Candidates are candid on Jay’s obstacles
AuSABLE FORKS — Five candidates seeking seats on the Jay Town Council painted a bleak picture of the present state of this town at a forum Monday evening.
The four candidates for two town council seats — independent Community First candidate Adam Coolidge, Democrat Wayne Frederick and Republicans Thomas McDonald and John Sheldrake — each described their town as a place tourists pass through without stopping, where empty storefronts line the streets and the AuSable River that flows through the hamlet threatens to wash infrastructure away, and where a lack of affordable housing has stagnated growth of the town’s tax base, compounding economic pressure on the small tight-knit community that remains.
There was also a lengthy discussion about illegal dumping, and areas of the town where trash continues to pile up.
But it wasn’t all gloom. Despite these problems, each candidate saw a path toward a thriving economy.
“We’re missing a lot of things we used to have,” said Frederick, citing the closure of Feek’s Pharmacy, the town’s lone drug store, in 2017. “It’s time to get them back.”
“If we build the right infrastructure and present the right opportunities,” Coolidge said, “maybe (businesses) will come back.”
The four candidates spoke about the town’s challenges, and their ideas for solving them, at a candidates forum hosted by progressive political action organization Adirondack Indivisible at the Jay Community Center on Monday. Knut Sauer also participated; he is an international sales and marketing manager running uncontested on the Democratic and independent Vision for Jay lines for a third seat on the council, carrying an unexpired term. Kari Ratliff, an independent candidate challenging Essex County Clerk Joe Provoncha, also took part.
Election Day is Nov. 5. The state’s first early voting period started on Saturday and continues through Nov. 3.
At 37 years old, lifetime Jay resident Adam Coolidge is the youngest council candidate this cycle. He has a girlfriend, two kids and a stepdaughter.
Coolidge is a political newcomer and a self-employed real estate investor. He’s heavily involved in the town’s fast-pitch softball league.
“I’ve always been passionate about our community,” Coolidge said. “I want to give back to the town that gave so much to me growing up.”
He described himself as a “financial conservative” but said he’s concerned with what he characterized as a loss of institutional knowledge and rapid-fire turnover at the town’s Highway Department, a problem he sees one solution for: Raise salaries to make the jobs more attractive.
“We have to take care of the Highway Department because after all, they’re the ones who take care of us,” he said.
When asked by a resident in the audience how he planned to raise salaries without raising taxes, Coolidge admitted to being a newcomer to the realm of municipal budgets. He said he “didn’t have definitive plans,” but “would look at the budget.”
Coolidge also underscored the importance of keeping the town’s parks well maintained, and his desire to spur the return of local youth sports leagues.
“This is a great community and a beautiful area,” he said in a separate interview. “We can make it viable by attracting residents and businesses.”
Coolidge said marketing will likely play a big role in creating that draw, as will improving the quality of life for potential residents. He also said the town needs to find a way to capitalize on the 2023 World University Games in Lake Placid, and needs a chamber of commerce.
“Once we get the pillars of our community taken care of, we can think of ways to redevelop our storefronts and make it more attractive for residents and businesses to come here,” he said.
Frederick, 63, was raised in Peru. He left town to serve in the Navy and 32 years ago, when he returned, he moved to Jay. He is the married father of five children. He has eight grandchildren.
Frederick is running on the Democratic line. He has never held elected office. He currently works as a maintenance director for a “large private children’s camp” in the vicinity of Chateaugay Lake, but declined to say which one, and volunteers as a coach for the youth commission. Before he worked at the camp, he owned a construction company.
He described in detail what he saw as the town’s “regression” over the last few decades. He painted a picture of a town struggling with attracting visitors, businesses and residents.
At the candidates forum Monday, Frederick said the town needs to be marketed to attract tourism — and new businesses.
“To get new business, we need help,” he said.
He also pointed to the importance of shopping locally rather than driving to Keeseville or Plattsburgh to buy things.
“We need to spend more money in town,” he said. “By doing that we will get more businesses.”
Asked by a resident if he would be OK with breaching the state tax cap, Frederick said no — but that he’s a “realist,” and as expenses rise, the town may have to increase taxes to maintain the services that residents expect.
He promised residents, if elected, that he would always find answers to their questions. He pledged to work alongside other board members.
McDonald, 52, was born and raised in Jay. He’s married and has two kids.
He is running for a fifth term on the council on the Republican line. He was first elected to the board 12 years ago and currently serves as the deputy supervisor. He has been a member of the town’s auditing, personnel, highway and youth committees.
McDonald is a self-employed contractor who works under the T. L. McDonald banner. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus Council 2301 and sits on the parish council for Holy Name Catholic Church.
In response to Coolidge’s comments about needing to increase the salary of the town’s Highway Department employees, McDonald said the town “has been bringing those salaries up as best we can,” but that has proved difficult while trying to keep tax increases below the state tax cap.
He touted local laws passed during his tenure that he said were difficult to adopt — like those regulating outdoor wood boilers and junkyards — but he believes will ultimately lead to a better-looking community.
“We passed those so you don’t have to have that in your neighborhood,” he said. “If we have a town that looks junky, people are just going to keep on driving.”
In response to a question about how to increase tourism in Jay, McDonald pointed to a housing needs survey sent to local business owners throughout the region in July.
He pointed to a lack of affordable housing as an issue in Jay and one that, if solved, could improve the town’s economy. He talked about building a housing project in Jay to encourage people who work outside the town but are willing to commute to live in the area.
Sheldrake, 80, is also a lifelong resident of Jay. He attended local schools, served in the Army for more than three years and returned to the area to become a remedial math and reading teacher. He retired in 2005. Sheldrake was married for 56 years and together with his late wife raised four children. He has seven grandchildren.
Sheldrake has served on the Jay Town Council multiple times in the last few decades.
He said when he heard that there were town council seats up for election, he returned from Florida to run again.
“I enjoy the job, and I want to represent all the people,” he said.
He has been involved with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County for 41 years, first leading the 4-H Club for six years, then serving as a member of many cooperative committees and the board of directors. He has been a member of the AuSable Forks Senior Citizens Club for 22 years.
“The most important issue facing the town is finding a balance between providing services for the town of Jay residents that allows for future development, without burdening the taxpayers,” he said.
Sheldrake outlined seven things he would prioritize if elected to the council, among them the creation of a marketing committee, constructing a budget that remains under the state tax cap, completion of an East Branch AuSable riverbank restoration project to help prevent flooding, and the AuSable Forks water plant.