Bob Bevilacqua, left, and Tom Catillaz — both candidates for the open Harrietstown supervisor seat this election — debate the issues Thursday, Nov. 1 at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise offices in Saranac Lake. Denton Publications Assistant Managing Editor Andy Flynn and Enterprise Senior Staff Writer Chris Knight asked the candidates 12 questions, and the debate lasted about one hour. It was video and audio tape recorded.
The two candidates for town of Harrietstown supervisor Thursday, Nov. 1 finally met to debate the issues in a closed-door session at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise offices.
Harrietstown Councilman Bob Bevilacqua (R) and Saranac Lake Village Trustee Tom Catillaz (D) answered questions about various issues, including the Adirondack Regional Airport, town business park, economic development, Trudeau Institute, the proposed rail trail, and the working relationship between the town and the village.
Denton Publications Assistant Managing Editor Andy Flynn and Enterprise Senior Staff Writer Chris Knight asked the candidates a series of questions about issues important to town residents. The debate was video and audio tape recorded. The video will be uploaded to YouTube and a link will be posted on the newspapers’ websites. The audio will be aired on the Mountain Communications radio stations (WNBZ-AM 1240 and Rock 105, 105.5-FM and 102.3-FM) around 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.
Three time’s the charm, as the first two public debates scheduled for the Town Hall were canceled: Oct. 16 because Catillaz temporarily suspended his campaign for 10 days and Oct. 29 because of high-wind warnings as Hurricane Sandy moved up the East Coast.
The Nov. 1 debate was informal and held in a conference room, with Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley keeping time and Flynn and Knight moderating as they asked questions. The candidates had 2 minutes to answer each question and 30 seconds for a rebuttal, if they chose. With opening and closing statements and 12 questions, the debate lasted about one hour.
We've only included several questions. Please listen to the audio for the rest.
TOM: The first thing I’d like to do is thank everyone who is responsible for putting this on. I’d also like to thank all the people that I met in my door-to-door campaign. The responses have been very positive and helpful to me. And it’s important to the whole town, I think, to get out and get in touch with them. So, thank you.
BOB: I would just like to echo Tom’s sentiments and thank everyone for setting this up and thank the people of the community for watching. I think it’s important that we sit down together and talk about our different ideas and the way to run the town of Harrietstown. Thank you.
QUESTION FROM CHRIS: On the subject of the airport, you both have said you want to boost revenues at the airport and reduce its burden on town taxpayers, but some of the ideas you both have suggested include things the town has already tried that have resulted in little or no success. Most people agree the airport’s an asset and an important economic engine, but what new ideas do you have that can get the airport in the black that haven’t already been tried?
BOB: First of all, I would like to go ask the county if they would either return some of the tax dollars that the airport generates or cut the county’s tax on the fuel we sell at the airport. That would be a good benefit to the airport.
The problem with looking for money from other municipalities is that you can only get it at their will. You really don’t have a way to force them to give us more money. We’ll always ask them if they’d consider us more in their budget, but with the problems right now, everybody’s in the same boat. The money’s very tight. So it’s hard for anybody to find extra money to give to one organization.
The other areas where it’s been mentioned to look at would be like paying for long-term parking. I checked with the Plattsburgh International Airport the other night, and to create long-term parking there, they had to put up a fence, put up an automatic gate going in, an automatic ticket dispenser, an automatic gate going out and an automatic way to pay for a credit card when you go out. That’d be an expense the airport just can’t afford.
There’s other things you can do. You can try to encourage the pilots when they come in to purchase more fuel. You can — it’s not really playing with the fuel prices — it’s trying to come up with different encouragements to get the pilots to buy as much fuel as you can sell them through giving them other services as well.
TOM: We need to go to the county. We need to go up there and talk to them. It’s a regional airport. It’s very important to the entire county and Essex County. There’s got to be things we can do. We need the county’s help in running this. It’s too big for Harrietstown to bear the burden of the entire cost of that when everyone’s using it.
There are other options and Bob just spoke about the long-term rental, and that’s I think what Plattsburgh might be doing is high-end, where we can just do something much more suitable to our size.
It would take an investment, leasing out land for hangars where you get a 30-year lease on a piece of land to put up a hangar and use it, and at the end of 30 years, you either sublease it or it gets turned over to the town of Harrietstown.
Those are ideas that don’t take a huge capital investment, and we can do those.
One of the things we can do is bring back the meetings that we had, the local meetings on the airport. I think there was a head of steam built up there, some good ideas, and all of a sudden it stopped. And I don;t have any idea why it stopped, but it did. I think that was good. We had the interest of a lot of people in it. And there was people from Malone here, too. And I think that the Malone board is on board with us to help us out. I have heard right from them that they’re interested in working with us.
REBUTTAL BY BOB: On the long-term parking, if someone’s paying you to leave their vehicle in long-term parking, their expectation of security is raised, if they’re paying for parking. That’s why you need a fence, some kind of security, some kind of patrol to watch it. And there aren’t that many cars out there that you’d be able to tip for long-term parking anyway. The picture you showed on your website, Tom, that was the parking lot where the employees park. That’s the airport parking lot.
The other thing about leasing the property for hangars, we already do that. That’s something that’s been going on for as long as anybody can remember.
And on the monthly meetings, we have monthly airport meetings which are open to the public. Anybody can go to them.
QUESTION BY ANDY: What is your vision for the airport?
TOM: I can see the airport making money. I don’t see why it doesn’t. I think it just needs a little attention. It serves a large number of people. It’s vital to our economy up here also. But you can’t let it just sit and lose a large amount of money every single year. We’re going to run out of a savings account to pay for that every year.
It may not ever make a lot of money. It may not ever make money, but I think we can get it a lot closer than we are at this time.
It can grow. There’s more and more people moving up here, and hopefully they’ll use it. Lake Placid uses it. The Upper lake uses it. Trudeau Institute, I think, uses it. I think anybody coming here now is using it, so I don’t see why it can’t make money and be profitable and not solely on the backs of the Harrietstown taxpayer.
BOB: My long-term vision would be for it to be a regional airport where everyone is Essex and Franklin counties at least are paying for the facility.
Where we have the biggest room for improvement would be the fuel sales. When the Adirondack Club and Resort opens up and they finally get their final clearances, they’re talking about high-end homes there. A lot of them are going to be flying in. That will help offset the costs to the taxpayers, if we get some more people come in.
We’ve got six shovel-ready sites for hangars. They’re all ready to go; we’re just waiting for somebody to come in and say, “We wat to build a hangar.” They have power and sewer and everything right there. All you have to do is put a building up and they’re set to go. And that’s what we’re prepping for.
I think the prospects for the airport are good right now. e had a good year this past year. We had a beautiful summer. We had a lot of flights come in, and a lot of people are discovering this area, and I think we have a good future out there.
Getting it down to being a zero burden on taxpayers, that’s going to be a long haul. If we become a regional, that would be the closest we get to that.
My house assessed at full value is about $229,000. My portion of the airport tax last year was $64. I know people don’t want to see any portion of the taxes going toward the airport, but it is infrastructure. It’s like your highways. They have the buildings out there they have to maintain, they have the runways. They have to plow, they have to mow, they have to do everything else. It’s a piece of infrastructure. The difference with this piece of infrastructure is they sell fuel to pay most of their costs. They cover a good deal of their costs through fuel sales and the other services they provide.
QUESTION BY ANDY: What can the town do now, and what would you do as supervisor, to draw businesses to the business park? Be specific. Should the town do it on its own or outsource the job?
BOB: No one of the town employees right now has the expertise to market the business park.
Right now in the business park, we have one site that’s ready to go, one right across from Bionique Labs. That’s the only site we have right now that’s ready to go right now. There’s one right next to Bionique Labs that would take a little bit of work to get that one ready to go. The other approved sites, you’d have to build a road into them.
Right now, the business park is not costing anybody any money. My plan would be, if somebody wants to come in and buy that one site, you use the money you get from selling that one site to get the site next to Bionique ready. And then if you sell that site, then you do the infrastructure to get up to the next six sites.
There’s a Chesterfield business park south of Plattsburgh. They’ve got paved roads, curbs. They’ve got power, water, sewer. Everything is on the sites, and there’s nothing in it. They’ve got four sites like that that are ready to go, and there’s nothing in it.
These business parks were developed in the early 1990s when the federal government had a lot of money and they were trying to create economic development in these depressed areas. And so they threw a lot of money at these things. We had some success. We built that incubator building there, and ARC moved into the incubator building. And then Bionique bought the other one.
It’s not costing anybody a dime to leave it as it is until someone comes along and wants to move into that one site. And if you’re going to market it, there’s going to be a price tag attached to marketing it. And right now, quite frankly, Harrietstown doesn’t have the budget to market that to the people that need to be marketed to.
TOM: Right now we don’t even have a business link on the Harrietstown website for the business park. That’s one of the first things that I think should be done. The second thing is go to Malone. Get some help on it. I’m sure they have something up there. The legislators can help out in some way.
If we can’t use it as an industrial site, then I think it ought to be changed to what we can use it as, whether it’s residential or whatever. I honestly don’t think you’re ever going to see a business park out there. It was a nice thing years ago. It was a great idea. It hasn’t worked, and I think we ought to, as the saying goes, fish or cut bait. Let’s move along. It’s 100 acres of land. It’s beautiful home sites if we can re-zone it into residential. I’m sure we could sell it off or get something out of it. It’s not doing anything. It may not be costing us anything right now, but we’re certainly not making anything on it, such as taxes. And the businesses that are out there, one of them is tax exempt, so that’s not doing us any good out there.
There’s other ways you can merchandise this on our own with the Internet. You don’t necessarily have to pay somebody, although I’m sure there is somebody out there who’d be willing to take our money to market it a little bit.
REBUTTAL BY BOB: The lots out there can’t be used for anything other than industry. You can’t change them to home sites. You can’t change them to athletic fields or anything like that. That’s what I was told by people from the APA and DEC.
REBUTTAL BY TOM: I would revisit that again. I wouldn’t take that as an answer from the APA or the DEC or whoever it is. It’s land in our township, and we need to do something with it, instead of having it sit vacant. There’s 100 acres of nice land just sitting there doing nothing. And we need it, and we need it to bring jobs to the area which helps everybody out. You bring jobs, it reduces your tax burden.
QUESTION BY CHRIS: Beyond the business park, what specific economic development experience would you bring to the table as the supervisor? What role would you play as supervisor in bringing in new businesses to the community and boosting the overall economy of the town?
TOM: I think there’s a lot to do and there’s a lot we can do. One of the things we have to do is work together with everybody: the county, the village and the town. And there are businesses out there that I think we can attract here. We have a good thing going with some of the businesses here such as AMA, Trudeau Institute, and now the biotechs that are now down inside the village but also inside the town of Harrietstown.
There’s room for growth. I think the one that’s inside the village offices has already grown since they’ve moved in and they’ve expanded their personnel. This is a great thing, and I think it can move forward, not just there, but maybe on Trudeau property. That would be even better.
I think Trudeau Institute is turning the corner and going to be a very healthy, strong business in our community, hopefully within the next year. And hopefully, they’re going to grow again. That’s just good for everybody around, the whole town. If I say it’s just for the village, I don’t mean that. I mean it’s good for everybody.
I can work with people. I know I can do this. We’ve done it. I was part of bringing the biotechs in, that deal, I was on that and I’m very optimistic we can bring more people here.
BOB: The town of Harrietstown was part of bringing the biotechs in. We were the final piece to the puzzle. The village needed some place to move to, to open up their offices for one of those firms, and the second floor to the Town Hall was open so we worked with them. Tom was part of that. We toured the upstairs to see if it would fit their needs and we got them into the upstairs and then we reduced the rent to them so they could open up the Sears parking lot, which helps the economic development of the entire town having that lot open. As you can see, it’s been full almost every day. That lot is a very vital piece to the whole community.
Harrietstown had a hand in bringing the biotech into our town before, when we moved Bionique from Essex County out to the business park. Now they’re looking to expand. The difference between Bionique and the one in the old village offices is Bionique built their own building. There’s no taxpayers dollars spent on that enterprise.
There’s other things you can do. We’ve got the broadband going down Church Street or Main Street, but we just need to tap into the final mile connection and whatever the town can do to help those people, but that goes right by the business park, too. If someone had a business that was broadband based, and there’s a lot of them out there, the quality of life in this area is what’s going to being people here. And the business park is a prime spot where we could possibly get somebody to go in there and bring that true broadband down that stretch of road down to a new business and you could have a good thing going there as well as in the village. There’s got to be other sites here in the village that would benefit other than just the homes and the schools, having that true broadband brought right to their door.
QUESTION BY ANDY: You are looking to replace Larry Miller’s unexpired term as supervisor and are essentially running for a one-year term. If you lose this election, will you run again next year? Why or why not?
TOM: I have not thought that far out as far as an election time. I’m thinking shorter term and what we can accomplish in the next 12 months.
There’s a lot of things on both tables that I get very excited about working on. I hope I get a chance to work with Bob and Barry and Nichole and Ron Keough. There’s a lot of things we can get done. We get a lot done in the village, and it may not look like it at the meeting, but we go in there quite prepared and we’re open to suggestions all the time. But I think we get a lot done on our board. And I think we can get a lot done on the Town Board also.
BOB: I plan on winning this year, and I plan on running again next year for a full term. So that’s the short answer.
There are things we should be working with the village on, and maybe the town of St. Armand, the town of Brighton, the town of Franklin, there are things we should be working with all the towns on, and the school district, too. I sat on the committee looking at shared services with the school. There was representation from every town in the area there. And we brainstormed and we came up with the auction of all the excess equipment, and everybody made a little bit of money on that. That worked out pretty well.
If you just sit in a room with other people, you can come up with a lot of things. And I think, Tom, that I will be able to work with you when you’re still in the village and I’m the supervisor.
Please listen to the audio clips for the rest of the questions.