Art Lemke: 2021 candidate for St. Charles City Council Ward 2
In the April 6 consolidated election, incumbent Arthur J. Lemke and challenger Ryan S. Bongard are vying for a four-year term as St. Charles 2nd Ward Alderman.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates several questions about issues facing the city.
Below are Lemke's responses.
In-person early voting begins March 10 only at the Kane County Clerk's Office, 719 S. Batavia Ave., Bldg. B, in Geneva and the Aurora satellite office, 5 E. Downer Place, Suite F. In-person early voting at locations throughout the county begins March 22. Learn more at www.kanecountyclerk.org/Elections.
Town: St. Charles
Occupation: Part-time consultant, Illinois Tollway
Civic involvement: Board member of St. Charles Business Alliance; member of the St. Charles History Museum and Fox River Trolley Museum; member of the church group that restored the historic house on Sixth Avenue
Q: How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state and federal authorities?
A: As a current member of city council, I support our resolution for "Continuation and Extension for the Declared state of Emergency." In effect, this gives the mayor the power to address unforeseen pandemic issues that can occur between scheduled city council meetings. I also monitor the mayor's pandemic updates; I continue to monitor information the mayor includes in his updates including links provided by Illinois Municipal League. As an elected official, it is important to set an example by wearing one or two masks in public places. I feel we should all sign up for vaccine and as it becomes available for various groups. I work from home, including attendance at council meetings via Zoom depending on the phase of the recovery. I believe these practices are generally popular in St. Charles, as they are the best way to defer to federal/state regulations.
Q: Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A: In an earlier term of service in St. Charles, I was criticized for supporting First Street redevelopment. Support of First Street redevelopment has proved appropriate because, during the pandemic for example, outdoor dining has been especially popular in the Plaza (among other places). After some years of a weak economy, the success of the First Street redevelopment speaks for itself. First Street redevelopment would have been better, if not sooner, if the national and local economy has not been so weak during the Great Recession.
Q: In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A: We understand that pandemics, such as the current one, occur perhaps once in 100 years. City council has supported and will continue to support executive powers for the mayor. A new health crisis can always arise, and if one does, it may be substantially different from what we have experienced in the last several months. It seems inappropriate for the current city council to put ordinances in place that would "tie the hands" of a future city council.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: In spite of varying levels of inflation that has increased costs of city goods and services, St. Charles has held its portion of the real estate tax at a reasonably consistent level during my last two terms in office (8 years). I will continue to do advocate for that approach. It is important to note that the largest portion of the property tax is determined by the school board.
The city does manage the municipal electric utility, for example. I have found that disconnection of utilities can do more damage than the cost of any monthly bill. I feel that the city can help those impacted during the pandemic by extending payment terms. Given the unseasonably cold winter, we do more for struggling families by extending payment terms for a resident that can demonstrate hardship. Finally, the city has reduced and is continuing to reduce the annual cost of certain business licenses as a direct response to the pandemic.
Q: What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A: Bridges can be an expensive infrastructure investment. All of ours are in excellent shape. When bridges are replaced or added (as the city did with the Red Gate Bridge) these are financed over the period of time. The city issues bonds for such projects such that a portion of the investment will be paid by those using the bridge in future years. Thus the entire cost is not paid immediately. Currently, our oldest Fox River bridge is the Illinois Street bridge. Happily there is no reason to replace it. We do have a nearby foot bridge which may need to be replaced. A new footbridge can and should be deferred where there are a number of nearby alternatives for pedestrian traffic.
During these uncertain economic times, there may be a good reason for the city to defer vehicle replacement. With the current pandemic, there has been a lot less vehicle traffic on the roads. To the extent that any city vehicles have been driven fewer miles, their service life can be extended, with an immediate impact on the budget. That is because long-term bond issues are not a good way to pay for vehicle replacement.
Q: Do you agree or disagree with the stance your council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A: I feel the location that was initially selected by Zen Leaf for retail sale of recreational marijuana was insensitive to their neighbors, and had insufficient parking. I was against their initial plan.
A change (or improved position) could occur if a retailer such as Zen Leaf would secure a site that is better suited to retail sales.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: I would like the city to consider a long-term solution to the flooding that has occurred in the neighborhood west of the new police station. A good idea to consider as a longer term solution would be the provision of larger storm sewers. I was inspired to take college engineering courses after watching how one city solved local flooding issues by installing such storm sewers. As a result of that project, my neighbors' basements no longer experienced flooding.