SUGAR GROVE – Whether or not the village of Sugar Grove is business friendly is the major bone of contention between the five candidates for village trustee who are battling for three positions in the upcoming April 4 consolidated election.
During a Meet the Candidates Night on March 14 at the Sugar Grove Public Library, these candidates were asked five questions, including: “In the past, some have voiced that the village could be more business friendly. How business friendly is the village and what can we do to encourage more current businesses to expand and new ones to move to Sugar Grove?”
Trustee Rick Montalto was insulted by the question and challenged that a business owner posed it. Moderator Bo Smith confirmed that it did come from a business owner. Smith is an employee of Shaw Media.
“I’m actually offended by that comment," Montalto said. "For some reason that comment keeps coming back to haunt us that years ago someone said it was unfriendly or hard for businesses to work with Sugar Grove. That is not the case. You can talk to any of the businesses that have opened in the last six to eight years – McDonald’s, Walgreens, the new Shell gas station, the BP that’s going up, the current Dunkin’ Donuts, Ace. Everyone has said that we have been phenomenal to work with, better than any community they’ve come across. So where this is coming from, I have no idea. We are very diligent with being friendly with businesses coming, encouraging people to come in. That’s false. That’s no longer the case.”
Trustee candidate Ted Koch sided with Montalto.
“I strongly challenge that notion also that we’re not business friendly,” Koch said. “We are very business friendly. I think we’ve shown some very good examples of that. We’ve got board members out there trying to court new business. We’re not just sitting around waiting for people to come to us. We’ve worked hard to bring folks into our town.”
Trustee candidate Karen McCannon completely disagreed.
“I have heard that statement that Sugar Grove is not very easy to work with," she said. "I guess I have three things to say – Menards warehouse, Pier 1 warehouse, [Raging Waves] Waterpark. These are things we could’ve had and don’t. I’ve heard from some contractors that have said Sugar Grove is very difficult to work with. I was not involved but was watching McDonald’s, and there were many times it was just nitpicking. I agree. I don’t care what the board says. I agree that there are things that Sugar Grove does to make it difficult for certain companies.”
Trustee candidate Alison Squires would like to see the board attract smaller independent businesses by offering rent subsidies or low rents rather than bringing in large companies.
“I think I would be careful about attracting businesses like large retail that could potentially pull their business and leave an empty space,” Squires said. “Then it becomes an eyesore and costs us in tax dollars if we have to condemn the building or tear it down.”
Trustee Sean Herron admitted that he was either still in high school or serving in Iraq when Menards and Pier 1 were considering building warehouses in Sugar Grove. Regardless, he agreed that bringing similar companies to Sugar Grove would be beneficial to the community.
“In my four years we’ve only denied one business, which was a video gaming café that we didn’t think was the right business for Sugar Grove,” Herron said. “With being so close to I-88, we need to utilize that tool and bring some distribution centers in places where we’re not going to build residential homes and diversify our tax bases with those distribution centers, putting money into the school district and all other taxing bodies. That’s what I’d like to see.”
The Sugar Grove Township assessor position is also contested between newcomer Curt J. Karas and longtime incumbent Laura E. Ross.
Ross, who has served as assessor for the past 12 years and is seeking her fourth term, wants to continue serving the community. She’s climbed from a role as a secretary in an assessor’s office to where she is today.
“For the past six to eight months there’s been a lot of politics going on, and I don’t like it,” Ross said. “I was elected to serve the people, and that’s the only people I serve. I continue to do that humbly because I care about people. I’m an old county girl who works hard for others and would like to continue doing that.”
She also explained that it takes years to understand how to do the job properly.
“It takes at least four years to understand the system,” she explained. “It’s a learning process from day to day, so I think my experience is a key in this matter.”
Karas doesn’t think he’ll have a problem transitioning into the job.
“If by chance I’m fortunate to be the assessor, I’ve already had assessors in the area reach out to me to help with the transition,” he said. “If I have questions, I’ll ask the appropriate people.”
Karas has had an accounting firm in Sugar Grove for 24 years and said one of the biggest joys is working with people.
“I’ve made people millions of dollars, and I want to make people happy,” he said. “I want what’s best for the citizens of Sugar Grove. I have experience and will work hard. I’ve built businesses from the ground up and believe in customer service and communication.”
There are also four people vying for three open spots on the Kaneland School Board, including newcomers Aaron J. Lawler and Noah Little, and current board members Pedro Rivas and Shana Sparber.
Little emphasized the importance of teachers.
“The No. 1 factor in the education lives of students are the adults that work with them,” he said. “It’s not the curriculum; it’s not the textbooks; it’s not the materials; it’s not the resources; it’s not the computer that sits in front of them. It’s actually the adults that teach. If elected onto the board, it’s something we’ll have to look at each year, so that we’re carrying out the district’s mission and vision and 20/20 strategic plan.”
Sparber explained that the biggest challenge is finding a way to balance the strategic plans with finances.
“I think finances are always a challenge in our school district, where so much of the taxes come from property owners,” she said. “They have been very generous supporting us in the past and have done their share, so it’s a challenge to always meet the needs of the district within those constraints. It’s a challenge to make sure we’re successful in implementing our strategic plan.”
Lawler explained the constant battle with bullying in the schools and what needs to be done to deal with it.
“Bullying doesn’t just get fixed,” he said. “The error we make is we think we’ve solved the problem. You can’t actually solve the bullying. You can only continue to treat it because bullying will continue to evolve. What we can continue to do as parents, community members and teachers is try to foster empathy, service, kindness and action. We can make those our values, and when we do this it helps this problem in some way.”
Rivas, who has been on the board since 2013, wants to continue to serve.
“This is my way of giving back to the community,” he said.“I have two children almost finished through the system, and I’ve made a lot of friends and met a lot of community members. I wouldn’t want to be a part of his if I didn’t care about education. It’s where I’m at presently. As board members, we support the teachers and the administration and are looking to make a difference.”