Johnsburg town candidates took turns at platform speeches and answering audience questions at Tannery Pond Oct. 25.
Meet the Candidates part two at Tannery Pond attracted a much larger crowd than the first Ski Bowl forum organized to allow town government hopefuls a chance to make their cases for office.
In the running for town supervisor are current town board members Ron Vanselow and Charles Martin.
Vying for seats on the town board are current member Gene Arsenault, Pete Olesheski, Roger Mosher and Robert Nessle.
To begin the forum, candidates were given the floor for a few minutes to introduce themselves and talk about their plans for office.
Mosher said people have found him to be harsh or abrasive.
“I call that passion,” he said.
Mosher said job creation is a priority, and said he had a few ideas to put people to work.
To take advantage of the train tourists, local historians could organize tours of landmarks in town, he said. A campground at Dunkley Falls would generate revenue and provide supervision for the area during its busy summers. The train could be tied into industrial development at Riparius, he said.
He'd also like to see town board members lose town health insurance, a move he said could save the taxpayers a fair amount of money.
Town Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed's budget is tight, but there are needs around town that the budget isn't addressing, Arsenault said.
Arsenault said his proposal to borrow money or move FEMA disaster funds from the highway budget was an attempt to get a conversation going about finding the money for needed initiatives, like town building repairs and a property revaluation.
“I found it pretty discouraging,” he said.
Discussion was had in news articles, but the people who commented in news articles never approached him, he noted.
If it's not in the budget, it's not going to happen, he said. The town needs to invest in its future, he stressed.
Growing up in Johnsburg, a lot of Olesheski's friends couldn’t wait to leave.
“I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” he said.
In attending board meetings, he's been increasingly frustrated. Olesheski said he feels that most town taxpayers don’t have faith that the town will solve its problems.
People are concerned about development at the mountain, the poor condition of town infrastructure and a focus on North Creek tourism, he said.
The new railroad operation is important, he said, but it's important to discern between catering to visitors and attending to the needs of the town’s full-time residents and create jobs.
Nessle ran unsuccessfully during more than one election cycle 10 years ago. Each year he ran, he got a few more votes. He decided to give politics a rest, but a development in town got him excited to run again.
What got him pumped up to run for town board again was the town taking over the Kellogg-Waddell property by the train depot.
It turns out this is a huge project for the town to get involved in, Nessle said.
Nessle supports taking down the buildings there and opening the property for use as a park.
“I'm dedicating my campaign to a referendum on what to do with the buildings,” he said.
Vanselow said he considered talking about his qualifications and experiences in town, but said he's talked so much about it that it even “gets boring to me.”
Johnsburg's town infrastructure is an important issue this year, Vanselow said. Johnsburg has highway problems, he said, it's tough to keep up after torrential downpours and hurricanes. But with planned improvements, the highway department should be in excellent shape in the coming year, he noted.
“The other town infrastructure is a little sketchier,” he said.
The town buildings are in very poor repair, and need a more substantial budget outlay, he said.
“I got into the business of politics reluctantly,” Martin said.
Martin questioned why the town has not addressed pressing problems like deteriorating town buildings before now.
“Our sidewalks need repair now, our buildings need repair now, where were these people calling for major repairs five years ago,” he wondered.
Talk about taking from the highway department to fund town maintenance seems counter-productive to Martin. If the roads are in poor repair, town vehicles will take a greater beating leading to expensive repairs for the town department, he said.
Martin also voiced support for the town clerk, who he said is overworked and underpaid.
Q and A
Audience-submitted questions gave the candidates a chance to touch on subjects they hadn’t brought up in their speeches.
One such question was poised to the town supervisor candidates, it asked:
“Are Johnsburg hamlets treated differently, and what can we do if they are?”
Vanselow said he wasn’t sure what the differences could be. Yes, North Creek is the business center of town, but roads are maintained the same way around town, he said. From what he’s seen, sidewalks in Wevertown and Johnsburg are in better condition than in North Creek.
Gore and the train are in North Creek, but short of moving the mountain, Vanselow said hamlets are treated as equally as possible.
Martin said he sees a difference. With questions about Tannery Pond, the beach, the railroad and the Kellogg-Wadell property, town talk often focuses on North Creek.
“Most of the stuff being discussed tonight is about North Creek,” he said.
Why is nothing happening in the other communities, he asked.
“They don’t even know we exist,” he said.
Martin said he’d like to send town representatives into the hamlets to collect anonymous feedback for the board.
“Tannery Pond is expensive for the town to maintain. How can we make it a fiscal success?”
Mosher said he'd find out if the building can accommodate the town offices, if so, town business could be conducted from the new community building while space in the old building is leased out. That space could be rented at a break to attract certain types of offices, like dentists or lawyers, he said.
Olesheski said that people from other hamlets tell him the town doesn't need the building and shouldn't have taken on the responsibility. He said it's an asset that has plenty of untapped potential.
An idea Olesheski's heard to use the building's auditorium as a movie theater piqued his interest.
Screening movies could generate a little revenue for building bills and provide a place for youth to go during their summers.
Olesheski would also like to see usage rates reviewed. Tannery Pond is the only town building that taxpayers need to pay a fee to use, and it can be expensive for repeat users.
Arsenault called the building a treasure that is part of the town's identity.
“It's here; we've accepted it. It's a wonderful gift,” said Arsenault.
Let's not waste time debating whether the town should have taken the building, said Arsenault, let's figure out ways to use the building to our advantage.
Nessle said he's been to towns all over the state without the same quality of public building that Tannery Pond provides.
The building should have a five to 10 year plan to generate an endowment of $500,00 to $750,000 and turn it over to a board of trustees, said Nessle. He'd like to get it off the tax base and give it some independence.
Vanselow noted that the heating system is prone to breakdowns, and system repairs are expensive. The heating system is prone to breadowns, and repairs are expensive. Heat is a large part of operating the building, and that might be a target to reduce costs to town.
Martin suggested private managers to attract out-of-area acts that would bring out-of-area people to the town.
“What's the future of the Kellogg-Waddell property?”
Arsenault has been involved in the meetings on the property, and said he's waiting to see the engineer's report.
If the buildings were torn down, it would be at town expense. There's a large grant that can mostly be secured with matching funds through the property value.
“It definitely is a major challenge,” said Arsenault.
Vanselow said there's a lot of potential as a park. A beach at the riverfront isn't a priority for him right now, but a boat launch could be a good use of the area.
Mosher said he thinks it was a big mistake to take on the property. It will be expensive to maintain and won't produce tax revenue to help with its costs.
“We can't afford what we have,” said Mosher.
Nessle said everybody should be warned that sooner or later, grants go away and the town will still need to keep up the buildings.
Who will foot the bill to paint and fix the buildings in 10 years, said Nessle. He thinks the buildings are ugly and they aren't part of a historic registry, so why worry about keeping them?
Martin said there are plenty of condemned buildings that should be torn down. Why did we take on more buildings in sorry shape?
Olesheski agreed that maintenance will be a big future issue. Where will the money come from and who will be responsible?
“Why fund the ambulance squad when they charge for service?”
Arsenault said we take it for granted until we need it, then when we need it, we need it now. Charges allow the squad to keep staffing at needed levels while providing quality service.
The ambulance corps has taken over expenses that used to be covered by town, and they must pay for new equipment and insurance, said Arsenault.
Mosher said maybe we wouldn't have to charge if Gore would pay a larger amount into the service. The ambulances make a lot of trips up there in the winter.
Vanselow, who has noted that he was the town's first paramedic, said that though they charge, private and public health insurance don't return 100 percent of the charged cost, so keep in mind that the squad isn't getting as much from billing as it might appear.
Martin said it would be prudent to find out if Gore could operate without ambulances ready. If not, the town or squad should pursue greater funding from the ski center.
Nessle said Gore is a money-maker for the town, and ambulance trips don't drain the EMS budget as much as the other candidates think.
Olesheski said some things are worth paying for. I have a lot to live for and care deeply about my loved ones, he said. People spend a lot of money in silly ways, we shouldn't compromise on this, he said.
“What's the future of the now former town beach?”
As long as the closure's in place, said Olesheski said, we need to move forward with use as a pond. If it's not open for swimming, it needs to be an asset.
Mosher said the pond should go natural. Let the geese come back, stock it with trout for fishing contests, he said..
We've invested so much in the swimming hole that we could have had an indoor pool, he said. Now we have no swimming hole, but a pool would still be there.
Vanselow said there are a variety of possible uses for the pond, like camping fishing and picnicking.
Arsenault said the rush to judgement for closure really bothered him. He felt the board moved the closure without enough information about water conditions and not enough community feedback.
It's critical to keep it well-maintained because it's the first sight many have of North Creek, said Arsenault.
Nessle said a sanitary survey to find out how to keep the beach open would have been a better investment than hiring engineering services to close the pond cost 3,500.
Sterling has spoken about a future with kayaks and fishing, said Nessle, but the town hasn't put any money into the swimming hole. Now that it's a pond that will be overgrown with cattails, it doesn't make sense that they'll invest more.
“You've won the election, it's your first town meeting. What's your priority?”
Martin said his priority is to get everyone together in one room to agree to work hand-in-hand.
Vanselow would ensure all board members have appropriate work assignments. The committee system in town should get more use to have a more participatory and informed board.
Arsenault said he'd engage in specific projects, take ownership and work to incorporate more town input to operate as a number of people rather than only the board.
Mosher said he'd renegotiate use of the Ski Bowl. It was bequeathed to the townspeople, and skiing there shouldn't cost any Johnsburg taxpayers much.
Olesheski said he would like the town to offer support to entrepeneurs, with training, workshops and help with web design and marketing. They could even partner with the school for youth professional training.
Nessle said, “Our country is in serious trouble, if people don't take part in the democratic process, we're going to lose it.