Profiles Of The Candidates For The Stephentown Town Council
by David Flint
Bill Jennings is the Democratic candidate for the Stephentown Town Council. “I am committed to working in a bipartisan way with all members of the Town Board to do what is in the best interests of Stephentown. I am dedicated to moving Stephentown forward and avoiding the embarrassments and mistakes of the past,” Jennings said.
Jennings has resided in Stephentown for the past 33 years and has been very active in the community, especially since his retirement from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute after 35 years as Professor, Chair, Dean and Vice Provost. He currently serves as Fire Commissioner and Secretary for Stephentown Fire District #1, as EMT,
firefighter and Treasurer for the Stephentown Volunteer Fire Department and as Trustee and Treasurer for the Stephentown Memorial Library. He is also an active member of the Stephentown Historical Society and has served as both President and Trustee in past years. “I know the community well and believe I can significantly contribute to its future,” Jennings said.
He sees this special election being held to fill the remaining year of a current vacancy on the Town Council as crucial to determining the future direction of local government. “I look forward to using my energy and experience to help guide Stephentown through the next few years. If elected, I will focus on business/economic development, comprehensive planning and providing affordable and sustainable services to the residents of Stephentown,” Jennings added.
Jennings was asked to comment in particular on three issues facing the Town.
Regarding the Tentative 2011 Town Budget – “These are difficult times and the Town Board will have to make difficult decisions to keep taxes within reason, most likely for the next several years as the economy slowly improves. Revenues remain low, costs continue to rise and the reserves accumulated over past years are dwindling. The short term approach is belt tightening in all areas, although I would encourage the Town Board to look at the strategic value of each of the activities it funds, rather than simply do “across the board” reductions. The longer term approach is to build the level of business activity and expand the tax base in Stephentown, within the context of a Comprehensive Plan for our future. A Comprehensive Plan would also help define the affordable, sustainable services that the Town should seek to provide for its residents.”
Regarding the Town considering purchase of property on Grange Hall Road – “I would support the purchase of this property with two conditions: 1) the cost for purchasing and developing the property must be reasonable and 2) there must be a detailed plan for how it will be used, including all initial and on-going costs, that is supported by Stephentown residents in a referendum. If we had a Comprehensive Plan for Stephentown in place, it would be straightforward to decide whether purchasing this property “fits” with the Plan or not. We should start comprehensive planning as soon as possible. My personal vision for Stephentown would be to significantly grow the level of business and economic activity, provide more local jobs for local residents and expand the tax base. As Stephentown grows, we would soon need to expand both the Library and the Town Garage, making this property even more strategically valuable, particularly if a Town Park/Playground area is placed between them. Grange Hall Road could become the future center for community activities.”
Regarding disposition of the former Stephentown Elementary School – “My first preference would be to have an affordable, thriving elementary school. If the Berlin School District, with significant input from Stephentown residents, determines that this is not viable, my second preference would be to sell the building and the land behind it for commercial purposes, thus adding to the tax rolls, while keeping the court and athletic fields accessible to Stephentown residents, either through purchase, donation or some other affordable arrangement. Several interesting ideas on how the property could be used if Stephentown took ownership have been proposed, but I am not yet convinced that any of these are affordable or sustainable. A Comprehensive Plan, one which would define a vision for the future of the Main Street of Stephentown, would significantly help in sorting this issue out. There is still time to do this, since it is unlikely that major decisions will be made in the near future.”
John Meekins is the Republican candidate for the Stephentown Town Council. He is a registered Conservative and a retired prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General. He was asked his position on issues facing the Town, including the Tentative 2011 Budget, the possibility of the Town purchasing property on Grange Hall Road and the disposition of the former Stephentown Elementary School.
“With unemployment at record levels and declining sales tax revenues, our town, like so many across the State and the nation is in severe financial difficulty. If we raise property taxes, we drive good people away, further reducing our tax base. The only thing holding up many from leaving now is that they cannot sell their homes. The alternative is to cut spending and keep cutting it until it matches our current revenues.
“What spending should we cut? All of it. I understand the Town’s offer to buy the property between the Library and the Town Garage was rejected. Fine! Don’t renew it. That’s money saved.
“Regarding the Stephentown Elementary School, in the current financial climate, with a 10% proposed budget increase, any plans to purchase the school must be put on hold. Especially since the School District may have to consider reopening it given lead levels in their Berlin building.
“One of the largest items on any Town budget is salaries for Town employees. Cut their salaries, or if that’s not possible due to union contracts, cut their hours. As it stands now the only ones to have their hours cut were the Recycling Station employees, and they probably earn the least. That just isn’t fair. If cuts are made, they should be across the board so everyone shares the burden.
“The alternative to cutting employees or their hours is to ask the Town employees to work several days a month without salary, including elected officials. When I was with the Special Prosecutor’s Office we worked free days in tough economic times so as not to have to lay anyone off. Similarly, with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office we were all expected to handle night and weekend arraignments on a rotating schedule in addition to our full daily caseload for no extra pay. Perhaps the finest example of Public Service in this State was when Thomas Dewey fought corruption in New York City with a staff of a dollar a year men back in the nineteen thirties.
“What it comes down to is that Public Servants should be just that, i.e. servants to the public, willing to go the extra mile to see that their needs are taken care of. We’ve seen enough of the other kind in Albany recently, a Legislature too busy taking care of themselves to give a damn about the people who sent them there.
“I know that with the current mindset of many in this Town that I have very little chance of being elected. I just hope that Mr. Jennings and those officials already in office keep the needs of our citizens foremost in their minds. None of us needs higher taxes.”
Meekins said that if elected he will donate any salary due him to the Stephentown Memorial Library since the Town currently contributes toward its support.