MARENGO – The candidates vying for the Marengo City Council found themselves agreeing Tuesday on the city's need to grow, while fielding multiple questions on current city proposals meant to achieve that growth.
Eight candidates, including five sitting aldermen and three challengers, faced roughly 50 voters at the Marengo-Union Chamber of Commerce's voter forum Tuesday night. They answered questions about economic development, tax incentives and the prospects of a hotel and community theater development.
But voters had the most questions regarding the proposed annexation deals that would extend the city limits, as Marengo prepares to entice the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to build an interchange at Route 23 and Interstate 90.
Voters wanted to know the candidates' support for annexing land into Marengo to develop an interchange, along with questions on how city services would be extended toward Marengo's longer southwestern boundaries.
"There would be development opportunities, businesses and ultimately jobs," said Alderman Corey Brackmann, 2nd Ward. "The benefits of the interchange are too large to not to try and secure."
Brackmann's fellow council members echoed similar statements. Aldermen Steven DiMaria, 1st Ward; Nicole DeBoer, 3rd Ward; Gretchen Samuelson, 3rd Ward; and Michael Secor, 4th Ward, all said they support the effort to add land into the city to reach the tollway in hopes of building an interchange to spur economic development.
DeBoer even clarified that the city's interchange effort won't burden existing city staff, since the proposed southwestern development won't happen instantly.
Meanwhile, the city would extend services like police and public works to a mostly vacant area filled with farm land and gravel pits, Secor said.
DeBoer and Samuelson are running unopposed for two Third Ward seats during the upcoming April municipal election. DiMaria faces first-time challenger Steven Mortensen, with Secor facing former mayor Dennis Hammortree.
Brackmann goes up against former alderman Matt Keenum and newcomer Chester Mazurkiewicz, who did not attend the forum.
The interchange and annexation plan has irked officials in Riley Township, who argue that the city has hastily planned the annexation. On Tuesday, the three challengers in 1st, 2nd and 4th Wards all supported the interchange but stressed the need for proper planning.
"When you take a risk with your own money, that's one thing. When you take a risk with taxpayers' money, that's another thing," Keenum said. "We need to be very studious and make sure we have all the information before making a decision."
Keenum described the potential project risks in response to a question about the possible downside of annexation, if an interchange isn't developed. He said that could leave the city with more territory and no development prospects.
Hammortree and Mortensen agreed, arguing that the city needs to finance a potential interchange without hurting taxpayers.
"Hopefully that has been mitigated and reviewed, so it is not a big burden to the taxpayers," Mortensen said. "But [the project] is important. We definitely need the growth. We need to bring in more businesses and jobs for people that live in this community."
Voters head to the polls April 9. Early voting begins Monday.