GENEVA – First Ward hopefuls Zac Ploppert and Mike Bruno drew distinctions between their candidacies in the April 9 consolidated election this week at a forum that focused on fiscal responsibility, co-hosted by Geneva TaxFACTS.
The two appeared before more than 100 residents at Williamsburg Elementary School, seeking to win the aldermanic seat currently held by Sam Hill. Hill is not seeking re-election.
Ploppert, 22, made a pledge of no new taxes or fees, to increase Geneva’s revenue through economic development not increased taxes and to support personal property rights “at all costs” in connection to restrictions in the city’s historic district.
“These are the mindsets that I have,” Ploppert said. “These are the mindsets that we, as the City Council, need to have.”
Bruno, 53, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission for 11 years, said he was not a fan of pledges.
“Everybody wants to deliver quality services at low cost,” Bruno said. “My pledge will be to use all prudence in … deliberating and thinking about how things will affect you now and in the next 20 years. … Historic preservation in our downtown is one of our most cherished virtues. If you like downtown, then I am clearly the best candidate to give voice to that.”
Specifically, Bruno said the area of River and State streets was critical for redevelopment to “draw the downtown vitality to the river and across,” as well as the eastside corridor where the city is making significant investments in the industrial park.
“I’ve lived and worked here 30-some years,” Bruno said. “I got married here, own a house here, raised a family here, made an investment in our home here, pay taxes here. I’ve contributed here. With your support, I hope to continue contributing.”
Both candidates said they would hold the line on property taxes.
“It’s a mindset – learning to just say ‘no’ to those tax increases,” Ploppert said. “Nobody has a more vested interest in the future of Geneva than myself. I will raise a family here; I will put down my roots here just as my parents did. … The city’s portion of the tax bill is a small percent. That’s true. That does not mean we should not do everything that we absolutely we can do to make sure that small percent it stays as low as we possibly can. … I’m not simply saying gut the budget to save on taxes. ... We need to look for that revenue in other places.”
Bruno said it was not possible to know what is going to come before the City Council in the next four years. He said the city has a very desirable downtown “and we need to make sure that turns into an economic engine” and invest in the southeast industrial area to increase that tax base.
Ploppert said while the occupancy in the downtown area might be up, “anything less than 100 percent is not acceptable to me.”
Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns had said the downtown vacancy rate went from 15 percent down to 8 percent. Ploppert said a recent budget presentation showed city spends 1 percent on economic development.
“We need to expand on that. Economic development should be more than 1 percent of our spending. … At least we can expand and help bring new businesses in – in addition to helping current businesses,” Ploppert said. “And make sure we do not have to put that burden on the backs of residents.”
Bruno noted a recent analysis of city spending and effectiveness, saying “Geneva basically pretty much shined across the board in terms of quality of service we provide and what we spend for it.”
Bruno said the biggest opportunity for growing the city’s economic base is industrial tenants. As to the historic preservation versus personal property rights issue, Bruno said he would be “playing the long game.”
“We look at the facts: Geneva is envied by every community that knows of us,” Bruno said. “That is in large measure due to historic preservation. I know how it works. … There are guidelines to historic preservation [that] we are bound to follow … I would have to look at each individual case.”
As to his pledge not to raise taxes, Ploppert was asked whether he would break his promise if the city’s infrastructure was in sudden need of repair. Ploppert said, “No.” He said the city’s older water and sewer lines need to be replaced, but the cost should not come from taxes or an increase in rates.
To a question of which mayoral candidate they would work well with, Ploppert said challenger Bob McQuillan, and Bruno said Burns.