The Hoopeston Education Association and Save the Lorraine Foundation presented a candidate forum March 22 at Hoopeston Area High School to allow candidates for Hoopeston Area Board of Education, the Hoopeston City Council and Hoopeston mayor to answer questions from voters.

The Chronicle covered the board of education candidates in last week’s edition and coverage of the city council candidates can be found on the front page of today’s edition.

In the race for Hoopeston mayor, incumbent Mayor Bill Crusinberry is being challenged by Mike Bane.

Bane was unable to take part in the candidate’s forum, but Crusinberry was able to attend and answered questioned posed to him by the forum moderator. The Chronicle reached out to Bane and asked him to provide written responses to each of the questions asked during the forum. The responses from both candidates are provided below:

Opening Statements:

Crusinberry’s Statement:

Crusinberry said he’s a lifelong resident of the area.

He said he spend his first 16 years of life were spent living on a small family farm outside Wellington. He went to school in Wellington for 10 years before his family moved into Hoopeston when the Hoopeston Hospital was built. His mother and father were employees at the hospital.

Crusinberry graduated from Hoopeston High School and attended Danville Junior College and earned an associate’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Crusinberry thanked the Hoopeston Education Association and Save the Lorraine Foundation for sponsoring the forum and enabling all of the candidates to address Hoopeston and briefly explain why they want to represent their fellow citizens and help make the decisions that will drive the city for the next four years.

Crusinberry outlined the responsibilities of mayor and the aldermen and described what he feels he brings to the position of mayor.

“I believe that in asking you to allow me to serve another four years, I bring to the job a person who has an excellent history of working with the city council, the city department heads, the city attorney and our engineering firms overseeing the several infrastructure and economic development projects we have ongoing.”

Crusinberry said those who watched and participated in the forum showed how much they care about Hoopeston and its future.

“Your participation by viewing this forum shows that you have a concern for Hoopeston, the city of today and the future of the city we will pass along to our children, grandchildren and many generations to come,” he said. “I hope that, following this forum, I am the person you select to guide this city for the next four years as we try to build a better Hoopeston for the future.”

Bane’s Statement:

My name is Mike Bane, I am a lifelong resident of Hoopeston and a retired police officer. In 2020, I became involved in a few cleanup and recycling events. These were events myself and a few other citizens of Hoopeston held on our own time. During these events I listened to many frustrated residents. I too am frustrated with how Hoopeston’s city government has not been enforcing ordinances and how long-standing issues were not being dealt with. I feel the voters of Hoopeston have an opportunity to use their voice, their vote, in making a much-needed change.

Since I have been involved in a lot of different areas of leadership in my past law enforcement career, fundraising, running benefits, being in charge of various organizations and such, I thought I could put these skills to use and try to help turn around some of these long-standing issues and head in the direction of positive changes. My opponent has had three terms in the office. I believe a fresh perspective and a change in leadership is needed. I feel the position of mayor — along with the city council — need to be proactive not reactive in many issues. I also feel the election needs to be about fixing obvious problems and preventing future ones.

I always try to treat everyone the same, believe in total transparency, and have a conservative stance regarding using the taxpayers’ money. The city government cannot let little things slide, because they turn into bigger problems when there is a failure to take action. I do not intend to let anything slide and become a much more difficult issue to correct. I would be willing to hear concerns and suggestions from our citizens.

During the mayoral portion of the forum, four questions were asked. We’ve included the questions and a response from each candidate below:

Question #1: The recent announcement that the public pool will be closed for another season has brought up concerns for its future. Do you feel the pool should remain open or should it be closed permanently? Why or why not?

Crusinberry’s Response:

“It’s a good question and I know it’s a controversial issue in Hoopeston right now,” Crusinberry said. “First of all, I’m going to say I don’t think this should be a decision made by one committee chairman or even a committee of three or myself the mayor. This should be something that’s explored by the entire city council. We need to evaluate all the things that feed into this.

Crusinberry pointed out that the reporting on the council meeting the closure of the pool for this season was discussed largely focused on difficulties in finding staff for the pool.

He said the pool had difficulty finding even the minimum number of staff for the 2019 season.

But other issues have come up with the pool.

“We’ve also had to face declining usage of the pool,” he said. “It’s closed early multiple times because no one was using it. There are big monetary issues to be considered. Not only is it operated at a deficit, and that’s to be expected. It’s a service you provide to the city, it’s like the police department, it cost you money to have the police, it costs you money to have the fire department, it costs you money to have the water department, it costs you money to have the streets, it costs you money to have the cemetery. It’s not something we look at to make a profit. We know that we’re not going to make a profit.”

Crusinberry also brought up repairs and renovations that will need to be made to the pool.

“When the inspector was here last spring and we were still contemplating, he generalized that we have several improvements to make at the pool,” he said. “But, because we didn’t open, I don’t think those were ever explored and definite monetary numbers were put to those improvements.”

Crusinberry said he’s open to exploring the options the city has for the pool.

“So, I say I’m very open-minded right now,” he said. “I say we need to get them back here and find out what are the things that have to be done and what are things that need to be done in the future so we can see how we need to project this out. I think then we can make a more informed decision, but I say I’m very open-minded both ways.”

Bane’s Response:

I have been asked this question before. I do not have access to the financials at this time, so I think the major decision is going to come about based on what the cost is going to be to bring the pool up to state standards from where it sits now.

One of the problems plaguing a lot of small towns is that the activities provided for children are being used less and less as children remain inside with electronic gadgets. As many adults enjoy the pool also, folks have also invested in their own pools over the last few years. There are a lot more travel sports during the summer. It also seems older children or teens don’t seem to want to get involved with the outdoor activities provided – they only want to go out if they can be around water parks or carnival rides, and most parents do not have the time or the money to take the kids to those activities every day.

Now that some time has passed since the news about the pool has been made public, I have a few more thoughts and possible ideas to keep a pool in town. I would be inclined to engage in dialogue with the school district to find out what their thoughts would be to have a community pool at the school for school sports, teaching children to swim, medical aquatics and use by the public as well. There are other small towns that have done this successfully. If there is serious interest, then the hard work would start — finding grants and other funding, determining the best place to put this facility, identifying personnel to run it, etc.

With the pool status up in the air at this time, I am not opposed to keeping the Splash Pad open in the park.

Question #2: Frequent water main breaks shows our city’s aging infrastructure needs refurbishing. What plans should we make to accomplish this and how will they be funded?

Crusinberry’s Response:

“I was elected to the city council in 2005 and when I was elected I was appointed chairman of the water and sewer committee and let me tell, running the city water treatment plant takes a lot of knowledge and you don’t learn it in two years or four years, it’s a gradual process. One thing I did learn, I visited our crews when they were out repairing these breaks during some of the worst conditions of the winter. I got to talking to them and looking at the water/sewer maps and we still have in Hoopeston water mains that were installed in 1888,” he said. “That’s the first year Hoopeston had a water system. What I found out when first took the office of alderman and chairmanship of the water committee, I asked what plan do we have, how are we addressing this. We had no plan.”

Crusinberry said the city starting planning to get an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency loan to upgrade the water treatment plant.

“Our two storage tanks were in bad need of repairs. Our filtering system in the treatment plant was original and it needed repairs. It took us a little over six years to get that loan approved. We had to reapply every year,” he said. “We ended up with a $3 million plant. We invested that $3 million in our water treatment plant. We have replaced a few mains. Hoopeston replaced the main from the CSX tracks to the Lorraine in 1985, well before my time. It was a start.”

Crusinberry ran out of time to answer the question during the forum, but expanded on his answer via an email to The Chronicle.

“Our Water Superintendent, Committee Chrm. [Lourdine] Florek and I have went over a priority list created by Steve Baker and created five- and 10-year plans for what we want to accomplish moving forward. The work we have done and are presently planning are being funded by the Infrastructure Maintenance Fee that was added to water bills a few years ago. We are using this fund for the exact purpose that it was created.”

Bane’s Response:

The water line on Market Street from Penn Street going north has had numerous breaks. This water line needs to be replaced – I believe it is the oldest water line in town. Patching it is not fixing it. In order to complete this project, we need to look for state and federal grants before we borrow more money. I don’t know how much money has been allotted or set back for repairs to the infrastructure over the past 12 years, but money needs to be set aside every year and/or added to grants or loan money to ensure the infrastructure is kept in good repair.

Question #3: Abandoned and neglected downtown buildings have become a hindrance to business and a danger to the public. How did we get to this point and what should the city do to fix it?

Crusinberry’s Response:

“One of the biggest problems is that when buildings do get to the point that the existing owner that finds no use for them. So many of them, the previous owner just walked away and quit paying taxes on them. And we have this process, if you don’t pay taxes on a property for three years, it goes on a tax sale.”

Crusinberry said people can buy a downtown building off a tax sale for around $800 and some costs and often just leave the building to sit and deteriorate.

“And then they invest nothing in these buildings and they just keep deteriorating,” he said. “We see them downtown and it’s going to keep happening. It doesn’t just happen in Hoopeston. Milford had a building where a whole brick wall collapsed. It’s happening all over.”

Crusinberry recalled hearing similar stories from other mayors during the Vermilion Advantage Mayor’s Council meetings when he was first elected mayor.

“One thing you found, every town has the same problems: aging infrastructure, deteriorating downtowns and lower economic base due to declining manufacturing opportunities in small towns,” he said. “Easy access to these building is what’s caused the problem. The city cleaning them up is the harder problem.”

Crusinberry outlined the difficulties in reaching some of these out-of-town owners and getting them to address issues with their buildings.

“We’ve brought them to court and we’ve got two who are being fined daily, but that doesn’t seem to cure the problem,” he said. “We’re going to have to dig deeper and find a better way. But preventing people from buying these buildings in the first place is where we have to look and establish ordinances that will make them have a plan plus the financial ability to follow through with that plan. That’s what I think we need to do.”

Bane’s Response:

We got to this point because the owners of these properties weren’t forced to take care of the properties as ordinances were not enforced consistently. Many of the properties ended up going to the tax trustees, and then were sold to people who didn’t understand what they were bidding on. Owners of all buildings need to be made to fix them as soon as they are identified as a problem building, not letting them fall further into disrepair. Taking the owners to state court to force them to either fix or tear down is one way to go. I feel we, as in the city, need to have a building engineer or inspector who would inspect buildings identified as having problems twice a year, identify the ones needing repair, then after being given time to fix the issues, a report should be given to the city so that the owners can be forced (if necessary) to take care of them by utilizing all legal remedies including taking them to court as necessary. Bad buildings need to be condemned before the tax trustees sale, so the bidders can see that the building needs to be demolished within a reasonable amount of time. The residential buildings that need to be refurbished or torn down can be taken care of through the Land Bank, which has a new program that has had a short existence. I just don’t understand why it is so hard for the mayor to sell the Land Bank to the aldermen as it seems there is pushback from a few of them.

Question #4: Attracting economic opportunities are vital for the growth of a city, but efforts towards the retention and growth of current businesses are often overlooked. What do you believe that the city has done well for business owners and what should it be better at?

Crusinberry’s Response:

“I’m sure there’s more we could do,” he said. “Some of the business owners who are expanding and some that have created start-up businesses in town, I do get calls from them and we sometimes ask them what we can do.”

Crusinberry pointed to the city’s efforts to improve curbing along Bank Street after a new business was set up there and requested the city’s help.

“When the request was there, we answered the request,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t get asked. I do think we have an open line of communication for any business person who would want help. I think we are there to do what we can. And I have been in communication with multiple businesses that are looking to come to Hoopeston. We’re trying to help them. At least find property or buildings for them. I do believe we are working with both existing businesses and businesses moving into town.”

Bane’s Response:

The city has provided TIF money for some new businesses and for expansion of some existing ones, and for some infrastructure repair. I think it is important to continually work to keep the areas around the businesses as crime free as possible and the areas and buildings kept up, preventing further derelict buildings. I believe the TIF money needs to be used more wisely and if future building is to take place, the city should have assurances in place before allocating the money. I also believe the council and the public need to be better informed before venturing off and spending large amounts of money.

Closing Statements:

Crusinberry’s Statement:

“Once again, I want to thank the Hoopeston Education Association for making this opportunity available, Mr. Swank and your group. I’d like to thank the Save the Lorraine Foundation, Mr. Richards and his group for sponsoring this forum so that the voters in the upcoming election might make a more informed decision as to whom they would like to see the city and the schools for these next four years,” he said. “I would hope the statements made and the questions answered by the candidates on many subjects will have enlightened you on the issues that were discussed here this evening. Also, I’d like to do a shout-out to everyone who has participated this evening, we been through a little bit of an age of declining volunteerism. These people, to use an old term, they threw their hat in the ring. They volunteered. You’re not in the school board or the city council for the financial rewards because they are none. You’re here because you care. You care about this school. You care about this city. So I want to do a shout-out to all you guys.”

Crusinberry said will be posting items highlighting progress in the city on his campaign Facebook page, Crusinberry Campaign for Mayor, and encouraged readers to ask questions via the comment section and he will respond to them.

“To the people who viewed this forum, I say thank you. Your interest shows that you, in some way, will help to shape things to come,” he said. “In closing, I will tell you that my desire to serve as your mayor has no personal issues or a desire to add to my resume, I’m much too old for that. We have righted the ship and I want to see that progress is maintained. When I was elected to city council in 2005, we were coming out of a period of losing FMC, Schumacher’s, Stokely’s and some downsizing at other factories. It was not uncommon to hear talk on the street that this town is dying. Today, I can go down the streets and tell you people who are buying existing businesses, people who are creating new businesses, corporations, Silgan, Teasdale, have made multi-million dollar investments in their plants. Let me tell you, Hoopeston is not dying. We are repurposing and we’re building for the future of Hoopeston. Thank you.”

Bane’s Statement:

I am looking forward toward to the opportunity of working with the council members and rectifying the current problems with the utmost transparency for the citizens of this community. I believe that change for the better is not a bad thing when the current way things are done is not working, and that change is something that people have no need to be afraid of. Over the years a lot of little things have been overlooked and have turned into bigger problems. Not acting at all is neglectful in itself and this needs to be rectified. There will not be excuses or alibis for any lack of action in my administration.

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