OLEAN — There’s a crowded eight-person field of candidate vying for three seats in Cattaraugus County District 8, the city of Olean.
The current Olean Common Council president, John Crawford and a former president, Adam Jester, are both Democrats running with Working Families and Libertarian parties’ support. Gerry LeFeber rounds out the Democratic field. He is also running on the Working Families Party.
Only one candidate, Republican Frank Higgins, is an incumbent legislator running in District 8. Two other Republicans are also running, Alderman Kelly Andreano and Rick Smith. Andreano and Higgins are also on the Conservative and Independence Party lines.
In addition, Councilman Brian George is listed as an Independence Party and Conservative Party candidate, while Matt Peterson-Volz is listed on the Libertarian Party line. George is not actively campaigning after losing the Republican primary
The candidates responded to several questions posed to them by the Olean Times Herald, including a statement of their candidacy, why they were running, their experience, issues, whether they support the county continuing to own two nursing homes and whether they support the County Legislature’s request to the Industrial Development Agency not to grant tax breaks to large wind farms.
John CrawfordCrawford has spent three years on the Olean Common Council trying to improve “the city’s financial situation and bettering our neighborhoods. Now I welcome the opportunity to represent the people of Olean at the next level.”
Crawford said, “My goal, along with my running mates (Jester and leFeber), is to put people, policy and progress ahead of politics at the county.”
A lifelong resident, Crawford grew up in East Olean and attended Allegany-Limestone Central School, where his mother was a teacher. He received a degree at St. Bonaventure University and went on to obtain a master’s degree in business administration. He worked in financial planning at Dresser-Rand before taking a position as an assistant professor of finance at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, Pa. in 2013. He is pursuing a doctoral degree through Wilmington University. He and his wife, Rachel, have two children.
Crawford said Growing up in Olean, the message he and friends received was: “Get out of Olean, there is nothing for you here. Go off to college and don’t look back.” He said he is he is “committed to staying in my hometown” and running for County Legislature because “I don’t want people repeating that same statement to my children! I want our community to feel hope, to see the progress, and to believe in Olean’s revitalization. I want my children to have as many choices about their future as possible; this has always been my motivation.”
Crawford said, “It’s going to take a lot of work by many committed individuals who possess the right skills to get the job done. As the only candidate with financial expertise on the ballot, I believe that my education and experience will be essential for representing our city’s taxpayers.”
He said, “We need help with our infrastructure, our blighted properties, and our business development/retention. I believe that I can use my strategic management and financial know-how to leverage our county’s resources in order to help our city rebrand itself for a promising future.”
Crawford’s experience includes two terms as Olean Common Council president. He said he helped cut $500,000 from the city budget as a freshman legislator.
“While on the Council, I’ve spent a considerable amount of my focus strengthening our financial position: such as sponsoring a fund balance policy, creating an audit and compliance committee, and passing policies to better protect and watch over tax payers’ dollars,” Crawford said. “At the same time, I’ve also spent a great deal of my efforts improving our neighborhoods. I’ve worked tirelessly with the mayor, the council and department heads to eradicate city owned blight in our community.”
He said he saved $100,000 by securing a private deal to demolish five properties.
Crawford also said he passed a new program in the city to allow for trap, neuter, vaccinate, and release for feral cats to reduce the massive stray cat population in Olean over the next 5 years.
One issue Crawford thinks the county isn’t addressing is what it plans to do with a $36 million surplus. “I know the city of Olean approached the County Legislature about contributing a million dollars towards our downtown revitalization projects, but nothing came of it,” he said.
“I don’t believe that Olean sees its fair share of investment coming back to it. As an elected legislator, it would be my responsibility to fight for Olean and present ways to bring funding back to our city to help its growth. I believe that Olean is the economic driver for our county and if Olean fails, Cattaraugus County will fail too.”
Crawford said he supports the continued operation of the county nursing homes, “but I believe changes are necessary. You cannot expect an organization to succeed while making budget cuts to it and letting rumors of its closure flood the community. If we want the nursing homes to succeed, the county has to make a considerable investment in them — it has to help foster their growth and success.
On the wind farm question, Crawford said, “I support the measure to not provide tax breaks to large wind farms. Quite frankly, I don’t believe the IDA should allow tax breaks for any type of business that doesn’t add jobs into our community.
Gerald leFeberLeFeber, who is running as a member of the Democratic team with Crawford and Adam Jester, said, “The three of us are dedicated to putting Olean first. There are a number of issues that touch the city of Olean and at the same time Cattaraugus County. Our experience of serving on the Common Council provides us with the vision to take a progressive view for the future.”
LeFeber said his “professional experience as a Lutheran pastor for over 35 years has given me valuable tools to be a county legislator. In each of the congregations I have served I was responsible for constructing fiscally sound budgets. I also provided leadership to initiate and direct programs that met the needs of people of all age groups. Working with and for people has been a vital part of my professional life. I would like to carry these traits over to our county legislature.”
He said, “In our day and age, honesty and integrity are essential for anyone who wants to be a part of public government. I have served as the board president for Genesis House, board member and secretary of the Olean Rotary Club and a member of the Advisory Board for the Olean YMCA for nine years. I feel that I can continue to serve the people of Olean and Cattaraugus County and will be able to have a helpful influence on their lives.”
LeFeber is a former Olean alderman, having represented Ward 1 for 3 1/2 years. “During that time I was chairman of the sewer and water committee, chairman of the public safety committee and a member of the fleet management committee.”
He has served as chaplain of the County Legislature for the past nine years. “During that time I have attended the meetings of the legislature and have seen how the workings of the legislature takes place,” LeFeber said. “Also I have gotten to know all the members of the legislature and the various department heads within the county.”
LeFeber said the biggest issue he sees is the surplus in the county. “Perhaps this large sum could be reduced somewhat by being used for social services on various levels. Could our county taxes be lowered by not having this big surplus?”
He said he supports the county continuing to operate two nursing homes. “As our county’s aging population continues to grow the much needed services these nursing homes provide are essential to the quality of life in the county,” leFeber said. “I have experienced first hand, through my visits with parishioners, how these nursing homes meet the needs of our aged individuals. The staffs of these institutions should be commended for their concern and diligent service.”
On the question of tax breaks for large wind projects, LeFeber said, “We ought to be examining every avenue that provides us with environmentally enhancing alternatives. Encouraging responsible wind farms and the use of solar energy through tax break incentives can be something that has far-reaching effects for a quality environment in our county.”
Adam JesterJester served one years on the Olean Common Council before he was elected president in 2015. He is endorsed by CSEA Local 805.
“I was born, raised and educated in Olean, and have since contributed through public service and community volunteerism,” Jester said. “Since graduating from St. Bonaventure, I’ve spent the last 18 years at Cutco” in IT and new business development.
“In 2009 I founded Southern Tier Technical Services to assist small businesses in our area with their technical, marketing and business challenges. I am also a graduate of the Leadership Cattaraugus program.” He is also a consultant for Olean Business Development. He was also a gubernatorial appointee to the Downtown Revitalization Initiative Local Planning Committee. “I’m personally committed to, and invested in, the resurrection of our historic downtown district,” he said.
Jester said he is running for Legislature because he wants to return to public service. “We’re in a time when there’s significant opportunity, particularly at the county level, for elected officials to have a real impact on the revitalization of our local communities.”
He said, “It’s important for voters to recognize that local elections really should have very little to do with one’s political affiliation. It’s the national issues that tend to divide us along party lines. What we’re dealing with here are local issues like high taxes, crumbling infrastructure, and neighborhood blight. We all want a safe and prosperous city to live in, the question is who can best accomplish that for Olean?
His accomplishments as a city alderman included:
n He researched, presented and implemented the city’s Home Improvement Tax Abatement Program.
n Working with the Council, Jester helped rewrite and consolidate several outdated ordinances such as a transient merchant policy, sidewalk cafe ordinance, grass ordinance, helped create a new city park on Homer Street and implemented a business-friendly, form-based code for the Downtown Business District.
n Jester served as chairman of the Strategic Planning and Labor Relations Committees, vice chairman of City Operations and Public Safety Committees, and served on the Blight Task Force, Urban Renewal Agency and on the Olean Local Development Corp.
Issues Jester feels the County Legislature isn’t addressing includes the state and county tax burden which “make it challenging for residents and businesses to thrive economically, and even more difficult to recruit new residents and businesses to relocate here” and the county’s $36 million surplus, “which continues to increase by around $2 million annually, thanks in part to excess revenues.”
Jester said, “Prosperity is nice, but as our population continues to dwindle, it’s time to completely rethink our approach to the property tax levy. Our overall tax burden is an existential threat to our ability to attract and retain new businesses and residents alike.”
He said, “I have a plan that would encourage residents to spend their money locally, and utilize excess sales tax revenue to reduce the property tax levy in the following year. I also think we would stand to gain from greater collaboration between the city and county governments, in particular on issues of shared services and neighborhood decay.”
Jester supports the continued operation of the county nursing homes in Olean and Machias. “I share the view that our county nursing homes represent an important quality of life benefit for our area.” He questions what led to a low 1 star rating for the Pines facility in Olean in an August report. “I don’t think we can give up on our facilities without exhausting all options and knowledge resources for possible solutions. While privatizing them may get them off the county’s books, the statistics show that it’s very possible to have a government run facility that
provides better care for our seniors, while maintaining fiscal responsibility.”
On IDA tax breaks for large wind farms, Jester noted “the wind farm issue is one with a lot of passion being expressed from the local level. I can understand and appreciate both sides of the issue there. Based on OTH reporting, it would seem that there were some procedural anomalies that led to the resolution’s introduction and passage at the County level, prior to the local government and other entities’ ability to weigh in as is normally done for other potential IDA inducement candidates,” Jester said.
“Generally speaking, I think renewable energy projects offer a unique opportunity to supplement cost reduction efforts in the overall county budget. The key is to find ways to implement it with little to no impact on nearby residents. I think we have that opportunity within our county borders, in vacant land parcels that are off the beaten path for wind, and on the rooftops of county buildings for solar.”
Frank HigginsA lifelong Olean resident, Legislator Frank Higgins is a small business owner and serve on several business and charitable boards and committees.
“I’ve been a county legislator since August of 2016,” Higgins said. “I currently sit on the Labor, Economic Development and Agriculture, Human Services and Land Bank committees.
“I’m running because I believe in honest, hard-working public service,” Higgins said. “I desire to serve the public in the County Legislature to make the county a better place to live. My areas of greatest importance are economic development and community renewal through legislative initiatives like the Land Bank.”
Higgins was appointed to the County Legislature in August of 2016 following the resignation of Legislator Matt Keller to become deputy treasurer. “In November of 2016, I won the special election defeating my opponent by just over 800 votes. It is my goal to continue to serve with a pro-business low tax, fiscally responsible platform for the county.”
Higgins said, “The county has run in a fiscally conservative manner during my tenure. With that being said, some additional emphasis and funding for economic development would be useful to local business growth and expansion. The Land Bank has just begun to show it’s success at cleaning up blighted properties in Olean and it’s expansion and growth would yield even more meaningful results. I believe the county is well managed and department heads are effective at advancing local community interest.”
He favors the continued operation of the county nursing homes. “The county receives IGT funding from New York state which makes the nursing homes sustainable for local property tax purposes. The county should continue to operate them for our communities’ elderly residents,” Higgins said.
On the IDA tax breaks for big wind projects like the five-town Alle Catt Wind Farm that includes Farmersville and Freedom in this county, Higgins said he is opposed. “It was clear to me that the residents present for the wind IDA pilot ban meeting had many serious and significant concerns. The local governments had failed to do their due diligence to protect local property owners and the county listened to their concerns. I will continue to support against taxpayer subsidized wind energy.”
Kelly AndreanoKelly Andreano has served on the Olean Common Council for five years and has worked as a licensed speech pathologist in the area for 26 years, beginning at Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES for five years, then moving to the Olean City School District, where she is currently employed. She has been a Speech-Language Department chair for 21 years and also serves as chair for Preschool Special Education. She is also a former adjunct professor at St. Bonaventure.
“I consider my greatest accomplishment and by far the most rewarding, the raising of my two daughters, Kaitlyn and Kylea,” she said. “My husband, Jeffrey, and I have been married for 25 years.”
Andreano said, “My decision to run for County Legislature was prompted by my vision for Cattaraugus County and the city of Olean. I believe that we, as a city need more representatives that listen and champion the cause for the people. I believe that my proven record as Alderman in responding to the needs of my constituents proves I am dedicated and willing to work hard in representing Olean.”
Her platform includes:
n Fighting to ensure that Olean receives the financial support needed from the county.
n Tax relief.
n Preservation and revitalization of neighborhoods.
n Local business incentives and jobs.
n Continued support for the county Land Bank.
n Strategic plan for infrastructure repair.
Andreano cites her five years as Ward 2 alderman as her experience for the County Legislature post. “During my tenure on the council, I have worked diligently for a fiscally responsible budget, advocated and secured funds for improvements to the infrastructure in the city and worked to preserve the youth programs and programs for senior citizens, which are vital to families in the city of Olean. In addition, I have provided Take Back the Neighborhood meetings for constituents to express concerns, be provided information and preventive measures towards safety in our neighborhoods. I have created and continue to lead the Task Force for Neighborhood Safety and Prevention for the city of Olean.”
Andreano cited much-need renovations to King Street Park in Ward 2 as an accomplishment. “I have worked on a bill that would create a smoke free atmosphere in all parks, playground and city-owned facilities to create and sustain an environment that serves to protect the health, safety and welfare of our city.”
Andreano said she would like to see the county:
n Offer incentives for current businesses in our area to provide on the job skilled training to hire new workers. I would like to see incentives for local business retention.
n Funding for public safety, prevention, neighborhood grants and staffing to combat the deterioration of neighborhoods, blight and crime.
n Increased funding for infrastructure repair and design.
n The City of Olean needs more financial support needed from the county.
n Tax Relief initiatives.
She said she supports the county continuing to operate the two nursing homes in Olean and Machias. If sold to a for-profit company, “the quality of care becomes about money vs. premium service. The privatization of county nursing homes is often bought by companies outside the area. They can be comprised of big management groups or equity companies. They will not be from the area; they are not vested in our local community. Quality of care deteriorates with the privatization of nursing homes.” Andreano added: “There could be a reduction in employees that are direct care and also wages could be reduced. Family or patient services run the risk of being eliminated. The people-centered quality care that our patients and families have come to admire and count on would be in jeopardy. There will be a human cost to these decisions and one that I am not willing to sacrifice.”
Andreano said she would not support tax breaks for large wind farms. “I have held firm to protecting and revitalizing neighborhoods. These wind turbines do the exact opposite. They create noise and visual pollution that is disturbing. The noise that is created is above the recommended amount for residential outdoor neighborhoods.”
In addition, Andreano said, “research has shown that those whom live or work close to these turbines suffer adverse health effects. The negative effects on the health of citizens in close proximity, environmental impacts and decreased property values far outweighs any revenue generating opportunities.”
Rick Smith is a retired National Grid employee; he worked there for 35 years and was a member of the IBEW Local 97. He is the son of the late Olean Mayor William O. Smith.
“I have been married to my wife, Peggy, for 48 years. We have four children, Colleen (Boston), Shannon (Boston), Kate (Dallas), Mike (Allegany) and have been blessed with seven grandchildren,” Smith said.
“I have enjoyed being a member of this community in many ways,” Smith said. “I am a proud parishioner of St. Mary’s Basilica and for two consecutive years I helped facilitate the Catholic Charities financial campaign. I also coached many youth sports over the years and was a member of the Olean Sports Boosters Club.”
Smith said he was running because he was “born and raised in a political arena and as such I have a continued passion and concern for keeping our county both healthy and prosperous. Specifically, I am focused on getting Olean its fair share of county surplus funds to further our revitalization efforts.”
Smith added that he was “committed to no tax increase at the county level. Promoting local business incentives and finding more job opportunities for our young community members just starting their career, is paramount.”
Also, he added “ensuring that the jobs for our highly experienced workforce remain in the area is also a priority. By working with local business owners and CEOs as well as other government officials on a regular basis, I believe we can achieve these goals,” Smith added..
“I will continue supporting the funding of the Cattaraugus County Land Bank,” he said. “This has been a highly successful initiative in our efforts to eradicate blight from our community. Tearing down deteriorating buildings has proven to be a deterrent for crime. My goal is to keep this project moving forward.”
As experience, Smith cites his lifelong Olean residency and his father, who “was the longest-serving mayor in our city’s history, serving from 1969-1985. I witnessed firsthand the positive impacts my father had on our city. When I became an alderman myself in 2004, my passion for making our community a better place to live and work expanded even further. In 2008, when the city of Olean was faced with an economic downturn reflecting the country’s recession, I was the Common Council president. As a group of aldermen, we as the Council, made tough financial decisions to keep the city moving forward.”
Smith thinks the county is missing the boat in not paying more attention to businesses. “I feel there is a need to make direct contact with exiting and incoming businesses in our county to maintain the jobs locally,” he said.
Smith also supports the continued operation of the county nursing homes. “Not only is it an issue of keeping jobs for the employees of both facilities, but it’s also important to provide top quality care for our elderly who have lived and worked here their whole lives,” he said.
Smith said he supported the County Legislature’s request to the Industrial Development Agency not to grant tax break to large wind farms.
“Yes, I support the request for a couple of reasons,” Smith said. “The preservation of wildlife is an important factor to consider. The noise created by large wind farms can be unfavorable to those living nearby. The serenity of our Enchanted Mountain communities is what makes our area unique and a desirable place to reside.”