Gov't Watch: Champaign County voters prepare to head to the polls

Claire Everett

By Sari Lesk/For CU-CitizenAccess.org -- Voters in Champaign County are about to decide who should hold power over their tax dollars.

            They will have their first of two opportunities in 2014 to cast votes and select county leadership by participating in the March 18 primary election, when they can make choices for Champaign County Board members. The general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

            When voters cast their ballots this year, they will be electing officials to govern the unincorporated areas within the county and hold responsibility for the county’s public facilities, as well as who will maintain certain local highways.

The county is projected to bring in about $37 million in revenue for the general corporation fund in the 2014 fiscal year, which ends Dec. 31. The general corporate fund is used to carry out its day-to-day operations. The county expects to spend about $38 million to the fund.

County officials attribute the nearly $1 million shortfall on the timing receipt of property taxes and of payment for debt obligations, according to the 2014 budget.

The overall growth for all expenditures is projected at 21.8 percent higher than 2013, or about $23.5 million. This includes money for capital projects, highway funds and the regional planning commission’s funds.

            The board is currently chaired by Alan Kurtz, of Champaign, Ill., with Jon Schroeder, of Sadorus, Ill., as the vice chair. Its mission is to offer “a wide range of services in a cost-effective and responsible manner,” according to the mission statement.

            The board’s actions are guided by four goals, which are:

  • To make the county a high performing local government organization committed to open and transparent governance
  • To maintain high quality public facilities
  • To promote a safe and healthy community
  • To support balanced growth

           

            James Quisenberry, a democrat, represents the 10th district. Although Quisenberry’s position is not currently up for election, his main priorities for the county are the Champaign County Nursing Home and the Champaign County Jail.

            Quisenberry explained that he is concerned about preserving the nursing home as a public resource, and he also wants to address the quality of two facilities that serve as county jails.

            “I am not interested in building another large jail or expanding our jail capacity, but I am very interested in retiring the jail in downtown, which is not a place where we should be keeping people, even if they’re convicted of crimes,” he said.

            Like Quisenberry, Stan James – a republican representing the second district, who is not seeking re-election – is also concerned about the jail and nursing home. He said he thinks it’s time for the county to step back from running the nursing home because of the many other private options now available to Champaign County residents.

            “I don’t think government, in a way, should be in that business unless there was a need to do so,” he said. “In today’s world and the way hospitals have grown and everything, I think maybe the county really needs to look at somehow transitioning that to private hands.”

            Other issues the county currently faces include:

  • Highway construction to connect the I-57 and the I-74; Part of this construction takes place in a municipality within the county.
  • Long-term maintenance of buildings; The county does not have its own building inspectors or code, which poses a challenge to maintaining public facilities.
  • The continued delayed payment from the state on its bills to the county; The state comptroller estimates Illinois’ backlog to grow to $8.7 billion by October 2014.

           

            Tod Satterthwaite – a resident of Champaign County, who lives in the seventh district – has been involved with local government for several years, including 12 years serving as the mayor of Urbana from 1993 to 2005. A member of the Local Foods Policy Council, he said he thinks county residents should familiarize themselves with the candidates for the election.

            “So often we vote just by party line, and I think it does the system a disservice, and we really need to educate ourselves as citizens so that we can make an intelligent vote whenever we get into the ballot box,” Satterthwaite said.

            Twenty-one candidates are running in the primaries for 14 available seats. In addition to voting on 11 county board positions that are up for election, residents will also have the opportunity to vote for the county clerk, treasurer and sheriff, positions for which there is no competition and all the candidates are incumbents.

            Although the positions are sometimes held as two-year terms in order to meet redistricting requirements in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, all of the positions up for election this term will be held for four years,

            Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus from the department of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, explained that federal statute requires that representation be apportioned on the basis of population, which is reviewed every 10 years based on census data. He said that the same principle of “one man, one vote” is applied accordingly with state and local governments.

            “If you have a legislative body where people represent districts, which could be a city council, could be a county board, the same thing applies to those boards that applies to the legislature of the U.S. Congress,” Redfield said. “Those have to be apportioned on the basis of providing equal representation.”

            Champaign County had a population of about 180,000 people in 2000, which grew to about 201,000 by 2010. Along with changes to the population came the drawing of new district lines within the county, according to census data.

            Prior to the 2012 election, the county was represented by three board members from each of nine districts. After redistricting, it is represented by two board members from each of 11 districts. One board member from each district runs for two two-year terms and a four-year term between the taking of the census; the other member runs for two four-year terms and one two-year term.

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