Jobs, taxes, children.
Three issues that likely will be on voters minds on Nov. 5, when they decide between Republican County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo and Democratic challenger Adam Bello, the current Monroe County Clerk.
Dinolfo and Bello stated their positions at a forum hosted by the Rochester Rotary Club at its meeting and luncheon Oct. 22, two weeks before the election.
In her opening statement, Dinolfo said, “We have flat out got it done in our community during my first term in office.” She said the county secured more than 20,000 jobs, was ranked by the state comptroller’s office as first in the state for job retention, and completed major projects at the airport and the zoo. She said the county trained workers for jobs in growing sectors and started an internship program to keep college students in the area after graduation. She also said the county cut the property tax for the first time in a decade.
In his opener, Bello said his hometown of Irondequoit faced challenges when he became supervisor and saw there were similarities with challenges facing the county. He said that as county clerk, he modernized the office and opened a full-time Department of Motor Vehicles office in the city. He said county job growth has remained relatively flat, concentrated poverty takes a toll on the county and protecting children and the opioid crisis need to be addressed. “Leadership isn’t about having all the answers yourself … ,” he said. “Leadership is about bringing people together. It’s about … finding solutions and identify priorities.”
The candidates then had 90 seconds to answer questions from moderator Don Alhart, alternating who responded first. Here are responses to selected questions, edited for space.
What plans do you have to fight opioid abuse and addiction?
Bello said the opioid crisis is the largest public health crisis in his lifetime and needs a collaborative approach. He said that when someone says they are ready to recover, there should be a mechanism to find immediately available treatment beds and mental health resources.
Dinolfo said Monroe County Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza leads an opioid action committee. She said law enforcement meets monthly to make sure resources are appropriately used. Sheriff Todd Baxter said the county is training people in how to use Narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose, and is working on getting more detox beds.
With childhood deaths on the rise in the county, how would you protect children?
Dinolfo said the county spends $560 million on services for children and families. She said that a recent report attributed some of the increased deaths to unsafe sleep practices and pointed to a need for more education. She said the county has increased positions in Child Protective Services, lowered caseloads and raised pay to improve retention.
Bello said CPS caseloads remain too high and that too many positions remain vacant. He said he would figure out what the county needs to do to recruit and keep case workers.
With homelessness up in the city and county, what resources will the county devote to help families in need?
Bello said social services exist in silos and need to be brought into what he called one-stop shops. He said social service programs can be integrated so that whether someone comes for housing, food, temporary assistance or child care, they are connected to other services they need.
Dinolfo said that job training and jobs can prevent homelessness. She pointed to the Paths to Empowerment program, which provides job coaching and other supports and she said it helped 3,000 people move from welfare to self-sufficiency.
How would you address the availability and affordability of child care?
Dinolfo said the county has invested more in child care and cut the fee for child care that the state imposes on parents. She said spots still are open, so the county needs to expand outreach so families know how to access the program.
Bello said the county needs to improve recruitment into the program, and that it returned unused child care dollars to the state. He said integrating programs to avoid the effect of silos is a way to address the situation.
What will you do as far as jobs?
Bello said that job creation numbers and economic growth are relatively flat. He said there is a concentration of people who are unemployed or underemployed, but there are middle-skills jobs that are vacant. He said government doesn’t create jobs, but it creates the environment where business thrives.
Dinolfo said the county secured 20,000 jobs in 3 ½ years, and it created a program to train workers in middle-skills jobs. She also said the county started MatchUP Monroe to link college students with internships and keep them in the community after graduation.
What can be done to reign in the property tax?
Bello said the population remains relatively flat, which means few new people are contributing to the pot of money. He said the economy needs to grow. He talked about poverty, and said the county can work with nonprofits to create an interconnected system that meets needs.
Dinolfo said she lowered the property tax rate, but added that 85% of county property tax is accounted for by state mandates. She said the county is controlling what it can, but she called New York the most overtaxed, over-regulated state in the country.