2014 issues for Yates Legislature include connectivity, waterfront development, budget
YATES COUNTY—The Yates County Legislature saw many changes in the November, 2013 general election, resulting in seven new faces in office. New blood often leads to new ideas and priorities for the legislature as a whole. Yet, when The Observer asked what projects each legislator wants to focus on during 2014, common recurring themes were the county’s dark fiber network development, the cleanup at the former Penn Yan Marine site and ever-growing concerns about the county budget.
“The highest priorities for the Yates County Legislature in the coming year will be to execute projects and activities already in motion—the dark fiber ring, interoperable communications and Schuyler County shared services study, for all of which we have received grants,” Legislator and Deputy Chairman Doug Paddock said. “Simultaneously, it will be necessary for returning legislators to share background and history of projects and operations so that new legislators can contribute from their backgrounds more rapidly. With the recent release of the New York State Tax Relief Commission Report, it is apparent that the 2015 county budget must stay within the allowable increase. Methods for achieving this level must be evaluated and incorporated as appropriate.”
Newly appointed Chairman Tim Dennis said he wants to “get to know the seven new legislators and enable them to incorporate their experience, enthusiasm and new ideas into our legislative operations.” He said he wants to follow through on the clean up and development of the Penn Yan Marine site along with continuing progress on the dark fiber communications project and interoperable communications grant. Dennis said he wants to facilitate the shared service study with Schuyler County and continue to look for opportunities for efficiency throughout county government. Dennis also said he will consider options to the established budget process and develop a budget for 2015 that is fiscally responsible and stays within the tax levy cap.
Newcomer James Smith echoed similar priorities as his goals for 2014.
“There is a lot to learn and much to do as a new legislator,” Smith said. “I look forward to working with my fellow legislators in the coming weeks to set the priorities and goals of the legislature. We have responsibility for setting policy and are the budget authority for county government. It is important to me to that Yates County government provides the best possible service within our means. I am excited about the dark fiber project as it lays the foundation for Yates County to have good reliable access to the information superhighway. The Penn Yan Marine development agreement is another project that together with other recent developments along the Keuka Outlet will transform the area. In order to meet the needs of the people in Yates County it is imperative we have a sound fiscal policy that is stable and sustainable. Development of the 2015 budget is important along with developing a long-range fiscal plan for the county.”
Legislator Mark Morris brought attention to the state government as well, saying their influence has a negative effect on county governments.
“After serving two terms on the Yates County Legislature, I have come to believe that our biggest problem is our dysfunctional New York State government and its impact on our county (and schools, towns, villages),” Morris said. “High taxes and unfavorable business climate are causing people and businesses to leave New York. That being said, there is still much room for improvement by our county government. In 2014 I plan to continue to fight to keep the growth of cost of county government less or equal to the rate of inflation. [I will] help the legislature create a much needed strategic plan—this will help to reduce government waste and cost through use of quality and productivity tools. [I plan to] be part of the Yates-Schuyler joint (consolidation/ improvement) study [and] attempt to lead an effort to intensify the pushback on New York State mandates and low value/ high cost activities; and to urge New York State to benchmark with other states. [I will] push Yates to continue and improve benchmarking with counties in New York and other states (benchmarking only within high cost New York State has limited value) [and] expand support for economic development through support to projects like Penn Yan Marine and the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center.”
First-term Legislator Leland Sackett said he will be focusing on working with the legislative committees to get things done in the county.
“I will devote much of my time in the next weeks familiarizing myself with the priorities and goals of the legislature,” Sackett said. “The greatest amount of county business is conducted in the standing committees, two of which I am a member. I will attend meetings of the other three as well, to bring myself up to speed with the entire legislative process. I will also be asking a lot of questions.”
Newcomer Robert Clark said he plans to focus on the important county projects as well, while also focusing on how to improve the budget situation.
“I have listened to many people and attended some meetings, prior to being sworn in as a Yates County Legislator,” Clark said. “Yes, the number one issue is property taxes. There is no magic wand to wave in order to control this issue. However, I do believe we can improve it. A few issues I would like to address. (1) Expedite the moving forward of the Penn Yan Marine site development. (2) Move forward with the dark fiber optic network project. (3) Be involved in the union and non-union employees contract negotiations. (4) Review the policy on employee comp. time and overtime hours. (5) Help push back on New York State mandates. As a first year legislator, I’m sure this year will be a lot of learning of the procedures and responsibilities of a county legislator. I’m looking forward to working with our very competent department heads, and my fellow legislators.”
Legislator Elden Morrison said curbing the rising property taxes in the county will be one of his top goals for the year, along with the continued economic development of the county.
“The major issue that I campaigned on and was uppermost in the minds of the voters of my district was escalating property taxes,” Morrison said. “My goal will be to assist in crafting a budget for 2015 that holds spending increases to no more than the rate of inflation and has no tax rate increase. Increases in taxable property assessment valuations combined with anticipated increases in sales tax revenue, barring unforeseeable events such as a recession, should make this goal achievable. There are three significant economic development initiatives underway that have been shepherded along by the hard work of previous legislatures, two hotel projects and the former Penn Yan boat site project. These are each, and in total, exciting opportunities for the village and the county and I hope to be helpful in moving these projects to fruition.”
Legislator Gary Montgomery again echoed the concerns over taxes, saying he plans to find a way to not only decrease expenses, but increase revenues.
“The issue for me is Yates County taxes,” Montgomery said. “My options are to simply roll over and continue to pay them, move out of the county, or do something about it. I opted to attempt to do something about it with a campaign for a seat on the Yates County Legislature, District 1. Fortunately, the voters supported my campaign and I now I get to work for them and all taxpayers of Yates County. The net cost of county government drives county taxes. For the past two years Yates County net costs have forced tax increases that exceed the New York State tax cap level. The vocal majority of Yates County taxpayers are not happy about that. I look forward to doing what I can to ensure that does not happen with the 2015 budget. Therefore, my focus for 2014 is to learn as much as I can as fast as I can about county operations and options to both increase revenue and reduce cost. Then I will work with the other legislators and department heads to ensure that the county provides the necessary services for our customers (Yates County taxpayers) at affordable net cost.”
County Administrator Sarah Purdy said she plans to help the new legislature develop what its priorities are for 2014, and follow suit with the direction the legislature wishes to go.
“Due to turnover on the legislature, I plan to spend time in the next several weeks working with the new legislature on what its priorities are for the county for 2014, and will tailor my goals for the year accordingly,” Purdy said. “I already know that significant projects for 2014 will be the implementation of the dark fiber project, finalization of the Penn Yan Marine development agreement, the Yates/Schuyler Shared Services Study, negotiation of two collective bargaining agreements and development of a fiscally sound 2015 budget.”
Dan Banach said the marine project is his top priority in 2014, along with continuing to find ways to lower property taxes.
“My first goal is to make the Penn Yan Marine project a success with both the corporation from the village and the county,” Banach said. “It is early in the new year and with the new legislature it will be interesting as to see in what direction the legislature will go. I will certainly will be looking for ways to lower taxes and increase economic climate throughout Yates County. I will always be looking for input from the voters to help me achieve my goals.”
Legislator Bonnie Percy said tax relief is one of her top priorities, outlining some of the difficulties that come with this goal.
“One of the items we need to concentrate on is Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo’s tax relief,” Percy said. “It will be very difficult to stay within the cap for two years to meet his challenge without any mandate relief. Every year most of these mandates increase leaving the budget officer to find items which she can remove from other parts of the budget. All department heads presented to the legislators efficiencies which they have taken to save money. When Bob Multer said his farewells to the legislators in December, he said that the legislators alone can not put enough pressure on our state leaders but will need to have the citizens of our county to get involved. By implementing the tax cap, the state politicians have taken heat off of them and placed on the local politicians. Yates County is at the point where the mandates will survive but needed services will have to be reduced.”
Newcomer Margaret Dunn said she plans to become a more educated legislator in the years to come in order to find ways to keep county spending down.
“I feel that is difficult to name any project or issue that I may want to address in my first year as legislator until I can get familiarized with what is actually happening at the county,” Dunn said. “So I would have to say, the top of my list is to become educated in the matters of Yates County and to use that knowledge to control spending and keep Yates County a place where people want to live as well as visit.”
Legislator Leslie Church said economic development is also her top priority for the new year.
“First on priority for me will be to be involved in the economic development projects we have begun.
“These being dark fiber to provide better service to businesses, healthcare providers, education and residential, Penn Yan Marine property development, and canal development, jointly with the village of Penn Yan, and doing what I can to help business establish and succeed in Yates County and the town of Milo whether those businesses are in agriculture or any other interest. [I want] to provide service to people and families in need in our community to ultimately help them take care of themselves through the economic development efforts and job creation, as well as helping to create and support a sound budget for 2015.”
Legislator William Holgate said he looks forward to seeing many important projects to the county make progress in the upcoming 12 months.
“In my new position as chairman of the public safety committee I plan to further educate myself and the other members of the legislature in the many areas of public safety,” Holgate said. “I am excited to see the dark fiber ring finally make it to our county and look forward to more economic growth. The new group of legislators are ready to dig in so I look forward to working with them.”
Legislator James Multer did not offer a comment by press time.