Growth and taxes: Lancaster's two hot topics got even hotter Wednesday, at a lengthy public debate among candidates for supervisor.
The debate, sponsored by the Lancaster Taxpayers Association, attracted more than 75 residents and was the first face-to-face forum to include all three candidates for the town's top job, which paid $52,397 this year.
Incumbent Supervisor Robert H. Giza, the Democratic, Right to Life, and Conservative Party candidate, Republican and Freedom Party candidate Arthur J. Rago Jr., and Lancaster Independence Party candidate Henry R. Gull attended the event, held at the Elks Lodge on Legion Parkway in the town.
The three contestants for the two-year post faced more than 2 1/2 hours of audience questions, primarily on tax issues and growth and development controversies that have plagued the town.
For political newcomers Rago and Gull, both self-employed residents with no background in local government, the debate was a chance to define distinct positions on the big issues.
Rago, stressing his business management experience, likened running a town to running a corporation, and said he would lower taxes and insist upon a master plan for future growth.
"I see a town that has grown with little foresight, and out of control," he said. "And taxes are high and continue to climb. . . . My No. 1 goal is to return tax rates to livable, manageable levels."
Rago said a coherent master plan is a first step toward managing Lancaster's sprawling growth. "We need an orderly development of resources. We need a long-range capital plan, and we need a long-range development plan," he said.
Gull repeatedly censured the way that large-scale development in the town has been handled during the Giza administration. He particularly criticized the town's dealings with Tops Markets and the corporation's construction of a warehouse on Genesee Street.
"This supervisor invites profiteering corporations to take profits from our town," Gull said. "As your supervisor, I will give preferential treatment to one special interest group: the taxpayers of the town."
Giza defended his administration's tax breaks intended to lure big businesses to the town. "We are in competition, whether you like it or not, with Southern states. We're also in competition with other towns," he said. "The businesses that we took in five or six years ago are starting to come in line now, and are helping our tax base."
Giza, who said he will be committed to "tax stabilization" if elected to a second two-year term, said that he has been waiting to put forth a master plan proposal until a study of a possible north-south corridor through the town is completed, probably "in a few months."
Responding to questions about the commercial and industrial growth of the town, Giza said he has been working to create and preserve jobs for residents. "We cannot afford to give one job away in Erie County," he said. "You see people leaving, you see families breaking up . . . we've got to keep our kids here and provide employment."