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City council candidates participate in debate

It’s a full ticket this year for Common Council seats in the city. With the exception of Second Ward, all the other seats are contested. At the League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates debate this week, eight people took center stage and hashed out their skills and thoughts over issues plaguing the city.

“The most pressing issue that drives me to run is the taxpayers,” First Ward hopeful Dennis Welka stated. “How do we keep them here? How can we keep more of their hard earned money here? How do we get them involved? Is there a reason that city hall spends hundreds of thousands on salaries of added positions? These added jobs have shown no productivity. The money spent could have been used to help people start a business, save a family from losing their home or needed repairs to their home. It also could have been used to do much needed repairs of our city. There needs to be some relief to our citizens. We serve the citizens; we do not serve the mayor. Their input should be listened to and discussed at meetings.”

Miriam Lugo-Alfaro, candidate for Third Ward councilwoman spoke of her family roots, how she has been a teacher for the last 16 years in the city of Dunkirk, was a police dispatcher for five years and oversaw 16 different churches.

“I really like the way the city is heading. Dunkirk was a ghost town and many people have moved away,” she said. “The city is now alive. Our taxes have not gone up, even though the city has faced many financial challenges. I would like to fill the gap that I see with the school system and the community as a parent, teacher and active community member. We can bridge the schools to the city and have shared services and have events and outlets for our youth while being fiscally responsible.”

“I’ve lived and worked in this city all my life,” James Stoyle, Third Ward contender and retired Dunkirk firefighter said. “I want the city to have a choice. I’m honest. I’m not going to use that famous term, ‘transparency.’ I’m going to use the word ‘honest.’ That’s what I am.”

Frank Beach, retired president of a national financial services corporation and member of several clubs and boards throughout the city is running for councilman-at-large. He shared his most pressing concern as not losing momentum. “We can’t slow down. We need to look at running the city more like a business. We need to try to get people to understand what the values of everything are that they have here. We need to look down the road at where we are going to be in three, four, five years, when we have companies coming in. We need to look at workforce. We need to look at sustainable services.”

First Ward Councilman Don Williams is seeking his third term and states that the city of Dunkirk’s uncertainty weighs heavily on his mind. “I think the most pressing issue facing Dunkirk is uncertainty — uncertainty on NRG and its effect on our tax base, about Brooks Hospital’s relocation and what it will do to the struggling downtown business district and how to upgrade our aging infrastructure without raising taxes. I’d make certain that there is transparency and community involvement in the two boards tasked with finding proper reuse for both facilities.”

Beach’s rival Paul VanDenVouver, who served as councilman for three consecutive terms before, believes that reopening the communications with NRG and Brooks Hospital is important as is infrastructure. “Infrastructure for the city of Dunkirk is deplorable. The business district is dismal. People pay a lot of taxes in the city and you deserve more than stoning the roads that need to be paved.”

Nancy Nichols, who has a long history with all the Dunkirk Parent Teacher Organizations as well as the Dunkirk Board of Education, is looking to the Fourth Ward council seat. She feels that taxpayers should know where the money is being spent.

Her opponent is sitting Councilman Mike Civiletto, who is seeking his second term. An active member of the community, he’s sat and still sits on many boards, as well as volunteers for various activities. His biggest concern is housing. “We’re going to have a lot of jobs coming in here, we need to think of ways to increase our housing and the comprehensive plan that we put together allows developers to come here and decide where they’re going to develop and how they can get housing in here, because the last thing I want is work here in Dunkirk and live in Hamburg.”

The floor was open for public comment and many questions were presented. One question asked was the need of skilled labor force for Athenex.

“At the Dunkirk public schools, we’re trying to do a bridge between Athenex and the students that are graduating to make sure that we can fill those positions,” Lugo-Alfaro stated.

VanDenVouver applauded PTECH, but cited that the lack of work ethic, in his opinion, is an issue. “The hardest part is getting these kids started out at a really decent salary and they don’t have the qualifications,” VanDenVouver replied. “I think it’s very important, but you have to look around this community to see what you’re working with and see the family values and the work ethic because that is a huge thing that this community is lacking.”

Civiletto pointed out that all the schools are working with Athenex to give them the staff they’ll need. “They’re going to need pharmaceutical engineers. Those three (PTECH, JCC and SUNY Fredonia) have been trying to educate their kids in that line. What the city can do is we can be a bridge between those different places, to make sure that the people that are in charge of all those places get together and they have a place and an area to talk.”

Another audience member asked about keeping the younger generation in the city. “We need to make sure that they have something for their children in the future,” Civiletto stated. “We need to focus on things like building a recreation center. We’ve done lots of cool things like the splash pad, we’ve got a dog park. We now have things that are attractive to people. We now need to start talking about ranch houses, enticing developers in here for one-story houses for the older generation because they can’t move out of their houses because there is nowhere to move.”

Specific ward concerns was another topic that was brought up.

“I’m all for some infrastructure,” Stoyle supplied. “How about fixing these water lines? We need infrastructure, we need homes for these 900 supposed jobs that are going to come here.”

“I’ve been trying to push for budgeting to try and fix some of the water problems you’ve been talking about,” Williams added to Stoyle’s response. “We actually have a plan for next year using CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funds to start replacing some of those aging water lines.”

“I think stiffer laws need to be addressed for the slum lords and the Section Eights,” VanDenVouver responded. “These people come into a neighborhood and start working on their vehicle, music blaring all night long. These people (in these neighborhoods) work hard, are retired they take pride in their property and you get one bad person that comes into this neighborhood and ruin it.”

Beach agreed with some of VanDenVouver’s sentiments saying that he “does think that we need to have stricter laws, especially absentee landlord legislation. In doing something like that we also need to look at having the kind of programs for housing where if you have a home going up for sale, that we have what you call a ‘first look program,’ giving the people who would want to live in the home (an opportunity) instead of an investor a first shot, in hopes of getting more pride in ownership and in the community.”

Things soon turned sour as Civiletto commented on living in what he deems the ‘poorest’ ward.

“I’m from the Fourth Ward. The Fourth Ward is the poorest of the four wards. What we’re seeing in my ward is a lack of home ownership. This lack has increased the lack of maintenance to our homes,” Civiletto said. “We’ve been trying what we can to figure out how to make landlords responsible. There are great landlords here in Dunkirk, but there are lots that aren’t, and holding them responsible and giving them incentive to maintain their homes and a way that renters can get into home ownership themselves and take pride in their homes, that’s what’s going to save this city.”

VanDenVouver took offense to the comment, saying that he thinks “there’s a lot of beautiful houses in Fourth Ward. They take pride in the neighborhood. For you to finger one ward out and make them look as poorest in the city, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

Nichols side-stepped pointing out that she’s “been a resident in the Fourth Ward for over 40 years. What we need when we have absentee landlords is a spokesperson for them that you can contact. Our roads are deplorable up there. I often thought that we were the forgotten ward because nothing is done up there. We’re the last on the totem pole to have anything done.”

In his defense, Civiletto told VanDenVouver that he was “just stating facts, we are the poorest, and one of the things that happens when you have a poor population in a section of town is that they don’t own their homes. I’m not disparaging. I grew up in the Fourth Ward. I live in the Fourth Ward. I own a home in the Fourth Ward, but don’t tell me that I’m disparaging the Fourth Ward.”

Renters agreements were asked about and Stoyle believe looking at Fredonia’s is the best answer. While Nichols stated that changes need to be made to the City Charter to adopt those, a sentiment that Beach also agreed with.

“I believe in order to have that done changes need to be done to the city charter and it’s been many, many years since those changes were made and it’s about time those happen,” Nichols said.

All candidates agreed that working with the public and communication is of the utmost priority. Welka thinks that mailers and going to door-to-door would do the trick, while Lugo-Alfaro pointed out that the churches should be reached out to as well.

Beach added that when it comes to the wards, “they’ll determine their ward’s strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities and the threats and they should be required to do a monthly ward report. I think we need to reach out to all the social clubs too.” Nichols is all about reintroducing ward meetings, something that used to be done in the past.

Voting Day is Nov. 5, with early voting starting in the city on Saturday, Oct. 26 at noon.

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