Candidates face off in District 7
SARANAC LAKE – Three candidates are vying for Tim Burpoe’s spot representing District 7 in the Franklin County Legislature.
With Burpoe stepping down, the Enterprise recently sat down with Edwin Randig, Curtis Reynolds and Barbara Rice and discussed how well the county represents this southern district, a recent state comptroller’s report audit and how to attract more businesses.
As a longtime code enforcement officer for Saranac Lake area towns and villages, Republican and Conservative candidate Randig is not a stranger to local government. He said the county is the next step for him.
“I’ve been working in local government for 17 to 18 years now,” Randig said. “I’m used to things on a local level, and I’ve always been interested in things on the county level.”
Randig said the recent comptroller’s audit, which blasted Franklin County legislators, should be seen as a useful tool for improving the county’s budgetary issues.
“I’ve always found those individuals, when they come in, are very helpful in telling you different ways of doing things as far as budgets are concerned,” Randig said, “the way to spend money, the way to get revenue, those types of things. They (the legislators) should probably be looking at it from the standpoint that the comptroller’s office is there to help you, not to be a hindrance.”
One way to clear budgetary hurdles is to increase the tax base. To accomplish that, Randig suggested going with what we already have. He also said hiring an outside agency to brainstorm ideas for the county could be a worthwhile investment.
“We already have some biotech, and it’s fairly low-scale in terms of what they’re doing, but the end result is good because there’s not a lot of impact on the environment, and they bring a lot of people in as far as employment is concerned,” Randig said. “As far as tourism is concerned, we’re in the Adirondacks. You have this beautiful forested area. We need to capitalize on that, whether they’re spending the weekend or spending their vacation here, that’s what brings revenue to the area.”
Randig said improving cellphone coverage by building more or taller towers would also attract more people and businesses.
Randig said he approves of a bed tax but is apprehensive about the 2 percent fuel oil tax in Franklin County. If elected, he said that’s something he’d try to get answers on.
“It’s not a lot of money, but I guess I would ask where that 2 percent goes for that every gallon,” Randig said. “If you look at Saranac Lake as a whole, and we’re pretty much all probably buying fuel oil to heat our home, where does that money go, how does it get distributed throughout the county, how is it being used? That would be the first thing I’d be concerned about.”
Randig also said he’s concerned that taxpayers in the southern end, who provide a majority of the county’s property tax revenue, aren’t benefiting from things purchased in the northern end.
“We have a seven-member board, and unfortunately there is division between the north and south of who’s paying the lion’s share of what the costs and expenses are,” Randig said. “An example is the new (natural) gas line that they’re putting in to the tune of a $1 million payment. I look at myself as having to write that check out on a personal level, and that’s a great deal of money, and we won’t be seeing any return on that cost.”
Although he didn’t get into specifics on how that can change, Randig said it needs to.
“The southern end of the county needs to have more of a voice as to what’s being spent and what we’re spending things on,” Randig said.
Independence Party candidate Reynolds said he’s tired of the way things are run in the county, and it’s time he got involved.
“It’s either time to step up or shut up,” Reynolds said. “It seems that whenever there are budget issues at the county level, the answer always seems to be, one, go to the taxpayer, and two, go to the town of Harrietstown, because we do pay the biggest percentage of taxes in the county – and as a taxpayer in the town of Harrietstown for 28 years, it’s becoming more and more of a struggle.”
Reynolds said the proposed bed tax is not the answer to the county’s budget problems.
“The bed tax was probably the tipping point for me,” Reynolds said. “I just don’t see how that helps any business owner that owns a motel or a hotel. They claim it’s going to be for promoting tourism, and I’m just not for it. It’s just another tax. Enough taxes.”
Nevertheless, Reynolds said tourism is the answer to improving the local economy.
“I’m all for tourism because that’s the only way we survive up here,” Reynolds said. “What I don’t think is understood at the north end of the county is that it’s harder for us on the southern end of the county to come up with ideas to promote tourism, other than bringing people in for the ski mountains and the wilderness and hiking. Whiteface is an attraction, and that’s Essex County.”
Being within the Adirondack Park makes progress difficult in the southern end of the county, Reynolds said.
“If you’ve been to the north end of the county, they’re thriving,” Reynolds said. “They’ve got a lot of business up there, but they’re outside the (Adirondack) blue line. We’re governed by a different set of rules in the southern end of the county. We have a governing body (the state Adirondack Park Agency) that makes decisions on whether we can bring business into this end of the county.”
Reynolds also said the people of his district have to stop chasing potential opportunities away.
“People were up in arms over Walmart,” Reynolds said. “I’m not saying Walmart’s the saving grace of any area, but it was an opportunity for them to come into this area, and it got shot down, and not necessarily through government intervention. To kill something like that is frustrating. If I went and came up with a half-dozen ways to bring businesses to this area, I’d still have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops before I could even think about doing any of them.”
Reynolds said he understood why some Franklin County legislators were upset by the comptroller’s report. He thinks they should take their complaints to Albany.
“Why can’t we go to Albany and say, ‘Listen, your mandates are the reason we are where we are?'” Reynolds said. “Mandates are killing us. If part of the state’s mandates is funding government assistance in their own county, and the taxpayers are going to work every day and seeing people they’re carrying, that’s frustrating.”
Reynolds also said he doesn’t think his district is fairly represented on the Board of Legislators.
“I think we’re almost like the forgotten people,” Reynolds said. “Maybe the Board of Legislators needs to begin holding its meetings somewhere besides Malone. If I’m sitting at a table with that board, and the vote is five to two, and most generally it is, I’d like to see the county board as a whole come down to the town of Harrietstown, and the town of Franklin, and explain to those people why you voted that way and what you’re doing with their money.”
The Democratic and Unity Party candidate said she wants to bring her experience as a business owner and Saranac Lake village trustee to Franklin County.
“I’d like to see a more balanced board and see it be more representative of the community,” Rice said. “I think my involvement on the village board, and being active in the community, I have a real understanding of the issues. I’m very passionate about it. I feel very strongly responsible. You have to be able to compromise; you have to be able to reason with people.”
Rice said the comptroller’s report should be seen as an opportunity for the county to improve its budgeting.
“The bottom line is, there are some things they can improve upon, and the comptroller’s (report) laid that out,” Rice said. “There are some very specific recommendations, and I think that’s probably a good place to start. One of things I think is important is to begin the process of long-term strategic planning because that really allows you to prioritize, set some goals, identify some capital projects and set out a road map so you can move to achieve those goals. That doesn’t mean it’s written in stone and a static process. You tweak it along the way. Knowing where you’re heading is important because it helps you achieve that.”
Rice said bringing more people into the area should be a top priority.
“I had the opportunity to work in conjunction with the county and the towns and the local chamber recently to develop the partnership with ROOST (the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism),” Rice said. “Marketing and branding our region as the place to be, as a place to come, you cannot sit on the sidelines with that. Other communities are out there doing the same thing and being very proactive about that.”
She also said focusing on the quality of life here, encouraging public- and private-partnerships, and looking at incentives to have somebody locate a business here are steps the county can take. Infrastructure is important, too.
“You can’t ignore the roads. You can’t ignore the technological infrastructure. You have to be on top of those things because businesses are not going to want to be here if you neglect those things,” Rice said.
To move forward, Rice said the legislators need to be more accessible to people in the south end. Meetings should be held in the southern end of the county, she said.
“It’s a weird position because you’re contributing so much yet your representation is not equal,” Rice said. “From my perspective, it’s extraordinarily important for people to be able to participate in government. It’s very tough to try to get to those meetings in the county if you’re from here – not just the timing (the Legislature meets during the day on weekdays), but the actual geographical distance you have to travel to get there.”
Rice said her short-term goals if elected would include educating herself on how the Board of Legislators functions so she could be more effective there. Economic development would come next.
“We’ve seen the villages move toward biotech,” Rice said. “When we’re looking at attracting businesses, I would hope they’d have jobs that can employ local people. I also think we can continue to push the tourism industry. The Hotel Saranac being potentially bought and renovated is a big step in that direction.”
Ultimately, Rice said a regional plan needs to be implemented in Franklin County and beyond.
“I think the initiative we (in Saranac Lake) have with ROOST is a good example of that,” Rice said. “You have Franklin and Essex County both in this, you have town of Harrietstown and the town of North Elba, and the village and the chamber (of commerce). That, to me, is a great example of how things should work. Ultimately, we’ve entered into a partnership, and I think in the end that’s absolutely what’s needed. We need to get rid of all these borders and lines and work cooperatively. It’s the Adirondacks, we’re all part of that.”