Albion candidates share ideas for village during forum
Some candidates see dissolving police force with county takeover as way to make village more sustainable for taxpayers
ALBION – Seven candidates for three open positions on the Albion Village Board shared their ideas for moving the village forward during a two-hour candidate forum on Thursday evening.
Michael Bonafede, the forum moderator, said the village is fortunate to have seven qualified candidates run for the March 20 election.
“These aren’t career politicians,” Bonafede said at the forum, which was held in the elementary school cafeteria. “They’re like us. They’re not doing it for the money. It is easy to run down local politicians. But these are our friends and neighbors.”
The Republican team – Eileen Banker for mayor and Gary Katsanis and Stan Farone for trustee – includes two current trustees, Banker and Farone. Current Mayor Dean London isn’t seeking re-election. The Republican trio said Albion is on the right track by securing grants for upgrades at Bullard Park, the sewer plant, and other village projects.
Bullard, once the upgrades are done, will make Albion more appealing for young families, Banker said. Bullard will get a new spray park and other improvements with a state grant covering most of the cost.
The GOP candidates said the village has partnered with local organizations for festivals and community events. The village has also established partnerships with nearby municipalities where Albion provides personnel while running the Holley Police Department, and Holley and Elba sewer plants.
Katsanis, a former village trustee, said the shared services are a way for Albion to maintain services while staying under the 2 percent tax cap.
Farone and Banker both praised the village employees and department heads for their work in Albion and with the partnering municipalities in the shared service programs.
The village also created a local development corporation and secured a $75,000 grant to tackle zombie houses, vacant sites that have been foreclosed by banks.
Banker said grant writing efforts are paying off with $668,000 secured in the past three years. The village just was notified it was approved for a state grant for $300,000 for a new vacuum truck.
The Republicans said they were strongly in favor of keeping the village police force. A study last year from the Center for Governmental Research looked at alternatives for policing in Orleans County. One alternative would be dissolving the village police departments and having the County Sheriff’s Department take over the service in the villages. That would cut the village taxes in Albion by approximately $6 to $8 per $1,000 of assessed, while increasing the tax rate in the county by $1.50 to $2, according to the study.
The Democratic-endorsed candidates – Joyce Riley for mayor, and Sandra Walter and Jason Dragon for trustee – said they would consider dissolving the police department, to bring down villages taxes to make the community more affordable for residents. They want assurances the Sheriff’s Department and State Police would fill the void if there wasn’t an Albion police force. (The police department couldn’t be dissolved unless it was approved by village residents in a referendum.)
“We realize our police department consumes a lot of our money, and our community is satisfied with the way they are doing the current policing, and I am here to say to you, ‘Please take another look,’” Riley said. “Because as we have a decreasing tax base we are not going to be able to afford this over the long term. We need an active government that is actually going to look at to see if we can deliver services in a different way.”
Albion currently keeps a minimum of two officers on duty at all times, including overnight shifts when there aren’t too many calls. The study from CGR said Albion could have one officer on overnight and that would save taxpayers about $100,000.
Riley would like to try going to one officer overnight. Banker, Farone and Katsanis all said they want to keep two officers on at night for officer and community safety. Farone said officers respond to drug overdoses and provide Narcan to help bring someone out of an overdose.
“They are the first responders,” Farone said.
The current local taxing system is grossly unfair to village residents, Dragon said. The village residents pay a village tax rate of $17.76 per $1,000 of assessed property. Moving just outside the village lines can save the average homeowner more than $1,000 in taxes.
Dragon said the tax burden in the village discourages investment and chases out residents and businesses.
“The tax base in the village is stagnant,” Dragon said. “Outside the village it isn’t. People view the village as too expensive.”
Walter also said the current taxing structure is punishing village residents, leading to deterioration in the community.
She said the Village Board needs to look at all village services, including police, and decide what the community can afford and if a different municipality can provide the service.
“Everyone does love the police force,” she said. “It’s great to have such an outstanding police force. But we need to look down the road not only at them but everything to make sure we are sustainable.”
Kevin Doherty is running under the independent “Spark Some Action” party. He operates a communications maintenance business. He has been president of the board of trustees for the Hoag Library the past seven years when the organization built a new library and secured more than $1.3 million in donations from the community for the project.
Doherty said the village needs to adopt a Wegmans mentality where the focus is on customer service and being the best village it can possibly be.
“It’s clear from the past few years that whatever we’re doing isn’t working,” he said during the forum that was attended by about 60 people.
Doherty worries the village will continue to lose people and be stagnant with the same approach to the village government.
“The people running this year and the folks who sat in the chairs for the Village Board are good people with good hearts but pulling together for a common goal just hasn’t been accomplished,” he said. “The cure for Albion is more people and more accessible residential property.”
A village government with a focus on customer service will change the perception many have that Albion is in decline.
“We need to have people who want stores, who want restaurants, who want shops and happy people draw the attention of potential manufacturers,” Doherty said.
Banker works as the chief of staff for Assemblyman Steve Hawley. She also is on the board of directors for Community Action of Orleans & Genesee, and on the advisory council for Genesee Community College. She also has been a member of Albion Fire Department Auxiliary since 1979.
“The reason why I’m running for mayor is I think it’s important to be involved in your community,” Banker said. “Being on the board for the last two terms (eight years) has enlightened me to the struggles municipalities face. Our current board is not divided in any way. We are united with the same philosophy of what can we do best for the village and its residents.”
Farone, a Kodak retiree, is a founding member of the Central Orleans Volunteer Ambulance. He helped start the Energize Albion group, which has planned several events in Albion. He is along-time volunteer with the Fire Department. He also works part-time for the Mental Health Association of Orleans & Genesee Counties as a project manager, based out of the Albion drop-in center at the Arnold Gregory Office Complex.
He surged residents to volunteer in the community and attend village meetings. “We have to make this village grow and we can’t do it with the help of everybody,” he said.
Katsanis is retired after working in medical data analysis for Strong and then Blue Cross. He managed a staff that stretched from Buffalo to Utica. He is a member of the Albion Lions Club, the Albion Merchants Association and was active with the Albion Main Street Alliance.
“I have the time, I have the skills and I have the willingness to work,” Katsanis said. “I support our community and I believe in our community.”
Riley is a former member of the Albion Board of Education. She worked as a registered nurse and later supervised an ambulatory surgical unit in Washington, D.C., overseeing 200 employees. When she retired, she moved back to Albion in 2015.
“If you like what we currently have, I’m not for you,” she said. “I have the experience. I have the know-how and I have the tenacity.”
Walter retired about two years ago as a claims processor for CRFS in Albion. Before that she was a supervisor in collections for Dime Bank and North American Mortgage in Albion.
“Many of you care about our community,” she said. “The future of this village is up to you.”
Dragon works as a software engineer/consultant. He also manages the website for the Orleans County Democrats. Dragon grew up in Albion, moved away and returned. Despite its challenges, Albion remains an attractive place to live, Dragon said.
“We have too many uncontested elections in this county,” Dragon said. “People deserve a choice come election time.”
Doherty, in addition to leading the Hoag Library and running his communications maintenance company, was a long-time 4-H leader and Fair Board volunteer, as well as a member of the Albion Board of Education and his church’s vestry.
“The Village of Albion needs a mayor who is a leader,” Doherty said. “I have a proven and documented record of team play, team building and team leadership which are just what the Village of Albion needs right now.”
To see a video of the forum on YouTube, click here.