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Article updated: 3/17/2013 1:14 AM

Arlington Hts. candidates differ sharply on issues

By Marni Pyke

They disagreed on flood prevention, a new police station, economic development, and slots at Arlington Park.

But Arlington Heights village president candidates Ron Drake, Tom Hayes and Mark Hellner collaborated in providing voters with clear choices in the April 9 election during a feisty exchange Saturday. The winner April 9 will replace outgoing Village President Arlene Mulder.

Longtime trustee Hayes walked the difficult line of defending his record and promising change while attorney Hellner and Drake, former mayor of Avondale, Ariz., vied to prove who was the bona fide reformer.

Hellner promised to "stir the pot. I'm a realist -- I think it's a good village to live in -- it's not a perfect place. One thing I want to do is make sure it becomes a more perfect place," he said.

"I'm proud of the quality of life we've established over the years together," Hayes told the crowd of more than 150 at the League of Women Voters of Arlington Heights-Mount Prospect-Buffalo Grove forum. "My vision is the same as yours -- to keep this a great place to work and live in for years to come."

"We want a thriving, happening community that's growing and poised for the future," Drake said. "Do you want more of the same, or do you think we can do better? I know we can do better."

Hellner and Drake back gambling expansion at Arlington Park, but Hayes differed, although he noted the decision of allowing slot machines is up to the state.

"I've been a strong supporter of the racetrack for the 22 years I've been on the board," Hayes said. But, "I don't think a separate building with 1,200 slots machines open 365 days a year is in the best interests of this community. (It's) essentially a casino in town -- I don't think that fits our image."

Hellner said his background as an Illinois Department of Revenue counsel meant he'd scrutinize expenses such as a possible $40 million for a new police station.

"We need to go back to the drawing board and say, 'Why are we spending $40 million on a project that's only 38 or 37 years old?'" Hellner said. "We've got to think about renovating and preserving what we've got."

That provoked a rebuttal from Hayes, who quickly countered that "we haven't spent dollar one on it -- other than the space-needs study." He added, "Forty million is an upper ceiling."

Drake recommended a "design-build" approach that "puts the liability on the builder and architects so if there's cost overruns it's on them, not on us."

Drake added he'd heard from village staff the police station could be built without raising taxes which drew a counterattack from Hellner. "The building will have to be paid for with debt," he said.

Differing visions for economic development also dominated discussions.

Drake faulted the village for discouraging prospective businesses with a bureaucratic "maze."

"Business is my top priority," he said. "We need to be business-friendly. (We need to) streamline business processes and applications and change the culture at city hall so everyone knows Arlington Heights is open for business."

Hayes disagreed with characterizations that the village wasn't business friendly.

"There's a perception we're doing worse other communities -- that's completely wrong," he said, adding the village filled 113 vacant businesses spots in 2012, creating 465 new jobs.

Hellner suggested the village pay attention to auto dealers on Dundee Avenue. "We've got to leverage that and create a car dealership highway there -- the way they've been successful in Schaumburg," he said.

A debate also raged over infrastructure with Hellner criticizing incumbents for losing time with flooding studies. It's "way too little and way too slow," he said. "We have to identify the most problematic areas and start fixing those immediately."

Hayes shot back that officials needed "to make sure we've correctly identified problem areas. We don't want Band-Aid fixes ... we want to take a measured approach."

Drake offered two solutions: buying and razing flood-prone homes undergoing foreclosure and converting the land to stormwater detention; and building underground vaults in parks to store rainwater. Asked how he would pay for the projects, Drake said he would lobby Congress for federal funding.

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