By Kellen M. Quigley
Incumbent Mayor John Burrell and challenger Bill Coolidge faced off in what is believed to be the first mayoral debate in Ellicottville in living memory, held March 4 at the Ellicottville Town Center on Parkside Drive.
Sponsored by the Ellicottville Times and moderated by Caitlin Croft, reporter for the Times, a packed audience gathered in the large meeting room for the debate, which featured opening and closing statements as well as 10 questions for each candidate.
The evening began with opening remarks from Coolidge, a life-long resident who discussed his history as a law enforcement officer, working with the Sheriff’s Office, Seneca Nation, as an Air Marshall and at the Bureau of Prisons, saying he has learned the ability to be honest, know what’s right and be forthright with people.
“My job, if I were to become mayor, is to give you the voice again. To give you the vote you don’t have right now,” he said. Coolidge said he believes not all the information from the village is getting out to the public, something he said needs to start happening if the village moves forward.
In his opening remarks, Burrell discussed his history in the village, both as a resident and in the public eye, saying he is about three things: love, service and experience.
Burrell said he’s been a village zoning board member, a village trustee, a town supervisor and a mayor during a previous term, as well as positions in several county boards and organizations.
“Experience, from a village point of view, gives me, I believe, the expertise to be mayor,” he said.
The first question of the debate pertained to parking in the village. Burrell said the board has worked hard in recent years to create more parking spaces in the village, saying they spots are safe and work. Coolidge said while the spots are utilized, not all of them are safe. He said instead of looking for working housing, the village should look for more parking spots.
Concerning working housing, Burrell said people are driving to Ellicottville from as far away as an hour. “We need places here for people to live in so they can be involved in our community,” he said.
Coolidge said the village has enough houses for people to rent and live in, but the recent short-term rental law has made finding places for workers to live a problem.
“It was voted on unanimously, but do we know what it is? Do we have what it is?” he said concerning short-term rentals. “There are so many things that we have to follow, and it’s going to cost money to go and check all this stuff out.”
Burrell said the law has been in place for about 18 years, but the village has been trying to make it clearer and more enforceable to act no complaints. Coolidge while rentals have been happening for decades, the new law was recently adopted and doesn’t know how they’ll be enforced.
Looking at bringing young professionals into the village, Coolidge said he’d like to bring things for younger generations into the village for them to put down roots, mentioning more medical arts services. Burrell said more medical services have been coming into the village, but the board has been working on a downtown revitalization project that will enable Ellicottville to bring more jobs to the area.
In a way to get more involved in the community, Burrell said he’s been getting more involved in social media and said the village has a modern website that offers many ways to connect with the community.
“My platform is simple: I will talk to everybody,” Coolidge said. “I want to know what you’re thinking. … You should feel 100 percent confident and at ease to walk up to anybody and tell them anything that’s going on in the village.”
Concerning the possibility of the village dissolving into the town, noting the recent water merger with the town, both Coolidge and Burrell said the village and the town need to remain their own municipalities. They also agreed on finding ways to keep track of and managing the trees in the village, since Ellicottville is designated as a Tree City USA.
As far as a village budget is concerned, Coolidge said he knows how to budget funds, even if he doesn’t have experience with the village’s funds. “If you do what’s best for your community with those tax dollars, your budget is going to be just fine, and your people are going to help you.”
Burrell said the village has done a great job with its budgets and planning, saying Ellicottville is one of the cheapest places to live, tax-wise, in the area. “We need to know how to run (village funds) and how to use those,” he said.
Looking to the future, Burrell said he hopes to see more changes in the village both in the local government and the community, adding that he hopes that everyone will want to be part of a “vital, caring, strong community.”
Coolidge said he hopes to see the village healthier in 10 years, saying he’d like to see a focus on beautifying the village through fixing roads and sidewalks. “We should be the crown jewel of the county,” he added.
In his closing remarks, Burrell said he would also like to see a plan in place for infrastructure improvements in the village. “I think we can do it, and I continue to ask for your support,” he said.
Coolidge echoed Burrell’s remarks on the infrastructure, adding that hopes to see more fiscal responsibility in improving the village without going further into debt. He said from day one, the community would be involved, adding, “We all should have a say, and as mayor, your voice will be heard.”
Voters in Ellicottville go to the polls Wednesday, March 18. Burrell and Coolidge are running for a four-year term as mayor.
Two members of the Board of Trustees, Joe DiPasquale and Patra Lowes, are not seeking re-election. Running unopposed for the two open seats are Doug Bush and Ed Imhoff.