The candidates vying to become Mayor of Fulton disagreed at their only debate of the election season on how to revitalize city neighborhoods.
Incumbent Mayor Ron Woodward, a Republican who is cross-endorsed this year by the Democratic party, defended his program of fixing up a handful of homes seized for unpaid taxes and selling them at market rates. Homes that had been converted into apartments are converted back to single-family homes.
Five homes have been renovated and sold in this manner so far, using a mix of city employees and outside contractors. A sixth is underway. The program is about two years old.
The program is believed to be unique in New York State, where the common practice is to auction seized homes for the amount of unpaid taxes.
Common Council member Tom Kenyon, who is the Conservative party’s candidate, said he would end the program.
“The way the mayor’s doing it, we’re putting 3 to 4 [homes] back on the tax rolls every year. The way I want to do it….I would like to put ’em all [up for auction],” Kenyon said, noting that county records show the city owns 122 parcels. “We’re going to get more tax money as far as I’m concerned. We’ll get more people living here, more people buying stuff here.”
Independent candidate Ralph Stacy, Jr. offered a third idea: Sell the homes for the amount of back taxes, but offer a five year break on property taxes if the homeowner fixes up the home within two years. “As time goes on, the assesments can be raised. We can get them up to an equitable rate and we can make money off these without putting more city resources than absolutely necessary,” he said.
But Woodward said the program stemmed from his visits to neighborhoods shortly after he became Mayor. He said many problems stemmed from homes that had been sold at tax auction to out-of-town investors. He said those investors often used the city as if it was their property manager, to handle problems with tenants.
Woodward said he was “trying to change the demographics of the city,” which is heavy on apartments owned by landlords who work elsewhere. “I said what if the city started [fixing up the homes] and sold them at market value? I thought, what is wrong with getting a working family that can afford a mortgage back into the neighborhoods to start stabilizing them?”
The candidates discussed a range of issues in their only joint meeting of the campaign. In fact, neither Woodward nor Kenyon had ever met Stacy until Thursday’s debate.
You can see the entire debate in the three videos below. The first two sections run 30 minutes each. The third section is about 15 minutes long.