Bob Olson, Lee County Board 2022 Primary Election Questionnaire

Election 2024
Lee County Board Chairman Bob Olson

Lee County Board District 1 candidate Bob Olson answered Shaw Local’s election questionnaire for the Lee County Board primary election.

Voting ends for the primary election on the evening of June 28.

Full Name: Bob Olson

What office are you seeking? County Board District 1

What offices, if any, have you previously held? Amboy School District 272 Board Member 16 years

Lee County Board 7 years

City: Harmon

Occupation: Self Employed Ag Production

One of the biggest local issues curtailing economic development and growth is available affordable housing. The 2022 Census showed Lee and Whiteside both with more than 90% occupancy of existing residences. What is the role of the county to ensure there is available housing as it works to attract new businesses to the region?

With respect to affordable housing, a major role of the County is to maintain and improve the current infrastructure within the County to retain current business and encourage new business and housing developers to locate within the County. Also, the County must work with various housing organizations to help those organizations secure funding through federal and state grant programs. The County should serve as the liaison between the federal and state organizations that provide the funding and the organizations within the County that receive the funding. In this capacity, the County’s role is to provide the necessary information and resources to the local organizations and developers in carrying out their respective goals and directives.

Many villages and municipalities in Lee and Whiteside have their own ambulance services, which are often strapped for cash to maintain operations. In addition, there are critical shortages of qualified EMTs and firefighters. What role should county government play in resolving these associated problems?

Lee County is very fortunate to have well-trained firemen and women and ambulance services. It’s the County’s role to ensure that the County residents have more than adequate fire protection and ambulance service, not only within city limits, but throughout the rural area of the County. The County’s job is to make sure that these departments and their concerns and needs are met, whether it’s through providing access to more training opportunities, consolidation of districts, or ensuring that these departments are well-equipped for the challenges they may face. I believe that the County should have a study done to determine if the current structure in place adequately addresses the needs and services throughout the rural areas of the County. As far as privatization of the ambulance service, I believe the County must consider and study whether this approach is cost-effective while maintaining or bettering response time and services. As a County, we need to be open to new ideas and methods to address County services.

Is it time to encourage privatizing ambulance services, consolidate services and provide them at county level, or augment state funding with county funds to existing units?

I think it’s time to form a committee to study this issue before taking any drastic measures. The committee should be comprised of county board members, community leaders, and should have input from all fire departments and ambulance services within the County.

Northern Illinois counties are woefully behind when it comes to broadband and modern communications. What role does the county government have in equipping the region to meet the communication needs of the future?

Rural counties in Illinois face a larger challenge in securing these services because these counties do not have the capital available for the broadband infrastructure that needs to be placed throughout the vast regions of the County. Currently, I’ve been involved in various meetings with surrounding counties to secure a 32 million dollar grant through Black Hawk Hills to offset these costs. If the grant is awarded and through working with industry, I believe Lee County will access to broadband in the near future.

Northern Illinois is seen as having a great deal of potential in developing/expanding green energy in the form of solar and wind. How can the county government play a role in expanding this? At the same time, growers and property owners often express the need to preserve land for crops. Is there a balance to be struck? What are possible solutions?

Lee County is in the top counties in Illinois of green energy produced/planned to be produced. I believe green energy should be encouraged but balanced by the preservation of prime farmland for future needs of our country. I believe one potential solution may be to modify our current comprehensive plan to allow for green energy to be placed on the less productive farmland within the county.

Should counties do more to expand access to county government?

Yes. Currently, Lee County is updating its board room to be more technology forward so that the public has a greater ability to access our meetings remotely.

Should video of committees and board meetings be continued/expanded?

Absolutely. I believe this allows for greater public participation and awareness.

Should the county website be updated?

Yes. We have a working website that we endeavor to update weekly.

Should board members be required to have email connections?

Absolutely, I believe that board members need to be accessible to public, whether it through a personal email that they use or through a county provided email address.

What technology upgrades and resource allocation is required to make it happen?

> Six months ago, the Lee County Board went paperless, which saved 4,700 pages of paper in the first meeting. In addition, all county board members are equipped with iPads.

What challenges is the region facing in terms of attracting business and tourism?

I believe our biggest challenge is upgrading our current infrastructure. I believe we need to be “shovel-ready” for industry to locate within the County with sewer, water and electrical services and proper zoning already in place. With respect to tourism, we need to tell Lee County’s story better.

What tools and services do northern Illinois communities have that can be better applied to this effort?

We need more promotions through the internet and should utilize other modern advertisements to reach younger generations.

What are your thoughts on the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?

I believe the Freedom of Information Act is essential to public government as it ensures transparency and garners trust between the government and the public.

Please state your plan to maintain government transparency. I’ve always been open to being transparent.

I am approachable and have multiple ways for the general public to contact me.

What would you push for as a member of county government to boost local businesses?

First of all, all businesses are not the same. As county board members, we need to listen better their challenges, wants and needs and gain a deeper understanding of what we can do as a county to address the same. As a county board, we need an open dialogue with local business owners.

Should government employees and officials be allowed to sign nondisclosure agreements with private businesses?

Sometimes, when negotiating with a prospective business, non-disclosure agreements are a necessary evil. The Company may need time to secure financing, contractors, employees, and etc., before being able and willing to go public. With these agreements, there should be a sunset clause in them that allows for the information to be available to the public. Prior to entering into any nondisclosure agreement, the State’s Attorney should sign off and approve the agreement.

Would you push for or against government officials and employees being allowed to sign non-disclosure agreements with private businesses?

I don’t think that anyone is for non-disclosure agreements, but sometimes they are a necessary tool to secure industry coming into the area.

It appears inflation — in a way that hasn’t been experienced in a long time — is going to be an issue that could affect all local governments for the foreseeable future. What is the role of the county board as rising prices put a pinch on existing revenues?

As always, we should continue to be fiscally responsible and follow our balanced budget.

Do you think there is a local crime problem? If so, what needs to be done about it?

I feel that our sheriff and his department have done an awesome job of ensuring the safety of the citizens of the County and addressing and deterring crime.

What local road and bridge projects should be a priority to get done in the county?

I rely on Dave Anderson, our County Engineer, for his expertise in this area.

Do you support decreasing local property taxes? If so, how would the county make up the difference?

I would support decreasing local property taxes if the sales tax would offset the decrease. With the passage of the Wayfair Act, the sales tax is applied where the point of sale occurs, which has helped Lee County immensely and could, in turn, lower the real estate tax levy. If this trend continues, I would support decreasing local property taxes.

Do you support stronger county government ethics laws? What measures do you support?

I support having ethical laws that govern county officials.

Lee County received $6.6 million in ARPA funds. What do you think of how the county has used the funds so far, and what do you think the county’s remaining ARPA money should be used for?

So far, $1 million dollars of ARPA funds have been spent by Lee County on social services, paying for the food licenses for all food-serving restaurants in Lee County impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown, and the replacement of the Old Courthouse’s HVAC system with an ultra-violet germ filtration system that purifies and increases air quality for county employees and visitors of the Courthouse. I support that $500,000 of the $5.6 million remaining funds be spent toward small businesses in Lee County that were directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that $2 million should be reserved for fiscal years 2023 and 2024 to address county needs. Lastly, I believe that the remaining funds will be spent on the boiler system and the HVAC system of the New Courts Building to improve air quality