The three candidates for Mt. Morris’ village president agreed the village took some big hits in the last 4 years, with hundreds of layoffs.
But they disagreed over whether the village government did enough to keep companies in town.
The three hopefuls, Village President Greg Unger and challengers Dan Elsasser and John Spaine, answered questions at a candidates forum at the Pinecrest Grove Community Center Tuesday night. Nearly 100 people attended.
Unger, who has led the village for the last 8 years, said the key to economic development is infrastructure. The wastewater treatment plant project is nearly done, and its completion will secure Mt. Morris’ infrastructure, which will attract new businesses, he said.
Elsasser, a retired U. S. Postal Service employee, agreed on the importance of infrastructure. But he said streets were in “horrendous” condition.
“You can throw your car out of alignment,” he said.
Blacktopping roads, he said, would probably save money in the long run over constant patchwork.
Unger said the village is getting a lot done on streets when considering how much money it receives in gas tax revenue from the state – about $60,000 a year. The temporary fixes allow the village to cover more streets, he said.
“Streets are easy to pick on,” he said. “People need to know what the finances of the state are and how much money we get. Blacktopping is somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000 for two blocks.”
At times, both Spaine and Elsasser contended the village wasn’t doing enough to bring in jobs. Spaine, a repairman, accused the village’s economic development group of transferring money to another fund.
“The current leadership isn’t serious about bringing in new jobs,” Spaine said .
Unger denied it, saying the group didn’t have money to start with.
Elsasser said the village should have worked harder to try to keep jobs at Quad/Graphics and Kable News in town.
“Little to no effort was made to see if the state could help us with tax breaks to entice businesses to stay,” he said.
Unger, however, said the village worked hard to keep the two companies' jobs, having many meetings with state legislators and others. Quad/Graphics and Kable News were intent on doing away with the local jobs, he said.
An audience member asked the candidates about what was happening to the old Quad/Graphics building.
Unger responded that the building has gone through a number of ownership changes, what he called a “stack of hidden” companies.
“They haven’t communicated with us what they will do,” he said. “It’s private.”
Another issue that divided candidates was a 100 increase in Unger’s salary in the last 4 years, which Elsasser brought up.
“We were losing hundreds of jobs,” Elsasser said, “and the village president’s and trustees’ salaries jumped up.”
Unger said the pay of his predecessor, Steve Mongan, increased by 400 percent in his second 4-year term, much more than Unger's 100 percent. He suggested his predecessor was advising Elsasser on bringing up the 100 percent increase, but left out the 400 percent hike.
Elsasser resisted the idea that Unger knew who was advising him.
“You don’t know who I may or may not have talked to,” he said.
Another question: What about promoting Mt. Morris as a retirement community?
Unger said yes, pointing to the Pinecrest retirement community.
“We probably caught as much on the negative side for letting it be a retirement community, like it’s my or the village board’s fault,” he said. “Pinecrest is highly spoken of. Other mayors have looked at it.”
Elsasser said Mt. Morris shouldn’t be promoted only as a retirement town.
“Pinecrest is a great thing to have in this community,” he said. “Pinecrest speaks for itself. It’s well known in the community and around the state. There’s nothing wrong with a retirement community, but we need to try to get other businesses.”
“I would like it to be a place where people can work in, rather than just being a retirement community,” he said.
When a resident asked the candidates to point to the positives of Mt. Morris, Elsasser conceded the forum had focused on the negative.
“Mt. Morris has a lot to offer,” he said. “We are a clean, upstanding town.”
The candidates are facing off in Tuesday’s election.