ST. JOHN — The candidates contending to represent the Republican Party for 1st and 2nd Ward seats on the St. John Town Council come from different backgrounds, but all of them agree on one thing – making the town the best it can be.

Paul Panczuk, chairman of the Board of Zoning and Appeals, is being challenged by Timothy J. Wolf for the Ward 1 seat on the council. Incumbent Councilwoman Ljubica (Libby) Popovic is running against Michael Schilling for the Ward 2 seat.

The four are competing in the May 7 primary to represent their party in the November municipal elections. 

Since 2000, St. John has grown 92 percent, to more than 16,000 residents. As the population continues to grow, so does its residential and commercial development throughout the town.

Each candidate running for Town Council offers a different outlook for what they believe will benefit St. John’s future.  

Ward 1 – Paul Panczuk

As a member of the St. John Board of Zoning and Appeals and Plan Commission, Panczuk said he is fiscally conservative and his vision for the town includes maintaining responsible development with an emphasis on quality over quantity.  

“I can take the bull by the horns when it comes to development. It’s our No. 1 challenge,” Panczuk said. “I am completely in tune with what is happening with the development in town as well as with the citizens and what they are looking for and what direction we should be taking the town. I feel the current direction is not the same direction that the current residents are looking for.”

One issue Panczuk plans to address if elected is the roads and infrastructure throughout the town. He said most residents believe the town is “falling short on” road maintenance and upgrades.

“We are issuing over 300 (building) permits a year and we are really not doing anything different than we have ever done for roads. We are falling behind and, in fact, have been failing at securing our Community Crossing Grant, which is one tool that surrounding towns have used effectively,” Panczuk said.

Panczuk said maintaining strong property values is another emphasis of his. He said it is vital for the council to not only use and enforce the town ordinance, but also revise it for the best results.

In addition to funding and adequately equipping public services, which includes the police, fire and public works departments, Panczuk said parks and recreation needs to “seriously be looked at.” He said the town is short on parks and programming.

Voters can learn more about Panczuk’s campaign at www.facebook.com/ElectPanczuk.

Timothy J. Wolf

After working for 30 years at Calumet Park Cemetery and Chapel Lawn, Wolf is ready to spend his retirement as a member of the St. John Town Council.

Wolf said he believes the current council has focused too heavily on expanding development. If elected, he plans to work toward slowing the growth rates to protect residents from poor infrastructure.

“I am passionate about making our community a better place to live, work and play. When we came 21 years ago, it was a sleepy little community and now we have grown like crazy,” Wolf said. He would create a thoughtful plan that would include a timeline for residential growth. “We have 1,500 ready to build on lots and if all of those come to fruition we will be a big traffic jam getting nowhere.”

If elected, Wolf said he also plans to draft a comprehensive recreation strategy that outlines trails and parks throughout town.

“I am passionate about making the community a better place to live, work and play. We need bike trails and walking paths to unify subdivisions. I would also like to see us become a tree community like Munster,” Wolf said.

Creating a Community Center with park programs for all ages is also a priority, Wolf said.

In addition to exploring St. John tapping into Lake Michigan water, Wolf said he plans to promote transparency and open dialogue among the Town Council and town residents.

“We need transparency at every level of government. I would like to see more open conversations and bring in a newsletter to let people know what is happening in our town,” Wolf said.

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Voters can learn more about Wolf’s campaign at www.facebook.com/TimWolf4TownCouncil.

Ward 2 – Libby Popovic

Popovic was selected in December to fill a vacated at-large seat on the Town Council. Since then, the incumbent councilwoman said she has learned a lot and hopes to keep serving the town.

“I’ve enjoyed the learning curves and seeing the ins and outs of how the St. John budgetary process works,” Popovic said. “I have the best at interest in this town and I have the experience to back it up. It’s very important to have that experience.”

If elected, Popovic said she plans to focus on road improvements, building a community center and more recreational fields and seeing Shops 96 through to its fruition.

Popovic said she has met with Town Manager Steve Kil to review the town’s budget and project allocations for the town roads. The most important thing to focus on is responsible spending, she said.

“Fixing the roads is something that predates me and will postdate me as well as any council member. Because we are a growing community, we need to understand how it will all fit together in a reasonable and manageable way so we aren’t overspending or underspending,” Popovic said. “Roads will always be an ongoing thing. The roads will still crumble but we’ll fix them again.”

The community center would be a long-term project that would create “more cohesive involvement” among town residents, Popovic said.  

Popovic said building permits are expected to be issued next week for the Shops 96 development. The area will bring more shops and restaurants to the town.

Additionally, Popovic said she recently met with the property owner of the long-vacant and blighted Kmart building.

“He is finally interested in moving forward with developing that area and it would be in town’s best interest to have a cohesive project and make that fit within what is already being developed with Shops 96,” Popovic said. “Having something that works long-term is important for the town in the long run.”

Voters can learn more about Popovic’s campaign at www.stjohnrepublicanprofessionals.com.

Michael Schilling

As a lifelong resident of St. John, Schilling said his “heart is in it” and he has what it takes to be on the next Town Council.

Schilling has more than 15 years of experiencing working for the town. He previously worked for the Public Works Department and since 2002, has served as a volunteer firefighter for the St. John Fire Department.

“Great leaders gain their experience by working in the trenches,” Schilling said. “I have gained a lot of experience on the town workings as an employee by starting out picking up the trash in the ball park and working my way up to working on the water department. I think my qualifications are more St. John oriented than some of the other candidates. I know the needs of the town.”

If elected, Schilling said he plans to keep property values high because “everyone takes that issue at heart as it’s their investment.”

He also plans on examining ways to better align the town’s infrastructure to match its continued growth in population.

“You look around our area and one thing that has been off is development of main thoroughfares. I would look at not blocking of anymore main thoroughfares and trying to make better the ones we have like 93rd Avenue,” Schilling said, adding that he would like to add a middle turn lane to the road rather than widening it.

Supporting emergency services is also important to Schilling.

“The town has grown, almost doubled in size in the last 15 years and the staff has been cut in some of the public safety departments. The town needs to grow staff levels to keep up with the demand,” he said.

Voters can learn more about Schilling’s campaign at www.facebook.com/ELECTSCHILLING.

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Allie covers South Lake County municipal government, development and breaking news for The Times. She comes to the Region from Lebanon, Indiana. She is a proud Ball State University graduate.