Carine "Cari" Alfano: 2023 candidate for Villa Park Village Board
Town: Villa Park
Age on Election Day: 47
Employer: Elmhurst Unit District 205
Previous offices held: None
Q: What is the most serious issue your community will face in the coming years and how should the village board respond to it?
A: Villa Park's more pressing issues involve the planned and proposed developments.
Two large housing projects are in development and recently the board heard a proposal for a third. These projects are exciting for our community and have the potential to invigorate areas of our community that could use an economic boost, and could mean an increased need for additional resources such as police and fire services.
The village may see more developer interest in the near future and village-owned property may be sold for developments to promote community and economic growth.
The board should ensure due diligence in any future land sales of public property and proactively develop a plan addressing additional resources needed in the future.
The board is in a better place to plan for these scenarios since information from staff has been shared more freely with the board and the public.
This is a step toward developing a board that can be prepared and proactive as our community continues to grow.
Q: How would you describe the state of your community's finances?
A: Villa Park has started to break through the surface of transparency, and it is most noticeable when looking at the village's finances. Communication between the village manager, staff and board has changed in a positive way and better showcases for residents what is being spent and why the expense is needed.
This strong communication channel will allow the board access to the financial details necessary for future long-term planning.
It should be noted that the village has a strong history of fiscal responsibility and reporting, as according to its annual comprehensive financial report for fiscal year 2021 it has been recognized by the GFOA for its excellence in financial reporting for the 34th year in 2020 and received the GFOA distinguished budget award for the 28th consecutive year.
Q: What should be the three top priorities for spending in your community during the next four years?
A: Spending should reflect a commitment to making a difference in residents' daily lives.
When I was collecting signatures, conversations with neighbors often revolved around road repair and maintenance, flooding concerns, and a lack of modernized parks and other places and programs for our families in Villa Park.
There has been some movement and plans in the past few years to help with street repairs and flooding, but there are many sections of Villa Park where streets and sewers are still a problem waiting to be solved. Residents there feel they have been waiting a long time.
Families of young children are often driving to other towns to utilize parks, pools, and programming, especially those with school-aged children.
A focus on developing more programming along with being proactive and honest about Jefferson pool's condition would benefit these families and the community by providing local things to do, which could encourage residents to spend more dollars locally.
Q: Are there areas of spending that need to be curtailed? If so, what are they?
A: Curtailing any spending should involve the village identifying the areas in the budget that have the least impact on its residents, doing the best to not raise property taxes while still providing its current level of services.
The village can work to lessen its financial burden by reducing the amount of interest being paid.
It should work to lessen the debt burden it is carrying so we are not borrowing money from the future generation of taxpayers.
A review of the debt management summary in the 2023 budget from Villa Park's website indicates that this has been identified as an issue and has listed that the village will consult with a financial advisor to develop a plan to save money in this area.
The village is on the right track by showing fiscal responsibility with this decision and others mentioned in the debt management summary.
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: Villa Park has a rec center scheduled to be built soon with the help from a generous state grant. Even with the grant there are amenities that residents have been expecting that will likely not be a part of the initial building.
Current plans have included a space for the pool for future installation. Knowing that construction costs for a project like a pool will increase over time I think it would be wise for the board and village staff to make this a priority rather than wait and pay more later.
Residents have been expecting a rec center with a pool for many years and a new pool could improve the appearance of the city, draw families from neighboring communities into Villa Park and generate revenue as they visit the pool and dine at nearby eateries.
An increase in the nonresident park district fees that are much lower than neighboring towns charge could help fund a pool along with additional grants that may now be available.
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 village board.
A: A teacher plays the role of a leader and a public servant daily. I set policy every day as a teacher in my classroom. I collaborate with my Professional Learning Community team to problem solve and find solutions for our shared students to ensure success, I communicate with colleagues and stakeholders and have a constant need to be flexible and pivot in real-time as needed.
Collaboration is key for any public servant and requires a set of working norms and a common goal -- doing what is best for the residents of the village.
Collaboration involves asking questions, listening to others and a desire to understand different points of view.
Additionally, I served on the search and call committee at my church when we were in need of a new pastor.
My skills as an educator transferred easily to collaborate with the team as we listened, planned, pivoted, and compromised to find someone who fit our needs.
These experiences will allow me to work with others and make careful and purposeful decisions on the board.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: I am an eight-year resident of Villa Park and bring a fresh perspective as a family that sought to find a home and raise our family in the village. I bring with me a strong sense of service and dedication to the community. I believe in problem-solving issues when we can as residents.
When the Prairie Path trees were damaged, my family took action and worked to repair the trees because that was an easy solution. As a teacher, I can help solve those larger issues. I am prepared, fair, ethical, can plan ahead, and understand service to others.
I am a critical thinker and carefully spend time weighing an issue from multiple perspectives by getting input from stakeholders. I ask questions to clarify in order to make an informed decision. Caring for our community requires dedication and a deep desire to work hard for my community. I have courage to make difficult decisions and possess a strong resolve to do what is right for our community.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: The future of Villa Park doesn't just involve residents who are already established in the community, it also involves families who choose to move into the village.
One thing I do not hear as the village plans for the future is how to attract families to our town. Residents and stakeholders I have spoken with mention that Villa Park is a charming village that is overlooked by neighboring communities.
As the village plans for the future, it addresses economic development and TIF districts to attract businesses, but we rarely hear anything that addresses how new families could be attracted to Villa Park.
I think the economic development department could devise a plan to attract businesses to the area that would help market our village to families and future residents.
The plan should include more family-friendly cultural options that would allow residents to keep their dollars in town.
When we have places to spend money where we live, we support our community's growth and prosperity.