Hubert Hermanek Jr., the VIP Party candidate for mayor in North Riverside, said in a recent endorsement interview at the Landmark office that the village would begin to be able to fulfill its police and fire pension obligations now that Costco is opening in 2013.
On March 12, Costco purchased 16 acres of land at the corner of 26th Street and Harlem Avenue to build a new retail warehouse slated to open in October. As part of the deal, North Riverside ended up paying the seller $6.3 million to limit their loss on the deal.
Sales taxes generated by Costco will be used to pay back that sum, plus interest, at a cost of about $400,000 per year for 20 years. However, said Hermanek, Costco is expected to generate much more than that amount in sales taxes per year.
“The conservative projections are that Costco is going to at least double the amount of revenue [received from the Edward Don Company],” said Hermanek, referring to the foodservice equipment retailer that previously was the village’s top sales tax producer.
Hermanek said that Costco ought to provide the village with “approximately $2 million a year in revenue, plus the fact that there are going to be four outlots, which we presume are going to be tax-revenue-generating properties, and we would get a double benefit if they were restaurants that were put up.”
That “double benefit” refers to the village’s 1-percent sales tax on food and drink purchased at restaurants.
If Costco and the adjacent outlots are able to generate that amount of sales tax cash, then the village would be in a position to start meeting its pension obligation, which presently stands at about $1.5 million annually.
Hermanek said that if he’s elected, he would move to dispel the perception of nepotism with regard to hiring at village hall, an issue that has dogged the VIP Party in recent campaigns.
He didn’t dispute the argument that insider hiring was a problem during the past two decades. Rather, he stated that since he was elected trustee in 2009 “there has not been any full-time hiring in that situation.”
Hermanek defended the past hires, saying they are performing well in their jobs.
“Nobody has ever questioned the ability or qualifications and the work product of the full-time employees that have been hired that way,” said Hermanek. “We have a very small village. In a perfect world, you would like to hire the most qualified people. If everything’s equal, there’s nothing wrong with hiring the person who resides in our village.”
A closed hiring process isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Hermanek indicated.
“It doesn’t seem unfair or unreasonable if they know somebody that they could recommend, [because] then they’re putting their good character on the line by recommending somebody,” Hermanek said. “That in itself causes good people to be hired.”
Hiring people who are friends and family members of village staff, he said, resulted in quality employees.
“A lot of them are friends of people, a lot of them are family members, but all those people seem to work out pretty well,” Hermanek said. “It seems that the people who don’t work out are the people who are hired that nobody knows.”
That said, Hermanek stated he’s willing to change that process in the future for village hall positions.
“If I were mayor, I would have a more open hiring policy, where people can apply … and do a regular interview process,” Hermanek said. “I don’t know if that would change the result of how the hiring would be, but if a lot of the issue is openness with the job selection, I don’t have any problem with that.”
As for regularly re-examining and rebidding long-term contracts, Hermanek said, “I have no problem with giving them to the vendors who give the best quality at the best price, if it’s not safety-related,” referring to the village’s longtime contract with its paramedic contractor.
“There is a line to be drawn between public safety and health and price,” said Hermanek. “As far as paramedics go, safety, quality is more important than price. That would not be the deciding factor, the price; it would be the quality with the price.”
Inside village hall itself, Hermanek said he would be open to exploring consolidating the recreation and public works departments to see if there could be any cost savings in doing so.
“A lot of things overlap,” said Hermanek.
He also said he’d be interesting in talking with Riverside-Brookfield High School about a deal to build tennis courts at Veterans Park and letting the high school use them as well as North Riverside residents. In exchange, he said, RBHS might consider converting its tennis courts into additional parking that can be rented to Brookfield Zoo.
As far as leadership style, Hermanek said he doesn’t mind criticism and likes to hear about all sides of an issue before drawing conclusions. However, he favors being a hands-on mayor.
“I don’t like being told how great everything is; I like to hear the other side. It’s easier to make decisions that way,” he said. “But I would like to be a proactive mayor and have a lot of say-so in the way our village is run.”