Niagara Gazette

June 7, 2013

GUEST VIEW: The purpose of local government

By Andrew Touma
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It won’t be long before the candidates for Niagara Falls City Council, me included, will be knocking on your: door asking for your support in their quest to win a seat in our local government. Before you sign their petition or before you pass judgment on a candidate, ask him or her how they will approach their responsibilities as a member of our local government. How much harm has been done by previous elected officials who either didn’t understand or couldn’t be bothered to learn their proper role as a member of the city council?

A local government is responsible not only for emergency services, but also for determining and enforcing safety codes for homes and buildings. The stability of our neighborhoods depends on the effective delivery of inspection services. In order to revitalize our neighborhoods, real collaboration needs to exist between law enforcement, community developers, block clubs, and code enforcement.

A local government is responsible for maintaining access to recreation and park facilities that provide a safe and pleasant environment for our residents. The government is responsible for maintaining and staffing facilities such as sports fields, parks, and swimming pools. Our parks and recreational areas throughout the city should be a priority to enrich the lives of all our citizens. Niagara Falls residents value their parks, therefore in order to improve our parks, I propose we generate new funding and create private and public partnerships. Well-maintained parks will raise the value of nearby homes, attract new residents, and create new neighborhood assets.

A local government must maintain the funding base for a variety of projects that are provided through local taxation, state aid, and federal grants. Private foundation funding is now becoming an important source of new revenues for distressed cities.

Economic and social inequality is often the result of a free-market economy and participatory democracy. As such, local government must establish those agencies that have the purpose of “leveling the playing field” in terms of equality of opportunity. An affordable housing program is one such example of an area where local government can promote opportunity. By taking advantage of federal and state programs that focus on affordable housing, local government becomes the facilitator of community growth.

Increased home ownership enhances a community and instills in its citizens a sense of “ownership” in the community as a whole. Home ownership expands the tax base and provides city government with a reliable source of revenue. Therefore, local government has the responsibility to establish an efficient and effective program of community development that has as its first priority the renovation of the existing housing stock and the creation of affordable new housing.

The City Council is responsible for enacting the local laws that protect residents and improve the quality of life in our community. This means that an individual who serves on the City Council must invest the time necessary to fully understand the structure and functioning of the various city departments. A member of the city council has the duty to use this knowledge not to micro-manage the department’s staff, but, rather, to develop new standards of performance that provide the community with the highest level of service for every tax dollar expended.

Most importantly, the city council must engage in an honest and realistic assessment of the mayor’s proposed budget. This annual activity is probably the most important responsibility entrusted to the city council. Each member of the council must guard against using the annual budget process as a weapon of retaliation because of differences of opinion that arise between the legislative and executive branches of government. If I’m elected, I’m sure we will be able to work together to positively change our future for the better.

Andrew Touma is a Niagara Falls resident and candidate for the Niagara Falls City Council.