On Feb. 19, Erick Nickerson appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for Cook County commissioner in the 3rd District in the March 2018 primary. Check out his response in the video below.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for the Cook County Board of Commissioners a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the county. Nickerson submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: The County Board enacted and then repealed a tax on sweetened beverages, then made further cuts to the budget. Can county government now claim an appropriate balance of revenue and services, or will more revenue or more cost-cutting be necessary? Please be specific as to where new revenue might come from, or where further cuts could be made.
ANSWER: County government is deeply in debt from unfunded pension benefits and the current budget relies on supposition rather than valid revenue streams to forecast balance. At the same time, property taxes in Cook County are too high and must come down. Cost cutting is essential.
Today, Americans can purchase just about anything they want over the Internet and never have need of direct interaction with a human. In Cook County, you can only get a vehicle sticker if you mail in your check and completed paperwork or appear in person. This simple example of inefficiency is repeated throughout county government, highlighting a system built upon patronage and waste. As Commissioner, I intend to work towards modernizing the delivery of services to citizens so that government runs smoother at less cost to taxpayers. I also believe that additional revenue should be sought by expanding the tax base rather than expanding tax rates. Low taxes encourage private investment, create jobs and boost personal spending. By expanding our tax base we increase revenue from a variety of streams. Increasing taxes discourages investment and contributes to increasing decay in our neighborhoods.
Political/civic background: Former Mayor, Dixmoor, IL, 24 yrs. Illinois State Treasurers Office
Education: Attended U of Arkansas
Campaign website: www.ErickNickerson.com
QUESTION: If the Affordable Care Act is eliminated or curtailed, what would you propose doing to keep the county’s Health and Hospitals System on sound financial footing?
ANSWER: I firmly believe that healthcare is a human right and every American should be entitled to the medical care they need. I believe that a single payer system is essential in arriving at such a goal and will work towards achieving such a goal at the state and/or federal level. In the interim, the onus of responsibility for ensuring healthcare is provided to the poor resides with the federal government and I will encourage that our hospital and health care systems improve upon billing procedures and promote efficiency in order to maintain solvency.
QUESTION: What county functions or services would you support privatizing, if any, to reduce costs?
ANSWER: When it comes to privatization, I believe every service the county offers should be put on the table for examination. Any service that through privatization can be rendered at a lower cost without impacting security or service to citizens should be privatized. That being said, the decision to privatize should not be made unilaterally but in consultation with workers and their representatives.
QUESTION: The state of Illinois is behind on paying money it owes to Cook County. What’s to be done about that?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, very little can be done legally. Our state is in fiscal shambles and lacks any sense of direction from current leadership in Springfield. What is needed is change at both the county and state level. In the interim, it is essential that the county works to modernize its service delivery to maintain service at reduced cost.
QUESTION: What is your position on tax-increment financing districts? Are they a valuable development tool? Are they underutilized? Is the process sufficiently transparent? Should there be more community input? Should the definition of a “blighted” area be revised?
ANSWER: I strongly favor TIF districting as a way to secure investment in our neighborhoods and end blight. I do believe the use of TIF districting is underutilized and plan to work with municipalities throughout Cook County to encourage its use. I also believe the system is sufficiently transparent to any citizen or civic watch organization that cares to examine the processes. Having been involved with TIF districting in the past, I would say that, from a public administration viewpoint, too much involvement by the community can be a hinderance. The courts have already visited the question of what is a blighted area and I think it is not in need of revision.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been calls to freeze local property taxes. What’s your view on the matter?
ANSWER: I am in favor of an immediate freeze until we have resolved the discrepancies apparent in the manner that property is assessed in Illinois. After that, I am in favor of rolling back property taxes.
QUESTION: Do you support or oppose efforts to merge unincorporated pockets of the county into adjoining municipalities? If so, how would you make that happen?
ANSWER: This is not as easy a question to answer as current elected officials might want us to think. Ordinances in municipalities may prohibit operating a business from ones residence. Many unincorporated areas have businesses operating from residential property. The cost of extending sewer and water lines to unincorporated areas and to hooking up at residences and commercial property should not be forced upon home owners or business owners. So who is going to pay for that and how are they going to pay for that?
I am willing to look at the financials of such a proposal but only if we look at both sides of the financials. The county has done enough to financially overburden its citizens already. Let’s see what the ramifications to impacted citizens will be before we make more unwise decisions simply to increase revenue to a broken system.
QUESTION: What is your plan to encourage economic development in the county?
ANSWER: My plan is to increase the tax base by spurring investment and growth of commercial enterprise and to lower taxes through downsizing government and modernizing the delivery of government services.
QUESTION: An additional $40 million per year is needed to fund the Forest Preserve District’s Next Century Conservation Plan. Where can the county find the money?
ANSWER: There are thousands of Cook County residents, businesses and other organizations that would be eager to take part in a conservation plan. Let’s look at methods to encourage investment in our forest preserves as a form of public service. Lets also look at financial incentives for private entities to invest in this plan. I also would encourage the development of an endowment fund to be used for future land acquisition and improvements of our forest preserves.
QUESTION: Traditionally, the Forest Preserve District has not charged for parking in the preserves, but it is considering doing so at Swallow Cliff Woods. Do you support that?
ANSWER: No I do not.
QUESTION: Should the Forest Preserve District have its own board, independent of the County Board? Please explain.
ANSWER: I don’t think we need yet another layer of government put upon the citizens of Cook County. I believe we have to stop treating our forest preserves as dumping grounds for patronage workers and employ quality administrators to oversee the maintenance and preservation of or forest preserves.
QUESTION: Is Cook County treated fairly by the state? If not, how so?
ANSWER: If you were to ask, you would probably not find any county in Illinois that believes it is being treated fairly by the state. You would also be hard pressed to find any of the 135 municipalities in Cook County willing to say they are being treated fairly by the county. The state is such a shamble financially and politically that nothing is going to “fair” for anyone or any government in Illinois for the foreseeable future.
QUESTION: Do you support another effort in the Legislature to reform the county’s pension system?
ANSWER: Of course. The choice for labor and government is either they come to terms now or the system implodes, and decisions are made by outsiders without the amount of input parties might have today. The current system is unsustainable.
QUESTION: Please name any relatives who hold a county job. What’s your general view on elected officials hiring relatives?
ANSWER: I currently have no relatives employed in government.