Town Residents Will Find Themselves In Good Hands Either Way
One cannot find two more diametrically opposed candidates for office this year than in the race for Busti town supervisor.
Incumbent Republican Jesse Robbins is seeking a third term in office and faces a stiff challenge from Dr. Rudy Mueller, the endorsed Democrat. The differences between the two go far beyond simply their political party endorsement. Robbins and Mueller are as far apart in their vision of how to administer a town’s finances as two candidates could be.
Robbins is quite open about trying to piece together a town budget each year that is conservative in its estimate of outside revenues and pessimistic in its estimate of town spending. That has led to surpluses in the town’s budgets, which Robbins says allows the town to be in the position of being able to be more responsive to the needs and desires of town residents. An example is Busti being one of the few towns around Chautauqua Lake that didn’t have to go begging for money for herbicide applications the past two years while neighbors had to either forego treatment or apply for funding from foundations because they didn’t have the money in their budgets or fund balances.
Mueller, on the other hand, feels the town underestimates revenues like the sales tax the town receives from the county while overestimating expenses. Mueller has advocated vociferously in his time on the Busti Town Board to increase revenue estimates and use some of the town’s surpluses to reduce the town’s tax levy. Mueller is a vocal advocate as well for doing more to bring the town and the village of Lakewood closer together, particularly when it comes to the municipalities having different headquarters.
We agree with Mueller’s point about the town and village buildings. It makes little sense for the two governments to be located a stone’s throw away, and we agree with Mueller that not having discussions about possibly sharing a clerk is a missed opportunity. Yet, we note that it is usually village officials who drag their feet on sharing buildings, not the town. And, under Robbins’ leadership, the town and village have come together to share several positions.
An endorsement in this race comes down to one question — do you care more about the tax levy or the tax rate. The first budget Robbins developed as supervisor would have been for the 2013 year. He was elected in November 2011, by which time the 2012 budget had already been developed by former supervisor Kathy Sullivan and unanimously approved by the board, of which Robbins was a member. Since 2013, the town’s tax levy has increased has seen the tax levy increase by about 6.54% a year during his time as supervisor from 2012 through 2019, but his tax rate increase comes out to about 1.74% over the same period because Busti has seen its taxable assessment increase during that time. Town taxpayers pay roughly 33 cents more a year in town taxes per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The levy is important as a measure to track how much money the government needs to run, but most homeowners care more about the tax rate because that is the number that controls how much they will pay in town taxes each year.
Mueller has a lengthy history a dedicated community servant from his time on the Chautauqua County Legislature, as a physician — including his time now helping veterans with their medical needs at the Veterans Administration clinic on Third Street, Jamestown. Even when he wasn’t in elected office, Mueller was a constant presence in Lakewood and Busti affairs.
Robbins, too, has been heavily involved in town politics for years before becoming supervisor, most notably his work revitalizing the Busti Hamlet Development Group.
Town residents are in good hands whoever wins this race on Nov. 5. In our view, however, Robbins has earned another four years as Busti town supervisor. He was an early proponent of the town’s involvement in herbicide applications on the lake, a decision that resonated with town residents because, at the same time Robbins and the rest of the Busti Town Board acted decisively, Lakewood officials hesitated and bickered. The town’s finances are strong, and residents who have spoken at budget public hearings the last two years seem to back Robbins’ budget choices.