Powerless People?

BUSTI – A recently formed citizens group, Citizens for Better Government, is calling the action by Busti Town Councilman Richard Thor an affront to its right to petition their town government.

“We worked very hard to put together a proper and legal petition, and we should not have to defend it in a courtroom,” said Cara Birrittieri, CBG spokesperson. “We got the required number of signatures. We should simply have a vote.”

The petition grew out of citizens’ pleas for the town board to examine other options before purchasing and developing an expansive retail property with store frontage along Chautauqua Avenue in Lakewood. Residents feel that proper business development would be eliminated if the town develops this property into government space. The board voted 3-1 to purchase the building in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

“The only choice we had to slow down this process was to put the sale of the current office building on hold through a petition referendum, and let the residents decide,” Birrittieri said. “Now they want to take that option away from us.”

Many members of CBG are outraged over the handling of the entire process, and agreed to change the name of the group from Citizens Action Committee to Citizens for Better Government to put the local board on notice.

“After watching Councilman Richard Thor in a meeting totally negate any input from concerned citizens, I was not surprised at all to see the legal action against the petition,” said Craig Seger, CBG member. “After all, he is now questioned by the very people that entrusted him with their local government.”

The CBG is also questioning the Busti board’s own resolution to first sell their current office building, then purchase the property at 125 Chautauqua Ave. According to CBG members, the board already purchased the retail building with surplus funds rather than the future funds that would be generated by the sale of their current building. The most recent town records available show Busti has upward of $1 million in general funds and still chose to raise taxes this year.

“This huge surplus fund could assist the town with meeting the governor’s 2 percent tax cap; build on our cooperative town and village momentum; and meet the goal of an average of $500 back in individual taxpayer pockets,” said David Bargar, CBG member. “Taxpayers are looking to shrink government. Why would the town push to move from a 2,500-square-foot building into a 12,000-square-foot behemoth?”

Thor was unavailable for comment.

The hearing regarding the Busti petition referendum is scheduled for state Supreme Court, at the Chautauqua County Courthouse, 3 North Erie St., Mayville, before the Hon. Deborah A. Chimes on Monday at 11 a.m. and is open to the public.