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County Legislature candidates talk issues

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Legislature candidates John Peck and Robert Peluso will face off in a Republican primary tomorrow.
The Times asked the two candidates where they stood on six issues, and then asked where they'd like to take the county.
Here are their answers.

John D. Peck

TIMES: What do you believe the county's role and response to state-sited wind projects should be and their potential requests for property tax breaks?
MR. PECK: Personally, I'm still a believer in home rule law and that a lot of this belongs in the hand of local municipalities. I was first upset about Article X, but I did some research on it. Article X previously existed. It just expired. One of the changes is reducing the megawatt purview from 80 to 25, which essentially incorporates commercial wind towers. Some of the interesting things with that, even though in some ways it takes away some local control, there's still two members of that board who are part of the community. It's not that the community is going to lose a voice. From my perspective as a local leader, I see it as trying to be the referee in some of these contentious areas where this has been a problem. Personally, I have questions about PILOTs. I'm a firm believer that everybody pays their fair share in taxes. But I won't smack a gift horse in the mouth, either. It's going to be a pilot that the community and the developer can live with. Personally, it would be on a case by case basis. If it's going to be 25 years, I would not be inclined to agree with that.


TIMES: Mercy Care Center is now in a receivership arrangement with Samaritan Medical Center, which will leave a large building on the edge of Watertown's downtown vacant in about a year. What should take the space and what, if any, role should the county play in making that happen?

Mr. PECK: What I understand is that the building is under private ownership still. As far as the county's role in that, I don't know why the county should be involved. The building has private ownership. It's a matter between that owner and the city of Watertown. Whether any of it could be retrofitted into apartments for soldiers that need homes, or locals, that would be a good possibility for it. But I don't see any role for the county to play in it.

TIMES: What do you think the county should carry as a fund balance and how should the remainder be used?

MR. PECK: A lot of that money has been tagged to be used. Some of it has been sitting in the account, waiting to be used. The true fund balance seems to be much less than what is potentially shown. Even so, I'm not against having a fund balance, the extent to which it has grown is maybe more than it needs to be. Maybe enough to cover six months of county expenses is a wise thing. Even with my own business, I try to have some sort of padding to cover expenses. You don't want to run into a problem that other states have where you have to shut down.

TIMES: Should the county build an addition to the jail expected to cost $18 million per year in capital costs and staffing?

MR. PECK: Right now, I'm against any sort of jail expansion. There's been some research done by county board members. I would like to see some more of that information before I would be comfortable with a jail expansion. Also, why is it so overcrowded? Should some of these inmates be in state prison? The cost does have a lot to do with it. Those questions, is there some reason why there's more inmates here than maybe there should be?

TIMES: What additional measures should the county take to attract housing development?

MR. PECK: From what I understand, the county has already decided to put $20 million toward more housing for more soldiers that will be coming back to be able to build more buildings. Putting money toward infrastructure, like sewer systems, is a wise investment. Bricks and mortar is not the business of the county. As far as additional housing, it's got to be that the Fort builds more housing to take care of their own troops, or the private sector has to step up. This is economics. This is a need that has to be satisfied. The private sector should be doing it. It shouldn't be on the backs of local government all the time.

TIMES: What is your position on overriding the property tax cap in Jefferson County?

MR. PECK: If we maintain a fund balance without any great emergencies, I don't see where we have to. It only takes a majority of the board to override that anyway. But I'm not sure that that law is going to fully do what their intention is in limiting property taxes. You can still push up to that limit every year and get by with what you have to. What St. Lawrence County seems to be having is big cash flow problems so they're forced to do it now. I know one thing that we're going to have to deal with (in Champion) is, we're going to have to pass a local law to exceed that because of increased funding for our fire protection district. I didn't realize that that law was so all-inclusive that it was going to bind on anything. I just thought it was 2 percent on your total tax rate. But no. It even goes as far down as that. Just raising $500 more for the fire protection district would exceed 2 percent. I am in support of that. On the county level , it would have to be of great necessity. (In Champion,) It is of great necessity. The cost of doing business for them is a great thing, especially in terms of equipping their members. Not enough money has been budgeted. We try to keep our tax rate low, which forces them to keep doing their chicken barbecues. At some point in time, you have to increase that, to maintain the level of service.

TIMES: Where would you like to take Jefferson County?

MR. PECK: All things considered, if you take some of the stuff that happens in Albany out of the equation, this is a wonderful place to live, a great place to farm. It's close to recreational activities. You're just far enough away from urban areas that I'ts rural and it's safe to live. I really want to continue that quality of life in the county, as well as trying to find ways of developoing more local business and help entrepreneurship and helping small businesses and helping agriculture take advantage of this local foods movement.

ROBERT J. PELUSO

TIMES: What do you believe the county's role and response to state-sited wind projects should be and their potential requests for property tax breaks?

MR. PELUSO: The wind projects should be up to the individual towns where they are located and the state should not be involved. The county's role should be in regards to the pilot agreement only.

TIMES: Mercy Care Center is now in a receivership arrangement with Samaritan Medical Center, which will leave a large building on the edge of Watertown's downtown vacant in about a year. What should take the space and what, if any, role should the county play in making that happen?

MR. PELUSO: An engineering study should be done with the best possible uses for the building. The county should work with the city on the issue of finding the best possible suitor.

TIMES: What do you think the county should carry as a fund balance and how should the remainder be used?

MR. PELUSO: The county should maintain 10% of the total county budget. We need to position ourselves in the case of a catastrophic event. (ex:Amsterdam)

TIMES: Should the county build an addition to the jail expected to cost $18 million per year in capital costs and staffing?

MR. PELUSO: The amount of capital costs and wages will far exceed our costs of boarding inmates out.

TIMES: What additional measures should the county take to attract housing development?

MR. PELUSO: There are committees in place being the county, (Industrial Development Agency) and (Development Authority of the North Country) and are all working closely together to resolve this issue.

TIMES: What is your position on overriding the property tax cap in Jefferson County?

MR. PELUSO: It is our due diligence to provide adequate services throughout the county and at the same time keep the tax rate as low as possible.

TIMES: Where would you like to take Jefferson County?

MR. PELUSO: Working with the IDA within the county in hopes of creating more jobs, trying to increase tourism (ex: trails systems) and continuing to have a positive rapport with Ft. Drum because they are one of our greatest assets.

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