ROCHESTER - Rochester's two mayoral candidates facing off Monday at a Candidates Forum expressed similar views on topics like charitable gaming and fighting homelessness, but when it came to whether excess money in the city's unassigned fund balance should be returned to the taxpayers, there was stark division.
Mayoral candidate Susan Rice said funds in excess of the state-recommended levels should go back to the taxpayers, while incumbent Mayor Paul Callaghan said it should be used to fund reserve accounts to finance future purchases of big ticket items like fire and DPW trucks.
The city's unassigned fund balance is currently at a stunning $38 million, more than twice the $18 million recommended by the state Department of Revenue Administration.
"I have an issue with the $38 million unassigned fund balance," Rice said. "We have spent millions of dollars in supplemental appropriations. Mr. Callaghan likes to tell us he's done all this great work on our budget when in his first year as mayor the tax rate rose by 62 cents. Over two years our tax rate has gone up by $1.44."
"The unassigned fund balance stabilizes our tax rate," Callaghan claimed in response.
Callaghan and Rice also disagreed on whether a projected third fire station should be located on Highland Street.
Callaghan stated that Rochester Fire produced evidence and reports that showed the Highland Street property was the right choice, but Rice disagreed, saying it's clear the city's major growth is occurring along the Route 11 corridor.
"Spending $300,000 for the Highland Street property was not a smart decision," she said.
One of the final questions of Candidates Night was about the Rochester Fairgrounds posed by moderator TJ Jean who asked both candidates, "Where do you stand on the use of the Rochester Fairgrounds and the city's involvement in facilitating use and development of that privately owned parcel?"
"The city has given those (Rochester Agricultural and Mechanical Association) stakeholders an awful hard time in getting permits for various events" Rice replied. "We were embroiled in a legal battle over their taxes, because somebody (the City of Rochester) decided they were not a nonprofit. They (RAMA) won (at the Supreme Court), they got their money back. We need to tear down these barriers and assist them and bring them to the table and see what we can do to assist them."
Meanwhile, Callaghan said he was excited about possible development of the Fairgrounds as sort of a Portsmouth styled "Prescott Park destination."
Elections Day for Rochester City Council and mayor is set for Nov. 7.