It is clear Fredonia Mayor Michael Sullivan (R) and candidate Stephen Keefe (D) share a mutual respect for one another, and even agree on a fair amount of issues, however, voters will make the final decision on March 14.
The League of Women Voters held a debate on Wednesday between the two candidates in the only contested race in the village of Fredonia this year. Typically, the League begins the debate with the standard question what is the most urgent problem facing the village?
"The answer is an easy answer ... the biggest problems is taxes, not just in this village, it's in this county, it's in this state," Mayor Sullivan said.
Fredonia Mayoral Debate
"But, I don't believe just the easy answer is the answer you need to hear going into this election. I think we need to address the cause of the high taxes, and I feel the cause and the problem that has created the high taxes, is a problem of complacency. The voters and the people have reached a point where they've expected that taxes are going to keep going up ... they feel there's not an opportunity to stop the tax increase," he added.
Sullivan stated he has presented three budgets with reductions in taxes, but has been unable to have any adopted by the board of trustees. However, he stated that reductions in other areas he proposed have come to fruition.
"While I haven't been successful in getting the tax rates, I will say that we have been successful in making some reductions in the size of our village government," he said. "We have fewer employees today than we had when I took office, and if we didn't, those tax increases we did suffer through with the trustees by not adopting my budget would have been much worse. We really have worked to streamline the number of employees. For every dollar you spend for an employee you have to anticipate two thirds of that salary for the fringe benefits between health insurance and benefits."
OBSERVER?Photos by Michael Rukavina
Fredonia mayoral candidate Stephen Keefe
According to candidate Stephen Keefe, he feels the major concern at this time is progress, or the lack thereof.
"Right now I don't see Fredonia making any progress, and if you're not making progress your not just standing still, you're falling behind," he said. "The tax burden is huge, and it hits us from every level of government. Some of the things that happen sometimes is you take your tax and you shift the tax maybe you can lower the taxes by spending your fund balance that's not always a good idea. I know in the past fund balance has been used to reduce the taxes ... it could hurt our bond rating."
Keefe continued by stating he was concerned with the shifting of the tax burden to the water and sewage bills. When it comes down to really cutting taxes, Keefe said, personnel would have to be at the forefront.
"Unfortunately, the only way to make a sizable cut in a budget is personnel. Mayor Sullivan said it a while ago, we're a bare-bones streets departments, a bare-bones police department there have been a number of cuts already. I think when I was a trustee there were probably 20 street department workers and I think your down to 11 right now," Keefe said. "I don't see how you can touch the streets department; you've streamlined the reservoir system by reducing one person and automating so that's another one that's hard to touch; wastewater treatment is down to a low level of employees ... where do you cut?
"Good question, what services do you want to lose? I think that's one of the things that needs to be a community question. If you want your streets and sidewalks plowed, you want your street workers; if you want your water mains fixed, you want your street workers; if you want someone to walk up to a car if it's driving erratically at night, tap on the glass and say what are you up to, you need your police department; if you want someone willing to go into a burning house and save someone's life, you want your fire department; if you want clean water to drink, you want your water treatment plant ..."
Mayor Sullivan highlighted the reductions in personnel that have already been made over the last four years, and added that eventually major decisions on regionalizing will have to be made if any continued reduction in taxes are going to be able to take place.
"We're one less employee in village hall, from when I took office I proposed five employees down in the department of public works, before I took office we were down one in the water, we'll be down one in the wastewater treatment plant," Sullivan said. "We have sizable cuts in our employment in this village and even with those cuts the cost keeps going up. It goes back to the two thirds for fringe benefits. Those are the thing we have to work with when we go into negotiations. Unfortunately, I think the day is coming quick when we can not sustain a village, we can not sustain a small town or city, the only way we're going to be able to do it is by a regional approach. It's going to happen."
Sullivan added, that albeit a small amount, in the last round of negotiations with employees the village board was able to negotiate that union workers pay a small portion of their health insurance.
Questions continued in from the audience and from the viewers at home, one dealt with how either candidate would deal with the higher cost of gasoline and limiting vehicle use by village employees.
Sullivan said plans have been put in place over the past year to keep track of who is filling up their gas tanks, how much they're using and when they're filling up. The new data, Sullivan said, will help the village examine usage and ways to possibly save in next years budget. Keefe commented on how the college campus uses electronic cars and he sees how the village might be able to utilize a vehicle like that for purposes of water meter readings, or parking meter collections. He also said as a county legislator they pushed for hybrid vehicles.
To view each candidates answers to the question asking where each candidate stands on dissolution, please visit the OBSERVER website at www.observertoday.com and click on the video posted with this story.
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