Candidates debate blame for Lansing economic struggles

2013-03-06T22:30:00Z Candidates debate blame for Lansing economic strugglesGregory Tejeda Times Correspondent
March 06, 2013 10:30 pm  • 

LANSING | Village President Norm Abbott used a candidate forum Wednesday to say that while the village’s bond rating declined significantly early in his four-year term, it has gone back up in recent years and may be back to the “Aa” status by year’s end that it was at when he took office in 2009.

Not that Abbott’s opponent in the April 9 municipal elections, former village Trustee Donald Sciackitano, was impressed. He and his allied candidates used the forum at the Lansing Public Library to hammer away at the theme that Abbott has done nothing to improve Lansing’s business climate.

Using a mocking tone to imply that Abbott promises that things are “coming” or “it will be here,” Sciackitano told a gathering of some 100 residents that economic improvement “has to come now!”

Abbott said he inherited some financial problems after being elected, including a $3 million bill because of garbage pickup costs that were not fully covered by village fees. “I took care of it,” he said, referring to the transfer of garbage pickup from the Public Works Department to Homewood Disposal Service.

Sciackitano said Abbott’s action gives control over fees paid by local residents to a private company. “We need to get more businesses in here so that the tax dollars we receive from them will cover those future (garbage pickup) increases.”

Meanwhile, Trustee Mikal Stole defended Abbott by reminding people of the national economic struggles that have impacted all municipalities. And he said there have been increased negotiations in recent years that could result in new businesses locating in Lansing.

He accused Sciackitano and his supporters of using “scare tactics” to make Lansing seem worse off. “They’re trying to make us into a village in crisis, and we’re not,” said Stole.

But Humberto Rivera, a village trustee candidate aligned with Sciackitano, said, “I drive down Torrence Avenue, and I see a lot of vacant storefronts.” And candidate Mike Manno cited Party City and Sam’s Club stores that left Lansing for Calumet City.

Sciackitano also attacked Abbott for his move last year to create a village administrator position, while turning the position of village president into a part-time post.

Sciackitano said the $130,000 approximate salary being paid to the administrator could easily have been used to pay for two police officers or a firefighter or more crews in the Public Works Department.

“That’s a safety issue,” he said, while admitting he might not be able to undo the position’s creation if he wins election.

Abbott said hiring a village administrator was accompanied with a significant cut in the salary for village president, along with other cuts in compensation for village trustees.

In other matters, trustees were asked whether they would be willing to put resident views ahead of the village president on issues before the Village Board. That led Trustee Terry Kapteyn to say he does not always agree with Abbott.

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