Two candidates are running for an at-large seat on Urbana’s city council: incumbent Republican Pat Thackery and Independent Cassandra Cress. The Urbana Daily Citizen sent questions to each candidate to better inform readers of their positions prior to the Nov. 5 election. The responses are in their words, unless otherwise noted.
Cress: Cassandra (Cassie) Cress grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and graduated from Wittenberg University with a BA in English. She also obtained her MA from Wright State University in Educational Leadership. After teaching high school English for a couple of years in North Carolina, she accepted a teaching position at Urbana to be closer to family. Cassie and her husband, who is also a teacher, live with their two daughters in Urbana. This is her 20th year teaching, and she has served on various educational committees as well as the city’s Charter Review Committee.
Thackery: Pat served in the U.S. Army as a military police sergeant where he learned the importance of leadership and responsibility for others. Over the years, Pat has owned and operated several businesses, which currently includes Café Paradiso and Carmazzi’s. Entrepreneurship and helping others has always been important to him as the first step to achieving the “American Dream”. Currently, Pat is serving on Urbana City Council. He is a member of the Champaign Economic Partners Board that coordinates economic growth for Urbana and Champaign County, has served on the Chamber of Commerce Board and is an active member of the Visitors Bureau.
What should be done about the persistent revenue problems? Higher taxes, lower expenses, or both? What would you propose to cut?
Cress: Instead of asking the taxpayers for more taxes like the current administration has done, the Urbana Wins Team has found at least $500,000 in government waste. Specifically, the city could save money by joining with other cities to bargain collectively instead of being self-funded and cutting duplicate positions.
Thackery: I know that everyone thinks there is always waste in government, however, efficiency is most critical in protecting taxpayers’ money (yours and mine). Urbana needs to, and does, balance between what government mandates, what people want, and the resources to accomplish both. The only resources the city has are grants, taxes and fees.
What would be the ideal way for the city to pay for curb and gutter repair prior to street resurfacing?
Cress: I have learned that many citizens are displeased with the lack of communication about this issue. Currently, the taxpayers are responsible for the full cost; ideally, the city and citizens would split the cost 50/50 for the curb and gutter repair and allow homeowners to defer the cost over a few years.
Thackery: I would prefer that the city would assume the responsibility of curb and gutter repair. The ordinance from the 1990s gave the responsibility to the property owner. This would have to be changed to shift responsibility from the property owner to the city. A levy would then have to be passed to fund it.
What should be done to help the downtown merchants survive the roundabout redo and thrive afterwards?
Cress: During the roundabout redo, some special events could be organized to draw people downtown. We need to attract more businesses and create a business incubator space for new businesses. We need more variety so that locals are motivated to patronize regularly and more people from out of town visit Urbana as a destination.
Thackery: Parking has been a major issue for downtown businesses during the roundabout reconstruction. Business owners are represented on the committee making proposals for parking solutions. To help businesses thrive, the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau provide excellent support for businesses as well as various business organizations.
Is the city responsible for protecting low-income residents at Settlers Ridge from flooding in the northwest quadrant?
Cress: Yes, I do believe that the city bears some responsibility. The city approved the apartment building to be built in an area prone to flooding. While the current leadership was not in office at the time, they now have a responsibility to deal with it if the property owners won’t act on their own.
Thackery: Since Settlers Ridge is privately owned, the city’s responsibility is unfortunately limited. There have been several meetings between various city and county departments to help the owner find solutions that will provide quality housing for the residents.
How can Urbana improve communication between the city council and the residents they represent?
Cress: City council meetings should be recorded and put online for people to view. The Urbana Wins team has also proposed that a weekly podcast with at least one member from council or the administration could help keep community members informed about important issues. Transparency and communication must be taken seriously.
Thackery: Recent improvements include: a new interactive website, an updated Facebook page, and Coffee with Council (a monthly, casual exchange of ideas between citizens and council members). In the near future, a LED kiosk will be installed at Water and South Main Streets to provide information to the public. Currently, the Urbana Daily Citizen publishes information on council meetings and schedules. Three meetings monthly are open to the public.
What should be the city government’s top priority in 2020?
Cress: Right now, we are a stagnant community facing poverty. The top priority should be doing something about the one in five people in Urbana living in poverty (according to the US Census Bureau in 2017). The number of people in poverty has doubled since 2000, and our population is declining. Fixing this problem will require a multi-pronged approach that our team has outlined at UrbanaWins.com.
Thackery: Goals for 2020 should include the nurturing of development projects that create jobs and improve the quality of life in Urbana. These include the Douglas Hotel Project – which will be investing heavily in our community, the Rezoning of South Main Street, and the Downtown Parking Initiative – which is rapidly moving forward.