O’Fallon aldermen rank public safety, economic development, and maintaining and improving streets, sewer and water as their top priorities in 2018.
Last fall, Mayor Herb Roach said aldermen ranked their priorities for the strategic plan, replying in a survey after taking a trip through the city to see all sections.
Roach said studies are expected to be completed by midyear, with a plan for future work, about streets, water and sewer.
The five aldermen who shared their priorities said they are confident the council can work together well for city improvements and move the city forward. Four of the aldermen — Andrew Lopinot, Mark Morton, Ross Rosenberg and Dan Witt — were elected last April. Matt Gilreath, who has been on the council since June 2016, was the fifth alderman to share his thoughts.
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Witt, an alderman for Ward 7, said he thinks the council is headed in the right direction.
“I believe the current council is working together to make O’Fallon the best city to live here in the region, he said.
Rosenberg, who represents Ward 1, said his goals were in line with the other aldermen and city officials, and that he thinks they will be able to achieve them.
“Keeping our residents safe and our city moving forward economically, all while doing our best to improve our infrastructure at the lowest possible cost and inconvenience is our desired outcome. It will most assuredly take all of us working together,” he said.
Rosenberg said he said he spends time talking to people around town and reading comments on social media.
“I see a lot of comments, some complimentary and some critical,” he said. “I invite and encourage everyone to come to our committee and City Council meetings, and let us know what you think in person,” he said, quoting Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
The council regularly meets the first and third Mondays of the month.
Lopinot, who represents Ward 5, said he wants to focus on continued growth. He has targeted growth in the city’s partnerships with other community leaders and residents, too.
Witt said public safety is his top priority.
“In the budget talks for fiscal year 2018-2019, we are working on hiring two new police officers. Also, recently, we approved the purchase of a new ambulance. These items will help with that goal,” he said.
Gilreath, who represents Ward 3, said the O’Fallon Police Department is dedicated to proactively solving problems through education and enforcement.
“They strive to make a positive difference in the lives of residents each day. Chief (Eric) Van Hook’s unique approach to policing has been extremely effective. So much so, a recent survey found that 94 percent of residents have a favorable opinion of the O’Fallon PD and 97 percent feel safe in their neighborhoods,” Gilreath said.
He said aldermen can assist police in several ways as they build on this success.
“First, maintain open lines of communication between the council and the police department. Second, assist the PD as they build relationships with residents — Coffee with a Cop, Citizen Police Academy, and so forth. Third, assist in promoting their recruitment and diversity initiative — WearTheBadge.com,” he said.
“The O’Fallon PD is easily one of the best police departments in the metro-east. It is important that we support them in their pursuit of excellence,” Gilreath said.
Water and Sewer
Morton, who is an alderman in Ward 4, selected water and sewer as his top two priorities.
“These are highly important as they provide a critical service to our residents. Our system is aging and we need to examine it, which we are doing, and invest in it as needed,” Morton said.
Witt said he also supports improvements to the water and sewer lines.
Gilreath said O’Fallon has one of the best water departments in St. Clair County.
“We are currently developing a plan to make enhancements to our current system as it begins to show signs of age,” he said.
Morton said he heard about streets more than anything else.
“As I was campaigning and hitting the streets, this was a widespread complaint. Similar to the water/sewer infrastructure, we have embarked on an evaluation of our streets to start a repair plan,” he said. “Streets may not bring additional revenue to the city through taxes or attracting visitors. However, we need to provide our residents safe streets for travel.”
Witt said that, earlier this year, the city contracted with a firm to evaluate all of O’Fallon’s streets and prioritize the repair needed.
Gilreath chose to list streets and sewers as his No. 2 priority.
“Ward 3 contains some of the oldest streets in O’Fallon. Because of this, making improvements in this area is a top priority. Thanks to a strong partnership between the council and the public works department, we’re making area strides in this area. Long-term, we have plans to fix streets and address drainage issues throughout O’Fallon,” he said.
Witt said economic development is one of his priorities.
“But we have to be careful about the types of business we recruit to our city. We need to focus on success and a need for the type of business, not just look for a few additional tax dollars,” he said.
Economic development ranked fourth for Morton.
“O’Fallon is well positioned from an economic development standpoint, given our location, as well as the demographics. That said, the city is highly attractive as a place not only to live, but also to start or open a business,” he said.
But additional businesses will increase revenue from sales taxes.
“Businesses need to be diversified to withstand a recession. Increased sales tax revenue will lower our reliance on real estate taxes and the burden on residents,” Morton said.
Morton said one of the prime areas for this growth is the east portion of O’Fallon, near the new interstate exchange at Rieder Road.
“This is a long-term project, given the infrastructure investment required,” he said.
Morton said downtown and Southview Plaza are high on his list of other areas that need economic development.
“Southview Plaza will require the current owner to come to an agreement with either a buyer or developer, which the city’s hands are tied to a certain extent,” he said.
Lopinot said growth in business and economic development opportunities near the hospitals, metroplex, Southview Plaza, as well as the downtown area, are among his concerns.
Gilreath said economic development is crucial.
“We’ve made big moves in recent years. Everything from new stores (Academy Sports, Dollar General) to new restaurants (Dewey’s, Sugarfire, Starbucks) to new developments (Sports Park expansion) to new homes,” he said. “This is the result of past leadership that was steadfastly dedicated to the long-term development of O’Fallon. It’s important, especially with Illinois’ current economic climate, that we continue to build on these recent successes.”
Gilreath said aldermen can encourage development in several ways.
“First, encourage staff as they build relationships with local and national business leaders. Second, ensure that Destination O’Fallon is completed as planned. By increasing revenue via sales tax, we can reduce the property tax burden felt by our residents,” he said.
Roach said businesses are talking to the city.
“We have several new firms and existing firms talking with us, and we have significant news developing on sites across the city. We are also moving forward to improve our ability to market our city for future growth, diversified growth and smart growth,” he said.