Berne GOP charged on SAFE Act, incumbents deny merger

BERNE — All but one race in Berne has incumbents, with mostly Democrats against Republican challengers who criticize the town’s handling of a resolution opposing the state’s gun-control legislation passed at the beginning of the year. The town clerk position, held, often unopposed, by Patricia Favreau for 34 years, is now open for a new clerk.

In the race for highway superintendent, the incumbent, Democrat Kenneth Weaver, applied for a change of his enrollment to the Republican Party and got its backing after he was told that his health-insurance agreement as a town employee couldn’t be guaranteed indefinitely. Weaver claimed this was promised to him before he got Democratic, Conservative, and Independence Party endorsement, which he had declined to retire. Democrats Supervisor Kevin Crosier and Joseph Golden both said they had promised Weaver their votes wouldn’t go towards changing his insurance agreement, not after they step down.

After Weaver’s split, the Democrats backed Scott Duncan, East Berne’s current fire chief and a county worker who  has managed plow routes in Westerlo and Knox. Republicans are pointing to Duncan’s candidacy as a threat to the town highway garage, as Crosier has expressed in the past an interest in merging the highway department with the county.

“That’s a made-up issue,” said Crosier.

Crosier and Duncan both told The Enterprise they aren’t interested in consolidation.

In Berne, 932 voters, or 47 percent of all registered voters, are enrolled as Democrats; 325, or 16 percent, as Republicans; About a quarter of registered voters, or 494, are not affiliated with a party. About 13 percent are enrolled in small parties: 67, or 3 percent, as Conservatives, 5 with the Working Families Party, 122, or 6 percent, with the Independence Party, 6 with the Green Party, and one as a Libertarian.

Republican William Keal is running against Crosier, for a four-year term as supervisor, an $18,300-per-year position.

For town board, Democratic incumbents Joseph Golden and Wayne Emory are running against Rick Otto, a Democrat on the GOP line, and Republican Phil Stevens. The four-year post pays around $3,500.

Alan Zuk and Albert Raymond are Democratic candidates for two town justice part-time positions, paying each $9,100 per year. They are unopposed for the four-year terms.

Democrat Gerald O’Malley, an incumbent, is running for tax collector against Republican Ian Conners. The four-year, part-time position pays $6,600 per year.

Incumbent Highway Superintendent Weaver is running on the Republican line against Democrat Duncan for the four-year position, with a $51,200 annual salary for the full-time job.

Democrat Anita Clayton is running against Diane Dibble for town clerk, a $38,380-per-year full-time position with a four-year term.

Republican Walter Scram is running against Democrat Melanie Bunzey for an open four-year term as assessor. Assessors’ pay is based on certification and duties.

Candidates for town board were asked about their backgrounds, why they are running, and the following issues:

Budget: The town of Berne has had modest tax increases, and the supervisor has proposed none for next year with the use of surplus money. The town has been criticized for its large fund balance savings after a state comptroller’s audit. Candidates were asked whether the state-set cap on tax increases is sustainable for a rural town like Berne;

— Stormwater management: A study of erosion in the town was recently conducted, showing vulnerable areas and encouraging the installation of larger culverts and other stormwater-management projects. Candidates were asked whether the town should pursue more stormwater-management projects;

Hydraulic fracturing, zoning, and commerce: The town board is expected to receive recommendations from the planning board on hydraulic fracturing, a new schedule of uses in the zoning law, and zoning regulations in East Berne. Candidates were asked whether the zoning law should allow for any hydraulic fracturing or gas development in the town, and in what concrete ways they think the town can or should develop its commerce;

SAFE Act: The town had a large turnout speak about its resolution on the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act, the state’s gun control law passed in January weeks after the Sandyhook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. Candidates were asked whether they personally support the law, and, if Berne as a town, should take any action on the issue; and

Saving money: The town has pursued multiple avenues for sharing services. Candidates were asked what services the town can or should share to save money.

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