by David Flint
Larry Eckhardt, Republican For Town Supervisor – Unopposed
I believe our Town’s challenges as we start the second decade of this century are: keeping existing and encouraging new business and commerce in Stephentown; enhancing the spirit and pride in our Town and our community; providing important needed services for our residents and taxpayers; and working with shrinking financial resources while being saddled by spending mandates from the county, state and federal bureaucracies.
Teamwork is the way for all our Town officials to accomplish necessary tasks. Last April, I asked that an additional “communication workshop” public meeting be added each month. This meeting provides all board members an opportunity to introduce items for discussion in advance of the regular monthly meeting thus allowing members time for research and to gather information for more informed and meaningful Town meetings.
Finally, our State government has made New York one of the most expense places in the United States to make a home, raise a family and conduct business. We can all work together educating our representatives in the county, the state and the federal legislatures how unfunded mandates make it costly to live in our rural Town.
Patricia Gallup, Republican/Democrat Incumbent For Town Clerk
With the present state of our economy, I feel it would be in the best interest of Stephentown as a whole, not to take on any unnecessary financial burdens. We need to provide and maintain for the residents of Stephentown quality services that are affordable. We need to allow residents the opportunity to remain here in Stephentown for a lifetime if they so choose. We don’t want people to be forced to leave our community out of economic necessity.
Joseph M. Champion, Republican For Town Justice
I feel the most important issue facing The Town of Stephentown is property taxes. Our property taxes in Stephentown are determined by a “tax czar” commonly referred to as the tax assessor. The Assessor appears to pull property values out of the air. If the tax assessor is using a common formula it is unknown to the property owners in Stephentown. Property values should be based on a comparison to other similar properties. In Stephentown, this is difficult to do because we live in a rural area where there are few comparisons to other similar properties. Everyone knows Stephentown must have funds to keep the Town running, and I know everyone wants to pay their fair share. The assessment should not be a figure determined by just one person. Property values should never exceed the actual dollar amount the property could be sold for.
Neil Gardner, Republican Candidate For Highway Superintendent
I will first address the issue that my opponent’s supporters seem to have identified as the most important issue of this election, my conviction. I understand why this would be a concern to some Stephentown residents. I wish I could explain the situation more fully but because the conviction is being appealed, my attorney has advised that I say very little about the situation. I can tell you that in my position as Highway Superintendent, I have never done anything that was not in the best interest of Town residents. Over the twenty one years that I held that position, purchasing local gravel from building permitted sites has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Town. The judge agreed with three Town Board members, Code Enforcement Officer Dean Herrick and me that this type gravel removal was legal and permitted correctly. There was no reason to mislead anyone about where the gravel came from, and I never intentionally did anything illegal.
On campaign visits to homes in Stephentown, however, the issue that seems most on the minds of taxpayers is fiscal management. Twenty one years of experience as a manager and decision maker have taught me how to control the budget, manage highway personnel and build a solid Town highway system.
During the time I was Highway Superintendent I brought in over $2,000,000 in grants. Since my first election twenty-one years ago, Town taxpayers purchased or replaced a grader, a Gradall, two loaders, five trucks and a mowing tractor without assuming debt. This year Town taxpayers assumed debt and interest payments on a tractor and mower.
Lastly, mistrust of management caused Town highway employees to become unionized this year which can only be costly to the Town.
I would like to return good fiscal management to the Town highway department.
Donald Burdick, Republican Candidate For Town Council
It really doesn’t matter what I identify as the most important issue in the Town. What matters is what the Town residents are most concerned about. As I campaigned door to door in Stephentown it is clear that fiscal concerns are a top priority of Town residents. Taxes must be kept at the current level or if possible they should be reduced.
Sometimes government officials, even small-town government officials, forget there is no such thing as “the town’s money.” The funds they speak of have been earned by town residents and it is the responsibility of every Town official, whether elected or appointed, to ensure that every penny is spent in a judicious manner.
At the current time, the fate of the Stephentown Elementary School is a large part of the fiscal responsibility facing the next Town Board. It is not only a fiscal issue but an emotional issue for those who spent time in that great little school as students or as parents of students. It is clear that if Town residents are willing to become involved with the building, it will be at a considerable cost to taxpayers. It should be left to Town residents to make that decision. In order to make that decision, there should be an explicit expenditure plan put forth to the Town residents in the form of a referendum. This is the only proper way to make such an important decision.
John Meekins, Republican Candidate For Town Council
I’m a retired Assistant Attorney General seeking election to the Stephentown Town Council. With declining sales tax revenues our Town is receiving less financial assistance from the County. If we raise property taxes we will drive good people out of our Town, people we cannot afford to lose. We must do our level best to reduce spending or at least hold it at current levels.
What should be done with the closed Stephentown Elementary School Building? Public meetings are currently being held seeking alternative uses for it by volunteer groups that could shoulder at least some of the maintenance costs. If that approach is ineffective I believe the Town should purchase the property (approximately ten acres), level the building and use it as a Town Park. This will preserve the centrally located site for community use.
I have left perhaps the most important issue facing our community for last so it will stay fresh in your mind. This election has polarized our citizens and brought out in some a meanness and vindictiveness that is both unsavory and demeaning. We must learn to disagree in a polite and civil manner and work together to address and solve our common problems. The ability to compromise and keep an open mind would make our community a better place to live.
Cyril A. Grant, Incumbent Democratic Candidate For Town Justice
I believe the three most important issues facing the Town of Stephentown are:
• The need for a comprehensive Master Plan.
• The future of the recently closed Stephentown Elementary School.
• The ability to provide services, while keeping taxes affordable.
Issues such as what to do with the Elementary School, or large scale development projects, could be dealt with more easily if Stephentown had a Master Plan. A Master Plan would serve as a blueprint for growth and economic development that could help offset some of the loss of revenue from the State and County. This would enable the Town to continue to provide valuable services to the community while keeping a line on taxation. The longer Stephentown waits, the more difficult decisions become.
Over the past 18 months a wide ranging list of ideas for the Elementary School has come from the meetings of the Stephentown Study Group, of which I have been a member. The current focus seems to be that the Town would be most interested in the site as a Town Park and Recreation Facility. I agree with the two Town officials who stated at the last meeting that if there is to be a major commitment on the part of the Town to lease or purchase this property, it should be decided through a public referendum, not simply by a five member board.
I strongly feel that a bi-partisan approach is the only means to success in a rural setting such as Stephentown.
The Town Court is also undergoing change. Procedural changes now require more advanced training for judges. Formal audit practices now require that all proceedings be digitally recorded. Changes have been made to court fees, probation and orders of protection guidelines, sex offender registry determinations involving misdemeanor convictions and much more. The Hon. Judge Edwards, Court Clerk Debbie Coppola and I work well together. We operate as a team and strive to deliver a high level of professionalism and fairness in Town Court. With Town Board authorization, we retained the service of a Prosecuting Attorney to assist with trials formerly handled by the NYS Police, greatly increasing Court revenue for the Town.
Alden Goodermote, Incumbent Democratic Candidate For Highway Superintendent
I believe the most important issue is how effectively our local tax dollars are used.
I have seen the previous Council and the current Council do an excellent job in protecting your tax dollar. Checks and balances are the easiest and most productive way to achieve security in spending. The current Town Council has made public auditing of all billing a priority, and I feel this is the best way to pay our bills. This allows anyone the opportunity to ask questions on any voucher that comes across the table. Transparency is the best way to achieve accountability.
I have been employed in the highway department for over 17 years and know that we are not going to please everybody all of the time. The best we can do is work honestly and work hard and trust that in the end most residents will be satisfied with what we do. Without the support of the guys in the garage and the highway crews from neighboring communities, we cannot succeed. This was most recently demonstrated during our recent flooding. By working hard and sharing services with our neighbors, we can achieve great things for Stephentown.
Chris Demick, Incumbent Democratic Candidate For Town Council
There is never just one issue confronting government and taking precedence over all others. With that being said, I believe that we need to establish better standards for our community in regard to our procurement policy.
When we were elected to the Town Council four years ago there was no established procedure for what was required at the first of each year to keep our Town operating normally during political transitions. I would like to establish a standard spreadsheet that lists all of the materials and services that need to be put out for bid annually. Without a comprehensive list something may be missed and cause our normal operations to come to a sudden halt or worse yet, put us at unnecessary legal liability. Our procurement policy also needs to be updated annually and reviewed to meet our needs as a community.
I would also like get back on track with our master plan. We touched on this briefly a couple of years ago and it was put on the back burner due to other priorities. The master plan is crucial for our community to head into the future. This plan should establish long term goals and changes to parallel our county and state government legislation. This plan should be updated every five to ten years. Our master plan was last updated in 1991.
PJ Roder, Incumbent Democratic Candidate For Town Council
I ran for Town Council four years ago with aspirations to ensure accountability, integrity and transparency in Stephentown government. We have taken great strides in achieving all these things. These three principles should always be the guiding lights for any town. I also came into office intending to keep expenses and taxes low. Our success in this is clear to see in the fact that our Town budget has not increased in the four years we have been in office.
We are currently faced with the closure of our elementary school. I believe this property is vital to our community. We feel that the school grounds are a must have for our Town. We currently do not have a place for our children and families to go have picnics, walks or recreation.
I think we should take the best of these plans and present them to you, the townspeople, for input. These plans must have realistic long term goals and the financial impact should be outlined for everyone’s review. I believe the next step should be a referendum in which the residents of Stephentown have the final say in what is done with the property. The long term usage of this property and financial undertaking is too important to the Town not to let you, the taxpayers, make this critical decision for your community.
There are many issues confronting Stephentown at this time but obviously the fate of the Elementary School property looms largest.
Ruth Rieger, Incumbent – Republican And Democratic Candidate For Tax Collector
I believe it was a big mistake for us to allow the Berlin School District to close down the Stephentown Elementary School. The result will be that a younger generation with young children will not want to move into this area and pay high school taxes, yet have no local grade school for their children. They will not want to have their children bussed long distances. If this decision cannot be reversed, the Town should put pressure on the State to redraw the lines of school districts so that children go to the closest grade school.
Stephentown has made mistakes in the past by letting the medical center go and by missing the opportunity to buy the land along Provost Road for a town park. Some have suggested we now buy the vacant school property for a park. This needs to be analyzed further, but with fewer children living here it seems doubtful that we now have the need for a park, and such an investment would mean higher taxes which would not be fair to our already overburdened taxpayers. And, unless the vacant school building can somehow revert to being a community grade school which would attract a younger generation here, I do not believe the Town should consider assuming ownership or investing any money in it. The Town should, however, see to it that the School District keeps the property well maintained and does not demolish the building.
by David Flint