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NIAGARA FALLS – Niagara County should play a greater role in neighborhood revitalization in Niagara Falls, Legislator Jason A. Zona said in a candidates forum Monday, while his opponent, Giulio G. Colangelo, said job creation should be the top priority.

The statements came in the forum in the Niagara Falls Public Library, sponsored by the Landlords Association of Greater Niagara, the Highland Community Revitalization Committee and the Niagara Community Forum.

Zona, a Democrat running for his second term in the 5th District, endorsed a six-month residency rule for welfare benefits, while Colangelo, a member of the Independence Party nominated by the Republicans, said the waiting period should be a year.

There is no residency rule for welfare now, but the Legislature has asked Albany for a six-month rule.

Both candidates said larger shares of sales tax revenue should be arranged for the Town of Niagara portion of the 5th District, as a reward for hosting the Fashion Outlets Mall.

“The 4th District is not a desk-job district,” said Saladin Q. Allah, a minor-party candidate in that inner-city district. He said his record of working on behalf of youths in the district makes him the most-qualified candidate.

“I have been on welfare. I have had food stamps. I have even lived in public housing,” said Republican Candace J. Corsaro, who proposed limiting the length and value of Industrial Development Agency tax breaks, while giving more aid to existing small businesses.

Allah said the county is selling itself too short in throwing tax breaks at businesses, comparing the county to a girl desperate for a boyfriend.

He opposed “waiting for somebody to come in and save us. … We need leadership and activism,” Allah said.

“We need to do something about the crime, which has totally gone bonkers,” Corsaro said. “We’ve closed too many doors. We need the Niagara Community Center reopened.”

The 4th District incumbent, Democrat Owen T. Steed, did not attend the forum.

The event started slowly with 3rd District incumbent Cheree J. Copelin, a Republican, having a free ride, since her Democratic opponent, Mark J. Grozio, failed to appear.

Copelin, a Niagara Falls teacher, said she supports Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove’s suggestion to use the county’s surplus funds to pay for a property tax cut in 2014.

“We’re a highly taxed county, and people are unhappy,” Copelin said. She said she favors a tax cut with the surplus “as long as we’re not cutting into any services the county needs to keep going.”

Veteran Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, the Democratic 6th District incumbent, faced off with Republican David J. Zajac.

Virtuoso, who has served 22 years, has been in the Legislature as long as his opponent has been alive.

He said he has never voted for a property tax increase.

He said the Democrats have succeeded this year, despite their small numbers in the GOP-controlled Legislature in delivering direct payments of welfare shelter allowances to landlords and a local hiring policy for the IDA.

Zajac, who coaches bowling as Kenmore East High School, said Niagara Falls “deserves better in their elected officials.”

He said the local hiring rule was “a great thing” and said he would build on that achievement. Zajac also endorsed a welfare residency rule but said sex offenders should be denied housing help.

Virtuoso said the county should seek bids for rental space for its records and voting machines in 2014. Zajac said no-bid deals shouldn’t be allowed.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com