Rex Irby: 2023 candidate for Elmhurst City Council Ward 7
Age on Election Day: 61
Occupation: Solar developer
Employer: Principle of Solar International Services
Previous offices held: None
Q: What is the most serious issue your community will face in the coming years and how should the city council respond to it?
A: Total county property taxes have increased steadily over the last 27 years I have lived in Elmhurst. Our City of Elmhurst taxes were rising 4% until 2009, then tapered off to less than 1% until COVID hit. Last year, those taxes jumped 9.4% from the prior year.
Comparing only the city's portion of our property taxes to our comparable neighboring towns, Elmhurst is 45% higher on a per household basis. Elmhurst City Council must curtail discretionary spending in order to slow the growth of our property taxes. I will work with the city on their strategic goals, make recommendations, and advocate appropriately for both Ward 7 and all of Elmhurst to lower the city's portion of the property tax burden. I will talk to other surrounding towns to get their tax successes and areas of improvement. I will communicate those results back to you to give you comfort and knowledge that your property taxes are being levied and spent wisely.
Q: How would you describe the state of your community's finances?
A: The recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge everywhere. Through all the challenges, addressing stormwater mitigation projects continued. All stormwater projects to date have reached approximately $48 million in total cost.
The debt and its annual service cost have accumulated as well, resulting in a declared budget shortfall this year pertaining to the current portion of its 20-year debt service.
Over development has caused more stormwater issues, cost, and corresponding debt that have burdened our ability to pay back the extra cost of these large projects without getting the funds and proper fees to handle the current obligations.
Outside sales tax revenue was a key source to cover these current storm debt obligations and is now not able to cover this increased debt load.
The city is now looking at options to liquidate city land assets to pay for current year stormwater debt obligations. There are other viable choices going forward that must be further examined so that property taxes do not become the historical easy answer.
Q: What should be the three top priorities for spending in your community during the next four years?
A: First, reduce discretionary spending by the city to lower our property tax burden and get us in line with our comparable neighboring communities and get fund balances to appropriate levels that are commensurate with a lower budget. Lower spending will equate to lower property taxes.
Second, identify and implement home-specific stormwater mitigation strategies, as outlined in the Baxter & Woodman stormwater report. These costs should be less per flood affected home than our current large retention projects that have averaged $100,000 per home. Our current stormwater mitigation projects have covered 500 homes. We have more creative work to do for the homes still at risk.
Third, purchasing water from the DuPage Water Commission is the number one expense on the city budget. Of that, 19-25% never makes it to our homes and businesses due primarily to water main leaks and unbilled water. Residents in my ward are feeling this impact with higher monthly water bills. This can be remedied by tackling 6-7 miles of water main repairs per year of our 177 miles of pipes to lower our water losses. Funds for replacement will come from both recovered water revenues and impact fees on new homes.
Q: Are there areas of spending that need to be curtailed? If so, what are they?
A: All areas and their respective budgets should be reviewed to curtail discretionary spending. By examining all budgets in a fiscally responsible way we can properly identify, prioritize, and manage tighter budgets without losing the levels of services that we value and expect.
An example could be public works -- streets are 68% of all the public works budget, by charging a higher impact fee on new homes we can materially offset the streets cost every year without putting increased burden on our property taxes.
Another example would be to continue to electrify the city fleet, including police cars, that would reduce our cost by more than 50% to fuel and repair traditional vehicles. This would also help to reduce our emissions and improve air quality.
The city is already doing a great job on LED traffic light replacements, saving electricity and thousands of hours to replace light bulbs far less frequently. This is a Team Elmhurst effort that includes all of us.
Q: What do you see as the most important infrastructure project the community must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what project(s) can be put on the back burner?
A: Having enough clean safe affordable drinking water for Elmhurst is public health and safety for a lifetime. Keeping the price of great drinking water affordable has not been an easy endeavor in Elmhurst as it's a complicated long-term solution.
It will require water main replacements that will reduce the lost paid water that never makes it to our taps. The rate of water main replacement will have to be substantially increased to get caught up with our 177 miles of pipes.
Our water infrastructure can be primarily paid for by lost revenue collected in future water bills that represent lower cost of water needed from the DuPage Water Commission and increased impact fees on new homes that replace tear downs. One "back burner" project could be large stormwater retention projects that fail to meet remediation cost per home.
A second project to delay would be the relocation of the police station until the new downtown Metra station is completed.
Q: Describe your experience working in a group setting to determine policy. What is your style in such a setting to reach agreement and manage local government? Explain how you think that will be effective in producing effective actions and decisions with your city council.
A: My time on the District 205 Finance Task Force offered great experience, where my research and information compilation was valuable to the group and the school district.
The information was then discussed and collaboratively distilled and became a part of the group solution with projections, modeling and visually appealing graphs.
Group discussions that invite open involvement of all parties, sharing of expertise, listening and patience resulted in "group buy-in" and comprehensive collaborative policy outcomes.
As a member of the city's Sustainability Task Force, I am proud of the baseline report we were able to generate and that the city has started the process of changing all of our streetlights to LED bulbs.
This is a great example of community groups and city council working together. Further action to be more proactive in achieving the state of Illinois' goals on the path to 100% clean energy is another area for exploration, phasing out carbon emissions from the energy and transportation sectors.
As residents take advantage of incentives to purchase electric vehicles, we as a city also have state incentive programs to explore to increase charging stations, providing more access to residents while not increasing tax payer dollars.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: I have been blessed during my time in Elmhurst the last 27 years. We bought a house at a time when Elmhurst had the lowest property taxes in DuPage.
Our children received a fantastic education from District 205. We live in one of the best suburbs in the country, it is a great place to raise a family and I am determined to make it the best place to retire.
I have long been concerned about issues that affect us, from sustainability to tackling the flooding that has happened in our neighborhood. I have spent the time attending committee meetings and working together to get things done. Count on me to listen to your concerns and questions, to serve as your trusted advocate. I will be available and responsive, ready to point you in the right direction to solve problems and get information. I will work with all of our local governmental entities to keep moving Elmhurst forward, building an even more welcoming community where we support all residents. I believe your local government should work for you and I want to serve you in Ward 7 and represent the neighborhood as the welcoming and thriving place that it is.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: An inverse tiered water billing system that lowers the cost per gallon on those who lower their water usage. This will take some financial burden off the senior citizens water bills who need their burdens lightened.
It is important to me that we spend taxpayer dollars wisely, that we research all possible options to negotiate the lowest costs for water, utility and garbage bills; that we support intergovernmental cooperation for the benefit of all residents.
Elmhurst attracts so many people with it's welcoming neighborhoods, great location, and thriving downtown.
Many who went to our schools return to raise their families, and keeping the future generation and extended family in Elmhurst is my goal. Longtime residents on fixed incomes struggling in the face of rising costs and expenses should not be priced out of remaining in Elmhurst.
I will work hand in hand with community members, City of Elmhurst staff and elected officials to make tough decisions safeguarding Elmhurst's future as a diverse and welcoming community for all. I am advocating for all of Ward 7 and would appreciate your trust to have your vote!