SARANAC LAKE - The two men vying to be the next supervisor of the town of Harrietstown squared off Thursday in the only debate of the campaign.
Republican Bob Bevilacqua and Democrat Tom Catillaz fielded questions on a range of topics, including the town's management of the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear, how to attract business at the town-owned business park in Lake Clear, the village's proposed annexation of Trudeau Institute and the ongoing debate over the railroad corridor.
The questions were asked by this reporter and Andy Flynn, assistant managing editor at Denton Publications, over the course of an hour in the Enterprise offices.
Bevilacqua-Catillaz Harrietstown Supervisor Debate
Two prior debates organized by the Enterprise and Denton, both of which would have taken place in the Harrietstown Town Hall, had been canceled. The first date, Oct. 16, was dropped when Catillaz temporarily suspended his campaign due to a serious illness in his family. It was rescheduled for Monday, Oct. 29, but that was canceled due to the threat of high winds and heavy rain that night from Hurricane Sandy.
One of the biggest points of contrast during Thursday's sit-down came when the two men were asked how they would approach the job of supervisor. Bevilacqua said he wouldn't rush into making any decisions.
Republican Bob Bevilacqua, left, and Democrat Tom Catillaz field questions Thursday at the Enterprise during the first and only in during the race for Harrietstown town supervisor.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
"I like to take my time and look over an entire issue, get information from everybody, make sure everybody's voice is heard and talk to people in the community to make sure we're going in the direction that the community wants us to go," he said.
Catillaz argued that the town often moves too slowly. As an example, he accused the town of dragging its feet on the replacement of a retaining wall behind the town hall that was damaged in the spring 2011 floods, although Catillaz mistakenly said it was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene.
"We need to just sometimes suck it up, go in and fix the problem," he said. "That's the way I like to do things. If you sit back and study things forever and a day, they never happen."
Bevilacqua noted that the town was initially only going to get $40,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to replace the wall, which would only have covered a portion of the work. Last week, the town had another meeting with FEMA, and now the agency may give it more money than it initially offered.
"So if we had done it real fast, that could have cost the taxpayers about $300,000," Bevilacqua said. "Now, we might get more of it paid under the FEMA grants."
Throughout the campaign, both Bevilacqua and Catillaz have offered ideas for reducing the operating deficit at the airport, which this year totaled about $300,000. Some of those ideas, however, are things the town has already tried with only marginal or no success, such as encouraging other municipalities to make bigger contributions to the airport and adjusting the price of aviation fuel.
Asked what new ideas he had to reduce the airport's costs, Bevilacqua said he'd ask Franklin County to return some of the sales tax money the airport generates in fuel sales or to cut the county's share of sales tax on aviation fuel. He also shot down one of the ideas Catillaz has suggested during the campaign, charging for parking. Citing the infrastructure used to collect parking revenue at Plattsburgh International Airport, including fencing, gates and ticketing machines, Bevilacqua said it's "an expense the town just can't afford."
Catillaz countered that the Plattsburgh airport's parking operation is high-end and the town could do something "more our size." He also said he'd ask the county for help in running the airport, suggested the town lease out land for hangars and resume holding regular regional meetings on the airport.
Bevilacqua was quick to point out that the town is already leasing land for hangars and is developing more hangar sites. He said the board holds regular airport meetings that anyone can attend.
The candidates were asked what they'd do as supervisor to grow the 16-year-old business park, which is currently home to just two tenants, and whether the town should bring in outside help to market it.
Bevilacqua said the town doesn't have anyone with the expertise to market the business park and can't afford to hire someone to do that work. He noted that the park isn't costing the taxpayers much money and said his plan would be to use the proceeds from the sale of its one shovel-ready site to build out the park's infrastructure and create other developable sites.
Catillaz noted that the town doesn't have a link on its website to the business park. He said he'd ask Franklin County for help in marketing the property, but he doubted whether it has any growth potential at all.
"I honestly don't think you're ever going to see a business park out there," Catillaz said. "It was a great idea; it hasn't worked. I think we ought to, as the saying goes, fish or cut bait. It's 100 acres of land. It's beautiful home sites if we can rezone it to residential; I'm sure we could sell it off or get something out of it."
Bevilacqua said he's been told by the state Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation that the land can't be rezoned, but Catillaz said he "wouldn't take that as an answer."
Asked to grade the current working relationship between the town and village boards, Bevilacqua gave it a C.
"We seem to be bucking heads too much, in my opinion," he said. "How would I change that? I would definitely reach out to (village Mayor) Clyde (Rabideau) and the members of the village board and ask them what we can do to work together. I'd like to sit down and have a joint meeting with them."
"I don't think the relationship is anywhere near that good, actually," Catillaz said. "I want to work right from the start with the town and the village. I have faith that we can work together and bring good things to Saranac Lake and the town of Harrietstown."
Bevilacqua said he personally supports the idea of removing the railroad tracks and converting the rail corridor into a multi-use recreational path, saying it would be "more beneficial economically" than extending railroad service. For now, however, he thinks the best track is to have the state revisit the unit management plan for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, which the town board requested at its meeting last week.
Catillaz said he's "on the fence" on this issue. He thinks tourist train service between Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake is more scenic and would be a bigger draw than the current Lake Placid-to-Saranac Lake run; however, he also said the proposed recreational trail could have "a big economic impact" on the area.
Catillaz said the village and town need to sit down and talk about potential annexation of Trudeau Institute. Asked what the benefit of annexation would be to Harrietstown residents, Catillaz said it would save the institute, which is a major employer in the community, money on its water and sewer bill since it would be able to get cheaper rates inside the village.
Bevilacqua said the town can't have a dialogue until Trudeau or the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency, which owns several of the parcels on the institute's campus, petition the town board for annexation. He also said Trudeau's savings would be paid by other water and sewer users and that the village couldn't discount the utility rates of one customer in a town water and sewer district without doing the same for every other customer in the town's districts.
Asked if town government would look much different than it does today if he became supervisor, Catillaz said more decisions would be made by the board "and not depending on the treasurer and the lawyer."
On the same question, Bevilacqua said there wouldn't be a big difference in the way the town operates if he's supervisor.
"I think it operates pretty well right now," he said. "The town works pretty efficiently."
During his closing statement, Bevilacqua said he's enjoyed the campaign and that he was glad he and Catillaz finally had a chance to debate the issues face to face. He encouraged people to get out and vote, and to pull the lever for him.
Catillaz admitted he's been "a little obnoxious with the tax cap stuff," referring to his campaign slogan as "Tax Cap" Tom, but he noted the budget the board approved last week has a tax levy below the cap.
"We got it, and we can stick with it, and we can live with it," he said. "Things are going to move forward, and I'd really like the chance to be part of that."
Both audio and video of the debate were recorded. The video will be posted on YouTube and linked to the Enterprise and Denton websites today. The audio was given to Ted Morgan of Mountain Communications, who plans to broadcast the debate at approximately 9:30 a.m. Saturday on WNBZ-AM 1240 and Rock 105, 105.5-FM and 102.3-FM.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com