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Economy, fire departments on peoples' minds

Rock Falls mayoral candidates speak up at forum

STERLING – Larry Woolsey may not be voting in the April 9 municipal election, but he has a lot at stake.

"Being a landlord in this area, with no jobs, it's hard to find tenants that can pay the rent," said Woolsey, 75, who lives south of Rock Falls.

He and his wife, Kathy, were among about 30 people who attended the candidate forum organized by the Sauk Valley Landlord Association Thursday night at Coventry Village in Sterling.

In attendance were incumbent Mayor David Blanton and his opponent, City Clerk Bill Wescott, and Rock Falls city clerk candidates Eric Arduini, Pam Martinez and Ed Mulvaney. Sterling alderman-at-large candidate Javier Padilla also attended. His opponents, John Stauter and Christopher Schuchard, did not.

Woolsey said getting tenants for his properties in Sterling and Rock Falls isn't as easy as it once was, but he doesn't think the mayor alone can change this.

"That's what we'd like to see, is the economy the way it was 10 years ago when National and Lawrence Brothers and these factories were here and people had money and could rent houses and buy houses," he said. "Now, people are hurting; people are having trouble making ends meet."

Candidates were asked questions submitted in advance by association members, and Rod Kleckler, its president, read the questions.

"If the majority of the people of Rock Falls tell you as mayor that they are not interested in having the city develop the canal property, would you drop that idea or pass it off to the park district?" Kleckler asked.

Blanton said people have the wrong impression that annexing, then leasing, the 2.2-mile stretch of the Hennepin Feeder Canal would be at a significant cost to the city.

"We appointed a committee to that, and Mr. [Alderman Jim] Schuneman's chairman of that," Blanton said. "We've had some open meetings. There's discussion on what they would like to see. If we do that annexation, it's not going to be any different than annexations we already have."

Wescott was asked his views on combining administrative positions between the Sterling and Rock Falls Fire departments.

"The deputy fire chief now works half time for Sterling and half time for Rock Falls," Kleckler said. "In an effort to reduce the budget, would you support the elimination of this position when the next retirement occurs?"

Wescott said he would not, but added that "the city of Rock Falls has been working with the city of Sterling." The two departments work very well together and already operate under one central dispatch, he noted.

"It's a benefit to both cities to have the auto response," he said. "If we can cut out the top layers of administration, if we could have one chief, one deputy chief and let the captains operate as they do on the department, both cities benefit in a cost-savings measure and we still operate two high-class, high-quality fire departments."

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