Charles Amenta: 2021 candidate for St. Charles City Council, Ward 3
Two candidates for one seat from Ward 3
City: St. Charles
Occupation: City Clerk of St. Charles, District 303 school bus driver
Employer: City of St. Charles, District 303
Civic involvement: St. Charles City Clerk; VP Renaux Manor Home Owners Association; Girl Scout Troop 499 Cookie Co-Chair
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 city of St. Charles has been active in working with businesses to help bridge the gap between shut down and ramp up to full-time business. This has been a great step in helping. Further, I am hopeful that assistance for residences will be next. The city is planning and working on solutions. Some idea are to extend waiving late fees on utility bills, no utility disconnect extensions, possible property tax extensions, and I'm excited to listen to residents and hear their ideas. As for state and federal guidelines, we all are responsible for maintaining and following these rules.
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. There is no manual as to how to best assist residents in the case of a pandemic but the response by the city was swift and meaningful. The reduction in the budget was an immediate relief that was important. Regardless of this budget reduction, I can say that I don't think there was any reduction in service provided by the city. First responders, public works, and utilities all continued to operate in a seamless manner. This is important and meaningful because STC was able to answer to call to reduce expenses knowing that there would be a reduction in revenues (sales taxes, alcohol taxes, hotel/motel taxes), but always maintained resident services without interruption.
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. I think we are learning everyday as we work with and further into the COVID-19 world. We must continue to maintain open and clear communications to residents through the city website and various social media platforms. Communication is key to pass along the latest information the city receives and the new things we learn. As we move into spring weather, we will need to make sure that all establishments are adhering to the rules and guidelines in place. It is vital to the residents and businesses that we are able to have fun safely and within guidelines. STC can host people from other areas come to our restaurants and entertainment establishments and businesses can thrive. As for adding new, I think the city has been active in following the County Health Department, Illinois Public Health Guidelines, and Federal CDC guidelines. Not having a health department in STC, we must rely on these groups and follow their recommendations.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. As STC did last spring, delaying projects, purchases, and new capital expenses (unless absolutely needed) helped keep expenses lower. Fire Chief Swanson delayed the purchase of a needed vehicle but was able to offset costs by finding a buyer for equipment being replaced. This kind of forward planning helps reduce costs and he was able to keep up with the needs of the department as well as keeping a responsible eye on budget. Continued planning and handling of projects based on need and not timelines, will help as we continue forward. This practice of reviewing budgets, like this, could be in place for several years to come.
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. Many residents may tell you that their street is the worst in the city and needs to be replaced. I drive a school bus all over STC and can tell you, some residents are right! There are many streets that need to be repaired and replace and some that could be repaired and not replaced. That said, I think it is important to maintain safe streets, I think that includes lighting also. We have always had a line item in the budget for these improvements. If the project is for public safety, I think these are always most important. As for what can be moved a bit, the city is always looking down the road for improvements. Water has been one of these items, we have some residents who are not pleased with the water in STC (we have very hard water in my area of town) and many have suggested building a system like Geneva, Reverse Osmosis, and this would be something that could wait, for the time being.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board/council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. This council has weighed the pros and cons of cannabis. These discussions were lengthy, insightful, productive, and even contentious at times. My personal policy, I do not comment on council votes, as city clerk, my position is administrative, not legislative. Personally, my opinion on recreational cannabis is that as long as it is regulated and the ordinances are followed, I can't see a reason to overturn the law. If the discussion comes before me as a council member, I will be open to both sides of the discussion. The ordinances are in place, cannabis is legal in Illinois and is gaining momentum on a federal level so it is something that we have to face, like it or not. In place now are zoning requirements that I agree with 100% and there are provisions for the short-term change that accommodates the local retailer. While the retailers are adjusting to a new business model, this gives STC and those retailers time to work together and see what things look like. Bottom line, it is here. We can use the tax revenues that are realized from sales toward infrastructure programs that have been pushed out, I'd be open to setting up a line item in the budget for this revenue to go toward street improvements, for example.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. I would love to see the ability to use some of the western most land for more single-family home developments. We are a landlocked city and as we are looking to reduce the tax burdens on the residents, adding more homes, more residents, and more taxpayers would help spread this out and would allow St. Charles to continue being a desirable community for families to move to and to raise their families.