By Derek Liebig
Village taxes, the state of the armory, and consolidation of services were just a few of the issues discussed by candidates during last Thursday’s mayoral forum held at the Whitehall Central School.
More than two dozen residents showed up on a wet and gloomy evening to watch mayoral candidates Kenneth Bartholomew, Peter Telisky and William Rathbun square off on a number of issues facing Whitehall.
Bethe Reynolds, president of the Chamber of Commerce, welcomed those in attendance before handing the floor over moderator Fred Capron who introduced the candidates and set forth the ground rules for the evening’s discussion.
Each candidate was given three minutes to introduce themselves and explain why they were running for mayor before they began to field questions written on index cards by those in attendance.
Some common themes began to emerge from the outset. Each of the candidates agreed on the need to enforce the parking ban on village sidewalks and shared the opinion that although taxes were high, there was little that could be done to alleviate the burden.
“I don’t know where you cut right now, we are cut to the bone,” Telisky replied. “Can we cut taxes; I unequivocally say ‘No.’ Will I work to cut taxes, ‘Yes.’ Do I think it’s feasible? ‘No.’ ”
Batholomew echoed that sentiment. “I don’t possible see how we could possibly reduce taxes and it’s too bad.”
All the candidates said the village is hamstrung by unfunded state mandates and there was little that could be done.
Rathbun, who joked that everyone would vote for him if he said he could reduce taxes by 20 percent, suggested that residents could spend more of their own money in Whitehall to reduce the tax burden.
“If you buy a car in Whitehall, some money stays here; you buy car in Glens Falls and the money stays there.”
The candidates also agreed on the need to clean up Whitehall. Rathbun said if something wasn’t done several buildings were going to fall in the street within the next ten years.
Telisky also expressed his belief that one of the keys to economic recovery in the village would be its beatification. He said the village should take advantage of some its assets such as the canal, Main Street, Skene Manor and the natural beauty of the area to promote tourism. “We need to clean up, first impressions are important,” he said.
Although the candidates were on the same page on several issues, they also held some fundamentally different ideas on issues such as the armory and the consolidation of services within the community.
Although Rathbun didn’t think the armory was a bad investment, calling it a “beautiful building,” he also didn’t think the village should get involved with it.
Bartholomew on the other hand, was in favor of selling the building, citing his belief that the roof needed work and would be costly to repair.
“It’d be nice to have but it’s like a car. It’s nice to buy the Audi, but you end up going home with a Fiesta,” he said.
Telisky, however, shared a very different view. “I think we have to look at it. Is it viable, I don’t know? I know it’s expensive. But what if the community shared that building?”
Telsiky suggested that perhaps the building could house the town, the village, the library and event the police and fire departments.
He went on to say the community needs to look at consolidation of services. “Do we need two boards, there’s 4,000 people in town; ‘no’ we don’t need two boards,” he said. “We can’t turn our back on anything. It’s not working the way it is. It’s surviving, but it’s not working well.”
“Will it work, I don’t know. But I want to look at it and see if it could save us money,” Telsiky said.
Bartholomew was of a different opinion believing “there’s a few problems with consolidation.” He said he believes it would create more boards and more government and could create more expense for citizens as a result. He did say that it may be a good idea to share office space with the town and fire department to save money.
Rathbun agreed with Bartholomew that consolidation would create more boards but believed it should be looked at to see if it could create some savings.