In Gaines, slate of Democrats and Republicans vie for Town Board

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 November 2015 at 12:00 am

The Republican Party candidates include, from left: Mary Neilans for town councilman, Carol Culhane for town supervisor, and Richard DeCarlo for town councilman.

GAINES – Gaines residents will go to the polls on Tuesday (Nov. 3) and will have choices for the Town Board, with a slate of Democrats squaring off against three Republicans.

That doesn’t happen too often in Orleans County in recent years, where in many towns the Republican candidates run unopposed.

Carol Culhane leads the Republican ticket. She is seeking a third two-year term as town supervisor. Culhane said she has worked to sort out town finances, including correcting some overcharging with water districts and reducing unbilled water by improving the town’s water meters.

She has worked to promote the Ridge Road corridor by pushing for new town signs and working on the project to open Fair Haven Treasures. She manages that site for owners Ray and Linda Burke. It has several artisan vendors.

Culhane has worked as a professional artist the past 26 years. She created the artwork for the new town signs, which include a cobblestone and patriotic theme. Culhane notes Gaines had a role in the War of 1812.

“We wanted to show the history and patriotism of the area,” she said.

Culhane owns Oak Orchard Galleries. She also works on several community projects, and was a liaison to the Santa Claus community when about 250 Santas came to Albion and Gaines for a Santa Claus Convention in April. The Santas helped dedicate an International Peace Garden at Fair Haven.

Culhane and the Town Board last month presented a budget for 2016 that would reduce the town tax rate by 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property.

“The costs are down through conservation, oversight and management,” she said. “We tightened our belt.”

The town also benefitted from a boost in its tax base by $851,000 with most of that credited to the growth at Intergrow Greenhouses.

Photos by Tom Rivers – The Democratic Party in Gaines endorsed three candidates for Town Board, including, from left: Bill Lattin for councilman, Patrick Swiercznski for town supervisor, and Pete Toenniessen for town councilman.

Swiercznski is a familiar name in Gaines. Patrick is following his father Ted Swiercznski in pursuing local politics. Ted Swiercznski was a Gaines and county official, and remains active in the local Democratic Party.

Patrick Swiercznski has worked the past 25 years in local construction with Keeler Construction, the Pike Company, and then with Keeler again since 2004. Swiercznski primarily works as a surveyor for Keeler.

“I work with state, town and county governments on the various public works projects, working to keep them within budgets,” he said.

Keeler and governments often work on tight time constraints to get big projects done by deadline, Swiercznski said.

He would like to see the town be more active in addressing so-called “zombie” houses, which are properties in the midst of an unfinished foreclosure. Often a bank-owned house will be left vacant for years. It’s become an issue locally, state-wide and beyond.

“The ghost properties are abandoned and need to be cleaned up,” Swiercznski said.

He was nominated to run for town supervisor during the Democratic Party caucus.

“People thought enough to nominate me, and I don’t want to let them down,” he said.

The Town Board will have at least two new members in 2016 because incumbents David Kast and Doug Syck aren’t seeking re-election.

The Democrats have backed Bill Lattin and Pete Toenniessen. Lattin served on the board for 30 years from 1979 to 2009, before a two-year term as town supervisor. He retired as county historian last Dec. 31 after 35 years in position. A former school teacher, he also was director of the Cobblestone Museum for 40 years.

“Certainly I have a long-time interest in the Town of Gaines,” Lattin said. “I feel there are some things that need to be addressed.”

Lattin would like to see more attention given to the “zombie homes.” He also wonders if it is prudent for the town to reduce the tax rate by 30 cents.

“I question what the town is scrimping on that a future administration will have to make up for,” he said.

Lattin would also like to continue support for growing the community’s agriculture businesses. He said he is pleased to see the expansions at Intergrow and Lake Ontario Fruit, which runs a packing and distribution site on Route 104.

Pete Toenniessen worked 30 years at Kodak. He has been a school bus driver the past 18 years and has been an active adult volunteer with Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H and the Fair Board.

“A lot of the areas need to be cleaned up in the town,” Toenniessen said.

He said he backs Right-To-Farm laws and wants to see Gaines welcome farming.

“The farmers are our lifeblood,” he said.

The Republican candidates for Town Board include former Town Supervisor Richard DeCarlo and Mary Neilans, a local veterinarian.

DeCarlo was on the Town Board during recent water district expansions. A retired industrial arts teacher from Churchville-Chili, DeCarlo also started and developed Heritage Estates, which has 163 units off Brown Road in the Village of Albion.

DeCarlo said he will be an advocate for taxpayers, particularly with the fire contract with the Village of Albion. The town has budgeted for a 5 percent increase in the contract for 2016.

Neilans lives in a historic cobblestone house on Route 98 that was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. She has been a regular attendee at Town Board meetings the past four years.

“I’m knowledgeable on the issues, and I’m willing to put in the time and effort,” she said.

Neilans and Culhane are both also endorsed by the Conservative Party. Neilans also was a trustee for nine years on Niagara County Community College, dealing with a budget and employees much larger than in Gaines.

Voting will be from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at the Town Hall. Ron Mannella is also on the ballot for highway superintendent. He is unopposed and is running under five party lines: Republican, Democratic, Conservative, Independence and Reform.