Meet Your Candidates: Village Trustee Hopeful Bob Bielinski

Wilmette-Kenilworth Patch is running a series of questionnaires with candidates running in contested races for Spring 2011 elections.

Bob Bielinski is a candidate for Wilmette's board of trustees who has more than 20 years of business experience. The Loyola Academy graduate also holds a degree in engineering from M.I.T. and an MBA from Northwestern University.

"For all these reasons, 11 former and current Wilmette Village officials are supporting my candidacy for Village Trustee. In total, these leaders have served almost 150 years in Village government, and each of them agrees that I am one of the top choices in this election," Bielinski told Patch. 

Board members serve four-year terms. Three seats are open this year, and six candidates are running—Bielinski, Mike Basil, Mike G. Bailey, Dan Kaplan, Doug Rathe and Julie Wolf.

Check out what Bielinski has to say about pensions and the village's budget below.

How would you assess the state of the village’s budget?

Bob Bielinski: My 20+ years of business experience are both relevant to the issues facing the Board and complementary to the expertise of the current Trustees.

Over the past two years, I have attended many meetings, including budget workshop meetings during which the Board and staff discuss in detail the financial issues the Village faces. I have met with former and current Village Presidents, Trustees, Managers and department heads to become educated on the operational and financial challenges of the Village.

The Village’s budget situation has been challenging over the past few years because of the economic downturn. Local governments in Illinois do not have complete control over their finances because of the state's regulatory environment and unfunded mandates imposed by Springfield and Washington, but the Village successfully reduced expenses during the recession, thereby limiting the need for tax increases.

In 2009, the Village’s revenue fell short of expectations by $2.3 million. In 2010, the Village’s budget included a reduction of an additional $1.5 million of General Fund expenditures from 2009 levels, and as a result, the Village Board limited the property tax increase to the smallest level in a decade. The 2010 budget also included conservative revenue assumptions which ensured that revenue would not fall dramatically short of expectations like it did in 2009. The 2011 budget reflects a conservative view on revenue and expenditures with a smaller property tax increase than 2010.

My goal is to keep Wilmette a great place to live, work and raise a family, regardless of the economic conditions the Village and its residents face.

My plan deploys the resources of the Village in a manner that best serves that goal.  Highlights of my plan:

-       Focus on Municipal Services

-       Encourage Downtown Development

-       Keep Taxes Low

-       Common Sense Regulation

If expenses need to be reduced, exactly what would you cut? Be specific.

Bielinski: The Village should always be looking for the most cost effective and efficient ways to carry out its primary mission of delivering municipal services to its residents, and it should continue to provide the level of service which its residents currently enjoy. I will ensure that the Village's limited resources concentrate on these core responsibilities. Increasing efficiency of operations, improving service quality and reducing overall costs will be my central priorities.

Over the past few years, the Village has made significant strides in reducing expenses through implementation of new procedures and technology. The Board and staff have adjusted staffing and identified areas where expenses could be reduced without impacting service levels. I support these efforts.

The Village makes extensive use of outsourcing, and it regularly reviews its operations for additional opportunities.  With the exception of police and fire protection, I support outsourcing almost any Village function if more cost effective than delivering with internal resources. 

I also support other methods used by the Village to save money including jointly bidding with other municipalities for goods and services (for example, tree trimming with Glenview), providing services to other municipalities (food inspections to Northbrook), and contracting for services from other municipalities (dead animal pickup by Evanston).

After the economy recovers and tax revenues increase, I will continue to push initiatives that increase efficiency or improve service quality.

If more revenue needs to be raised, exactly what would you propose? Be specific.

Bielinski: The Village Board should strive to keep taxes as low as possible. Local governments in Illinois do not have complete control over their finances because of the state's regulatory environment and unfunded mandates imposed by Springfield and Washington. During the economic downturn, the Village successfully reduced expenses, thereby limiting the need for tax increases.

The Village’s primary revenue sources are the property tax and water/sewer charges imposed upon its residents and businesses. Sales tax is a smaller portion of revenue, and I would not support an increase in the local sales tax that would make Wilmette’s retailers less competitive with retailers in neighboring communities. 

The Village should also seek out additional revenue which is not generated by taxes, including finding additional customers for its water plant. Selling water to additional communities would increase the efficiency of the water plant’s operations and reduce pressure on water bills for residents and businesses. 

What, if anything, does the village need to do to adequately fund police and fire pensions?

Bielinski: While the Village and its residents are responsible for funding pensions for its employees, the actual level of benefits is set by politicians in Springfield who may not fully appreciate the impact of their actions on the communities of Illinois.  The Village, in conjunction with groups like the Northwest Municipal Conference, should continue to work for meaningful pension reform which reflects shifting employee demographics and changes in the economic and investment environments.

That said, the Village should continue to responsibly fund its obligations while realizing that governing is about setting priorities and evaluating tradeoffs.  I do not support taking actions which will unnecessarily increase or shift risk to Wilmette residents. I also do not support abandoning sound financial management and debt management policies to attempt to quickly make up for past investment shortfalls.

What ideas do you have to make the Master Plan a reality? How will you push forward economic development of the village center?

Bielinski: I fully support the Village’s efforts to encourage development in the downtown Village Center, and I agree with residents who would like to see more dining, retail and entertainment options in Wilmette.

The Master Plan presents a collective vision of what our community would like to see downtown. By communicating this vision, the Village hopes to remove some uncertainty from the development process and encourage proposals. However, because the current economic climate is not conducive to real estate development, the Board will need to be patient. 

Downtown development will not be implemented directly by the Village, but rather the aspirations of real estate developers and private property owners will determine its direction.  As a result, if the Village truly wants to encourage development, it will be flexible and open to a variety of different approaches.

This is a critical moment in time for the Village. With the publication of the Master Plan, there is an opportunity to reset Wilmette’s relationship with the real estate development community. Currently, Wilmette has a reputation of being a very difficult place to build, and as a result, developers are reluctant to invest time and money to propose projects in Wilmette. If the Village Board takes this opportunity to engage the real estate development community and be flexible in its approach, we may experience a shift in how the Village is viewed. If we squander this opportunity, by continuing to put significant obstacles in the way of real estate developers and small business owners, the opportunity could be lost for decades.

The Village should engage in an active dialogue with the business and real estate development communities to determine what steps it can take to make Wilmette more attractive to retail customers and businesses.  Simply put, it should be easy to operate a business in Wilmette, and I will support efforts to streamline and simplify the Village’s demands on small business owners. My experience as an executive in the restaurant and retail industries should be helpful in this area.

If the state of Illinois succeeds in re-establishing the capital bill, would you support video gaming in this village?

Bielinski: Absolutely not.

Briefly tell us what, in your background or education, has prepared you to make a contribution on this board. Can you offer an expertise that would be a resource to other board members?

Bielinski: Most of my career has been spent in the financial services industry where I previously managed bond financings for state and local governments. My experience also includes serving as a financial executive for restaurant and retail companies. I currently lead the restaurant industry practice for a financial firm that focuses on small and middle market businesses. My business and financial background is the most diverse of any of the candidates.

In addition to tangible business knowledge, I have experience leading teams of people with competing interests. I know how to listen to concerns, identify issues, resolve differences and reach consensus.

My goal is simply to keep Wilmette a great place to live, work and raise a family. As the father of the youngest children of any of the candidates, I have a personal interest and strong commitment to that goal.

I hold undergraduate engineering and management degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. While not a career focus for me, my engineering background is unique among the candidates and an additional body of expertise from which I can draw during service on the Village Board.

How would you assess the public services the village offers residents, including police, fire, trash pickup, snow removal, responsiveness of village hall, etc.? What needs to be improved? Are residents getting adequate value for their tax dollar?

Bielinski: The Village should continue to provide the level of service which its residents currently enjoy, and I am not proposing any additional services.  In general, I believe the Village delivers high quality municipal services in a cost effective and efficient manner.  Police and fire protection, maintenance of roads and sewers and trees, delivery of clean water, and refuse and recycling collection are essential services provided by the Village.

The Village should constantly be evaluating the services provided to the community to look for ways to increase efficiency of operations and improve service quality to ensure that residents are receiving adequate value for their tax dollar.  During this campaign, I have listened to many suggestions from residents with regards to the quality of specific services provided by the Village. I will raise these ideas with the Board and staff to determine how the Village could improve its execution in these areas.

I will ensure that the Village's limited resources concentrate on these core responsibilities. Increasing efficiency of operations, improving service quality and reducing overall costs will be my central priorities.

Learn more at www.BobForWilmette.com.


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