Seven of the nine candidates for Brookfield trustee met with the Landmark last week, carving out positions particularly on economic development and improving the village’s aging infrastructure.
The interviews, each lasting about an hour, were held last week at the Landmark’s offices in Oak Park as part of the candidate endorsement process. Among those participating were the PEP Party slate of Ryan Evans, David LeClere and Michelle Ryan; United Residents Party candidates Carla Close Prosen and Michael Towner; and Citizens Action Party candidates Daniel Gribben and Mark Rogers.
URP candidate James Boyle and CAP Party candidate John Marino were unable to meet with the Landmark last week but are expected to do so prior to the election.
Among the hotter topics of discussion was the village’s efforts toward economic development, with PEP candidates defending the party’s actions to create two Ogden Avenue TIF districts, attracting a pair of national chains and other businesses to Ogden and setting the stage for future, sustainable development.
Ryan, an incumbent trustee who was appointed to the board in 2013, pointed to the village’s participation in an upcoming comprehensive planning process with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), as a key step in economic development.
“There’s a natural order for economic development, and we’re on a good path,” Ryan said.
Rogers, a former member of the Lyons-Brookfield District 103 school board, has called for a single document — a business plan of sorts — that lays out the village’s goals for economic development and can be used to track how Brookfield has achieved its goals over time.
“We need people with a sales background. They need to be able to sell the town,” Rogers said, adding that such a plan could be done in-house.
Ryan argued that what Rogers is asking for would need to be completed by a planning consultant, that it could cost the village anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 to complete, and that it was something very few communities have.
“And the day it’s done, it’s obsolete,” she said.
Gribben said the village ought to try controlling economic development on Ogden Avenue by buying properties using village funds or bank loans.
“It’s the only way on Ogden to get something,” Gribben said.
Both he and Towner criticized the village board for choosing Sherwin Williams over Paisan’s Pizza to occupy the vacant property at the corner of Eberly and Ogden.
“Paisan’s would have attracted more,” said Gribben, who also criticized the board for what he called “dragging its feet” on the Brookfield Bowl property. “It would have had a ripple effect.”
Rogers also supported the village acquiring property on Ogden Avenue and the village helping fund the creation of an agency along the lines of the Berwyn Development Corporation to promote economic development and to provide tax credits and a micro-loan program that would provide up to $20,000 to help businesses get going in the village.
LeClere, who served one term on the village board from 2007 to 2011, called for a façade improvement program where business owners could access village funds to help fund improvements to their buildings.
“I’d like to see us do something like that to be a little more proactive than waiting for the store owner to put the sign on the door, saying, ‘We’re closed,'” LeClere said.
Ryan and Evans argued that the village’s actions in the past decade have already begun to pay off in terms of businesses like Advance Auto Parts, Sherwin Williams, D.J.’s Scuba Shop and Pita Pit coming to town and Dunkin Donuts significantly improving its property on Ogden Avenue.
The village board is also on the verge of hiring a community and economic development director, who will serve as the No. 2 administrator inside village hall and oversee planning and building in Brookfield.
“We’ve actually had three franchises and 15 other new local businesses come, which is really darn good considering we’ve been in a recession all this time,” Ryan said. “If we’re seeing this kind of development now, you get a sense of how we’re positioned to move in the future.”
Prosen, Towner, Rogers and Gribben were particularly critical of the village of Brookfield’s website, which is currently being redeveloped, for lacking the kind of information developers and prospective business owners need. The economic development portal in particular has sat unchanged for months at a time.
“They have to make it inviting. The website does matter,” said Prosen, who is a member of the Brookfield Beautification Commission. “The staff and the board have to make a joint effort to reach out to people.”
One of the bolder proposals outlined by any candidate during the interviews was Towner’s plan for a major investment in village infrastructure.
He called for the village to issue $10-12 million in bonds to fund an eight-year street construction program in addition to the roughly $1.2 million the village already earmarks for road improvements. The bonds would be paid off in 10 years, said Towner, and then could be reissued to keep the program going.
An alternative to the bonds would be a referendum to raise the village’s portion of annual real estate taxes by 25 percent to fund road improvements perpetually.
Towner said the investment was needed because the village can never expect to keep up with needed street repairs at the rate it’s funding them.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow, but we’re $32 million behind in needed repairs,” Towner said. “I believe the residents should have the opportunity to decide on this.”
PEP’s candidates were proud of the board’s move in the past couple of years to earmark approximately 15 percent of the village’s operating budget for such improvements.
Gribben also agreed that issuing bonds for road improvements should be seriously considered, although Rogers admitted, “any kind of tax increase is not met very positively” in Brookfield.
Gribben also called for the village to increase the amount of money it earmarks each year for sidewalk replacement, suggesting it should be “at least doubled” compared to the $55,000 called for in the village’s budget.