Duane Preston and Adam Tabelski are running for the Councilman-at-Large seat on the Batavia City Council, a position that became open when former Council Member John Deleo left to run (successfully) for a seat on the Genesee County Legislature.
Preston, a longtime Batavian, is running on the Democrat and Conservative lines, while Tabelski, a former mayor of his native Medina who moved to the city a couple years ago, is running on the Republican, Independence and Reform ticket.
Tabelski has been serving as the Councilman-at-Large after his appointment in January, per city rules that the position had to be filled by a Republican.
Preston owns and manages about 70 apartments in the city and is chairman of the Batavia Planning & Development Committee. Tabelski is an account manager for Wendel Engineering.
Leading up to next Tuesday’s election, The Batavian posed four questions to the candidates (listed in alphabetical order).
What is the most important city issue you would like the next City Council to tackle? (Examples: vacant housing, business development, attracting residents back to the city/downtown, finances/spending, etc.)
Preston: The most important city issue to me is reducing city taxes. In 2006-2009, the city of Batavia residents took some very hefty tax increases in the amounts 12.6 percent, 20 percent, 9.7 percent and 4.2 perent change over the previous years. The city taxes that were levied on us got our city out of debt but never went away.
Those increased taxes are still built into our taxes today. At that time, the tax increases were greatly needed as we had a large debt. But times have changed; we have paid off a lot of old debt and are funding 12 reserve funds. We need to challenge old ways and stop taking the easy way out by raising taxes. We can still contribute to our reserve funds and reduce taxes.
Tabelski: In the face of stagnant or reduced sales tax revenue, which is the largest single revenue source for the City, we must craft a responsible budget plan that makes critical investments in our personnel and infrastructure while generally living within our means in other areas.
Adopting a good budget is always Council's most important annual task.
What three additional issues would you like to see the next city council focus upon?
Preston: Downtown business development. Batavia could do a better job capturing foot traffic downtown. We have a Thruway that brings thousands of people to our doorstep daily, and we need to monopolize more on that fact. Even our very successful soccer program detours hundreds of people out to the town daily, six months out of the year.
The council needs to work together and develop a plan that brings people downtown and creates more foot traffic. There are many ways to bring people to our downtown, for example -- expanding the ice arena to a three-rink arena is an idea that would foster out of town tournament play. This would bring in additional tax dollars from restaurants, retail and hotel stays. Batavia is in a great location for Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse tournaments. Get the foot traffic in the city! For every 1 percent in sales tax revenue generated, we can reduce our property taxes by 1.5 percent.
Mall/city center revitalization plan. Ultimately Council will need to figure out what the long-term plan for the mall will be. Is it a city support center or will it be used for retail? Either way, we need to turn this space from a liability to an asset. An expanded City Centre can harbor all support services for the city: Police Services, City Hall, Office for the Aging, Pathstone, Rural Opportunities and light medical use. Even partnering with GVEP (Genesee Valley Education Partnership) or GCC (Genesee Community College) to hold a few satellite classes in this facility for added foot traffic can only benefit downtown businesses.
Another consideration would be support for a mixed use retail plan. Whichever decision is made, it is imperative City Council cleans up the concourse issues with the mall association. Let’s put this behind us and move on to the future use of this facility.
Volunteer group. I would have Council look at the possibility of a volunteer group to continue the efforts of the former Vibrant Batavia. We would need to set up Ward member groups to keep the open lines of communication going. There are many citizens in Batavia that would love to volunteer a few hours a month to hold informational neighborhood meetings and discuss hot topics that are plaguing our neighborhoods. Safety in our neighborhoods is paramount!
Tabelski: A) Renewed sales tax sharing and water/wastewater agreements with the County. These agreements, which are interrelated, are set to expire after next year. They have established steady revenue streams that, if changed, could significantly impact the City's finances. I am confident we can sit down with our partners in local government to find a good solution for all.
B) Explore reducing operating expenses through energy efficiency measures. This is a way for the City to reduce our costs without eliminating a service or personnel. First, we need to conduct a review to see where the best opportunities for energy efficiency may be. As just one example, conversion to LED street lighting could save substantially on our electric bill.
C) Reaching an accord to allow redevelopment at the Mall and support of other downtown economic development projects such as Ellicott Station. Unfortunately, the public doesn't see the work that Council and our legal team puts into the Mall because it involves real estate and litigation -- matters best discussed in executive session. But Council and City staff agree that finding and bringing new investment to the Mall is near the top of our priority list.
What do you believe is the best option when it comes to the city’s police headquarters?
Preston: Adaptive reuse of the City Centre is the best bang for our buck. The city is currently holding storefronts that combined with other parcels may possibly be the key to a police station reconstruction. Why would we want to spend $7-$10 million on a new site? Similar to the City Hall expansion on the mall, we can clean up a section of the mall and take care of our police station needs all at the same time and for less money than building new.
Tabelski: This is not a simple question but suffice it say that an 1850s Italianate residence -- despite its good location near the center of the City -- is ill-suited to be a 21st century police department headquarters. Our government is actively trying to address the situation by investigating a preferred site for a new facility that was identified by an ad hoc citizen task force. If this option does not pan out, we have other options to pursue, including renovations to the current facility. The public should understand that there real estate negotiations underway so the situation is fluid. No matter what, we will keep the long-term cost impact to taxpayers at the top of mind.
What three books published within the last 250 years have most influenced you?
Preston: The books that have influenced me the most are the ones that have made me who I am today -- "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie, "Rich Dad Poor Dad" by Robert Kiyosaki and "Building Real Estate Wealth in a Changing Market" by John Schaub.
Tabelski: "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau, "1776" by David McCullough, and "The Collected Poems" by Stanley Kunitz.