Kaptain offers mostly sunny outlook for Elgin, despite council divisions
By Mike Danahey email@example.com @DanaheyECN December 5, 2013 10:36AM
Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain, left, talks with State Rep. Keith Farnham (D-Elgin) Thursday at Elgin Community College. They were there for Kaptain's state of the city address to the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce. | Mike Danahey/Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 7, 2014 6:25AM
ELGIN — Mayor Dave Kaptain says Elgin’s image is the best it has been in 50 years, and in his annual state of the city speech at the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday he mostly painted a sunny picture of the city.
At the same time, Kaptain warned those gathered at Elgin Community College of clouds on the horizon: unfunded liabilities passed along from the state and federal government; uncertainty in policy offered from those bodies; and a political climate Kaptain sees trickling down to city government.
“People are putting their personal agendas above the common good, and we’re seeing that locally, too,” Kaptain said.
He noted that governing is about solving problems — which involves compromise, which he said he has done during the city’s recent budget process — and offering solutions.
“It doesn’t work by just saying ‘no.’ That will be the ultimate failure of the system,” Kaptain said.
Kaptain’s speech followed a confusing, contentious discussion at Wednesday night’s council budget talks.
As those talks came to their conclusion, Councilman Toby Shaw suggested that the city reduce by $1 million the amount Elgin residents would pay collectively in utility taxes.
He was informed that might not be possible, due to a requirement that prior notification be given to the utilities, meaning cuts could not go into effect until June. Shaw then modified his motion to make it a $1 million reduction in refuse collection charges, a bill that comes from Waste Management and is passed on to residents.
Shaw said he was elected in part to give some money back to Elgin residents.
“I owe that to them,” Shaw said. “We keep putting off giving back to residents but we never do.”
Councilman Terry Gavin was vocal in his support of Shaw and his intentions.
But Councilwoman Anna Moeller said Shaw had more than a month to present an idea of items to cut before doing so at the last minute. She questioned if the move was largely symbolic.
Shaw admitted that in part it was. He added that he felt city staff was underestimating what Elgin might get in sales tax and said Elgin should learn to curb its spending.
Shaw’s motion failed 6-3, with the “yes” votes cast by Shaw, Gavin and John Prigge.
Gavin asked Wednesday to cut the $40,000 the city spends on providing bags for leaf collection in neighborhoods that do not get to sweep them into the street for collection. The motion passed 7-2, with Moeller and Councilman John Steffen casting the opposing votes.
By state law, Elgin has to adopt its budget by its final meeting of the year, which is set for Dec. 18.
Kaptain said bringing up items to be voted on immediately has been rare in Elgin council sessions until recently, and he was wary of having votes on such matters.
In his speech Thursday, Kaptain focused on education, economic development and Elgin’s image.
He pointed to working with local school leaders to develop ways to build childhood education, reduce the dropout rate, and offer vocational education.
Kaptain challenged the city’s business community to come up with a baseball-like farm system providing internships. He mentioned Alignment Nashville, a community partnership program in that Tennessee city which has helped reduce the dropout rate there and where civic leaders from Elgin visited this year.
In terms of economic development, Kaptain noted international businesses now have offices in Elgin, most recently Canadian firm Fer-Pal, which specializes in water main rehabilitation technology. To help attract buyers for Elgin companies’ goods, Kaptain would like the city and chamber of commerce to put together a booklet that would highlight products made in the city.
The local unemployment rate remains around 9 percent, but there has been some progress made bringing it down this year, Kaptain noted. And the city is at or near the top in the state in new-home sales, something Kaptain said is being driven by minority home buyers.
As for the city’s image, Kaptain said, “Elgin will be the arts and entertainment center of the northwest suburbs. There is no doubt it my mind.”
The improved imaged has manifested itself in Gov. Pat Quinn recognizing the city for its level of volunteering; the Sierra Club finding Elgin to be the second greenest in the state, after Evanston; and the positive reception that events such as “Nightmare on Chicago Street” have brought from visitors.
Kaptain concluded his speech by noting Elgin’s good standing along three variables for judging a town: the city’s continued AAA bond rating; the crime rate being the lowest it has been in five decades; and the improving housing market.
“The future is looking good,” Kaptain said. “There’s work to do, and we will continue to do it.”