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Mayoral Candidates Clash on Deficit Spending

Rotering and Olian differ on city's finances during League of Women Voters forum.

Highland Park mayoral candidates and Councilwomen  and disagreed sharply over the existence of deficit spending in the city’s budget at the League of Women Voters  on Sunday.

While speaking to the crowd of about 500 at the , Rotering called for an end to the past three years of deficit spending. After the debate, her opponent said that Highland Park had a surplus in 2008, and has not engaged in deficit spending during her six-year tenure on the City Council.

The difference may be in the definition. 

Spending reserve funds

Olian claimed the city had surplus cash in 2008. However, she does not consider the use of cash reserves to balance the 2009 and 2010 budgets as spending money Highland Park did not have. Deficit spending, according to Olian, is "borrowing money to pay for expenses."

“In 2008, we finished with a surplus. We used excess reserves [in 2009 and 2010] for the rest.”

Olian said that Highland Park had more than enough excess cash to use those dollars to meet budget shortfalls. Currently, the city's reserve fund balance is at 40 percent of its annual budget.

“We don’t just have enough for a rainy day, we have enough for a thunderstorm,” Olian said.

Rotering, who has been serving on the City Council since 2009, said she was not referring to 2008 in her comments. She was talking about 2009, 2010 and 2011 when either the reserves were used to meet expenses or . She considers both actions deficit spending.

“The gap was filled by a [property tax] levy increase,” Rotering said about the current year. “A tax increase is not meeting expenses.” 

Difficult cuts ahead

The candidates, both of of whom opposed the tax levy increase, discussed a variety of subjects on Sunday, including  their views on city government, public safety and the need to foster economic development. 

Rotering said that she'd like to see the City Council begin the process of assembling the budget earlier than in past years. 

"The easy cuts have already been made," Rotering said. "[Now] we need to use a scalpel."

She suggested outsourcing some services as one way to save taxpayers some money, as well as cooperating with other governmental entities such as the Park District and schools.

Olian said that the budget was a spartan work of cooperation between all council members, making further cuts difficult. She said a 10 percent reduction to all nonessential expenditures would only cut a resident's property tax bill by 1 percent. 

“We have to look at economic development to increase revenue through sales taxes,” said Olian, who is one of the founding members of the Downtown Business Alliance, a partnership between the city, downtown business owners and landlords. The candidate said she sees a continued strong role for the group. 

Though Rotering said that she was open to easing land use restrictions for local businesses, she also noted that sales tax revenue came primarily from outside Highland Park’s central business district.

“Sixty percent of sales tax revenue comes from car sales. That's an industry that's having a difficult time,” Rotering said, indicating that filling vacant downtown store fronts is not the panacea some believe it to be.

Government's mission and securing grants

Both candidates were asked to explain their view of the city government's mission. Olian said the mission was to "set policy that furthers your health and your safety and your prosperity," and to make investments "that will benefit you."

Rotering said the city government's mission is "public safety, public works, economic development, community development [and] providing human services." She also stressed the value of good communication between the city government and taxpayers, pointing to the neighborhood meetings she initiated last year where residents got the chance to learn more about the City Council.

The candidates were also asked about their ability to secure outside grants for Highland Park.

Rotering touted her experience with the Moraine Township Advisory Council as one way she had extended resources. Olian talked about how she had secured a grant from a private citizen to keep Shorelines, a publication for senior citizens, alive when it was about to fold. 

Both candidates finished in a very traditional way. They asked for everyone’s vote.

See video highlights by clicking the images to the right.

Editor's Note: After the forum, Nancy Rotering said that she misspoke when stating that sixty percent of sales tax revenue comes from car sales. She meant to say that sixty percent of sales tax revenue comes from the Skokie Corridor Business District.

Miles J. Zaremski March 21, 2011 at 12:46 PM
With the spin you ("Karen") have placed on this health care benefits issue, it reminds me of seasoned politicians and their staffs with whom I have interacted over the years. I can think of only one "Karen" like this and who is backing Nancy---Karen May, our state representative.
Karen March 21, 2011 at 12:59 PM
I'll take that as a compliment but no, I am not your representative, just an appreciative HP constituent of Nancy's and the important issues she continously brings to the forefront of the council and as you point out, this election. Please join me Miles in continuing to let everyone know that it is Nancy who identifies these issues and takes action to help solve them. And I look forward to Nancy's leadership in tackling these topics as Mayor with the 4 new council members and the 3 remaining councilmen. Hey everyone, no matter who you support, early voting only goes until March 31st. Get out there and vote to give yourself a voice in HP!
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther March 21, 2011 at 02:47 PM
Karen: Hate to burst your bubble, but Teri does not take her health benefit, nor her salary as a Council member. She, in fact, is the ONLY Council member to do so. This is kind of a moot argument, at this point. The Council has taken action to not continue health benefits beyond someone's term, starting with those elected this year. That, of course, doesn't mean that we taxpayers aren't going to pay for Steve Mandel for 20 years after his term is up this year, or Mike Brenner for the next 18 years. Let's talk about something productive. Let's hear about the City Manager's performance. Why does Steve and Nancy want to get rid of him? What will that cost us? As someone who has been involved in City Government, I think he has run the City well. We are in fine shape fiscally, especially in light of what's going on in other communities. We get our services. We're upgrading infrastructure. We've got great facilities. What's the issue here?
Ed Brill March 21, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Tripp, you've landed on a great point. I have read dozens of letters in the last few weeks commenting on the "need to challenge the status quo". What status quo is wrong in Highland Park? Slight spending beyond income, using taxpayer money held in the general city fund for the last two fiscal years, and a tax increase this year that amounts to about $17 for a $500,000 property. A city with a AAA bond rating. New retail moving into the city. A well-functioning arts scene, library, and economic development. Sure there's the park district issues (outside the Mayor's direct realm) and the schools (also outside the Mayor's direct realm), but what is it about the operation of police/fire/water/sewer/streets/public works/public services that is so ***wrong***today!?!?!
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther March 21, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Ed: I think that is a POSITIVE discussion to have. It would be beneficial to all candidates instead of sniping at each other. What should Highland Park look like? How should it function? It would be interesting to see ALL candidates weigh in on this.
Larry Jones March 21, 2011 at 05:01 PM
I would love to see something positive come out of the Rotering camp!!!
Karen March 21, 2011 at 05:33 PM
Hi Walter - Just called HP City Hall to find the truth about (and I'm sure Ed & Miles will want to look into this further) your above statement "Hate to burst your bubble, but Teri (sp) does not take her health benefit,". CITY HALL clearly stated that TERRI HAS TAKEN her health benefits (at taxpayer expense) for the full 6 years she's been on the council. We do have so much that is great about HP, but continuing to ignore where changes need to be made, especially in what Ed above calls "slight spending beyond income" will not allow our children to enjoy what we consider the things that make HP great.
Karen March 21, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Hi Lee. Have a great day! I'm enjoying the sunshine and enjoying keeping the light on the issues we HP'ers are concerned about in the most positive and joyful way I know how. You might want to review your previous "comments" and see if you can find some that are positive and friendly to share with us.
Larry Jones March 21, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Karen, How about giving us your last name so we can see if you are really who you say you arn't. I would bet anything that you did not call city Hall because unless you are who you say you arn't they would never give out that inofrmation to a stranger.
Karen March 21, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Hi Lee -- Guess you don't know much about City Hall and government-- but they will tell you what you ask if it is public information. Try calling and asking. Here's the number - 847-432-0800. You should try backing up your comments with a little leg work. Again, have a great day! :)
Karen March 21, 2011 at 06:07 PM
Hi again Lee. I'm sorry that you are done engaging with me in "civil" discourse. Oh well. I will continue to talk about the issues and not about names (or name calling). :) Again, enjoy your day.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther March 21, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Karen: Who did you speak to in the City Hall? Just curious because I have seen the check that was returned and the letter that accompanied it. I appreciate your desire to focus on the positive aspects of candidates, but how coeme NO ONE really seems to want to engage in such a discussion. I have tried several times to engage in a positive, issue based discussion. What I receive in return (from all sides) is more talking points from candidates' websites and negative diatribe. Please note that I believe it is important to discuss what Highland Park should be like and what is preventing us from doing that. From my perspective, I am interested in creating a community that is focused on the entire life of a resident, not just several financial issues. For me that means a vibrant central business district, where people gather throughout the day, better areas to play, activities for our children and young adults, etc.
Miles J. Zaremski March 21, 2011 at 09:29 PM
Karen, you are an ardent supporter of Nancy Rotering. That is fine with me. But please supply us with your last name. After all, those that you are debating are doing so (including me, as I have nothing to hide). What do you have to hide, unless your name does not include "Karen" in it. The reason I ask is that there are many, many items items your candidate has been shown to be "oblique" on with contrary FACTS that have been verified by her opponent (Olian). Now, those debating you with comments have last names, yet you, too, are being oblique in not providing your full identity. You would be correct in stating that your full name is not a campaign issue, but transparency is! As a supporter for your candidate, not revealing your true identity just reflects on the lack of transparency your candidate continually is accused of as well. Doesn't look good at all. Finally, I challenge you with your claim that city hall has released information over the phone to you regarding health care benefits. The city will not release any such information absent a properly filed Freedom of Information Act Request. Just ask the Deputy City Manager or even the Clerk. And if I am wrong, then please provide me with the name of the person you spoke to at city hall and the name of the person who told you what you are telling all in your comment? Short of doing that, your lack of transparency will continue, and that will continue to not reflect well on the candidate you are supporting.
Karen March 22, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Hi Again. Sorry for the delay in responding but I have been knocked-out by a nasty flu bug that is taking down my family one by one:( Imagine my suprise to come back to see my integrity and character being questioned because I choose to use my first name only (as do MANY PATCH and on-line users) on a public internet forum, which many internet experts advise people to do for a whole host of reasons. Perhaps Miles will write a piece about the pros/cons of using your full name that might convince me otherwise, but for now I am sticking with the advice I received when I went to an internet awareness program in our schools. It does not make my comments any less transparent than yours -- but perhaps more courteous than others! As I said earlier, I am not about name calling but like many on this site, trying to get involved in an exciting campaign and supporting the candidate that best alligns with my values and positive spirit.
Larry Jones March 22, 2011 at 02:22 PM
Sorry you got the bug Karen, but there you go again just like your candidate skirting around the issue. you were asked point blank question by Miles and Tripp and just like your candidate no answers but a harang about not using your last name. Issues Karen, answer the questions asked
Karen March 22, 2011 at 02:36 PM
The question asked, Lee, that has yet to be responded to, is Walter's statement above that Terri DOES NOT TAKE either her health benefit nor her council salary. If you'd like too hear specifics on what my candidate, Nancy Rotering, has to say, please visit friendsofnancy.com and you will be provided with plenty of insightful answers to the opportunities and challenges facing our community. If you are lucky, perhaps she'll be in your neighborhood today, where she's knocking on doors and answering HPer's questions in person. She has hosted over 30 coffees where she's had the opportunity to hear from individuals like myself who love this town and are positive. Thanks for the get-well wishes:)
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther March 22, 2011 at 02:41 PM
In the interest of accuracy, last night I was corrected. Terri does not take a salary. All other Council members do. I believe it is in the neighborhood of $9,000, but I am not sure. Terri did seek reimbursement on some health costs. I appologize if someone was misled by my previous statement. Karen, I, too hope you feel better. However, my questions were not directed toward Nancy or her campaig, rather to citizen's in general about what kind of community they envision. All candidates have been out there. All candidates have websites that say what they are in favor of. I know many of the candidates and know that some of the rhetoric is just that. However, if Highland Park is a refelction of the citizens that live there, I think a broader dialogue is warranted, and I am not seeing that.
Larry Jones March 22, 2011 at 02:48 PM
The question asked was why did you give mis information about what you said you got from City Hall because they never would have given that out. Tell Nancy to skip my house because she would not like the questions I have about her morality in this campaign
Ed Brill March 22, 2011 at 02:58 PM
The Terms of Use for Patch (found at http://highlandpark.patch.com/terms ) explicitly state "Patch believes in transparency, and we ask that all your registration information be truthful. You may not use any aliases or other means to mask your true identity. " I'm not sure what Internet awareness program you attended, but having blogged and lived online for almost two decades, I can tell you that there is no such thing as Internet privacy. Sites like Patch track IP addresses and can match them to other comments and people who have used the "flag as inappropriate" button. From what I know of Patch, email addresses are tested for validity during site registration, and since you have logged in using that email address, the site editors/administrators know that much about you and could choose to validate the name you are posting versus your email address. Honesty is the best policy. You'll carry more weight in any discussion if you represent yourself truthfully. Why that wouldn't have been covered in that Internet awareness program, I'm not sure. Nom de plume has a place in literature, but not in a political race where "character counts".
Karen March 22, 2011 at 05:17 PM
I'm not exactly sure what Ed is suggesting but if I read him corrcctly, he is trying to make it clear that if folks want to post on the PATCH using first names only, that is not acceptable to him or the PATCH. In addition, if you choose to use just a first name, the PATCH will be forced to validate your name versus your email address, but not so if you post using a full name (which for all intensive purposes may not match that of your email address either.) Ed also says that there is no such thing as internet privacy. This is concerning considering that he is an "employee" of the PATCH who has shown that his opinions differ from others. Does this mean every time he has a different opinion from a "first name only commenter" he will be identity checking? My concerns mount and obviously my opinions are not wanted here since I refrain from giving my full name. Be sure to vote! Over & out.
Jacob Nelson (Editor) March 22, 2011 at 05:40 PM
I don't think Ed was making any such claim, Karen. As the site's editor, I'm the only one who can look up the email addresses of users, something I occasionally do when I delete an offensive comment so I can inform the user why the comment was removed. That said, it is Patch policy to encourage transparency, and it's my hope that as the site's audience continues to grow, more users will register with their full names rather than their first names or aliases. Thanks, Jacob
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther March 22, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Thanks for amplifing this, Jacob. I think that it is up to the reader to determine how much weight to put on each individual's comments. To some people, semi-anonymous commenters, while understandibly protecting their privacy, might have less validty than thiose who are more transparent. To others, it may not make a difference. What is more concerning is that when someone tries to engage in a meaningful discussion of potential issues related to the future, there is stony silence. For people who are suppoedly engaged in the process, I just don't understand it. I guess it is easier to talk personalities instead of personal issues. Please note that this is not a shot at any given candidate, but the tone of the forum in general.
Miles J. Zaremski March 22, 2011 at 07:14 PM
FACT: Terri Olian returned her city salary last December with a check (gross dollars were $9500.00) that is posted on her website. She again has gone on record as returning this year's salary as well. FACT: Terri Olian never said health benefits is an extravagance as part of her campaign platform FACT: Terri Olian's ongoing current health benefits terminate forever come April 6, 2011. FACT: Nancy Rotering has told voters that health benefits for those on the council are an extravagance that taxpayers should not have to pay and should thus be eliminated. FACT: Taxpayers will spend well into five figures for Nancy Rotering's health benefits over the next 2 years, but she never volunteered this information to the voting public in Highland Park when she said such benefits were an extravagance. FACT: Karen, despite your assertion in your comment and despite being asked thereafter, you have not told anyone the identity of the person who you spoke to at city hall who revealed data on health benefits to you. FACT: City personnel CANNOT release data regarding health benefits absent a properly filed F.O.I.A. request. There is a Talmudic phrase (shtika k'hodaah dami (transliterated) that means, silence itself is an affirmation. Karen's silence on not disclosing who she spoke to means she did not speak to anyone at city hall who disclosed health benefits information.
Andrew March 22, 2011 at 07:40 PM
Hi Lee Sorry for the delayed response-- haven't been keeping up with the Patch. I'm not against "extra money," I'm just concerned that there's a misguided belief that sales tax revenue will return to 2006 levels. If we rely on a presumption of revenue levels that will never return (barring inflationary dollars), it will inspire flawed financial planning. Rather, let's acknowledge those days are gone and plan based on the "new normal." I don't want vacant storefronts either, but emphasizing the downtown shopping district as the "cure" to our ills is wrongheaded. People shop at stores they like when they have extra money. Right now, the extra money has decreased. Therefore, the taste in what type of stores people like has also shifted. I'm sure whatever the rent level is on those empty storefronts doesn't help either. Bottom line, I'd just like a little frugality to be more of a government tactic than trying to entice empty wallets to spend, spend, SPEND!
Andrew March 22, 2011 at 07:51 PM
The comment about the theater presumes the value will be higher in the future. Unless the city invests substantial funds in renovating it or it experiences a greater turn-around in attendance (I have visited regularly both before and after the purchase), there's every likelihood that it will be worth less in inflation adjusted dollars, since it will have further depreciated. Not saying it WILL be worth less, but ask the home sellers of 2007 who decided to wait for "the highest value at the right time" are looking at more or less of a profit 4 years later.
Miles J. Zaremski March 22, 2011 at 09:41 PM
Mr. Rosenberg, I agree with your just placed comment. Case closed.
Andrew March 23, 2011 at 01:09 AM
The city's website has video of the 9/13/10 council discussion about health care benefits here: http://cityhpil.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=8&clip_id=313 Here are some highlights: 51:06 Mayor Belsky recognizes Terri Olian for "pushing on the issue for this council to do something about it." 52:40 Terri Olian notes for clarity that some council members will receive benefits till 2013. She opted to return her 2010 salary to the city. Corporation council advised her there is no legal prohibition against voluntarily refusing a benefit or returning a benefit to the city. 54:20 Nancy Rotering notes that Section 30-115b, subsection 4 provides that "any member of this council who would be interested may CONTINUE to receive FREE health and dental benefits for themselves and for their family members for the period of time during which they have been sitting on this council. So in the case of a number of members of the group sitting with me tonight that would be 12 years, 16 years, 20 years of FREE health care benefits that they will CONTINUE to avail themselves of going forward starting in 2011. That being said, and because to me the end goal is reduce the financial burden on the taxpayers going forward now, I will be voting in favor of the ordinance, but not in favor of section sub 4 which permits current sitting members to use their accrued retiree benefits starting in 2011 or 2013 depending on when their terms come to a completion." [emphasis mine] (Cont.)
Dave Schabes March 23, 2011 at 01:45 AM
Whoa! Time out! To quote Senor Love Daddy, "Ya'll need to cool that [stuff] out! And that's the double truth, Ruth!" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hc--dFFp7mY&feature=related Morality, Mr. Rosenberg? You can't be serious. Be careful, Sir. I promise you that Nancy Rotering has never done anything remotely immoral in her life, let alone in her righteous campaign for mayor. I also promise you that if she rings your doorbell, she will relish the opportunity to answer your questions/charges with honesty and an impressive command of the full factual record. Open your door, if your mind truly is open, too. I think we all should be careful about ascribing anything posted in these blogs, or whatever they are, to either candidate's "campaign." A candidate's supporter is not necessarily a member or representative of her campaign. I've posted a few things on this site and others in enthusiastic support of Nancy Rotering, and I've proudly volunteered some of my time to promote and endorse her candidacy, but I would never purport to speak for her. I'll never have her chops.
Andrew March 23, 2011 at 01:58 AM
55:20 Belsky asks for clarification on when or what Rotering wants. She wants council members to not have the option of free accrued benefits till they retire. Belsky agreed in pre-session, but majority did not. 57:50 Councilman Silberman commends both Olian and Rotering for "a courageous and selfless act" in conceding the most by voting for the amendment. 59:25 Councilman Levenfeld notes that Olian and Rotering's sacrifice in voting for the amendment is no greater than his own, since he is running for re-election in 2011. 1:01:05 Mayor Belsky notes that it was agreed in the pre-session that the [free] subsidy would stop in 2011 and be replaced at that time with a 100% premium. Also states that there was agreement on timing of when sitting members could tap into their free retirement benefits...."politics is like making sausage." 1:03:52 Citizen Stacy Cantor cuts to the chase asking how many council members have full time jobs, are self-employed, have ceded benefits from full time jobs to use city's FREE benefits. Notes that regular HP employees pay premiums for benefits. Asks the yearly cost of the benefits for current & past council members, mayors and their families. Demands that answers be published. "No other city on the North Shore other than Evanston awards its sitting city council and mayor health care benefits." Challenges all of them to waive their benefits or-- if they have no other insurance-- to at least pay the premiums. I vote for Stacy.
NS March 23, 2011 at 02:56 AM
David Schabes: Your youtube reference was not only hilarious but spot on. Thank you for injecting some needed humor during these heated debates.

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