Name: Suzanne Whitehead
Immediate family members: Parents Larry and Cathy Whitehead, sisters Rebecca Miller (Chris), Karin Hendrick (Edwin), Barbara Whitehead (Jim Spence), and Adrianne Jouet (Paul)
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Office seeking: Alderman - Ward 5
Occupation: Manager of training, Bi-State Development (MetroLink)
Previous and current elected offices and terms served: N/A
Why are you running? Our council needs more diversity to address the issues Belleville is facing. Having worked for a government agency dedicated to economic development for over 10 years will give me unique perspective we need. As a board member for my neighborhood association, I have worked with the mayor and our alderman on street maintenance, crime in our area, and completing the TIF 10 development. I understand the issues we are facing and am willing to make the tough choices. We need an independent creative voice on City Council to help address the challenges facing Belleville and I can fulfill that role better than the other options on the ballot.
What is the most important issue facing the city of Belleville? How would you approach it? Slow growth. We have had limited growth in housing and new businesses that has resulted in a stagnant population, not enough good paying jobs, and lagging property values. These factors coupled with high sales taxes and rising property taxes that are trying to support aging schools is a combination for failure. We need to use our resources to add newer neighborhood developments that have amenities young families and the aging baby boomers need. This includes access to health centers, transit, local shopping, parks and independent restaurants. We need to focus our attention on growth instead of taxes that our residents see as a reason to leave Belleville.
In 2013, the Belleville City Council approved a 0.25 percent sales tax increase that is set to expire this year. Explain whether you support or oppose the continuation of this tax and whether you support either or both of the 1 percent sales tax referendums on the April ballot in St. Clair County. Adding 2 percent in sales tax will result in excessively high taxes in our shopping districts (11.1 percent at Belleville Crossing and the Green Mount Commons). A sales tax is regressive and unless we continue to grow, it is not sustainable. The public safety sales tax has a 12 year sunset. That isn’t smart government. Fixing the current infrastructure and then ending the tax is irresponsible. It means we aren’t planning ahead for the next time we need to replace a roof or upgrade the police department. The City Council approved a 4.67 percent property tax increase that takes effect in May. The new school sales tax promises relief from property taxes. The relief isn’t going to offset the increase Belleville approved. Living in the TIF 10 development, I am concerned that our property taxes are funneled to pay off the TIF without a plan to take care of the needs for Westhaven Elementary or Central Junior High. These schools will need maintenance investments in the near future as they won’t be new forever. We need smarter government in Belleville than what the folks in Springfield have done to the Land of Lincoln. We need to live within our means.
In recent years, the city has granted various tax incentives to businesses. Explain whether you would support or oppose tax incentives for businesses. We need to look at every option possible to help grow Belleville, with development that enhances our community. Each time we take tax payer money we need to guarantee a good return on our investment. If we are investing in infrastructure to help a company grow and they add jobs to our community that offsets our investment, we should do it. What we don’t want is an empty promise (E.g., Ballpark Village) from a developer that takes 10 years to build anything and falls short of what they promised. If we are committing public dollars we need accountability, milestone checkpoints and professional project oversight to ensure the tax payers are getting a good return on their money. Developers who don’t meet their obligations with the city should have tough contract terms and repercussions imposed.
What actions would you take to fight crime in Belleville? Explain whether you think the city can afford to hire more police officers. Belleville invests about 35 percent of the annual budget on police. We need to be smart about how these resources are deployed in our community. The more time officers spend out of their cars and in our community the better their presence deters crime. Partnering with neighborhood groups and schools is critical. We have a heroin problem and we need officers in schools to ensure our youth avoid this very serious mistake which leads to other crimes. We should audit our administrative processes to ensure that our officers can focus on what they do best – serve and protect our neighborhoods. The ratio between sworn officers and civilians who work for the police is not ideal. We need to spend as much on officers as possible and streamlining their administrative work is critical to this effort. Each additional officer costs Belleville $75,000 to $100,000 annually. These officers would benefit our citizens, but we must be able to afford the expense before hiring additional staff.
Why should people vote for you? We need independent voices on the City Council. My experience as a volunteer in Belleville and my work with local small business, large Fortune 500 companies, and a regional government agency give me unique perspective that can benefit our city. We must act with integrity and look for ways to provide smarter government. If you want a positive change in your representation to the City Council, I am the best choice for Ward 5. To find out more, please visit my Facebook page at WhiteheadWard5.