AUBURN — The final debate between the candidates running for Auburn City Council brought out the differences between the four candidates on issues such as the Equal Rights Cultural Heritage Center and public safety.
The debate between Democratic incumbents Terry Cuddy and Debby McCormick and Republican challengers John Camardo and Adam Miller took place Tuesday afternoon at Cayuga Community College.
Throughout the 90-minute debate, Camardo and Miller blasted the current city government for high taxes and ignoring what the public wants, while Cuddy and McCormick highlighted the positive changes that have happened in Auburn since they were elected to council four years ago, such as the stabilization of the city's finances and growth in downtown Auburn.
For instance, Camardo and Miller said the current city council's decision to build the Equal Rights Heritage Center in a well-used parking lot is an example of the city council not listening to the concerns of the public.
"The No. 1 complaint I hear going door-to-door is 'Why does it need to be in that parking lot?'" Miller said.
McCormick rebuked the claim that the city did not listen to the public's input. She said city council and city staff held public meetings, met with neighboring property owners and conducted studies.
"We did everything possible that we could do to make things work for everyone that's involved," McCormick said.
Cuddy noted that adjustments were made to the original plan based on input from Auburn residents and as a way to compensate from the lost parking, the city council has worked to provide alternate solutions.
"People don't want to park on Court Street or park in the parking garage," Camardo said. "They want to park in a parking lot that's well lit."
The candidates also discussed the current staffing levels of the Auburn police and fire departments.
Cuddy and McCormick said their actions as city councilors shows they support public safety.
"When Councilor Cuddy and I took office, our public safety — police and fire — I would say were broken," McCormick said.
She said that the city council had laid off 10 firefighters, which ended up costing the city more money in overtime costs, and the police department was being "mismanaged" by the police chief at the time. Cuddy added the city had let go of several crossing guards, the School Resource Officer program was "in peril" and the Finger Lakes Drug Task Force was dismantled.
Miller said he thinks the staffing levels are fine for the time being and the city should periodically look into the staffing levels and adjust them as needed.
Camardo, on the other hand, believes the city needs to hire additional police officers to combat the heroin epidemic.
"We need more police officers out there to take this poison off the streets," Camardo said.
He said while he was on the city council, from 2012 to 2015, he wanted to hire two additional police officers. Cuddy and McCormick, who were also on the council at the time, were not in support, Camardo said.
The Citizen's Executive Editor Jeremy Boyer asked Camardo and Miller how they would balance the city's budget, since they are both calling for tax decreases.
Miller said he would go through the budget with a "fine-tooth comb" and prioritize projects based on what the city really needs. Camardo is in support of zero-based budgeting, which would require all city department heads to justify expenses.
Boyer then asked Cuddy and McCormick why people should choose both of them for re-election, since the city council is currently made up of all Democrats.
"I don't think the public should worry about us all being one party," Cuddy said. "We're all very different. I don't think party really matters as much in local elections."
McCormick agreed, adding that the five members of council do disagree on certain issues but in the end, want to do what is best for the city of Auburn.
A recording of the debate will be broadcast on Spectrum channels 12 and 98 at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on the same Spectrum channels and on Verizon channel 31. Audio of Tuesday's Auburn City Council forum will be played at 10 a.m. on the college radio station, WDWN, at 89.1 FM.