The two candidates for the office of Mayor in Keeseville both spoke about the ongoing dissolution study and other key issues facing the municipality.
Both incumbent Mayor Meegan Rock and challenger Dale Holderman responded to a series of questions from The Valley News as they continued to prepare for the village election, which will be held next Tuesday, March 20.
The incumbent, Rock, is an independent accountant and served as a trustee from 1994-1998 and has served as Mayor from 2008 to present. She received a bachelor’s degree in Social Science from SUNY Plattsburgh with an emphasis on political science.
Holderman is the owner of the Village Liquor Shoppe in Keeseville and currently serves as a member of the Revitalize Keeseville group. He has also served with the Cub Scouts and was appointed to the Town of Peru Planning Board.
The following is the candidates’ responses to the questions asked of them by The Valley News:
Why do you feel you are qualified to serve as Mayor?
HOLDERMAN: I have many years of experience working with boards of different kinds, working with different government agencies. I have supervised a staff of more than 30 at a time, worked with multi-million dollar budgets and complex contract negotiations. A good mayor keeps the expenses reasonable, doesn’t spend more than taxes bring in, and knows for sure that the taxpayers are the people we serve as both, customers and beneficiaries. We have a need for a trustworthy local government that uses common sense, is financially competent, ethical, strives to rebuild public trust through communication and helps foster the community in every way possible.
ROCK: Ability to communicate with residents.
What strengths do you bring to the position?
ROCK: My years of experience, 50-year residency, knowledge of village infrastructure, good report with village staff, excellent working relationship with both towns and identification with village residents.
HOLDERMAN: A good mayor must be skilled in many areas that are vital to this position. The mayor I am envisioning to be must have financial expertise in budgeting, setting reasonable goals and attaining solutions — skills I have as a Licensed Investment Advisor. I am also a licensed insurance agent in New York state, a trained tax advisor, as well as a small business owner. While serving on the town of Peru Planning Board, I’ve learned how to implement changes coming from different points of view and bring them into real solutions for the benefit of the taxpayers. As a former airline pilot, I’ve learned that communication between many parties could evolve in the best services provided to our clients, both in the services offered and safety. Discipline, knowledge, concentration, multi-task operations of the aircraft, punctuality, and coordination are just a few of the attributes a good captain — responsible for the lives of hundreds of people- must possess. When I was the Director of Maintenance at Valley Aviation Services at the Burlington International Airport, and Line Chief of Brockway Air in Plattsburgh, I had to supervise the work of people, make decisions of budget spending, and be aware of the governmental regulations and implement them correctly. As a small business owner, I know how difficult it is to be successful in a small community, like ours. I meet many people coming in the store and I am fully aware of their problems and concerns.
Where do you stand on the topic of dissolution?
HOLDERMAN: First, the study just began and we are too early in the process to know what the Dissolution Committee and the experts will conclude. While some people are upset because they believe that the study will bring about the dissolution of the village, they shouldn’t be. By law, the Village must have a “Plan of Dissolution” on the shelf, and since the State is paying most of the costs, now it is the time to have it done. Second, depending on the experts’ findings — if it better to dissolve the village or not — there will be a referendum where voters will decide what the direction will be.
The second part of the study is where I am more concerned. How can we reinvent this local government to make sure that the residents are getting the adequate services that they are paying for? What — if anything — can we do to make the system more efficient? At this moment, it is very hard for me to come to a conclusion without the study being done. I have to wait until this hard working group comes up with some answers, so I can analyze the effect on the village and on the taxpayers before I can make a stand.
ROCK: I support the STUDY of dissolution only. I have no opinion or bias on actual dissolution.
What questions do you want the dissolution committee to look at and answer?
ROCK: The committee is expected to compile a dissolution plan. Questions will be, What will happen to village employees? What will happen to village services? What will happen to village properties? What effect will dissolution have on property tax? What will happen to retiree’s benefits?
HOLDERMAN: One of my biggest concerns is: “How, with such a diverse government structure, can the residents of the Village be assured that they will be treated and served fairly?” Giving up the direct control of one’s community affairs has consequences. We have, for the time being, a lot of control over our local issues. If the Village was to go away, we need to remember: there will be two different towns, two different counties and the state government to deal with. How long will it take to get an issue resolved when a much bigger community is involved? We will become a small fish in a much bigger pond.
Another question is the same as many people have: “Will the tax rates go down as a result of dissolution or not? Or, will they stay the same for a time being, and then go back to where they were or higher as a result, as has happened in the past with other villages that took the route to dissolve?”
Do you feel that the committee receives enough input from others?
HOLDERMAN: There was a very good showing at the kick-off meeting on Feb. 22, which means people care very deeply about our village. There is also a website that is set up to give the citizens an easy avenue to express their concerns and ideas to the committee. Anyone who has a question or comment could go on the website: http://keeseville.ning.com. Also, all meetings are open to the public.
ROCK: Through public hearings, the website, and the committee member’s own networking, I believe enough input will be received, and village residents will be informed with the information needed to ultimately decide.
If the committee comes back with a proposal that is contrary to your stance on the matter, what would you direct the Village Board to do?
ROCK: First, let’s be clear that I have no stance on the matter of dissolution. The board of trustees is an elected independent voting group for which I have one out of five votes. I would not direct the board; they will have the recommendations from the Committee and the consulting firm.
HOLDERMAN: The Village Board consists of four duly elected Trustees and the Mayor. Keeping this in mind, I believe there will be some very long discussions, some long hours of reading and thought. Then, together as a Board, we will come up with the decision of where to go from there. As Mayor, it will not be up to me to direct the board to go anywhere. Each Trustee has a vote to make and I will respect that decision in whatever direction it goes.
Other than dissolution, what is the main issue facing the village now?
HOLDERMAN: There are many issues that are facing the village. I would pick revitalizing local business as a first step. We are very fortunate to have a very rich historical background, along with the natural wonders of Ausable Chasm, the Adirondack Park and Lake Champlain. We need to develop our tax-base by introducing new businesses, both for visitors and for the local community. I think working closely with the Revitalize Keeseville group, will be essential to build this community back to where it once was, or even better. I strongly believe that safe drinking water is a major concern for our citizens. At this moment, there are issues associated with the safety of the water.
ROCK: Like hundreds of municipalities through out the country, Keeseville has several absentee landlord/property owners.
How would you work to resolve that issue?
HOLDERMAN: What makes me very concerned is the fact that this issue was brought up to the local government, but there were no real steps to solve it. In my research and talks with experts, I’ve learned what other communities, facing the same water issues did to solve the problem. I am going to make this a top priority when I take office.
ROCK: The zoning laws of the village need to be restructured so that property owners are required to maintain their buildings.
Do you feel the tax cap hinders the village? Why or why not?
ROCK: I do not feel that the tax cap hinders the village. In my four years as Mayor, village taxes have never been increased, and in fact decreased. I am a firm believer that accountability and spending control can result in a steady tax rate.
HOLDERMAN: There is no doubt that the tax cap will hinder the village in the future. Our tax base must grow to absorb the mandated costs from the state and federal government. Simply said, if the tax increase is held to 2 percent, and the medical insurance rates increase by 10 percent, we have a problem. If inflation is more than 2 percent per year, we have a problem. If utility costs rise more than 2 percent, we have a problem. The effective rebuilding of our business community and marketing our attractions now becomes a priority! We have to bring more money into the village and we have to keep the money that we have, in the village. It means: buy local, build local, and support the local economy as much as you can.
Village residents can vote at the Village office’s Board Room, located at 58 Liberty St., in Keeseville, March 20 from noon until 9 p.m.