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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 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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