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Candidates weigh in at forum

DIXON – Mayoral and City Council candidates had similar views Tuesday on the issues facing the city and goals of growth going forward.

Dozens attended a candidate forum Tuesday hosted by the Dixon Chamber of Commerce and Main Street in the nearly full Dixon High School cafeteria where those running in the April 2 consolidated election each answered a handful of questions from community members and local media.

Incumbent Mayor Li Arellano Jr. is being challenged by Councilman Ryan Marshall.

Arellano, 37, owns Jimmy John’s in Dixon and Rock Falls and co-owns the Frosted Spoon in Rock Falls. He’s also a sergeant in the Army Reserves and served two combat tours in Iraq. Arellano, elected in 2015, is the city’s first Latino mayor and its first in the city manager form of government.

Marshall, 34, owns The Stables bar downtown, served on the Lee County Board for a year and a half and also was involved with Dixon Main Street and the Dixon Area Chamber of Commerce. He was elected in 2017.

Both spoke of strides with building the city's leadership team during the last few years and working toward stronger revenue and development growth with the downtown, riverfront and Interstate 88 corridor as well as continuing to pursue partnerships with other governing bodies like the Park District.

The same was said for focusing more on infrastructure improvements and streamlining operations.

Marshall emphasized the importance of building up the riverfront and pursuing a hotel as well as strengthening business relationships, and Arellano said in addition to continuing economic development growth, they need to address financial struggles to be able to move toward bigger community partnership projects such as a recreation center or aquatic complex.

Recent debate on working toward solutions to growing pension obligations in a property tax-capped city made their way into the forum, with the biggest option being injecting $3 million into the fire pension system.

Marshall said he was in favor of the move, but Arellano argued that he had been consistently pushing for pension action, either big or small, but was overruled by the council, including Marshall, to remain status quo for the upcoming fiscal year.

On the council, incumbents Mike Venier and Kevin Marx will be looking to retain their seats against challenger Mary Oros.

Venier owns Venier Jewelers downtown, Marx is the chief practice officer at KSB Hospital as well as executive director for the Lee County Industrial Development Association, and Oros is an agent at Harrison Insurance Agency and motivational speaker for the United Way of Lee County.

Venier was elected in 2015, while Marx was appointed in 2015 to fill the Jesse Arjes’ seat.

All three candidates agreed that the biggest issue facing the city is its finances and the main goal should be to generate more revenue streams, and all were in favor of putting $3 million toward fire pensions.

Marx added that though he supports the solution, they shouldn't take the money carte blanche from the Rita Crundwell recovery fund, but instead reverse a $3 million loan the city loaned its water department for new water meters.

Oros said they need to look progressively at issues, and especially in light of the May 16 student shooting at Dixon High School, they cannot afford to diminish public safety resources.

She said Dixon is a community of resilient people with generous hearts, and she wants to bring another perspective to the council and increase communication.

Venier said the council has taken a "yes we can" attitude in the last few years working toward positive change in the community, and they need to continue enhancing cultural aspects for visitors and residents such as with the Historic Dixon Theatre.

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