Knapp assesses state of the city
Dave Knapp joined Highland Park as city manager earlier lthis year. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 16, 2012 6:13AM
HIGHLAND PARK — The Highland Park News spoke with new city manager David Knapp about a range of issues, including how the city has weathered the economic downturn.
Q. Can you briefly describe the top three issues the City of Highland Park faces?
A. I would say the top three issues are the economy, the cost of services — particularly pensions and healthcare — and the aging infrastructure. Together, those create the overall issue, which is finding efficiencies to keep municipal services. People are not interested in paying more taxes, understandably, because taxes are high here. The council wants to see a zero increase in the property tax levy. We have been through a recession and during recessionary times, you tend to cut back on maintenance, so we have some catch-up to do.
Q. Given the economy, how would you describe Highland Park’s fiscal situation?
A. Overall, Highland Park is in great shape. We have a triple AAA bond rating. The council has been very conservative in its spending. We are still recovering from the decline in sales tax and property values, and it may be five years before we are back to where we were five years ago. Don’t forget, in 2005 we had 281 employees. That’s down to 244, a 13 percent decrease.
Q. How is the state’s pension crisis affecting Highland Park?
A. I was in California for 22 years, and what happens when a state runs out of money is they find ways to pass on some of the costs. I see that accelerating over time. For instance, they are talking about transferring the cost of teacher pensions to the school districts. The state probably is not politically willing to raise taxes. They are politically not willing to reduce services. So what are they going to do?
Q. What is Highland Park doing to promote economic development?
A. We have sales tax sharing agreements with car dealers, specifically. We contribute to the Downtown Alliance. We are also developing special service areas in the Briergate and Ravinia districts. We are developing an economic development strategic plan. In November we will follow up with a marketing plan and branding to create an image, both on paper and in reality.
The main thing a city can do to promote economic development is to provide outstanding services. People want to be places where you have a good fire department, a good police department and a high level of street maintenance.
Q. Do you think Highland Park is doing a good job conducting its business transparently?
A. This is a high priority for the council. Of course, the public’s business needs to be conducted in public and they are in compliance, but I think they go above and beyond that. There is a monthly newsletter to every address in town. If there is something you can’t find on the website, I would be interested in hearing about it because I would put it on the website. Individual council members have a personal commitment to transparency. They are using ‘friends’ and blasts and blogs, all of the stuff that people do these days. We just had 10 or 11 neighborhood meetings to talk about the budget.