Paris City Council candidates face off in Tuesday election

Incumbents faces challenges for mayor, commissioners

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Paris is one of the few places in Edgar County where voters have a choice among candidates in the April 2 election for city council.
All candidates, except one, responded to a request for information and answers to questions in time for our print deadline Friday. Jacob DuCharme, a candidate for a city council seat, did not respond until Saturday morning, informing the newspaper he never received the questions which were mailed to him. His answers have been added to the online story.
Candidates are: Craig Smith, an attorney, is the incumbent mayor and he is running for re-election; Danny Briseno is a candidate for mayor; Bob Boyer, retired, is an incumbent city council member running for re-election; Jerry Branson, an electrician, is an incumbent city council member running for re-election; Harry Hughes, a banker, is an incumbent city council member running for re-election; Steve Kemper is an incumbent city council member running for re-election; and Drew Griffin, an attorney, is running for a seat on the city council.

Question: What infrastructure needs have the highest priority for the city’s limited resources? Such as higher quality street resurfacing, expanded street lighting, replace sidewalks, expand park facilities, add to sewage treatment capacity, etc.
Smith: The City of Paris has numerous high priority infrastructure needs and limited financial resources (tax revenue) to meet all of those needs. Therefore, we have established long range planning in order to partner with the State of Illinois and the federal government to obtain grants and appropriations to help us with those needs. We use motor fuel tax dollars to help resurfacing streets, have been successful with Streetscape Grants for sidewalks around downtown and we are seeking future grants to help expand park facilities, such as grants for bikes trails and walking paths.
We need to continue to improve our contacts and relationships with Springfield office holders and federal office holders to help us in obtaining much needed financial resources to help us with our infrastructure needs in the future. We will continue to
prioritize our needs and go after funding sources, which allows us to continue to keep our local taxes as low as possible, while continuing to improve and maintain our infrastructure.
Briseno: First of all, I want to commend the city on its upcoming streetscape project. It will truly revitalize the north side of our city square and restore it to a place of beauty. However, we cannot just limit it to the downtown area. A quick walk or ride through our city and one can quickly see there are many other streets and sidewalks that are at or close to disrepair. With pavements available now that have an expected life span of 20-plus years I believe that funding needs to be procured and a schedule set up to complete the repairs needed in a timely manner, all while making it transparent to the taxpayers.
Boyer: My priority is street resurfacing, sidewalks and park facilities in that order. It’s important that private people get out and do fundraising to improve our parks. I do believe in the parks.
Branson: We have multiple needs for the city that come up each year. However, there are limited resources to do all of them, so we have to make long-range plans determining what we can do each year to improve our streets and sidewalks and work with the State of Illinois to obtain grants to do the big projects. We have limited financial resources for the larger projects, such as our past success with the streetscape, new paving of Court Street and our water system. That is why long-range planning is a must for our infrastructure. We have limited tax funds and do not want to increase any tax burden on our citizens. So we have to work within our budget.
DuCharme: Our current infrastructure is deteriorating and the attention it has received over the last 20 years is highly insufficient, from the perspective of the citizens in those neglected areas and from investors outside the community looking to do business in Paris. Once elected, I, along with my fellow councilmen, will be able to prioritize those projects based on conversations with local residents and the most urgent needs of the community at large.
Hughes: Just like many communities in the state, there are many areas that need attention. We recognize the main issues such as our streets, sidewalks and our sewer and drainage systems. Because of limited funds we have available each year we have to do our homework in these areas. The city’s budget team works very hard each year to prioritize projects. And they apply funds to each of these concerns in order to tackle as much as possible.
Kemper: As commissioner of public property my responsibilities include the sewage treatment plant, water treatment plant, and the maintenance department. Upgrades and maintenance are always a high priority on my list.
Griffin: I cannot make a blanket statement that one area of infrastructure simply takes priority over another. What I can say is that Paris should always focus on taking care of its needs before its wants. If I am elected, I will work to acquire and examine as much objective information as possible regarding exactly what those needs are, and then assess the priority for attending to those infrastructure needs.

Question: Should public (city) money be used to assist private development projects such as the proposed Tiger Senior Apartments, or redevelopment of the Main-Central block south of Union Street? If so, from what sources? (Grants, TIF District funds, state highway funds, etc.)
Smith: We have established two TIF Districts, downtown and Jasper Street. The purpose of the TIFs was to help public and private development projects to renovate and improve both districts with TIF funds that do not come out of the city’s general fund, motor fuel tax or state highway funds.
Prior success with TIF assets, such as Lady Liberty at the Courthouse, Maple Ridge I and II, and future Tiger Senior Apartments, are perfect examples of how we have worked with not only public but also private development of projects. TIF grants and loans can be used for rehabilitation, reconstruction, repair, or remodeling of existing buildings and fixtures.
TIF funds have also helped to renovate many buildings in the downtown district. All of the renovations have come from TIF funds and none from local taxes that are earmarked for streets, sidewalks, police protection and fire protection. We should continue to use TIF funds to assist private and public development projects.
Briseno: It is essential for the city of Paris to promote local business and economic development. All avenues need to be explored with assisting the new developments. Whether it be through the creation of low interest loans, use of TIF grants or creating a business development district. Many communities around use a variety of methods to accomplish these goals on a daily basis. One simple way to start is promoting the city of Paris along state highways and interstates the way neighboring communities do.
Boyer: Yes. The city should support development projects with the use of grants and TIF funds. I oppose using our highway money for anything other than streetscape work.
Branson: I have been and will continue to be in favor of spending grants and TIF District funds to assist private development projects, like renovations of old buildings downtown, Maple Ridge 1 and 2 and the future renovation of Paris High School to Tiger Senior Apartments. I am not in favor of using state highway funds for those projects, nor have I ever supported that. We need state highway funds for streets and sidewalk improvements.
DuCharme: We should use any resources available to make improvements to our city. When private entities seek funding through local sources such as grants and TIF district funds, we should make those funds available. The biggest concern is transparency and making sure the community understands where the money is coming from, what it will be used for and who could potentially profit from the endeavor.
Hughes: The city should always be supportive of community development. I believe it is best to look at it on a case-by-case basis. Some projects may not be worthy of receiving public funds. The city should continue to look at funding ways such as grants and TIF funds to put toward the continued development of our city. We all need to take a pro-active approach to make our community a better place.
Kemper: As far as city funds being used for private development, I am not in favor. Having said that, I am in favor of using grants,TIF District funds and any other assistance available.
Griffin: The city should assist in private development projects, as these projects are what continue to grow and enrich our community. There are many ways to assist in these projects without the City of Paris footing the entire bill. We should continually be examining how TIF funds and various grants can be used to help our citizens and investors make Paris an even better place to live.

Question: For nearly 30 years the city has assigned economic development efforts to PEDCO (Paris Economic Development Corp.), a private, non-profit, organization, while retaining final authority to approve incentives for new business and industry. Most cities establish and fund their own economic development department. Should the city continue its partnership with PEDCO, considering we are currently a labor shortage market, or establish and fund its own economic development program?
Smith: PEDCO, the City of Paris, and the Edgar County Board have had a very successful partnership in the past that we need to continue into the future. Through that partnership, we have added businesses, such as NAL, Lyon, Cadillac and Simonton. We have also had success with existing businesses expanding by remaining proactive in continuing to communicate with existing businesses to learn of their needs to allow expansions, such as Simonton and GSI.
PEDCO is privately funded, which is a financial benefit to the city, by not taking funds from our city budget to establish a city economic development corporation. Due to the many successes that PEDCO and the city have had in the past, there is no reason to break up a good team.
Briseno: PEDCO, in my opinion, did its due diligence in bringing jobs back to the community. However in today’s market, I believe the city of Paris should absorb PEDCO and create its own economic development department. With two TIF districts, and many other incentives available, I believe it should be the responsibility of the city to solicit new businesses for our community. The city having major involvement in the bringing of businesses to the community shows they are truly serious in growing a community in which citizens are happy to call home.
Boyer: Our partnership with PEDCO has been successful, but we need a growth of residents to solve the labor shortage. We have to get more people to come to the community, and I want to see more money in the demolition fund so we can get rid of eyesore properties to make Paris a more attractive community. The need for demolition has outgrown our income.
Branson: I believe we should continue our current successful partnership with PEDCO. My parents always taught me: don’t fix what isn’t broke. We have had great success in attracting and keeping business in Paris.
DuCharme: We will do what is best for Paris — end of story, whether that means continuing a partnership with PEDCO or parting ways. I believe all options should always be assessed and evaluated on an ongoing basis. To address the labor shortage, what Paris needs to seriously invest in is our housing market. I’d like to see the City partner with the many residents who work in construction, drywall, etc. to fix up the dilapidated buildings and blight throughout the community. We need to have the available housing — not just apartment buildings to attract new business and new residents to our community. We need to reaffirm with our citizens that we are here to work for them.
Hughes: PEDCO was formed in the early 80s as a not-for-profit, membership supported organization specifically created to find more jobs for Paris. PEDCO has enjoyed full support of the city and other local governmental bodies, as well as state and federal agencies. They have a five-member board with no paid staff. So, yes, this relationship has worked for many years, and I believe it will continue to work for a better community.
Kemper: PEDCO has been like a godsend to the City of Paris. Without their expertise and dedication, the city would be in dire straits economically. They have accomplished so many great things for Paris, too numerous to mention, but you can get that information by simply requesting it. I am now and have always been in favor of PEDCO.
Griffin: PEDCO is a tremendous organization that has done immeasurable good for our city. Paris should certainly continue its partnership with PEDCO. As commissioner, I will strive to have a strong working relationship with PEDCO and to be aware of the efforts it is making to enhance our community’s development. It is important the city council make itself knowledgeable about the economic development options PEDCO can help to create, since it is the city council that ultimately makes the final choice on the incentives for prospective business and industry.

Question: The city council has proposed a grant application to help build a walking/biking off-street trail between Twin Lakes Park and Paris High School. Should this be a city initiative to improve quality of life for local citizens, or should projects like this, be left to private promotion? (Like the Splash Park and All-Abilities Playground).
Smith: As elected officials of the city, we should always be looking for things that will improve the quality of life for our community. The city should take a leadership role in applying for grants through both State of Illinois and federal funding sources.
We should also work with private business and individuals to help defray the cost of completing the projects, such as how the community came together to complete both the Splash Park and All-Abilities Playground. Paris is fortunate in having so many people who volunteer their time, energy and money to make our community such a great place to live, work and raise our families.
The city council should continue to seek grants in the future, which would help with future projects, such as walking/biking off-street trails, improving our park system and other quality of life projects, which will continue to improve our community.
Briseno: I am a firm believer the City of Paris should be a driving force in the creation of projects such as the walking/bike off-street trail. Quality of life for the citizens of Paris is not only highly important to the citizens already living here, but when a family is deciding where to move and put down roots, they hold in high regard what the city has to offer. A city that understands it is essential to have those projects completed to improve the citizens’ quality of life shows that they overall have happy, healthier populations.
Boyer: It must have private promotion with city backing and grants. The bike path won’t get built without private donations. I can’t get a sense of how much community support this project has. We built walking trails at the fire training center where people can see lots of wildlife, and they get very little use. Something like this is great for the community but I don’t know how to finance it with local funds. People interested in this need to do fundraising.
Branson: I think the city should take the lead in the initiative and ground work to obtain state grants to help build walking and biking trails. After obtaining state financial help through grants, we can turn to private businesses and individuals to help with the financial requirements needed to complete the project.
DuCharme: The City cannot guarantee that the bike bath would be any better taken care of than the sidewalk with a 30-year-old tree running through it. If you want to talk about grants, why not talk about the BAAD grant? That stands for Boat Area Access Program. It is a grant offered by the State of Illinois the allows taxing bodies to apply for up to $200,000 to complete a project. The grant can be applied for annually. I recently attended a City Council meeting and brought up an issue with a deteriorating boat ramp. At a later meeting, I was pulled into a room by a City Commissioner who informed me that the City simply did not have the funds to repair the ramp, but if I found grant opportunities or other funding options, I could let them know. I found this particular grant in 10 minutes. If I am going to do the legwork, it is only fitting that I hold the office. Grants are available to help with the many areas that need our immediate attention. We need to look into these funding options before adding another shelf that will never get dusted, such as the bike path.
Hughes: This indeed should be a joint effort. The quality of life should be a priority for both the city and its residents. This has been demonstrated by the Splash Park and the All-Abilities Playground. What a super community we have when everyone works together. The city should always try to find ways that we can assist in the promotion of various projects.
Kemper: The walking/biking off-street trail has not, and as far as I know, will not receive city funds. There aren't any funds available. Yes we should apply for grant money for the public to assist in the project. The city has to apply – the public can't apply for a grant. We should always be willing to help make our community better in any way possible.
Griffin: Quality of life is a critical component in making Paris a city that is attractive to all types of citizens, especially our young talent. The city should seek out opportunities to find projects that enhance quality of life for our citizens.

Questions: Paris plans to sell water to the City of Chrisman for its distribution system. Paris has been assured the availability of water from its well field in the Wabash aquifer is virtually unlimited. Should Paris actively promote its availability of water if other communities or major businesses apply or are interested?
Smith: Absolutely. Sixteen years ago, we recognized the need for a water distribution system that would allow Paris and surrounding communities and businesses to grow. We accomplished that need by working with the State of Indiana, State of Illinois and City of Paris when we built the water well field, tapping into an unlimited source of water from the Wabash Aquifer. We did this to guarantee our citizens and our businesses with water for future growth.
We also have a source of water that allows us, the city, to help surrounding communities and businesses to grow as well, like the City of Chrisman and Effingham Equity. We should continue to help each other (City of Paris and Edgar County). After all, we are all in this together and if one of us succeeds, all of us do.
Briseno: With the aquifer proving to have an unlimited supply of water and the water issues going on around the country, like in Flint, Mich., I believe Paris should absolutely actively promote the availability of water to other communities and businesses. We as citizens should not want our neighbors to run into an issue where their water supply becomes tainted and then find out it could have been avoided if Paris would have used its ability to help by providing a good clean source of unlimited water to the communities who would like to purchase it.
Boyer: Yes. We have always been a good neighbor to communities and businesses. We will always try to be a good neighbor.
Branson: Yes. The City of Paris made a commitment to the city and surrounding communities and businesses to find a solution to present and future needs. When I first ran for office I supported the water project away from surface water to an unlimited supply of water from the Wabash Aquifer. We were successful and can and should help businesses and neighboring communities when we can.

DuCharme:Paris should hear all requests from any community wishing to do business with Paris. “Unlimited” is a very over used word and I would be very interested in learning more of the details about this water supply.

Hughes: The city has limited means for revenue and would welcome this occasion or any other that will help establish funds needed in running the city. The water project is an excellent opportunity for the City of Paris to help a neighbor and promote its availability of water to surrounding communities and businesses.
Kemper: As for the water distribution, which is my department, I am in favor of increasing our distribution system any way possible. I have been trying ever since I was elected to get Chrisman on board. It's been a long difficult process, because they understandably didn't want to give up having full control of their own system. It was evident they were going to have to get water somewhere, so we kept pointing out that Paris was their best option and made our interest known at every opportunity. We should always be trying to add more residual income to our city. This will continue to give Paris income long after we are all gone.
Griffin: Selling water is a complex issue. However, priority should always be given to ensuring Paris’ needs are met. If the information indicates that selling water is a viable option, then the city should ensure we have enough foresight to consider all possible future consequences and expenses of doing so.