The three men vying to become the mayor of Fairview Heights share a focus on the city’s neighborhoods and new residential and economic development.
The candidates are Mark Kupsky, Joshua Frawley and Speed Allen Jr. Mayor Gail Mitchell is not seeking re-election, after serving as mayor since 1995.
Kupsky, 53, who serves as city clerk, said that although the city was incorporated less than five decades ago, its neighborhoods and housing are aging. Kupsky said the next mayor will need to address this.
“I think we ought to concentrate on our neighborhoods, first and foremost, to make sure they are safe, and that people are comfortable in their homes and able to walk to local businesses,” Kupsky said. “Fairview Heights is aging. We’re 45 years old and our infrastructure is starting to age. Infrastructure means our streets, our sidewalks and some of the facilities in our parks. So that will be a top priority, to re-evaluate what we’re spending and find opportunities to really get around some of the key areas of the city that we haven’t been unable to touch.”
Frawley, who is a Ward 1 alderman, said he has noticed a need to reinvest and redevelop in the city. As mayor, the 27-year-old said he would get more involved with residents in neighborhoods.
“That’s high on my list,” Frawley said. “Fairview Heights is sort of getting land-locked. We have areas to the north and to the south that we could annex, but we have as much property as we’re going to have for a while. Our neighborhoods are getting old. We have houses that are approaching 60 years old.”
Allen has served two separate stints on the City Council in Ward 2 and brings 40 years of combined experience in government service and administrative management. The 67-year-old has identified economic development as the city’s top issue and suggests city officials revisit and reconsider amending its development code so more potential businesses will consider coming to town.
“The code in Fairview Heights is so strict,” Allen said. “Quite a few businesses are locating in O’Fallon and Swansea, and the surrounding municipalities are growing because the codes are so strict here. We can’t afford to tell business that they can’t come here unless they have 60, 70 percent glass and brick on their building and it has to conform with all surrounding buildings. It’s just crazy. We need to try to have an atmosphere where businesses feel comfortable coming in and also have their own identity.”
Frawley, an entrepreneur and the founder of his own landscaping and property-management business, Calvary Property Management, said his plan to reinvest in the city’s existing neighborhoods would help create an environment that will spark business development.
“How do you remain marketable when we have cities around us that are building brand new subdivisions?” he said. “We grew quickly and now neighboring cities are having that growth spurt. If we put money back into the neighborhoods, we’ll help the residents, we’ll help keep property values high, we’ll keep good people living here and we’ll entice new residents to come.”
Kupsky has been employed in management positions with Verizon for the past 30 years and says he has managed budgets in excess of $300 million. Aside from his current service as the city clerk during the past four years, he has also served seven years as an alderman and 11 years as the city treasurer. He said that he has a comprehensive knowledge of the city and its operations and wants to work toward unifying the City Council.
“For many years, people felt that our City Council has been divided and not worked together,” Kupsky said. “So I think that’s key. I believe that my experience having been an alderman, knowing the operations and most of all working with all of the council members, and combine that with my professional experience with 30 years in management, I feel like I can bring the council together.”
He added, “I think that the council generally respects me and the job that I have done and I really feel that we can work together as a cohesive team to drive some things forward for the city and focus on neighborhoods and infrastructure.”
One of the pilot programs that Frawley would like to launch as mayor is a city grant that would give residents assistance, similar to the incentives businesses receive to entice development or redevelopment within the city.
“If we do that with residential properties, the city could pay a portion of that,” he said. “It’s not unheard of in the city. In the ’80s, Mayor George Langston had a similar pilot program that he started that helped people replace their aerators in their backyard, anything we can do that is going to keep property value high. On the flip side, we could use that as incentives to get new residents in Fairview.”
He added, “Some of our neighboring cities have these. If you are moving into Fairview Heights, you are going to be moving into homes that have been occupied. We could give you a percentage to help with your down payment. Because our homes are older, if you have an outdated kitchen, we’ll help you update the kitchen. Again, that brings property values up.”
Allen said the city’s west end needs more economic development. He also said the city needs to revisit and consider reducing its hotel-motel and sales tax rates.
“The west end needs new business,” he said. “We need a grocery store, a fresh meat market and we need the kind of business that supports the community on the west end. Changing the way we are dealing with hotel-motel taxes and sales tax is the biggest problem I have heard about from residents. It is hurting people who live in Fairview Heights and has stopped people from coming here because the taxes are so high. We need to address that and bring it down.”
Kupsky also said the city’s west end has lacked recent development, and he wants to focus on spurring economic growth there. On the east side, he is concerned about frequent flooding.
“We’ll have an immediate focus on things we can do to build the west end and stabilize that area,” he said. “If you look at the east end, we have some storm-water and flooding issues which are really impacting the residents. So we’re taking some steps now, but we’re going to accelerate those to improve those problems.”
He also would like to investigate creation of a high school campus in town. He wants to engage neighboring school district officials to consider a new school that would serve residents in the city.
“We are served by three high school districts, so the likelihood of getting a high school is not very high,” he said. “But I certainly will advocate with (Belleville) District 201 about considering things like a satellite campus or a freshman campus as they look to expand in our community.”
Frawley said the city is still attracting business and seeing economic redevelopment. But as mayor, he would adjust the city’s programs used to attract businesses.
“The one thing that I think we could do better, though, is tweak the business assistance program to target market the incentives that we give,” he said. “It’s just like any business model that you have with any company. You want to target where you are marketing and use incentives.”
Kupsky would like to provide residents with more access to the city officials. As the mayor, he would expand open hours at City Hall, and establish a citizen advisory board and a youth advisory board to gather more input from city residents. He said he also would create quarterly sessions for residents to talk and meet with the mayor and City Council members.
“I think that would be a great way to start bringing our community together more,” he said. “Most of all, I think it’s about listening to residents.”
Election day is April 7.