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Looking ahead: Mayor Burns offers insights for what Geneva can expect in 2003

Broadband, power lines, boundaries to dominate 2003

The Geneva Sun, March 12, 2003

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By Louise Brass
STAFF WRITER


"I think you will see a very exciting 2003," said Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, during a recent discussion with The Sun, about the state of the city.

The excitement will come in many forms, including a hearing before the Illinois Commerce Commission, set for Thursday, on where to put electric power lines and what type of connections should link Geneva with Batavia and St. Charles power-supply lines.

Geneva will ask that a more suitable route be found, rather than the three-mile stretch along Randall Road, or will ask that underground lines be installed.

There will be a public vote April 1 on another heated issue: the proposed city-owned, citywide, broadband fiber-optic system, which would put Geneva in direct competition with current broadband providers, Comcast and SBC telecommunication firms.

Installing the system is already on the City Council's list of upcoming goals, despite protests from private telecommunication providers.

Also, legislation is being considered in many states that would prohibit municipalities from competing in the telecommunications arena, Burns said, even though cities have competed in offering other utilities such as electric power for more than 100 years. There is an effort by the larger players that would prohibit municipalities like the Tri-Cities from entering the marketplace, Burns said.

"That is ironic. The entire system of ours in America is built on free trade and competition, yet the very people who benefit from the free trade are the ones sponsoring that legislation," he said.

This year the council may also face the challenges of dealing with possible boundary changes, especially in attempting to acquire more suitable land on the East Side to place high-voltage power lines, instead of along Randall Road.

"We continue to struggle with striking a mutually beneficial boundary agreement with our friends in West Chicago. It is a struggle because there is language in West Chicago's boundary agreement with the DuPage Airport Authority that calls for any land annexed by the airport authority to eventually be annexed into West Chicago," he said.

Geneva fears that if the authority chooses to acquire 400 acres of land due east of Kirk Road and builds an industrial park or a tech park, by law that has to become West Chicago property, Burns said.

"We think the natural border is Kautz Road, extended south. We have made what we think is very fair, and aggressive, and very generous offers to West Chicago, to strike a deal where we are willing to forfeit some land for other land. To date those overtures have been refused."

Changing demographic
With all the high-level city business decisions he must make for this town of 19,515 residents, Burns always seems to make time for the young people of his community, inviting them to show off their paintings and drawings at City Hall, honoring the accomplishments of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts at council meetings, and inviting kids to e-mail him with their questions, comments or concerns. He always responds, sometimes more than once, if the young person needs more feedback from Geneva's top man.

The youth are the future, Burns believes. They are also 34 percent of the present.

Geneva's under-18 segment of the population is now 34 percent of its population. In Kane County, that age group is 30 percent of the total population, and in Illinois as a whole, 26.1 percent of residents are under 18.

According to 2000 Census figures, the median age in Geneva has increased to 36.2 years, compared to 34.1 in 1990. At the same time the percent of people over 65 has decreased from 10.2 percent to 8.9 percent. The 2000 Census also showed that 97 percent of the population is Caucasian, almost 3 percent is Hispanic and the rest, black and Asian.

Promoting the development of housing for the elderly in the city, where single-family homes have increased in average value from $148,000, 10 years ago, to $217,000 in 2000, is also a priority, Burns said.

Managing growth
But the No. 1 goal on the mind of this mayor, as 2003 sets it course for the future, is keeping the downtown vibrant and vital and capable of coping with the influx of traffic as the area to the west witnesses a population growth.

However, creating a new bridge linking east and west over the Fox River is likely to be left to the northerly neighbors, Burns said, even though much of the traffic from the proposed 1,000 or more homes to be built in the Grand Prairie development will probably come along Route 38, through the heart of downtown Geneva.

The city will have a budget of approximately $53 million for the 2003-2004 fiscal year, he noted. The Randall Road business development has added to the city's budget in the form of more sales taxes, Burns said, even though the costs connected with the 60 new businesses locating there mean much more traffic through the city, and more traffic accidents at the county's most frequent crash site, the intersection of Randall and Keslinger roads.

"It has provided not only increased sales tax revenues. It has attracted folk who otherwise probably would not have come to Geneva. Folks who travel to Randall will also take a secondary look at our original mercantile center, the downtown," he said.

"I think anyone can recognize that the era of downtowns simply existing on their own is over. But we have to decide as a community whether or not we want to compete against Randall Road, or accept Randall Road for what it is and incorporate its strengths to make the overall community stronger still. We've got to all pull together."

Economy, broadband
When asked to rank the city's overall economic health this year, Burns gave Geneva a seven on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the besteconomic condition possible.

Three years ago the city was a 10, Burns said.

Certainly the problem is the overall economy, with layoffs at Pillsbury in Geneva, and the closing of Arthur Andersen in St. Charles, and some merchants that have chosen to go out of business or pursue other businesses, Burns said.

"It has been a long time for me personally, since I have known so many of my friends who are out of work. It's been a gradual slide from a 10 to a seven for the last year and a half. Still there's some sunshine on the horizon, I really do think so," Burns added.

The drooping economy could be helped if the city garners user fees from providing broadband services, and getting that project accomplished is on the city's list of goals to pursue in 2003, with possible activation of the telecommunications services in 2004 as a joint venture with Batavia and St. Charles.

The Tri-Cities broadband transmissions would be capable of offering cable television, high-speed connections to the Internet and telephone service to all residences and businesses in the area.

It will be a big battle, but an important one, said Burns. He has invited the private telecommunications representatives to several council meetings to pitch their services and cite their local employment numbers, which could be affected by public sector competitors, a spokeswoman for SBC told the council in January.

To Burns, the fight is a David and Goliath thing.

"In my opinion we can either spend our monies with Comcast, SBC, and the other Goliaths, or we can build our own system, invest in our own communities, and invest in our own workers, and provide that sort of economic impact locally, he said.

Contact STAFF WRITER Louise Brass at lbrass@scn1.com or (630) 416-5246.

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