Council Candidates Discuss Spending, Collaboration
A Republican Ward 2 primary will be held in the city of Jamestown Tuesday, June 25, between Anthony Dolce, incumbent Ward 2 councilman, and Raven Mason Thompson, city resident. The Post-Journal asked both candidates the same three questions. Below are their responses.
Question 1: Hundreds of thousands of dollars has been spent by city officials on lawsuits dealing with an arbitration and annexation in an effort to try to save money if both cases go in favor of the city. For a municipality that has reached its Constitutional tax limit and has little growth in assessed property value, is this the best way for a cash-strapped city to spend funds in the hope that the courts will side with the city?
Dolce: While both of these difficult cases were hard decisions for us to make as elected officials, they have some similarities on how they would affect the city long-term had they not been pursued. All expenditures pertaining to the annexation were approved in a bipartisan fashion, having been approved by the Board of Public Utilities and City Council unanimously and were strongly recommended by BPU staff and city legal counsel. Additionally, the funds were approved and paid for by the BPU and have not come out of the city’s general budget. The BPU has paid the village of Falconer, its school district and the town of Ellicott hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in taxes and the decision to move forward with the annexation is an attempt to provide long-term rate and tax relief for the taxpayers of the city of Jamestown. If the BPU and city are successful in this case it would benefit the Jamestown Public Schools and the city taxpayers, of which we are elected to represent. As for the police arbitration appeal, should we lose in litigation, the city will be obligated to pay $857,000 dollars, which does not include any increases for 2018 or 2019 because the ruling is retroactive. In both cases, the city is looking at the long-term financial stability of its taxpayers and the city’s ability to pay as we move forward.
Thompson: A cash-strapped city should be looking for ways to cut spending not incur unknown costs through unknown court rulings. This is a huge gamble that could lead into a spiral of further burdened debt for the city. Both the arbitration and annexation litigations have imposed more costs than initially expected, which is often the risk involved in legal matters. We are presently at approximately $500,000 in known legal fees, which is far from the original projection cost. A city as ours, already under heavy financial burdens, needs to more readily look for negotiation strategies/practices as well as pursue effectively known cost-cutting measures. Litigation is not designed for saving taxpayers money. Litigation is for ending disputes already ensued where mitigation of grievances could not be met any other way. I believe the City Council is called to address conflicting matters in such a way that legal dealings are the very last resort. As we pursue ways to save the city money, I feel, for the benefit of all, we need to improve upon cost-cutting initiatives, such as shared services, that could reduce property taxes, help us to get our tax max under control and cause us to work in concert with other departments and municipalities instead of disputing with them.
Question 2: The Gateway Lofts project has been hailed as a way to help people in the community meet their medical needs for overcoming addiction and improving their lives while others have stated that Jamestown already has too many housing developments like the proposed project. Do you think there is a need for The Gateway Lofts in Jamestown or does the city already have too many facilities like the one being proposed and wouldn’t be addressing a need in the city?
Dolce: The Gateway Lofts are unique in that they are aiming to assist individuals who struggle with these various issues and are therefore different than any other housing project that has been pursued in the past. While there is a definite need in the city for attempts at outreach toward those who struggle with issues of domestic violence, mental health, addiction and transition, I would request The Southern Tier Environment for Living (STEL), the agency that is seeking funds for this project, to account for how members of these communities will be able to co-exist together and it’s potential impact on the surrounding community. Is the project the best way to help serve all these needs and have they looked at viable alternatives? Currently, STEL has withdrawn their original proposal and has been working with city officials and the planning commission and has agreed to address many of these questions and issues before resubmitting their application for funding in the future.
Thompson: Presently, the Gateway serves family/children and provides friendly-oriented services. What would become of such services and the continuation of services in the venue if it were decided to house community members overcoming addictions? I do believe we have enough unoccupied facilities to better serve our recovering community members. Perhaps working more closely with UCAN, and/or other transitional type organizations, could be a viable solution. I think the role of the City Council in this case needs to determine how best to support our community members who are in what can be the most powerful yet fragile stages in their overcoming lives. For that reason alone, the kind of living environment that really provides all the specific supportive resources these community members need should be the focus when it comes to a location. I think resources like Rick Huber, who directed Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County, and has a wealth of knowledge and experience in housing recovering community members, would be a vital contact to reach out to before approving such decisions.
Question 3: Should city officials work with neighboring municipalities to curtail the deer population in the greater Jamestown area?
Dolce: The city of Jamestown should and does work with outlying areas as well as the Department of Environmental Conversation to deal with the ever-growing issue of overpopulation of deer in our area. This past year, the state issued extra doe tags to increase the amount of deer harvested in the area, but the problem of deer infiltrating the city of Jamestown is a complex one caused by many factors namely the encroachment of the deer natural habitat, the significant decrease in the number of hunters and the favorable environment the deer have found within the city. While the deer can definitely be a nuisance, state and city laws and ordinances restrict hunting within the city limits for safety reasons and bait and shoot exercises have proven to historically be expensive and require repetition in order to be effective. The city and outlying areas need to work with the DEC to come up with strategies that will be cost effective and successful in controlling the deer population. The city also needs to continually educate the public on strategies that will help control the deer population to minimize the effects of the deer population and ensure the safety of our residents.
Thompson: I believe working with neighboring municipalities goes without say. Doing for each other is partly what defines “neighboring,” that is not only about location, but about active, positive, engagement. I believe it would only be to our advantage to have conversations with our municipal neighbors on how we can work together and jointly cut costs to curtail the deer population.