Press-Republican

November 3, 2013

Mooers candidates talk money, meetings

By SUZANNE MOORE, News Editor
Press-Republican

---- — MOOERS — With almost two years in office, Mooers Town Supervisor Cory Ross feels satisfied that the municipality is on an even keel.

The 2014 budget’s tax levy will fall below the state tax cap, he says, and town coffers are in good shape.

The town will shortly put out to bid construction on the new library/community center that will replace the non-handicap-accessible Mooers Free Library.

CANDIDATES

Ross, A Democrat, is up for re-election, as is councilor Gerald LaValley, also a Democrat. 

Jeff L. Menard, who stepped down from his longtime justice seat on Aug. 31, is challenging Ross for the supervisor’s job on the Republican ticket.

Also on that slate are council hopefuls Roger Favreau and Shirley A. Gadway, both Republicans. 

And political newcomer Mary Myatt is a Democratic candidate for a council seat.

Councilor Eugene Bushey lost out in the Republican caucus that selected candidates for the upcoming vote, so his term ends Dec. 31. 

And a council seat has remained vacant since Earl Robinson resigned to be appointed town justice in Menard’s place.

Councilor Steve Barcomb’s seat was not up for vote this year.

SNOW REMOVAL

Menard and Favreau say Ross and the present council spend too much money.

”Actually, it’s quite the opposite,” Ross said. “I’ve been quite conservative about the money.

A recent topic of contention concerns snow removal at the Town Office Complex/Mooers Volunteer Fire Department on Route 11, the pumphouse, library and town sidewalks and shoulders.

The council voted to buy a skid-steer loader for about $28,000, equipment for it costing about $6,000, and intends to hire one or two part-timers to operate it. 

Since 2007, Ross said, Dragoon’s Farm Equipment has been paid about $80,000 to do the work. 

”If (Menard and Favreau) want to talk about wasted money,” the supervisor said, “that’s a waste.”

Also, the town had to rent a skid-steer for other highway work, and the purchase would end that necessity. And doing the work in-house will pay for the equipment within a few years, he said.

’NO CONFLICT’

Menard, who works at Dragoon’s Farm Equipment, doesn’t think the council weighed the costs.

“If I happen to be supervisor, I’m going to put a pencil to it and see which is cheaper.”

He said he wouldn’t consider it a conflict of interest that he works at the firm that might be plowing for the town.

“When it comes to a vote, I would probably abstain,” he said.

LAND PURCHASE

Menard and Favreau point to the pending purchase of some land adjacent to the property where the library will be built, saying the council had earlier said the price was $8,000, then $10,000 and most recently $13,000.

The parcel, assessed at $12,800, Ross said, would give access to the library from Route 11 and has a septic system that may well work for the new facility. 

The initial price had been $10,000, he said, with $3,000 later tacked on because the owner has liens against it for that amount, and it wouldn’t be available to the town unless those judgments were paid.

At the September meeting, Menard said, “I questioned it; they didn’t give me an answer.”

Ross said he sees the purchase as an investment in the future, as is the library/community center itself.

“If you want to attract people to this town ... you have to have certain things.”

NEW LIBRARY

The library itself, Ross said, will be built at no cost to the taxpayer with $39,050 in state grants, $22,000 in town funds originally earmarked for a lift at the existing facility, about $6,800 from the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System and an anticipated $20,000 for the sale of the old library.

The new complex will serve as a community center, too, Ross said, where he hopes to see offerings like an after-school program and adult computer classes.

Initially, the council had picked a spot on the Town Offices/Mooers Volunteer Fire Department land, but objections led by Menard resulted in a committee that found an alternate location.

Favreau considers the town’s biggest issue a lack of planning and says the library is a case in point.

“They have to plan as to the need for it,” he said. “They have no architectural drawing of the building they want to put up.”

NONE AT HEARING

The 2014 budget totals about $1.88 million, up from around $1.74 million this year. The tax levy is $839,000 compared to $892,541 this year.

Menard, Gadway and Favreau did not attend the public hearing on the spending plan, despite their criticism of how the council deals with town funds, Ross said.

“That was their opportunity to say something.”

He also suggested it was a waste of money when the municipality paid $5,853 in legal fees a few years ago, when Menard was censored by the Judicial Conduct Board.

Menard said he had handled a case involving the grandson of his employer, former Town Supervisor Jack Dragoon, for a speeding ticket, which he dismissed.

“It didn’t dawn on me that I shouldn’t have handled it,” he said.

He had also accepted a fine for a ticket a nephew got “because I was the only judge at the time.”

’SECRET MEETINGS’

Menard says his biggest issue is with how Ross and the council conduct their meetings.

“They seem to have a lot of behind-the-door meetings, come to the (public) meeting, don’t discuss (matters), just vote yes or no.”

“It’s sort of secretive,” Favreau said, “because they don’t discuss anything.”

Gadway’s entire platform centers on the issue of open government, nothing else.

She had been town clerk/tax collector for seven years and tax collector many years before that, but she resigned in October 2012 after, she said, Ross and the council ignored her insistence that they follow Open Meetings Law.

She had even brought them opinions from the New York State Association of Towns to back up her observations, to no avail, she said.

If elected, “I would see to it that the laws are followed and decisions are made in front of residents at board meetings,” she said.

INTERVIEWS IN OFFICE

Ross admits that, earlier in his two-year term, he and council members met in his office to interview candidates for various positions, among them the appointment of a town clerk/tax collector to replace Gadway.

“And that’s the only thing we’ve ever done (out of the public eye),” he said. 

LaValley, a Democrat, agreed with that.

The present board has also taken heat for a policy setting a five-minute time limit for comments during meetings. It also requires those wanting to speak to sign up at the Town Offices the day before the session.

Ross said that measure was put in place because meetings were getting out of hand.

Minutes for a November 2012 session describe a heated interaction, ending with, “Everyone got very loud at once.”

“You can’t have that,” Ross said. “It’s counter-productive.”

He has added a comment period to the end of meetings, however, as they have been going smoothly.

BAD BUILDINGS

Myatt hopes to make Mooers a better place for families to live, where children can grow up and want to stay.

She, Ross, LaValley and Menard all agreed there is a need to address deteriorating and empty buildings in the Mooers hamlet area, where structures are too close together to allow proper septic systems.

“It needs to be cleaned up, and (we need to) get businesses in,” Myatt said.

Email Suzanne Moore:smoore@pressrepublican.com