Issues

Ald. Joe McMenamin: Rail agreement with IDOT seriously flawed May. 10, 2016

The State Journal-Register
Letter to the Editor

Mayor Jim Langfelder and the City Council should have held out for a better agreement between the city and Illinois Department of Transportation regarding relocating rail traffic off the Third Street tracks instead of voting passage on April 26. Here are some of the problems with the agreement: Read More

Joe’s Focus as Ward 7 Alderman – as stated in 2015 to ICON

  • Maintain and improve our City infrastructure including roads, sidewalks and sewers.
  • Carefully manage CWLP.
  • Reverse our large structural City Financial deficits.
  • Reform but fully fund City pensions.
  • Require new City hires to live in the city.
  • Strengthen our neighborhoods and encourage private investment with targeted City financial incentives for older areas facing blight.
  • Beautify and restore aging commercial corridors like MacArthur Blvd
  • Redevelop vacant Downtown properties for residential use.

Joe’s Focus as Ward 7 Alderman – as stated in 2011

  • Refocus City government priorities to strengthen neighborhoods.
  • Reinstate the city residency requirement for our City police and other city employees.
  • Strengthen and enforce ordinances related to vacant, neglected, and “boarded” buildings.
  • Establish a long-term sewer improvement and financing plan for neighborhoods.
  • End municipal pension abuses.
  • Add sidewalk and/or improved shoulders along parts of Old Jacksonville Road west of Washington Park.

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Five Goals from Joe’s 2011 Campaign to Improve our City

  • Reinstate the city residency requirement (with grandfather clause, waivers for hardship, and a 6 month grace period for new hires) for City employees. Since its elimination in year 2000, more than a third of our 1,600 city employees have left town, taking their paychecks, benefits, and generous future pensions. They leave behind less demand for Springfield real estate, weakened property values, and reduced real estate tax revenue. We want our city employees to make a commitment to our City to work and live here and invest in Springfield. We want our City police living in our neighborhoods – not in Chatham, Rochester, and Sherman. The laws of real estate supply and demand can strengthen our City. Were it not for the repeal of the city residency requirement in 2000, we would have 600 additional middle class families living in Springfield.
  • Forbid municipal pension abuses such as exit pay spikes to retiring city employees that pad their pensions – forever. That is theft of taxpayer funds. Our city real estate taxes now go entirely for pensions of retired city workers – none to city operations!
  • Strengthen and enforce the “boarded-up building” ordinances to create incentives to develop and disincentives to leave “as is” properties such as the “old Kmart” on MacArthur Boulevard. Increase the registration fees for “boarded buildings” by scaling them to building square footage and compound fees for duration. Require City Building and Zoning Department to publish fines and registration documents on-line, by Ward, to increase accountability. Refill the City’s Code Enforcement attorney position that is now vacant.
  • Restore the Public Works Department’s on site sewer staff including the cleaning and repair positions. Establish a long-term sewer planning/financing task force.
  • Stop inappropriate Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) projects that shift local public tax funds to projects that do not need public assistance such as Horace Mann (HM). Last summer the Council approved $1.8 million of our local property tax dollars to HM for its downtown building. HM reports $45 million in quarterly profits and holds $500 million in cash reserves. HM can pay for its building improvements without public assistance, and should not be taking from local taxing districts. There are better local public uses for that $1.8 million. The City has the authority to declare TIF “surpluses” and return TIF funds to the originating taxing jurisdictions where the funds can be used for important operational needs.

 

Candidate Questionnaires

Candidates receive questionnaires from multiple sources about various issues.    Actual surveys and questionnaires with my answers can be downloaded here:

ICON Questionnaire 2015 | CAR Questionnaire 2015 |

SJ-R Questionnaire 2011 | CAAR Questionnaire 2011 | GSCC Survey 2011

Summary of Issues from Surveys prepared in 2011

ACCESSIBILITY and RESPONSIBILITY to Ward 7 Residents

I am preparing to be a full time council member. I have cut back my law practice, my wife and I now have no children at home, and I will retire from the IL Army National Guard after 30 years of service. I look forward to working with Ward 7 constituents, neighborhood associations, businesses, developers, unions and the mayor to make Springfield the best community it can be.

I will use the aldermanic pay to open a part-time Ward 7 office along MacArthur Boulevard with evening and Saturday hours. I will publish a phone number and an email address where constituents can reach me. I will mail periodic newsletters to Ward 7 residents and keep them informed about issues via my website.

BALANCING CITY ISSUES and WARD 7 ISSUES

A council member’s first priority is to advocate and represent the interests of his ward. If that Ward’s council member does not, who will? That is the premise of geographic representation. If the interests of the Ward and the interests of the City are adverse, I will generally articulate and vote the Ward’s interest. Only if the City’s long-term interests are compelling and the vote is close, I will generally vote the City’s overall interest.

The city budget, infrastructure needs, and problem properties are the most significant issues facing Ward 7 residents. Increased revenue and better fiscal responsibility will allow the city to address infrastructure needs. Enhanced code enforcement and investment strategies will address problem properties, together with strong leadership and volunteerism from neighborhood associations.

PRIORITIES FOR CITY SERVICES

I appreciate and support our police officers and firefighters, especially the Neighborhood Police Officer program, which helps our older neighborhoods.  I am committed to retaining police officers and firefighters necessary to protect and insure the safety of citizens and businesses.

The city should continue to provide free yard waste collection, including use of city crews to limit costs.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

The current budget shortfall is a serious problem and needs to be addressed.  Part of this problem will be self-correcting over time as the economy improves and sales and income tax revenues return to previous levels. Already local sales tax distributions from the State to Springfield increased by one half million dollars comparing Nov 2009 to Nov 2010 distributions.

Fiscal Restraint

In addition to increased revenue, curbing wasteful practices and showing fiscal restraint will allow the city to create reasonable budgets without service cuts. I believe in balanced budgets and in getting Springfield on a sound financial foundation to protect our citizens, businesses and long-term financial ratings.

Responsible, Sustainable Collective Bargaining Agreements

I support the right of unions to collective bargaining and will encourage respectful, fiscally responsible negotiations for future benefits and pay agreements. 80% of the City budget goes to payroll and employee benefits, and all of the City portion of real estate taxes now go to pay pensions of retired city workers, none to city operations. Agreeing to a five-year contract with our City firefighters with annual 3.5% pay raises going into a recession was irresponsible and added to our current budget problems.  In some areas, public sector pay and benefits now exceed private sector pay and benefits. According to 2009 City payroll records, 78 CWLP employees earned over $100K per year.  Twenty City firefighters earned over $100K per year with overtime and other benefits and 30 earned over $90K per year.  As a Council member, I will promote budgets that include sustainable amounts for City employee pay and benefit increases.

Ending Wasteful Spending

Within 60 days of becoming alderman, I will introduce an ordinance to ban abusive pension practices including “retirement week pay spikes” that permanently inflate pensions and rob our city of vital financial resources for years to come.

We need an aggressive clean up of operational waste, including the CWLP work force. I believe the CWLP budget needs to remain separate from other City operations, and operational savings at CWLP will keep utility rates flat.

BUSINESS

In 1991, I started a private law practice after serving over 10 years in government service as a tax lawyer.  I have grown my professional services business from the ground up by word of mouth referrals like my grandfather did with his practice. My practice is located in an historic building in downtown Springfield.

In the past 20 years, I’ve worked with scores of local and regional businesses to resolve often-complicated tax and small business matters, providing reasonable solutions to limit litigation and expense. I work hard to understand and serve the needs of my business clients, and I will do the same as the Alderman for businesses and residents in Ward 7.

I am a Chamber member and have been so for most of the last 15 years except for National Guard deployments and training.  I was active with the Chamber’s “Government Affairs Committee” for several years including Chair in 1997.  I am an active member of the MacArthur Boulevard Business Association.  I am a member of Downtown Springfield Inc.  I was active with the Image and Design Committee 1998 – 2003.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Springfield has many assets that have helped keep our unemployment rate the second lowest in Illinois. Still, we need to work on improving our economic climate and adding jobs by implementing creative solutions to our problems, which include keeping our residential neighborhoods and commercial corridor entryways attractive and prosperous.

I will focus economic development and renewal at the neighborhood level. I will work with the Council, Mayor, and community organizations to develop citywide solutions that include strengthening and enforcing ordinances related to problem properties, establishing TIF’s for residential and business development, reinstating the residency requirement for City workers, and a long-term plan to repair and maintain infrastructure.  These proposals are explained below.

Problem Properties

We need to strengthen and enforce ordinances related to problem properties, create incentives to develop, and create disincentives for absentee property owners to release problem properties such as “old Kmart” on MacArthur Boulevard.

We should:

  • Increase the registration fees for “boarded buildings” by scaling them to building square footage;
  • Compound fees for “boarded” duration;
  • Require City Building and Zoning Department to publish fines and boarded building registration documents on-line—by Ward—to increase accountability;  and
  • Hire an attorney for the second Code Enforcement attorney position now vacant in the Corporation Counsel’s office.

TIF Districts

TIF Districts can provide funding for public infrastructure that would not otherwise happen and jumpstart economic recovery in distressed area, but many areas of the City currently don’t benefit from a TIF and continue to suffer neglect and abandonment.  Downtown Springfield benefits from its own TIF producing $5 million annually for exclusively downtown projects, and Enos Park benefits from its $400,000 annual TIF, recently used to implement lighting and sidewalk improvements.

I will vote to stop inappropriate Tax Increment Financing (TIF) projects that shift local public tax funds to projects that do not need public assistance.  In 2010, the Council approved $1.8 million to Horace Mann for improvements to its downtown building. The company reports $45 million in quarterly profits and holds $500 million in cash reserves. It can pay for its building improvements without public assistance and should not be taking from local taxing districts. There are better local public uses for that $1.8 million. The City has the authority to declare TIF “surpluses” and return TIF funds to the originating taxing jurisdictions where the funds can be used for important city services.

Incentives for City Residency

Since the requirement for City workers to live in Springfield was eliminated in 2000, more than a third of our 1,600 city employees have left town, taking their paychecks, benefits, and generous future pensions. In the past 10 years, half our firefighters and one hundred of our police have left Springfield.  They leave behind less demand for Springfield real estate, weakened property values, and reduced real estate tax revenue.

We want our city employees to make a commitment to our City to work and live here and invest in Springfield. We want our City police living in our neighborhoods – not in Chatham, Rochester, and Sherman. When there are more sellers than buyers in a market, prices decline, property values fall, and real estate tax revenues suffer. Were it not for the repeal of the city residency requirement, we would have 600 additional middle-class families living in Springfield.

I favor a city residency requirement for City employees, with a grandfather clause for those who already living elsewhere, a 6-month grace period for new hires, and a hardship waiver. We need to put Springfield first and require City employees to commit to Springfield.  If they choose not to do so, then someone who is willing to invest in our community can have that job with its generous benefits and future pension.  Once funds are available in the city budget, I will favor financial incentives for our police and firefighters to move back to the City, with additional incentives for police to live in problem neighborhoods.

The city should collaborate with large employers such as Memorial and St John’s to offer financial incentives to employees to purchase homes near the hospitals. This approach to renewal worked when Notre Dame University partnered with the city of South Bend, IN.

Redevelopment

The “for sale” and “for lease” signs around town indicate an over inventory of retail and housing units. This oversupply combined with reduced purchasing power of consumers and an aging population within the City means that redevelopment of existing areas of the city should take priority. With limited City resources, redevelopment of existing areas is more cost-effective and financially sustainable for the city because infrastructure such as roads, sewers, water and fire protection is already in place.

I generally favor reasonable impact fees for development.  I would also support financial incentives to developers to renew and redevelop older neighborhoods and vacant lots.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Sewers

We need a long-term plan and funding source for sewer work in older neighborhoods. The long-standing problem of combined storm and sanitary sewers in Ward 7 results in raw sewage entering basements.  This negatively affects safety, health and property values in the area.  We need to bring our City infrastructure up to safe modern standards and provide the resources needed by the Public Works Department to maintain our infrastructure.  I favor the establishment of a long-term sewer planning and financing task force.

Infrastructure Sales Taxes

I favor the original intent to use the Sales Tax funds exclusively for infrastructure.

Second Lake for Water Supply

I am in favor of developing a second lake.  The land is substantially purchased. We should not gamble with a vital and valuable local resource. Global environmental changes and food production will focus attention on fresh water resources.  An earlier generation planned ahead for us, and we should do the same for the next.

School District 186 Facilities

I favor incremental and less expensive plans to upgrade Dist 186 facilities. I oppose the new west side high school campus because the current SHS campus is an anchor for its neighborhood, and a new campus is prohibitively expensive. I favor an urban renewal approach where the School District purchases boarded up and neglected properties surrounding the current SHS campus to add green space, practice fields, and facilities. I favor the middle school gym improvements. Future funding sources for Dist 186 will include 2 ½ million dollars of additional revenue per year when the Downtown TIF expires in 2016.

High Speed Rail

I favor 10th Street corridor. However, having taken the Eurostar train through the Chunnel from London to Paris last year, I noted the train did not pass through town centers, but instead detoured around them.  Balancing the needs of efficient high-speed rail and city economic development is needed to create a successful US high-speed rail service.  Many of those decisions and funding will come from the State and Federal levels.

 

Roberts Automotive Rezoning Request – A Letter to Constituents
Download as PDF…
November 23, 2011

Dear Friends and Neighbors along MacArthur,
Recently, I received numerous calls and emails concerning Robert’s Automotive rezoning request. Some of these were in response to a door hanger that was widely distributed in the MacArthur Boulevard area by a neighborhood group. Unfortunately, this door-hanger misstated my views and it is important to set the record straight.

Contrary to the door-hanger’s statements, I had never taken a position supporting or opposing Robert’s Automotive relocating onto MacArthur Boulevard. I was uncommitted, but open minded to all ideas and concerns.

While I always opposed any B-1 spot zoning for the theater over-flow parking lot, which would permanently open the door to many unacceptable uses, I remained open-minded to the possibility of a highly restricted and conditioned use variance for Robert’s if warranted by compelling circumstances and opportunities.

However, now I am taking a position. After hearing many well-articulated views on every side of this issue, I will vote “no” on Robert’s Automotive relocating to MacArthur.

I will continue to reserve judgment on many issues as I did in this case until the facts and options are fully explored. I will continue to use my vote on the Council to renew our older commercial corridors while strengthening our neighborhoods. These are the objectives I have pursued as your alderman for almost seven months now. Please turn over for more Ward 7 updates regarding MacArthur.

Wishing you the very best this Thanksgiving Season!
Sincerely,
Joe McMenamin

The true rule in determining whether to embrace or reject anything, is not whether it have any good or any bad in it, but whether it have more good than bad, or more bad than good.
Abraham Lincoln