JAMESTOWN – With Election Day just weeks away, a debate to help inform voters about the Chautauqua County Clerk candidate’s priorities took place in Jamestown on Thursday.
Incumbent Republican Larry Barmore and Democratic challenger David Salley took the stage during the forum hosted by WRFA in partnership with WJTN and WNY News Now to share why they deserve the job.
The candidates were asked what they believe the biggest issue the County Clerk will face during their next term. While both candidates agree the DMV needs the most attention; their reasoning differed.
“The biggest issue for the County Clerk’s Office in 2022 is getting the DMV back to income levels that cover the cost of operations,” explains Barmore. “The county retains 12.7 percent of all funds collected at the county DMV offices. This amount has not changed in over 30 years, despite the fact that the state continues to siphon business from the local DMV’s to improve their income.”
Barmore also noted that the increase of online DMV services reduces the funds that remain local. Instead, they go directly to the state.
Salley, however, noted issues that the COVID-19 pandemic brought attention to.
“The biggest issue is serving all of the people, you cannot run a governed office as if it’s a business,” says Salley. “A business focuses on profit and loss. If a portion of the market isn’t profitable, then they don’t serve that market. A government office has to serve everyone.”
He mentioned the significant Hispanic population in Chautauqua County, and the DMV’s lack of Spanish-speaking employees. Barmore assured voters that the Dunkirk DMV does employ a Spanish-speaker, which Salley doesn’t believe is enough.
“There are civil service exams for Spanish-speaking clerks. We would have to advertise them heavily,” says Salley. “The ideal situation would be a minimum of one at each Department of Motor Vehicles, and somebody at the county office who could go to whatever office was needed.”
Barmore also explained that funding is an issue when it comes to staffing. Essentially, lack of revenue leads to lack of service.
Salley also explained the physical issue of space, stating that the building lacks parking and adequate handicapped accessibility. Barmore explained that the current location was the best the City of Jamestown would allow.
“I had a spot all picked out, and the representatives from the city of Jamestown came to the legislature and asked them not to approve it, because they wanted me to keep the DMV downtown because they were trying to improve the downtown,” says Barmore.
Another important issue the debate focused on was how each candidate would run the position. Barmore believes the seat should be held by someone who understands business.
“We try to do everything that we can to help every person, every person is welcome in our office. And all our offices are a user-based funded system, so to speak. If you need our clerk’s office, or our DMV, or weights and measures, you pay for the service. If you don’t need it, you don’t pay. We collect fees for things that we do, the fees are all set by New York State, and my department is the only department that takes in more money than it costs to operate, and we give money back into the general fund to help decrease everyone’s taxes.”
The Republican also claims that he has saved taxpayers roughly $750,000 since he took the position in 2013.
“I have a masters degree in Information Technology, I’m a skilled computer professional,” assures Salley. “He’s (Barmore) been complaining about lines being down at the State level and not getting communication through. It goes much faster for repairs if you have a professional at each end working on the problem.”
Salley also reviewed his past business experience as a programmer and technical support for multiple businesses as their public-facing employee.
Barmore noted that the position does not require a database “genius,” instead that having extensive knowledge is the State’s job, not the county. Meanwhile, Salley says that the county should have backup measures in place if the State’s system fails.
Salley also suggested a new method of service at the DMV to reduce wait-times.
“What you do is you switch to an accessibility scenario, doctor’s office,” says Salley. “You have people call a phone number or go onto a website and make an appointment and say, I want to do this, and they say ok, you need documents A, B, and C. The fee will be so much and it will take 20 minutes, can you come in on Wednesday at 11:20, and this way there is no line.”
Barmore explains that this method has previously been unsuccessful in the area.
“The Governor mandated that we have an appointment-only system. I knew it wasn’t gonna work but we did it anyway,” claims Barmore. “Within a week, we were booked 3-4 months ahead. Many people made multiple appointments which they never showed up for, but we have no way of policing that. And it just did not work.”
A debate between the candidates for Chautauqua County Executive takes place next Thursday at 8 p.m. following a ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum at 6 p.m. The programs will be streamed live on WNYNewsNow.com, our mobile app, Facebook page and on Channel 716.
You can watch the full debate posted below, or by clicking here.