By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Mayoral candidates described a very different Quincy during a forum Tuesday night, using numbers to drive home opposing viewpoints.
Incumbent Democrat John Spring said Quincy weathered the recession better than most of the nation by cutting staff and making tough decisions on how the city spends money.
"We still balanced eight budgets. We still reduced the property tax rate on the city portion of your tax bill seven of eight times, and we took what was once $156,000 in reserves and we currently have $1.3 million," Spring said.
Spring's Republican challenger, Alderman Kyle Moore, said the average income in Quincy is 14 percent lower than it was in 2005, citing figures from Illinois Kids Count. Moore said taxes rose despite of lower tax rates, and water and sewer rates increased. He said the city's failed hydroelectric effort was even more costly.
"We lost $5.5 million of your money. That's $5.5 million that we can't redo our streets, we can't redo our sewers, we can't fix our sidewalks," Moore said.
Looking toward the future, Moore called for the creation of a five-year infrastructure plan, incentives to bring businesses to town and a community scorecard to measure whether the performance of city departments has improved year to year.
Spring pledged to support efforts to build the Mid-America Port and push for Congress to fund the Water Resources Development Act. The act would finance billions of dollars in lock improvements in Quincy and elsewhere in the region. Spring said keeping the city fiscally sound will always be his top priority.
The candidates went after each other on their past records.
Spring said Moore voted to see funds cut from the Great River Economic Development Foundation but now is claiming he can bring jobs to town.
Moore said he is impressed with Marcel Wagner, the new GREDF president, but does not support "farming out 100 percent of our economic development to another firm."
"As mayor, we need a champion for Quincy, and as mayor I will be that champion. I will go out and knock on businesses' doors," Moore said.
Moore said the city administration failed to plan for replacement of five garbage and recycling trucks that were purchased for $1 million in 2001. The trucks were expected to have a 10- to 13-year life cycle. Now the city is considering whether to hire a private garbage and recycling hauler or replace the trucks, for which no funds have been set aside, he said.
Spring said the city contracts with a private yard waste hauler and a bipartisan group from the City Council is considering whether to maintain city operation of garbage and recycling or seek a private contractor. He said that group of aldermen will "make sure what is best for our citizens."
Both candidates said they support concealed-carry laws. Spring wants to see training required for permit holders. Moore said he "would not join Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which has fought the NRA tooth and nail for the past few years."
Both men voiced their support for minority hirings by the city and praised work by the Quincy Human Rights Commission.
In answer to a question on growing Quincy's population, Moore said that effort must start with jobs. He said there has been an uptick in unemployment. In 2005, there were 916 jobless people in the city, he said, while state figures indicate that has risen by 812 people.
Spring said Quincy's peak population was 45,000 in 1975, before Motorola and other major employers closed. He said the population grew under former Mayor Chuck Scholz and continues to climb.
Moore said some of his ideas have come from best practices in other cities. Belvedere in northern Illinois offers incentives to businesses that help bring their suppliers to town. Other cities have launched programs to speed infrastructure projects and to curb absenteeism.
"We talk about a long-term budget — a five-year strategic budget. There are cities in Illinois who do this: Peoria, Urbana. They do comprehensive plans. We need to bring that here," Moore said.
"I think that any elected official, if you don't have a plan for your four years in office, you become dictated by the crisis of the moment."
Spring said Quincy has avoided the kinds of crises that have hit the state and federal governments.
"There's trillions and trillions of dollars in debt for our nation. Nobody likes Congress right now," Spring said.
"The state of Illinois (owes) $9 billion to vendors, $96 billion in pension costs. Not Quincy. We've got reserves folks, remember $1.3 million."
About 135 people attended the forum held by the Adams County League of Women Voters. About half the questions asked of the candidates came from audience members.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original posting.