GENEVA – Incumbent Mayor Kevin Burns and challenger Robert McQuillan engaged in a friendly repartee Saturday at a candidate forum held at the Kirkwood Homeowners Association Clubhouse, where about 40 people attended.
Burns is seeking his fourth term in the April 9 consolidated election. McQuillan is co-founder of a local taxpayer watchdog group, Geneva TaxFACTS.
The candidates' discussion was free-wheeling and covered several topics.
In talking about the city's debt, Burns said in 2001 when he was elected mayor, the city's debt was $80 million. It has now been reduced to $54 million.
Burns spoke of the city's improvements under his leadership, such as the city's utility has the lowest electric rates in the area, and 10 percent of what is produced comes from the closed Settlers Hill Landfill, which is sold on the power grid, Burns said.
The city's downtown and Geneva Commons generate $100 million each in sales tax, from which the city gets 1 percent, Burns said. The downtown's vacancy rate was 15 percent in January 2012, now reduced to 8 percent, Burns said.
"Sales tax revenue is up," Burns said.
McQuillan said he would promote the economic base of the downtown to gain more sales tax revenue, rather than looking to taxpayers.
The city's portion of the tax bill is about 8 percent, officials said.
"In this current economy, we should be looking at a two- three-year plan and constantly updating it," McQuillan said. "We don't have a lot of opportunities to generate revenue outside of property taxes, except if we bring business in and if we take our sales tax revenue [and] increase that."
McQuillan said he would promote a marketing program to attract younger people from Chicago, to spend the day in Geneva. McQuillan said once young couples decide to have children, they will want to live in a community like Geneva – but the taxes have to be affordable.
McQuillan said Geneva should combine its marketing funds with other towns and do promotions as a group for the region.
Burns said the city does planning two to three years out, in addition to 20-year planning.
"There is a plan in place annually, that is audited by the city council and in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce with respect to how do we attract more people to our community," Burns said.
With all the city's festivals – run by the chamber – more than 500,000 people come to Geneva, Burns said.
"We invest in the chamber to help bring people to town," Burns said. "State law precludes … pooling our money, as Mr. McQuillan describes, in order to market a larger region. We simply can't do it."
Burns agreed, however, that when neighboring towns succeed, the success includes Geneva. Leaders of Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles and West Chicago meet regularly, he said, to talk about how all can benefit from an influx of visitors.
Until state law changes, Burns said, "We do the very best we can to market our community."
McQuillan advocated getting city leaders and lawmakers on a bus to Springfield and "demand that the state do what we want to do."