Three seek 2 Franklin town board seats

VERMONTVILLE – One incumbent, one political newcomer and a former town supervisor are vying for a pair of available seats on the Franklin town board in Tuesday’s election.

The two town board seats up for a vote are currently held by Brad Merrill, who’s opted not to run for re-election, and Don Hamm, who is seeking another four-year term. A registered Republican, Hamm has been endorsed by the town’s Republican and Democratic party caucuses and is also running on the Integrity party banner.

Tom Bartiss, who owns a Loon Lake-based forestry business, is running for political office for the first time. He’s an independent but has also received the backing of the Republican and Democratic caucuses and will be on the Integrity party line.

Mary Ellen Keith, who served as town supervisor for 18 years, is looking to get back on the town board. A registered Democrat, she’s running under the independent I Care ticket.

The candidates are presented here in alphabetical order by last name.

Tom Bartiss

Bartiss, 37, has owned and operated Woods Edge Forestry for 15 years. He’s also a vice president of the Loon Lake Homeowners Association.

“I think I could keep the town going in a positive direction, bringing my business experience to the table, and get some representation to this part of town,” he said. “I can work with a team. I think there’s more power in working together as group than bickering over small issues.”

Bartiss said he thinks the current board is doing a good job, but if he’s elected, he said he’d like to take a close look at the town’s budget and try and find ways to cut spending and keep property taxes in check.

Town officials have considered building a recreation and community center at Kate Mountain Park in recent years, but the project has yet to move forward. Bartiss said he believes it may make more sense for the town to partner with other municipalities on the project.

“I think our towns need to come together,” he said. “If one’s going to have a skating rink, one’s going to have a ball field and we’re only a few miles away, we may look at sharing resources. The current status of our town hall, it’s usable. They’ve done some improvements. But long term, there may be a ways down the road to construct something.”

Land use planning was a major issue the last time these two seats were up for a vote in 2009. A planning board and a controversial subdivision law approved by the prior town board were scrapped after several new town board members were swept into office that year.

Bartiss said there are pros and cons to implementing land use controls in the town, “but I’m going to say we live in a strict enough environment due to the Adirondack Park Agency and New York state (Department of Environmental Conservation) regulations. Yes, it would be great to have it, but we’re a small town and budgetary-wise, and the ability to bring it into law and enforce that, we may not have that capability.”

Don Hamm

Hamm, 68, served six years in the National Guard and worked for the state police for 20 years before he retired. He’s been in the construction field since 1967 and operates Whiteface Construction Corporation. He also runs an auto equipment and sales business and grows hay and custom Christmas trees.

Since his election to the town board nearly four years ago, Hamm wrote in an email he’s been “instrumental in the purchase of several large pieces of highway equipment, along with light trucks, and construction projects at the town Highway Garage and town hall.” He’s a member of the town Highway Committee.

“The present board has worked so well together in spending the taxpayers’ dollars wisely that we have built up the fund balances where they should be,” Hamm wrote. “This year the board has decided to have no town tax increase.”

“In the four years that we’ve worked there, the board has worked together along with the highway superintendent and we’ve got a lot of production for our tax dollar, and we’re saving money,” Hamm told the Enterprise in a phone interview. “I lived here all my life and there’s been more production here in the last four or five years than there has ever been.”

Hamm said the town wants to build some kind of a community center at Kate Mountain Park, “but right now it’s financially impossible.”

Hamm said he can work well with anyone.

“You get production by compromising and figuring out the best for the taxpaying public,” he said.

Mary Ellen Keith

Keith, 84, is looking to re-join the board after losing her re-election bid as supervisor to Art Willman in 2009. She’s remained active with the town, coordinating St. Paul’s Food Pantry, serving as vice president of the town’s 55+ club and with the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department Ladies Auxillary, and helping care for seniors in the town.

“I have been attending town board meetings, and I’m very concerned about what I see and hear and what is actually happening in our town,” Keith wrote in a prepared statement. “I have the experience of working with people as a supervisor of the town of Franklin.”

Keith said the town’s general fund has been neglected by the current board.

“All attention has been focused on the highway fund – more trucks, more machines, more garage repairs,” she wrote. “The Merrillsville Town Hall needs repairs, Kate Mountain Recreation Park has been in limbo. We have a beautiful park and playground program with no bathrooms and no place to wash your hands!”

Keith called for a state audit to scrutinize the town’s contracts and policy procedures. She also questioned the funds the town received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repairs to roads and culverts from the spring 2011 flood.

“How and where was it needed and where was it being spent?” she asked.

If she’s elected, Keith said she wants to work on the park project, building trails and securing grants.

“Our town needs to once again work with other government agencies,” Keith wrote. “I want the town of Franklin to once again be respected by other towns.”

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or