by Larry Austin
Challengers for town government offices took jabs at incumbents last Thursday during a Meet the Candidates Night at the Family Life Center on Love Road.
While incumbent councilmen Dick Crawford and Gary Roesch and Town Supervisor Pete McMahon pounded home their accomplishments, council candidates Jim Sharpe and Norm Moorhouse and supervisor candidate Mary Cooke took shots, saying more of the same won't cut it.
Councilwoman Mary Cooke, trying for the second time to unseat McMahon, said she is running for town supervisor "because I believe the supervisor's office needs new energy and a clearer focus on the issues that are important to Grand Island residents. Maintaining the status quo does not work in today's constantly changing business environment."
McMahon noted the changes in the past 14 years in town government, including efforts in economic development and historic preservation, additions of recreation facilities and open space. All of the changes were made "because they save money, they improve the service we provide to our residents, and they made sense. I say that leadership is the key."
While Cooke promised a more accessible, energetic and responsive supervisor's office, McMahon said, "Political promises are easy, but it's performance that counts."
"Today, the Town of Grand Island is in the best financial condition in its long history. ... I believe we have accomplished a lot, and I think there is much more we can do in the future," he said.
Moorhouse said, "The bottom line with me is taxes. Taxes keep increasing. Sewer taxes, water bills, property taxes go up in the town and nobody seems to mind or make an attempt to do any cutting."
"Well, if I'm elected, there will be no tax increase with my vote. I will vote no for any tax increase."
Sharpe noted his long involvement with such organizations as the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, Grand Island School and Business Alliance and the sesquicentennial celebration committee. He is the current chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee.
"For the past four years I've listened to our town councilmen telling us how they are working for us, but not a whole lot has changed," Sharpe said, adding that the business community "holding on by a thread."
"I believe we can do better and I promise I will."
Crawford said he is proud of the accomplishments of the town in his 16 years on the council, in the face of challenges and hurdles, such as the Seneca land claim and the 2008 financial meltdown nationwide.
"As a town, we've positioned ourselves very, very conservatively in our budgeting," he said. "There's no fat in there."
Roesch said he is proud of the board's accomplishments, especially giving business on the Island "tools and resources to expand, and to assist them in doing business." Toward that end, the consolidation of the building and zoning departments, "makes it more of a one-stop operation."
He called such matters on the horizon as continued mandates from Albany and property revaluation as "are going to require additional innovation" from the board.
The County Legislature candidates, incumbent Kevin Hardwick and challenger Jeremy Zellner, disagreed about whether the job of legislator is a full-time or part-time one. Zellner said the nearly 85,000 residents in each district need the full-time services of the county legislator.
Zellner, a Tonawanda native, said, "I'm running because I think we can do better in our district."
"I think it's incumbent upon us to have a district office, to make office hours, to go out and talk to folks at their door and to help them with their problems. The problems that we face in our county are much more than a part-time job," Zellner said.
"I'm going to be your full-time legislator working round the clock on your issues, and I think that's what we need in our district."
Hardwick responded that pretending part-time jobs with full-time salaries has led to the county creating what he said are the sixth largest property taxes in the nation. He claimed 38 states pay their state senators less than what Erie County pays its county legislators.
"These are the states that are eating our lunch. They understand a part-time job when they see it," Hardwick said. "They pay it accordingly, and their taxes are low and they're getting our kids."