OGDENSBURG — One-by-one candidates for city office made their case for election before a packed Dobisky Center crowd Thursday night.
Sponsored by the Friends of the Library, The forum was attended by all but two of the slate of candidates seeking seats on City Council.
Candidates Jennifer Stevenson had a professional commitment she could not miss and Steven Fisher was out of town at a family affair. Ms. Stevenson had a video statement prepared for the event, while Mr. Fisher had a written statement read by a Ogdensburg Library Director Penny Kerfien.
While the forum was devised to be series of statements from the candidates and not a debate, sides were clearly drawn with incumbent candidates defending their work at city council against claims from two write-in candidates, Jeffery M. Skelly and John A. Rishe.
Mr. Rishe and Mr. Skelly have advocated for a plan to decrease city property taxes and school taxes by 25 percent, while incumbents Mayor Wayne L. Ashley, Timothy P. Davis, David G. Price and Michael B. Powers argued that the city has been staying within the state mandated tax cap and that massive reduction in taxes would lead to a loss of services especially in the police and fire departments.
“I plan on working on growth for our city,” Mr. Skelly said. “Growth to bring jobs, growth to bring revenue, to maintain the services that we need, lower taxes through growth and make a better quality of life for the citizens.”
“We have the highest taxes in the north country from Plattsburgh to Watertown,” Mr. Rishe said. “So our platform is to reduce taxes by 25 percent. It’s not going to happen overnight, I never said that, but I think there needs to be a reasonable reduction. We are at 20 bucks per thousand and it needs to be around 15 bucks per thousand to be competitive with surrounding towns.”
“Ogdensburg is not alone in this problem,” Mr. Power said. “So this is a broad problem. This is a problem that we are inheriting and that we have to deal with. The previous budget has started to steam roll that and started to move the pendulum in the other direction.”
Samuel J. LaMacchia, Democratic candidate for mayor, said that the city needs to stay positive and capitalize on the growth at the airport that he was instrumental in expanding while Chairman of the Bridge and Port Authority.
“The only way you can cut taxes is you gotta cut people,” Mr. Ashley said. “We have a budget that is extremely slim, there is no fat in it, so to speak. Our city manager and planner and comptroller do an excellent job of keeping the budget as low as possible. The only way you’re going to cut taxes is you’re going to cut personal. Am I going to put the citizens of Ogdensburg in jeopardy because we cut the Fire Department and the Police Department? I don’t think so.
Candidates also clashed over how business friendly the city is.
Mr. Skelly brought up the hurdles he has had to jump through to get parking for the theater he is refurbishing in the city’s downtown mall, while Mr. Ashley explained that there are rules and procedures that every business has to go through to maintain order and protect other property owners.
Mr. Powers said the city’s code needed to be updated and that planners were currently in the process of doing that.
Mr. Skelly said that in dealing with the city he has heard “no” to much.
Candidates wrapped up the night with all expressing that while Ogdensburg was still a good place to live, it faces problems that each believed could be solved.
“Ogdensburg has so much potential,” Mr. Rishe said. “With the right leadership.”