Two candidates are running for the District 3 seat on the Franklin County Board of Legislators, which covers the towns of Brighton, Duane, Bangor and half the town of Malone.
The Enterprise recently spoke with incumbent Gordie Crossman and challenger Mark Besio about budgetary hurdles, how to attract businesses to the region and how well the legislature represents the south end of the county.
The Republican candidate said, if elected, he will bring 21 years of experience managing Fay's drug stores to the county board. That experience, he said, includes properly balancing a budget.
"I'm running because of the irresponsible spending on behalf of the Franklin County legislators," Besio said. "Let's start with the pipeline for the natural gas. We gave Enbridge (St. Lawrence Gas) $1.425 million to help them locate there. I don't understand a government entity helping a private enterprise locate there. If they thought there was money to be made in Franklin County, then put up your own money."
Political experience: None
Employment: Manager of the Malone-Dufort Airport, town of Malone highway clerk for 21 years, manager at Fay's Drugs for 21 years
Parties: Democrat, Unity
Elected Positions: Franklin County legislator for 10 years, Malone village trustee for four years
Employment: 34 years as an educator: 16 years as history teacher, 18 years as guidance counselor and director of guidance office for 10 years
Volunteer/other: Involved with the Boy Scouts, National Ski Patrol for 22 years, held numerous positions with the Lions Club, including president, on advisory group for the Office of the Aging, member of Sons of the American Legion, on the county Administrative Committee, chairman of the Economic Development and Planning Committee, on Public Works Service Committee, on Human Resource Committee for eight years.
Besio said the expenditure was worsened by the fact that county legislators were also taking out $4 million worth of loans to pay the county's bills while depleting the fund balance.
"As far as I can tell, we just handed a private entity over $1 million that won't benefit a whole lot of people," Besio said. "You people down here paid for a lot of that; your tax dollars went into that. I see absolutely, positively, no benefit to you people at this end. None whatsoever."
Besio said that kind of "out of control" spending is sinking the county, and added that legislators should instead be concentrating on how to increase revenue.
"I'd like to put in place a grant writer," Besio said. "It would be one person's job only to seek out and write requests for grants. There are a lot of grants out there, but you have to have somebody qualified to write them."
Besio also sounded off about the recent clash between county legislators and Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill.
"Kevin Mulverhill does a great job," Besio said. "When he brought in the New York state auditors, (the legislators) didn't want those people in there. My first question was 'Why?' All Kevin was doing was asking to be shown where things were being done right, and where things were being done wrong. Kevin was right to do that.
"There's also been talk that the legislators might disband the sex offender unit at the jail. They go out and they check on these guys. I would never vote for that. These guys (registered sex offenders) have to be watched, and they have to be controlled."
The Board of Legislators meets twice a month in the morning in Malone, the county seat. Besio said that's a problem.
"I would fight to get some of those meetings brought down to this (southern) end of the county," Besio said. "I would also ask that they take the starting times and move at least 50 percent of them to nighttime. The people that want to go can't. Who can leave their job at 11 a.m. and go to a board meeting?"
Besio said the first thing he'd do if elected would be to visit each town board and ask them what they'd like to see done to help residents and bring their tax levies down.
"Short-term goals would also be to bring the deficit down that's in place right now from the borrowing," Besio said. "Try to get the funds restored to levels they should be at. Stop borrowing; find another way to do it. You've got to stop frivolous spending. We're not spending money wisely, and my short-term goal would be to plug those holes right now."
"Am I writing off manufacturing jobs? No, I won't do that, but we have to put something in place to get their goods out of there," Besio said. "I think you want to market what we do have here to a Canadian base. I would advertise more in the Montreal and Ottawa papers. Go the other way, too. Bring some people up here from the Catskills. Do your advertising in a circle, and extend out as many miles as you can."
Incumbent Crossman has been a Franklin County legislator for 10 years. He said that experience comes with a desire to be involved in his community.
"I always had a keen interest, not only in community service, but in government and how it functions," Crossman said.
Crossman said he has faith that local government can still play an important role in people's lives.
"One thing I see on the local level, that you don't see on the state or federal levels, is how well we can get along," Crossman said. "That's great because we shouldn't be conflicting with each other; we should be working with each other. I'm very happy with this board (of legislators) for this reason."
Crossman said he thinks the county is heading in a positive direction, despite problems caused by spending mandates.
"We really only control about 10 percent of our budget, which is really minute," Crossman said. "Those mandates are so demanding that we need the state to realize it's too difficult for counties to handle. We're not the most wealthy, and we have many people where it's hard for them to survive. We're not always fortunate to have some of the benefits that Clinton County does, but we try, and I think we're working in the right direction."
Crossman said the board is constantly planning ahead, and cited the natural gas line as evidence.
"The whole county is going to benefit from that gas line," Crossman said. "Other towns that really aren't going to have the gas line are still going to benefit from it, and they see that they're going to benefit from it. We're going to try to keep the prisons here and we're going to benefit the school systems. It's going to add to the sales tax and benefit everyone."
Other candidates have stated that the southern end of the county isn't properly represented and that people living there don't have access to legislators because their meetings are held in Malone. Crossman said that has no impact on the Legislature's decision making.
"I think we try to address issues at the southern end of the county," Crossman said. "We have to look at ourselves as a whole Franklin County, not a north and a south. Whatever's good for one is good for all of us."
Crossman said legislators support projects in Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
"We have those two hotels that are going to be built in Saranac Lake," Crossman said. "One's right over the (Essex County) border, but it's still going to benefit us. Having the Hotel Saranac refurbished is going to be a tremendous asset to the community. I remember when I was teaching (at?Saranac Lake's Pius X High School), and Paul Smith's ran it, and we were going over there all the time. I think that can happen again. Anything like that that gives people a place to stay when they visit the area will benefit the whole community. In the northern part of the county, we're always looking for ways to get people jobs."
Crossman said a combination of education and business is the best way to maintain a stable population.
"We're fortunate to have some colleges here," Crossman said. "That's a tremendous asset to our county. The president of North Country Community College always has some interesting ideas, and Paul Smith's has always been an excellent college."
To that end, Crossman said the colleges can be integral in keeping people in the area.
"They can train people in certain areas that could possibly open some doors to bring some technology into this area," Crossman said. "If there's something here, and they're trained in a certain area, hopefully they'll stay here. We don't want to lose our young people. After we train them, if they move away, it's a tragedy."
To encourage a business owner to move into the area, Crossman suggested simply inviting him or her out to experience the community.
"Take them out to a restaurant, and have them meet some people," Crossman said. "We have so much to offer. We have agriculture. We have education and all these wonderful recreational things all year round. I think sometimes we don't see the forest because of the trees. We're kind of blind to all of the things that we do have. I think we need to have a positive attitude that we're going to accomplish this, and I think we need to keep moving and making things better and better."