would love to see that become a major east-west thoroughfare so that we can remove some of the traffic through downtown, but also provide a very good cross through street. So basically, from all ends of 143rd Street, I would love to see an investment in that project to relieve some of the traffic on each end.”
The state of Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the country. The statewide average effective tax rate is 2.13 percent, nearly double the national average. The average homeowner in Illinois pays $3,887 annually in property taxes. But in some areas, the average payment is upwards of $5,000 per year. As a village trustee, how do you suggest we generate additional revenue outside of property taxes to support the village of Plainfield?
“One of the highlights of my career with the park district was, as I said, trying to empower the staff to be very creative. We were under a situation where we had limited funds but I believe we met may of the park and recreation needs of the residents through that time. One of the things that we can do through the village is similarly, encourage people to be creative to find other ways to take care of the needs we have with limited funding. I do stress economic development. There are many corridors of development possibilities out there that can help relieve some of the pressure on the property taxes for the homeowners, I’d love to see that. I’d encourage anything we can do as a village to bring more commercial and industrial establishments to town. And I would want to work more cooperatively with everybody to see that’s done.”
“So how do we offset the property taxes, and I think it’s just standard, we can already say, economic development and industrialization. But with that being said, the village only makes up about 7 percent of our property tax bill. Sixty-five percent goes to the school district, which has done another phenomenal job of not raising those taxes. But with that being said, I think we do need to implement a committee, if it already exists I apologize, that really does come together at least quarterly, to sit down and go over what are you doing, what am I doing, what’s not working, and how can we work together to see what your budget has that my budget can’t accommodate for. I think there needs to be a better, more observant partnership, a bit more transparent one, between all of the levels of government that our town has. If you look at some of the feedback for the state of Illinois specifically that’s out there, Illinois is one of the states that has, some people will say, too many levels of government locally. It’s true, there are not as many municipalities that have the breakout that we have. Now we’re a very diverse community, we have borders that run into other communities, and we need those other levels. But I think we need to do a better job, in some senses, of coming together, touching base on whose budget can accommodate, whose budge it doing what. And with that being said, we need to be a little more kind to our business owners. Having a business, myself, we are constantly seeking help and support from our business owners for all our philanthropic causes, and there are constant state taxes imposed. So, if we can offer solutions, like solar energy, or credits along those lines to our business owners, that will give them a little alleviation for doing something good, and can bring back a little more revenue on our end. As a community, we can look at drilling down on our budget, and that money would go back into the taxpayers’ dollars. So, we’re just looking at becoming for financially conservative and really crossing every t and dotting every i.”
“Economic development, that’s obviously important as Commissioner Newton had mentioned. Last year, I think he’s been here for just about a year now, we actually did hire an economic director, Jake Melrose. We are working on that, and as previously mentioned, if we were to incorporate the 143rd extension on the last topic, that would make this particular area that we’re sitting in right now more viable. When you have opportunities for more buildings like this, they’re not putting more children in the schools and compelling the school district to educate them, they do a great job. But they’re also creating a lot of property taxes, a building like this or what have you. So obviously the 143rd corridor is going to be important to offset property taxes and make that project come to fruition. And there already are other avenues. We have motor fuel tax that comes into the village, we have home rule sales tax. For the most part, though, you’re going to have to really, really look at things that are going to be happening in Springfield, and if we’re going to talk about cutting things out of our budget, that’s fine, but we do have services to provide for our residents. So again, and most importantly, we need to give our village administrator guidance and say, really crack the whip on our economic development director, and let’s get things going.”
“Economic development obviously is important, and we know we need it. But first of all, the village of Plainfield’s tax rate is about 5 cents on every dollar, so we try to keep that steady. We have not raised the levy, we try to keep that steady for the homeowners. The property taxes are large in some of the other areas, and there are reasons for that. But you know, right now, tonight, this is one of the most important things to pay attention to all the people running for all these boards. Because it’s collectively all these boards that affect your property taxes. And so, we can’t speak for everyone else, but we can speak for Plainfield, and we have done our best to keep it down. We’ve done a lot with a little, we’ve kept the services going, we’ve moved from the red where we laid people off to the black where we are at right now, hired some key people back. We’ve dealt with some unexpected issues such as the emerald ash borer that cost a fortune, our town decided we were going to replace those trees and not just say, okay, homeowners, you have to do that yourself, as many communities have. But I also think there are certain things that you can’t control, but some you can. And an example of that is, is we as trustees are out in the community and talking to people and getting word on different things. We need to act. I was able to work very hard to keep the Chevy dealer in town back in 2009. I was approached to know that they were ready to go, had signed an affidavit and were ready to do some work with them, and then Chevy changed their mind and kept them here. That was just one example of something that we can do. When we hear things out there, we need to bring it in, we can’t just rely on everyone else or we can’t rely on staff to do all that for us. But, obviously, we do have an economic partnership, we have a person that’s working on all that, really, collectively I would say, the entire planning development staff really does work on all of that to try to make those things happen and work to keep businesses here.”
The position of Village President/Mayor is also on the ballot, however, incumbent Mayor Michael Collins unopposed in the effort to retain that position.
While he has no challenger, Collins still had plenty to say to the public about his plans for the next four years, hoping to win their vote. Notably, Collins said he was inspired listening to candidates for other positions speak out.
“These are the individuals who will lead your village, your park district, your library, your schools, for years to come,” Collins said during his opening statement. “It’s not a bunch of people who write for the Patch that sit there and chastise all the individuals about what they should do and shouldn’t do. If those individuals were actually interested in the village or in these departments, they would step forward and be seated here with these people.
“This will be my third term,” Collins continued. “I’ve served two terms as a Trustee, I served two terms with the Fire Protection District. At the end of this term, I will have completed 20 years of service to the village of Plainfield, and I’m very proud to have done that, I’m very proud of these individuals for stepping up to the plate and run for office, and I wish all the candidates well. We’ll see what happens in April.”