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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 27, 2011

Knox elections
Four vie for two board seats, races for judge, clerk, and tax collector

By Zach Simeone

KNOX — As the town’s supervisor and highway superintendent run unopposed, four candidates will vie for two town board seats. The incumbent town clerk will be challenged, as will a town judge. And, as the longtime tax collector steps down, two newcomers look to take the post.

The Democratic slate is headed by long-time supervisor, Michael Hammond. Former councilman Dennis Decker, who lost in the 2009 election, is looking to get back on the board, and Dennis Barber, who ran for highway superintendent in 2009, hopes to earn a seat on the board as well.

Republican candidates John Hunsicker and Michael Swain, both newcomers to politics, are running for town board as well. The incumbent highway superintendent, Gary Salisbury, is a Republican as well. Swain’s wife, Kimberly Swain, is the incumbent town clerk, and will be challenged by Democratic newcomer Renee Quay.

James Corigliano, who was appointed last year to replace judge Linda Quay, will be challenged by GOP candidate Bonnie Donati, who last ran in 2009, but lost.

Delia Palombo, the longtime tax collector, will be stepping down at age 89; Democratic candidate Diane Champion and Republican Frank Fuss look to replace her.

Town board candidates were questioned about the following issues:

— Tax cap: A bill was recently passed in New York State that caps tax-levy increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, starting in 2012. The cap can be surpassed if at least 60 percent of voters approve. Although the proposed budget is under the cap, candidates were asked where they might make cuts in order to meet the 2 percent cap if, for example, the county pulled back on sales-tax revenues;

Wind power: With wind-power regulations already in the works in Knox, candidates were asked what they think about the use of wind power in town, on both larger and smaller scales, and whether the larger wind farms should be banned in town, as they were in neighboring Rensselaerville; and

Hydraulic fracturing: The town’s planning board recently proposed an ordinance on hydrofracking in town. Though it does not specifically ban hydrofracking for the retrieval of natural gas, which could be superseded by state law, Knox ordinance would prohibit the use of a staging facility, which could affect the large number o ftrucks needed for the recovery operations, and the ordinance could prohibit a terminal for the bulk storage of natural gas. Candidates were asked if they were for or against hydrofracking in town and what they think of these possible zoning changes.


Michael Swain

KNOX — Michael Swain, 36, a former telecommunications worker, now works as a bus mechanic at Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

Originally from Westerlo, Swain moved to Knox about 10 years ago, and is making his first run for a political office, on the Republican line.

“I want to give back to the community, to try and better the community,” he said. He thinks that bringing a “new face” on the board, with “younger ideas,” makes him a strong candidate.

“Some of the guys have been on there for a long time,” Swain said.

Swain went on to say that there are areas of the budget where he would like to see cuts made, but he declined to provide specifics.

“There are some spots that could be trimmed, and there’s also some consolidation that could be done with different positions,” he said. “Like anywhere, there’s stuff that could be trimmed.”

And, before wind power comes to the Hilltowns, it must be studied further, said Swain.

“If it benefitted the taxpayers in the Hilltowns,” it should be considered. If it’s not going to benefit them then it shouldn’t happen,” he said.

He opposes hydraulic fracturing in town, but he doesn’t think the town is at great risk of being approached by gas companies.

“They’re not going to be pressuring the town of Knox,” he said. “It’s pretty much all limestone, not Marcellus Shale in the town of Knox. So, I’m against it either way, but there shouldn’t be a whole lot of wasted time for the town Knox.”

Swain added that he would like to see more businesses come to Knox, especially now that the Knox Country Store has closed again.

“I’d love to see another business go in there,” he said. “I think the town should be campaigning for that, going out and maybe approaching a couple businesses, and getting them to come into town. Whether it’s a Stewart’s, or Mobil, or whatever. Anything would be better than what’s there right now.”

He went on, “I think, in general, we should be a business-friendly area. If there were more restaurants that were interested in opening the Foxenkill Tavern, which has been closed a couple years; or, if someone has new ideas, I’d be open to that, too, as long as it’s not obstructive to the town.”

John Hunsicker

John Hunsicker, 53, has lived in Knox for about 11 years, and wants to make a contribution to the town as a councilman.

A bus driver and construction worker, Hunsicker’s tile-setting company, JSH Contracting, was awarded the bid for tiling in the recent Town Hall reconstruction project. He also runs a small haying operation, he said.

“Initially, I think everyone wants to get involved in politics and have some say, but they don’t follow through with it,” Hunsicker told The Enterprise. “Truthfully, I had no intention of running till I was approached by the Republican Party, and they said, ‘We don’t have anyone.’ I thought I’d take the shot this time.”

Now that he has been campaigning, he is happy with his choice to become involved, he went on.

“Whether or not I’m the best candidate remains to be seen,” said Hunsicker. “I’m a reliable candidate. I’ve grown up a liked person no matter what I did, whether it was agriculture in Princetown, on the dairy farm; or driving the school bus; and, in the construction field, I’m liked. I’ve done a good job in everything I’ve done so far. I don’t see why I couldn’t be good at listening to the people and voting in favor of what their best interests are.”

In terms of budgeting, Hunsicker likes the idea of having a public vote on the tax-levy increase, but, if forced to make cuts, he was unsure of what areas he would consider.

Hunsicker also thinks that the town should research renewable energy sources for use in Knox.

“Without investigating and knowing more, I couldn’t have an opinion at this point,” he said. “I think that wind power as an alternate energy source is a good idea. What’s involved as far as the environment, or whatever other issues may be at hand, I don’t have the knowledge on that.”

And, at this point, he opposes hydrofracking in town.

“I like my water,” said Hunsicker. “Water is a precious commodity. What they have is…the disregard for the water supply, gas leaking out of their proposed system, and people can no longer drink the water because it’s contaminated.”

Dennis Barber

Dennis Barber, 56, has lived in Knox his whole life. Now that he is retired, he is seizing the opportunity to make his first run for town board.

“I think volunteerism is important in a small town, and that’s what I want to emphasize — I’ve been involved,” Barber told The Enterprise. “I grew up in town, I’ve always been involved in town, I want to continue to be involved, and I want to be there when we’re moving down the road to the future. Whatever that may be, I want to be part of the process.”

Barber, a Democrat, said that he has volunteered in town for 35 years, as a member of the youth committee; for 20 years with the Little League; he has worked with the youth soccer program; and he is currently on the zoning board of appeals. He spent 20 years in the Knox Volunteer Fire Department, he said.

“I was in the new town hall construction review committee, to see if we could find anything that could be changed, things like that,” said Barber. “I was on the master plan committee, which had to be over 20 years ago.”

Barber, a former employee of the New York State Department of Transportation, ran for the position of highway superintendent two years ago, but lost to incumbent Gary Salisbury.

He worked for the highway department for six years, in the 1970s, during which the town built its first transfer station.

“We cut the trees down, brought them to the transfer station, and used them as poles,” said Barber, laughing at the recollection. “And, when the cement went in, everything started to snap. We put the letters up there; we stained it. I can still remember the whole thing.”

He and his two brothers grew up on a hay farm in town, which produced between 15,000 and 20,000 bales a year, he said.

Barber said that he would like to see more senior housing in town.

“It’s hard to find home care for an older person,” he said. “Not a lot of people like to come up the Hill. And, people take care of their own in the country.”

Barber also thinks that the town has a solid track record with keeping taxes low.

“And I want to continue that by keeping up with [Supervisor Michael Hammond’s] long, tenured career in keeping the budget low,” Barber said. “I want people supporting him to keep these budgets low. I was treasurer for the board of fire commissioners in town,” he went on, and he thinks that this experience will lend itself to the budgeting process.

Barber does not necessarily oppose large-scale wind power in town, he went on.

“Do I want to see them on the hillside? I don’t know about that,” Barber said of turbines. “But, other than that, what’s the worst that can happen? If it falls over, it falls over. I don’t personally see anything wrong with them. But, I don’t think they’ll generate much income for the town, like the cell tower.”

He does, on the other hand, oppose hydrofracking in town.

“Risk versus reward, it’s not worth it,” he said. “Water’s too precious for us, but I haven’t done much research myself.”

Barber concluded, “Knox is a bedroom community. There’s not many farms left, and we don’t want to lose our open spaces. People move up for less taxes, open spaces, and less crime. We’ve kept taxes low; I want to piggyback on this good group of people, and keep taxes low so people can afford to stay in their homes.”

Dennis Decker

Dennis Decker, 51, has spent 12 years on the town board, and is looking to return to his work as a councilman.

He works for National Grid as a civil construction supervisor for outsource construction.

“We do all the in-ground vault work in the manholes and duct banks with electrical systems in them,” said Decker, a Democrat. “What you’d normally see on the poles, we have ones that go underground, in areas where you don’t see poles on the street.”

He was first elected to the town board in 1995, and spent two terms on the board before losing an election, and then being re-elected two years later. He then lost in 2009, and is running for the post again this November.

“I just want to keep things moving forward, the vision to keep having Knox as a nice community, and to work with other board members,” said Decker. “I’ve been to some meetings, and I see some things that I basically would like to keep going as far as our town parks, being involved with the cell tower project, which happened while I was on board, and the town hall expansion, which finally came to fruition. I see a lot of things that have potential for growth, and there are things I’d like to do.”

Decker also takes pride in the town’s history of relatively low tax-levy increases, including years that he was on the board, during which there was no increase in the levy.

“If you look at some other municipalities, you’ll find the town of Knox is one of the most frugal, and has some of the lowest taxes in Albany County, at least in the Hilltowns,” he said. “That’s by holding those budget workshops, and I believe they’re still doing that process where the board gets together and hatches the budget, starting from square one with what was needed the previous year, and what we need to make things run. Not being involved over the last two years, I don’t know what went through the process this year.”

Decker does not take issue with the use of small-scale wind power in town.

“If anyone can use that as a resource to help offset any electric issues in their budget, and it’s something they feel they have a savings in, and it works for them, that’s fine,” he said. “Until someone can show me there’s enough wind here to be a worthwhile endeavor for the community, I don’t see the larger wind happening here. I guess we’ll review it when we see what comes to light as far as the meteorological tower goes,” he said, referring to the fact that the town is currently awaiting an analysis of the data collected from a meteorological tower that was placed on Middle Road for about four years.

“I can’t see some developer trying to put something up that isn’t going to pay dividends,” said Decker.

Decker went on to say that, given what he knows now, he is opposed to hydrofracking in town.

“Our water here is a valuable resource and we wouldn’t have much of a community without water for drinking and livestock,” he said. “And, I don’t know that we have any usable shale resource that would have gas trapped, and that this gas can be extracted from. That being said, I’d still like to see some sort of committee formed so, once again, we can go at it logically and come up with a valuable opinion as to what it is, if it’s even something you have to worry about.”

Decker also said zoning that prevents a terminal used for the bulk storage of gas might be productive, but prohibiting a staging facility for trucks could prove harmful.

“If someone wanted to put up a Target distribution warehouse, I wouldn’t want to exclude something that might come down the road in the future, and create jobs,” said Decker. “That’s a pretty benign building, and it’s not creating pollution and things like that.”


James Corigliano

James Corigliano, 66, was appointed town judge last year after Linda Quay’s resignation.

Corigliano, originally from Queens, has lived in Knox for 42 years. He moved upstate for the opportunity to teach music.

He retired in 2000 from a 30-year career, during which he taught at Guilderland Central Schools, The College of Saint Rose, and Schenectady County Community College. He served on the advisory board at SCCC, and he was a member of the Empire State Youth Orchestra’s board of directors. He also founded the Empire State Youth Jazz Ensemble.

Prior to being appointed last year, Corigliano, a Democrat did not have a legal background.

“I like doing it,” said Corigliano. “I think it’s an important service to the community. I put an awful lot of time into doing the coursework and getting the certification.”

When sentencing someone, community service is a viable option for individuals that represent no threat to the community, Corigliano said.

“Each case is judged on its own merits, and on the evidence, and on the circumstances,” he said. “Two people could be in violation of the same crime, and the sentences could be totally different because of extenuating circumstances: the person’s ties to the community; their past record; whether it’s a first-time offense, or if they’re a repeat offender. If an officer pulls someone over for speeding, only to find out a person’s pregnant wife is in the front seat, and they’re on the way to the hospital, that’s an extenuating circumstance.”

Asked if he would be comfortable sentencing someone he knows, given the small-town setting of Knox, Corigliano said that the court system “takes care of that.”

“First of all, almost every township has two judges for that very reason,” he said. “If we were to arraign someone who was either related to me or a very close friendship, I’d recuse myself, and my co-judge would do the arraignment and hear the case. If it turned out that both judges were familiar with the defendant, we would both recuse ourselves, and, at that point in time, the case could be heard in an adjoining municipality, or the unified court system will temporarily assign a judge to hear the case.”

Bonnie Donati

Bonnie Donati, 66, is making another run for town judge, though she’s no stranger to the justice system.

Donati, a Republican, was born in Brooklyn. She lived in Knox during the 1980s, moved back to New York City for 15 years, and returned to Knox after her husband, Judge Alfred Donati Jr., died in 1997. Before his death, Mr. Donati was a New York State Supreme Court judge.

Bonnie Donati thinks that her extensive legal background will make her a good town justice.

“Everything I’ve done in my life kind of revolves around the law,” Donati told The Enterprise. “I believe you are a product of your life experiences, which is why running for this position to me is kind of like second nature.”

Now retired from a career as a paralegal, she has worked as an insurance claims adjuster, did a stint at the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, and was in charge of former Attorney General Robert Abrams’s archives during his administration.

In her free time, Donati cares for her horses, and hopes to create a boarding facility for horses under her new company, Wodensfeld Farm.

She currently lives with John Hunsicker, another GOP candidate running for town board.

“I’ve been campaigning, and someone brought up the fact that John and I reside together, and whether there would be a conflict of interest between his job, and the position I’m running for,” Donati said. “First of all, he could always choose not to vote at the time. And, there are two justice positions, so, when you’re voting on a raise, you’d be talking about the other one, too, not just me.”

Donati thinks that community service, in some cases, is an appropriate replacement for jail time, depending on the severity of the crime.

“And, it would also have to depend on whether the person was a repeat offender,” she said. “I don’t believe in what they call ‘revolving-door justice’: you come in, get a slap on the wrist; it doesn’t impress upon you. I believe, if it’s a crime of violence, especially perpetrated on someone elderly, or anyone who cannot defend themselves, community service would not be in line.”

Asked if she would be comfortable sentencing someone she knows, she replied, “Maybe that’s the benefit of me running up here — I have no relatives up here. But, you can always recuse yourself from the case. If you are too close to the situation, and you have an opinion that’s already formed, you can remove yourself from the case.”


Frank Fuss

Frank Fuss, 65, is a retired industrial chemist. A Republican, he is making his first run for office, as he seeks the tax collector’s post.

A New Jersey native, Fuss lived in Delmar and Charleston, South Carolina before moving to Knox five years ago.

“I’m running on the basic points of fiscal responsibility,” Fuss told The Enterprise. “Anyone who’s involved in handling money should be responsible and accountable for it. I’m also secretary for the Knox Fire District, and I keep records and stuff for the company. I’ve modernized and computerized some of the stuff there.”

During his career, Fuss worked for BASF, the global chemical company.

“Primarily, I made organic dyestuffs,” Fuss said.

Fuss was inspired to run because the current tax collector, Delia Palombo, is stepping down, after nearly 40 years on the job.

“Somebody has to do the job,” said Fuss. “Mrs. Palombo is a personal friend of my wife and me, and my thought was that, if she wasn’t going to run, I thought it’d be an interesting job. At BASF, I ran the quality assurance group, with a budget of half a million a year. So, I have a background in finance and budgeting and I really think that being tax collector wouldn’t be all that challenging.”

Fuss plans on making himself available by phone and e-mail “around the clock,” now that he is retired.

“I plan on being available in tax season,” he said, “in January, and probably into early February, at least three days a week.”

Diane Champion

Diane Champion, 63, is retired from a career in the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. A Democrat, Champion is running for the tax collector’s post.

Originally from Averill Park, the moved to Knox 41 years ago when she married her husband, Donald Champion.

Champion also worked in the money-transfer department at National Commercial Bank, now known as Key Bank, from 1968 to 1974.

Looking back on her 31-year career as a tax auditor, she thinks she will be right at home in the position of tax collector.

“I had to talk to taxpayers continuously,” said Champion. “By talking to them, I was able to help solve their problems, make sure I gave them a fair and correct tax.”

While this is her first run for political office, she has been an election inspector for 26 years.

“By working off the Hill for many years, I didn’t get to meet all the people in town,” said Champion. “By being an inspector, I was able to meet a lot of people here, and make their acquaintance over those years.”

Champion said that she would work every Saturday in January, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. “And, I would also have extended hours on a weeknight in January,” she said. “A lot of times people can’t get in on Saturday. After that, I’ll be available anytime at home.”


Kimberly Swain

Kimberly Swain, 33, a Republican, is nearing the end of her third two-year term as town clerk.

“I enjoy serving the community, and meeting the new people that live in the town,” Swain said of being town clerk. “Most of all, I enjoy the job, and taking care of town business. People come in for marriage licenses; dog licenses; handicap parking; I take care of meeting minutes. The big thing is notary services.”

A lifelong resident of Knox, Swain now spends much of her time as a stay-at-home mom, and keeps regular hours at Town Hall: Mondays and Tuesdays, from 6 to 8 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon.

“And, of course, I’m available every day, 24/7 by appointments, and that’s utilized quite a bit,” she said.

Swain concluded, “I’ve been doing it for a couple years now, so, I’ve learned the ropes; I’m willing to help anybody and everybody. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll certainly get them the answer. Just being there for people is a big thing.”

Renee Quay

Renée Quay, 24, is executive chef, at the Township Tavern, and hopes to become town clerk, in her first run for political office.

A Democrat, Quay has lived in Knox her whole life, and began working at the tavern four years ago.

“Politics has always been in my family,” Quay said. “My grandfather, Irwin King, was justice for six years. My mother, Linda Quay, was town clerk for a few years; she’s been court clerk; and she was justice for 15 years.”

She thinks that her degree in business management from Schenectady County Community College will make her an asset as town clerk, as will her people skills.

If elected, she hopes to make herself available for 10 to 12 hours a week.
“At this time, it’s difficult for me to determine what days I’ll be available at Town Hall,” said Quay. “I know I will be open every Saturday all year long as well as having daytime and evening hours throughout the week.”

She will always be available by e-mail, she went on.

“I live right down the road, and I work close to Town Hall,” said Quay. “So, if somebody did come up with a last-minute license or permit, if I could get there to do that for them, I’d definitely do it.”

Gary Salisbury unopposed for highway superintendent

Gary Salisbury, 47, is running unopposed for his fourth two-year term as the town’s highway superintendent.

Salisbury worked in the town highway department for 16 years before he was elected as superintendent in 2003. He has been a town employee since he was 22 years old.

According to Salisbury the greatest change in the highway department since he took office is how it maintains its roads during the winter — “Making sure we’re out there at the important times, and making sure we’re out there as much as we possibly can,” he told The Enterprise.

Looking ahead, Salisbury said that he is not considering many large projects for the coming year, other than bringing the roads back from the damage sustained during Tropical Storm Irene.

“Because nobody has money right now, I’m not looking to really add a lot,” he said. “We just want to maintain what we have so we’re not overspending. Let’s make sure we keep everything the best we can with the money we have. Hopefully, down the road things, will turn around moneywise, and we can start looking at other projects.” (See related budget story.)

The one exception will eventually be the Line Road project, as this town highway was heavily damaged during the storm, and engineering studies will be needed in order to determine what sort of work must be done to repair the damage, and how much those repairs will cost.

After a meeting last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been made aware of the state of things in Knox, and Salisbury is waiting to hear back from FEMA on whether or not federal funding will cover the engineering studies, and what other repairs might be covered.

“That’s going to throw these numbers way out of kilter,” Salisbury said of Line Road; of FEMA, he went on, “The way they explained it is, they’re going to try and get to the towns that got hit the worst.”

Salisbury will also continue the town’s ongoing equipment-replacement program; this year, the town replaced a 2004 Chevrolet one-ton dump truck with a 2011 Chevrolet one-ton dump.

“The old truck was still in good shape, but we went ahead and upgraded to a new one this year,” said Salisbury. “We want to stay on this plan, because it’s really working for us.”

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