PORTHENRY-Candidates for mayor in Port Henry hope to limit village spending.
Incumbent Ernie Guerin and challenger Frank Slycord agreed Port Henry residents can't afford continued tax increases during a candidates forum sponsored by the pH7 committee at the village fire house Feb. 28.
The mayoral candidates were joined at the forum by village board candidates Matthew Brassard, Frank Gilbo, Ronald Nesbitt Jr., Staley Rich and incumbent John Sheldon. Trustee Louise Belden is not running again. There are two village board seats open this year.
Village elections will be held March 15.
Moderator Jackie Viestenz of pH7 welcomed about 30 people. She gave each candidates five minutes to make a presentation and allowed 30 minutes for the public to ask questions.
Much of the discussion centered on taxes and the village budget.
Slycord said the village should stick to a budget.
"We've seen nothing but a steady increase in the tax rate in the village of Port Henry," he said. "There's out of control spending of the taxpayers' money. It's getting a little bit out of control.
"We need a clear direction for the future in Port Henry, which we have not had," he said. "We need to work with building owners to make storefront rentals affordable. They can't sit empty. We've going down a terrible road if we keep losing businesses in Port Henry.
"The bills keep going up and out of sight. We're never going to get anybody new. We took our village back, now let's make it run efficiently," Slycord said.
Paul Salerno, a Moriah town councilman and village resident, pointed out the town has never had a tax increase higher than 2 percent.
"With an 11 percent increase in last year's taxes, what is your plan to keep taxes at bay this year?" Salerno asked Guerin.
"We cut a lot of things," Guerin said. "If there's a way to cut we're going to do it."
He said the village didn't buy new equipment in the last budget.
"We refurbished the payloader and it was way within the budget," Guerin said. "It works fine now.
"Nobody's doing this on their own personal agenda," Guerin said.
The general appearance of Port Henry was also discussed. Resident Linda Smythe said the village looks depressed.
"Our storefronts, sidewalks, lighting. What do we see when driving through? What kind of impression do we get?" Smythe said. "We see broken and boarded up windows and clutter? Who is enforcing the codes around here? How will you help us spruce up the village?"
Slycord, a former town and village code enforcement officer, said he's up to the task of cleaning up the village.
"Without question the village of Port Henry needs to be spruced up," he said. "We have laws in place to improve the look of the village of Port Henry. It just has to be enforced. It takes a code enforcement officer to be on top of it and a judge who will play."
He said without fines, "nobody's going to get in line. Half our problem is that we do not enforce the property maintenance code in the village of Port Henry. If it was enforced we'd see a dramatic change in the look of Port Henry," Slycord said.
Guerin agreed the village is lacking in some aspects.
"We are working on it," he said. "I know over time we can do it. We need to address one little problem at a time."
Guerin said he has addressed all codes issues brought to his attention.
The incumbent mayor, who works in Plattsburgh, addressed concerns he's not readily available to deal with village issues. He said he has the village office keep a daily call log for him.
"I feel I have just got my feet wet," the first-term mayor said. "We have gotten a few things started that I would like to see through. We would like to make Main Street a vibrant place to entice business to come to the area."
People must be a registered voter of the village of Port Henry to be eligible to vote in the village election. The deadline to register with the Essex County Board of Elections to be eligible to vote in the March 15 village elections has passed. For further information, to register, or to check registration status, people should call 873-3474.
The candidate forum was sponsored by the pH7 committee, which was formed last year after village residents rejected a dissolution measure.
"The pH7 committee is a group of concerned citizens who are working for the betterment of Port Henry," Viestenz said. "It was formed after the dissolution of the village failed. The people who formed the committee felt that since the citizenry had voted to keep the village, that we should work towards preserving and improving the village."
Generating interest in village elections is a goal of the pH7 committee.