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County Legislature debate heats up

Monday evening saw Republican candidates debate to represent their party in the general election for two positions; Chautauqua County Legislature Dunkirk District 1 and New York State Senate District 57.

The candidates running for the county legislature position are Ron Hall and incumbent Legislator Kevin Muldowney.

The League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County held a Meet the Candidates debate at Dunkirk City Hall and the first half of the event featured the debate between them, opening with the most pressing issue they believe is facing the county.

“I don’t think that it can be narrowed down to just one main issue,” Hall stated. “I think it falls under the umbrella of economic development. We need to get people working. Running alongside that is the drug and crime problem. It’s all tied together.”

“I think our biggest problem is a two-fold, one,” Muldowney said. “Definitely workforce is one and we need people qualified who show up to work and have the skills to fill those jobs.”

“We need a stronger welfare to work program,” Hall added, when asked about bringing jobs to the area.

“The county does have a welfare to work program, but it’s controlled by New York State Legislature, the rules and regulations are written by New York State,” Muldowney interjected. “I don’t believe we have that control.”

Hall disagreed, claiming that he checked with the state.

“We do have that control within the realm of how we process those,” Hall said. “The regs are written by the state, but how we handle those regs are within the control of the Department of Social Services.”

Other areas of discussion included addiction and crime within the county.

“Everybody knows in this room that addiction is a very tough problem,” Muldowney stated. “And there has to be different exceptions. But it’s a three-pronged problem. It’s not just drugs, it could be mental health, it could be drugs, it could be domestic violence. All of them put together and then you expect someone to try and get to work every day. Programs are in place.”

“It’s an illness,” Hall added. “The drug policy right now needs to be utilized better. Drugs don’t have any boundaries. This is a major problem in this area. We need to get that drug task force out there and get them active. The non-profits are really stepping up to the plate. We just have to keep the resources coming. They’re not alone in this fight.”

As for crime, according to Hall, there needs to be better communication.

“We just had a bad, bad run here in crime. Once people are off the school and street property, it’s not our problem,” Hall said. “We need to get people together. I think we really need to get the school to talk to the city, talk to the sheriff, talk to the police. We need to get a better handle on this. That last incident with this poor girl that got stabbed to death, that started at the school. I knew that. It migrated. We can’t put our heads in the sand on this, we need communication.”

The two did agree on not supporting surcharges for plastic bags in the county and not allowing any further development of turbines, if avoidable. Hall additionally mentioned that he’d like to see auditing done to the bed tax numbers.

An area of disagreement was the reduction of vacant buildings.

“Under the previous administration, they had a whole list of people interested in developing here,” Hall said. “I don’t know if the city still has that type of list. I think we have to get these people together. If there are people that are interested, start filling these buildings.”

“I disagree,” Muldowney stated. “I think there’s an awful lot of development going on. It’s tough though. Small business facing internet sales. People are talking together, we have development, we have industries. Our problem is we need qualified workforce to fill these jobs, then once we do that, I think we’ll see some retail, like the Boardwalk. (There is) no reason we couldn’t do an Elmwood Village kind of deal.”

Local government and town mergers were also brought up. According to Hall, he doesn’t believe the county needs “all these little hamlets. There’s too much government, too much taxes.”

“I would disagree,” Muldowney said. “It has to be made by the communities themselves. We have school districts with small sizes and it would make sense to merge and offer the students more AP classes, but it has to be made by the people in those districts.”

As the debate tapered off, feelings grew hot as Hall called out his opponent for being invisible to issues.

“I’m going to be out for you, the people, I believe my opponent has been invisible,” Hall said. “When the hospital closed, his only comment was ‘I heard there’s problems in Dunkirk.’ The reason, he has too many bosses. The assessor of Pomfret and Fredonia, he’s not going to take a side against Fredonia getting a hospital. I have a problem with all of that. I know this district can get stronger and better.”

“Anybody that really knows me, knows that’s a line of crap,” Muldowney fired back, clearly offended. “Yes, I am the town assessor in Pomfret. It has nothing to do with my district. I own a business, I’m creating economic development on my own. How dare a friend of mine, make that kind of a comment. We go back 30 years. I’ve been in this office four years. I never heard a word from my opponent that I’ve been negligent or that I’ve got too many bosses.”

Primary elections will be held Tuesday, June 25.

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