Mayoral candidates John Miller and Mike Tognarelli have some differences when it comes to their plans for the future of Collinsville.
Miller, 67, is the incumbent mayor. Tognarelli, 61, is the challenger, and currently serves on the City Council.
Tognarelli says the city “has been my life,” so he feels he has a lot to give back to the city.
Tognarelli started working as a laborer in the Collinsville Street Department in 1973. He was promoted to director and held the position for 17 years. He ran for city council in 2011.
In his 42 years working for the city, Tognarelli says he’s left his mark on Collinsville.
“My fingerprints are all over this city,” he said. “They’re on Miner’s Theatre, they’re on the water tower, they’re on that fire station, they’re everywhere. To me, that’s my legacy and I just don’t want to walk away from it.”
Tognarelli said he wants to change the mayor’s position to take advantage of his background.
“To this point, the mayor’s position has been a leadership position. ... I want to become a mayor with a high level of leadership and technical skills,” he said. “I’ve managed numerous multimillion-dollar projects: Spring Street, Mulberry Street Bridge, Mill Street Bridge, Country Lane. So that will allow me to lead the city’s business at a level that has yet to be achieved by a mayor.”
Miller said during a candidate forum March 10 that the mayor’s job is “not a hands-on job.”
“It’s not a technical job. It’s a leadership job. It’s a leadership job of the community, of the council,” he said. “The mayor is one vote on the council, but he’s also the liquor commissioner, and he has a responsibility to be a regional leader as well and reach out to those other communities and the other organizations in the region.
He added, “First and foremost, it’s what we do in our community and maintain what we have, but I think leadership is the biggest thing. You are the chairman of the council meetings. You need to be focused. We have to be unified on the council, and I think the mayor works that unity into the council.”
Miller began his service to Collinsville as a firefighter. When he retired after 31 years, he said “that strong ambition to continue serving the citizens” was still there, so he ran for city council.
Miller said he wants to continue his involvement in the city to see a number of projects through to the end, including the Collins Park project, 159 project and upcoming development in Eastport Plaza.
“Four more years would give me a chance to finish a lot of the projects that are going on right now: the Collins Park, which is the Martha Manning building on Main Street, getting that taken down, fulfill our master plan — the first leg of it — the 159 project, Vandalia Street, see that through to its fruition,” he said. “We’ve got a major building project coming up in Eastport Plaza. I’d like to see that through.”
He added, “There’s a lot of things that are still happening in Collinsville, which started under my term, and I’d like to see those finished,” he said.
Something that could interrupt both Miller’s and Tognarelli’s plans for the economic and residential development and infrastructure improvements in the city is the potential decrease to the Local Government Distributive Fund — the income tax for municipalities.
“The most pressing issue I think is revenue,” Miller said at the candidate forum.
A reduction to the fund could mean about $1.2 million lost for Collinsville, according to Miller.
Miller and Tognarelli both traveled to Springfield on March 11 to talk to legislators about Rauner’s budget.
Because of his multiple terms, Miller is no stranger to Springfield.
“I’m on a first-name basis with a lot of the legislators up there because I’ve been in this office for almost 8 years,” Miller said. “I can call them on the phone and say, ‘Hey, I’m really not happy with what you’re doing.’”
Tognarelli said he doesn’t think the budget will pass.
“The City of Collinsville has weathered more difficult issues than this, and if necessary, we will adjust to the changes,” Tognarelli said. “I am not going to speculate on any actions the city might or might not take without the specifics of the status of the bill.”
Miller said the $1.2 million represents about 5 percent of the city’s operating budget, so a decrease could mean cuts in personnel and services.
Both candidates have agreed they will not vote to cut vital services such police and fire, even if cuts need to be made.
Tognarelli has stated he also will not vote to increase property taxes during the course of his term. Miller said he would be willing to take that step if it were necessary.
“If the need comes to increase our property tax rate to meet the demand of services, vital services, in the future, I can’t say that, ‘No I will not raise taxes,’” Miller said. “It’s not a glamorous thing to say that I would be for raising taxes, but it would have to be an emergency-type thing.”
Because Tognarelli doesn’t believe the budget will pass, he says it’s “not my biggest issue right now.”
“My biggest issue is the lack of improvements in our aging neighborhoods,” he said.
To encourage people to invest in their properties in these neighborhoods, Tognarelli said he wants to make some improvements to infrastructure, such as sidewalks. He said those projects could be funded through the new revenue the city is generating from gaming machines.
Tognarelli said he also wants to get more involved in developments by helping the city manager and the city’s economic development department.
“I’ve already had communications with the city manager about it: ‘If I get elected, you better get ready for me’ because I know it’s a city manager form of government and I believe in the city manager form of government absolutely, but I also believe in giving him help, which he’s not getting at the mayor’s level right now,” Tognarelli said.
He added, “We have a good economic development department, but, again, the mayor’s not involved in it and I’ll be involved. I know developers. I know the properties. I’ll be actively involved in trying to get developers in here to build the housing.”
Miller said during his involvement in the city, it has grown from a “bedroom community for the St. Louis region” to an “economic development driver with people wanting to come to Collinsville because of the interstate systems and different things.”
“We lost our uptown to St. Clair Square but we’re bringing back businesses that have left, and the economic climate is looking so much better now,” he said. “And I think I had a part in doing that, so I feel very good about how we’ve accomplished so many things, like Collinsville Crossing’s Eastport Plaza. We’ve got Lindenwood College down there now. We’ve got some good companies that have come here and decided to make this one of their places of businesses.
Early voting began Monday, March 23, and will end Saturday, April 4.
Residents can vote Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Collinsville Senior Citizen Center, 420 E Main St.
It will be closed on April 3 for Good Friday.