T hree of the region’s highest elected officials visited Whitehall earlier this week to meet with local residents and discuss some of the issues facing the community and the state.
Nearly 70 people from Whitehall and the surrounding communities attended a public meeting at Whitehall High School on Tuesday evening and listened to Rep. Chris Gibson, Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Tony Jordan discuss a wide range of topics ranging from the state of the economy to the re-appropriation of congressional districts.
Earlier in the day, all three were in Granville, where Gibson received a print of the town’s World War Veterans’ Memorial Clock.
In the evening, in Whitehall’s auditorium, each of the three representatives took turns addressing the crowd and answering questions from those in attendance.
Gibson, who was visiting Whitehall for the first time, outlined some of his accomplishments during the past year, including his contributions in helping secure $150 million for states ravaged after Hurricane (or Tropical Storm depending on where you are)Irene and another $212 million for watershed programs.
“The storm was the toughest part of my year,” Gibson said, “and the most important thing I did this year.”
He also said President Barack Obama made the right decision in pulling out troops from Iraq and believes the nation will be “relatively friendly” with the United States.
He said his main goals heading into 2012 are continuing work on decreasing the federal deficit, revitalizing the economy, and “protecting our way of life.”
Much of the evening’s discourse gravitated toward economic issues and the burdens preventing further economic growth.
Gibson said the key to recovery lies in job creation. “Most job creation is two or three jobs at a time and is done by small businesses,” he said.
He said the Main Street Grant Program, a federal program that provides money to states who in turn distribute it to small businesses or local governments, is intended to “help localities and small business get back on their feet.”
He also said he believes that the recently opened GlobalFoundaries chip plant in Malta has the potential to help develop a corridor up I-87 stimulating economic growth throughout the region.
A major theme that emerged after moderators opened the floor for questions from those in attendance was the impact mandates were having on small towns like Whitehall.
Whitehall Board of Education member Mike Putorti said every time the government makes a reduction at the state level, the costs trickle down to communities like Whitehall.
Little said many of the mandates that are in place got there because of an advocate and that those advocates are still there. She said she is serving on a task force that has been asked to examine mandates and look at what adjustments could be made.
“We need more flexibility at the local level when it comes to mandates,” Little said. “Rules and regulations need to be looked at.”
Little also called for more synchronization between local, state and the federal government in how we approach problems.
Town councilor Stephanie Safka, who owns a small antique store in Fort Ann, asked the officials what could be done to foster the growth the small of businesses.
She said it costs “a small fortune” to start a business and many rules that apply to a 50 employee business (which meets thresholds for being considered a “small business”) are the same that imply to a business with two employees.
Jordan said he asked his office to look into what it takes to start a business in New York and the paperwork comes to his knees. He said the government needs to stop future regulations without approval of the legislature. “Many of our regulations make sense in Manhattan and Schenectady, but not in the village of Whitehall. The only way to make New York an Empire State is to reduce regulations.”
He said his biggest goals in the coming year are regulatory reform and mandate relief.
“It’s going to be difficult but out livelihoods depend on it.”
Town Supervisor George Armstrong also asked about reapportionment.
Some of New York’s congressional districts could be changed because of continued population decline and the district in which Whitehall lies has been targeted as one that could be changed.
Gibson said he has no control over the process, but said he hopes the district remains as is. A preliminary map of potential changes could be released as early as next week.
Some of those who attended the meeting said afterward it was informative.
“I thought it was good. It’s not often you get a congressman in little Whitehall,” Cheryl Putorti said.
Village Trustee Ken Bartholomew said the presentation was nice, but said he didn’t hear anything that will affect immediate change. “He (Gibson) talked about long range goals and we don’t have a long time. They tell us we have to do this and do that, but until they tell us we don’t, taxes will continue to go up,” Bartholomew said.