091028  Legislature race

091028 Legislature race/nfg DAN CAPPELLAZZO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Niagara Falls - Niagara County Legislature candidates Jason Murgia, Richard Marasco, Dennis Virtuoso, Mark Onesi, Nicholas Melson and Vincent Sandonato answer questions during a candidates forum at the Niagara Falls Library Wednesday evening.

Six candidates vying for three seats on the Niagara County Legislature let their views be known during a forum at the Niagara Falls Public Library on Wednesday.

Not surprisingly, they all promoted themselves as the people to move Niagara Falls in the right direction if elected to county government, often agreeing on the issues presented to them, including the need to increase minority hiring and the soundness of a plan to build a culinary arts institute downtown.

They also generally agreed on the need to grow the economy in the city and reduce the cost of government at the county level.

They differed on the best approach.

Nick Melson, the endorsed Democrat who is squaring off against Republican Vince Sandonato in the 5th District representing LaSalle, called for consolidation of services, including possibly combining the county’s four dispatch centers into one.

“A lot of people are fed up with getting their tax bill and not getting anything back for it,” said Melson, the 24-year-old aide to state Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte.

Sandonato, a 23-year-old LaSalle native who works as a legal assistant, supported improved communication between the various municipalities and the county’s economic development office. He also looked at the county’s lawsuit against the New York Power Authority as a positive step to securing more of what the community deserves from the agency.

“The only way to reduce the tax burden is to build the middle class,” Sandonato said. “Right now, this middle class is small, it is weak and it is hurting.”

Other candidates agreed on consolidating and sharing services. Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, the Democratic incumbent who has represented the 4th District since 1992, said his experience in county government and working with the county budget tells him the county must become more innovative in the way it delivers public services.

“You have to reduce taxes to get jobs here, to get people to come here,” he said.

Virtuoso’s opponent, Republican Mark Onesi, said he too would support consolidation and sharing of services where appropriate, but said there’s no one simple answer. He said an effective plan should incorporate a lot of different ideas aimed at making the area more attractive to investors and residents.

“You have to develop and bring people in and get more people to work,” he said.

Jason Murgia, the incumbent Democrat who represents the Legislature’s 1st District, maintained the county has done a fair job of reducing its tax rate in recent years, saying it was $8.11 per $1,000 in assessed value in 2005 and dropped to $7.57 this year. Murgia said the county has also made wise use of a key resource in economic development — an allotment of low-cost power the county makes available to businesses under its relicensing agreement with the power authority.

“That’s the easy part,” Murgia said, referring to election season job creation promises. “The hard part is to live up to the promises for your constituents.”

Murgia’s challenger, Falls school teacher and endorsed Democrat Ric Marasco, said he did not view the proposal to downsize the Legislature as something that would result in the sort of savings county taxpayers need. Instead, he said, the move would hurt the city’s representation in government. He said what the community needs most is lawmakers who are willing to work for the betterment of the city and the county as opposed to working for their own political lives and party bosses.

“We all should be looking out for what’s best for our city,” Marasco said.

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