MOUNT CARMEL – The following articles feature the three incumbent City Commissioners running for reelection to the City Council. They are each the exact same word count as the previous four candidates’ articles and appear in a Tuesday edition, just like the other commissioner candidates.
Eric D. Ikemire
Eric Ikemire has served one term as city commissioner in Mount Carmel.
He would like to continue the work he has started in the city. “I just felt like we’ve done a nice job over the last four years trying to do things to improve the community,” Ikemire said. The balance between accomplishing tasks for the community and remaining under budget was on his mind.
The biggest driver of revenue is sales tax funds, he said. Continuing to find ways to improve that, whether it be additional businesses in the retail sector or further tightening budgets, are opportunities Ikemire wants to find for the city, he said.
Ikemire also listed improving the city’s aging infrastructure as something he would like to work on if reelected. “There’s unfortunately very little that’s brand new around here,” he said.
Lack of funding for infrastructre can lead to prioritizing certain projects over others. “That unfortunately sometimes makes certain decisions difficult,” Ikemire said. He also mentioned keeping the roads, and sewer and water infrastructure, fixed up as best as city officials can.
To further that point with a recent example, Ikemire highlighted the work done at along Poplar to tackle the flooding issue there. TIF funding was utilized to pay for that project, one such opportunity for the city to make the most of the funding it has on hand. “We need to try for everything we can get,” Ikemire said, adding that grants can also be utilized for both small and large-scale projects.
Managing finances is nothing new for Ikemire. He has been in the financial sector in his professional life for around 20 years with half of that in senior management. Due to this, he said if he earned the most votes from the community come April 2, he would likely take the finance commissioner spot. He enjoyed the experience of overseeing the street department, he said, and learned a lot about how the city runs there.
He felt that his expertise was in finance and if it would make sense for him to take that position on the council, he would. “It really comes down to what works best for the city,” Ikemire said.
Addressing Illinois’ state-wide budget issues, Ikemire stressed the city’s reliance on the state financially and reiterated his position on finding all of the funding opportunities available to the city.
The state’s rules mean extra hurdles to jump through, or just the inability to perform certain work.
You think you can go do something and then, you can’t,” Ikemire said, adding that he only learned this after becoming a council member.
Finding extraneous opportunities was the only way Ikemire saw the city moving projects forward.
“If we had to operate strictly under our budgets, we would not be able to make those projects happen,” Ikemire said of projects like the sewer line on Poplar Street.
“You just really have to look for those opportunities that are outside of your normal budget items,” he added.
“I’ve enjoyed my time on the council,” he said, adding that he thinks he has more work to do for the community there.
Rod Rodriguez has been the fire department commissioner for eight years.
In his two terms at the position, Rodriguez reported going to around 90 percent of the calls the fire department received. During those calls, he would help the department by providing personnel with an extra set of hands and eyes on fire scenes.
“If they need something from the truck, instead of having a fireman quit what they’re doing, I go get it,” he said.
Rodriguez said he is not yet ready to quit his job overseeing the fire department for the city.
“I have the Fire Department that I deal with and I like what I’m doing,” he said.
Rodriguez also praised the police officers in the community, adding that he has translated for them before, mediating between officers and offenders or translating for a Spanish speaker looking for police assistance.
“They call me to translate to them what the officers need to know,” he said.
Wearing many hats in one position is something Rodriguez was used to, he said, and something he did at his former job, where he was a field service manager. Not only does one worker performing multiple tasks save a company money, it forces the employee to learn new skills, something Rodriguez appreciates about his old job. He worked there for 29 years. He also used his bilingual skills there, where he would speak with people from Central and
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South America. He often traveled during the course of his duties.
Persistence was Rodriguez’s answer for dealing with state-wide budget issues.
“We need money,” he said, adding that officials can’t forget that. “Continue working on it until we can get more than we are getting now,” he said.
Being a border community adds an extra obstacle, Rodriguez explained, because a citizen can travel across the river to spend their money.
“Not just Mount Carmel, but going up on each side of the border,” Rodriguez said.
The state of industry in town is a concern to Rodriguez, and the lack of employment that goes with it. He was optimistic, though, about officials’ efforts toward employing citizens in the city. Not only does he enjoy helping the city, he said, but also the organizations and businesses within it.
“I like this town and I want to do something for it,” he said, adding that he feels if everyone did a little bit to help, everyone would be getting along pretty good.
Rodriguez stressed public safety, both involving his former job where he was certified similarly to members of the Fire Department. Even though he does not still hold the same certificates, Rodriguez insists the knowledge has stuck with him through his 16 years of retirement.
“It just sticks with you, it doesn’t leave you,” he said, adding that his kids received an earful about safety while he taught them how to drive.
“I’m always thinking safety, safety, safety,” he added.
The public safety and volunteerism efforts, Rodriguez explained, are part of his overall effort to help the community.
“I want to be a helping hand instead of just sitting in an office and doing nothing,” Rodriguez said.
Justin Dulgar became city commissioner for the water and sewer departments four years ago.
The main driver of his reelection bid was in an effort to finish the work he began in those four years.
“There’s been a lot of research and a lot of time and effort put in,” Dulgar said.
There have been numerous upgrades at the sewer plant, Dulgar recounted and a little at a time to lines in the city.
“I ran the first time off of improving our city’s infrastructure and also trying to market the city better for future development,” Dulgar said, adding that he would like to continue that work for another term.
Supplying residents with good, drinkable water was foremost on Dulgar’s mind when outlining issues Mount Carmel faces.
More broadly, the city needs to continue to be marketed to businesses. Dulgar said the council has been effective at that effort since he has been there, but that the work must continue.
“I think we’ve done a great job,” Dulgar said.
Shopko leaving town, while not the city’s fault, was unfortunate, Dulgar said. But it couldn’t have been avoided because of the city or any other city that will soon also lose the store. He said the Area Economic Alliance has done a good job of trying to find a replacement for the store in the community, and Dulgar said he has talked to Craig Newman, president of the AEA, to coordinate that effort with officials. “There’s no need for six different people to call the same people,” he said, adding that the issue should be tackled by multiple people working together with a common goal.
Dulgar mentioned his background in government, having worked with local governments in Indiana and Kentucky.
“I had the experience before, I have more experience now,” Dulgar explained.
“Four years is not long enough to accomplish what I want to accomplish,” he added. He said while he has been on the council he has been accessible to the public and has tried to solve problems as they come to his attention.
Dulgar said he would remain the water and sewer commissioner if he received the most votes on election day. “I will fight tooth and nail for that department whether I’m the top vot-getter or fourth in votes,” he said, adding that the departments he has led have had a successful four years. With Illinois’ tight local budgets in mind, Dulgar said department will have to be frugal. Taking any preventative measures possible was also on Dulgar’s mind.
Finding outside sources to increase revenues such as grants and TIF funding.
“We’ve done a good job these past four years,” Dulgar said.
Planning far in the future was one way Dulgar suggested he has excelled over the past four years and said he is eager to see those plans come to fruition.
Promoting Mount Carmel and engaging businesses to move here are also part of being a commissioner, Dulgar said.
“We all work well together to move the city forward,” Dulgar said. “I’m as excited now as I was four years ago,” he said.