Emily Bastedo: Candidate profile for Elmhurst 6th Ward Alderman
In the April 6, 2021, consolidated election, Peter Ahern, Emily Bastedo, Peter M. Dabertin and Yeena Yoo are vying for a four-year term as Elmhurst 6th Ward Alderman. The Daily Herald asked the candidates several questions about issues facing the city.
Below are Bastedo's responses.
In-person early voting with paper ballots is available at DuPage County Fairgrounds Building 5, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. In-person early voting with touch-screen voting begins March 22 at locations throughout the county. Learn more at www.dupageco.org/earlyvoting.
Occupation: Government Relations and Public Affairs, ISACA
Civic involvement: I served 4 years on the D205 School Board where I worked on stormwater projects with the city, including one that directly impacted 41 6th Ward families and protected everyone's property value; in 2020 I used donations to the Elmhurst Community Relief Fund to direct over $10,000 to local restaurants; I created a popup food pantry; and I have been very involved in the PTA, including chairing the scholarship fund for York seniors.
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: Communicating is one of the most important things the city can do during a pandemic. Our city does not have our own health department so the county is the first level government health agency. COVID alerts, social media updates, ward meetings, emails, newsletters, and everything else the city can do to disseminate information about vaccines, testing, safety measures, business hours, etc. is their role.
While confronting the pandemic, it is also important for city leaders to give a voice to Elmhurst citizens by communicating with and lobbying the state and federal authorities. Federal dollars are available and Elmhurst has and should lobby for that aid. For example, in 2020, the federal CARES Act provided $2.4 million to the City of Elmhurst which helped fill budget holes.
It is to everyone's benefit for our small businesses to remain open and viable. To that end, the city should waive fees, shorten the business application process, and pass ordinances that make it easier for businesses to operate on sidewalks. Finally, the city can help individual citizens by keeping property taxes low and looking for ways to cut their fees like delaying vehicle sticker purchase deadlines.
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: Yes, I believe city officials did a good job of supporting our small businesses during the pandemic. For example, they took action to expand outdoor dining in three ways: allowed restaurants to use the parking spaces in front of their building for outdoor seating, removed the requirement that outdoor seating have a barrier around it which made more room for outdoor dining, and after 5 p.m. allowed restaurants to expand even more to the sidewalks of the businesses around them that were closed for the day. For some restaurants, that is why they survived. I think the city will take action to make some of those changes permanent which is great for 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: After facing the current pandemic, the city has a stronger relationship with the area hospitals, especially Edward-Elmhurst Health which is something that should be used for future public health crises. Edward-Elmhurst Health and the city worked together closely to provide real-time data regarding COVID such as hospital bed availability, number of patients on ventilators, and number of positive COVID tests. So the citizens were able to get real time data before the other government data was available to them.
During this pandemic, the city also learned that not everyone has access to the same information so it needs to be pushed out in many ways. Some people use phone apps. Others get information from newsletters and mail. We have learned how to communicate with seniors who might not have access to the internet. We should continue to push out information in every way we can -- and before the next pandemic gather more specifics about how best to communicate with a wide audience.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: The city should review its $120 million budget and make sure we are getting the most we can from our taxpayer dollars. People depend on the city services so those should be the last cuts made. The most flexibility in our city's budget is in capital projects. We have 100 miles of roads in Elmhurst and we usually replace 5 miles a year. In fiscally healthy years, we will do more. For the last 10 years or so, we have done more than the average which means in years with a crisis, like this one, we do fewer. In 2020, the city did patching and maintenance of roads but saved almost $4 million by not redoing as many roads as they would in a normal year.
We should also help our local businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic which means more sales tax. Another way the city can reduce the burden on taxpayers is by implementing a hiring freeze at city hall. The city put a hiring freeze in place this past year -- so they were able to save money by not filling the positions of people who retired. No one lost their jobs but the taxpayers saved money on city salaries and benefits.
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: After watching what happened in Texas over the past few weeks, it is clear that infrastructure is something in which we HAVE to invest. Electrical systems, safe and well lit roads, water supply: these are things we tend to take for granted but they have to work well for us to be safe and healthy. I think our drinking water and sanitary sewer systems are most critical as they directly affect the health of our residents and the health of our environment (via the Salt Creek watershed). In terms of how to pay for it, the city has a model that ties to the amount of water consumed as an equitable way to pay for what we use. Given the challenges of our aging system coupled with new environmental regulations, we will need to look for other sources of funding like state and federal grants to help minimize the increased burden on residents for these improvements.
As I mentioned above, we have 100 miles of roads in Elmhurst and we usually replace 5 miles a year. Some road repaving can be put on the back burner and we can continue to do spot repairs on roads where such actions make sense.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: I would continue to work with the state and county officials regarding any executive orders that are issued by Gov. Pritzker. Some of the governor's orders are only enforceable by the DuPage County Health Department. To the extent of their authority, the city did what they could over this past year to ensure that businesses were following state directives. The city should disseminate information (which they did), but they literally did not have legal authority to shut anyone down. Our mayor consulted the DuPage County State's Attorney and the city's attorney about what the city could and could not and what approach would be appropriate. The city's approach was diffuse and disseminate.
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: Two years ago, the Elmhurst City Council voted 14-0 to NOT allow recreational marijuana sales in Elmhurst. It is not really about access (there are plenty of places to get it), it's about tax revenues. True, it is usually a tax boon for a short amount of time, but a vast majority of residents who contacted the city at the time were against recreational marijuana sales in our town. If public sentiment has changed on marijuana then I'd be willing to revisit it. In the meantime, to fix budget shortfalls we should review our $120 million budget and make sure we are getting the most we can from our taxpayer dollars. We should help our local businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic which means more sales tax. We should also continue to lobby for federal money as we did for the new Elmhurst train station.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: It is hard to name just one. I'd like to see free public Wi-Fi all around town which would make our town safer and would help attract people to our businesses, among other things. I am thinking a lot about how Elmhurst will be different post-COVID and what we will do to get ahead of the next emergency. Related to electric vehicles (car companies declaring they will move toward all electric cars and SUVs), how will Elmhurst get money to maintain our roads when today a significant portion comes from the Motor Fuel Tax? I support the construction of a large, thriving senior center. I know the park district is looking at one, but we are long overdue for a modern, centralized location for seniors to socialize, get information and services, and participate in city and park sponsored activities. I would love to see a sports center in town because people with kids my kids' age travel to communities all around us to play indoor and outdoor sports, giving our money to those towns instead of attracting people from other towns to spend money in Elmhurst.