TUPPER LAKE - Four candidates are seeking two four-year terms on the town board in Tuesday's election: Republicans Michael Dechene and Don Dew Jr. and Democrats John Quinn and Sabrina Sabre-Shipman.
The seats are currently held by Jerry Fletcher and Kathleen Lefebvre. Fletcher is not running for re-election, and Lefebvre is instead running for the two-year remainder of the term of David Tomberlin, who resigned this summer. The Enterprise profiled her and her opponent, Eric Shaheen, on Saturday.
Dechene, who spent 11 years on the Tupper Lake school board, said he supports any economic development that can relieve taxes, including the Adirondack Club and Resort project.
"We need to increase the tax base in Tupper Lake, and having these great camp lots added to our tax base will help with lowering the taxes to the rest of the community," Dechene said.
Political experience: Tupper Lake school board for 11 years, the last six as president
Employment: Runs Dechene Enterprises Landscape and Grounds Maintenance Company, retired as an information technology specialist from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, worked as a motor equipment operator for the town of Altamont (now Tupper Lake) Highway Department
Volunteer/other: Member of the Tupper Lake Lions Club since 1977, member of Tupper Lake Football Boosters, vice president of Tupper Lake County Club board of directors, past member of St. Alphonsus Parish Council
Don Dew Jr.
Party: Republican and Conservative
Political experience: None.
Zero Unless you consider serving on Joint Planning Board
Employment: Owner and general manager of Timber Lodge. Previous: 25 years in corporate America (two Fortune 500 companies) with background in operations and procedural auditing,
Volunteer/other: Member of Tupper Lake Revitalization Committee, board member of ARISE, appointed to Franklin County Bed Tax Exploratory Committee, past president and board member of Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce, past town appointee to the Tupper Lake Joint Planning Board.
Political experience: Town councilman since July 2013, two terms on Tupper Lake school board
Employment: Retired after 30 years as project review specialist at state Adirondack Park Agency
Volunteer/other: Volunteered as emergency medical technician on the Tupper Lake rescue squad for more than 20 years, volunteer trail maintenance and grooming at town cross-country ski center
Political experience: None
Employment: Information technology specialist with state Office of Information Technology Services, two years as assistant clerk for Tupper Lake Planning Board, previously employed in secretarial work, office and store management, customer service and retail, food and beverage sales, construction and interior design, and real estate sales
Volunteer/other: Previous event chair for American Cancer Society fundraiser, volunteer in Relay for Life Tupper Lake, Tupperpalooza and Tinman Triathlon
Dechene said there's more to Tupper Lake than the proposed mountain project, though, and that the town should better promote recreational resources such as skiing, hiking, fishing and boating. He applauded chamber of commerce Director Michelle Clement's work to promote the area and said he would encourage giving her more tools to work with, if elected. He added that a long-term strategic marketing would increase tourism.
"We should really focus on what people are looking for when they leave the cities," Dechene said. "Lake Placid is bulging at the seams. Saranac Lake is building new motels. It's got to keep spreading out. I think the place to start building that is tourism."
Because he supports anything that brings people to Tupper Lake, he is in favor of a multi-use recreational trail replacing rails in the state-owned Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.
"I think today, people really want those trails," Dechene said. "Today's families are thinking more of being healthy, of riding their bikes and hiking. Almost every other car you see go through town with different license plates on them has a bike carrier on the back. To bring the trails in would be a less expensive thing that could happen sooner rather than later."
Regardless of his stance on that divisive issue, Dechene said people should stay positive and cooperate for the good of the town. He said Tupper Lake is a great place to raise a family and that community involvement on projects like the football field, the civic center and the volunteer-run reopening of the Big Tupper Ski Area are evidence of that.
Dechene said community involvement in town board meetings could be increased if the meetings were shorter and later in the day.
On the town's budget, he said, "I think to live at the standard of living that people are used to, we need to focus on spending the tax money that is coming into the community as efficiently as we can."
To improve the winter economy, Dechene said improving the Northern Challenge ice-fishing derby and creating more trails for snowmobilers would draw hundreds more to the area. He added that the town should focus on perfecting a few big events throughout the year instead of trying to hold events every week.
"I think they're doing well with the events in the summertime, but sometimes I think they spread their volunteer staff too thin," Dechene said.
The biggest problem, Dechene said, is that Tupper Lake needs to change with the times and shift its focus to what people are looking for now instead of dwelling on what Tupper Lake once was.
Don Dew Jr.
Dew supports the ACR, and was an active participant in the state Adirondack Park Agency adjudicatory hearing that preceded a 10-1 vote of approval by the APA Board.
If the ACR doesn't come to fruition, Dew said, "a destination marketing plan should be created and implemented" to take advantage of Tupper Lake's recreation and the can-do attitude of the people who live in the area.
He added that the groundbreaking of Little Loggers Park was a gratifying moment for him.
"It began from an effort spearheaded by the revitalization committee and our consultant," Dew said. "I was happy to be part of the initial work on this as a member of this committee. Our work, and the work of others, led to job creation."
Dew said the Revitalization Committee has also gotten other projects underway.
"The Monday after Oktupperfest, as I drove down Park Street, we had workers working at the former Casier building, we had workers working at the movie theater, the Logger Park as I mentioned, the new Aubuchon Hardware relocation, and finally workers upgrading the lighting system at our municipal ballpark," Dew said. "Many of these efforts are a result of the Community Master Plan I helped update. It was truly great to see people working in Tupper Lake. We are on the cusp of much more."
Dew said there are several reasons businesses should consider moving here, including affordable water, sewer and electric rates.
"I would like to work more with the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency on promoting the Tupper Lake industrial park, and also take a more aggressive approach on finding a viable reuse of the OWD property," Dew said.
Dew said that side-by-side rails and trails is the best use for the Remsen-Lake Placid travel corridor, but he added that elected officials should support what the voters want.
"As I talk to people during my campaign, and from the research I have done, it appears to me a majority of the residents of Tupper Lake favor the trail," Dew said. "Therefore, I would be in support of the trail options at this time."
Dew also commented on the town's past budget, saying, "Tupper Lake underwent a townwide property revaluation that became effective in 2011. While taxes since this time frame have remained below or at the tax cap we may very well have been able to see actual tax relief."
Reflecting on the town's tentative 2014 budget, Dew said there was something he took issue with.
"It is my understanding that the current tentative budget for 2014 includes an increase in the salary for the town supervisor," Dew said. "This is totally unacceptable and should not make it into the final budget."
Dew also said monthly meetings should be held in the evening so people who work during normal business hours can attend them.
The best thing the town can do is have a little faith.
"Tupper Lake needs to believe in itself," Dew said. "We have all the right ingredients, and there are people already showing how much they believe in the community. I have always believed that Tupper Lake is loaded with opportunity, and I believe that I can assist in moving those opportunities forward."
Quinn is the only incumbent in the race and a new one at that, appointed by the board this summer to temporarily take Tomberlin's place. He said there are five reasons he supports the ACR.
"The ACR can lead to the reopening of Big Tupper Ski Area, which would bring tourist dollars, encourage people to relocate to Tupper Lake and current residents to remain, draw new businesses into the community and encourage existing businesses to expand, create jobs, and add to the town's tax base," Quinn said. "Although I consider myself a project supporter, I do, however, have concerns about the use of a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program for residential development that I am hopeful can be resolved in the best interest of town taxpayers."
If the ACR falls through, Quinn said he would not give up on it and would urge town, village, county and state agencies to coordinate efforts to seek out developers to undertake the project, possibly redesigned.
"I would also work to encourage the Olympic Regional Development Authority to take over operation of Big Tupper Ski Area," Quinn said.
"Regardless of whether the ACR project is successful, I think the town should encourage high-tech businesses to establish themselves in Tupper Lake to take advantage of the recently installed fiber-optic line and to actively seek biomass energy companies to locate operations in Tupper Lake, given the availability of wood for electric generation and wood pellets."
Quinn said the town and village should work cooperatively to persuade the state to ensure Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Services Office remains open.
He also said the tracks in the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor should be removed to increase tourism in the area.
"Converting the former railroad to a four season multi-use trail for use by snowmobilers, biking and hiking will lead to new job and business opportunities," Quinn said. "My reasoning for this is that after decades of opportunity and the investment of millions of tax dollars, there still is no functioning railroad serving Tupper Lake. In my opinion, the railroad proponents have had plenty of time to develop the railroad. It's time to move forward."
Quinn said cheap electric rates, high-speed Internet, low real estate prices, an eager labor market, a great school system and a location at the "Crossroads of the Adirondacks" are some of the selling points he would use to attract businesses here.
Quinn said summertime events are on the right track, but there's always room for more. He suggested more development and use of the Municipal Park and Little Wolf Beach and Campsite, hosting a major fishing tournament, partnering with the Wild Center to enhance year-round events, and challenging residents and visitors to explore neighboring outdoor resources by implementing a program similar to the Saranac Lake 6er.
There is also room for improvement at town board meetings, Quinn said. Meeting agendas and supporting documents should be provided to members earlier than the day of the meeting so they can better prepare themselves.
"Discussion of meeting agenda items should not be allowed to go off on tangents but rather stay pertinent to the topic being discussed," Quinn said. "Time limits should be established for not only meeting agenda items but also the overall meeting. Conduct of the meeting should more closely follow Roberts Rules of Order.
"There needs to be a closer working relationship established between the town board and village officials that will result in increased efficiency of providing services to the overall community and sharing of services with an eye toward holding the line on taxes," he added.
Quinn said local advocacy needs to become more positive and constructive.
"Small towns throughout this country are suffering economically, and Tupper Lake is no exception," Quinn said. "National and state leaders need to get the message on this and be compelled to work to change this. It is unfortunate that, locally, the message being fostered is that Tupper Lake is especially downtrodden. This attitude needs to change. I believe having a positive attitude can and will lead to positive results for our town.
"Regardless of whether it is a question of locating a prison in Tupper Lake, development of the Adirondack Club and Resort, the rail vs. trail debate or other issues, the community should be able to discuss these issues in a respectful manner," Quinn said. "We should be able to 'agree to disagree' without making it personal. While debate is healthy and helpful, it cannot and should not continue indefinitely. Decisions must be made and actions taken to move our community forward toward a brighter future."
Democrat Sabre-Shipman said she would bring enthusiasm, energy and a strong work ethic to enact change in the town government. She added that her background in state government and technology would also be beneficial to the board.
"Growth is on the horizon for Tupper Lake," she said. "To make this happen, our local government needs to evolve and be more transparent in sharing information, not only to the taxpayers, but to those that have yet to make that commitment."
Sabre-Shipman said her role with the town planning board was to handle the increased paperwork from the ACR.
"Because of this, I am educated on all aspects of the plan," Sabre-Shipman said. "I fully support the efforts made so far and am enthusiastic about the merits of bringing this project to reality. I do have concerns about the effects on our infrastructure and the potential increase on local residents' taxes."
If the ACR doesn't happen, Sabre-Shipman said Tupper Lake can still succeed if it embraces its roots and uses that culture as a selling point to draw visitors.
"We are lumberjacks, woodsmen, craftsmen and outdoorsmen," she said. "If you grew up in Tupper Lake, you grew up strong and with pride."
Sabre-Shipman said technology can improve the functioning of the local government and make it more transparent.
"I would like to see an online calendar of events, including meetings and public hearings, and to build an online repository of meeting agendas and minutes," Sabre-Shipman said. "I can aid in the improvement of the transparency of our current government with my advanced computer skills that include database design and maintenance, as well as experience in teaching different levels of computer skills.
"An additional move to an increase in transparency is to change the time of the meetings from daytime to the evening to allow for more community attendance."
Lack of technology aside, Sabre-Shipman said the biggest hinderance to progress in Tupper Lake is its location within the Adirondack Park.
"The driving distance to any city is over an hour," Sabre-Shipman said. "This, of course, can't be changed, but we need to change this limitation by developing retail and promoting the available properties. Franklin County is dependent upon our tax base since we are limited on the collection of sales tax. As a town, we need to focus on the promotion of existing businesses to show the demand of the area for retail establishments and accommodations.
"The reliance of employment with New York state government puts our local economy in extreme jeopardy," she added. "Residents are concerned for their job security, not only at Sunmount but with the other businesses and organizations that are supported by the economy that Sunmount positions have helped maintain for decades. With the current agenda of Gov. Cuomo's agency restructuring for efficiency of state government, the potential of losing positions has been apparent for years."
Sabre-Shipman said she supports replacing the railroad tracks with a multi-use recreational trail.
"The current infrastructure of the rails is poor and will need to be removed regardless if the train was to come back through our community," Sabre-Shipman said. "I don't believe that a train can produce the impact on the economy that we desperately need. In the 1960s the railroad went bankrupt, and in the 1960s our economy was thriving."
Sabre-Shipman said the town needs to continue to promote events throughout the year to drive the economy, and technology is part of that plan.
"As a local, for many years I was employed by businesses that relied on the influx of tourism dollars in Tupper Lake," Sabre-Shipman said. "I understand the importance of these dollars and how they relate to the sporting activities like snowmobiling, skiing, hockey and ice fishing in the winter months. We need enhancement of the marketing our resources to support and begin to expand our current selection of retail establishments to decrease locals having to drive outside the (Adirondack Park) 'Blue Line' for the items they need.
"We need to support the chamber of commerce and encourage every business to participate, so together we can expand on the marketing to include social media and a better presence online."