By Chris Ferrante
Niagara Gazette — As I’ve gone door to door the past several months as the Democratic candidate for legislator of the First District, I’ve noticed that many of our voters are unclear as to how county government fits into their lives.
This lack of informed voters is more the fault of county government rather than the fault of the county voters. That’s because over the past decade our county government has become a “done deal” with the majority party grabbing the reins of leadership and holding tight. Politics is politics and to victor go the spoils, so I’m not going to criticize the Republican Party for their success in controlling our county government. The fact is that the Democratic Party has failed to keep the Democratic-Republican balance in the legislature even close.
But the truth is that one-party control at any level of government is never a good thing. Close competition generates ideas, debate, and produces positive results. When the system is heavily overloaded in one direction debate and information sharing is shut down.
For example our Republican-led legislature has worked to discourage public comment at legislative meetings. Discouraging public input runs counter to the American ideals of good, honest government. It creates public distrust of our elected officials and stops the dialog between voter and politician.
Economic development means jobs and a growing local economy. However, I’m concerned that our Industrial Development Agency has, upon occasion, seen development projects as an end in themselves with the taxpayers getting lost in the shuffle. A recent state report put Niagara County near the very top for taking land off the tax rolls through its IDA. Because of this I support reviewing the IDA and producing a credible cost to benefit analysis so we can see how these projects impact the county taxpayer bottom line. We all want business, we all want job creation, but not at a negative cost to county residents.
According to the Public Policy Institute 22 out of the 25 highest taxed counties in the nation are in New York state with Niagara County ranking No. 2 on that last, right behind first place Orleans County. The list is calculated on “property tax rates as a percentage of home value.” Clearly we have a tax problem in Niagara County and throughout New York. That tax problem has to be addressed because it is encouraging residents and businesses to leave, not love, New York.
The county’s 2013 budget is $322 million. County government includes, in part: the Sheriff’s Department and the Niagara County Jail; Social Services and all of the state mandates and programs that go with it; the Highway Department and all of the roads and infrastructure that county government is responsible for; the Health Department; Economic Development and the IDA; Purchasing; Budget; County Court; County Clerk; Probation; County Treasurer and a laundry list of buildings and grounds and parks including the Niagara County Golf Course. County government touches a large part of our lives and consumes a significant part of our tax dollar.
Our legislative district is home to the only hazardous waste landfill in New York state. Some people have advised me not to discuss the landfill. I’ve been encouraged to stay away from the landfill subject for fear of disturbing both its supporters and those who are concerned about its environmental impact. I didn’t decide to seek elected office so I could hide from the tough issues or avoid the difficult decisions.
I’m not going to pretend I have an easy answer to the landfill situation or easy answers to any of the other many issues impacting the First District. But with the support and input of our district voters I am confident that we can work to make Niagara County government open, responsive, and fiscally responsible.Chris Ferrante, a candidate for the First District in the Niagara County Legislature, lives in the town of Lewiston with his wife and son.