For the first time since Mayor Richard Kopczick challenged the incumbent mayor of Morris, he has an opponent running against him.
Third Ward Morris Alderman Drew Muffler, a Republican, will be running against Kopczick, a Democrat, in the April 9, 2013, election. Kopczick is coming to the end of his third term.
Muffler, who has been an alderman since 2009, made his official announcement in a press release Thursday. He pulled his petition to run as a Republican candidate for the city's top position Tuesday, said City Clerk John Enger.
Muffler and Kopczick are the only candidates to have pulled for the office so far. Petitions are available now to run in the Feb. 26, 2013, primary election. Petitions are to be turned in Nov. 19 through Nov. 26.
"I think it's healthy. Competition is good. It doesn't matter if it's in an election or retail," said Kopczick. "That's his right he was guaranteed by the constitution of the United States and I respect that."
Muffler said the city is in need of a new mayor to stop the spending of "wasted" tax dollars.
“The current mayor is a good person who, unfortunately, over the last several years, has lost focus on the core needs of our city, such as police, streets and long-term job growth and creation," Muffler said in his release.
"Of a greater concern to the taxpayers of the city, the mayor has wasted tax dollars with many millions of dollars of spending that simply was not necessary," he continued.
By wasted tax dollars, Muffler said he means the use of Tax Increment Financing District dollars on such things as the new city hall, which he calls the "Taj Mahal," rather than on attracting new uses for the former papermill property on the east side.
"It shouldn't be spent on city hall, band shells or the pool," he said. "There are so many things that qualify for TIF that we should spend it on, but we've used it on government-type buildings."
Kopczick said a new city hall and police department, along with a new pool, have been on the city's TIF lists since before he was mayor.
"This was constructed with the hopeful life of 50 years at a minimum," said Kopczick. "As far as the pool, it was constructed in 1922. Any other option we would have had was to bulldoze and close it and have no pool for the residents of the city of Morris. However, it has been on the TIF list of projects since 1986."
The former paperboard property is a priority for the mayor and the city, and has been, he said. In April 2009 it acquired five acres of the property from the county once it was freed up from bankruptcy issues. It is now being turned into a subdivision with Grundy-Three Rivers Habitat for Humanity.
"The city gets some money back and does not have any cost for developing (the subdivision) and Alderman Muffler voted no on those occasions," said Kopczick.
The city is also looking into purchasing three more acres of the old papermill property at Benton and East streets.
Muffler also said the city's streets need more attention. Kopczick said Muffler has been chairman of the Street and Alley Committee for two years and has had control to bring concerns and ideas to the committee.
Muffler also states the city has inefficiently utilized and even "ignored" opportunities. He gave the police force as an example.
"We're down four to five police officers than we used to be. They had to pull our traffic officer off traffic because there is not enough officers," said Muffler.
He added that since he has joined the counci,l the city has lost two officers to the Grundy County Sheriff's Department. He said Morris is not offering its police officers a place to be proud of and that he has been told by current officers that they are unhappy.
"The police department is in the process of checking the top five candidates on the (police commission's) list and are doing background investigations to hire two more officers that have been budgeted for in this year's budget — the budget Alderman Muffler voted against," said Kopczick.
The police department had to wait for the police commission to find a certified testing agency to test candidates and then wait for the list of potential hires, all of which is required by state statute, he added.
The candidates do agree that the city is currently in good financial shape. The city's recent audit showed its combined fund balances have gone up by almost $1.8 million.
But Muffler said he worries about its future. With the state's current struggles, state officials are giving warning that municipalities may be forced to pick up the slack such as funding for public pensions.
"Under my administration, we will efficiently use the resources that are available to promote a climate of creating jobs and a long-term tax base, eliminate unnecessary spending, balance the budget and bring a fresh and positive approach to Morris city government that is focused on being more open and honest," said Muffler.
Kopczick pointed out that Morris' budget is already balanced, despite going through the worst economic times since the 1920s and 1930s. Before the economy took a turn for the worse, the city had Lowes and Kohls stores coming to the north side of town and the only reason the projects halted was because of the economy, not because of Morris, he said.
Currently, the city is working with Pilot to construct a travel center in Morris and plans are back in the works to construct a marina along Cemetery Road and the Illinois River. And with the completion of the Brisbin Road interchange, he said, Morris is prepared to service the area with sewer and water when businesses arrive.
"Kraft Foods also moved into Prologis from Romeoville, bringing in a number of jobs, as well as the expansion of Costco," said Kopczick.
Both candidates were born and raised in Morris. Muffler is married with one young child and Kopczick is married with three adult children. Muffler is a full-time firefighter with Plainfield Fire Protection District and is a part-time firefighter and paramedic with the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District. Kopczick has been mayor of Morris since 2001.