Candidates in Andes square off
By Pauline Liu
Andes voters got their chance to question some candidates for town government about key issues including budget cuts, fracking, communication and economic development at the Andes Candidates Forum on Sunday Afternoon.
The two-hour long event at The Andes Hotel drew a standing room only crowd of approximately 80.
Though nine candidates were invited, only five attended.
Missing from the event and conspicuous by their absence were the two candidates for town clerk. Incumbent Janis Lynn Jacques lost last month’s Republican primary to challenger Kimberly Tosi. Jacques is now running as an independent.
Meanwhile, Tosi’s father, Mike McAdams, the five-term incumbent highway superintendent was also a no show, as was Tom Hall, a Democratic and independent challenger for town council. Organizers explained that by mistake, the candidates for tax collector were not invited. Five term incumbent Republican candidate Margaret Moshier is running for re-election. She will be facing Democratic challenger Stephanie Soules, who is new to politics.
The three Republican incumbents and two challengers who attended the event took written questions from the audience. Those questions were read aloud by moderator, Pastor Steven Swanson of the Andes Presbyterian Church. Andes resident Jack McShane served as timekeeper. The event was sponsored by the Watershed Post.
Questions about cuts to the proposed 2012 budget were raised early in the event. Faced with mounting costs and a state mandated two percent property tax cap, Andes is being forced to do some belt tightening. Town Supervisor Marty Donnelly explained that the preliminary budget includes salary cuts. “Everyone who could get a cut in pay got one,” he said. Donnelly told the audience that copies of the proposed budget will be available at town hall. He added that he approached four elected officials in mid-term about taking pay cuts and they’ve agreed. Donnelly is a Republican who has served as town supervisor for 14 years. He is running unopposed for re-election.
Donnelly also detailed some of the rising costs facing the town. “The 2012 budget represents a five percent reduction in the general fund and highway budget,” he said. “A $100,000 home would face a $20 a year tax increase. There’s been a $20,000 increase in health insurance and $13,000 in state retirement costs. Four hundred thousand dollars was spent from the general fund to fix roads and bridges. FEMA still hasn’t paid us. Once we receive money from FEMA, we’ll be in good shape.”
Republican Incumbent Ritchie Gabriel has served 24 years on the town board and is seeking another four-year term. He discussed why the cuts were made. “We were looking at a 17-to-18 percent tax increase and we’re looking at a seven percent increase right now,” said Gabriel, who also works as a maintenance supervisor for SUNY Delhi. “We worked hard to keep your taxes down, ” Gabriel added. His fellow Republican Town Councilman Shayne Moshier also discussed the pay cuts, including trimming down the highway budget.“ We cut everything we thought we could cut,” said Moshier, who has already served three terms. He and his wife, Tina, the town assessor, own a business in Andes.
Democratic and independent challenger for town council, Wayland “Bud” Gladstone, suggested some alternatives to cutting highway department salaries, including consolidating services. “ We could get into shared services with other towns, but I think we really can do some trimming without cutting services,” Gladstone said. “My father always said, ‘You feed your help before you feed yourself,’ and I believe that we need to protect the taxpayers with a good highway crew.” Gladstone, who is a fourth generation farmer in Andes, served on the town board about 20 years ago.
Meanwhile, Bill Wagner, who is the independent challenger for highway superintendent, feels cuts may be in order. “I’m for budget cuts,” Wagner said. If elected, he vowed to reduce the salaries of highway department employees.
Wagner explained that he owned his own construction firm, which built roads. Wagner’s slogan is “Better Roads for a Safer Andes, Time for a Change.”
He is running against incumbent, Mike McAdams, who has both the Republican and Democratic party endorsements.
One particularly popular subject with the audience was natural gas drilling or hydrofracking. Seven questions were submitted. All of the candidates insisted they did not have leases with gas companies. They were divided when asked to give their opinions on fracking.
Gladstone explained that he has 400 acres of land, but will not lease his land to a gas company. “Straight up, I’m against fracking,” he said. According to Gladstone, tourism is the town’s leading industry and gas drilling would put an end of tourism in the region.
Wagner agreed. He told the audience that the roads in Andes would not be able to
withstand the heavy traffic brought on by fracking. Supervisor Donnelly also said he was against natural gas drilling. However, the two incumbent town councilmen took a very different stand, explaining that they were currently undecided on the issue. “ I’m sitting on the middle of the fence, because we don’t have all the facts and I want the whole truth before I make a decision,” said Moshier.
Meanwhile, Gabriel took a swipe at challenger Gladstone, as he gave his response. “I can’t say I’m for it (fracking) and I’m not going to be like Bud with blinders on and say that I’m against it,” said Gabriel. Later, Gladstone retorted. “I don’t wear any blinders,” he said.
The candidates also fielded a question about improving communication within the community, so that residents can find out what’s going on and when the next town board meeting is scheduled. Gladstone suggested that the town needs a website, to which Moshier agreed. “We are working on a website to get us into the 21st century,” explained Gabriel. Supervisor Donnelly explained that the town meeting schedule can usually be found in three or four of the region’s newspapers.
When asked about their efforts to increase economic development, all three incumbents pointed out that watershed regulations place heavy restrictions on development. Still, Gladstone explained he would like to see an economic development community in Andes. Wagner agreed and discussed the need for new types of businesses. “I think we need other types of stores beside antique stores,” he said. “I think we need a mercantile or an IGA.”
The candidates will be on the ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 8. A series of public hearings are scheduled two days later on the 10th. They will precede the monthly town board meeting. The hearings are tentatively scheduled five minutes apart, beginning at 12:15 p.m. and the topics are to be discussed in the following order: 1) an override of the state’s two percent property tax cap; 2) the proposed 2012 budget; 3) proposed six-month moratorium on heavy industry to prevent fracking; 4) town board meeting will follow. The topics discussed at the public hearings will be put to a vote by the town board.