Six Candidates Seek At-Large Seats On Council
Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a six-part series featuring the candidates running for Jamestown City Council.
Six candidates are vying for three At-Large positions on the Jamestown City Council.
The two incumbents include Kimberly Ecklund, who has served on the council since first being elected in 2003, and Jeffery Russell, who is going for his first re-election bid following his 2019 election. The challengers include Christina Cardinale, Randall Daversa, Ellen Ditonto and Alyssa Porter.
Ecklund, Russell and Daversa are all endorsed by the Republican and Conservative parties. Cardinale, Ditonto and Porter are all endorsed by the Democratic and Working Families parties.
Each candidate was asked the same four questions. Below are their responses to the first two questions.
Question 1: Do you think the city’s proposed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Recovery Funds Master Plan is the best way to spend the $28 million Jamestown will receive in federal stimulus funding? If you do, why is this the best way to spend the funding? If you don’t, what would you change or add to the plan?
Ecklund: The mayor’s proposal of the ARPA funding was just presented and we, as a complete council, have yet to have a discussion as it was proposed. At this stage of a review, without a complete budget, I feel the main purpose of the funding is not being represented in its objective. While I appreciate the proposal, I have deep concerns with taking care of our needs first as well as long-term sustainability. The loss of revenue funding is clearly addressed and needed, but we also truly need to address the city’s infrastructure as well as the ability to handle another covid like pandemic situation (including public safety). We, as a city, have been very limited in trying to address all our capital needs with a limited budget and high taxes. This funding should provide the necessary monies to address all of these items, our own capital needs to address our community needs, all while addressing covid related issues and providing some relief and opportunity for our taxpayers.
Russell: The mayor’s proposal of the American Rescue Plan Act Recovery Funds Master Plan is not without flaws. The mayor’s plan fails to break out in detail specific projects on how the money will be spent. It also grows government by adding seven new positions and nearly $500,000 in new salaries. One of several items I would like to see is more money injected into our neighborhoods giving relief to homeowners and addressing the crumbling housing stock.
Cardinale: I believe the tentative plans for assisting our fire station have been incorporated into the city budget. That’s fantastic. I’m also in favor of concentrating on broadband development, the master plan does that. Overall, I’d like to see more funding dedicated to housing and mental health. I’d also like to concentrate a bit more on neighborhood development, including public transportation infrastructure. We should be revitalizing without gentrifying and building a city that inspires civic pride.
Daversa: I do agree with some of the mayor’s proposed spending plan. I would like to see city resident’s biggest concerns met first. For example, public safety. I would like to see the city’s ISO rating be better for the fire department by increasing personnel. Also, an evening tactical patrol for the police department. The condemned houses also need to be addressed.
Ditonto: I believe that economic development and housing initiatives are the two most important areas that are targeted in Mayor (Eddie) Sundquist’s proposed allocations of American Rescue Plan funds. A good portion of the $28 million in one-time funding must be able to show a long-term return on investment as we look ahead to 2024 and beyond. We must think strategically about using more than half of that funding to develop new business opportunities and to find ways to expand and improve our tax base through development of new businesses and neighborhood improvements. If we don’t, the city will be in worse shape after the funding is gone. The federal rescue funds give us the ability to be both creative and strategic, to find ways to lessen our fiscal distress and to make Jamestown an attractive small city in which to do business, live, work and recreate. I believe that investments in infrastructure, particularly water, sewer and broadband are critical to the long-term viability of our city. The recent grant award of $3 million from the state for water line infrastructure may allow more of the federal funds to be used for sewer and broadband improvements. We must find the right mix of public and private partnerships to build affordable broadband capability in all of our neighborhoods and for small businesses.
Porter: The funding from the American Rescue Plan has given Jamestown an opportunity to consider projects and investments that have continuously been deferred or would have never been possible. Overall, I believe the city has appropriately planned for the influx of this funding. However, I would like to see more of the $28 million invested into proactive strategies to support our community members who are impacted by mental illness. As proposed, it is critically important that we allocate funds for social workers to respond to emergency calls but a multi-layer approach that includes investment in prevention strategies would likely see more long-term success.
Question 2: Should the city of Jamestown opt in or out of allowing cannabis dispensaries and consumption sites?
Ecklund: At this point in time, I feel that there is not enough information and guidelines for the city to make the decision to opt-in to the cannabis dispensaries and consumption sites. The 5-person panel just met for the first time less than a few weeks ago as well. The state government is behind in providing local towns, villages and municipalities the details needed to make the well-informed decisions as well as tools to test drivers, etc. that could possibly have adverse effects. This type of decision should not be entered into lightly and without the ability to understand the impact on our local ordinances and variance laws as well as our community. There has been little to no information communicated to the city and at this time it is in our best interest to “opt-out” to protect our future with the ability to opt-in for the future. I strongly feel that without any guidelines and details we would be making a very uninformed decision and with the date of December 2021 looming it is our best interest to opt-out for now.
Russell: The city of Jamestown should “opt out” of allowing cannabis dispensaries and consumption sights. The necessary regulation has yet to be put in place by the state. The state’s Cannabis Control Board, which is tasked with implementing the state marijuana laws, was just seated and had its first meeting on Oct. 5. It would be premature and reckless to opt in.
Cardinale: Regarding cannabis, all municipalities are automatically “opted-in” unless they vote in favor of opting out. Jamestown is in. City government is a business. Refusing the opportunity to bring in additional, multifaceted revenue would be a terrible business decision. The world of cannabis is as limited or limitless as we make it. We’ve been given the gift of new agriculture. Use it.
Daversa: I would need to see the outline of the states committee guidelines so I can be more informed. Probably the best the city should do is opt out for now. Possibly opt in at a better time.
Ditonto: I think it would be premature to vote to opt out of this potential business opportunity at this time. There is not enough guidance or directives provided by New York state yet, and the potential for tax revenue is something that city leaders must consider. It would be wise to wait until there is more information available from the state so that an informed decision can be made by the council. The bigger opportunity for Jamestown is to work with developers who are looking at cannabis growing operations that service the medical marijuana industry. Similar to the recent news of a $200 million development in south Buffalo for a cannabis production facility, Jamestown needs to aggressively market to developers who would be interested in the re-use of one of our vacant former manufacturing buildings or help them find available land for a new build for this fast-growing industry.
Porter: The city of Jamestown should opt in to allowing cannabis dispensaries and consumption sites. Our city needs economic growth to be able to reinvest in programs and amenities that will serve our current citizens as well as attract and retain new community members. In order to do that, we cannot limit our opportunity for new business growth.