Six candidates facing competition for the Democratic nomination in that party’s upcoming primary election fielded questions on town finances and other pressing local issues at a September 6 forum, presented by the Woodstock Democratic Committee, that drew an attentive crowd of about 70 residents to the Community Center.
The primary is scheduled for next Tuesday, September 13, with voting from noon to 9 p.m. at local polling places. The winners will carry the Democratic Party endorsement in the November 8 general election. The Woodstock Republican Committee plans to choose its party’s slate of candidates at a caucus on September 15.
Audience members submitted written questions that the moderator, Peter Cantine, posed to Terrie Rosenblum and Jeremy Wilber, who are running for town supervisor, and four aspirants for two openings on the Town Board: Peter Cross, David Gross, Ken Panza, and Jay Wenk. Three incumbents who are running for reelection unopposed — town clerk Jackie Earley, town justice Frank Engel, and highway superintendent Mike Reynolds — delivered opening and closing statements but received no questions from the public.
The questions covered topics such as the current and future state of the town budget, which in 2012 will be subject to the state’s newly enacted two-percent cap on property tax increases; whether the town should proceed with a renovation of Town Hall; and the need for, and affordability of, a Comprehensive Plan to guide future development.
Following are summaries of the candidates’ positions, based on their opening and closing statements and responses to questions.
Terrie Rosenblum. A first-term councilwoman who for the last three years has served as supervisor Jeff Moran’s deputy, Rosenblum expressed unequivocal support for the property tax cap. Reciting statistics furnished by the town bookkeeper, Rosenblum presented a view Woodstock’s financial condition whose optimism was at odds with the grimmer perspective of other candidates, including Wilber and Panza, and some incumbent officials who consider the situation dire. Rosenblum maintained that anticipated revenues for the remainder of 2011 would more than compensate for a $220,000 deficit in the current budget. For 2012, she said, “We feel that we can stay under the two-percent cap and keep our taxes pretty much where they’ve been.” In an interview after the meeting, she demurred when queried about the prospect of a gap of as much as $450,000 in next year’s budget, referring the question to councilwoman Cathy Magarelli, who supports Rosenblum’s candidacy.
Rosenblum observed that the Town Board had voted to proceed with a renovation of Town Hall and was doing so, although in the prevailing economic climate the project will probably have to be completed in stages. With interest rates low, now would be a good time for the town to borrow money if bonding is required to fund the renovation, she said.
The councilwoman praised the town’s response to Tropical Storm Irene, reporting that she and Reynolds, the highway superintendent, had transported and distributed emergency supplies donated by Central Hudson. She added that the town’s communications systems were in need of improvement so that information could be relayed more quickly and efficiently to residents during future emergencies.
Jeremy Wilber. The former town supervisor, who held that office from 2000 to 2007, stated that no unexpended fund balance would be available at the end of 2011 to appropriate to the 2012 town budget and thus stave off double-digit tax increases for the general fund and the highway fund. Amid “very visible signs of economic stress in our community,” said Wilber, he would strive to keep taxes low but would not deny a service that was urgently needed by children or older residents, for example, for the sake of political pandering. “I ain’t no Tea Partyer,” he said, adding that compliance with the tax cap in 2012 would likely require “a drastic cut in services.” On his first day in office he would scrutinize the town’s ledgers and “make a full report” as soon as possible to citizens on the state of town finances. Wilber also pledged to “start a community conversation” on the town’s future, ensure that town government was accountable for its actions, and give thanks to the new owners of the Woodstock Playhouse for their restoration of the local landmark.
Wilber asserted that, while a Town Hall renovation “has to be done,” he was reluctant to embrace bonding for the project and would initiate a “conversation with the community” about how to complete the project most efficiently and least expensively. He concurred with Rosenblum on the need to improve the town’s communications systems during emergencies and proposed an expanded use of radio transmissions, noting that most people had access to a car radio if not a device operated on battery or crank power.
Peter Cross. A surveyor and a lifelong Woodstock resident, Cross is currently the town’s wetlands inspector and a member of the Planning Board. His first order of business as a councilman, he said, would be to develop a sound municipal budget. “Like any family, the town should live within its means,” he said. Citing his familiarity with regulations and concerns related to planning and zoning, he emphasized the importance of formulating a Comprehensive Plan to guide the town’s preservation of sensitive environmental areas and future growth and development. While Gross, Panza, and Wenk balked at spending an estimated $100,000 for such an endeavor, Cross argued that much of the work could be performed in house, at much less expense, and might be supported by grant funding. Cross also recommended that the town develop more space for parks and recreation while land is still available for such uses.
David Gross. The chair of the Woodstock Environmental Commission stressed that the town government should base its consideration of local issues on an understanding of the community’s “core values, as opposed to taking an ad hoc approach to each problem that arises and embracing “feel good” solutions. His own values, said Gross, who is retired from a career in the wine industry, include a focus on caring for the town’s youth, old people, and environment and on maintaining a vibrant business climate. He opposed Wenk’s proposal to charge a fee for parking in the Mountain View lot as a means of raising revenue for the town, arguing that the fee would discourage tourism and thus hurt the local economy. Gross said that he would strive to reduce the town’s carbon footprint, in part by lobbying the state government to change a policy that prohibits municipalities from using hybrid-powered police cars.
Ken Panza. A local resident for more than 40 years, Panza, a retired computer industry executive, has served as a volunteer on the library’s board of directors, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Telecommunications Committee. In recent years he has assiduously attended Town Board and the Planning Board and circulated his independent research on local issues. Panza predicted that the 2012 town budget would be unable to comply with the state tax cap; consequently, a majority of the current Town Board would be forced to adopt a local law that would override the cap for one year. If elected, Panza would promote the prompt formation of a committee to implement a soon-to-be-adopted stewardship plan for the Comeau property. He supported the suggestion that the Town Board interact more frequently with residents including second-home owners, many of whom provide considerable employment to trade contractors and other members of the local work force.
Jay Wenk. The former and current councilman — he previously served on the Town Board from 1990 to 1993 — told listeners at the forum that he would stand on his recent record as a board member, including his longstanding support for the Comeau easement, efforts to convert the Mountain View lot to a paid-parking facility, resistance to a proposed exemption of town building projects from Planning Board review, and opposition to the proposed purchase of the former Elna Magnetics building as a site for town offices. He emphasized the importance of increasing town revenues but admitted that he did not understand much of the background of the shortfall in the current town budget. Wenk abstained from the vote to adopt that budget, citing his opposition to unfunded state mandates and the federal government’s tax-funded pursuit of foreign wars. If elected to a new term the councilman would try to instill increased cooperation among the Town Board, Planning Board, and Building Department. “One overwhelming issue facing the town and the Town Board is an absence of collegiality and consensual thinking and working,” said Wenk. “Without those things we don’t get anything done.”++