Ryan Bongard: 2021 candidate for St. Charles City Council Ward 2
In the April 6 consolidated election, Ryan S. Bongard is challenging incumbent Arthur J. Lemke 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 Bongard'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: CEO of Twelv21 LLC
Civic involvement: St. Charles Zoning Board of Appeals; St. Charles Youth Baseball board member
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: The greatest value city council can bring during these unprecedented times is assurance to the entire community that we stand together as one. The role of alderman is essential to ensuring this vision is reality. Whether it is personally reaching out to constituents, creating special initiatives to support local business or just being a sounding board for people to voice concerns, the greatest contribution an alderman can make is by being heavily engaged.
Residents rely on their alderman to be a bridge to local government. Unfortunately, at this moment, the pandemic has illustrated the disconnect many constituents feel to current representation. My priority in confronting this pandemic will be improving Ward 2 residents' access, comfort and understanding of their local government so they know how elected officials are supporting their individual needs.
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: I believe Mayor Rogina, Finance Director Minick and supporting council members deserve praise in their proactive management of the city's budget last summer. The decision to reduce spending by $2.4 million without compromising essential support in Health & Safety or Public Works ensured residents could continue to rely on the vital services provided by the City of St. Charles. Now, the forecast reduction in spending appears to be on track to meet the expected losses to the city's General Fund.
The challenge for our next mayor and city council will be assessing what additional reduction(s) in spending must be considered to achieve a similar outcome. The greatest hurdle for government operating budgets is likely to present itself in 2021 and 2022 because of 2020 revenue losses which may result in lower operating levels for nonessential services. St. Charles residents and council will benefit from new perspective and innovative leadership to find ways to partner with local businesses and organizations, so we maintain the high standards we have come to expect from our city.
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: In a crisis, residents do not turn to the state or federal government for immediate assistance -- they call local government officials, police, and fire departments. However most local municipalities do not have a true operating plan for such an occurrence. For St. Charles, council granted emergency powers to the mayor which was the right decision however for future challenges I believe we can do more. If elected, I would make it priority for council to develop a new crisis management process which streamlines messaging, engages residents, and ensures community confidence in local representation that that situation is being effectively managed not just in the moment but long term so we return to normal as quickly as possible.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: The FY2020-2021 city budget is projected to exceed revenues by roughly $1.1 million with most operating expenses dedicated to fire and police, public works and previously approved investment. It is important to note council has avoided implementing certain revenue generating options such as city stickers or additional licenses which means when it comes to lowering city expense, we are inevitably talking about reducing essential services.
During the pandemic, council and staff approved the waiver of certain business licenses to help ease financial challenges for local business owners. This was a smart decision and one the city must continue for the foreseeable future. In addition, future consideration on general government and community development expenditures may be necessary. However, the best way to adjust for a budget gap is to ensure total support for local business owners and patrons. We cannot cut our way to prosperity or reduce enough of the city's operating expenses to have it directly impact taxpayer's bottom line.
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: The greatest infrastructure project facing St. Charles sits on the east side of town and that is the Charlestowne Mall. For more than decade the mall has been bleeding and now sits at nearly 99% vacancy. The Charlestowne Mall property represents arguably the greatest opportunity for the city and our east gate, however, council has been unable to move this project forward. This is the time for new leadership from council and the mayor to find a solution that compliments our growing downtown, future development at Pheasant Run and long-term vision of our business community.
While there have been several proposals, market studies and "deals" in the works, local government has fallen short. Post COVID-19, we need to put all options on the table to get this project off the ground. Whether considering city acquisition, TIF proposals or community led ownership its painfully obvious that no one is happy with the state of the mall. Residents must ask who is best to find a solution to the mall? People who have already been a part of 10+ years of planning and negotiating or new individuals who specialize in these types of matters?
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: When the Illinois General Assembly officially legalized recreational marijuana, I believe the issue of access became the central point for our community. I agree with council's general position to allow for recreational marijuana within city limits.
However, I believe the rollout of this approval could have been better. Council and staff should have ensured all questions regarding permits, zoning and community inquiry were resolved before businesses could go to market. This would have helped avoid future questions that have made managing this new market more complicated than it needed to be. The reality is St. Charles is a great community for almost any business. If we needed to take additional time to get our operations aligned, I am sure we would have no trouble finding a potential business operator.
Getting this right for all parties seems like a greater priority than being first.
Q: What is one good idea you must better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: The way we better St. Charles is not a debate about repurposing the old police station or finding a solution to the Charlestowne Mall, though those are important questions facing the next city council. How we achieve the best community is by evolving our thought process, adapting the ways in which we meet challenges and practicing real inclusion. We must avoid the "fear of change" and recognize the appeal that growth and development present.