Minority Reporter asked its readers what was important to them in the election for county executive. Republican incumbent Cheryl Dinolfo and Democratic challenger Adam Bello responded. Their answers have been edited for space.
What economic incentives will you offer to encourage job growth in what have been seen as low-income, low-opportunity areas? If that requires you to work with the city, what would that collaboration look like?
Bello: The county’s current system for incentivizing job creation is broken. We give out the most tax breaks in the state and yet our county’s job growth has lagged significantly behind the percentage of growth, statewide. One of the major reforms I would make is how we incentivize economic development projects is to ensure that preference is given to projects that are accessible locations for residents using mass transportation. Too often, we see incentives given to projects that are off the RTS line and require multiple transfers to access if they are located in the inner-ring suburbs.
Dinolfo: Monroe County is working with partners to bring a new Workforce Development Center to our MCC Downtown Campus. At 50,000 square feet, the center will provide space for the latest technologies, tools, and training. The facility will be dedicated to advancing middle-skills training, which will be tailored to growing fields like precision welding, metal fabrication and the skilled trades. … We are also nearing the completion of our unique new Jobs on Main capital project, which will centralize all of Monroe County’s Economic and Workforce Development functions, programs, and initiatives in one creative new space. … The city and the county operate a joint economic development application process for city-based projects.
What are strategies for encouraging existing businesses to remain in Monroe County?
Bello: I am proud to be supported by the Committee for a Strong Economy, which is the political action committee affiliated with the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. One of the things we have seen in recent years is a departure of the county in the overall efforts to reimagine our economy. I have always believed that collaboration is the best approach to solving critical issues. The county must be at the center of any efforts to both retain and attract businesses.
Furthermore, we need to do a better job at the county level not only marketing our highly skilled workforce, but ensuring that we are growing that workforce. There are currently several thousand unfilled middle-skilled jobs in our county that pay very well and offer a solid career path. We need to scale our workforce development efforts to the current realities that exist. If not, employers aren’t going to be able to satisfy their demand for labor.
Dinolfo: We have revamped Monroe County’s economic development engine, Imagine Monroe to make it a one-stop-shop for business looking to locate or expand in our community. With a more aggressive approach to making and maintaining contact with growing employers, we helped to secure over 20,000 jobs in Monroe County in the past 3 ½ years. … We also completed two major capital projects on-time and on-budget, with the transformative renovation of our Greater Rochester International Airport and the expansion of our Seneca Park Zoo, to help attract more visitors, jobs and investment. We intend to do even more to build on our progress – from our Jobs on Main Project, to our Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center at MCC, to the continued expansion of our first-of-its-kind LadderzUp workforce development program.
How would you work collaboratively with the mayor to help fix the performance of the Rochester City School District or support forcing a change in how the district operates?
Bello: The county has to be part of the solution in increasing performance of the RCSD. We spend over a half billion dollars annually on human and social services program, but without any strategic plan and very little collaboration with the district. If we are going to think holistically about what is inhibiting student performance, we must acknowledge that what occurs in the classroom is only part of the solution.
Dinolfo: I was one of the first local elected leaders to state my support for Mayor Warren’s proposed referendum on the need for new leadership in the Rochester City School District. I wholeheartedly agree with the mayor that families in the city need real, meaningful education reform, not more watered-down solutions from the same politicians who have been part of the problem. The mayor’s call for change has my full backing.
Why do your ads lack diversity?
Bello: I have asked my campaign to work to ensure that our television advertisements reflect the diversity of our county, and I believe they do. We have attempted to create a campaign coalition that is representative of Monroe County. Our campaign has touched parts of Monroe County that the current Administration essentially has written off for political reasons. Our campaign is one for all of Monroe County.
Dinolfo: I absolutely believe that diversity and inclusion are key to best representing this community. I am proud to have a number of women and minorities in positions of authority in my administration – in fact, we just named Colleen Rose as the first woman to lead Monroe Community Hospital. Corinda Crossdale is one of the most accomplished human service leaders in our state. Dr. Michael Mendoza is one of our community’s most respected medical professionals. Chief David Moore is eminently qualified to lead our Office of Public Integrity. I will continue to make inclusion a top priority.
What do you perceive as issues unique to black and brown people throughout the county, and what are your plans to address those issues?
Bello: While I don’t believe that economic opportunity is an issue that is unique to our black and brown community, I do believe that the County must pay extra attention towards ensuring that we are creating jobs in every ZIP code in this county.
Dinolfo: The challenges of concentrated poverty continue to disproportionally impact minority families in our region. To address these challenges, we launched Paths to Empowerment – a first-of-its-kind program designed to link at-risk households with the services they need to be successful as they leave public assistance to begin or expand their employment. So far through Paths to Empowerment, we have helped over 3,000 families move from welfare to. We plan to continue to expand and enhance Paths to Empowerment in the years to come.
Children play in parks and playgrounds that are littered with dirty needles. Though the risk of infection may be low, a child could potentially be exposed to infection if stuck with a dirty needle. How do you react to a proposal that organizations that distribute clean needles must pick up 20% of the needles that they distribute?
Bello: I would absolutely be willing to support efforts to ensure that used needles are not littered in the streets, but would need to learn more about the particular proposal before weighing in on it.
Dinolfo: This proposal seems reasonable and, more likely than not, would have my support.
How do your background and experience make you a better candidate for Monroe County Executive?
Bello: In every job I’ve ever had, I have been successful in shifting the status quo regarding what people can expect in return for their tax dollars. As supervisor in Irondequoit, I helped transform a government that has been stagnant for too long, and significantly shifted the paradigm of government’s level of service. We built new parks, invested in community services, held corporate tax delinquents accountable and helped create jobs. As Monroe County Clerk, I’ve helped create a countywide task force to tackle the issue of vacant properties. I am particularly proud of the fact that, despite the unwillingness of county Republican administrations to do so, we opened up a downtown DMV so that city residents don’t have to venture outside of Rochester to receive these vital services. My goal is to change your expectation of what government can do to help people, and I feel I have a track record to show for it.
Dinolfo: I have set three main priorities – growing more jobs for our residents, building better budgets for our taxpayers and supporting stronger families. My commitment to working collaboratively … has been the key to getting it done. We have been able to help secure over 20,000 local jobs, and we’ve given hundreds of residents the specialized skills they need to secure good-paying jobs in expanding sectors. … We have delivered balanced budgets that have held the line on spending, restored the county’s credit ratings to all “A’s” … and delivered a property tax rate cut for the first time in a decade. We have increased funding for affordable childcare, preschool special education, and Child Protective Services. We are also executing a robust Opioid Action Plan, making hundreds of Narcan kits and training available to the public, is suing to hold drug companies accountable for their role in the crisis and is facilitating better coordination of addiction response services with our local hospitals.
Which programs or services will you focus on to improve their efficiency and effectiveness, how will you do that and why?
Bello: The county’s record on issues impacting families is inexcusable. Child Protective Services has been undeniably underfunded, and as a result, caseloads have increased significantly. We can’t simply complain to New York State, but must address this issue as a county, using our very capable network of non-governmental agencies that have a role here. Child care remains a critical issue, and the lack thereof is a deterrent to economic mobility. Despite this, the county made the decision to reject a $2 million state grant to enhance our child care efforts. Indeed, more funding is needed, and I pledge to create a community coalition to bring that collective voice to Albany to advocate for change. However, we must work as a community to develop a system that works, so that we simply aren’t relying on Albany for more funding. We must take it upon ourselves to address this issue, collaboratively.
Dinolfo: We have done a great deal to improve the county’s financial standing by building better, more efficient budgets during my 3 ½ years in office. When S&P Global Ratings released their latest report on the county’s credit standing – upgrading the county’s rating from “A” to “A+” this June – it represented the county’s fourth credit upgrade in just three years as evaluated by major bond rating agencies S&P, Fitch, and Moody’s. We’ve done it all while delivering the first property tax cut in a decade, saving homeowners millions; holding government spending below the rate of inflation every year; with no layoffs, new “below the line” service charges, or one-shot revenue enhancements; and while keeping my promise to eliminate scandal-plagued LDCs, saving taxpayers more than $30 million.