Press-Republican

October 31, 2013

Disaster recovery figures in Jay elections

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — AUSABLE FORKS — Frigid night air and a crisp breeze didn’t keep voters away from the election forum here this week.

The Plattsburgh Area League of Women Voters invited all town-office hopefuls to talk about issues facing Jay voters.

With orderly precision, candidates lined up at a table fitted with a league banner, handmade in red, white and blue felt.

OVERCOMING DISASTER

Some officials are running unopposed. Among them are Town Supervisor Randy Douglas and Town Clerk Beatrice Pelkey.

She described her work as a labor of love, even going the extra mile to hand-deliver paperwork, fetching signatures for birth certificates, for instance, when people can’t come into town.

Pelkey, who said she is widely known as simply “Bea,” has been the clerk here for 20 years.

Douglas has served 10 years in office, and the past few years have been fraught with natural disasters.

The Town of Jay is one community that has had to pull together to overcome storm damage from Irene and its springtime predecessor in 2011.

Douglas said his No. 1 objective is to follow through on what is a five-year recovery effort. His second objective is to keep government spending down. But the Town of Jay, he said, has maintained a 1.6 percent tax-levy increase for nearly a decade, even before there was a state-mandated 2 percent cap.

HIGHWAY POST

The struggle through recovery only seems to have brought the already tight-knit town closer together.

Many officials waxed somewhat poetic, even tearful, in thinking back on what they’ve accomplished in the past few years and in looking ahead to what they think might be best for what most called “our town.”

Running for re-election as town highway superintendent, Chris Garrow said he has worked through five major floods with the Highway Department in Jay, setting a course through 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency projects and 52 separate applications for damage related to Irene alone.

The most challenging concern ahead, he said, is to see the hazard-mitigation projects through to completion.

Garrow’s challenger, William Lincoln Sr., was not at the election forum.

COUNCIL CANDIDATES

Likely the most heartfelt tributes to a town in recovery came from candidates up for Town Council.

Fred Balzac is running against incumbents Amy Shalton and Archie Depo. Their political parties didn’t factor into the discussion at all. In fact, parties weren’t named by forum moderators in introducing candidates.

The focus remained steadfast on what each person believes is best for their community.

“I’m seeking re-election because I care about the people in this town,” Depo said. “I deeply care and want to keep helping rebuild our town after Irene.”

Shalton’s voice wavered a bit as she recalled her family’s ties to the region, coming home with her husband and children after traveling with his job in the U.S. Navy.

“I love the mountains, I love the people,” she said. “The people make this town.”

Her goal, she said, is to continue to help people find new homes after losing so much in Irene.

Fred Balzac, too, described his move north to own and operate a bed-and-breakfast in the Town of Jay, saying it was a great decision.

“I want to give more townspeople a say in our town government,” he said of his goals.

Sally Sears Mack, moderator for the League of Women Voters, had encouraged the 40 or more people who attended to put questions on index cards as they came in the door. The bleachers in the former high-school gymnasium were more than half-filled.

She had everyone stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, asking all “to please listen carefully to the words.”

QUESTIONS FROM CROWD

There were mothers with children sitting quietly listening to the local lawmakers.

There were rounds of laughter as candidates made light of themselves, at times, and respectful quiet as questions were answered.

“How would you characterize how you see our town?” Mack asked one of the questions.

“The town is beginning to come alive again,” Shalton said, naming a ration of new prospects with a health clinic, a hydroelectric plant and a new sewer system approaching planning stages.

“I think we have a very stable and vital community.”

Balzac said Jay is a place “with neighbors and friends you can count on.”

And he outlined the economic challenge ahead: “We’ve got some empty storefronts, and Holy Name School closed recently after 100 years in operation.”

Depo said the community has come a long way since Irene. 

“But there is still work to do. With FEMA buyouts coming, we have to rebuild the tax base. But I think the plan with Rebuild New York is on the right track.”

WORKING OUT ISSUES

Candidates for Town Council were also asked if they ever worked on a team that had disagreements. And, the question followed, how do you work them out?

“On every town board meeting, we have our differences,” Shalton answered. “We always come to a conclusion and focus on the common ground.”

Balzac said he always strives for open dialogue with respect for differing views.

“And I encourage consensus. Even the idea of having disagreements in public is productive … debate can be a good thing.”

Depot pondered, then spoke slowly.

“The town board,” he mused. “We set there; we have differences. We set there; we talk them out. It’s healthy. We all learn from one another that way.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com