MT MORRIS – About 40 residents braved the cold at the village band shell Wednesday evening for a “Meet the Candidates” event ahead of Tuesday’s consolidated election.
Village president candidates Phillip Labash and Gary DeSmedt took the stage first for questions and answers. A third candidate, Phillip Scheck, declined to participate, according to Jeff Bold of the Mt. Morris Economic Development Corp., which organized the function. Bold said he’s not sure if Scheck has withdrawn.
Labash is in his third term as the village’s finance trustee and has lived in Mt. Morris for 28 years. DeSmedt has been a Mt. Morris resident for 7 years and owns a motorcycle shop in town.
DeSmedt took issue with the questions, which he thought were slanted toward Labash, who has connections to the economic development group. He left the stage for most of the proceedings before returning when asked to by a resident.
Bringing business and jobs to town were among the most-discussed topics. Labash said the village has laid groundwork for that through bringing infrastructure like fiber optic cable, establishing a TIF district and building relationships with developers.
“We have to get the right things in place that encourage development,” Labash said. “We were able to establish an enterprise zone. Putting all these things together, those are what we need to enable business growth. It isn’t happening fast enough and I’m committed to working towards it.”
DeSmedt took issue with the village’s current administration during his limited time on stage.
“The chance to go green with solar was shot down by the current board,” DeSmedt said. “We also had a chance to bring in a marijuana dispensary and that was shot down. I’ll be full time and promote change with your vote. Or we can go on another 4 years as we are.”
A question was posed about Mt. Morris’ identity going forward after much of its former printing industry has gone by the wayside. Labash said he’s seen traction in its arts identity with concerts and things like StrawFest. He believes that could grow.
The issue of TIF money and much of it being committed to Wesley 1895, a butcher shop and restaurant, was brought up.
“This is an investment in our community that everyone will benefit from,” Labash said. “The kind of things we want in our community. The kind of thing we’re seeing other communities like Byron and Oregon invest in. It’s time for us to get a little something.”
DeSmedt said he wants to address the village’s curb appeal. He called the look of entering town from both sides “a visual eyesore” and “a mess” and said it needs to be addressed.
He wants to see people come into Mt. Morris and invest in it.
“I’m dedicated to and invested in this town,” DeSmedt said. “I don’t want to see it fail. I’ll be a full-time president working on many of the issues we have. If you don’t want it to change and you’re complacent with what you have, vote the other way. But this village needs a new president and board.”
Village trustee candidates Chris Corcoran, Ed Higley, Jim Hopkins and Jerry Stauffer took the stage following the village president session.
Hopkins and Stauffer are incumbents. Another incumbent, Mike Fay, was unable to attend because of a work conflict. Three of the five will be elected Tuesday.
Corcoran has lived in Mt. Morris for 21 years and said he’s attended every village board meeting for the past 10 years. Among his priorities are beautifying and cleaning up the village, enforcing ordinances and holding more youth events.
Higley has lived in Mt. Morris since 1983. He recently retired and said he wants to spend his free time making the village better off. Among his chief concerns are improving infrastructure and attracting businesses big and small.
Hopkins was born and raised in the village and moved back to Mt. Morris in 2005. He’s spent time focusing on parks and wants to finish projects he’s started, such as renovating Zickuhr Park.
“I like being a part of the community and helping,” Hopkins said. “I’ve learned that the government works slowly. Business is the top priority. We have a niche with band and arts. We need to figure out a way to bring people here. There’s a lot left of Mt. Morris to improve on.”
Stauffer has lived in Mt. Morris his entire life; he has run businesses in town and worked at the Kable Printing plant for 25 years. His chief concerns are employment and growing the town. He mentioned voluntary annexation as a way to grow Mt. Morris’ tax base.
“Other communities around us have done it,” Stauffer said. “It’s time we get on board and serious about these issues.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle