Olean residents got a close look Thursday night at three candidates anxious to replace popular Democratic Mayor John Ash who, after 12 consecutive years in that post, and another 25 years as alderman, decided not to seek another term.
The three candidates faced off before a sizable crowd in a two-hour televised forum in the Olean City High School auditorium. The program was sponsored by the Olean Times Herald and Olean Community Schools Program.
Answering questions submitted by the public were Republican candidate James P. Griffin, current Common Council president who is filling out his second term as alderman; Democratic candidate David Anastasia, in his first term as Cattaraugus County legislator and former five-term alderman; and three-term Cattaraugus County Legislator Charlotte McLaughlin, who resigned an elected alderwoman's post after the first year to accept an appointment to the Legislature, and is endorsed by the Conservative and Independence parties.
None of the three has been endorsed by Ash.
Many of the campaign issues stem from the city's budgetary problems and shrinking tax base and are the same ones faced by the Common Council now and for the past several years in devising a spending plan now topping $11 million.
All three candidates state firm commitments to balancing the budget, with Griffin stating his council was the first to seek drastic measures to hold the line on spending the city's dwindling surplus. He said as a council member the greatest cost savings, estimated at $120,000, came from creating a central civilian dispatch office to cut the jobs of four firefighters and three police officers. He also said another $180,000 will be saved by eliminating the Parks and Recreation Department, merging Parks and Public Works and reducing duplication of services by creating a new division of Youth Services.
Neither measure, though discussed at length in work sessions and public forums, has been implemented or received full council approval in a formal session.
Mrs. McLaughlin said she did not favor elimination of the Recreation Department and the Youth Bureau, asking how this can take place without a referendum. She also questioned whether state funding will continue for 50 percent of the Youth Bureau's budget.
"I'm sure the Division of Youth Services plans were set up in executive sessions," Anastasia said, promising to investigate if elected.
The candidates disagreed on replacement of the city's aging water treatment plant on Olean Creek and on retaining Jamestown Community College's campus in the downtown area.
Griffin cited his own attempts to move the treatment plant project along and to secure funding from state and federal agencies, and said his appointment of a JCC task force will solve the college's space problems.
Anastasia suggested retesting the city's contaminated wells or drilling new ones for an alternative to a new treatment plant. He also suggested building a walkway over North Barry Street to accommodate JCC students.
Mrs. McLaughlin pointed to further reduction of the tax rolls if homes are removed to expand the JCC campus. She suggested a solution -- at one-third the cost of the $18 million estimated for a new treatment plant and other equipment -- to install a package plant with a membrane filter to replace the current method of sand filtration.
Mrs. McLaughlin and Anastasia are at odds on certain issues at the county level, including the advisability of a new $7.5 million Public Works Department building. Mrs. McLaughlin said she supported the new building because taxpayers will not be affected. Some of the costs, she said, will be paid for through a municipal bond, and other facilities were deemed to be unsafe.
"I can't justify $7.5 million for a garage to house trucks and an office," countered Anastasia.
Griffin, now a radiological consultant, asked voters to consider his professional experience and training in managing and motivating people, projects and budgets of employers such as UCLA, University at Buffalo and Westinghouse. He also pointed to his fifth generation roots in the community and the fact that his father was a School Board member and alderman.
"We must create the environment that will bring the people and business back to Olean," he said, adding one-third of its residents have left the city in 20 years.
Anastasia unveiled a list of goals he pledged to reach by the year 2000, such as regular meetings with city staff, safe housing, a balanced budget submitted on time, reducing service costs by "partnering" with other municipalities and utilities, and completion of tourism projects.
He said he would "run the city as a business" and expressed a commitment to preserving the city's neighborhoods.