Marah Altenberg: Candidate profile, Lake County Board District 20
Democratic incumbent Marah Altenberg and Republican Soojae Lee, both of Buffalo Grove, are running for the Lake County Board District 20 seat.
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: I am running to retain my position as Lake County Board member because I am passionate about our community, District 20, and am capable and enthusiastic to make fact-based decisions that benefit my fellow neighbors and constituents. The world has changed over the last six months, and decisive and strong leadership is needed during this COVID crisis.
As a former journalist, I served as both a reporter and editor, running five Lake County newspapers. I chose the field of journalism because I wanted to help safeguard society and I believe transparent communication regarding government is essential to steer our society in a positive direction.
I am excited to be on the other side of the table, still making an impact that improves our community's quality of life. I have a solid background in budgets, municipal issues, education, housing, and more. I have been involved in our Buffalo Grove community for 20 years. I have volunteered in our schools, served as a synagogue board member and served as a village youth commissioner. It is my mission to bring needed economic development, infrastructure updates, and address environmental concerns, to keep our community healthy and thriving.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A: As an independent reformer and taxpayer advocate, I was a leader and one of the first county board members to push to delay property tax payments for citizens and small businesses during the pandemic. I supported stretching out property tax payments from two to four payments this year, and I supported the county board's decision to freeze levies for 2020.
Additionally, I am supporting an effort to make the four-payment property tax system a permanent timeline. To help with the devastating effects of COVID, I have also approved the distribution of $121 million in CARES Act funds to help those who need rental and utility assistance, stocking our food pantries with additional food to fulfill the greater need, and funding for our first responders, health department, school districts and municipal entities who all have additional expenses related to COVID during this very difficult time. I have also participated in establishing grants and loans for our many small businesses in the county.
Additionally, I worked with Lake County's House delegation on bringing back $122 million for infrastructure improvements for Lake County. This money will help with stormwater management issues.
Q: Describe your position regarding the balance between county spending and revenues as it exists today, then describe the chief threats you see looming in the future and how the county should deal with them.
A: Before this pandemic hit us brutally in March 2020, Lake County consistently has balanced its budget and is extremely prudent with its spending. I am a strong believer of living within our means. But with this completely unexpected health and economic crisis, I am striving to aggressively cut our 2020 budget and work diligently to cut the 2021 budget as well.
Lake County is projecting a $50 million deficit for 2020 due to the many necessary shut downs of businesses in our area due to COVID. Our residents cannot handle another tax increase, and in fact our taxes are too high already. We need to look at many different solutions to bridge the gap. I have worked with staff and like-minded board members to help find ways to slash $30 million from our current budget and continue to work diligently to cut more.
As a county board member, I have joined others in asking each department to reduce their budgets and get back to 2019 levels to help with our expected revenue shortfall in 2021. The board has approved three furlough days for nonunion staffers and is in negotiations with union staffers to also take some furlough days. We will need to do more in the months to come on budgets.
Q: How do you rate the county government on transparency and the public's access to records? If you consider it adequate, please explain why. If you think improvements are needed, please describe them and why they are important.
A: I would give the Lake County government about an 8 on transparency. I say that knowing that all governmental bodies can always do better in many ways. I believe the county government is trying extremely hard to be as transparent as possible. Just about all meetings can be viewed by the public, whether in person or afterward with recordings. Many of the policies guiding our thinking on how we approach various areas such as the environment, infrastructure improvement and more are laid out online for the public to access.
The upcoming projects each department is working on can, in many cases, also be accessed online. We have cleaned up the mess that existed in previous years, by eliminating p-cards and ensuring expense transparency. As a board member, I welcome the public's views and try to answer every question and address all issues to the best of my ability.
I will continue to push the county to get many more records online and give the public increased access to records and statistics of our government. One reason some older records have not been put online is due to antiquated systems. I am pushing to update our technology expediently to improve the county's transparency.
Q: What, if anything, should be done to improve automation and customer service in county offices? What steps should be taken to make that happen?
A: There are many steps that can be taken to bring more automation and better customer service to our county offices. The county continues to not have adequate resources to bring everything needed online. For instance, the sheriff's department still has many archived records to put online. Automation needs to become a larger priority with all of county government. Even the appeals process for property taxes is burdensome and complicated.
Our county court system needs much more automation and, due to the pandemic, much of it was actually shut down. The circuit court clerk's office was able to find some work-arounds to get parts of the court system working virtually at this time, but much more needs to happen regarding the ability to file papers virtually and hold different types of court hearings online.
Prior to COVID, attorneys would need to go to the courthouse for every type of paper filing. This method, which sometimes can take several hours, racks up costs for clients and attorneys. There can be new online systems created to bring more efficiency to the court system and save money. As a board member, I will continue to identify ways to improve the service experiences we provide.