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Mayoral hopefuls clash on taxes in Geneva

GENEVA –  Mayor Kevin Burns and mayoral hopeful Bob McQuillan came out swinging Wednesday at a candidate forum focused on fiscal responsibility, co-sponsored by Geneva TaxFACTS.

With more than 100 residents gathered at Williamsburg Elementary School, Burns, who is seeking his fourth term, recounted the fiscal health of the city.

“I’m going to begin by sharing some facts,” Burns said. “Sales tax revenue was up 5 percent over [a] comparable time last year. Under my administration, there was 1.12 million new square feet of industrial and commercial space developed. In 2011 and 2012, Geneva’s downtown produced $100 million in sales. Geneva Commons produced $100 million in sales.”

Burns said the downtown was doing well, reducing vacancies from 15 percent to 8 percent, and the city’s budget is balanced.

McQuillan countered that Burns has said if the city does not go for its full tax levy, those funds will be lost forever.

“You will never hear me say those words,” McQuillan said. “But my opponent has [said it] on more than one occasion. In 2010, he single -handedly kept a property tax increase alive. Thankfully five aldermen fought the good fight and reduced the levy to 0.44 percent. And that is just one of the differences between Mayor Burns and myself. Budgets should not be based on how much money you can squeeze from the taxpayers. A mayor’s responsibility is to ensure the best city services are provided at the lowest possible cost.”

McQuillan – a co-founder of TaxFACTS, a taxpayer watchdog group – said when he and his wife moved to Geneva, affordability was a big factor. Now, he said, how long will it be before residents can’t afford to live there any more.

“We are the future of Geneva, not just the people that can afford it,” McQuillan said. “As mayor, I will do everything in my power to see that you can stay in a city that we all love. You have a simple choice on election day. Continue down this fiscally irresponsible path or speak up and say you’ve had enough.”

Burns countered that in surveys done in 2005 and through conversations with the city’s residents, most want a higher level of service and are willing to pay for it. McQuillan said any survey done in 2005 is “out the window” because the economic downturn starting in 2008 would have changed all that.

McQuillan challenged Burns that he has boasted of 11 balanced budgets during his 12 years as mayor. Yet, specific indexes of the city’s budgets showed various deficits.

Burns explained that those shortfalls were made up through the city’s fund reserves. McQuillan said as mayor, he would direct staff to cut budgets by 5 percent, but without eliminating services. He said he would make up the difference through increased economic development.

Burns countered since 2009, the general fund budget that pays for the city’s day-to-day expenses has already been cut 30 percent.

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