Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce's first year in office.
By GIB SNYDER
OBSERVER City Editor
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce is pictured in his City Hall office.
Time flies when you're having fun.
It's been just over one year since Anthony J. Dolce was sworn in as the city of Dunkirk's mayor after serving nearly five terms as a councilman, including the last term as councilman-at-large. Dolce, a Democrat, was elected to the four-year term over 10-year incumbent Republican Richard Frey, ending the longest run Republicans have had in the mayor's office.
Dolce was asked about his first year as mayor.
"It's been an honor but it's definitely been a challenge. We've been facing a lot of obstacles," he replied. "They keep coming so we're dealing with them and getting on the right track. I expected this job to be a challenge. My time on council, you get some idea of the issues facing the city, but it was real early on in the year when the NRG situation hit and it kind of just went from there on issues. A lot of issues came to the forefront as the year went on."
Negotiations on three union contracts and a cable TV contract were waiting for Dolce when he took over. Those four contracts, along with a Dunkirk Housing Authority union contract that needs council approval, still await completion. In addition, the contract with city's firemen's union is up at the end of 2013.
"I knew there was going to be a lot we needed to handle. I guess the amount we've been hit with in such a short period of time has made it even more of a wild year, if you will," Dolce stated. "Not only the things we knew walking in, but if you look at the three industry situations between NRG, Cott, Carriage House; the audit, you name it, environmental issues that have picked up toward the end of the year, developers looking to pull out of projects, it's been a quick year."
Of the three city union contracts (police, non-uniform city workers and management workers), Dolce said progress is being made on two of them.
"It's a slow process but that's OK. I think as long as we're working toward an end goal that's best for the citizens and the union then we got somewhere," he explained. "It's not my style to be antagonistic."
Dolce said the cable contract with Time Warner got moved to the back of the list but the process is being put in place to proceed.
"It's one of those things when we were prioritizing we knew that the current contract would continue on. Once we had that clarified I kind of made the decision, well, let's handle some of these other many problems first," he explained.
Common Council failed to approve the DHA contract with its workers who were represented by a union for the first time. Dolce voted for the contract when it failed on a 2-2 vote and says it's something that should be approved.
"I know a couple council members are still on the fence as to which way they would go with it but to me it's let's get this passed and move on," he stated. "I don't think it's something that we should be heavily involved in. I look at our role as more of a formality."
What happens with NRG and its proposed $700 million investment depends on New York state but with Carriage House curtailing its Dunkirk operations, Dolce knows the city needs to hang on to its other manufacturers. A water rate hike doesn't make things easier.
"I did go to our two industries that would be most affected by this, Cott and Fieldbrook, went there in person, hat in hand and gave the bad news and said we're not here to be anti industry by any means but this is where we're at," he explained. "We need your help with this and what other avenues can we help you with to make this easier for your industry to endure?"
Dolce was asked what the city can do to become more attractive to manufacturers and developers.
"I think it's how you present yourself, the level of professionalism and facilitating," he replied. "There's not a lot out there that we have in terms of dollars available. Dollars are limited, grants are extremely limited. We're thrilled to be a recipient of the Main Street grant. ... That was a great way to end the year with some good news for a change. We'll be out there looking to get that money into the community. Our Dunkirk IDA starts up again this month so we're excited to get that going again. We have some money for low interest bonds to encourage development. We're out there doing it, we're just hoping for some pieces of the puzzle to fit."
Dolce said the city has at least two and likely a third cleanup coming, not counting the AlTech Lucas Avenue cleanup the state Department of Environmental Conservation has begun.
"We have a lot of these. I think that may hinder some of the development or it may delay it, if you will," Dolce stated. "Because these issues need to be addressed and until they're addressed, if I'm a developer maybe I'm more willing to develop when the site has been remediated."
Dolce said meetings with the DEC are upcoming and the city should find out in the near future if its successful with SUNY Fredonia and the state's Fish and Wildlife Service on the proposed waterfront project.
"We're out there and doing things. (Development Director Steve Neratko) and I had a meeting last week with a company that we're working with that we're hoping to make an impact here," he added. "We're out there, and I'll be the first to admit, there's not a lot outside this building we can hang our hat on but we're solid in the direction that we're going."
Dolce said sharing service are a necessity and the city is continuing to explore the options.
"To me, that is something I not only campaigned on, but I firmly think that's the future. We in Chautauqua County continue to get smaller. We just simply don't have the bodies to provide the level of service," he explained. "Us patrolling the town of Dunkirk the last four months has been an extremely positive thing. We talk about shared services all the time. How can we do it? I'm not saying us doing this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but to me it's a great first step in getting something off the ground.
"When larger pieces of equipment break down, need to be purchased, why not look to other municipalities in that piece of equipment and share that equipment. I know it sounds kind of sophomoric if you will, we don't have the dollars, our surrounding cities, towns, villages don't have the dollars, these are the types of things we continue to need to look at."
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