Many residents of the village of Fredonia will head to the polls on March 11 to cast ballots, and the four candidates for trustee shared their thoughts Wednesday night on the future of the village.
The Fredonia Opera House was the location for the Meet the Candidates forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County.
Susan Forrester-MacKay is a returning Democratic candidate who served two terms as village trustee from 2003 to 2011. Phyllis Jones is a Democrat and serves on the Zoning Board of Ap-peals. Mary Jane Starks, a Republican, heads Festivals Fredonia. Republican Michael Vinceguerra was absent from the meeting due to prior travel engagements, but a statement from him was read by Starks.
OBSERVER Photo by Shirley Pulawski
Mary Jane Starks was among the candidates for trustee of the village of Fredonia Wednesday night. She read from a statement submitted by candidate Michael Vinceguerra, who was absent due to travel.
In the statement, Vinceguerra said the village needed to be more proactive in developing and repairing its infrastructure instead of "responding after the fact to problems, which leaves us few options." He also called for greater transparency in the operation of its government and more public input. "It does not seem to me that (the village is) big enough to need committees. We should not need to meet privately as a committee to get answers," the statement said.
Starks said she agreed the board must be more transparent.
"I'm very much in favor of an open government. I think if we're going to make positive changes ... we need to do it with community involvement," she said.
The group was asked about the SAFER grant brought to the attention of the village board by the fire department, which would provide salaries for nine additional firefighters for two years. The village would be required to pay for equipment and training, and may not be able to obtain new funds to keep the hires after two years, subjecting the village to unemployment and other costs.
Forrester-MacKay said she had spoken with village officials and firefighters and said she was concerned about the costs of the program and impact of laying off up to nine workers after two years and didn't support accepting the grant. Jones and Starks said they needed more information before taking a position.
Underutilized assets were among topics discussed. Starks said an example is the Department of Public Works having separate trucks with plows and sand. She believed the village could save money by having each sanding or salting vehicle fitted with plows attached to save costs in fuel and labor.
When asked about moving village elections to November, each was in favor. Jones and Forrester-MacKay cited greater voter turnout and cost savings. Starks concurred, adding trustees would have more time to become part of the budget decision-making process. "They'll have the opportunity to be more informed," she said.
Candidates were asked about incentives to keep children in the area and how to grow the economy. Jones said she was encouraged by a recent study which showed some people aged 25-45 were returning. "They're seeing it is a wonderful place to raise children," she said.
Forrester-MacKay said the village needs to look for ways to provide entertainment "beyond Water Street" which would appeal to the age group, and said prospective college professors are concerned about "unintentional contact with students on a Saturday night" while attempting to manage personal lives outside of the classroom.
Starks said as someone who has returned to the area after leaving briefly, she believes the area has such assets, such as the opera house, plays and lectures on campus, "but maybe they could be promoted a lot more."
When asked about considering a ban on horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the village and town, only Forrester-MacKay said she felt informed enough to take a position and would support a ban. "I have heard nothing that would convince me otherwise," she said.
A question was asked about how to involve SUNY Fredonia in the community and local government in more ways.
Forrester-MacKay said she believed "walls are coming down" between the college and village government and foresees partnerships with faculty and students in finding ways to create more appeal for businesses and residents to move into the area. "We want (students and faculty) to take ownership of the village," she said. Starks said students are already utilized for Festivals Fredonia and plans are in place to get students involved in the farmers' market.
Tourism was also discussed. Jones said she would like to see more "upstart businesses" along Main Street. "So much goes to Route 60," she said.
Forrester-MacKay said she favors tourism as a way to improve the economy as well. She cited Paducah, Ky. as a place which has brought in artistic vendors with success. "You bring in the arts and other businesses follow," she said.
The candidates had similar positions on many of the questions asked of them, which prompted an audience member to ask how or on what issues they differ.
Starks said she has worked with Forrester-MacKay through Festivals Fredonia. "Do we agree on everything? No. Sometimes we butted heads, but we always found some way to work around that," Starks said.
Jones said each is interested in what to do to improve the village and contain costs but will approach tasks in different ways.
"I think we all know that people dislike a lot of yelling and getting nothing done," Forrester-MacKay replied.
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