Local News

Geneva mayoral hopefuls show deep differences in platforms, approaches

Burns seeks 6th term as Simonian challenges him - again

GENEVA – Tuesday’s consolidated election pits two familiar rivals for Geneva mayor, incumbent Kevin Burns and challenger Tom Simonian.

Simonian lost to him in 2017. Burns is seeking his sixth term and former 5th Ward alderman Simonian is hoping to unseat him.

As in their 2017 match-up, the two still have significant differences in their philosophies and platforms.

On his campaign Facebook page, Burns cites his experience in leadership for the “Geneva Brand,” which “is strong and vibrant thanks to the spirit of collaboration between the hundreds of volunteers, governing bodies, business leaders, civic organizations and non-profit groups.”

Burns cites the city’s Moody’s Aa2 Bond Rating and in a video, states as a new mayor, one of his first redevelopment projects was to bring the Geneva Commons to life as a shopping destination – that also broadens the tax base.

In another video, Burns talks about wanting to continue promoting development in the Geneva Industrial Park, which also broadens the tax base and brings jobs to the city.

Simonian takes the position that Burns has been mayor long enough – and it’s time for a change.

At candidate forums, Simonian has said that, “Being mayor is a job of a lifetime, not a job for a lifetime.”

A local businessman, Simonian’s platform focuses on the city’s finances, stating on his campaign website that he would appoint a budget and finance committee to go through the city’s budget “line by line, cutting waste out of the budget and reduce expenses.”

Simonian has said at forums, and his campaign literature states, that the city’s budget increased more than 83% in the last 10 years “going from $59 million to $108 million.”

In response, Burns has said the city reduced its property tax burden by 25%, lowering its portion of the tax bills to 6% from 8%.

Burns also corrected the amount of the city budget as $102 million, not $108 million.

Burns had said at a forum that the city’s budget reflects grants received for public improvements to the wastewater treatment facility and reconstruction of East State Street.

Simonian’s platform also states he would change the culture at City Hall, putting citizens, taxpayers and business owners first, then elected officials, then city employees.

“We have unbelievable people working for our City but unfortunately the mayor’s poor leadership has created a culture not in the best interest of the citizens of Geneva but in their best interest serving their agendas,” according to Simonian’s campaign website. “This culture is going to change and those employees that don’t change will be asked to leave and replaced by ones who do.”

Burns’ election Facebook counters that position, stating his campaign has received notices from the public “upset by the tone and tenure of materials both distributed electronically and mailed by my opponent because they know, instinctively and irrefutably, that what is being asserted is simply untrue.”

“Geneva’s reputation as a community where policy is the balance on which debate is held is being irrevocably damaged by those who will go to any lengths to disparage the good work of elected and appointed officials, professional staff,” according to Burns’ Facebook page.

In response, Burns said the city reduced its property tax burden by 25%, lowering its portion of the tax bills to 6% from 8%.

The candidates’ campaign materials reflect their ongoing differences – even to the point of accusing each other of lying.

One example is when in 2017, aldermen acting as the Committee of the Whole approved a 2% Places for Eating Tax to aid the city in maintaining core services and to buy capital equipment.

Before Simonian left the council after losing to Burns that spring, he urged aldermen to rescind the tax – which the majority voted to do so.

Later, the Council approved it to go into effect – but only if a .5% city wide sales tax was not approved by referendum. With support from the Geneva Food and Beverage Association, voters passed it in 2018.

In campaign literature, Simonian characterized the move as, “So, the Mayor basically threatened the Geneva restaurants and bars to support the referendum, otherwise instead of having to pay the .5% they would be saddled with the 2% tax. The Chamber agreed to the .5% City Wide Sales Tax in support of the restaurants and bars.”

But in the lead-up to the referendum, the Geneva Food and Beverage Association hosted a forum and advocated support for the .5% citywide sales tax as fair.

Association member Michael Olesen, who owns Stockholm’s Restaurant, spoke in favor of its passage, saying, “It really amounts to a half percent increase in the sales tax rate that puts us in line with neighboring communities.”

Nine aldermen have stated support for Burns’ re-election on their respective Facebook pages.

Simonian has videos of former aldermen – and current 2nd Ward Alderman Richard Marks – stating their support of his candidacy.

Simonian used the same endorsement videos from his 2017 campaign, saying he did not get new ones because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More information about Simonian is available on his campaign website, www.simonianforgeneva.com and his campaign Facebook page.

More information about Burns is available on his campaign Facebook page.