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Mayoral candidates debate city water system

October 28, 2011

Editor's note: This is the third and final part of the mayoral debate held by the Chautauqua County League of Women Voters.

The war of words over the city of Dunkirk's water system needs and the consent order the city is under for repair and updating of that system continued at Tuesday's League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates event in City Hall. There was a little garbage pickup thrown in as well.

Candidates for mayor were asked for their views on privatization of garbage collection and the water system.

"As far as the water supply goes, I feel we would be best suited to work with our neighboring communities," A.J. Dolce replied while noting Brocton needs to update its facility. "With all of us small communities around Northern Chautauqua County there's no reason why we shouldn't be working toward a North County Water District. Just alone here in Dunkirk we have approximately $10 million left in our necessary consent order repairs to the water treatment system. That's what we need to be doing, that's where we can save money, that's where all of us could save money."

Dolce is councilman-at-large and said council studied privatization of trash collection.

"The only benefit would be if we could find a way as your administration to withdraw the tipping fee," he said. "We can't charge a tipping fee and then charge you to put bags out and what not. We have to do one or the other."

Candidate David Barnes said he has already researched the issue and said privatization is the way to go.

"In privatizing the city I can point to a lot of other cities in America that have done wonders by privatizing the city services," Barnes stated. "There's a lot of money to be saved, and yes, it can be done."

Richard Frey is seeking re-election as mayor.

"I have to agree on some points, but you have to understand we have a work force yet out there and what do you do with them?" he asked. "Are we going to get rid of your work force? Is this the idea of what you're going ? Is that the direction you're going? As far as the water operations, you know I've heard A.J. say several times about consolidating and regionalizing and that, but the Chadwick Bay leaders club has been working out consolidating and doing a North County Water District for nine and 10 years."

Dolce countered by claiming the administration hasn't followed the terms of the consent order and is about a year behind schedule.

Barnes added to his earlier statement by saying Dunkirk residents would have first shot at working for private rubbish pickup companies. He said he agreed with Frey on the water issue.

A question about bonding concerned the public knowing about repayment plans.

Frey replied that the information has been made available but some on council may not understand.

"Our engineers have told you, our finance people have told you, our treasurer has told you and I have told you, ... we're going to do a water rate increase over three years. Nothing in 2012, '13, '14, '15, ... $28 a year increase a year in your water rates over that period of time to pay for the First Ward water looping link down there," Frey said. "It's on the consent order. ... At the time we were talking about financing the seawall out of our water fund and also out of our sewer fund because our major sewer line runs down the middle of Lake Front Boulevard, therefore we felt that it was necessary to protect that line and use funding from there."

Frey added that the sewer fund would be repaying the general fund $342,000 in 2012.

"This has not been something that happened this year or last year, this has been planned for four to five years, back when we were working with our state auditors. ... We've turned our general fund around by a million dollars last year. We turned our water fund around by three-quarters of a million dollars. Our wastewater fund was a deficit, but yet this year it's going to show a net."

Dolce said the repayment was confusing.

"Each fund should be self-sufficient. So when you generate the money from the wastewater fund it needs to be paid back through that fund, it cannot be doing interfund transfers," he said. " ... We were hit by that from the state just a few short years ago so we cleaned it up, we moved things around, so now each fund should be self-sufficient. ... There is no extra money to pay back for this sort of this stuff."

Dolce then talked bonding. Complimenting his council colleagues, "who finally who came through and came to the agreement and saw that we do need to pay back this $1.8 million. I was stonewalled time and time again from the administration when I simply asked for a plan to pay it back. ... It took the two bonding attorneys from Buffalo to say that yes, you can have a payback plan. All they said was they didn't want it in the same resolution.

"Why it took three months for me to get that answer is beyond me, but I'm satisfied council will be working on it and we will have some money set aside for 2012 if it comes due."

Frey said Dolce was the one having problems understanding bonding resolutions.

"You always have to have a budget line. If you're going to pay it out you better have a way to pay it back," he said. "What did we do on the water meter installation? We were going to fund it through the increased water revenue, the same as we're going to be doing the water fund down in the First Ward is going to be done through water increases in '13, '14 and '15. I don't think it was three months it took you to get it, it was three months to understand it."

Dolce thought Frey's budget was political.

"It was released during the budget and it was released so you could say we're not going to increase your fees in 2012, which was after council had already said we're going to put aside a reserve fund in 2012 so we could pay it back," he replied.

Mergers, consolidations and shared services were part of a question.

Frey replied that he would act immediately, saying the city's recent efforts at police and fire consolidations were not thwarted by the city.

"You ought to expand it beyond that and go to Sheridan and Dunkirk, the city and the town and the village of Fredonia and Pomfret, make the whole darn area one area," he said. "Don't just stop here, just go. But if you want to try, yes, I think it's an ideal situation."

Barnes said he already published his thoughts on consolidation and everything should be consolidated.

"Everything should be consolidated. Yes, there might be a problem with Fredonia, or Sheridan or the towns, but it's about negotiations," he stated. "You can negotiate with them and you can consolidate. You make it worth their while and it happens.

Dolce had a different take.

"I believe you get the most immediate benefit from the town in paying for use of our police services. I know they're having issues with the sheriff's department. Why not look into the possibility of them paying the city of Dunkirk for the use of our police forces?" he asked. "It would not put much of an extra burden on our police forces but it would generate much-needed revenue to us, the city."

Dolce added that shared services agreements are difficult to get done, but worth the effort.

Closing statements went as expected. Barnes said if voters are dissatisfied and want a change, they should vote accordingly.

Dolce touted his past efforts on council and his approach to keeping an eye on Dunkirk's bottom line and future, along with working with surrounding communities.

"We need to take an active approach to working with them to share in the mandated costs and lessen the burden on all taxpayers," he stated. "I will look to restore honesty and integrity to the office of mayor, and most importantly, I will remain committed to serving all of Dunkirk's taxpayers and residents."

Frey asked voters to notice the difference between himself and his opponents, particularly Dolce. Frey said a mayor must provide leadership.

"I have taken notice how he has failed to offer an opinion on departmental consolidation, eliminate the assessors' positions and several other items, even when asked directly about these issues," he said of Dolce. " ... I pride myself on proven leadership and favor departmental consolidation, eliminating the assessors positions, and I hope the city residents will follow my lead to more efficient city operation.

"I'm proud of the results of my administration. I say again results, not proposals, not theories, but actual results."

Voters have until Nov. 8 to finalize their decision.

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