FULTON – Four Fulton residents have entered the race for mayor this year and voters will decide who takes over for current Mayor Ronald Woodward this Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Oswego County Today asked the four candidates – Dan Farfaglia, Deana Michaels, Ethan Parkhurst and Dave Webber – where they stand on issues facing the city of Fulton. This article details their opinions, ideas and solutions.
Where do you stand on economic development?
Farfaglia said it is important to work with as many partners as possible to bring in more businesses to the city. He said it is necessary to look at Fulton’s surrounding areas and their codes departments to improve the city’s own.
He said someone who owns a restaurant in Fulton and one in another city faces more regulations in Fulton, and this can deter people from opening a business in the city.
“Rules and regulations are vastly different and they make things more complex for those who wish to do business here, and there really ought to be consistency between the codes department and other local governments’ around,” Farfaglia said.
Michaels said she is proud to have sat on the Downtown Revitalization Initiative Committee, which worked on the application for the recently awarded $10 million grant. She said that is a start, but the city must look beyond just the DRI, which provides funding for just the downtown area.
She said she wants to help existing businesses grow, make the Municipal Building more business-friendly and become partners in a workforce development program.
“Right now we are waiting for businesses to fall out of the sky,” Parkhurst said. “We need to seek out businesses, where we go out, we approach businesses and say, ‘Hey, this is what we have going on in our city; this is what we can do to aid you in the process of opening a company in our city, and this is why you should.’”
He said while he wants to work to get new businesses to come in, the city cannot forget its existing businesses and the people’s needs.
Webber said although the DRI’s $10 million grant is great, the city cannot depend on just that award for economic development because it only deals with the downtown area. Webber said he is also inquiring to see if a gas station could be put in at the former Tops site.
“We need to hire a grant specialist,” Webber said. “This person knows where to find the grants, knows how to write them and then can administer them.”
He said he would like to see a small business coalition formed, a movie theater, a hotel with an events center, a sports complex, and a historical district.
Where do you stand on areas like Sharp’s Pond and Lake Neatahwanta?
Farfaglia sits on the Lake Neatahwanta Reclamation Committee in Granby.
“It’s one of those things I would like to see rectified in my lifetime,” Farfaglia said. “I will do all I can and work with as many people as I can to get it cleaned up and put it back to recreational use at some point. It may not happen in the next four years, but you’re going to see much more aggressive pushing towards getting it cleaned up.”
Michaels said she wants to push Fulton to become an area where people want to come and raise their children.
“So I think we need to put more emphasis on our 14 parks and our trails, create more attractions in our parks, working with Friends of Fulton Parks, Fulton Footpaths, Fulton Block Builders, to really make sure we are providing quality of life to attract these families here,” Michaels said.
She also said she would like to allocate more funding to the Parks and Recreation department.
Parkhurst said in terms of Sharp’s Pond, the decision to either restore it to a pond or let it revert to a creek should be with the majority of the people. He said he has been working with Dawn Bristol to come up with a plan to put in an ADA compliant park at Rowlee Beach Park regardless of the decision made on Sharp’s Pond.
“That can be a beautiful area that we can develop and it’s not going to cost the taxpayers any money,” Parkhurst said. “A public pool is in that plan.”
He said while there are grants to create the park and pool, there would be maintenance costs. He said before it would be started, he would ask the Fulton residents if they would be willing to put their tax dollars toward those costs. Parkhurst said the taxpayers should have a say in how their money is spent.
In regards to Lake Neatahwanta, he said he has an idea that would expedite the process of dredging the lake at a lower cost: work with the Army Corps of Engineers in Watertown. He said with the size of the lake, they could dredge it as a training exercise. Or they could better train the city in dredging.
“Number one, we give the training and education to those who are trying to do it. Number two, we get our lake cleaned for free,” Parkhurst said.
He said the city could then rent out its dredger to other municipalities.
Webber said Sharp’s Pond is already mostly drained, and an ADA compliant park can be built there with grant funding. He said the city has been unable to maintain the pond for several years.
“It may not happen right away, but someday, perhaps we can actually bring the pond back and turn it into a place where kids can take fishing lessons and do a fishing derby and that kind of stuff, but we’ve got to do it one step at a time,” Webber said.
Webber said the dredging of Lake Neatahwanta needs to be sped up. He said the city could combine forces with Granby.
“We’re never going to get it done the way we’re doing it,” Webber said. “There’s got to be more of a sense of urgency and more thinking outside the box… and grant money is the best way to do it.”
Where do you stand on road maintenance and other infrastructure?
Farfaglia said Fulton needs more state funding to fix up the roads, and further down the line set up an organization similar to Fulton Block Builders, but rather than renovating homes, it renovates the streets.
Michaels said it is necessary to pursue more infrastructure grants for roads, sidewalks and parks, hire a grant writer, work with the department of public works, create transparency in city government and listen to residents’ concerns with infrastructure.
Parkhurst said he has a plan to pave every road in Fulton: privatize the water treatment plant. He would sell the plant to a company from New Jersey and offer the current three employees jobs elsewhere in the city if they are not able to continue working there.
He said this company would also be responsible for any water main breaks. He estimates this purchase to be between $23 million and $35 million. He would plan to use this money to pave every road in the city, fix every sidewalk and buy back the bond the city has for road maintenance.
“We are one of the only municipalities left to own our own water treatment plant,” Parkhurst said. “We can absolutely afford to lose the water treatment plant.”
He said he does not anticipate this to affect incoming businesses and water bills would maybe increase by a few dollars.
Webber said the city cannot attract families to move to Fulton if they hit potholes driving through. He said the main thing to be done is to go after grants. He said it is not just the roads that need to be repaired, but also sidewalks and greenery that need to be tended to.
He also said Fulton needs to buy new public trash cans, which could then be painted by Fulton’s youth to diminish the amount of litter throughout the city. These trash cans would need to regularly be emptied, and Webber said there could be volunteers to help the DPW with this.
“This stuff can be done,” Webber said.
Where do you stand on zombie properties?
Farfaglia said got some insight on this issue when he was a member of the Oswego County Land Bank for three years, which takes tax foreclosed properties and makes a decision to either renovate them or demolish them and build over it.
This past summer Farfaglia sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to sign a bill to speed up the foreclosure process on these properties.
He said other municipalities West of Fulton fine the owners of properties that have been let go, and plans to use this same strategy if he is elected.
Michaels said the city needs to do an analysis on where the zombie properties are.
“Zombie properties are vacant, they’re eyesores and a danger to our neighborhood, but the taxes are being paid,” Michaels said. “We have to go after the property owners, go after the banks that are not engaged locally to take care of these properties and we have to hold them accountable. At the same time we want to keep absentee slum lords accountable for not taking care of their properties.”
She said she has been looking at a pilot project in Schenectady, New York, called Casper Security, which is aimed at making vacant properties safer in the community while pursuing action. It alerts authorities when there is activity at a vacant property. Michaels said this could be something to implement in Fulton.
Parkhurst said the city needs to negotiate with the banks that own these properties to either find a way to sell back to the city to make them code compliant and to bring property values up. He said he has an idea to rehabilitate some of these properties and keep them owned by the city as a safe house for a displaced family to stay after an emergency.
He said the owners need to be held accountable instead of just paying fines.
Webber said any abandoned property that is unsafe is marked with a red X by the fire department to keep people out.
“I’m all for taking them down, and I know that takes money, but once again, grant money is available,” Webber said. “I can’t stress that enough. We need to find a way to find the money.”
He said the city now has new legislation in place regarding “squatters” that needs to be enforced.
He also said he would like to continue the current practice of rehabilitating tax-foreclosed properties and selling them to single families and putting the property back on the tax roll. Webber said the city should renovate multiple of these properties at once by using more than one contractor.
Where do you stand on taxes?
Farfaglia said Fulton is very close to its constitutional limit of raising taxes of people living in the city. He said the city will need to get creative in finding ways to cut down on costs without taking away provided services.
“Again, if we fix up these any of these abandoned properties and get more businesses in,
that will contribute to the tax base and keep it stabilized, and even lower, which we would all love,” Farfaglia said.
“Transparency in government will provide the community with the information to know how your money is being spent, how are your tax dollars being spent,” Michaels said.
She said she plans to analyze all city government departments to make sure everything is being run as cost efficiently as possible and find cost saving alternatives. She said she would also work with the Common Council to make sure Fulton taxes are fair.
Parkhurst said Fulton’s property taxes make it difficult for families to live in the city.
“We’ve stripped down a lot of the departments and cut their budgets to try and make up for the taxes, but when you have unfair assessments and you have unfair tax brackets… we as a people need to make up where other people are not paying their fair share,” Parkhurst said.
He said ways to lower taxes include using solar lights, getting beautification grants, new businesses, and investing in water ways.
Parkhurst also has an idea for a tax credit program, which would be aimed at absentee landlords who do not take care of their properties. This program would offer a break in land taxes to those who keep their properties up and increase the tax on those who do not.
For those who physically and financially have difficulty keep their properties up, Parkhurst said the city can put in a plan to help the homeowner instead of continuously fining them.
“We all know we pay high taxes here, and we all know pretty much why – because we lost half our population and four or five major industries over the last 15 or 20 years,” Webber said.
Webber said in order to lower taxes, the city needs to use grants to improve existing businesses, invite new businesses and renovating properties at a quicker pace to get them back on the tax roll. He said new businesses and families who move to Fulton can eventually balance it out.
Where do you stand on the drug epidemic?
Farfaglia said he sits on the board of directors for Farnham, so he has learned about what services they offer and how it affects the community. He went to a meeting in Albany and the guest speaker spoke about what approach Chatham, New York, has taken.
He said their police department began a program that allows addicts who want to quit to bring in their drugs for the police to dispose of, no questions asked and no further investigation, and they are offered treatment within 24 hours, although it is not successful 100% of the time.
“The program there has been so successful, the crime rate of Chatham has gone down significantly,” Farfaglia said. “We’re going to need to take a more humane approach… I’d love to do something like that in Fulton.”
“Making sure that our families and our businesses and our visitors feel safe in Fulton is of the utmost importance, so I want to create a See Something, Say Something campaign and tie it to the county Tips 411 program, so that we create an anonymous, safe way to report activity that we see,” Michaels said.
She said she also wants to make sure the community has access to a mobile app where residents can make a report to the police and city government. Other ideas she has are to increase the number of street lights in problem areas, ask Common Councilors to hold Neighborhood Watch meetings in their wards, to collaborate with various organizations to create activities for Fulton youth, and to work with the codes department to target problem areas.
She recently did a Ride Along with the police department to see what they deal with and the problem areas in the city from their perspective. She said it is important to hear from experts on the issues, like the police, Farnham, Oswego County Opportunities, etc.
Parkhurst said he is against putting a rehabilitation facility in Fulton, but supports the idea of putting a non-consequential drop off box at the police department for drugs and sharp objects.
“Instead of going into these houses and saying, ‘Hey, you’re under arrest; you’re going to jail,’ say ‘Hey, these are the services that are available to you. We want to help you,’ because these are people’s children, those are our citizens. We can’t just lock them up and throw the key away,” Parkhurst said.
Parkhurst said since Oswego County has been deemed a high intensity drug traffic area, there are federal grants available to help. He also said it could be possible to form a drug task force in the city itself in addition to the county’s. He said the city needs to re-invest in the services that already exist, like Farnham.
“It’s become obvious to me that arresting people for taking drugs is not going to work,” Webber said.
Webber said it is necessary to arrest the drug dealers and help those addicted to drugs. He said some things that can help is to have a higher police presence in known drug traffic areas, whether in patrol cars, on bicycles or on foot and use drone surveillance.
He suggested investing in another car for the criminal investigation officers to use using federal funds from the county’s high drug traffic area status. He said he is glad a Fulton officer is now on the county Drug Task Force.
He said while Farnham is available to addicts, it is an out-patient service with a 10% success rate. Webber proposes to build a county rehabilitation center in Fulton where they can stay and get the resources they need to quit, including mental health and career development services.
Webber said another step is to provide more consistent education and training before addiction begins.
*Order of candidates’ answers were done in alphabetical order.