The seven candidates for four Upper Arlington City Council seats described their positions on issues at a pair of candidate forums last week.

The seven candidates for four Upper Arlington City Council seats described their positions on issues at a pair of candidate forums last week.

Incumbents Frank Ciotola and Wade Steen and newcomers David DeCapua, Debbie Johnson, Frank Milillo, Vern Morrison and Mike Schadek fielded questions at a luncheon sponsored by the Upper Arlington Area Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 21 at the University Plaza Hotel. The candidates also participated in an Oct. 22 forum presented by Leadership UA at the Upper Arlington Municipal Services Center.

(DeCapua did not attend the Leadership UA forum because of an out-of-town business commitment. His wife, Jenny, read an opening statement.)

Many of the questions at both forums centered on economic development. The candidates described what they would do to expand the city's commercial tax base.

Ciotola said he believes the city's master plan contains many obstacles to economic development, but he thinks it's helpful that the plan encourages multi-level office buildings.

"One of the things I do like about the master plan is it does allow density in certain areas," Ciotola said. "I think we need to work with our local talent and see what we need to drive free-market development in those areas and go up instead of sideways."

DeCapua said city council members should meet with business owners and explain the community's benefits.

"We're all ambassadors and passionate for our city," DeCapua said. "I want to meet that business owner, have a cup of coffee and tell them why they ought to be here."

Johnson cited the need for more Class A office space.

"We only have 5 percent of our land that's zoned commercial," Johnson said. "Many of those buildings that we have now are one floor. We need to have them built up so we can expand our tax base economically."

Milillo said the city should focus on incubating new businesses.

"Bringing in new businesses, brand new companies and giving them a place to start, helping them out with taxes and with education and mentoring" will expand the city's tax base, Milillo said. "Companies that graduate from business incubation stay in the municipalities that they graduate in.

Morrison said the city should revamp the master plan.

"It calls for Upper Arlington to have more office, and yet if we are 95 percent built out, what we need is service" businesses, Morrison said. "We need to develop a working plan that is market-driven and not what we want it to be."

Schadek said city officials should work closely with residents with professional expertise in economic development.

"Go back to the people who do this for a living -- our builders, our architects, our OSU professors," Schadek said. "We have a wealth of experience in Upper Arlington and we need to tap into that."

Steen said the city should develop facilities on Arlington Centre Boulevard, Lane Avenue and the U.S. Route 33 corridor.

"We're going to have focus on where it's easy access in, easy access out," he said. "Provide income tax abatements, real estate abatements."

All the candidates said they are not in favor of raising taxes, but if forced to do so by budget concerns, they would favor an income tax over a property tax. The candidates also weighed in on what city services they would cut, if necessary.

Ciotola said cuts would have to come from areas other than basic services such as fire, police and infrastructure.

"I would extend to what I would consider to be amenities, and anywhere where we have extra staff that is addressing amenities provided by the city, I think that's where I would start," Ciotola said.

DeCapua said the city should look at outsourcing, privatizing and regionalizing certain services to cut expenses.

"We've been so fortunate to live in this community with a robust economy, but we're going to have to really address those issues," DeCapua said.

Johnson said one way the city could cut costs is by revisiting its replacement schedule of equipment and vehicles.

"Can we get another year or two out of those vehicles?" Johnson said. "Maybe put a new set of tires on a truck instead of buying a new one."

Milillo said the city should consider consolidating staff, as many small business owners have had to do in the current economic climate.

"That's what everybody has to do," Milillo said. "That's what government has to do."

Morrison said the city should also reexamine staffing needs.

"Personnel, we have to address it," Morrison said. "Real estate development's down, so maybe the real estate (development) department needs to be cut."

Schadek said the city should take an across-the-board look at expenses.

"We would have to look at each department individually and see if we can squeeze out more efficiency," Schadek said. "If we need staff cuts, we need staff cuts, but that should be a last resort."

Steen also said staffing cuts would save the most money.

"To make meaningful cuts in the budget, the only way you can do it is personnel because that's 85 percent of your budget," Steen said.

One the most interesting moments of the Leadership UA forum came toward the end, when the candidates were asked what they would have done differently if they had been on council in the past four years.

Morrison said he would have voted against council's decision last year to uphold the Board of Zoning and Planning's approval of a rezoning from residential to commercial of plot of land at 3371 and 3381 Tremont Road for a proposed medical building. Morrison said the city didn't give enough consideration to the concerns of Westwood Acres residents who said their property values would be diminished by the rezoning.

Every other candidate addressed the city's 2006 decision to disband its solid waste division and outsource trash collection to private contractor Inland Service.

Johnson said the city should have given clearer direction to the committee it assembled to explore how to save money on trash collection.

"When we charge the staff, when we charge commissions to look at things, we have to give them parameters and work within our budgets," Johnson said.

Steen said he would not change his vote to privatize trash collection, but was not pleased with the initial implementation.

"But as I walk around the community now, what I see is we're saving about $700,000 that we can use for curbs, gutters, waters and sewer lines, fire and safety forces," Steen said.

Milillo said city officials could have done a better job of communicating with residents about how they reached the decision to privatize.

"Communication could have been more effective, and the implementation," Milillo said.

Schadek, who led an unsuccessful initiative petition to overturn the city's decision to privatize, said city officials ignored residents' concerns.

"With all due respect, you didn't listen," Schadek said. "That is my biggest complaint and that's why I'm running for city council."

Ciotola said city officials did listen to residents, but ultimately had to make a tough decision.

"We were inside executive sessions, things that we couldn't talk about. We're going to save $400,000 on our worker's compensation starting very soon," Ciotola said. "But to say that we didn't listen, I've prided myself on listening. We spent over a year talking to residents and talking one on one."