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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 3, 2011
By Saranac Hale Spencer
NEW SCOTLAND Two candidates who were embroiled in a lawsuit before the last election are each running against the Republican incumbent, Richard W. Mendick, in a district that straddles Bethlehem and New Scotland.
Mendick, 63, won the seat four years ago, edging out then-Democratic incumbent Howard A. Shafer by fewer than 50 votes. Shafer, 66, had tried to keep his primary challenger, Leo E. Dorsey Jr., off the ballot by claiming in a lawsuit that Dorsey did not legitimately live in the district. Shafer lost the suit.
In this year’s election, Dorsey has the Democratic and Working Families party lines; Mendick, who worked as a chief financial officer for a national distributor, has the Republican, Conservative, and Independence party lines; and Shafer, who has retired from the New York State Health Department, is on the Notice our Priorities line. Currently, the legislature has eight Republican members and 31 Democratic members
Dorsey could be reached for comment.
Richard W. Mendick
The county should “absolutely not” consider cutting the portion of sales tax distributed to municipalities, Mendick said, since it wouldn’t help the taxpayer. In the same certain terms, Mendick said that the county should not raise the sales tax to generate more revenue.
Of keeping the budget below the new tax-levy cap, Mendick said, “Yes, we should stay within the tax cap.” He went on about the cap, “Taxpayers have spoken. The governor has listened.”
What can be cut from the budget is an issue for the Audit and Finance Committee, on which Mendick sits, he said, adding that it would be premature for him to talk about cuts.
Reserve funds have a specific purpose, Mendick said, which is to smooth out the rough times after being built up during strong economic times. “But we used them during the good times,” he said. “If we had them, this would be the time.”
He did not want to comment on cutting jobs without having talked to the people who are in charge of the county’s departments.
Of elder care, Mendick said that County Executive Michael Breslin’s concept for home care was good, but he’d like to explore a regional nursing home that could accommodate both Albany and Schenectady counties. He suggested a 450-bed facility that would be publicly owned and privately run, with the counties hiring a professional management firm to operate the home.
Mendick would like to learn more about the process of hydraulic fracturing, but, he said, “at first blush, the opportunity to create tens of thousands of jobs” is attractive. He called it a “mature industry” that has, for years, been active in Pennsylvania, which leads him to believe that it can be done safely. One of his major concerns is the country’s dependence on foreign oil, Mendick said, explaining that he had experienced the gas crisis of the 1970s.
The county does not have sufficient resources to examine the issue, Mendick said, so it is only appropriately addressed at the state level.
Of the new district lines following the census, Mendick said that the computer program was a tool that gave the first cut of where the lines should fall and the redistricting committee held public hearings, after which it made modifications.
Other than the concerns of people in inner-city districts, who brought a lawsuit against the county, there were no major objections to the new map, Mendick said.
Usually, when the number of legislators is reduced, there’s a corresponding increase in the amount of staff positions needed, he said.
The county should not cut the portion of sales-tax revenue given to municipalities, Shafer said, likening the idea to what the state has done to the county, cutting the amount of money it gives.
While it should not raise the sales tax as a whole, Shafer said, the county should implement a high-end sales tax on luxury items. He named BMW and Mercedes cars as examples of items that would be subject to the tax. Low-income people have a hard enough time getting by, he said, and they should not have to pay higher sales taxes. “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” he said.
Not many programs can be cut, Shafer said, but he suggested looking at management-level employees and opportunities to cut the payroll by attrition.
The county should tap into some of its reserves, he said, and reduce the 19-percent increase to a more manageable figure in the single digits.
The county nursing home takes care of people who have nowhere else to go, he said, so it is a necessary institution. The current building, which is outdated and losing money, should be replaced with a 250- to 300-bed facility, he said. The baby boomers are aging, he said, and they will soon need the facilities. The county’s home should not be operated by a private firm, he said, since private companies often have budgets that balloon and provide lower-quality care.
For now, Shafer said, he opposes hydraulic fracturing until he sees proof that it won’t damage the water supply. The county is an appropriate place to address the issue, he said, since one person who leases his land to a gas company could benefit, but the water for the area as a whole could become contaminated.
The legislature should look at how the process was handled elsewhere, he said. The substantial supply of fuel should be extracted, he said, but not at the expense of damaging the water supply.
It is not the size of the legislature, but the quality of it that matters, Shafer said. The current size of Albany County’s legislature is good, he said.