Fulton County GOP candidates gather in Johnstown, discuss plans for office

JOHNSTOWN — Republican candidates for the November local elections gathered Tuesday at Sir William Johnson Park in Johnstown for a meet-and-greet.

Most of the attendees were the candidates themselves, only a few of whom will face opponents in November.

Although the Republican Party remains overwhelmingly dominant in Fulton County, holding nearly all elected offices, the 2021 GOP slate of candidates features few incumbents and is composed mostly of either political newcomers or candidates with elected experience running for new offices they’ve never held before.

County-wide candidates

GOP candidate for county treasurer Heather Scribner is one of the newcomers. She said she has prior government experience, having served a town clerk and town assessor in the Saratoga County Town of Charlton, and in the private sector for the last 13 years as the administrator of the 1st Reformed Church of Schenectady.

Scribner defeated Cindy Albertine, a clerk in the county treasurer’s office, in the June Republican Party primary. Scribner is unopposed in November and will likely be sworn in as county treasurer on Jan. 1, replacing current interim County Treasurer Michelle Ippoliti, who was appointed to the job in June after former County Treasurer Edgar “Terry” Blodgett chose to retire in May.

Scribner said she hopes to maintain Blodgett’s reputation for being independent of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors. Blodgett was elected in 2009 in a race against former Johnstown 4th Ward Supervisor James Callery. Blodgett was known for sometimes publicly questioning positions taken by the Board of Supervisors. Scribner said she will do the same, if she feels it’s necessary.

“I will advocate, and I will speak up, if I see something,” Scribner said.

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Scribner said she intends to produce more reports, possibly on a monthly basis, of Fulton County’s “fund balances”, which are the amounts of unspent tax and fee revenues collected by the county.

“The priorities are to dig into the fund balances. We need to be a little more transparent,” she said. “What are their balances? Reporting on them monthly [should happen]. Where are we financially, and [I want to] make sure the public has knowledge of some of these items.”

She said another priority will be letting members of the public now know they can now file their taxes online with a credit card.

“There are fees associated with it, but it is efficient because it goes directly into an account, and it will save time for our office, but mainly it’s just another way for people to pay their taxes,” she said. “A person might not have the cash, maybe they’re in a situation where they don’t have the money on hand, and they want to pay by credit card. I believe in giving people opportunities to use different resources.”

Fulton County GOP candidate for county clerk Leisa D’Amore attended the meet-and-greet. She is also running unopposed. She said she’s worked in the county clerk’s office since 2011 and currently serves as the deputy clerk under incumbent clerk Linda Kollar. She said one of the things she hopes to do is bring in a credit card machine for the clerk’s office.

“We have one in the [county Dept. of Motor Vehicles] office, but we do not have one in the county clerk’s office, and that is one thing I definitely want to get, a card machine, because it’s very hard for people,” she said. “A lot of people come in, and they simply don’t have the cash, so we have to send them to our ATM, which there is one in the front of the building, but it’s $2 for every $100.”

D’Amore said she also wants to look at expanded hours for the county DMV, either later in the evening or earlier in the morning. She said earlier in the tenure of her employment with the county there had been extended hours, but she’s not sure why it was stopped. She said she wants to explore how the hours could be extended.

“That’s something I’ll probably tackle in my first six months in office,” she said.

City of Johnstown candidates

For the city of Johnstown, unopposed councilman-at-large candidate Scott Jeffers, unopposed treasurer candidate and political newcomer Thomas D. Herr, unopposed 2nd ward councilman candidate Scott Miller and mayoral candidate Amy Praught all attended the candidate event.

Jeffers, a former mayoral candidate and Johnstown Water Board president, said he believes one of the top issues for the city of Johnstown in 2022 will be getting a clearer understanding of the finances of the city’s Fire Department ambulance service. He said the council needs to determine whether the revenues generated by the service are enough money to pay for the overtime costs incurred at the fire department and their potential implications for state pension contributions needed from the city for the firefighters receiving the overtime. He said an accounting formula needs to be created to enable the city to factor-out the salary and benefit costs paid to the firefighters through the regular city budget and isolate the costs associated with running the ambulance service so taxpayers can have a clear understanding of the costs associated with providing the service.

“I think it might be best to form some kind of citizens committee to look at this, so you won’t have only the city fire department [employees] giving their opinion on this, if we had an outside agency come in and say ‘here are the facts’ who would be totally neutral on this, you couldn’t really dispute it,” he said.

Praught, who established herself as a budget hawk often asking probing questions of city financial figures during her tenure serving as 3rd Ward council member, said she favors conducting a study of the fire department ambulance service to gain a comprehensive understanding of its financial status. She said she is aware that the Fulton County Board of Supervisors is considering a plan to obtain a state ambulance service Certificate of Need to enable the county to enter into a contract with ambulance companies to pay them revenue in exchange for data that would give the county some financial oversight. She said she’s not necessarily opposed to the county providing money to help Johnstown’s ambulance service, but she wants the county and the city to wait until Johnstown’s new mayor takes office in January before inking a contract.

“My thinking is we need a study, to know what it is really costing the city before any agreement is made with the county, for a dollar amount or a term,” she said. “They [city council] just voted to bond for a new ambulance — I wasn’t for that. I think any big decisions, at this point, should be held off out of respect for the incoming council, the new mayor, and the new treasurer. We are the ones that should be making decisions, not the outgoing people.”

Praught will face political newcomer Democrat Michael Rose on the November ballot. Both Praught and Rose have agreed to a radio debate to be broadcast on WENT Oct. 23 at 9:15 a.m.

Praught said if she is elected she intends to advocate for the council to put forward a referendum for the public to amend the city charter to convert the elected city treasurer position to an appointed chief financial officer job, similar to the finance commissioner position in Gloversville.

“As an elected official, the mayor has no authority over the treasurer’s and whenever there’s a disagreement or two different perspectives, it usually ends up going the treasurer’s way,” she said.

Herr said he agrees with Praught, and he would prefer the elected treasurer’s job be converted to an appointed position.

“I’m for it,” he said, adding that keeping the position after his elected term should be contingent on the mayor and the council agreeing to appoint him to the city’s CFO position, if voters agree to create it.

Herr said one of his top priorities upon taking office will be finishing the city of Johnstown’s delayed New York state Annual Update Documents [AUDs] for 2018 and 2019.

Johnstown’s long-tenured incumbent City Treasurer Mike Gifford has said one of the reasons he has not filed the AUDs is he lacks all of the information he needs to accurately present the financial data for the city’s fire department ambulance service.

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Herr said he agrees with Gifford that the financial information from the ambulance service is not as sufficient as he would like it to be, but he said he plans to file the AUDs as soon as possible anyway, even knowing the information is less than ideal. He said he believes the city needs to move the process forward.

Scott Miller, who formerly served as school board president for the Greater Johnstown School Board, said he’s excited about running for the 2nd Ward councilman, to replace his friend Kathi Ianotti who decided not to seek reelection. Miller, age 55, is also a former ten-year employee of the Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility, but he said he left that job a few years ago for a better-paying position in the private sector for a power generating company in Rensselaer County. He said he won’t be eligible to receive his state pension until he’s 62. He said he isn’t coming onto the council with any specific agenda, but he has the ambition of one day running for mayor after he retires from his private sector job.

“If I have any agenda, it’s to someday be the mayor, but I’ve never made any qualms about that,” Miller said. “But that’s not a job, I feel, you can do, unless you’re retired, and I’m about seven years away from that.”

Gloversville

Gloversville GOP mayoral candidate William Rowback Jr. attended the meet-and-greet Tuesday. Rowback is currently the city’s councilman-at-large and will face incumbent Mayor Vince DeSantis on the November ballot.

Rowback said one of the biggest components of his campaign is his intention to have fewer executive sessions as mayor and to give the public more information than he believes the current administration and council have been doing. He said the reason he opposed the privatization of the city’s garbage pickup in February is that he feels the public did not have enough information about the change, which included the hiring of private garbage hauler Twin Bridges Waste and Recycling.

The first year of Gloversville’s contract with Twin Bridges runs from May 1 to April 30, 2022 with three annual options to renew the service. Rowback said he hasn’t decided yet whether he will support renewing the Twin Bridges contract, if he is elected mayor and it will depend on the available data regarding taxpayer savings and other factors.

Rowback said he favors finding a way to reduce the city’s tax rate through expanding the private sector employment opportunities available inside the city.

“I will try to lower taxes to the best of my ability, and the way that I will do that is by bringing in more manufacturing and more stores,” he said.

Rowback attempted to propose a property tax cut during the city’s 2021 budget process, but it did not receive any support on the council, in part because other council members said he didn’t propose it during the budget committee meetings instead doing it during a regular council meeting.

Rowback said he hasn’t decided yet whether or not he will support a property tax decrease during the 2022 budget process, which he expects may be concluded prior to the November election. He said he believes the city’s tax rate can at least remain flat, but he also intends to propose hiring additional police officers to help address some of the high-profile crimes that have occurred in the city over the past year. He said he also feels New York state’s bail reform has tied the hands of police with respect to law enforcement, hindering their ability to reduce crime.

“I want more police,” Rowback said. “I’d like to see four more.”

Rowback said he has not yet decided whether or not he will debate DeSantis on radio station WENT, as has been the tradition for Gloversville mayoral races. He said he will consider the available dates and then make his decision.

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By Paul Wager