The idea that area residents could save on their tax bills through a regional approach to government kept surfacing Tuesday night, as several city and county candidates presented their views at the YWCA's annual candidates forum.
The forum was structured to discourage debate but encourage candidates to state their positions. It featured 30 hopefuls and incumbents. Written questions came from the League of Women Voters, YWCA Leadership Development Committee and other sponsors of the program as well as the audience. There were few fireworks, but regionalism was a recurring theme.
"Consolidation is a legislative issue. It's up to the legislators and the voters to decide," Deputy Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina said when asked how he saw the Erie County Sheriff's Department fitting into a regional approach to providing law enforcement services.
Diina, the Democratic candidate for sheriff, said providing services like special squads that operate countywide and 911 services would continue under his administration if he is elected.
"I would work in cooperation with the chiefs to give them what they might not have," he said.
Patrick Gallivan, the Republican candidate, was asked about the difference in combating drugs in the city and suburbs like Orchard Park.
"It's very important that the sheriff should take a leading role in pulling all law enforcement together to conquer countywide problems. The sheriff is in a position to bring law enforcement together," Gallivan said.
Three mayoral candidates, all running on party lines other than the city's dominate Democratic line, which belongs to Mayor Masiello, emphasized that the city needs new leadership and new ideas to stave off falling population.
"People are angry, frustrated and afraid," Council President James W. Pitts said. He said a sharing of the county sales tax with the city could be used to abolish the recently enacted garbage fee and said the city's future lies in redeveloping old industrial areas and developing jobs for young people. Pitts is running on the Liberal line.
Former Mayor James D. Griffin, running on the Right to Life line, reviewed his record and especially deals with former County Executive Edward Rutkowski that he said turned city parks over to the county and transferred some departments to the county.
"Long before there was all this talk of regionalism, we did things," Griffin said, adding later in response to another question that the at-large members of the School Board should be replaced by members appointed by the mayor and the Common Council.
Sharon A. Caetano, the Conservative candidate, called for consolidation of city departments and said the schools should examine the cost of administration before the city hands over any increase in funds.
"We need a global perspective," Ellicott Council Member Barbara Miller-Williams, a Democrat, said during her opening remarks, in which she cited her district as an example of how the city could begin to revitalize.
Sandra D. Waugaman-Beck, who is opposing Ms. Miller-Williams on the Republican line, called for more police on the streets, more economic development downtown and smaller class sizes in the schools.
"There is a lot of talk about regionalism, and the Legislature will continue to deal with that, but the sure way to keep taxes down is to bring jobs into the community," said Erie County Legislator Randi Cohen Kennedy, D-Williamsville, the incumbent in the 15th District.
Her Republican opponent, Dr. Barry A. Weinstein, who served on the Williamsville School Board for many years, said he had helped to educate many young people who ended up leaving the area for good jobs elsewhere.
"We have to stem this. It's going to take regional cooperation and regional planning to do this," he said.