The four Peru mayor candidates pitched ideas Tuesday during a live one-hour radio forum on AM1220 WLPO.
Mayor Scott Harl, former mayor Don Baker and candidates Mike Hart and Jim Giordano answered questions from host, Jennifer Nagle.
Harl touted the city’s progress since he beat Baker in 2009: Peru weathered the recession while upping its bond rating and reducing city debt and reducing payroll by $1.2 million.
Baker said he would “rescind” a half-percent sales tax designated for infrastructure which began in 2012.
Roads and sewers
Harl’s focus the past four years has been streets, water and sewer projects. The infrastructure sales tax took Harl’s tie-breaking vote to pass in 2011. Harl said the tax will generate up to $1.8 million a year.
Hart served on a committee with the mayor to decide how it would be spent. The first project was focused up north, allowing expansion of Eakas Corp., which makes car parts.
In 2012 many streets were paved but water lines burst, Hart said, adding he would address those breaks.
Giordano said he favors the infrastructure sales tax because it was designated for a specific goal. If not a sales tax, it would have to be funded by property taxes, an option Giordano said he opposes.
The tax will be reviewed in five years but it is unlikely to be retired, Harl said. Peoria Street is the next big project, he said.
In 2007, under Baker, the city hiked the sales tax by a half-percent to pay for a new Parkside Middle School, which opened in 2009.
But Baker said: “I will work as I have always done to eliminate the sales tax increase.”
Baker cited the closing of the outdoors pool in Washington Park after the 2009 season.
The pool, demolished in February, leaked water and drew bad reviews from consultants and insurance adjusters in 2010.
Baker said he would build a new pool. The city has inched closer to this reality. The Friends for Peru Pool has raised more than $100,000 and the city is searching for grants. Hart at one point said the city received a grant. No, Harl said, the city applied for a grant but did not receive it.
“There are many ways to gather donations from the community ... as long as there is no added tax burden,” Hart said. The Baker and Harl administrations should have addressed the pool, and a new pool could be built for much less than the estimated $3 million, he said.
Giordano said there is “no effective plan in place to build it and fund it.”
“If the citizens of Peru want a pool they can get a pool,” Giordano said.
Harl said wanting a pool is not the question.
“How are we going to do it?” he said. “That’s when it starts to get tough. The money is just not there.”
In 2008 the city’s cost to operate the pool was $134,000 and revenues from it were only $17,000, Harl said.
“We have to fix our needs before we fix our wants,” Harl said.
In addition to the 85-year-old pool, the city demolished the old power plant on Water Street and a few rundown homes. The city in December chose to acquire the shuttered Kings Inn on May Road for $37,449 with a goal to demolish it.
Hart said the cost to the city for Kings Inn will escalate to $250,000, including demolition and asbestos removal.
“I do not believe the city should be in the real estate business,” Hart said.
Giordano said these ventures are best pursued by the private sector. The motel violated property standards and stood vacant for more than a decade in the Route 251-Interstate 80 corridor.
Harl said forcing property owners to repair or demolish properties gets expensive. Buying Kings Inn was “aggressive and proactive,” he said.
Baker said there is not a Tax Increment Financing district along May Road, after Nagle in a question indicated that there is a TIF there. In fact, a map of the TIF district including May Road can be viewed on the city’s website.
Hart suggested a new economic development plan and forcing landlords “to clean up or pay up.”
A meeting was held Friday among candidates Hart, Baker and Giordano at Unytite, a company affected negatively by Peru’s new industrial electric rate which took effect last August. Giordano said the rate inhibits business growth. Hart said the city should negotiate a new contract with factories.
Harl called the meeting “clandestine” and said he was not invited. The new rates address differing types of electrical demand from large users, he said. Old factory rates did not cover costs of delivering electricity. Some factory leaders argued the city instead should raise residential rates, Harl said. Businesses could improve their electric bills by building in energy efficiency, Harl said.
Giordano said cities like Peru need “to do more with less” and he touted his skills in business and working with budgets. He said he wants to install a roundabout at Venture Drive and 38th Street and expand services for seniors. Giordano also said he wants to “provide opportunities for our young people, college graduates and trade school graduates to stay in the area.” And he promised that if elected, he would appoint Baker as an economic development adviser.
Hart said he opposes current policy to require the public to fill out a comment card when they want to address the council at a meeting.
Harl said in 2009 when he took office, the city budget was $1 million in the red and today it is $1 million in the black.
“We did not have a surplus to fall back on,” Harl said. “I don’t know why we weren’t left one.”
Harl said he developed five- and 10-year street and sewer plans, developed a plan to reduce debt by 50 percent in five years and is pushing projects that meet Environmental Protection Agency mandates for sewage systems.
The candidates were sent letters outlining topics, not the exact questions. Giordano said he never received the letter but promptly responded to Nagle’s questions. Baker at times delayed finding his notes appropriate to topics. Baker balked at a sales tax question from Nagle, saying he never saw the question ahead of time. Nagle explained that candidates were given topics, not exact questions, ahead of the forum.