Bacalles and Winner arrive at night, but change doesn't boost attendance: Residents' concerns range from wind energy to volunteer firefighters
HORNELL – Their first foray into hosting regional meetings at night produced about the same result as town hall meetings during the day.
State Sen. George Winner, R-Elmira, and Assemblyman James Bacalles, R-Corning, had their first of a series of planned regional community meetings Tuesday night at the Henderson-Smith State Office Building, drawing a crowd of 11, including two members of the media.
“We’re trying a new format at night instead of during the day, so people that haven’t been able to come to the other meetings can come,” Winner said to open the meeting. “We’re not here to make a bunch of fancy speeches, we’re here to hear what’s on your mind.”
Winner said there has been spotty attendance at the town hall-style meetings he’s had in the past, and after hearing complaints from people who could not attend those meetings, he decided to try a new approach.
“I thought we needed to try something different, and we thought we’d try to be more efficient,” he said.
“When you have all these town meetings, as many as we have, you have to do them during the day,” Bacalles added about town meetings the pair had in every town they represent.
Winner also noted they do regional meetings during the state budget process, and many of the state’s senators and assemblymen do not conduct the number of meetings that he and Bacalles do.
“That’s been a large commitment of meetings,” he said.
Hartsville Councilman Jim Perry had a list of suggestions for the pair, including a request for a change in the way plea bargains are handled, a request for implementation of unmanned portable radar systems to police country roads, putting all drink containers in the bottle bill and finding a way to keep electric costs down.
Perry also asked Winner about Article X, the power generation facility siting bill being worked on by the state Senate and Assembly. Perry wanted to know what it meant for towns – like Hartsville – that are going through the process of developing local guidelines for projects that have already been proposed.
“When this started, the state didn’t want anything to do with it,” he said. “Now, the state is getting involved with this Article X, and it should have been done a whole lot sooner.”
Winner explained Article X had been in place until it expired about four years ago, and the state is trying to work out an agreement to put it back into place. He said the purpose of the bill is to allow for an expedited process for siting power facilities that would take into full account of environmental impact and the impact on the municipality for such a facility. As opposed to the previous bill, wind farms would be included once they reach the 30 kilowatt threshold provided for in the new Article X.
Previously, Winner had said Article X would still provide for Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreements, but could limit municipalities from negotiating local impact fees. Tuesday night he indicated differently.
“Article X, in no way, precludes local impacts fees or PILOTs,” Winner said. “There is nothing in the legislation being proposed that would preclude that.”
It may not matter what’s in the bill or not, however.
“Nothing has been agreed to with Article X,” Winner said, adding there is no timeframe from reaching terms on the bill. “In fact, we never even got to discussion of wind power.”
Many of the questions posed to the two lawmakers did not apply to state government, such as queries about whether the Hornell City School District had to offer absentee ballots for a capital project vote, a Vietnam veteran with complaints about his treatment by doctors at the Bath VA center and whether or not children from New York were being sent to Massachusetts for shock treatment.
Former Canisteo Fire Chief Tom Jamison, who is still a member of the volunteer department, praised the duo for working to get a volunteer firefighter tax credit in place.
“Trying to replace volunteer services with paid services would be too much of a burden for small communities,” Winner said in response. “We’re looking at more ways to improve incentives for volunteers without turning them (volunteer departments) into a quasi paid service.
“I think more incentives are needed,” he added.
Hartsville Councilwoman Mattie Parini thanked the pair for obtaining funding for the town’s new highway barn.
“Small towns need help with projects like that, so we’re glad we were able to divert some funds to help your project,” Winner said.
Mary Devlin, who runs the Cat’s Cradle in Hornell, said she’s been a part of downtown merchants meetings trying to find ways to draw people downtown. She asked the legislators for approaches to try to bring people into the city. Bacalles suggested Devlin contact the Steuben County Conference & Visitors Bureau for ideas, and said that office works with travel agents to bring visitors to the county.
By Rob Montana
12 September 2007
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