Meet the Candidates — City Council: Jared Villella

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Your Daily Local reached out to the candidates for City Council to get their take on some of the most pressing issues currently facing the City of Warren. Their responses follow.

(Editor’s note: we are running the questions and responses in their entirety, with only minor corrections made for spelling/grammar where applicable.)

See all the candidates here


JARED VILLELLA

Q: What most qualifies you to serve on City Council?
A: I’ve been having conversations with city residents about local issues since I began door-knocking in 2017, so I am tuned in to the issues that matter to them. It was those conversations that inspired me to run for Council and hopefully serve the citizens of the City.

I plan on bringing a fresh perspective to the table as a voice of and for the people. I believe my experience in building budgets and managing large scale projects, analytical mindset to look at all angles before making decisions, passion for serving my neighbors, and ability to truly relate to all citizens across the city will make me a valuable asset to the future of the City of Warren.

Q: Why should someone “cross the aisle” to cast their vote for you?
A: You have to be able to have a conversation with folks on your side, across the aisle and everywhere in between. I have done that knocking on hundreds of doors since February. I plan on continuing to treat everyone with the same level of respect, regardless of party affiliation.

We are all neighbors living in the City of Warren. Some of our beliefs may differ, but my message of Safety, Growth and Accountability has resonated with citizens of all walks of life, and all over the city.

My duty on Council is to work to create the greatest positive impact, with the lowest percentage of “adverse” effects possible for all citizens in the city. I will always fight for what I feel is right for City residents. I will be your voice, and I will always listen.

Q: What is the most pressing issue currently facing the City, and how do you propose to solve it?
A: I feel the most pressing issue currently facing the City is an identity crisis and uncertain future due to the declining population. That includes budget concerns, public safety, development challenges and the ability to attract new residents and businesses to the city.

There is no “magic formula”, but I know there are numerous groups currently working toward potential solutions to help redefine the path forward. In my opinion, we need to:
-Fight to keep the city a safe place to live by maintaining our Police and Fire Departments. This includes keeping city tax dollars in the city as detailed in the EMS question below.
-Remove unnecessary barriers to opening and operating a business in the city, and work with local groups to provide start-up opportunities without creating competition for existing businesses.
-Develop a plan to better market the city to outdoor enthusiasts and people/families looking to relocate.

Q: What does development of Washington Park look like to you?
A: The Parks and Rec. potential Washington Park project is currently in the public discussion phase, with quite a few unanswered questions from what I’ve learned in conversations with citizens who have attended the discussion meetings. Any plans for development should only move forward once there are clear answers about safety, liability and the full environmental impact.

Council will be presented a final recommendation on this project by Parks and Rec. to discuss and vote on once the due diligence has been completed. With the current information and unanswered questions, I would agree to only mild development to make Washington Park a safer outdoor area for citizens, while preserving the natural forest habitat.

However, I feel there are more important issues in the city needing to be addressed that would have a positive impact on a higher percentage of city residents over the development of Washington Park – EMS, road repairs, maintenance and upgrades to existing parks to name a few.

Q: What budgetary solutions would you offer in order to hold the line on taxes?
A: We need to address our variable costs by continuing to negotiate to get the best deal possible on insurance, utilities, supplies, contracted services, equipment purchases, etc.

The city should continue to seek out/apply for available grants that put taxpayers on the hook for as little money as possible…BUT only for projects that were in the approved budget “pending grant funding”. We need to be better about setting acceptable goals of spending that incorporate the city building up a financial reserve.

I would propose the city utilize American Rescue Plan funds (aside from those already allocated to the boat ramp project currently pending approval) to cover all applicable and approved line items in our operating budget, move 70-80 percent of those originally budgeted dollars to the General Fund to carry over for large projects in the upcoming years and use the rest to start the “rainy day” contingency fund mentioned previously. We have to be smarter about safeguarding our financial future and being prepared for the unexpected.

Every part of the budget has an impact on the lives of city residents. My commitment if elected would be to increase departmental accountability during those discussions to work toward a budget with flat spending wherever possible to provide the citizens of Warren with the services they require without undue financial burden.

Q: What key piece is the City missing that would allow it to attract more residents/businesses and how would you propose to find it?
A: I think a key piece is toward attracting residents and businesses to Warren is a solid and clearly defined marketing plan designed to increase visitation. We could be doing more to promote the city and what we have to offer outside Warren and the immediate surrounding counties in PA and NY.

The city should be partnering with the county and non-government organizations focused on city improvement to build and execute a plan for marketing the entirety of the City of Warren. The role of council in such a capacity is limited as the legislative authority in the city, and Trestle to Trestle is focused on development of a specific area. I would like to try to move toward a solution (likely part-time or volunteer with city oversight) that puts all the great things we have in the city in front of more people outside the immediate area.

Looking forward, we need to find opportunities to bring large, flagship events back to the city to draw people in. Increased visitation to the city benefits everyone. We need our existing businesses to thrive in order to attract new businesses and private development and to entice more people to consider moving to the city.

Q: Aside from withdrawing from the mutual aid agreement, what steps can the City take to help solve the EMS crisis?
A: First, I’d like to clarify that the plan isn’t to simply withdraw from the current cooperative agreement and walk away entirely. I would also state that this is focused on EMS, not fire emergencies.

Having been involved in the public meetings and work sessions on this topic in the past 12-14 months, plus numerous individual conversations on the topic, I feel confident in saying that if there were an easier or better solution, it would already be in place.

I am in agreement with Council’s unanimous vote on Oct. 18 to engage legal counsel to review the current agreement and assist with drafting a new cooperative management agreement with municipalities that wish to participate or coverage agreements with individual municipalities. The goal is to renegotiate to land on as fair and equitable a solution as possible.

The EMS issue isn’t unique to Warren. Similar problems are being faced all across the Commonwealth and beyond, with the cause being the fault of circumstances and not individual departments (paid or volunteer). The hard facts are that any solution is going to require municipalities outside the city to be financially invested.

I believe the number was over 300 for calls outside the city limits that were responded to by the City of Warren Fire Department in 2020. We want to be good neighbors, but Council’s responsibility is to the citizens of the City of Warren whose tax money funds the City Fire Department. City taxpayers simply cannot indefinitely keep footing the bill for all those calls outside the city where there is minimal reimbursement.

One thing I will not support is jeopardizing the safety of our citizens by cutting or diluting our emergency services. Having a safe environment is critical to our growth. Keeping those services, especially EMS, focused in the city as much as possible will help drive down expenses that we’re currently not being reimbursed for.

Q: How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in the City?
A: My primary goals would be facilitating engagement through the sharing of information and providing regular opportunities for citizens to interact with me outside of monthly meetings.

One of the pillars of my campaign is Accountability. Public forums, planned coffee conversations, quarterly meetings and regular updates back to the community are just a few ideas. I will have to flush out what the residents prefer, as ultimately I would represent them and they need to have the opportunities to have their voices heard. I think we’re in a time currently where citizens are hungry for increased interaction.

Q: If elected, what steps would you take to put the City on more sound financial footing?
A: The allocation of American Rescue Plan dollars toward all possible line items in the operating budget as mentioned in the budget question above puts more money in the General Fund and allows for the creation of a “rainy day” contingency fund.

While this solution provides an opportunity for the city to make up for revenue lost in 2020 and 2021 without placing more financial burden on taxpayers, we should be more forward-thinking in terms of project prioritization and planned expenses.

We should also look at potentially selling properties owned by the City that are currently underutilized or not making money from rent and have no plans for use or development in the next few years.