By Anne Eickstadt


“I am very grateful for the time that I have served the City of Belvidere,” said Mayor Mike Chamberlain. “It has been a learning experience for me. It has held some of the highest points in my life and, also, some of the lowest points in terms of the challenges we have faced. I am absolutely thrilled with the partnerships in our community–the business partnerships, the social service partnerships, the service clubs…

“At Christmas, if you are a child in Belvidere, it is really Christmas. You have Shop with a Cop, you have Cosmo doing this thing and that, you have the IOU club doing First Grade Christmas, you have the fire department doing this thing and that thing, and you have Hometown Christmas. You cannot be a child here and not have a wonderful Christmas.

“As I walked out here today, it struck me that all anybody has to do is drive around town and see what has happened in the last eight years. State Street is paved. The streetscape has been completely re-done. Buchanan Street is in full flower. We have General Mills Park and we have the fitness pavilion out there at Prairie Fields Sports Park.

“We have the Advanced Technology Center, which is a generational win, not only for our community but also for the region. We have had several discussions from people from Rock Valley and people from Educational District 100 in the last couple of weeks…

“This community came together in such a powerful way to face COVID. Is there any right way or wrong way to do COVID? I’m not sure there is any 100 percent right way, but we came together to make sure that everyone got fed, everybody had shelter, everybody had access to medical care. We were testing at three or four different sites from mid-summer on. Yes, we had a high-positivity rate, but part of that is due to the stubbornness of folks that live in Boone County/Belvidere, at the same time, our economy did not suffer to the extent it could have.

“Our gaming money was down for a few months. Our motor fuel tax was down for a few months when people were just not driving. I could say that the extra two cents a gallon that the council voted on in 2018 really helped, and it did, but–you know–that’s a tax.

“The reality is that taxes are how we pay the bills. That’s always how we have paid the bills. There is no excess taxation in the City of Belvidere. We have only asked our taxpayers for money when we have anticipated, or actually had, an acknowledged need for something that needed to get done. The curious thing is all tax money is turned around to benefit the taxpayers, so I am not sure I understand some of the arguments.

“The partnerships with the Health Dept., the YMCA, all the manufacturing companies–we still have so many masks in boxes in storage in different places–it is incredible.

“We are living in a different age when people are uncertain and they don’t know who to believe. My suggestion is that it makes more sense to trust, but verify. Things get said that have absolutely no basis in truth and they get pushed out on social media. A lot of people accept that as really happening. Social media right now is, in my opinion, the enemy of truth, particularly when it comes to political discussions.

“When you put out nothing but the truth and people still don’t believe, that’s a signal that something is wrong in the world. It is unfortunate because that means we have a lot of people that are not informed properly making decisions.

“I am disappointed because I will no longer be the mayor and I really loved being the mayor, I enjoyed working shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone in the community, I enjoyed seeing how people trusted me and would come talk with me about things. I’ve enjoyed a wonderful relationship with all of our city employees and our city employees had great relationships with the community. I am very proud of how we have raised the bar in the City of Belvidere.

“When you start looking at the reality, we have added a million and a half dollars in industrial and commercial development and added 5000 jobs. We have refurbished everything we had the money to refurbish in the City of Belvidere. I think a key point at this juncture is that we are ready–right now, today–to start the new fiscal year with the largest General Fund budget in memory in Belvidere–even in a COVID year.

“The team at City Hall is extraordinary. The auditors have told us for years that they don’t know how we get things done the way that we get things done with the number of people we have because a city our size should have at least twice as many people in administration. But we have had exceptional people, who trust each other and work well together, who deliver the goods. I fear for the future if that is not going to be the case because we are losing a lot of really good people and I feel bad about that.

“The last eight years have truly been a ‘Golden Era’ for the City of Belvidere in a lot of ways. I think we should continue to grow. We need to continue to communicate and cooperate with our regional neighbors because that is how things get done. A city of our size, which has become a very diverse city in its population base, either grows or dies.

“We are sitting on 307 beautiful, undeveloped lots in beautiful subdivisions that the builders won’t build on because they don’t want to pay impact fees. Impact fees have a time and place–they are a tool. But let’s be honest, they are a tax. They are a tax on new residents. They are a tax on builders. With impact fees right now, builders are facing a double whammy. The price of building materials is sky-high so the cost of construction is very much elevated. So they are looking for all the help they can get.

“This mayor will admit to hanging my neck out to ask the city council to consider waiving some of the fees so that we could get some stuff done. In no small way, I think that is one of the things that led to my demise, as well as the peace march. Both of those things I am happy to stand up and be proud of, as they were the right things to do and I did them.

“But curiously, look what’s happened. All of the other taxing bodies are now doing a two-year moratorium on impact fees. I spent years trying to convince them to do that. Somebody had to be the goat. I’m the goat.

“But, you know what? If this helps bring in new families, because enrollment is down in our schools, if this brings in new taxpayers to help share the cost of our community … If we shrink in population, like Illinois is doing, and, over time, things continue to escalate in price, there is only one answer to all of that. That is why governments raise taxes–to pay the bills. That’s an ugly day.

“We have held the line here by being extraordinarily responsible with the taxpayers’ money. I have nothing but praise for Becky Tobin, Sue Embry, the Clerk’s office–first Shauna and now Sarah and Abigail. These are people who know what they are doing and love what they do to serve the community. The same thing with the rest of the City Hall. You couldn’t ask for better people. I will miss them all–a lot.

“I will miss the Growth Dimensions crew. Pam has built an incredible organization that has national recognition. We are a city that wants to learn to be better. Entrepreneurs classes. Citizens policing classes that turn around and produce the VIPS (Volunteers in Police Service) that save the city tens of thousands of dollars each year by manning barricades and helping with all the things that we do.

“As I walk away from all this, I am concerned that it might change. I hope it doesn’t. I hope that those that will now be running the city will realize the gravity of their responsibilities and behave appropriately to serve the people of Belvidere to the best of their ability, honestly and in a forthright manner, equally among all of our citizens.

“My biggest disappointment is that approximately 84 percent of our citizens did not think going to the polls to elect the leadership of this community was important. The right to vote is the voice of America. The voices are not there in local elections these days. It is disheartening and I hope that people will start to take responsibility for how their community moves forward by exercising their right to vote.”

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