Name: Steven J. Cuda
Age: 63 years
Town: McHenry, Illinois
Office sought: Mayor of McHenry
1) What skills, qualities or experience do you possess that separate you from your opponent?
I am a former Mayor of McHenry, having served from 1993 to 2001, past-president of McHenry High School District 156 Board of Education, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame law school, and a lawyer who has practiced in McHenry County for 35 years. As an attorney, I have represented developers throughout northern Illinois and neighbors who have objected to proposed developments in their backyards. I have participated in and attended hundreds of public meetings, either as an advocate for my clients or as a representative of District 156 or the City of McHenry. As mayor, I worked closely with the City Council and negotiated the development agreements which resulted in the business annexations east of the Fox River, expansion of the McHenry Corporate Center, establishment of the Inland Business Park, and the retail hub on North Route 31 where Meijers, Home Depot, and Kohl's are located. Through the combined efforts of the mayor's office and City Council, Petersen Park doubled in size and became the crown jewel of McHenry's park system. I am a team player, good listener and believe in healthy debate. As mayor, I would remind the City Council there are no wrong answers, just differences of opinion which should be respected by all, staff, the elected officials, and the citizens who appear before the City Council. I believe in inclusion, rather than exclusion. I will welcome all who take time from their busy schedules to attend a City Council meeting. Because I have represented both developers and local government, I understand the challenges which must be addressed and the conflicts that need to be resolved in order for a city to progress forward. My education, background, and experience make me the most qualified candidate to serve as McHenry's next mayor.
2) What can the City of McHenry do and what should it do to ease the property tax burden on homeowners?
McHenry sits on a cash surplus of over 11 million dollars. Its "rainy day" fund exceeds 6.5 million dollars. The City collects approximately 5.5 million dollars per year in real estate taxes. Since I announced my candidacy last September, the center point of my campaign has been a ten percent reduction of the City's share of our real estate tax bill. There is no reasonable justification for McHenry to refuse to adopt this reduction. It can be done and only takes four votes from the City Council. This will be my first priority if I am elected. In this regard, the City can lead by example and encourage other local units of government which tax McHenry residents to adopt their own reductions. I have spent the last several weeks campaigning door to door and the constant refrain I hear is that "real estate taxes are too high." I recently represented an elderly client who has lived in McHenry her whole life and was forced to sell her home because she could no longer afford her tax bill. McHenry lost a wonderful resident to excessive real estate taxes. This was not an isolated incident. Many more may leave if we, the mayor, city council, county board members, state representatives, and senators fail to solve this problem. Our high real estate taxes are the direct result of Springfield's failure to adequately fund public education. When I sat on the high school board, 45% of the school's operating revenue was generated from state funding and 45% from real estate taxes. Now the state provides approximately 14% and our real estate taxes 80%. This disparity cannot be sustained.
3) How would you describe the climate in McHenry government for businesses? What needs improvement? What's working?
The climate in McHenry government for business is good but needs to be better. On the campaign trail I spoke with a local businessman who complimented McHenry in its provision of basic services. The water always runs, the sewers drain, leaves are picked up in the fall. But he asked "How does McHenry step up to the next level?" He mentioned he has contacted the city three times in the last couple of months and is still waiting for a return call. He referred to city hall as "that Ivory Tower" on Green Street. I don't know if his criticism is well-founded, but I do know that one local businessman who has a negative perspective of city hall and his elected officials is one too many. During my first tenure as mayor, I returned every phone call, even if it was just to tell my constituent that the matter was being handed off to a staff person who could better answer his or her question. If the voters choose my candidacy on April 4th, I will do the same. Every businessperson, whether an employer of 1 or 100 workers, will be treated fairly and equitable by the mayor and city hall. I am a proponent of business/government partnerships. If IDOT proposals create negative impacts on residents and businesses, I will not hesitate to advocate on behalf of my constituents at the Department's district headquarters in Schaumburg or in Springfield. When representing clients on city business, I have been told too often by staff that "there is nothing we can do for you." That phrase will be banned if I am elected on April 4. Every business which is located in McHenry is important. Every business which succeeds makes McHenry a better place to live and raise a family.
4) What will be the biggest challenge that McHenry residents and their village government will face over the next four years and how will you meet it?
The biggest challenge McHenry will face is both the retention of local businesses and insuring that our residents do not move out of McHenry. Over 30,000 people leave Illinois every month, including some who live and work in McHenry. Exceedingly high real estate taxes and the state's dismal financial condition are convincing more and more people to leave Illinois. The State of Illinois unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation. High taxes, the state's fiscal meltdown, and high unemployment are challenges that cannot be solved by one elected official or one municipality. McHenry, along with other municipalities in our county, must work together and insist the State of Illinois clean up its act. As mayor, I will meet with our local business leaders, McHenry residents, and our state politicians to fight high taxes and burdensome regulations which impede further economic growth in McHenry.
5) What's your opinion of downtown and Riverwalk development and what more should be done?
During my campaign, I have talked to many individuals about our downtown areas and the Riverwalk. There are plenty of ideas, but little consensus. As mayor, it will be my responsibility to listen and sift through these various ideas and reach a consensus of the best path forward toward new and sustained re-development of our downtown areas. All of us would like to see Main Street, Green Street, and Riverside Drive revert to the economic hubs they were 50 years ago. When I was a youngster Main Street had Schaefer's Grocery Store, Riverside Drive, Barbians and Green Street, Huppy & Leos. These types of stores are unlikely to return. However good restaurants, small boutiques, and specialty stores can certainly find a home and succeed in one of the three distinct business areas. I encourage major re-development, and the completion of the Riverwalk; accomplished through joint city/private initiatives. For instance on Green Street, improvement to existing parking and acquisition of additional parking spaces are a prerequisite to further development in that area. The re-opening of the McHenry Theater will be boon to the area and the retail businesses currently located along Green Street. Metra's future plans for McHenry's rail service will have a definitive impact on the re-development of Main Street. As mayor, I will oppose any plan to re-locate McHenry's train station north of Petersen Park. Riverside Drive has several restaurants, "watering holes," and retail businesses which make that area a unique and vibrant business community. The completion of the Riverwalk will enhance Green Street and Riverside Drive; it will bring new businesses to our downtown area and assist the viability of our current stores, boutiques, and restaurants.
6) What do you expect to change about McHenry by the end of your term?
Certainly, the way city government interacts with its residents and local businesses will change if I am elected Mayor. I will encourage vigorous and respectful debate at all city council meetings. I will welcome suggestions and criticisms from anyone who lives and works in McHenry. Direction to staff will be clear. I will be a "hands on" mayor who will return every phone call and meet with any constituent who requests a face to face meeting. The buck will always stop at the mayor's desk. The voters will know my opinion on any issue addressed by the City Council. Without teamwork amongst the city council, property owners, developers, staff, and McHenry citizens, Kohl's, Meijers, Home Depot, Follett, The Aptar Group, and Medela would never have located in McHenry. If we work together, respect each other's opinions, learn from criticism and mistakes, and accept responsibility, McHenry can step up to the "next level" and continue to be that place where all of us work and raise our families.
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