Questions for Candidates: Dutchess Legislators

In anticipation of the Nov. 5 election, we asked candidates for the Dutchess County Legislature that represent parts of the city, a series of questions by email. Their written responses appear below, presented in alphabetical order by last name.

District 16 (Beacon Ward 4)

Frits Zernike, a first-term Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Theoni Salotto, an attorney in private practice. Salotto declined to respond to three questions that she didn’t believe “fall within the purview of a county legislator,” and Zernike expressed similar reluctance, saying that “while I do have opinions on them, the second, third and fourth questions have no real bearing on my job as county legislator.”

Solotta, Zernike

Please share your qualifications for the position.

■ Salotto: I am a wife, mother and attorney who has been a resident of the Town of Fishkill for more than 18 years. I have a bachelor’s degree in business, am a trained mediator and have been practicing law for 23 years. In my solo practice, I represent children and adults at no cost to them, and have done so for the past 13 years, because I believe in the dignity of every human. Also, having raised three children, I understand that everyone needs help now and then to cope with the complicated world in which we live, and I enjoy helping others. In addition to my work with families and children in Dutchess County, including 13 years as a Girl Scout leader in Fishkill, I have been a member of the PTA, Fishkill Business Association, Mid-Hudson Women’s Bar Association, Dutchess County Bar Association, New York State Bar Association and the Dutchess County Pro Bono Local Action Committee’s Volunteer Attorney Program. I am admitted to practice in New York and Connecticut, the federal courts for the southern and eastern districts of New York, the U.S. Tax Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

One of my goals is to safeguard the hard-earned money that taxpayers entrust to us so that those funds are not wasted on unnecessary or inefficient programs. I will endeavor to watch over taxpayer dollars the way families watch over their own household budgets. I also believe that government can and should help people when people cannot help themselves. I will fight for services for children, seniors and veterans. I will seek innovative solutions to the opioid epidemic and for improved mental-health services. I would like to help make Dutchess County affordable for middle-class families and seniors on a fixed income. But if we are to prosper as a community, we must also work to maintain a healthy business environment within which honest commerce can thrive free of over-regulation and over-taxation. Maintaining this balance of public need and healthy commerce is also my goal.

Finally, government should always represent the interests of the people over special or outside interests. My goal is to always have an open door to my constituents.

■ Zernike: In the two years I have served on the Dutchess County Legislature, I have worked across the aisle to pass legislation I wrote expanding hours of sale for wine and alcohol. As a member of the Democratic Caucus, I have been part of a team that, while in the minority, has driven the agenda for county government. We’ve seen a reduction in the size of the proposed jail, resulting in a savings of $8 million in construction costs and $2.5 million in operating costs annually after 2022.

Thanks in large part to our prodding, we’ve seen the adoption of an independent commission on redistricting, ensuring that voters will choose their representatives, not the other way around. The county will now make fuller use of its designation as a Climate Smart Community to get grant money and apply it toward making Dutchess greener. We’ve also advocated a shift toward treating the opioid epidemic as a public health issue, rather than a strictly criminal one. The list goes on. What most qualifies me to continue as county legislator is my appetite to keep fighting for measures to improve the quality of life for all our residents.

What is the best strategy to attract quality jobs to Beacon?

■ Zernike: One that works for everybody. Defining what we mean by “quality” jobs is important. Tourism and service jobs have fueled Beacon’s resurgence, but we need to find and establish a more sustainable economy. Beacon, and the Hudson Valley in general, need jobs that can employ and sustain residents at all levels. In Beacon, bringing more Main Street office space online would help, too.

What can be done to make sure that the rapid development doesn’t price people out of the city?

■ Zernike: Most of the fight to keep Beacon affordable will be waged at the City Council level. Regulating short-term rentals to require owner occupancy can help prevent renters being priced out. Zoning requirements providing for affordable housing and allowing multi-family dwellings in residential neighborhoods help, too. At the county level, returning [more] sales tax revenue to Beacon would mean an extra $800,000 in the city’s coffers annually, money that would not need to be levied as property taxes, reducing the tax burden on residents and with it the pressures that price people out.

Does Beacon have a responsibility to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? If so, in what way?

■ Zernike: Beacon has a responsibility to ensure that all its residents feel safe and welcome, and are comfortable in their relations with law enforcement. As a county legislator, that’s not something I can have a direct impact on. But I am proud to live in a city where the council passed a resolution declaring Beacon to be a “welcoming, safe and inclusive community.”

District 18 (Beacon Wards 1, 2, 3)

Nick Page, a first-term Democrat, is being challenged by Michael Justice, a software developer who is chair of the Beacon Republican Committee. The Independence Party candidate, Sandra Moneymaker, said that while her name will appear the ballot, it is there because of a single write-in vote during the primary and that she is not campaigning for the seat.

Justice, Page

Please share your qualifications for the position.

■ Justice: I’m the CEO of Empire State Consulting Group, a computer programming agency that has served businesses and nonprofits for more than 20 years. I work with businesses and organizations to maximize productivity and lower costs by using smarter software and technology. Solving most business problems requires you to dig deep into an agency’s practices to eliminate waste, discover efficiencies and create opportunities for growth. I’m ready to do this for our community in Beacon and the Town of Fishkill. I’m also chair of the Beacon Republican Committee and served as chair from 2007 to 2009. It’s no secret that getting the things we want from government requires us to elect representatives from the community who are prepared to do what is in our best interest, regardless of political affiliation. I am prepared to work with anyone, regardless of political affiliation, to do what is best for Beacon and Fishkill.

■ Page: It’s been an honor to serve the people of Beacon and Fishkill, and I’ve enjoyed a steep learning curve over the past two years as a member of a Democratic Caucus that has led the conversation despite our minority position in the Legislature. Successes have included certification as a Climate Smart county (a designation necessary for state funding that the county had neglected for almost a decade), a plastic bag ban, a transparency resolution that mandates public posting of all county boards and committees and their membership, an independent redistricting law that would do away with local gerrymandering (a similar, though weaker, law was overturned by the majority in 2011, thereby allowing legislators to draw their own districts after the 2010 census), an anti-dog-tethering law and establishment of an animal abuse registry, and the expansion of local hours for wine and liquor stores (allowing stores to be open until 9 p.m. should they so choose).

Thanks to our caucus’ energy and competence, a 2019 change in the county-wide balance of the Legislature would see the body move closer toward its intended role as a coequal branch of county government that holds the executive branch accountable, regardless of party affiliation. Currently our committee meetings are nearly gavel-in, gavel-out formalities, and many of us are eager to open the conversation so that we can better address the issues facing our communities.

What is the best strategy to attract quality jobs to Beacon?

■ Justice: The city, county and state need to work together to reduce red tape and provide real economic incentives for employers to bring their businesses to Beacon. When you add the cost, in time and money, of the bureaucracy, and the risk of moving or starting any business, it’s a daunting proposition — assuming the business is successful. Incentives that are tied to actual jobs created, not simply promised, would go a long way to lowering the risk of moving a business to Beacon. We have the talent and we have the capacity — we just need to make the process easier.

■ Page: We need adequate infrastructure, accessibility and proactive planning and recruitment. We need to ensure water, sewer, road and parking infrastructure is adequate. Internet options must be upgraded, comprehensive fiber in the short- to mid-run and/or we hold our breath and actively position for next generation wireless. The electrification of the commuter line north of Croton and introduction of faster trains should also be advocated, as well as increased connections to our local neighbors. We should take a cue from New Rochelle and employ thoughtful commercial zoning overlays with detailed requirements and streamlined approval processes. The resulting, considered development would help smooth out our tourist-centric boom-and-bust cycles and bring vitality to Main Street seven days a week. I agree with the city taking an active role in the direct recruitment of businesses.

What can be done to make sure that the rapid development doesn’t price people out of the city?

■ Justice: As the pricing of housing increases, the “income stock” of the city needs to increase as well to avoid creating yet another bedroom community in the Hudson Valley. We need to create better-paying local jobs that provide incomes so residents can afford these newer homes and apartments. Beacon and surrounding municipalities need to identify locations along or adjacent to transportation corridors that can be developed for commercial use and provide meaningful incentives for companies that pay good salaries to start in or relocate to those areas.

■ Page: We should seriously consider local implementation of the state Emergency Tenant Protection Act. That said, it’s not a cure-all and does not apply to the large majority of local housing stock. It’s time to give single-family homeowners more flexibility in terms of how they use their property. We should further incentivize/encourage accessory dwelling units and implement a floating two-, three-, and possibly four-family overlay on significant portions of existing single-family zones to increase stock of more reasonably priced housing options. The city should explicitly legalize owner- and renter-occupied short-term rentals to help people make ends meet and to feed local businesses.

Our taxes are too high and our sales tax is unfairly distributed. The 2013 reallocation of county sales tax revenue has cost Beacon almost $8 million in the years since. With new faces in city and county-wide offices, this could be fixed as soon as 2020. Beacon, as a city, has the prerogative to remove itself from under the county’s sales tax umbrella and should explore doing so. Nobody is fooled by election-season mailers that tout superficial property tax cuts — we all feel the burden of high housing costs and we’re all seeking substantive relief.

Does Beacon have a responsibility to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? If so, in what way?

■ Justice: The city has an obligation to follow the law — to the extent that it’s obligated to comply, it’s important that it does. Government doesn’t work when it can pick and choose the laws it wants to enforce. If Beacon or any municipality can find legal fault with a law, they’re well-served to challenge it in court to seek relief from enforcement. Alternatively, they can lobby legislators to modify or eliminate the law. Immigration is a national issue: Any change will come from Washington — not Albany, and certainly not the county seat or Beacon.

■ Page: I am against ICE interference in the lives of Beacon residents.

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