Worth Trustee Mary Rhein didn’t hesitate Thursday night when asked about the village’s most significant priority.
“Besides economic development, what issue do we have? We need tax revenue,” Rhein said during a candidate forum hosted by the Chicago Ridge Worth Chamber of Commerce.
The other candidates at the forum, which was held at Worth Village Hall, did not disagree.
In fact, economic development and improving the business climate were the issues most frequently brought up at the 90-minute forum, which attracted about 40 people.
Six candidates are running for three seats on the village board.
Incumbents Rhein, Pete Kats and Warren Soldan are joined on the April 7 ballot by challengers Kevin Ryan, Bruce LeBeau and Forrest Tucker. Tucker did not attend Thursday’s forum.
The incumbents pointed to their experience as the primary reason to return them to the board.
“The key is to listen, learn and lead,” said Rhein, a trustee since 2001.
She recalled the financial crisis the village faced in 2009. The board was forced to make significant, unpopular cuts to restore the village’s cash reserve to 90 days, Rhein said.
“Just because it’s in the budget doesn’t mean you have to spend it,” she said.
Soldan, a lifelong resident of the village, was appointed to the board two years ago to fill Mayor Mary Warner’s trustee seat. He has served as the liaison to the police department during a time of transition in the department.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve done is the new police chief we have,” Soldan said.
Kats, also a Worth native, has served two terms on the board and stressed the amount of work that accompanies the job.
“It’s just a huge responsibility,” Kats said. “It’s an honor.”
He added that voters should assess village progress over the past few years. If they’re not satisfied, they should not return him to office
The two challengers who attended the forum both have records of community involvement.
Ryan has lived in Worth for about a decade and first got involved during the financial crisis. He is a member of the library board as well as the village’s economic development commission.
“We need to work together for what is in the best interests of the village,” Ryan said.
LeBeau has lived in Worth for 25 years and also served a stint on the library board, which he described as a “hands on” job.
“They were days of blood sweat and tears,” LeBeau said.
LeBeau said the village must work harder to invigorate the business community by involving more residents.
“To me, it’s getting the word out. Let’s get everyone involved. You’ve got to go out and grab people. We have to get 111th Street going with the businesses we have,” LeBeau said. “You’ve got to get creative. We have to bring this town into the next 100 years. It’s a sleepy town. We need to wake it up a little bit.”
Rhein said such initiatives are not always successful. She said hundreds of emails were sent out to encourage people to attend the candidate forum and only a small number attended.
“It’s not easy. It ‘s hard to rally people,” Rhein said. “We try our hardest.”
LeBeau also disagreed with the other candidates on the presence of a medical marijuana dispensary on Harlem Avenue.
“I think we can find better ways to bring business to the village,” he said.
Other candidates said the clinic would benefit both patients and the community.
“It definitely will benefit the people who need it the most,” Rhein said. “It will be beneficial to our town.”
Ryan also supported the decision.
“It will bring in some revenue to town,” he said.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Katz, who initially had concerns about the proposal.
The future of Water’s Edge Golf Club was briefly discussed, and Rhein and Katz agreed that the village is doing all it can to make the course more profitable.
“We are working diligently to make it work,” Katz said.
“Unfortunately, the golf industry has gone down,” said Rhein, who added that the course faces significant competition from other municipal golf courses in the area.
She added that the new company the village hired to manage the course has improved the situation, but nothing can change the fact that the village owes $6.1 in bond payments for the development of Water’s Edge.
“It’s here to stay,” she said.