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Profiles for Albany County Legislature candidates The Altamont Enterprise, September 27, 2007
County election overview
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
ALBANY COUNTY There are five contested races and two unchallenged incumbents seeking re-election in the Albany County Legislature this fall within the Enterprise coverage area of Guilderland, New Scotland, and the Hilltowns:
In District 29, covering Fort Hunter in Guilderland, Republican incumbent Lee Carman, who is serving his first term and also has the Conservative line, is being challenged by Democrat Dennis Feeney, who also has the Independence Party endorsement;
In District 30, covering Westmere and the Heritage, Oxford Heights, Woodlake, and Hawthorne Garden apartment areas of Guilderland, Democrat Bryan Clenahan, who was appointed in June to fill the seat left vacant when Dennis Feeny moved out of the district, is running unopposed;
In District 31, covering western Guilderland including the village of Altamont, two-term incumbent William Aylward, a Democrat also endorsed by the Working Families Party, is being challenged by Republican Ted Danz, who is also endorsed by the Conservative Party. (See the Sept. 20 Enterprise, or go on-line to www.altamontenterprise.com under "Archives" for Sept. 20, 2007);
In District 32, covering Guilderland along Route 20 from McKownville to Route 146 and from Guilderland Center to the New Scotland town line, Democrat Mary Lou Connolly, a four-term incumbent, also endorsed by the Conservative and Independence parties, is pitted against Anton Konev, who is running on the Republican Party line;
In District 33, covering northeastern New Scotland including the village of Voorheesville, Democrat Herbert Reilly, with Independence and Working Families Party endorsements, a two-term incumbent, is running against Republican Patrick Greene;
In District 38, covering southwestern New Scotland and Westerlo, Democrat Charles Houghtaling, a six-term incumbent with Conservative and Independence party endorsements who chairs the legislature, is running unopposed; and
In District 39, covering Berne, Knox, and Rensselaerville, Democrat Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, who has held his seat since 1996, is being challenged by Republican Travis Stevens. (For earlier coverage of the race and of the primary, where Gordon defeated Kevin Crosier, go on-line to www.altamontenterprise.com under "Archives" for June 14, July 19, and Set. 20, all for 2007, under "Hilltowns.")
Legislators serve four-year terms and are paid $20,298 annually. They meet monthly in the legislative chambers of the Albany County Courthouse. The current legislature, with 39 members, has 29 Democrats; seven Republicans; one member in the Working Families Party; one in the Independence Party; and one with the endorsement of the Independence, Conservative, and Working Families parties.
The Enterprise has asked the candidates about their jobs, their goals, their accomplishments, and their reasons for running as well as interviewing them on the following issues:
Size of the legislature: Should the legislature with 39 members, each paid about $20,000, be down-sized or is the current size necessary for adequate representation"
Sales tax: When the county legislature adopted an added 1-percent sales tax, which some see as a regressive tax, affecting the poor, it was supposed to be a temporary measure. The sales tax rate in Albany County is currently 8 percent, half of which is retained by the state; the remaining 4 percent is shared by the county and local municipalities. Sales tax provides about 40 percent of the county's revenues. Many municipalities within the county have become dependent on the added funds. Should the tax be repealed or kept"
Agriculture: The legislature recently adopted a right-to-farm law, which protects farmers from complaints by neighboring developments, but some have suggested it should do much more, taking an active role in countywide planning. Should the county play a role in maintaining local farms and, if so, what should it be"
Nursing home: In 2005, the legislature developed a plan for a new county nursing home with 450 beds, but then, in 2006, the Berger Commission, put together by then-Governor George Pataki and the state legislature to evaluate health care in New York, recommended the Albany County Nursing Home and the Ann Lee Infirmary be rebuilt into a "unified facility," and reduced by 345 beds. The county executive has declared a moratorium on accepting new applicants to the county’s nursing home and some residents are getting sent out of the county or even out of the state for care. What should be done"
Albany convention center: A massive convention center, to be built near the Times Union Center, has been proposed as a joint city, state, and county project. What role should the county play"
Shared services: Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier and county officials came up with a preliminary plan last summer to merge their highway departments in an effort to be more efficient and save money. Public opinion soon echoed the concerns of town highway workers and, by last October, the plan was essentially dead. The Commission on Local Government Efficiency, formed by Governor Eliot Spitzer, released its finding last week on streamlining the state’s more than 4,200 local government entities to help reduce property taxes. They include suggestions on consolidating town and county highway services as well as water, sewer, and storm water systems. Should Albany County consolidate services" And, if so, which ones, how, and when"
Feeney and Carman face off
By Jarrett Carroll
ALBANY COUNTY In a contested Guilderland county legislature race, two life-long town residents, both with less then one terms experience, are squaring off for Fort Hunters District 29.
Democrat Dennis Feeney is challenging incumbent Republican Lee Carman.
Feeney was appointed to District 30, but moved out of the district during the summer to a new home off of Old State Road. Since then, Bryan Clenahan was appointed by the Albany County Democratic Party to fill Feeneys unexpired term. (See related story.)
Carman officially began representing District 29 last year after a two-year court battle with incumbent Democrat Gene Messercola. Carman eventually won the seat by two absentee ballots.
He currently serves on the Audit and Finance Committee and the Health Committee.
Carman said he hopes his re-election bid will be easier as an incumbent, but added that he knows it will be "a tough campaign."
Each candidates will have two lines on the ballot on Nov. 6. Carman has the Republican and Conservative lines, and Feeney has the Democratic and Independence lines.
Feeney is an attorney with the law firm Feeney, Centi, & Mackey, and Carman is the vice president of secondary marketing for the Guardian Loan Company.
Last week, Carman picked up the Conservative line in the primary with 41 votes to Feeneys 19 votes. Carman could not be reached for comment before publication this week.
"I feel good," Carman said after winning the primary. "I did a lot of door-to-door [campaigning]. A lot of people are concerned about taxes."
Feeney congratulated Carman after his win, but said he remains confident he will win the general election.
"I think he did a good job and I commend him at that, but the big election is Nov. 6, and that’s what counts," Feeney said. "The primary was only 70 voters. That is a very small microcosm of the town"I don’t think for a minute it decreased my confidence at all."
Feeney said that, even though he lost the Conservative line, he feels that his fiscal policies "are in line with Conservative philosophies."
When it comes to county issues, Feeney said he is ready to take them on.
He believes that the "temporary" 1-percent sales-tax hike that was passed years ago should be re-visited.
"Any time you raise the tax for a temporary period, you should revisit it," Feeney said. He added that he realizes local municipalities now rely on the tax revenue.
"The only thing is that we’re getting that money from people outside of the county," he said, referring to large shopping malls in Albany County such as Crossgates Mall and Colonie Center.
Feeney said the only other option would be to raise the taxes on county residents instead of getting the revenue from outside shoppers.
On other county issues, Feeney said he wants to see "an adequate nursing home," but that he doesn’t know if the county legislature has the authority to change the Berger Commission’s recommendation.
He said it may be more of an issue for the state legislature.
Feeney said he supports the Albany convention center only "if it makes fiscal sense"because we’re hearing all sorts of different numbers."
Without the full support of New York State, Feeney said, the convention center was "most-likely not going to happen."
As for shared services, Feeney said "it makes sense where we still have good services." He added that the failed Berne highway merger was not handled properly, but, if done correctly, could help relieve the tax burden.
Before the primary, Carman stepped down as the Guilderland Republican chair in order "to focus on his race" for county legislature. Barbara Davis was named as the town’s new party chair in his stead.
Carman said he thought running the towns party and running for office was a conflict of interest and criticized Guilderlands Democratic chairman, David Bosworth, for doing so.
"Especially since he’s now the county’s co-chair," Carman said at the time.
Bosworth has repeatedly defended himself against such accusations, saying that he sees no conflict in working for the party and running for office.
Now, the Carman-Feeney race comes down to two party lines verses two party lines.
Traditionally the Independence line has tended to side with the Democratic line and the Conservative line has tended to side with the Republican line.
Carman said that he is running on his own not behind a party.
"I’ll work with them [town Republicans], but I usually try to run my own campaign," said Carman. "I like selling me, I’m the candidate"It’s nice to be a team, but it’s nice to win on your own terms."
Feeney said he is meeting with residents and running on the issues that people have concerns about.
"I’m trying to go to every door in the district," Feeney said. Albany County legislators represent roughly 7,500 residents in each district.
"I’ve covered about a third of it so far," said Feeney. "It’s a good way to campaign"It gives people the opportunity to talk face-to-face about issues."
One of the issues that comes up every few years is the size of the county legislature.
Carman has been very vocal in his opposition of having 32 legislators, calling it "excessive." He said it should be reduced, even if it meant losing his own seat.
Feeney said that it is an issue that cannot not be properly assessed without statistical information.
"That’s something that I’d be open to looking at, but it’s nothing we can look at until the 2010 census," he said. "I think people are in favor of their current representation in the districts."
Referring to the cost of running the legislature, Carman said, "Eight-hundred-thousand dollars a year is a little crazy."
However, Feeney pointed out that reducing the number of legislators and creating larger districts would result in having to pay higher salaries and would "not necessarily save any money."
Carman says his main goal in the legislature is to reduce taxes.
Feeney said, because of a recent Medicaid cap, the county’s "fiscal house is in pretty good order," but that he feels more can be done.
"The taxes in New York are one of things that make us unattractive," Feeney said. "On all government levels we have to continually keep an eye on it."
Newcomer Clenahan runs unopposed
By Jarrett Carroll
ALBANY COUNTY Even though he isnt being challenged for his seat, Democrat Bryan Clenahan said that Westmere residents will most likely see him knocking on their doors before the Nov. 6 election.
Clenahan was appointed in June to represent District 30 in the Albany County Legislature. He replaced Democrat Dennis Feeney who moved into a home in District 29 and is now challenging Republican Lee Carman to represent that district. (See related story.)
Being in his first run for an elected office, Clenahan said, "It’s been great so far"I’m really glad to be running."
He will be on the ballot in November under the Democratic, Independence, and Conservative lines.
"I’m trying to hit every door. I’m interested to find out what’s on people’s minds," Clenahan said yesterday.
Clenahan is also gearing up for his third session with the New York State Senate where he works as deputy counsel to the Democratic minority.
His responsibilities at the state capitol include reviewing and drafting legislation and proposals; researching and reviewing statutes, case law, position papers, and opinions; and advising senators and senate committees.
Aside from working in the State Senate, Clenahan is a prosecutor for the town of Guilderland. He also chaired the zoning board of appeals for two years, served as a zoning board member for three years, and was the boards counsel.
Being in his 30s, Clenahan is one of the youngest members of the countys legislature.
So far, Clenahan has attended three sessions of the county legislature, which meets monthly, and he said that he supported the right-to-farm law, but that he needs more time to see how effective it is.
"I think we should wait to see if the right-to-farm law is working first," Clenahan said of critics who don’t think the law goes far enough. "If there’s a gap, I think the county should jump in."
Protecting open space and containing sprawl and unplanned growth are issues that the county legislature should be actively discussing, Clenahan said.
When it comes to the size of the legislature, Clenahan believes that the current 32 districts are a good representation of the county, calling the smaller districts a "more direct form of democracy."
Clenahan said that larger districts require more fund-raising and therefore increase the chances of special-interest money influencing legislators.
"I don’t think that’s a good idea," Clenahan said of a suggestion by some of his Republican colleagues to cut the legislature down to 21 members.
Believing in fiscal responsibility, Clenahan said that the county’s 1-percent sales-tax hike, which was introduced as a "temporary" measure several years ago, should be regularly revisited.
"I know there are certain needs," Clenahan said, but added, "We should try to provide as much tax relief as possible for the people."
Other county-wide issues, such as the countys nursing home and the proposed Albany convention center need to be carefully handled and considered, said Clenahan.
"I’m concerned for any plan that doesn’t adequately cover our residents"or takes them out of state," he said of the over-filled county nursing home. "It’s unacceptable"We need a new, adequate, efficient, and better nursing home."
The convention center "has the potential of being worthwhile," Clenahan said. He also believes that the county should have a "prominent role" and be actively involved with all aspects of the proposed convention center as it moves forward.
Countywide shared services need a closer look, too, said Clenahan.
"I think the county should look at it as a possibility"to reduce the tax burden," Clenahan said. "We have to be very careful, though, not to lessen the quality or scope of the services."
As a political newcomer, Clenahan said he is mostly interested in meeting with and listening to his constituents now, and after Nov. 6.
"The worst kind of politicians are the ones who only show up around election time," Clenahan said. "I’m not going to be one of those guys."
GOPs Danz challenges incumbent Aylward
By Saranac Hale Spencer
ALTAMONT The race to represent western Guilderland in the Albany County Legislature is on.
Republicans have asked long-time Gardner Road resident and local businessman Ted Danz to run on their ticket and Democratic incumbent William Aylward will be seeking his third four-year term on the Dems line.
Now that some of his five children have taken on a share of the work at the business he founded, Family Danz Heating and Air Conditioning, Danz, a political newcomer at the age of 60, has time to give back to the community, he said.
Aylward, 72, of Altamont, began his political career in the 1970s, when he became the mayor of Altamont. The retired Guilderland social studies teacher has been the Guilderland supervisor and is currently on Altamonts board of trustees.
"It’s getting so expensive to live out here," said Danz of the biggest issues facing the county in the coming years. "The taxes are number one, number two, and number three," on his agenda, he said.
Making his announcement on Terry Seerys front lawn, Danz appealed to the tax conscious.
When Seery bought his Altamont home 13 years ago, he said, it was assessed at $164,000. And he knows it was 13 years ago because the day he and his wife moved in was the first time his now 12-year-old daughter kicked, in utero.
Now, with a full fledged, yellow-school-bus-riding daughter, his house is assessed at $280,000, he said, and he wants a representative who will work to make living in the area more affordable.
Taking a different tack, Aylward announced his bid for re-election by bringing in a letter to The Enterprise editor. The week before he brought in a letter opposing the federal plan to shut down the local Farm Services Bureau. Aylward supports offering government programs to county residents.
"The nursing home is a big issue for me," Aylward said when asked about the major issues facing the legislature in the next term.
In 2006, the Berger Commission, a panel put together by former Governor George Pataki and the state legislature to evaluate health care in New York, recommended that the Albany County Nursing Home and the Ann Lee Infirmary be rebuilt into a "unified facility," and reduced by 345 beds.
One year earlier, the Albany County Legislature spent $750,000 to develop a plan for a new nursing home, Aylward said. That home was slated to house 450 beds, he said; a plan which he thinks is superior to the Berger Commissions mandate.
"It defies reality," he said of the commission’s plan. With the aging baby boomers, there will be a need for more beds, not fewer, he said.
As it is now, with the executives moratorium on accepting new applicants to the countys nursing home, some residents are getting sent out of the county, and even out of the state, for care.
Of his vote supporting the county executive’s plan to abide by the 250-bed recommendation, Aylward said, "I voted because I felt that we needed to move forward and I didn’t want to be an obstruction."
Danz cites the Democratic majority as one of the problems with the legislature of the 39 seats, 29 are held by Democrats and the county executive, Michael Breslin, is a Democrat.
"We’re not getting a good representation and good balance in the government," Danz said. The nursing home fell into disrepair because of mismanagement stemming from politics in the legislature, he said. Careful selection of people to run the facility and careful supervision of its management are necessary for the new nursing home, he said, something that he doesn’t see happening with the current legislature.
"I’m not one of the good old boys," he said.
Another plank in his platform calls for a reduction in the number of representatives in the legislature hed like to see 15 or 17 rather than the current 39.
While cutting back the number of legislators looks like it will save money, Aylward doesnt think that it would actually lower the budget since those who are left would have bigger jobs, representing more people, and they would require larger staffs. As it stands now, Albany County legislators each earn $20,298, according to the 2007 budget.
Also, constituents wouldnt get the same quality of representation, since the districts would be bigger, Aylward said, and redistricting would likely under-represent minorities.
Both parties should work through the redistricting process together, Danz said. Done properly, it wouldnt negatively affect representation; rather, it would improve government, he said.
"Less people involved, less of a mess," said Danz.
Both candidates see a role for the county in maintaining farmland in the rural area that District 31 encompasses.
The countys recently adopted right-to-farm law was co-sponsored by Aylward. The law essentially protects farmers from complaints by neighboring developments. He has also supported the creation of agricultural districts in the county, Aylward said.
After a recent meeting with the Altamont Fair’s board of directors, Aylward said, local farmer Everett Rau posed an interesting question: It’s good to keep farmers on their land, but who’s going to come after them"
Thats a question Aylward would like to explore further, especially with the federal proposal to close of the Farm Service Agency office in Voorheesville, a move he has objected to.
"What message does that send to young people"" asked Aylward. "That sends a terrible message."
Danz owns rural land himself, where he has a small business boarding horses. "I’m a member of the Farm Bureau," he said.
First, said Danz, legislators have to look at how farmland is taxed. Hed like to offer tax breaks or incentives to working farms in the area. He applauded the states STAR (School Tax Relief) program, which offers breaks on school taxes to homeowners.
Offering incentives like that to farmers would give the local economy a boost, he said, citing the income generated by area farms like Indian Ladder and Altamont Orchards. Keeping farms like those in business also helps to maintain the character of the area, he said.
"Every time a tax goes up, you have to charge more for what you do," said Danz. "It’s Economics 101."
Saving money by sharing services among municipalities in the county is also supported by both candidates. Each cited the failed highway department merger between the town of Berne and Albany County as a good idea handled poorly. Last summer, Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier and county officials came up with a preliminary plan to merge their highway departments in an effort to be more efficient and save money. Public opinion soon echoed the concerns of town highway workers and, by October, the plan was essentially dead.
"I think" that was premature," said Aylward, referring to the way officials proposed the plan. Government should come up with a method for implementing shared services, he said, adding that doing something as small as buying road salt in larger quantities and sharing it among municipalities can save money.
Similarly, Danz said that sharing services is a "great idea." But, he said, only "if it’s approached in the right way."
On Nov. 6, Danz will appear on the Republican and Conservative lines and Aylward will be on the Democratic, Independence, and Working Families lines.
Mary Lou Connolly
By Jarrett Carroll
ALBANY COUNTY After serving four consecutive four-year terms, Mary Lou B. Connolly is seeking a fifth in the Albany County Legislature.
She is running on the Democratic, Independence, and Conservative lines for District 32 in the Nov. 6 election.
Connolly chairs the countys Social Services Committee and is a member of the Civic Center Committee. She has been a strong advocate for the mentally ill and chaired the Albany County Health Committee for 10 years.
Currently, Connolly is the owner of Bartolotta-Connolly Insurance in Green Island. She said she is proud to run a firm certified by New York State as a "Woman-Owned Business."
An unsuccessful write-in campaign was mounted against Connolly on the Independence and Conservative lines. She won both.
Connolly is being challenged by Republican Anton Konev in November.
She has vowed to continue fighting for health care if re-elected.
"I absolutely love what I do. It’s a privilege to be on the Albany County Legislature and serve the community," Connolly said. "My goal for the next four years is to get the Albany County nursing home moving along"That is my focus.
"Many of our residents are being forced to go out of state. There is a place in Dalton, Massachusetts, where 90 percent of the facilities’ clients are from New York," Connolly said. "We need a facility larger than 250 [beds] here"I’m not going to give up. I’m going to continue this battle."
Connolly was critical of the Berger Commission, which was established under Governor George Pataki, and its recommendations.
"I cannot believe that the state made a decision without talking to the hospital discharge planners. I think it was gross negligence"and a disservice to Albany County," said Connolly. "How can you sleep at night when you’re sending people away from their families and out of the area""Something is wrong here."
Connolly said the county legislature has to move ahead "with our eyes wide open." She said the nursing home is her number-one campaign issue, and her number-one priority.
In 1993, when Connolly was first elected to the legislature, her number-one issue was the Albany airport. She is credited with being an integral part in establishing the Airport Authority while she was serving on the countys Mass Transit Authority.
"I used to be at the airport every morning by 7 o’clock," Connolly said. "That was my project then"The nursing home is my project now."
Connolly also worked for more than 10 years as the regional director for the "I Love NY" campaign in the Capital/Saratoga and the Central/Leatherstocking regions. Connolly said she knows the importance of tourism and of its economic value to the area.
Thats why, she said, she is for the Albany convention center.
"I’m someone who spent 20 years in the tourism industry, regional tourism was my specialty," said Connolly. "I believe it is needed if we want to attract larger conventions"we need to have a larger facility," she said of the convention center.
However, without the full support of the state and enough funding to cover the project, Connolly doesnt see the project happening.
"If the state funding isn’t there, we have to step back," she said. "I don’t want it to be a project that’s going to hit Albany County residents; I can’t support that."
Living in the states capitol, Connolly said she believes in state-supported projects such as the Albany convention center because its a desirable area for shoppers and convention goers.
"After all, we are the Capitol of New York State"We ought to have the support of New York a little," she said. "I feel that the state does owe us that commitment."
Upstate New York is a tourism destination for the entire Northeast, she said, which is why she also supports making the temporary 1-percent sales tax a permanent measure.
Currently, Albany County towns, villages, and cities receive $22.8 million from county sales tax, according to Connolly. Out of that money, Guilderland receives $2.5 million, Voorheesville gets $215,000, and Altamont gets $134,000, per year.
"Without that sales tax, Guilderland would have to find that two-and-a-half million dollars somewhere else, and they would have to find it in taxes," Connolly said. "It is needed," she concluded of the sales tax.
Connolly said that 38 percent of the sales-tax revenues come from out-of-county people. She contends that sales tax is "across the board," paid by people all over. The beneficiaries, Connolly continued, are the county residents especially those on fixed incomes who can’t afford to pay higher taxes.
When it comes to other issues, Connolly said she is for maintaining the current size of the county legislature. She is for the right-to-farm law, growing up on a 600-acre farm in Columbia County, she said.
Connolly also wants to continue looking into shared services between municipalities and the county.
Connolly argued that reducing the size of the legislature would result in having to pay legislators much higher wages and would leave residents under-represented.
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Anton Konev, making his first run for the Albany County Legislature, describes himself as a community activist.
He is running on the Republican line against four-term Democratic incumbent Mary Lou Connolly to represent District 32, which covers Guilderland along Route 20 from McKownville to Route 146 and from Guilderland Center to the New Scotland town line.
"I’m challenging the status quo," he said of his reason for running.
Konevs family emigrated to America from Russia a decade ago. Now 23, he came to Albany County to study at the University of Albany where he earned a bachelors degree in political science and is finishing up a masters degree there, he said.
When he was living as a student in mid-town Albany, he was the victim of an attack in December of 2005, Konev said.
"I was put on hold when I called 911," he said; the problem was "deciding who should respond."
"As a community resident, I decided it was time for me to stand up," said Konev. He founded a neighborhood crime-watch program that, he said, has helped "make sure law enforcement is more proactive."
Having found his voice, he intends to use it.
Konev moved to Guilderland this summer, to Schoolhouse Road, and says, "I love it here."
He is enrolled as a Democrat and planned to challenge Connolly in the Democratic primary but, when some of the signatures on his petition were challenged, he fell short of the needed number of names, said Konev.
Twenty-nine of the legislatures current 39 members are Democrats.
"I’m certainly comfortable on the Republican line," he said, naming the Republican values he upholds reducing county government, cutting unnecessary taxes, and cutting down on waste in government.
"I do hold some Democratic views as well," he said, stating this includes providing needed services, such as those for senior citizens.
Konev works for state Assemblyman Peter Rivera, a Democrat from the Bronx; as a senior legislative assistant, Konev works on policy and public relations, he said.
Winning an election, Konev said, should be about "who is more qualified" rather than the party line.
On the issues, Konev said, "Government waste starts with the county legislature. We have 39. The county of Nassau, with a population 10 times that of Albany County, has only 19"We pay all the county legislators over $30,000 a year," he said referring to the roughly $20,000 salary and the $10,000 to $12,000 in health benefits. "Once you’re a legislator for two years, you get a lifetime of health benefits"It’s 50 percent of the salary," he said, calling it "an unheard of benefit."
"It really adds up," he said. "Political patronage is very widespread in county jobs," said Konev, stating workers should instead be hired based on merit.
The Albany convention center, he said "is a great idea" and the county should "play a big role." But, he went on, "I’m questioning the way it’s being implemented"Costs keep on climbing up while the benefits are questionable. Who else but the taxpayers will have to bear the burden""
Asked about the added 1-percent sales tax, which had originally been adopted as a temporary measure, Konev said, "We need to work towards reducing the tax burden on the citizens and the businesses. Albany County is one of the highest taxed counties in the nation. Businesses are leaving the state."
On the county level, Konev said, "We need to work with our state legislators"to reduce the tax burden"while keeping the services we need."
Asked if the county should play a role in maintaining local farms, Konev said that a regional planning commission should be established, which would deal with issues ranging from traffic created by new development to maintaining farms. "There’s no traffic and development planning," he said. "We need to think long-term."
Asked about the county nursing home, Konev said, "We need to make sure we have efficient government."
In 2005, the county legislature developed a plan for a new county nursing home with 450 beds but the next year the Berger Commission, put together by then-Governor George Pataki and the state legislature to evaluate health care in New York, recommended the Albany County Nursing Home and the Ann Lee Infirmary be rebuilt into a "unified facility," and reduced by 345 beds. The county executive has declared a moratorium on accepting new applicants to the county’s nursing home and some residents are getting sent out of the county or even out of the state for care.
"We need to do it right for the long term," said Konev, so taxpayers don’t bear the burden later.
If the size of the nursing home is cut down, he said, more home-care workers are needed, a field that is already understaffed.
"The solution is long-term established beds now with the possibility for growth"We need to have efficient management," he concluded. "The Albany Nursing Home has been mismanaged."
On shared services, Konev said, "Albany County has not been willing to look at consolidation." He recommended a committee be established on the county level to study the issue.
"I can’t jump to conclusions and tell you what departments need to be consolidated," he said. But, he went on, "Governor Spitzer realizes we have a problem of inefficient government and high taxes"If we continue resisting change," he said, and don’t work on consolidation on a local level, "we will be forced by the state to accept a plan they devise. We, at the county level, need to think for ourselves."
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
ALBANY COUNTY If Republican Patrick Greene is elected to the Albany County Legislature, he says he wont be using his $20,000 annual salary.
Greene says hes that serious about downsizing the legislature and saving the taxpayers money.
"I won’t take the salary," said Greene. "It will go to not-for-profits in the district.."
Greene, a corporate and real estate lawyer in private practice, is challenging two-term incumbent Democrat Herbert Reilly to represent District 33, covering northeastern New Scotland, including the village of Voorheesville, and a bit of Bethlehem, which is where Greene lives.
He was a long-time member of the Bethlehem Republican Committee and he helped Michael Hoblock when he was county executive in the early 1990s.
"That was one of the most rewarding periods of my legal career," said Greene, stating he was instrumental in getting a federal investigation into funds that had been "pillaged for pet projects" and were ultimately restored, and for allowing the county to buy a $4 million ice rink for $1 million. He said he also helped draft the new county charter.
"I got very familiar with the county government and some of the waste and excess," he said.
Greene is committed to reducing the 39 members of the legislature to 13 or fewer. "We have the largest number of legislators in upstate New York," said Greene, although Albany County has a relatively small population.
He said the reason the legislature is bloated is because, during the era when Democrats Erastus Corning and Dan OConnell controlled the city and county, people were given well-paid county legislative posts as part of a patronage system.
He called the salaries "outrageous" and said some people’s annual salary for a full-time job is less than the $20,298 legislators earn for going to one meeting a month.
Greene said there is really no need for the legislature since 75 to 85 percent of the budget is mandated by state law. The county executive does "very little" for $130,000 a year, he said, "And the legislature has even less to do."
Many counties run with an unpaid board of supervisors, Greene said, adding that local town board members are paid much less, as are zoning and planning board members, but they do far more work.
Most residents, he maintains, don’t even know who their county legislator is much less what they do. Most of the legislators, he said, "do absolutely nothing but take taxpayers’ money."
Greene, 52, has a bachelor’s degree in history from Syracuse University, a law degree from Fordham University, and he recently went back to school to earn a master’s degree in history from the University at Albany, which he called "one of the most fun things I’ve done in my adult life." He’s considering returning for a doctorate.
Greenes first job out of college was at a Fortune 500 company but, feeling a need for public service, he then joined the Peace Corps and served in Guatamala, which he loved. He and his wife have lived in Slingerlands since 1990, where they are raising their two sons. Greene has been a Scoutmaster and active in a wide range of youth sports.
On other issues, Greene was asked about the 1-percent sales tax that the legislature had adopted as a temporary measure but is now relied on by municipalities.
"It should absolutely be repealed," he said.
He doesn’t buy the argument that the state has passed on such costs that local governments need the income. Until the towns "are screaming in pain," Greene said, "the tax growth will continue."
He went on, "People aren’t screaming in pain yet because of these easy things, which adds to the burden for the poor"A lot of states don’t even have a sales tax. When is it going to end""
Asked if the county should have a role in maintaining local farms, Greene said, "Absolutely not. It’s not the role of county government to get involved in these things. It has to happen at the state level."
He referred to suggestions like a countywide planning commission as "another layer of government interfering where it’s not needed." He said planning issues "are purely, purely town issues" and added, "It’s all zoning."
Asked about the county nursing home, Greene referred to the county executive, a Democrat, saying, "I think Mike Breslin’s thoughts on the county nursing home are sound".He’s looking for the proper balance of costs"with a long-term solution."
Greene added that the management of nursing homes is "a very complicated process" and that some people "shoot their mouths off" without understanding the complexities.
Greene is not a supporter of an Albany convention center.
"Our county has engaged in more ill-advised projects than Carter’s has little liver pills," Greene said. "The Pepsi Arena was a burden"The ice rink we were able to salvage only after a complete implosion."
With the convention center, he said, "We’re paying for Jerry Jennings’s vision of downtown Albany," which he characterized as, "If you build it, they will come," a reference to the movie, Field of Dreams.
"I don’t buy it that Albany is a destination. I think it will be a white elephant," said Greene of the convention center.
He said new hotels have recently been built in Albany that can’t be filled and added, "We have plenty of meeting space."
Greene concluded, "I think what’s driving this is the mayor wants to create construction jobs; it’s a one-shot deal."
Asked if Albany County should consolidate services, Greene said that should be left up to individual municipalities to decide with neighboring municipalities. Such proposals then should be put before the voters, he said.
"Clearly, New York State has to change its way of doing business," he said. "There are too many level of government. But it will only change if the voters are screaming in pain."
By Rachel Dutil
NEW SCOTLAND Herbert Reilly believes in representative government, and says that he feels he can "be the people’s voice in county government."
Reilly is running for a third term as the county legislator of the 33rd District, which covers the northeastern section of New Scotland, the entire village of Voorheesville, and a portion of the town of Bethlehem.
Reilly, in his early 70s, has lived in Voorheesville since 1963, where he is a licensed funeral director. He owns Reilly & Son Funeral Home in Colonie and Voorheesville.
He became interested in politics during Richard Nixons administration, he said. He was a member on the New Scotland Town Board for 10 years, and was town supervisor for 12 years.
Reilly, who answered The Enterprise questions in writing, had a long list of his accomplishments in the legislature. He helped get Empire Zone classification for the Atlas-Copco Company in Voorheesville; helped make $1 million available to support the Vista Tech Park in Bethlehem and New Scotland; supported project labor agreements for the construction of the new criminal courthouse and renovations to the 1918 courthouse; and sought solar energy for the Albany County Hockey facility.
Reilly was also the chief sponsor of a resolution to acquire the abandoned D & H railways for a biking and hiking trail, he said. "We have $700,000 in grants to purchase the property and $3,660,000 in the capital budget for engineering and construction," he said.
His goals for the upcoming term include: completing the rail-trail project, renovating the seat of county government and the courthouse, and, "most importantly," said Reilly, building a new nursing home.
Reilly said that he currently represents 5,962 voters. "At this level," he said, "I have an opportunity to meet many of my constituents in my daily activities and feel I can personally address their needs." In his written response, Reilly continued, "We have a very diverse district, with residential areas, businesses and farms in close proximity and I think it’s important to be able to see things from your neighbor’s perspective."
Larger districts, he said, would likely result in an increase in salaries and staff, and could potentially cause a decrease in the personal interaction between constituents and the legislature.
Regarding the county sales tax, Reilly says that 40 percent of sales-tax receipts are shared with municipalities. "When this item comes up for renewal each year, the local governments, both Republican and Democrat, are unanimous in their request for the county to keep the tax," he said.
"A great deal of the money is generated by non-residents at our large malls. To offset this loss, a large property tax increase would be required," Reilly said.
With respect to agriculture, Reilly said that the legislature is involved in countywide planning with the three agriculture districts, and implemented the right-to-farm law. He is an active board member of the Cooperative Extension and of the Soil and Water Committee both, he said, offer assistance to the farming community.
Reilly said he is a proponent of the nursing home. The Berger Commission recommended 250 beds, while the legislature suggested a 370-bed nursing home.
"I support a 370-bed nursing home. I think it is unacceptable that residents are being sent out of the state for care," Reilly said.
Regarding the convention center, Reilly said the cost was originally estimated to be $200 million; the county directed $1 million from a 1-percent "bed tax" toward the cost. The bed tax comes from hotel and motel use, he said. The cost is now estimated to be 50 percent higher. "Sources of revenue other than the county will have to be found if the project is to go forward," said Reilly.
"Shared services isn’t something new," Reilly said. When he was supervisor, he said, it was common for New Scotland to share equipment with the village of Voorheesville and the county.
He cited the county large vehicle-washing facility shared with the school and other municipalities. His efforts, he said, helped the countys department of public works to reach an agreement with the Voorheesville School District to purchase gasoline through the facility.
"Through the County Municipal Services Board, 19 municipalities use our purchasing power. This process should continue to grow," Reilly concluded.
By Rachel Dutil
ALBANY COUNTY Charles Houghtaling has been in the Albany County Legislature for more than two decades, and, for the past 13 years, has served as its chairman. In his position as chairman, he said, he has striven to be "reasonable," and to "work with people on both sides of the issues."
He is running unopposed for a seventh term.
Houghtaling, 74, lives in Feura Bush, where his family has run Houghtalings Market for nearly 30 years. He serves the 38th District of the legislature, covering all of Westerlo and the southwestern corner of New Scotland.
He is a 50-year member of the Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Company, and has served on the board of the Albany County Soil and Water District since 1984, and is a member of the Capital District Local Development Corporation.
After serving on the town board in New Scotland, where he has lived most all of his life, Houghtaling said, he was asked to run for the legislature.
"It’s an area I know a lot of people," Houghtaling said of his district.
Through the years, he said, he has worked extensively with fire companies and ambulance services, as well as with farmers.
In representing rural areas, Houghtaling said, he considers the issues that concern those communities. "In rural areas, we have different problems than in the big cities," he said.
In the upcoming term, all of the legislators will be looking "very carefully" at the budget, said Houghtaling. "It’s a serious problem."
The county government, he said, really supplies many things. "This year will be a hard year," he said, citing the rising costs for health care and fuel. "It’s going to be a serious year of looking at the budget," he said.
Regarding the size of the legislature, Houghtaling does not believe it should be scaled back.
"There’s plenty of places with less members," he said. Having fewer members would mean that each member would have to represent more people, he said.
Currently, he said, Albany County legislators each represent roughly 7,500 people.
The position is not a full-time job, he said, and, with fewer legislators, there wouldnt be enough time to talk with residents and address all the issues facing the various districts.
The legislature has very active committees, said Houghtaling. Those committees take a serious look at all the issues that come before them, he said.
"I think it ends up costing as much or more," he said of the costs associated with scaling back the number of members. "I think we do quite well," said Houghtaling.
The county sales tax "has to be kept," he said.
The legislature has held hearings and invited representatives from the all the municipalities in the county to speak about the sales tax, he said. No one said they didnt want it, Houghtaling said.
The tax "is one of the fairest methods" Everyone pays it," he said, adding that even tourists from out of state pay the tax while shopping in Albany County.
Regarding agriculture, Houghtaling said that he doesnt believe the county needs to take any further steps toward maintaining farmland.
"I think the best thing we did was pass the law," he said. "We’ve got to support the farms that we have."
Houghtaling said that he feels the role of preserving farmland rests with the towns.
Regarding the county nursing home, Houghtaling said, the legislature will need to hold meetings and discuss it. "It’ll take some looking," he said.
The nursing home, he said, is under the directives of the state. "I think it’ll go forward," he said, adding, "I don’t think anyone is exactly sure at this time."
Houghtaling said that the legislature does not deal with the day-to-day things. It hasn’t yet dealt much with the proposal for a convention center that would serve as a joint city, county, and state facility, but, he said, "it could well work out."
The process for the project is "only just beginning," Houghtaling said.
Houghtaling is not in favor of shared services, he said. "Voters on the Hill," he said, referring to Berne residents, showed they didn’t want to lose their sense of community.
"Water might take some joining in of municipal forces," Houghtaling said.
He added that he hasn’t read much about shared services being a good accomplishment. "I wouldn’t jump aboard without looking at some figures," Houghtaling said, adding that impact from residents is crucial as well, as they are the ones who pay taxes.
"I’m always glad to speak to the people," Houghtaling concluded.
Stevens challenges incumbent Gordon
By Tyler Schuling
HILLTOWNS A state engineer and Knox native son is challenging a popular Democratic incumbent to represent the Hilltowns in the Albany County Legislature.
Travis Stevens, a Republican, works for the Office of General Services in Albany and volunteers with the Knox Volunteer Fire Department. At 32, hes making his first run for office.
His goals include: tax relief for middle-class working families and seniors, diversifying the local economy, and supporting a year-round recreational center for youths.
"I want to protect families and their property values," he said.
Stevens said he is a realist, a friend, and a neighbor and he wont make uninformed decisions.
Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, a Democrat, has represented the 39th District Berne, Knox, and Rensselaerville since 1996. Gordon defeated Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier in the Democratic primary last Tuesday. Crosier, an enrolled Democrat, is endorsed by the Working Families and Conservative parties. Crosier said this week he is uncertain whether he will continue to run.
Gordon, a Knox farmer, wants to "continue to work on agricultural issues and energy issues and the places where they can support each other."
Other goals include: conserving energy in the countys usage and buildings, maintaining a balanced budget, and examining, enhancing, and preserving quality of life.
"Hopefully, we’re going to see opportunities for more input as far as trying to work at getting guns off the streets in the city of Albany, where that has become such a plague on the community," Gordon said.
Stevens would either introduce or support measures to downsize the legislature to help provide tax relief, he said. He believes less government results in better efficiency.
While Stevens would like to see more information about the added 1-percent county sales tax, he said he believes it could be repealed.
"Any tax that we can cut back on could help out," Stevens said.
Stevens said the county should support individual towns in their planning.
While he supports agriculture and the rural economy, he said, he doesnt want to forget about the other taxpayers.
Stevens questioned the amount of time spent on the proposed county nursing home, and the use of tax money.
"I don’t understand why it has taken this long," Stevens said. Most of the seniors he has spoken with, he said, want to stay in their own homes.
For the proposed convention center in Albany, Stevens said, the county should play a role that doesnt burden taxpayers.
"There can be growth, but it has to be smart growth," he said, adding that needs will dictate how much is spent on the project. All information would have to be gathered before placing a spending cap on the project, Stevens said.
"I believe that shared services has been going on for years," Stevens said, citing highway departments’ using each others’ equipment, storage facilities, and road materials.
"That’s already being done"I think shared services works, but I don’t think consolidation works unless [highway departments] are the same, equal entities," he said.
"If we would have downsized [the legislature], we would have lost the issue on the highway department merger," Gordon said. "I think that there are many people who may have thought we should downsize before, but now they recognize the significant importance of having somebody with a particular Hilltown presence and ability to articulate and represent the issues," he said, referring to a proposal backed by Crosier as Berne supervisor to merge the town’s highway department with the county.
Regarding the 1-percent sales tax, Gordon said, "Every chief executive of every municipality except the supervisor from Rensselaerville has requested the continuation of that flow of money.
"There are two particularly important things to keep in mind," he said.
About 40 percent of the revenue is collected from people who live outside the county and shop here, he said.
"There is absolutely no other way for us to receive tax monies from people outside of our county other than the sales tax," Gordon said. "Yes, the sales tax is regressive, but it is not as regressive as property tax."
If there werent a provision to extend the 1-percent additional sales tax in the three Hilltowns, it would probably invoke a 30- to 40-percent real property tax change to maintain the budget, he said.
Gordon cited the Albany County Community Housing Trust Fund, established to create and preserve affordable housing, as a good opportunity for county planning. The county executive earlier earmarked $300,000 for its projects. The housing fund was unanimously approved at the countys meeting this month.
"This is very good to take a look at because we need make sure that there is mixed-income housing stock throughout the county," said Gordon, "but we also need look at this as a potential vehicle for some farmland preservation as well."
The Berger Commission put some very strict restrictions on Albany County, and the bed count at the nursing home is to be reduced to 250 beds by June of 2008, Gordon said. This is when the process is starting, he said, and it would have been better had they put the restriction later after the project was completed.
"I think the state is inflexible," Gordon said, adding that the decision showed "a lack of consideration for the human element."
For the convention center, the county "is going to be in a major funding role," said Gordon. The county, he said, will develop and review a request for proposals and be involved in all aspects of construction.
"There’s going to be a lot of hands-on play for the county," Gordon said.
Gordon spearheaded a resolution to form the countys Municipal Highway Services Board, with a representative appointed from each municipality. Rensselaerville has not appointed a person to the board, said Gordon.
"There are absolute opportunities to save money," Gordon said. "We should review every one of them, but this is something that needs to be done in a very open process in the light of day."
There are some very good opportunities, and the county would be at fault if it didnt review all the information, he said.
Gordon said input should be given from "more than just a couple" of executives and include county and town policymakers. "That was part of what was wrong with the way that this merger was brought out," he said, adding that good government comes from soliciting suggestions, opening the floor, listening to the suggestions, and then jointly making decisions.
"We should hear from every town, and we should pick what works for each particular town," Gordon said.
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