|[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]
Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 3, 2011
By Zach Simeone
As William F. Aylward Jr. runs for his fourth term as legislator in District 31, he will be challenged by Knox Town Board member Travis Stevens. But their district, like many others, will be reshaped as the winner enters into the next four-year term.
Most of Knox and the northeast corner of Berne, which had been represented by Alexander E. “Sandy” Gordon in District 39, have shifted over to District 31, represented by Aylward of Altamont. But Aylward’s district is losing portions of Guilderland to District 29, represented by Legislator Lee Carman.
Aylward, a Democrat with the Independence and Working Families party lines, is a retired Guilderland social studies teacher, and is currently an Altamont trustee, in addition to finishing up his 12th year as a legislator.
“I have served in public office, and I’m qualified,” Aylward told The Enterprise this week. “I’ve been a leader on many issues that confront us, and I will continue to lead. I’m very concerned about the safety and security of the people that we care for in the county. County government is one level of government where we have responsibilities for adults, and children, and families; we have responsibilities for the homeless; and we have responsibilities for the elderly. So it’s a broad base of services we offer, and you’ve got to be careful not to let the number of people decline, and not have the services rendered in overtime, because that’s when you start to get ballooning salaries.”
He takes pride in the legislature’s decision not to close the Albany County Nursing Home last year, and sees himself as having played an important role in standing up for the employees, who would have lost their jobs.
Stevens, who has the Republican and Conservative lines, has said reducing taxes in Albany County is “priority one.”
“The tax dollars we put into the county, I’d like to be sure they’re reinvested back into District 31, so we see a nice return on our investment,” Stevens said. “Obviously, you always want infrastructure and public works and public safety. You want to be sure those are all covered. I don’t want to say they aren’t right now, but there’s always room for improvement.”
Aylward, 76, has a decades-long tenure in politics, as a former Guilderland supervisor and mayor of Altamont, and current trustee in the village, in addition to being a legislator.
On the topic of the county’s nursing home, Aylward said Monday that the legislature is working towards obtaining a certificate of need from the state, which would result in grant money to be put towards construction of a new county nursing home.
“The Berger Commission came through under Governor [George] Pataki and recommended a smaller nursing home with no more than 250 residents,” Aylward said. “We are thinking in terms of a 200-resident nursing home, with day care, and public services to be all in one site, and the site that has been identified has been the Heritage Park site in Colonie. Ultimately, the Ann Lee home would be replaced, or maybe sold for some other purpose.” The Ann Lee Home was closed in 2008, after the Berger Commission recommended consolidating it with the Albany County Nursing Home.
Aylward said that he supports the idea of in-home care for the elderly, but it is not always an option.
“Case in point: Right now, at the nursing home itself, patients who have Alzheimer’s, dementia patients,” he said. “That’s why I voted in December of last year to support a budget that kept the nursing home open.”
Aylward went on to say that he is not yet sure where he stands on hydrofracking.
“At the present time, I’m making up my mind, and the legislature is in the process of fact finding on this issue,” said Aylward. “We have a long way to go to come to the decision on what we think we will be doing. There’s a general sense that we want to avoid any disaster that could be a consequence of hydrofracking.”
Asked if the redistricting process should have involved more of a “human element” than relying on a computer program to draw the new lines, Aylward only said, “I think there was a lot of human element in it, to be honest with you.”
He does not think there should be another redistricting process before the next census.
“I think the judge ruled that, as far as he was concerned, it was done as well as could be done,” he said. “I’ve campaigned up on the Hill, and I have been received well, and I’m happy about that. Sandy [Gordon] took a strong position against redistricting, and I joined him on it because of his passion for keeping the Hilltowns together, but that was not to be. I campaigned and pointed out that Altamont is, in fact, a rural village, and I’m very involved with the right to farm on the legislature.”
Aylward also thinks that the legislature is appropriately sized with 39 districts.
“My view is that it serves a purpose,” he said. “I am in an area where I can be responsible and close to the feelings of local governments and the citizenry of this area.”
He gave the following example.
“On one occasion, I went into a meeting of the public works committee,” he began, “and I saw, on the agenda, the demolition of the French’s Mills Road Bridge in Guilderland Center. It was a county-owned bridge used by motor vehicles at one time, and, during my tenure as supervisor, I was interested in promoting the bicycle pathways in the town, and I immediately noticed that this bridge might serve a purpose in that regard.”
The legislature had allocated $250,000 for demolishing the bridge, he said.
“I asked if we couldn’t rehabilitate the bridge with the same amount of money, and we did, roughly,” said Aylward. “That was because I was here, and I knew the situation about the bridge, whereas someone else might not have paid attention to it. The bridge is now there and available for hiking and biking, and it’s a beautiful spot right at the dam of the Watervliet Reservoir.”
Aylward disagrees with the reduction of sales-tax revenue distributed to towns.
“That money is important to these local governments because you’d have to raise taxes substantially locally to match that kind of revenue,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen. Whenever we are faced with this decision, we receive letters from every municipal leader not to do away with that. They understand the significance to their taxpayers.”
Nor is he in favor of increasing the sales tax above 8 percent.
“We get lobbied by municipal leaders to approve that tax annually,” he said, “so that would be a tax that every legislator would have to answer for.”
Aylward said it was too early to say whether the county should stay under the 2-percent tax-levy cap this year.
“The proposed budget last year had a 15-percent tax increase, and we reduced that,” he said. “This year, we’re in the same boat, and the process calls for the legislature to review the county executive’s budget, and make our recommendations in November…I would like to see them look at contracts and insurance, and trying to see where we may rebid or re-evaluate some of the things we are paying for.”
On whether surplus reserves should be used, he went on, “You have to worry about the bond rating if you’re going to use surplus funds. But there are monies that are available: about $20 million from the fund balance that’s being carried over to the next year. So, when the legislature looks at this, I don’t know if they’ll look at that or what, but you don’t want your fund balance getting ripped apart, because it does affect your borrowing power.”
On whether any non-mandated programs should be cut, Aylward said that the state should provide some guidance.
“Mandated programs, in many cases, are not funded adequately,” he said. “So, if the state is setting a cap, the state should also be deciding what services will be mandated, and what services will be removed from the budget as mandated services. I think that’s a leadership issue on the part of the state. It doesn’t make it easy to say, ‘We’re going to put a 2-percent cap, and these are the hoops to jump through in order to get a budget.’”
Further, if jobs are to be eliminated, it should be in cases of workers retiring.
“I think we should be looking at attrition as a way to reduce the number of employees,” said Aylward. “But, a lot of our services require personnel. People have to be there to do the jobs the probation department in particular. These people are faced with serious issues, I think, in terms of their employment, and I think that they should be very carefully reviewed. The upcoming meetings will help us get a clearer picture of that.”
Travis Stevens, 37, is an energy conservation technical specialist at the New York State Office of General Services, and has been on the Knox Town Board for two years.
“Obviously, the county has to reduce costs and rein in spending in this nursing home issue,” said Stevens. “I could see two main options: maybe a public-private partnership with a lease purchase, or full privatization of the facility. You always want to try and keep people in their homes as long as you can, but we have to be aware of costs, and there are some people who need to be in a home because they really can’t stay in their home. There has to be a comprehensive plan that takes care of all these issues.”
Stevens does not support hydrofracking in Albany County, though he does not see it happening in the area.
“I live in a relatively rural area,” Stevens said. “I have a well; I’m raising a family on a well; I was raised on a well. So, I want to protect my drinking water…Most of the drilling’s going to be in the Southern Tier counties. While there is Marcellus Shale up here, it’s a little more dense and easier to get to in the Southern Tier. So, I don’t think that it’s a top priority right now, and I can’t say I appreciate local politicians using it to mask some of the other hometown issues we have right now, like property-tax increases.”
Stevens thinks that the recent redistricting process was an open process, and does not think that there should be another redistricting before the next census.
“I don’t want to see a lot of extra time and tax dollars going towards a process that’s already completed,” he said.
On reducing the size of the legislature, Stevens said that he would support it, “As long as the pay and cost to operate the legislature don’t go up. If they can hold the cost of the county legislature, then I have no issue with that. And, if they can reduce the cost, that’s even better.”
On whether the county should reduce the amount of sales tax distributed to local municipalities, Stevens said he is undecided.
“I would like to see the actual numbers,” he said, “because there is a theory that, if you dropped the sales tax, people would spend more, and your tax revenue would go up. I’d like to see that compared to what we’re currently getting in sales-tax revenue.”
The state-set 2-percent tax-levy cap, he went on, will help “keep governments in check.”
“It will hold the county legislature accountable for the budget process,” he said, “and I think the current county legislature has been pretty ineffective at tackling some of the larger issues on spending, and they only want to increase tax revenue, without new ideas for increasing revenue, whether it be on the sales tax side, or bringing more businesses in.”
Stevens supports lawmakers’ taking a pay cut to help ease the burden on taxpayers, as he has pushed for in Knox.
“If everyone’s willing to work together, and give a little bit, you can hold the line,” he said. “You have to look at government at all levels, like you would your home, with personal finances. You always try to have rainy-day funds, but sometimes you have to go into that, when times are tough. The cost of everything’s going up, and pay doesn’t, so, it’s not that much different at the government level.”
Asked if there are non-mandated programs that should be cut, Stevens said, “I think every program needs to be looked at. And, again, if everybody was willing to give a little, we could get through these tough economic times. It’s rough when you make a wholesale drastic change. Working together and coming to solutions, everybody feels the pain a little bit, but you’ll get through it.”
Cutting jobs, in the end, could hurt the county, he went on.
“In this economy, if there are unfilled jobs, and we’re able to get through this time without them, then that’s something to be looked at,” he said. But I would pretty much exhaust a lot of different options before we go after a worker or an employee, because that doesn’t help the local economy, because they might leave the county, and it would take money out of the county. That person, hopefully, would stay in the county and spend money in the county. So, you don’t want to take away their job.”