By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Mayor John Spring believes Quincy is on the right track, and he thinks most residents agree.
The 64-year-old Democrat is seeking a third four-year term in the April 9 municipal election. He said a poll authorized by his campaign showed that 67 percent of respondents believe the city is heading in the right direction.
"I think they believe in that and I'm asking them to support me once again to keep our community going in the right direction," Spring said. "I know they know it is going in the right direction. I'm the person that can keep it going in the right direction."
Spring is attempting to become just the third person to serve more than two terms as mayor, and the second in a row to win three straight terms. Fellow Democrat Chuck Scholz was mayor from 1993-2005.
Spring is being challenged by first-term Republican Alderman Kyle Moore.
When first elected in 2005, Spring said he wanted to build on the progress initiated by Scholz and previous administrations, and he believes that has been accomplished despite trying economic conditions.
"Little did anybody know that we would be hit with the greatest crisis since the Great Depression," Spring said. "I think that strong foundation that I set, my style of being mayor, being a manager, dealing with people, reaching out to the community, working with the business and industrial groups, working with educational groups, putting emphasis on public safety and making sure that we were fiscally sound helped tremendously when we got to the second term."
Spring believes the city has weathered the recession better than most Illinois communities.
"I think there is no question that there's been some job loss in our community, but I think he has to look at the demographics of the job gains that have come into this community," Spring said.
"The mere fact is that we had two brand new industries come to Quincy during the worst of this economic downfall."
Both Fitzpatrick Brothers and Prince Agri Products decided to locate new facilities in the South Quincy Development District, resulting in more than 200 jobs. Spring also pointed to growth at Knapheide Manufacturing and Titan International, two of Quincy's biggest employers.
Adams County continues to have the second-lowest unemployment rate in the state, and Spring points to the increased sales tax receipts the city is collecting as signs Quincy remains a viable regional retail hub.
"Look at our downtown," he said. "The downtown is probably the most vibrant it's ever been these last four years. Ninety-five percent of our storefronts or full. We've got opportunities galore."
Spring believes the next area of growth involves the Mississippi River — specifically, development of the Mid-America Port and improvements to the river's lock and dam system.
The proposed port would be built on the river side of the 500-year levee system in the South Quincy Bottoms. A 2007 economic impact study estimated it would contribute $94 million a year to the local economy. But the port authority has been unable to obtain the necessary funding to begin construction of the facility.
In 2007, federal lawmakers approved a plan to upgrade locks along the Mississippi River, including Quincy, Saverton, Mo., and Canton, Mo. However, the $1.95 billion in funding has not been allocated by Congress.
"If we get those new 1,200-foot chambers, it's going to shorten the time that it takes a barge to transport," he said. "With us being a Mecca for trucking and rail, it all goes hand and hand."
Spring questioned a vote last year by his opponent, 3rd Ward Alderman Kyle Moore, to reduce city funding for the Great River Economic Development Foundation. The city does not have its own economic development director, so it relies on GREDF to assist with those efforts.
That funding cut came at a time when job creation and retention was critical for the city, Spring said.
"It's hard to speak jobs when you were one to cut the funding to your economic development arm, which (Moore) did," he said. "I cannot create the jobs, but I can work with all those that work in that arena."
Complicating things is the continued uncertainty of shared revenues from the state. Last spring, lawmakers floated an idea to divert all personal property tax funds to help cover teacher pensions. The move would have cost the city $2.9 million, and would have resulted in the closing of at least two fire stations, Spring said.
"That's why I spend lots of time in Springfield," he said. "That's why I protect our revenues that are there for us to share in, or any type of legislations that will impact us."
Moore has made the city's unsuccessful hydroelectric project a centerpiece of his campaign. The city had spent more than $5 million on the project when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission abruptly dismissed the city's preliminary permit and licensing application in February 2011.
Spring was among those who championed the project — along with key members of the Quincy business community — as a way for the city to generate additional revenue. The City Council authorized issuing $6.6 million in bonds to help pay for the project in 2009.
"One of the things that's interesting is that I get criticized all the time, but John Spring never placed one vote," Spring said. "The City Council made all these decisions. I think the City Council saw this as a great opportunity."
The council approved the administration's plan to pay off the bonds by using more than $3.3 million that had not been spent, some reserve funds, a portion of the revenue from the city's franchise agreement with Ameren Illinois and diverting some capital money.
"My opponent had a plan that he touted quite a bit, but you know what his plan was going to do in the end?," Spring said. "It would have cost us $700,000 more in interest. The night that our plan was passed, Alderman Moore said we had the better plan."
The city still maintains preliminary permits for Lock and Dam 24 in Clarksville, Mo., and Lock and Dan 25 in Winfield, Mo., and still hopes to recoup some of the money is spent on the project.
Spring says there has been $27 million in infrastructure improvements during his eight years in office.
"I've put more money in infrastructure ... than probably anybody ever has," he said. "That includes neighborhood enhancement. That includes overlays of streets. We've done more because we've had the advantage of being fiscally responsible, plus we've been very responsible getting state and federal assistance on these programs."
However, Spring suffered a setback in 2011 when aldermen reallocated $35,000 earmarked for a feasibility study for building a multi-use transportation center. The city had received a $6 million grant in July 2010 from the state's capital plan to fund the project. The city also was in line to receive an additional $7 million from the federal government.
"It's hard when you take Amtrak and you see all these new stations up along the line (to Chicago)," Spring said. "I still hope there is promise for doing something better. Our station is used tremendously."
A second daily train was added to Chicago in 2006, and ridership has steadily rose.
There also has been a resurgence at Quincy Regional Airport, which last year saw more than 10,000 passengers fly to and from St. Louis on Cape Air. It was the first time since 2002 that the airport had reached that level, which qualifies the city for $1 million in federal funding.
Spring hopes to restore air service to Chicago in the next four years.
"We want to get back into O'Hare," he said. "We've got to figure out a way to make that work. Cape Air is a great partner in that."