COLONIE — The race for supervisor is hinging on what appears to be three issues – development, and all that comes with it, the landfill and finances.
Paula Mahan, a Democrat elected 10 years ago, is hoping for a sixth two-year term. She says her administration spent years putting the town back on track after it was run into near bankruptcy by the previous administration. She has no problem pointing her finger at who she thinks is responsible for the state of the town back then and one of them is her opponent, Frank Mauriello, the minority leader on the Albany County Legislature.
“If you look at the budget 10 or 15 years ago, Frank you were there, it’s really unbelievable what was done to this town,” Mahan said at a forum moderated by the League of Women Voters and sponsored by the Colonie Chamber of Commerce, the Capital Area Council of Churches and Spotlight News. “In 2002, the town was prosperous. We were thriving. We had a $12.5 million surplus and in 2007 were basically bankrupt. That’s a horrible record.”
Mauriello was on the Town Board during that time frame Mahan often points to as a period of shenanigans and unchecked spending, but without admitting fault, says his opponent has had a decade in office and things are still not that great.
“State comptroller issues a stress list every year and unfortunately, while Supervisor Mahan says she saved the town from fiscal disaster, we are still on the fiscal stress list,” Mauriello said during the forum. “For four years in a row we are the only suburban municipality on the state comptroller’s fiscally stressed list. This is something we need to address and as supervisor I will do so.”
Mahan counters with the fact that the Comptroller’s Office did give the town’s ranking an upgrade this year.
The race for the $123,000 a year job has gotten somewhat personal, with old feuds re-surfacing and dormant grudges re-igniting.
Mahan, a retired school teacher, is not pulling any punches, and called the group
of Republicans who ran the town prior to her a “nasty representation of government leadership” who are now not above “spreading lies and misinformation” in an effort to get control of Town Hall back after losing it to Democratic hands for the first time in decades.
Mauriello, who has a private sector job in sales and marketing, reminded Mahan that her husband served on the board during that time, too.
“I was on the Town Board 10 years ago, but what she fails to remember is her husband Joe Mahan was on the board during most of that time,” he said. “In fact, Joe Mahan sat by me on the board and our voting records were pretty much the same.”
Mahan, in an follow up interview, said her husband was on the board and when he left in 2001, there was a surplus of $12.5 million.
“It was from 2002 to 2007 when everything went sour,” she said. “This is from the Comptroller’s report, ‘in 2004 there was a one-time land sale of $1 million that never materialized, in 2005, expenditures exceeded revenues by $4.8 million and in 2007, the Town Board, including my opponent, authorized an agreement with a private organization that included four payments of $200,000 and it was extended for 10 years. That’s $2 million of your money. Sales tax was used inappropriately, and when I got in we had to pay $21 million over three years back to the highway fund because that money was used inappropriately.’”
In a follow up interview, Mauriello did say the town spent down the reserves but it was during a time when all municipalities were struggling to make ends meet.
“We did spend down the reserves, we had no choice. The reason we have reserves is to have money for a rainy day and we tapped into the reserves to avoid raising taxes,” he said during a follow up interview. “One of the things she forgets is that during that period of time there was an economic downturn. After 9/11 the stock market went down. And during that time all municipalities were struggling because our contribution to the pension fund increased. In 2000, our contribution was about $450,000; in ’01 it went to $750,000 and in ’02 it went to over $1 million and within two years after that it was more than $2 million. We were struggling because we didn’t want to raise taxes.”
Mahan is happy to talk about the finances, and is happy to compare them then and now while Mauriello is more than happy to talk about what is perceived by some as the out of control development allowed under the Mahan administration. He has called for a limited moratorium on all development until the 2005 comprehensive plan is updated — a plan Mahan rejects because, she said, the Planning Board already does a thorough job of vetting projects.
And along with that overdevelopment – perceived or real – comes concerns about
traffic. Although it’s impossible to determine how much traffic is generated from development in Colonie and how much is passing through the town that is centrally located between Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Saratoga – the latter being one of the quickest growing counties in the state.
“We are at a crossroads. We have overdevelopment and traffic gridlock,” Mauriello said. “I am the only person running for town supervisor who has a plan to address traffic and overdevelopment. I have proposed a limited moratorium on new development. And then I want to focus on a comprehensive plan to save our neighborhoods and focus on redevelopment of properties and to protect open space and farm land.”
Mahan said, unlike her Republican predecessors, her administration treats all developers equally and all have a level playing field regardless of party affiliation.
“Our development process is fair and it’s thorough. It is something I corrected when I got here and something I will continue to work on. It is a fair process and a level playing field for all. There is no steering projects one way or another. That all stopped when I came into the position of supervisor,” she said. “We are recognized as one of the greatest communities in the state. We were elected the best suburban town four years in a row. There are so many municipalities who would love to be in the position we are in. Are there ways to do things better? There are always ways to improve things.”
The landfill became an issue last week when officials of two municipalities north of the Route 9 landfill – along with Riverkeeper – came out strong against the expansion. (Read a story on the landfill on page 5.)
Other questions asked at the forum:
Q: Would you support an Open Space Preservation Fund?
MAURIELLO: I would be committed to preserving open space. With overdevelopment we are losing a lot of the green space. Once the comprehensive plan is completed and we have an idea on how to accomplish that.
MAHAN: We have increased the amount of greenspace over the past 10 years and are now up to 1,200 acres. We have $165,000 saved for the greenspace conservation and also we are looking to the future and incorporating a line in the budget for that.
Q: What do you think of a Town Board of mixed political parties?
MAHAN: “We have a mix of Democrats and Republicans on the town Board now; we also have an independent. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t look at a label. I come from education. I was an educator for many years. I don’t ask people what party they are in and I don’t care what party they are in. It didn’t work that way before we got there. I can work with anyone. I would rather see me as Paula Mahan – a mother, a grandmother, a former educator – than you see me as a political person.”
MAURIELLO: “I am a minority on the Albany County Legislature and being in the minority I have to work with the other side and I have many times and they have to work with us. I have the respect in the Albany County Leg because I don’t have a confrontational relationship with them. We work together as a team. We worked together on legislation updating the county’s solid waste program and we are working with them to put together a Styrofoam recycling program. Once the election is over it’s time to govern.”
Q: Have you filed a financial disclosure statement as required by the Town Code?
MAURIELLO: I don’t believe I did because I was told I didn’t have to file one for this election cycle. If I am supposed to, I will file it tomorrow.
MAHAN: Yes, I filed mine and I would assume if you were on the board for 10 years you probably had to file them when you were running because that’s the law.”
Q: Would you support minimum allowable lot sizes be adhered to as specified by zoning and how do you plan to involve residents?
MAURIELLO: What I think we should do is adhere to the zoning we have in place in that district. If it is zoned for a particular lot size we need to keep it at that lot size. But, while we are reviewing the comprehensive plan this is our opportunity to decide if we want to have conservation developments or keep the current lot sizes as they are. Conservation easements are important because they do help to protect the environment and you have more strict land use requirements in those areas
MAHAN: We are updating the comprehensive plan and this is an opportunity to make improvements. The 2005 plan called for mixed use developments which called for high denity developments and we inherited some real problem PDDs – Planned Development Districts. I think conservation overlays, I think, are good for
the town and we have some developers we are talking to and there is one off Pollock Road where a whole portion has been changed to conservation and that’s a good thing.
Other issues stressed by each candidate:
Mauriello wants to change from an appointed commissioner of the Department of Public Works to an elected highway superintendent who is directly answerable to the residents and not another official.
Mahan wants to continue to keep the police department at full staff and continue to provide avenues to make sure all public safety personnel get adequate, up to date training.