JAMESTOWN – The Republican Primary for Jamestown mayor will take place next Tuesday, June 25 and is open to all registered Republican voters living in the city.
Both Jamestown City councilman Andrew Liuzzo and County Legislator David Wilfong are seeking the party’s endorsement and have spent the past couple months sharing their views with residents and explaining why they should be the next mayor of Jamestown. Last week both candidates were on WRFA’s Community Matters program and we asked them how they would address the city’s financial challenges if elected.
For the past three years city government has had to rely on supplemental funding from Albany to help close its budget gap. Most agree this funding won’t continue over an extended period of time, meaning the next leader of Jamestown will have to find other ways to balance the city’s books. That’s especially true if a state appellate court upholds an arbitration ruling with the police union that will retroactively increase their salaries by 2 percent, going back to the start of 2016.
Wilfong said that no matter who’s elected or what the next mayor plans to do, it’s unlikely much can be done to get the city out of a financial hole without the state will having to step in to help fix things.
“If the arbitration for the police department does come true, it’s going to put us in a huge financial burden and I believe you’ll probably see some type of control board come to the city of Jamestown. Whether that’s good or bad – I’m sure there’s both sides to that argument – but I embrace that. I think that sooner or later we are going to have to step up and take a look at what we’ve been spending our money on and how we’ve been spending our money. So as the mayor, I’m going to do the best I possibly can to work us through the situation. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better and I bet you I’m the only candidate who says that,” Wilfong said.
It is worth noting that the state has already done an investigation of the city’s finances via an audit from the State Comptrollers office, released in September 2016. The audit didn’t find any glaring discrepancies or impropriety when it comes to spending, but did indicate city officials adopted budgets that were not structurally balanced, nor did the city have a multiyear financial plan in place. It also said the city did not properly budget for health care expenditures. However, the audit did not see the need for state intervention at the time of its release.
Meanwhile, Liuzzo agrees that the city is in serious financial jeopardy. But he adds that if he’s elected to be the next mayor, he will work to grow the tax base to help bring in additional revenue for city government. He said that would include developing programs that encourage local entrepreneurship and business development from those who are already living within the city.
“We have good carpenters, good plumbers, good electricians. We have tradesman. And we still have the natural resources that helped to put Jamestown on the map to begin with,” Liuzzo said. “These are where we should be looking, from within, to expand our tax base, bring new jobs, and make our manufacturing home grown manufacturing.”
Liuzzo also noted that because the city is on such unsteady financial ground, he wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a tax cut to offer relief to homeowners and business.
“I want you to have skin in the game in what we’re doing. I think we need to be better neighbors. We need better neighborhoods, better gateway entries, and lowering the taxes for people that want to come hear. No tax break, just lowering the taxes. We can’t pay our bills anyways. What’s so difficult about giving the citizens of Jamestown a 2 percent tax cut? We can’t pay our bills anyway the way we are going, what difference does it make. Take the 2 percent,” Liuzzo said, later adding, “If I can [cut taxes] I will. If we’re so out of sync with paying our bills with the taxes that we can’t collect anymore anyways, you know what Jamestown? Let’s just save a couple dollars before the inevitable happens.”
This year’s mayoral election is an important one for the city, not only because of the financial challenges that have been gripping the city and will continue to likely do so for the next several years, but also because the current mayor – Sam Teresi (D)- has opted not to seek a fifth consecutive term in office. That means the city will have new leadership in January 2020 for the first time in 20 years.
The winner of the Republican primary will move on to face Democratic candidate Eddie Sundquist in November.