Full Name: James Duffy
What office are you seeking? Whiteside County Board
What offices, if any, have you previously held? Whiteside County Board
Occupation: Retired teacher
Education: BSEd, MS Both degrees are from Illinois State University
Campaign Website: Not at this time
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?
The Whiteside County Economic Development Director is working with some of the local communities on this problem. We have also completed a study of existing housing in the area so that we have an idea of availability and needs.
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?
Over 40 years ago the County established a special service area to provide ambulance service to Sterling/Rock Falls. Through this special service area, the residents of the Sterling and Rock Falls fire districts are taxed in order to provide ambulance service. For over 30 years the County has had an intergovernmental agreement with CGH Medical Center to provide ambulance service in this special service area. This arrangement has worked well for Sterling/Rock Falls. I am not sure whether this would work in less densely populated areas. We do have a problem with finding staff. This is a problem everywhere not just in Whiteside County. The head of the ambulance service has been working on ways to attract and train potential EMTs. How well this will work remains to be seen.
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?
Privatizing ambulance services sounds good. I am not sure it will work. Ambulance services have a high fixed cost regardless of the volume of business. A private business would not remain here if they did not have the volume to justify the cost. I am also not sure what County funds you think are available to augment state funding. (Tax dollars used for the Sterling/Rock Falls special service area are collected in the service area and can only be used in the service area) And I am not sure what state funding you are talking about anyway.
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?
Whiteside County is currently working through the Accelerate Illinois program on plans to expand broadband into unincorporated areas of the County that are unserved or underserved. There are at least 7500 residences/locations that need access. It will take time and considerably more money than available through the ARPA funds received so far to provide this access. We anticipate that we will soon begin identifying both vendors to assist with this work and sources of additional broadband infrastructure funding. Once we have done this, we can move forward on broadband expansion.
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?
For a number of years Whiteside County has had ordinances in place to deal with both solar and wind energy projects. We have had only one wind project in the County to date. We have sited a number of solar projects. These are starting to be developed as the state provides the necessary incentives for the developers to move forward with their projects. Whiteside County is in the process of revising our comprehensive plan within put from local leaders, municipalities, and local groups. Some of this revision work is designed to address concerns with development and preserving land for crops. The revision work has been delayed by the pandemic and the difficulty of bringing people together to work on revisions to the plan.
Should counties do more to expand access to county government?
The county website provides county residents with access to information about all county departments. We are working on ways to improve remote access to meetings for county residents.
Should video of committees and board meetings be continued/expanded?
Part of the ARPA money that we have set aside will be used to provide better remote access to committee and board meetings for members of the committees and the board, as allowed by law, as well as making access to meetings better for county residents.
Should the county website be updated?
Our technology staff in Whiteside County does a good job of keeping our website up to date.
Should board members be required to have email connections?
Although we have offered to provide all board members with email access and tablets to access email, not all board members have taken advantage of this opportunity and some choose not to use email. As a board we do not have the authority to require our members to use email.
What technology upgrades and resource allocation is required to make it happen?
We currently have the necessary technology to provide email access to all board members who want it.
What challenges is the region facing in terms of attracting business and tourism?
One problem has been a trained workforce. Many existing businesses are having trouble filling positions. This is also a challenge for businesses desiring to locate in the area.
A number of communities and groups in the county are working on events that will attract tourism. These include art festivals, events at the airport, and a film festival among others.
What tools and services do northern Illinois communities have that can be better applied to this effort?
You would need to talk with the leaders of individual communities to see what tools and services they have available
What are your thoughts on the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act is a good thing. People should have access to information. When people ask for information, they should be given as much information as possible.
Please state your plan to maintain government transparency.
We publish agendas of meetings. We post those agendas at meeting locations and in the media as well as on the County website. We also provide that information to anyone who asks for it. Also there is a great deal of information available on the County website. As mentioned in answer to some other questions, we are working to upgrade remote access to meetings.
What would you push for as a member of county government to boost local businesses?
I have always favored a regional approach to economic development. We have something along those lines with the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) at Sauk Valley that provides assistance to local individuals who need help with their business or need assistance with starting a business. Whiteside County was involved in the creation of this organization and helps to fund it. We have an Economic Gardening program designed to help existing businesses. We are also looking at several ways to use ARPA funds to assist local businesses.
Should government employees and officials be allowed to sign non- disclosure agreements with private businesses?
I do not like non-disclosure agreements but sometimes such agreements are necessary.
Would you push for or against government officials and employees being allowed to sign non-disclosure agreements with private businesses?
As I said, I do not favor non-disclosure agreements. As much as possible I would discourage their use.
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?
The role of the county board is always to make sure that we spend money wisely and look for ways to save money. We should always look carefully at proposed expenditures when developing the budget each year.
Do you think there is a local crime problem? If so, what needs to be done about it?
Drugs are a major problem and connected to other types of crime. Enforcement of laws and treatment are the best way to deal with this problem. We have a Healthier Communities partnership which looks for ways to help people deal with addiction. We have a drug court which is designed to help offenders deal with the consequences of their drug use.
What local road and bridge projects should be a priority to get done in the county?
Whiteside County has 200 miles of roads. Motor fuel tax and road and bridge funds are limited. The County Highway Engineer develops a 5 year plan dealing with roads and bridges and updates it each year. This plan is shared with the Public Works Committee and the Committee tours county highways with the engineer to review the work that has been completed or is planned for the coming year.
Do you support decreasing local property taxes? If so, how would the county make up the difference?
This always sounds good, but as pointed out in a previous question, funds are limited. It is already difficult to operate the court system, the health department, the jail, hold elections, maintain roads and bridges, and provide other programs the residents expect from the County. Just reducing taxes would make this even more difficult. But the County does levy taxes in some funds for a specific purpose. When we have accumulated more money in a fund than is necessary to operate the program that fund supports, we reduce that particular levy.
Do you support stronger county government ethics laws? What measures do you support?
The current laws that cover county board members are sufficient.
Is the Whiteside County airport underutilized, especially as it has a runway that can handle commercial traffic?
The Whiteside County airport is underutilized. The Airport Board is looking for ways to attract business and better utilize the facility. Commercial passenger service is not practical, but I think people would be surprised at how much business traffic comes in and out of the airport either in the form of pilots stopping for fuel or individuals/business representatives flying in and out for work in the area.
Are there other investments to be made at the airport?
The airport is an independent agency of the County and the Airport Board makes decisions on these investments. The Board is giving consideration to a number of ideas, but has made no decisions.
Is it a matter of promotion?
People and businesses have to be made aware of the airport facilities. The Airport Board is always looking for ways to promote the airport and increase awareness of the airport.
How can the airport be an economic boon?
Any time the airport is utilized in connection with a local business it is an economic boon. For businesses that need air access it is very beneficial and would make the surrounding communities attractive to businesses considering a move to this area.
Whiteside County set aside $5 million in ARPA funds for unspecified projects. How should that money be spent and why?
The $5 million was set aside to complete projects that will make county government more accessible to the residents of the county. We are currently in the process of making both the board room and the court rooms more accessible remotely. Other projects will make it easier to access records and other needed materials when it is necessary for employees to work
remotely. Some of the funds will be used to address deficiencies in our buildings such as HVAC systems. We are also looking at items that will make the Courthouse and other county facilities safer for employees and the public from a health standpoint.
Even though $5 million was set aside for County projects, it does not mean that the Board cannot transfer some of this money to the work we plan on expanding broadband or the efforts to provide assistance to businesses and community groups. We plan to be flexible within the parameters established for the use of funds under ARPA.