City Council members up for elections

Cassie Buchman, City Editor

Elections for many positions in the Charleston community will be on Tuesday, and both candidates for City Council member, Jeffrey Lahr and Tim Newell, have been on the council before and are running unopposed for the two open positions.

Newell said he has served on the council for the past six years.

“During this time I have learned much about managing a municipality and the employees who work diligently every day to make this a great community in which to live and work,” he said. “It has been both an honor and a privilege to serve in this capacity and I only grow more confident each year that we are exceptional in many ways.”

During his next term, he said he wants to continue working closely with local businesses, CUSD 1, Eastern, Coles County, the healthcare industry, Mattoon, and Coles Together.

He said he wants to do this to expand Charleston’s services and maximize the city’s opportunities for growth in Coles County and the surrounding area.

Lahr said he wants to continue with some of the physical improvements that have already been started.

“The intersections need to be improved, water system, water infrastructure,” he said. “We are working on moving from the old meters to an electronic, automated system.”

Some of these improvements have already been done, such as on Reynolds Drive.

“The water sewer was replaced, the entire surface of Reynolds Drive redone,” he said.

Resurfacing was also done on Ninth Street.

“It was all done with a city crew,” Lahr said. “We saved money by not hiring a contractor.”

Newell said Charleston never seems to have a dull moment.

“We seem to always have projects underway that require approval and direction by the council,” Newell said. “It is very interesting and rewarding to see and be able to collaborate with the mayor, the city manager and the team of employees working together to make Charleston a better place to call home.”

Newell said helping people resolve their issues and concerns made his job as council member more fun.

“We have continued to maintain a balanced budget, yet provide major improvements to infrastructure including water and sewer, streets, sidewalks and parks,” Newell said. “We have also helped our downtown owners and developers through Tax Increment Financing.”

Both council members are considering how state funding would affect Charleston as a local government.

“As a municipality, we are governed by state law and regulations that can have an immediate and direct impact on our local budget,” Newell said. “We are currently concerned about the possible loss of sales tax revenue and the effects this may have upon our 2015-16 budget due to proposed cuts by the state to reign in debt.”

Lahr said while some money came from local property taxes, it also comes from state funding. He said some state money is in jeopardy.

“What plans we have is depending on what the state and local funds are,” he said.

Newell said the economic conditions of the country can also affect the economy of Charleston.

“The economy took a downturn over the past few years and we have felt the impact of that event just like any other municipality,” Newell said. “Fortunately, we have a great team of leaders who work hard to be good stewards of available resources.”

Newell said people can sometimes be impatient with the vacant storefronts and lack of new business, and while this is a challenge, the city leaders are working to find a solution.

“We are working with a consulting firm and have hopes of a turnaround in this area as the economy recovers,” he said.

A lot of Charleston’s population is temporary because of Eastern’s summer and winter breaks, which Lahr said is a good thing.

“I appreciate this, having new people come in all the time,” Lahr said. “It may be hard to adapt to this community, when they may not be from a community like this.”

Lahr said helping these people feel involved in their community can be challenging, but the benefits of having students outweighed the challenges.

“As a liaison of the city, I try to reach out, help them become a part of the community,” Lahr said. “The transient populations as a very good opportunity as well. I would hate to see what Charleston would look like without Eastern.”

Both council members take their responsibilities on the city council seriously.

“As elected officials, we take an oath of office,” Newell said. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of this community to protect our assets and spend money wisely with a vision for the future needs of the residents.”

Lahr said he views his position on the council as a mutually beneficial relationship.

“JFK said in the ‘60s, ‘Ask not what your county can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,’” Lahr said. “It’s like that in a community, too. You ask not what can the community do for me, you ask what I can help the community with.”

Voting will be from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday in various polling places depending on where voters live, including the Bridge Lounge Martin Luther King Jr. University Union, the Newman Catholic Center and the Masonic Temple.

Polling places can be found at http://www.co.coles.il.us/coclerk/downloads/polling_sites.pdf

Polling Sites

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]