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In Case You Missed It: Meet the Candidates Forum (10/23/17)

With the November 7th elections rapidly approaching, the Friendly Community Center hosted an informative “Meet the Candidates” Forum (Oct. 23rd) to help residents familiarize themselves with the candidates for Supervisor and their views. Voters will select two of the four candidates who are Loree Guthrie, Grant Hilfiger, Patti O’Keefe and Michele Sistak. The forum was moderated by Sue Ruskin-Mayer and attended by approximately 50 residents. Each candidate made introductory comments, a concluding summary, and answered questions. We have tried to faithfully capture the substance of each candidate’s responses, with some sentences being abbreviated to speed your reading.

Introductions

Loree Guthrie
Has worked as a Supervisor for 6 years, has her roots here and wants a Better Barrett for everyone. Her strengths include her experience, communication skills, and working as a team member. Loree's accomplishments include fixing the zoning districts (which had been previously split), making ordinances more user-friendly, working to clean-up properties and improve trails at Ice Lake, developing Seven Pines Park, reducing ambulance service costs while improving communication, and helping create the Community Shed and dog park.

Grant Hilfiger
Feels his leadership, positiveness, approachability and transparency are important qualities for Barrett, and he wants to get more people involved in the community. Knows what businesses need, and Grant wants to get the empty buildings filled with new businesses to increase tax revenues. He grew up in the area attending PMSD and decided to build his businesses here because he loves the area.

Patti O’Keefe
A retired schoolteacher and resident for 40 years, Patti has volunteered for the Scouts, soccer, Open Space, and the Economic Advisory Council. She was a Supervisor for two years and has served on the Planning Commission. Patti wants to attract new business, has worked to include information on local businesses on the Barrett web-site, and would like to contact new businesses and residents to inform them of Barrett’s services and activities.

Michele Sistak
Wants to increase Barrett’s tax base by attracting small-footprint, environmentally-friendly businesses. Methods include development of an Economic Zone, promoting recreational activities on the Internet, and working with the PM Economic Development Corp. Currently Head of Barrett’s Board of Auditors, and a decorated retired Navy officer (14 years of service). Managed $19 million budgets and 5000 employees. Experience in management, budgeting, facilities, and marketing/promotions. 15 years marketing for NY Insurance Fund. Loves the area, lived here for 36 years.

Moderator Question — What are Barrett's strengths and challenges, and how will you affect change for Barrett?

Michele
— Need to better market our excellent recreational assets. Focus and expand on 3-4 major events/festivals and include these in a brochure at Visitors Center. Challenge is to increase the tax base with small foot-print environmentally-friendly businesses which won’t negatively impact our rural community. Any plans need not only goals but time-lines, resources needed, and cost analysis. She works well with large and small groups.

Patti — Need to market our beautiful resources and be more pro-active. Need to talk more with businesses and ask about their needs. Talked with local businesses and brought 53 onto local web-site. Need to expand Barrett’s web-site with “things to do” and utilize residents in addition to Supervisors. Should list all roads to be fixed in a prioritized plan which is then communicated to all residents.

Grant — Need to look to the future and positives, not what we have lost, and move forward. Change can be good, and we have great schools. Should improve communication with regional police so residents can more effectively voice complaints. Roads are bad, and need to chart when roads will be repaired and communicate this to residents. Communication is key, and we need residents to support our businesses, great library and community center.

Loree — Strengths include our great people and the environment. Our Supervisory team is working well as a team to fulfill Barrett’s great potential. Need more participation of residents attending meetings. To move forward our Strategic Plan needs to be updated, and outside experts could help with surveys, etc. This should include revising a vision/mission for how we see Barrett in 3-5 years.

Audience Question — Do you agree with the loss of Barrett’s police force? I was told holding a referendum was considered too much work. Is there a chance of getting local police back?

Michele — We have signed a contract and would need legal action to get out early. The decision should have been based on a community impact study, and a referendum should be held on any decision impacting public safety. Should have had community input. Replacing liquidated assets will be costly. Police were said to be overspending. Why? Need an approval process. Subsequent to the meeting, Michele has repeated her preference for holding a referendum on non-emergency public safety issues.

Grant — Hasn’t seen where the proposed $300K savings (from going regional with police) are in the budget. Police did get out of control with spending but am not sure why. We need to control expenses, and Barrett’s now limiting police contracts to one year. Could bring the police back, but it's not clear that local police were more effective.

Loree — The decision to go regional was based on solely financial constraints. Great to explore bringing them back. Subsequent to the meeting, Loree clarified she never stated a referendum would be too much work, and she never heard another Supervisor say that.

Patti — Patti wanted to keep the police and not go regional. Felt we would be paying the same amount for less coverage. Subsequent to the meeting, Patti clarified that there was not police overspending compared to budget. Rather the budgeted level of police services was expensive.

Audience Question — Do you believe in performance measurements to evaluate current regional and past local police performance?

Loree -- The more data the better, as it’s important in making decisions.

Grant -- Believe this information is available and desirable to measure performance. Facts from call center would be helpful.

Michele — Have to be careful about making sure data is comparable. Should have been oversight on overspending. Need an approval process for expenditures.

Patti — Since officers may be performing other police activities including taking prisoners to court, evaluations of response times must be made carefully. Subsequent to the meeting, Patti clarified that because of all other police activities, response times are not comparable.

Audience Question — What would you do to make the Supervisors more accountable and have them report more content than is currently in the minutes?

Grant — Believes the Supervisors should be accountable and would like to see live-streaming of meetings. But prefers residents attend meetings so they can make comments. He will set up office hours to hear resident thoughts.

Loree — Believes they are accountable, and minutes of Supervisor meetings are available the next day after meetings.

Michele — Likes live-streaming of meetings, and she would set up office hours. Minutes are not up to date, and meeting schedules need to be conducive for working people’s schedules. Will set up regular office hours to hear resident thoughts.

Patti — Minutes could be expanded to include spending on road paving and other expenses. Meetings could have a staggered time schedule to increase resident input.

Audience Question — The Monroe County 20/30 Plan has no calls for action, and predictions are wrong. Plan includes desire for clean businesses and open space. What do you propose be done?

Michele — Wants to consider attracting disaster recovery and data storage businesses as they require little space and offer high-paying jobs. Would work with the PM Economic Development Corp, the County and Federal Governments.

Grant — Supervisors are in contact with a company which markets vacant land. Hope this works. Tough area to hire.

Patti — Likes “cloud" businesses, but they require huge buildings. Doesn’t think we could complete for cloud businesses. Need more input from residents regarding the next generation of new businesses.

Loree — Focus on 3-4 areas and then implement a community plan. Otherwise energy is fragmented, and results are undermined.

Michele — A strategic plan needs not just goals but measurable objectives -- — people, equipment, and time-lines.

Audience Question — Where will revenue be raised to pay for these plans?

Michele — Grants are available for economic development, and Michele is in contact with Senator Toomey. Will work with County officials and identify other sources of funding.

Loree — Very time-consuming to write grants. Need to hire grant-writing expert(s) to focus and expedite progress.

Grant — Hire the best professional grant-writer. Otherwise will waste time.

Patti — Has written a successful several hundred thousand dollar grant for Open Space. It took considerable time, but we should seek more grants.

Audience Question — Is Barrett financially OK?

Patti - Hasn’t seen the latest numbers as Patti is not currently a Supervisor.

Loree — Working hard to make money count. It’s not getting better.

Michele — The working population has declined by 200 in 5 years which means lower tax revenue.

Grant — Budget is in good shape. Equipment is mostly paid for, bills can be paid, and there is no borrowing. Need to stretch budget to improve infrastructure.

Audience Question — Where are we with property tax assessment revaluations, and how will they affect Barrett?

Grant — There will be increases and decreases with a possible small net increase for Barrett.

Patti — The County is behind in their reassessments, and it could be 2020 before the County will be completed.

Summaries

Grant — Am approachable, hard-working and don’t give up. Willing to learn, want your input. Will work very hard for you.

Loree — Wants residents to come to meetings, give their input, submit issues for the agenda, and hope you’ll consider all the past work and accomplishments of the Supervisors.

Michele — Management, team spirit, and marketing skills will help increase our tax base. Niece lives here and wants Barrett culture to flourish as a rural, quaint, small-town community. Works 16-18 hour days, will have office hours and expand web-site. Won an award for previous web-site.

Patti — A township volunteer, retired teacher and past Supervisor. Has worked to improve Barrett for a long time and has increased marketing of Barrett’s business information and beauty.

These notes are meant to help residents who could not attend the meeting and are not meant to be a complete transcript of the discussion which lasted 1 1/2 hours. We try to be as faithful to all comments as possible.

We thank all the impressive candidates for their dedication and our supportive moderator and community center! Election day is November 7th, a week from Tuesday, and hope you enjoy your Autumn in Barrett! Please email us if you would like to be deleted from this email.

Respectfully,
Ethel and Tom Huff

1 comment

  • Comment Link Ann Mitchell Saturday, 04 November 2017 18:24 posted by Ann Mitchell

    Thank you for sharing the minutes of this important forum. Greatly helps getting ready for election day. Hope everyone is able to get out and vote.

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