Rolling Meadows council candidates talk fire stations

Though two new Rolling Meadows fire stations have been approved and are being constructed, candidates in the upcoming city council elections still have a lot of opinions on the issue that's dominated local politics for more than a decade.

Last month, the council approved a $5.3 million construction contract to build a new Station 16 on Hicks Road, which followed approval of a new Station 15 on Algonquin Road for $5.8 million last September. Aldermen have also approved $18 million in bonds to pay for the stations and citywide underground utility work.

While construction of the Algonquin station has been delayed, it is now scheduled for completion by the end of 2019, and the Hicks station a few months later.

Here is where council candidates in contested races stand on what's transpired and what they say they'd do going forward:

Ward 3

Alderman Laura Majikes was the key swing vote in the 4-3 tally last September to approve the construction of Station 15. After joining the council six years ago, Majikes favored only the rebuilding of one station - to replace the aging Station 15 downtown - not two. But after she was on the losing end of votes to buy land for two new stations in the fall of 2017, she said she realized "the train has left the station."

"Every time there was a vote I constantly voted against it," Majikes said. "(Then) they bought the land and I was like, 'OK, it's time to give in because I can't fight this fight anymore. There's no way to turn it around anymore.' It's either work with the council, (contractor R.C.) Wegman and staff, and get this done for the residents, or continue to beat a dead horse."

She originally suggested the issue go to referendum, but the council shot that down.

Kevin O'Brien, the park board president and a member of the city's planning and zoning commission, said while the incoming council "can't change the past," he would push for oversight of the project moving forward. He also said future contracts should include penalties and incentives if a contractor doesn't stick to the construction schedule.

Deborah Banach, who retired from the police department last year after 18 years in various roles, said the fire station decision was mishandled, saying only one new station should have been built.

"I'd like to know how they came up with this," she said.

Ward 5

With Alderman Rob Banger Jr. stepping down, three candidates are seeking his seat.

Glenn Adams, who was alderman from 1997 to 2011, said he supports the fire department's two-station relocation plan to improve response times citywide. When he was last on the council, he originally supported the concept of a smaller third station on Algonquin, but ended up voting against it after polling residents in the ward.

Jon Bisesi, chairman of the planning and zoning commission, said he originally preferred a third station because of increased commercial development on the south side of town. Short of that, he said he also supports the relocation of the two existing stations, though is concerned with costs and suggested a project manager be hired so the fire chief could solely focus on running department operations.

He also would've preferred one station would be built at a time - not concurrently.

Joe Szafran, who works in building maintenance for the park district, said the second fire station was being rushed, and suggested it be delayed.

"Let's pull back and get one done first and see what changes need to be made. Maybe table it for a year before proceeding on the second one," Szafran said.

Ward 7

Alderman Rob Williams, appointed in July when Tim Veenbaas moved out of state, said he would have preferred rebuilding only one station. Shortly after joining the council, Williams voted against the contract for Station 15, but then later supported Station 16, citing concerns that the city already committed financing to the project.

"You can't back out or change that much at this point from a financial standpoint without doing material damage to your ability to borrow in the future," said Williams, adding that the city's annual bond payments will be less going forward after old debt was recently retired.

"It's over. It's done. Let's get on with doing it and doing it right," he said.

Lara Sanoica, a member of the city's environmental committee, agreed with Williams' assessment on the bond payments, but said the money spent to relocate and rebuild the fire stations could've been spent in other ways. Going forward, she said she wants to see greater accountability for Wegman by having aldermen involved in oversight of the contract.

Ward 1 Alderman Mike Cannon and Ward 2 Alderman Nick Budmats are running unopposed.

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