Candidates for supervisor and Town Board in the Town of Clifton Park were put on the spot at a Candidate Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 27.
Current Republican Supervisor Phil Barrett has held office for 12 years and is running against Democrat Marty O’Connor. Three candidates are running for two open seats on the Town Board: Wanda Zygmuntowicz, democrat; James Whalen, republican; Scott Hughes, republican.
The first question out of the gates was what each candidate thought about the idea of abolishing all local elected officials and instead have the county run the town.
O’Connor said he was in favor of that decision.
“That is a position I openly stated I support. I think it’s a long range vision and I think it would take awhile to get there but I think that local government officials are a luxury we can no longer afford,” said O’Connor.
Hughes was confused by O’Connor’s statement.
“I’m a bit puzzled because when you’re running for local office yet want to abolish the position is a little unusual,” said Hughes.
Hughes and Barrett said they don’t want “nameless bureaucrats” running Clifton Park. Whalen said the problem isn’t with local government but with state and federal government. Zygmuntowicz said exploring ways to smartly consolidate within the county would be an avenue to pursue.
Clifton Park currently doesn’t have its own police force and audience members wanted to know if candidates thought establishing one was necessary.
Zygmuntowicz said she didn’t have an answer.
“I see at this point we seem to be doing fine in terms of the way law enforcement is carried out in this town,” said Zygmuntowicz. “I think the right thing to do would be to talk to residents and fine out what the needs really are.”
Whalen, Hughes, Barrett and O’Connor all said a police force in Clifton Park was unnecessary at this time.
“This is one area where sharing of services does work,” said Barrett. “When it comes to Clifton Park and the police force, we have one. We have a well-trained force with contracts with State Police and Saratoga County deputies. We have our security force that’s taken on a larger role.”
The question circling the Town Board as of late is whether or not the town would change the supervisor position to full-time, following the vacancy of a town administrator position in March that still remains unfilled.
Barrett said the “only decision” the Town Board has made on this issue is that there will be somebody full-time.
“We have two options. The first is to fill the town administrator job. The second would be to combine the position into one full-time position,” said Barrett. “Combined full-time [salary] at $90,000, that’s far smaller than other municipalities with full-time supervisors.”
Whalen said the Town Board should do a cost-benefit analysis before arriving at a decision.
Hughes said moving to a full-time supervisor would actually save the town around $32,000.
“We’re always trying to do more with less when it comes to protecting taxpayer dollars,” said Hughes.
O’Connor said he supports the concept of a full-time supervisor but didn’t feel the Town Board made the issue clear to the public.
“The problem is the process,” said O’Connor.
Clifton Park presently has no town tax and audience members wanted to know if candidates would publicly commit to continuing that practice.
Hughes said “100 percent, unequivocally” he would continue with no town tax.
“I think it’s been a hallmark of this administration,” said Hughes.
Barrett said the town has been able to maintain no town tax because of a smart approach to town finances.
“We have properly structured the town’s finances for several years. Years ago, we eradicated all town debt and saved for a rainy day. We didn’t recklessly spend,” said Barrett.
O’Connor, Zygmuntowicz and Whalen also said they would work to keep Clifton Park town tax free.
Development at Exit 9 has erupted over the past few years and the audience wanted to know what the positives and negatives of that development was.
Barrett said he was “very excited” about Exit 9 and that it’s increasingly beneficial to the town.
“I really put my political future on the line in a lot of cases. Back before I took office … I started working on attracting retail to the Exit 9 area,” said Barrett, who credited Boscov’s with starting things off. “Once [Boscov’s came] that spurred a tremendous snowball of additional retail.”
O’Connor said the area was “fairly congested” and accident prone.
Zygmuntowicz said it was a plus that so many things were “right in our backyards,” as was increased sales tax revenues, but wasn’t pleased with how it isn’t pedestrian friendly.
“That’s something I’m hoping we could be addressing,” said Zygmuntowicz.
Whalen and Hughes said development at the Exit 9 area has been positive for the town and makes it an attractive place for new residents to settle.