What the Candidates Say: Dutchess Legislature

In anticipation of the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7, The Current asked each candidate for the two seats on the Dutchess Legislature that represent Beacon to respond in writing to questions posed by reporter Jeff Simms. The candidates are presented in alphabetical order. There are 25 part-time representatives in the Dutchess Legislature who each serve two-year terms.

District 16

In Beacon, District 16 includes Ward 4 and part of Ward 3.

Explain the importance of the Legislature, particularly for Beacon residents.

John Forman

John Forman (Independence):  Dutchess County government has a county executive and 25 members that make up the county Legislature. The Legislature is the policy-making body in county government, and the single most important job of the Legislature is the final adoption of the county budget. County laws can be created, adjusted or eliminated by the county Legislature. All bonding for large construction projects and large purchases can only be approved by the county Legislature.

As far as sales tax is concerned, the two cities (Beacon and Poughkeepsie) have the ability to charge and collect their own sales tax and break apart from their partnership with the county. But the numbers prove the two cities collect a significantly larger share of the sales tax by partnering with Dutchess County.

Frits Zernike

Frits Zernike (D): There’s a pretty big difference between what the Legislature does and what it could do. The Republicans and their allies in the Independence Party hold a supermajority — 18 of the 25 seats. The county executive is also a Republican. That amounts, basically, to one-party rule. Most of the legislative initiative comes from executive offices, and the Legislature acts on, as one incumbent put it, “what comes across our desk.” But the legislature is supposed to be an equal branch of government, acting as a check on the executive, challenging his initiatives — not necessarily to defeat them so much as to ensure that the best version of them emerges from vigorous debate — and proposing new and innovative legislation.

Where the rubber hits the road is that the county levies taxes. Dutchess gets more of its revenue from sales tax than from property tax. Since the reformulation of the county tax in 2013, 15 percent of the sales tax collected in Beacon goes into a discretionary fund — right now it contains $60 million — to be doled out by the executive. That’s undemocratic and unfair, particularly to Beacon.

If you are a new candidate, what do you bring to the table? If you’re an incumbent, why should you be re-elected?

Forman: As an incumbent, I run on my track record.  Several years ago, I authored a resolution to require that all elected officials at the county level contribute toward their monthly health insurance premiums. This obviously did not sit well with my colleagues in the legislature.

However, after much debate, all elected officials at the county level now contribute toward their taxpayer-funded health insurance premiums. That was extended to all of the management and confidential employees who are employed by the county of Dutchess. This resolution is saving the taxpayers more than $200,000 per year!  And in 2017, I again authored a resolution extending the polling hours in Dutchess County on Primary Day from noon to 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m, the same hours as the general election in November. We need to give the voters every opportunity to cast a vote.  This was not happening in Dutchess County. The new polling hours will begin in 2018.

Zernike: I have been involved in Beacon politics through Beacon Deserves Better. I also have 10 years of experience running a small business, and I hold a law degree, both of which will allow me to bring relevant experience and perspective to the job. The incumbent has served in the Legislature for 12 years. When he introduced himself to me early in the summer, he promised an issue-oriented, clean campaign, and he has honored that commitment, for which he has my respect and gratitude. As I see it, I am not running against my opponent, I am running for his seat. I’ll leave it to the voters to decide which of us they’d like to see represent them.

What should be priorities for the Legislature?

Forman: Addiction and mental health initiatives are priorities in the budget. Prevention education, accessible drug-drop boxes, Narcan training and 24/7 crisis and support services will continue to be budgeted for and supported. Second, continued investment for improvements to our infrastructure. If Dutchess County is going to be a player in attracting new businesses, then we have to continue to fix, repair and replace our bridges and roads and make sure there is enough water. Third, criminal justice reform.

Zernike: Dutchess is losing jobs and we’re facing increasing costs. Whatever agenda the Legislature sets, it will have to address those two brute facts. By enacting legislation that fosters more locally rooted businesses and development, we can work toward an economy that better sustains the county. One thing I am committed to is a push for a law prohibiting candidates and elected officials from taking contributions from companies that do business with the county. The Republican-dominated Legislature will not bring a vote on ending “pay-to-play” to the floor, but we need it.

District 18

In Beacon, District 18 includes Wards 1 and 2 and part of 3.

Explain the importance of the Legislature, particularly for Beacon residents.

Jerry Landisi

Jerry Landisi (Independence): County government provides a wide array of services, including sheriff’s patrols, road maintenance, public parks and social services. It also is in a unique position to assist municipalities such as Beacon by awarding grant money, including the Community Development Block Grants and shared services grants. In 2017, I helped to secure $160,000 in CDBG funding that will pay for the installation of new sidewalks on Main Street.

Nick Page

Nick Page (D): As per the county charter, the Legislature handles appropriations, legislation and policy creation. In order for a measure to be passed, it must be agreed upon by a majority of legislators and signed by the county executive. Should the county executive refuse to sign, that can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Currently, there is an 18 to 7 Republican supermajority, including the two Independence Party legislators who represent Beacon, who caucus with and nearly exclusively vote in concert with their Republican colleagues.

As a result, there is little to no counterpoint to the Republican county executive’s agenda. What are the implications? The recent sales tax reformulation has seen Beacon hand the county $4.58 million in revenue since 2013. A strong and independent Legislature would be ready and able to stand up for the needs of its respective communities.

If you are a new candidate, what do you bring to the table? If you’re an incumbent, why should you be re-elected?

Landisi: My record speaks for itself. In just under two years in office I have delivered real results for my constituents. I supported a budget that reduced the property tax levy and tax rate while continuing to provide robust services. We also continued to increase our investment in key growth industries such as tourism, arts, agriculture and economic development. I voted in favor of expanding the home-delivered meal program for seniors to five days a week. I championed a resolution that re-established the Human Rights Commission and helped secure funding to assist in its outreach mission.

I have also been a strong supporter of the new Crisis Stabilization Center as we seek to revamp the way in which we address addiction and treatment in our community. I am an independent, and as such I am beholden only to my constituents, not to a partisan agenda. I have listened to the people who elected me and have been willing to work with anyone regardless of party and have been successful in bringing Beacon’s voice to county government and delivered real results for residents.

Page: A fresh eye and terrier-like enthusiasm.

What should be priorities for the Legislature?

Landisi: In the coming years, we must continue to be vigilant in making sure that we protect taxpayers so people can afford to stay here. I will build on my strong record of curbing tax increases while continuing to find ways to provide smarter, more streamlined and efficient services to my constituents. We must continue to make smart investments in our budget that will help grow the economy and provide career opportunities for the 21st century so that our children and grandchildren can make their lives here.

The opioid crisis is also one of the top issues that must be addressed. If re-elected, I will continue my work as a strong advocate for the Stabilization Center and will assure that this facility has all of the resources it needs. I will continue to support and work to expand our educational programming to make sure people understand the magnitude of this problem. It is time we recognize this issue for what it is, a public-health crisis. I will also work to make sure that Beacon is adequately represented at the county level and will continue to advocate for our fair share of grant dollars and funding.

Page: 1) Environmental action: The vigorous exploration of local production of, and investment in, renewable energy via wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and any other means available or to be discovered. A county-wide adoption of the Community Choice Aggregation program that allows citizens to act as a buying unit and secure affordable green energy, while establishing the market for the same. Encouragement of increased recycling and composting initiatives.

2) Holistic alternatives to incarceration: We must shout a firm “No!” to a record investment in incarceration via the proposed $250-plus million county jail project, while singing a joyful “Yes!” to programs that support young families such as universal pre-kindergarten, summer job and educational programming for teenagers (such programming has been subject to recent county cuts), and compassionate support for people suffering from mental health and addiction problems.

3) Cut county sales tax and return sales tax revenue to municipalities. Our sales tax in Dutchess is higher than that of Westchester County (8.125 percent to 7.375 percent). This regressive tax especially harms low- to middle-income households that spend a greater portion of their incomes on essential goods. This tax must be reduced and a good starting point would be the elimination of sales tax on non-luxury clothing items that are less than $100. We must also return sales tax revenue to our communities. As mentioned above, the recent reformulation of the sales tax has seen more than $4.5 million redirected from the city of Beacon to county coffers since 2013. While an estimated $850,000 has been returned via grants, this money should be spent within our community and at our discretion. The county is sitting on a $59 million fund balance, due in no small part to the countywide sales-tax grab, and is in a fine position to do right by its citizenry.

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