Sterling mayoral candidates talk about issues

March 13, 2019

STERLING – About 60 people packed into the Sterling Coliseum Tuesday night to hear what candidates for contested races in Sterling had to say about why they should be chosen to help forge the city’s future.

The Sauk Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted the candidates forum and provided submitted questions for the candidates to answer on a variety of topics.

Mayoral candidates attending were Mayor Skip Lee, Alderman Jim Wise and Marc Batley. Lee is the incumbent and is seeking his third consecutive term as mayor having been elected to the position in 2011 after serving as an alderman on the City Council. Wise is seeking his first term as mayor and currently sits on the Council as an alderman at large. Batley ran for mayor in 2011 but lost out to Lee in that election.

On the issue of what challenges Sterling faced in the next 4 years, the three men had similar visions.

“We need to match expectations with resources. Everybody wants their snow plowed first, their streets smooth and businesses on the riverfront,” Lee said.

Wise also said streets are a priority and addressing them has to be at the top of the list of challenges in the coming years.

“Our roads are damaged faster than we can fix them,” he said. “We all live close to a road that needs fixed. To do that requires a selection process, then funding and then integrate that process into a policy.”

Batley also mentioned the streets problem, but added more needs to be done to make the owners of the riverfront property accountable for helping fund cleanup.

“On the riverfront, what happened to the people that own the property?” he said. “We need to have them responsible for some of this cleanup.”

All three candidates for mayor also gave their views on how to address the growing concern with continued rise of pensions for the police and fire department.

“We need to find a balance between what we need to put in and what we are putting in,” Batley said.

Wise agreed maybe looking at what experts that the city contracts with are suggesting for contributions to the pension funds should be compared with the recommendations in Springfield.

“We can get the same information from Springfield (that the consultants provide) and need to strike a balance between them,” Wise said. “Also we have open enrollment in the pension funds and that goes on forever.”

Lee said he would like to see all municipalities come together to help find a solution which possible could include creating a funding pool.

“Pensions are an obligation and every city owns their pension system. We all want reform,” he said. “I would like to see us have a large pool to draw from. We have an obligation to fund them and we will.”

As for economic development, the candidates said local efforts must continue and there are many options to explore in that area.

“We need to encourage job growth and retention. Sterling lives and dies by manufacturing,” Wise said. “One manufacturing job leads to five others. With the west business corridor hopefully that will drive up economic activity.”

Lee said Sterling must be bold but not reckless and understand what type of business to pursue that will lead to success.

“We’re constantly working with our partners and have seen economic development here,” he said. “We’ll never get a large manufacturer here so we need to concentrate on the smaller businesses.”

Batley compared economic development to fishing.

“It’s a fishing expedition. I would ask for help from the vocational center and the schools to make a video presentation of Sterling and mail it out to as many Fortune 500 companies as we can.”