AuSABLE FORKS - The League of Women Voters of Plattsburgh hosted a Meet Your Candidate Forum at the Town of Jay Community Center here Tuesday.
Eight candidates participated, six of them in contested races and two running unopposed: town Supervisor Randy Douglas and Clerk Beatrice Pelkey. League President Sally Sears-Mack led the discussion.
The biggest sparring of the evening came between the town council contenders. Green Party and Tax Fairness candidate Fred Balzac is challenging incumbents Archie Depo, a Democrat and Progressive, and Amy Shalton, a Republican and Progressive. Voters will choose two of them in the Tuesday, Nov. 5 election.
Each candidate stated his or her position before answering questions submitted anonymously by attendees.
Balzac went first and said he is running for the fourth and possibly last time. He has previously made two other runs for town council and one for town supervisor.
"I want to give people more of a say in how their town is run," he said. "In the town of Jay we have three art centers. We have the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay, we have the Amos and Julia Ward Theater in Jay, and we have the Tahawus Lodge and Arts Center in AuSable Forks. We have a great town history, a cultural life that is something to be promoted. We have artists, and of course we have scenic beauty. I think we should use the town of Jay website to promote these things. We have to reach out and promote what we have here more."
Shalton said bringing young people into the area is essential to the town's future.
"The town is beginning to come back alive again," Shalton said. "One of the main things we need to bring in the young is communication, to bring in the high-speed highway. We do have the AuSable Acres broadband coming in, and we have a lot of young people coming in to buy homes. We should also bring back our farmlands. My main thing, though, is to bring in hydroelectric, which is to use the old (J and J) Pulp Mill dam, which we've had for years. We need to get jobs here."
Depo agreed the website is important.
"We also have to go out there and get some grant money because you can only use (local) taxpayer money for certain things," he said. "I would like a town with more business in it."
Depo said he wants more of the town to be classified as "hamlet," the state Adirondack Park Agency's least restrictive designation, including into Upper Jay.
"We not only lose tax base, but we have to expand the hamlets because it affects your special districts, water districts and school taxes, things like that," he said.
The candidates also sounded off about the future of the town.
"With Tropical Storm Irene and the effects of the properties and buyouts, I think affordable housing would be a real major goal for the next five years," Balzac said, "so people can stay in the community."
Balzac also said the town would benefit from a comprehensive plan that would ready it for the recurrence of powerful storms.
"I think we need to talk about zoning," Balzac said. "The more we can plan and the more we can figure out, as a community, better ways to prevent harm to our people, the better."
Shalton also talked about storm preparation.
"We need to work on our riverbanks," she said. "We need to work on getting our river back to bring our fish back. We need to have our fish back; that's a big selling point for our area."
Creating jobs was also on her list.
"We need to bring our children back here," Shalton said. "The Elizabethtown Community Hospital is looking to open a clinic in Jay, and that'll be great for us. It would also be nice to have a motel where people could stay. We have a number of homes who rent out space to visitors already."
"I think we need to possibly look at a playground and park in the Upper Jay area," Depo said. "I think we have a lot of rebuilding to do. I'd say bigger culverts and emphasis on bridges is also important."
Depo commended the present town board and said it's the best he's ever worked with.
"This town board, I think, has been a model of transparency," Depo said. "I've worked with board supervisors and 10 different council people, and I think this is the most transparent and accountable board I've ever worked with."
Balzac, however, questioned the board's transparency.
"I'd like to bring up the recent vote that was held to extend the contract for the assessor, which was done at a special town board meeting not advertised in advance, to my knowledge, with really no public input," Balzac said to Depo. "Why did you support to renew that contract at that meeting instead of voting to put it off until a later meeting?"
"My reason for voting," Depo responded, "is my research is that the assessor is through Essex County and also through New York state; she comes highly recommended by both. My knowledge is there is only one other assessor out there in Essex County, and she does not have the rating ours has. That's the reason for my vote, and I'll stand by it."
Town Tax Collector Valerie Coolidge, a Republican and Progressive, will face Integrity party candidate Tina Fenton on Nov. 5. Coolidge was not present at the forum, but her husband, P.K., spoke in her stead.
Coolidge noted his wife's experience as deputy town clerk from 1983 to 1988 and as town clerk from 1989 to 1991. She currently works in Plattsburgh State University's Office of the Provost as vice president of academic affairs.
Fenton noted her own experience as director of the KOA campground in Wilmington for eight years and in keeping the books for her husband's business, Fenton Enterprises. She also served as poll inspector for the Essex County Board of Elections and provided clerical support for various town of Jay offices.
"I'm very proficient with computers and have a great deal of experience with large sums of money and reconciling very active bank accounts," Fenton said. "I have no intention of pulling anyone else in to do the job entrusted to me by the voting public."
Fenton asked P.K. Coolidge if Valerie plans to appoint a deputy to help her if she's re-elected.
"We had talked about appointing myself if the town board allowed that," P.K. Coolidge said. "Valerie will be available evenings, Monday through Friday. I believe she works from 8:30 to 4:30 at Plattsburgh State college. She'd also be available Saturdays. If the town board chooses yes, there could be another person to fill in."
Superintendent of Highways Christopher Garrow, a Democrat and Progressive, will defend his position against Fair Deal candidate William Lincoln, who was not present.
Garrow said he has lived in Jay since 1979 and has been with the highway department for 28 years: 14 as an employee and 14 as superintendent. He was also appointed as director of the town Department of Public Works in 2005.
"Since my start in office in 2001, I have been in charge of taking care of several events, including five flood events and five ice jams as well as 10 FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) projects," Garrow said. "I did 52 projects for Irene and am currently doing 15 projects."
Garrow also said he has experience writing proposals for grants.
"At this time, the experience I've gotten is from writing the FEMA project worksheets. I've currently written and worked on 10 projects from 1993, 52 FEMA projects, and I'm working on nine projects for hazard litigation and currently working with the New York state steering committee and doing several projects with that as well. I've completed 49 projects at this time. The others will hopefully be completed by 2015."
When asked about his views on sharing services with other municipalities, he said it is a benefit to Jay.
"If we have to pave a mile of road and we have five trucks, it would take us probably in excess of three or four weeks to do it," Garrow said. "With the shared services, we can have up to 24 trucks at one time, and we can do a mile in one day."
Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.