Streator council candidates share their ideas for bettering the city

4 candidates are running for 2 posts; at least one candidate will be new to the council

When Streator residents cast their votes Tuesday, they are guaranteed to have at least one new city council member after all the votes are counted.

Councilman Ed Brozak decided not to run for re-election, after more than three decades on the council.

Councilman Joe Scarbeary, however, is running to retain his seat. He is joined in the race by Matt McMullen, Timothy Geary and Will Price. Voters will choose two out of the four candidates to join Mayor Jimmie Lansford, Tara Bedei and Brian Crouch on the council.

Scarbeary was elected in 2017 after receiving the second-most votes to Brozak, besting Price and previous council member Bob “Willy” Williamson for the seat.

McMullen, 38, who works as a supervisor at Vactor Manufacturing, is a newcomer to local politics.

“I have been wanting to get involved in city government for quite awhile but until now have been putting my family and career first,” said McMullen, who is married to Jennifer, and has a 4-year-old son. “I feel like I have a very sensible approach to things and with 16 years of leadership experience in the business world I am comfortable doing it a municipal level as well. I look forward to working with everyone at City Hall and the community to help maintain and improve Streator as much as we can.”

Geary, 52, who works in the Star Ford service department, has served on the La Salle County Board representing District 26, and he ran for City Council in 2011, coming up short in a then six-person race for three seats.

“I am running for office, because I see so many opportunities in this town that reflect the hardworking nature that this town was founded on and want the growth to continue,” Geary said.

Scarbeary, 52, is a retired Streator firefighter, who is working at Owens-Illinois. He said his 20 years experience at the fire department gave him a view into how city government serves its citizens and its impact.

“Within any branch of government there is always a need to improve and I feel I not only have the experience but also the desire to help make this happen,” Scarbeary said.

Price, 70, has run for council in 2019 and 2017, but he was unsuccessful in those attempts. He garnered 12.6% of the vote in 2019 and 13.5% the vote in 2017 — each of those races had four candidates.

“I think I can help make some vital decisions, and I want to be your voice at City Hall,” Price said in a video interview Feb. 18 for Gleam TV.

Price did not return phone messages this week to participate in interviews with The Times.

Each candidate was asked by The Times to share their vision for the city.

Geary said the city needs to capitalize on its history as well as its future.

“The children that are coming up are wanting to stay in town and I would like them to have a town that they are proud to call home,” Geary said.

Scarbeary said his vision is to continue improving the growth and infrastructure of the city, “but to do this using fiscal responsibility.”

“We need to find other ways to fund our projects other than property taxes,” he said.

McMullen said Streator is at a crossroads of what it can and should be. He said he would like to work on attracting a mid-size manufacturing company that could provide good-paying jobs with a mix of blue-collar and white-collar, noting the city’s proximity to three interstates is a selling point.

“The population has decreased quite a bit since my childhood and as we continue to lose jobs in town I see this continuing,” McMullen said. “I think to maintain the current level of people and possibly grow we will need to bring more jobs into the community. We have seen an uptick the past few years with downtown and the small business growth has been great, with more to come.”

In the video Price recorded for Gleam TV, he said public safety is his No. 1 priority. He listed public health as No. 2 and public trust as No. 3, calling it an “all-time low of public trust” with citizens of Streator. Price is featured in a few of these videos on Gleam TV’s Facebook page talking about various city items.

Scarbeary said he advocates the expansion of the fire department to 15 full-time members.

McMullen said before the fire department staffing is addressed the city needs to address the ambulance service issue. The city contracts with an independent service, AMT, to provide ambulance services to the community. He said he doesn’t see sense in maintaining the contract when firefighters respond to medical calls as well.

“This is not a knock on the ambulance or the firemen but more of a lack of action by the city in addressing this before it became an issue,” McMullen said.

McMullen said if firefighters continue to respond to medical calls, he said it may be best to end the AMT contract and train and equip firefighters to provide ambulance services.

“If EMT calls are removed from the fire station then I think the best thing to do would be to evaluate the fire call volume and take in account what is necessary for a call, and work with the fireman to come up with a plan that works for everyone,” McMullen said.

Geary said he didn’t have enough information to answer, but he believes the current operation is working.

One idea McMullen shared to generate revenue for the city would be to legalize street legal side by sides and golf carts.

“The popularity of these vehicles in other towns in our area has shown that it can be a great stream of revenue that citizens are willing to support,” McMullen said.

He believes in looking into the idea of leasing Anderson Municipal Golf Course and annexation of adjacent residents into the city.

Scarbeary proposed a referendum for a one-half cent sales tax. He said this would be a way to spread operational costs to residents who live outside of the city and come into the city to shop, as well as reduce the property taxes of residents within the city.

All three candidates opposed an increase of property taxes.

Scarbeary said the project he’s most excited about seeing the city continue is the improvement to Marilla Park. He said annexation through grants and low-cost sewer hookups will be a priority for his term.

Geary believes the volunteerism of Christmas and Fourth of July committees in Streator is something the city is doing well, along with the growth of the downtown. He said his priority will be to make Streator more attractive to industry and businesses.

McMullen is encouraged by how the city has developed its park system with the creation of the Greenway Trail and improvements to Marilla Park. He said his priority would be “to help attract more jobs and businesses to the community.”

“At our heart we are a blue collar town and to get some good paying manufacturing jobs in the community would be rewarding for all of us,” he said.

Full interviews below

Matt McMullen

Age: 38

Occupation: Production Supervisor - Vactor

Previously Elected positions: None

Tell us about yourself and why you are running for office?

I was born and raised in Streator. I have a wife, Jennifer, and a 4 year old son Hank. I graduated in 2004 from SIU with a Business Administration degree and am currently finishing up another bachelors from SIU in Industrial Management and Engineering, with plans to start an MBA afterwards. I have been wanting to get involved in city government for quite awhile but until now have been putting my family and career first. I feel like I have a very sensible approach to things and with 16 years of leadership experience in the business world I am comfortable doing it a municipal level as well. I look forward to working with everyone at city hall and the community to help maintain and improve Streator as much as we can.

What is your vision for Streator? (And what role will you play in initiating it?)

I think currently Streator is at a crossroads in what it can and should be. The population has decreased quite a bit since my childhood and as we continue to lose jobs in town I see this continuing. I think to maintain the current level of people and possibly grow we will need to bring more jobs into the community. We have seen an uptick the past few years with downtown and the small business growth has been great, with more to come. One item I would like to see and work on is attracting a mid size manufacturing company to town that could provide good paying jobs, both blue and white collar. To initiate this I think we need to find businesses that are looking to expand and sit down with them. There are a lot of positives in the community and we need to sell ourselves to them, I believe our proximity to three interstates is a bigger selling point than being on one of them.

The staffing of the city’s fire department has been a discussion among the council for a number of recent years, how do you believe the fire department should be staffed?

I think before the fire department staffing is addressed we should address the ambulance service issue already present. I don’t see the sense in maintaining a contract with an ambulance service while we send out the firemen as EMTs as well. This is not a knock on the ambulance or the firemen but more of a lack of action by the city in addressing this before it became an issue. If we are going to continue to send firemen out to do ambulance calls I think it would be best to end the AMT contract and use that money to have the same training and equipment that we would expect the ambulance service to have. With this the station should be staffed with dedicated EMTs and firemen so we could handle a fire call and an EMT call simultaneously. If EMT calls are removed from the fire station then I think the best thing to do would be to evaluate the fire call volume and take in account what is necessary for a call, and work with the fireman to come up with a plan that works for everyone.

The city is operating with a structural deficit, in what ways would you like to see the city generate revenue?

One of the best ways to increase revenue in my opinion is to bring more businesses to the community. We need to try and make it so Streator people are spending money in town and attract people from out of town to spend money here as well. Another revenue stream could be the addition of street legal side by sides and golf carts. The popularity of these vehicles in other towns in our area has shown that it can be a great stream of revenue that citizens are willing to support. Another option I think could benefit the community would be to lease out Andersons Golf Course. I don’t believe that the city should be operating any business that competes with another privately owned business. I think leasing it out to a person or group would guarantee a profit each year as well as give a private citizen or group of citizens an opportunity to operate a golf course. Another unpopular way to generate more revenue would be to continue to annex in the outlying neighborhoods directly connected to houses in town. Although many people would not support it I think it would be in the city’s and the residents’ best interest to annex.

Would you vote in favor of a property tax increase? Why or why not?

I don’t believe in raising any taxes until the city is operating as fiscally responsible and lean as possible. I think it would be in the best interest of the city to make sure spending is under control and every avenue of income is reviewed before adding an additional tax burden to the residents. I think the residents also agree since the past few times a tax increase was put on the ballot it was turned down by a large number.

How can the city improve its neighborhoods and housing?

The best way for the city to improve neighborhoods is to make sure that a standard is set and clearly communicated. Right now with the high amount of job loss and uncertainty I think it would be best to work with people to make a plan that is realistic and attainable. One big push I would want to make would be to crack down on slumlords that do not reside in the city and are not taking care of their properties. We need to make it clear to them that Streator is not a place to buy a cheap property and not maintain it. The rental inspections are a great start and will continue to make a difference. Overall the neighborhoods in town are nice and well kept, it’s a select few that need attention. I have noticed some businesses that could use a plan as well, most notably Shabbona street by Owens, I have seen fence panels that are falling over, grass consistently not being taken care of and vehicles parked on the sidewalks.

How will you make yourself available to voters who have questions or comments about the city’s operation?

I will always be available by email or through a social media channel. If someone needs a face to face or a phone call those can be arranged as well.

What is an existing project you would like to see the city continue to build off of and grow from?

I like how the city has developed the park system. I think we have some great city owned recreational areas and I would like to see that continue as well as circling back and making some repairs to current facilities. The Greenway Trail is a perfect addition and if the park area across from the canoe launch is still in the works that would make it even better yet. I personally have gotten into the hobby of birding and have learned that quite a few people in Streator are also birders. The Greenway Trail and Marilla Park are both great places to go birding and see a huge variety of birds, I’d like to make some designated birding areas, like what is by Starved Rock Visitors Center to help grow the hobby and give everyone a chance to see the variety of birds that visit Streator.

What initiative would you propose in your four years that you would like to see to fruition?

To me the most beneficial and important initiative I could do would be to help attract more jobs and businesses to the community. I think building up our business community can help lead to years of success as a community. At our heart we are a blue collar town and to get some good paying manufacturing jobs in the community would be rewarding for all of us.

Joe Scarbeary

Age: 52

Occupation: Currently working at Owens-Illinois

Previously elected positions: Streator City Council in 2017

Tell us about yourself and why you are running for office?

Married to my wife Beth for almost 28 years. I have three boys, Brandon, Nate and Mason, two grandchildren, Jax and Olivia. Working for the Streator Fire Department for 20 years I got to see first hand how city government serves its citizens and the impact on our community. Within any branch of government there is always a need to improve and I feel I not only have the experience but also the desire to help make this happen.

What is your vision for Streator? (And what role will you play in initiating it?)

My vision of the city’s future is to continue on improving the growth and infrastructure of our town but to do this using fiscal responsibility. We need to find other ways to fund our projects other than property taxes.

The staffing of the city’s fire department has been a discussion among the council for a number of recent years, how do you believe the fire department should be staffed?

Working with the fire department for 20 years, I’ve seen first hand what works and what doesn’t. I believe we need a full-time 15 member department. People in our town pay taxes to have services and with our manufacturing facilities and the amount of homes and businesses in the area 15 members seems to work well.

The city is operating with a structural deficit, in what ways would you like to see the city generate revenue?

For three years I have proposed to put a referendum on a one-half cent sales tax. There are approximately 14,000 people in our town but there is another 7,000 people who also live in our ZIP code who do not pay property taxes to our city. By passing the half-cent sales tax we could generate over a million dollars and promise to lower the property taxes to people who live in the city limits around 15%. It’s time for everyone in the area to pay a little more and take some of the burden off the people inside the city who pays the majority of the bills.

Would you vote in favor of a property tax increase? Why or why not?

Not at this time. Again, I believe there are other ways.

How can the city improve its neighborhoods and housing?

Recently we have been making a big push to clean up our community. We will keep applying for state and federal grants to make it easier on the wallets of our residents.

How will you make yourself available to voters who have questions or comments about the city’s operation?

Easy - my phone number is 815-712-3400.

What is an existing project you would like to see the city continue to build off of and grow from?

I believe the work being done at Marilla Park has a lot of promise and if done right would give people in town another place to relax and enjoy themselves.

What initiative would you propose in your four years that you would like to see to fruition?

Annexation — through grants and very low-cost (sewer) hook ups to new residents.

Timothy Geary

Age: 52

Occupation: Star Ford Service Department

Previously elected positions: La Salle County Board member - District 26

Tell us about yourself and why you are running for office?

Born and raised in Streator. I am running for office because I see so many opportunities in this town that reflect the hardworking nature that this town was founded on and want the growth to continue.

What is your vision for Streator? (And what role will you play in initiating it?)

We need to capitalize on our history as well as our future ... the children that are coming up are wanting to stay in town and I would like them to have a town that they are proud to call home.

The staffing of the city’s fire department has been a discussion among the council for a number of recent years, how do you believe the fire department should be staffed?

That is a question that I do not know how to answer as I do not have all the information, but I know the current system is working.

The city is operating with a structural deficit, in what ways would you like to see the city generate revenue?

Once I again, I would need more information before I can give an educated answer. The city is so tight lipped about finances that I wouldn’t know how to answer.

Would you vote in favor of a property tax increase? Why or why not?

NO! We as a population are way overtaxed as it is and would not be in favor of more.

How can the city improve its neighborhoods and housing?

Start taking pride in ourselves. We have ordinances on the books and I would like to see them enforced.

How will you make yourself available to voters who have questions or comments about the city’s operations?

I am always 100% available via my cell, my email or on Facebook. Anyone that knows me knows that I never shy away from conversation.

What is an existing project you would like to see the city continue to build off of and grow from?

The volunteerism with Light up Streator and the Fourth of July committees are something that we can always grow upon. They are a tremendous support of good things in Streator, so maybe we can grow with that. Another example is what we’re doing with downtown Main Street. I would love to see more small businesses open in this town.

What initiative would you propose in your four years that you would like to see to fruition?

In four years on the City Council, I would like to make it a priority to make ourselves more attractive to industry and business. We are surrounded by three major interstates, we need to go out and we need to sell ourselves, we need to make ourselves known that we do not shy away from hard work, because the people in this town are some of the hardest workers I know.

Will Price

(Did not return messages the week of March 29 to answer questions from The Times.)

Derek Barichello

Derek Barichello

Derek is a Streator High and University of Illinois graduate. He worked at the Albany-Herald in Albany, Ga., and for Sauk Valley Media in Sterling, before returning to his hometown paper. He's now news editor for both the NewsTribune and The Times.