Government

St. Charles City Council candidates talk about water quality, renewable energy during candidate forum

The quality of St. Charles’ water was one of the issues addressed during a recent candidate forum for those running for the St. Charles City Council.

The forum, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County and the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce, was live streamed on March 16 from the Arcada Theatre in downtown St. Charles. The forum also featured races for St. Charles mayor, St. Charles School Board, St. Charles City Council and St. Charles Township Board.

The video can be found at stcharleschamber.com/meetthecandidates.

There are contested races in all five of the wards. In the 1st Ward, incumbent Ron Silkaitis is facing a challenge from Richard Balla Jr. and in the 2nd Ward, incumbent Art Lemke is facing a challenge from Ryan Bongard. In 2019, Bongard lost his race against incumbent 2nd Ward Alderman Rita Anne Payleitner.

St. Charles City Clerk Charles Amenta and Blue Goose Market President and CEO Paul Lencioni are running for the 3rd Ward seat. There is a three person race for the seat of 4th Ward Alderman Lora Vitek, who is running against 5th Ward Alderman Maureen Lewis for St. Charles mayor. The race features Bryan Wirball, Laurel Moad and former Kane County Board member John Hoscheit, who had previously served on the St. Charles City Council and St. Charles Park District Board of Commissioners.

There also is a three person race for the seat currently held by 5th Ward Alderman Maureen Lewis, who is running against 4th Ward Alderman Lora Vitek for St. Charles mayor. Kimberly Malay, Kane County Board member Steve Weber and Richard Artz are running for the seat.

In addressing the quality of the city’s water, Silkaitis noted that St. Charles has hard water “like most of Kane County does.”

“Just to clarify, our water does meet the EPA standards for health,” he said. “We have discussed in the past about having a central soft water system. It would be a capital improvement project which would cost a lot of money. But I think we should get the residents involved and explain to them how we would address it. We could get their input and find out how much it would cost. I think with the residents’ input we could find out exactly what their wishes are and explain to them how we could do it or if we should do it.”

Balla noted that in growing up in St. Charles, he never had a water softener in his house.

“We never really had an issue,” he said. “But if there is a bigger issue out there, we should address it with some surveys, figure out where the issues are, see if it can be addressed individually or if it needs to be a complete overhaul.”

Lemke said if the city decided to spend money on a central soft water system, “it would eliminate the need for individual water softeners and it reduces the amount of salt that becomes an effluent from our system into the river.”

“So, I think that opportunity is out there, but we need to find out from the voters if they would be willing to give up a water softener to get centrally softened water,” he said.

Bongard said that the best solution would be to determine how many residents are affected.

“How many residents are we talking about? he asked. “Is this an isolated issue? I think you have to pinpoint exactly where this problem is coming from so that you can find the solution that works for everybody.”

Amenta said he has been greatly affected by the problem of hard water.

“On the far west side, we face this problem,” he said. “In my 15 years, I’ve gone through three dishwashers, two washing machines and two water softeners. So it is something I believe needs to be addressed. I do also understand that it comes at a considerable cost to the users of the water. And so I would like to involve the residents and find out if it’s important to them or if it’s just an isolated area that sees this problem. So I think that a greater discussion does need to take place and we should all be listening to what our residents have to say about it.”

Lencioni agreed that a lot of investigation into the problem needs to be done.

“As an alderman, you can’t solve every problem,” he said. “Some problems you manage, you bear, and others, you invest in and solve. And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t have enough background thinking about this one from a citywide perspective to have an answer ready. Right now, I don’t know what we should do, but I’m 100 percent confident that we can tackle it, figure it out and have a great conversation on what we all want to do together.”

Candidates also addressed the question of what the city should do to increase the amount of clean and renewable energy it purchases every year. Hoscheit said the “city’s role in this process is really one of education.”

“An example is the First Street Plaza expansion plan that we have now designed and planned,” he said. “That project incorporates a solar component on a pergola. It also has a drainage system set up where the water that comes through the plaza will be filtered before it’s returned to the river. I’m not a fan of government mandating use of more efficient systems. I think just like we talked about with the issue of a public water softener, that’s something we should vote on and it has to be economically feasible before we spend taxpayer dollars implementing it.”

Moad said the city might consider looking at business incentives for businesses that either are already in St. Charles or that plan to locate in St. Charles “for building greener buildings and creating renewable energy at their facilities, being able to recycle the energy that they’re using and turn it into something else.”

Wirball noted that the city participates in the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency’s renewable energy credit sales program “which offers an affordable way for people that belong to the IMEA to purchase renewable energy.”

“So basically the city has a program called Green Power that each of us can participate in,” he said. “Something we can do is expand on that.”

Artz said he believes energy diversity is important not only for the environment long term, but also “in terms of costs saved in the long term.”

“I would be in favor of the expansion of solar farms, wind farms and solar panels within the city and looking at other alternatives that maybe the city hasn’t even considered yet,” he said. “I would be in favor of that as well.”

Malay said the city needs to make sure it is diversified in its power sources.

“But I also feel we need to continue to review that on an annual basis and look at the latest technology and make sure that we can continue to add those different types of power as they come online,” she said. “Over the next 10 years, I think we’re going to see a lot of new opportunities.”

Weber said what the city can do “is lead by example.”

“I would love to see an ordinance or initiative that says that any projects that the city does, that maybe 10, 15 or 20 percent of the energy used for that facility must be sustainable energy,” he said. “I also know from being the vice chair on the Kane County Board’s Energy and Environmental Committee that there is a lot of grants that the city can go after as well as residents to put towards sustainable energy. Kane County is part of the Greenest Region Compact, so there’s a lot of incentives out there for Kane County. It’s just a matter of using resources to try to acquire grant dollars.”


Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf covers St. Charles and writes entertainment stories for the Kane County Chronicle.