What would you ask the two men who want to be mayor of Amherst?
Steele High students got the chance Wednesday to pose their questions to David Kukucka and Mark Costilow in a debate organized by the social studies department.
Many focused on the candidates’ planks that could affect the school system.
For example, one student question asked what each would do to increase flagging school enrollment.
Costilow stressed that city officials do not have the power to regulate schools, and said attendance has taken a hit because couples are waiting longer to have children and other factors the government simply can’t control. Kukucka said families are choosing to live in Avon and other high-profile communities and Amherst needs to develop its business base to attract young workers with children.
A follow-up asked about specific plans for increasing well-paying job growth.
Kukucka said city leaders need to actively seek out more businesses to compete with Avon and Sheffield, and work with Main Street Amherst to entice companies to relocate here. Amherst needs to be a destination city and advertise its willingness to grow — and perhaps even have an economic development director.
Costilow said he has a plan that if elected he’ll present to city council but did not speak to what that plan entails. He promised to promote existing business locations and to work with land and building owners to advertise their appeal. He’ll also aggressively promote council’s recently-created mixed-use (residential/commercial) zoning to potential developers.
Another money question from students: With less state funding, how do you plan to keep revenue flowing?
Costilow said income tax collections are up significantly this year and outweigh state cuts. The truth, he said, is the Amherst tax base is growing much faster than inflation. Yet government must live within its means and be prudent with taxpayer dollars.
Kukucka recalled the struggles of the 2008-2009 recession and said he was proud of steering Amherst through without layoffs or furloughs. Where the city really needs help is in its general fund; less than 20 percent of residents pay 1.5 percent income tax to the operating funds (though everyone pays a half-percent tax for roads).
The discussion turned to a proposed new school. Students asked whether the candidates support construction and what the city would do to help.
Both candidates took the opportunity to express concerns over the possible use of school district-owned land on Dewey Road, which is just outside the city limits in Amherst Township.
Costilow and Kukucka said they would seek annexation of the land if necessary. The Amherst Schools are the city’s largest employer and losing those education jobs would be a huge blow to income tax collections.
Perhaps the most important question was posed by teacher Bill Walker.
“If I were 18 years old, why should I go out and vote?” he asked.
“Voting is a privilege, a privilege that was handed down to us a long time ago. Here in the United States, less than 20 percent of all registered voters vote,” Kukucka responded. Casting a ballot is the biggest honor you can have, he said.
“I’m going to put it very simply – your vote counts,” said Costilow, recounting a story of how just five votes made the difference in his first bid for an Amherst city council seat. Those who run know the value of every ballot cast, he said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times David Kukucka and Mark Costilow each want to be the next mayor of Amherst. They pose here during a debate at Steele High School.