By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
A pair of outgoing upcounty supervisors are seeking election Nov. 5 as District 2 legislator for Montgomery County’s new form of government.
Minden Supervisor Thomas Quackenbush and Palatine Supervisor Brian Sweet face each other for the new position, which will represent the village of Fort Plain, the town of Palatine (which includes the village of Nelliston, but not the village of Palatine Bridge), and the western half of the town of Mohawk (the boundary ending at Route 29A, excluding the village of Fonda).
Quackenbush defeated Sweet in September’s Republican primary, and will additionally appear on the ballot as a Democrat. Sweet is running as the Conservative candidate, having beat Quackenbush by just one vote in the primary for that line.
Sweet has two terms as Palatine supervisor under his belt.
Quackenbush, a former assessor and mayor of Fort Plain, has been Minden’s supervisor since 2002.
Both Sweet and Quackenbush made the decision to seek election as legislator instead of supervisors. The supervisor role will change Jan. 1, when a voter-approved charter will take effect.
Town supervisors will no longer serve as ex-officio members of county government. Supervisors will still be elected to lead the county's 10 towns. But they will no longer serve the county’s government as they have.
Instead, nine legislators will be elected from nine districts across the county to serve county government. Because each legislator gets one vote, the district are split up by equal populations of roughly 5,500 people, so they don’t follow municipal boundaries.
District 2 includes farmland in the town of Mohawk that’s gotten a lot of attention in recent years as the potential site of a regional business park with Fulton County. It’s adjacent to the city of Johnstown’s industrial park, and was the focus of a contentious annexation negotiation that ultimately failed between the two municipalities.
The idea is still one some economic officials are pining for, and Sweet believes its just one of a few spots with real potential for such development. He also cited Route 30 in the town of Amsterdam.
“Farther west, the infrastructure just isn’t in place. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it would take some major investments. There are only two or three good opportunities to bring jobs into the area to offset the burden on the property owners,” Sweet said.
Quackenbush looked at the scenario a little differently.
“I think it’s a great idea to partner with Fulton County, but don’t forget we have the Glen [Canal View] Business Park, and a lot of land out west. We have to take a look at everything,” he said.
The county’s budgets have gone under the microscope in recent months for both a state Comptroller’s Office audit, and an independent review by hired accountants. The state says the county is too reliant on reserves to balance spending plans.
The independent review, on the other hand, says the county didn’t spend any of the $4 million in reserves budgeted for the 2012 plan, and a fund balance increase was realized.
“I’ve argued a long time about fund balance, and I think the board gets a bad rap,” Quackenbush said. “We do need to try to budget closer to what reality is, but it’s very difficult unless we know hard, solid numbers.”
Quackenbush thinks two budgets should be crafted every year — a mandated budget, and a non-mandated budget “to show the people the money the state is making us spend. A mandated budget will show how much money we have left to spend, and then the legislative body will have to prioritize.”
Sweet said the independent audit is setting the county on the right track in determining exact costs. He’d like to see additionally bookkeeping done for each department to determine all of their costs, and would support an additional employee in the Treasurer’s Office to track that data.
“I don’t want to burden the homeowner more than I have to. If it costs $10 to do something, I don’t want to charge them $15,” Sweet said hypothetically.
Sweet and Quackenbush both said consolidation should be explored in attempts to reduce costs.
With a separation of power in the towns’ and county’s leadership, outreach was cited as a priority for both of the candidates. They pledged to regularly attend meetings of District 2’s municipalities, but admitted they likely won’t attend every single one.
“We need to bring their views to the county so the towns don’t lose their small voices,” Sweet said. “Legislators won’t have offices, so our office hours will become the municipal meetings to hear the issues and concerns. That’s why we have to be there.”
“It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves, and grab ahold of as much information we can, and share it,” said Quackenbush, who believes the legislators will operate out of what is currently the Board of Supervisors office on Park Street in Fonda.
Quackenbush said his priority is to help people understand the new form of government.
“People are so confused. We need to get beyond that, educate them, and make sure we have the smoothest transition possible.”