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Candidates for Monroe County executive spar on taxes, housing, migrants and other issues

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello (D, WF) and Republican challenge Mark Assini (R, C), debate Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, at WXXI in a Voice of the Voter debate.
WXXI/Voice of the Voter
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello (D, WF) and Republican challenge Mark Assini (R, C), debate Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, at WXXI in a Voice of the Voter debate.

Voice of the Voter sponsored a debate between the candidates for Monroe County executive on Thursday night. Voice of the Voter is a long-running media partnership that includes WXXI television and radio, WDKX radio, the Democrat and Chronicle and 13 WHAM News.

The debate between incumbent Democrat Adam Bello and Republican challenger Mark Assini was broadcast from the WXXI studios in Rochester.

Bello is seeking his second term in office. Before his current role, he served as county clerk and Irondequoit town supervisor.

Assini is a former Gates town supervisor; he was a county legislator before that. He also previously ran for Congress in the 25th District and currently works in the private sector.

Taxes are always a big debating point in local politics and that was the case Thursday night. 

Bello said his administration has cut the property tax rate three times over the last three years. But the total tax levy overall has risen for a variety of reasons, and Assini took Bello to task for that.

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“We’ve increased spending over $100 million in this county since Mr. Bello’s administration,” Assini said. “The tax levy is $26 million higher annually, after he took office, and you have been overbilled in your taxes.” 

Bello criticized Assini for what he did — or didn’t — do in terms of trying to lower taxes when he worked in county government. 

“When my opponent was in the County Legislature, he voted for the single-largest property tax increase in the history of the county,” Bello said. “When he references $26 million in levy increase under me, that one single vote dwarfed all of that in one year." 

Another issue that came up involved the recent influx of migrants, who were brought here from New York City, and then housed at a downtown Rochester hotel. 

Assini said he cares about all people but worries that there are resources that could be better targeted toward local residents. 

“When we have people that are going to bed, homeless, hungry and afraid every night in our own community," Assini said, "and we prioritize people at the Holiday Inn who are getting three meals a day, a roof over their head, and benefits that many families aren't entitled to — some families, the best meal they get is at the school district — what do I tell that mom?” 

Bello said the entire process has been well-monitored by his administration, and there are certain requirements for this program. 

“New York City has relocated asylum-seekers under my executive order that requires them to identify who's paying for it, which is New York City, who's providing all the services from security, to food, to meeting other basic needs,” Bello said. “And there is no cost to the Monroe County property taxpayer for that happening.” 

Other issues included housing and the opioid crisis. 

Election Day is Nov. 7. Early voting begins Saturday.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.