The Democratic and Republican challengers seeking to be elected to represent the Town of Southeast in the Putnam County Legislature and the New York State Assembly answered question posed by audience members at a forum hosted by the Concerned Residents of Southeast last Tuesday, Oct. 9.
Democrat Paul Morini and Republican Joseph Castellano, who are seeking to be elected to represent Putnam County Legislative District No. 7, were the pair of opponents to first answer questions.
In his opening remarks, Morini said his family had a history of holding public office and he looked forward to serving as a legislator, if elected.
“I am at a time in my life when I think I can make a significant contribution to the community,” Morini said, noting that he was an electrical engineer with experience working for a large telecommunications company, owning a small business and now, working at a renewable energy start-up.
“I think it’s important we try to keep costs in line with the standard of living,” he said. “That is my main emphasis, keep costs down and keep Putnam a great place to live.”
Castellano said he would bring his many years of experience working in the Westchester County Clerk’s office in the legal department to the legislature, if elected.
“I am a believer that those of us in government need to invent new ways to conduct the business of government in order to save money and provide the quality of services that Putnam County deserves,” Castellano said.
A resident asked what could be done to promote tourism on the eastern side of the county and if they believed a hotel would help this effort.
Castellano said that he believed with the train station in Brewster, paired with the bike path, that a hotel would allow day trippers to stay overnight, leading to them spending more money at local restaurants and shops.
Morini said that having a hotel in the eastern portion of the county would be an asset. In noting that three were currently in the proposal phase, Morini said that in addition to planning on the town level, he would like to see the county involved in a master plan to create a vision for the county as a whole.
In closing, Castellano said he and his family loved living in Putnam County and he looked forward to the opportunity to serve.
“Whatever I jump into, I’m into 100 percent. I look forward to this opportunity,” Castellano said. “I work hard at a regular job every day. I am a true believer that government officials need to be accountable for what they do.”
Morini said he expected to get more questions regarding cost-cutting and would use his time to address that issue.
Morini said he served on the county’s energy commission for three years and was disappointed none of the recommended changes presented by the commission were carried forward on how to save money on operational costs.
“As a legislator, I could act on that immediately,” he said.
He suggested that the capped landfills in the county could be outfitted with solar panels, as means to generate low-cost energy for municipalities.
The final pair of opponents to both answer questions from the audience were incumbent Republican Steve Katz and Democrat Andrew Falk, who are seeking to be elected to represent the 94th State Assembly District.
Katz used his opening remarks, in part, to address a criticism from his opponent that Katz had voted against legislation regarding fair pay in the workplace and another bill to prevent those with an order of protection against them from owning guns. Katz said there were laws already on the books to address these matters.
“We do not need to vote the same bill multiple times,” Katz said, noting the high cost of filing a new bill.
Falk said that if he was elected his main focus would be on creating jobs.
“We need to get New York working again…every new job is a stimulus package…when the middle class is successful, we are all successful,” Falk said.
One man asked what could be done to provide senior citizens with jobs.
Falk said in a tough economy, seniors citizens were often the first to be laid off and the last to be rehired, if ever.
“If the economy grows, it needs to grow for everyone,” Falk said.
He said many seniors live on fixed incomes and therefore especially feel the brunt of rising property taxes – another reason why unfunded mandate relief was needed.
“I think if Albany has a good idea, Albany needs to fund it,” Falk said.
Katz said he was partnering with Democratic Assemblywoman Sandy Galef on a plan that would change how property taxes were calculated, from being based on the assessed value of a property to an income-based model.
“Senior citizens are oppressed by property taxes,” Katz said.
Another resident asked the two candidates to identify an unfunded mandate that should either be fully funded or repealed.
Katz said that New York State spends $54 billion a year on Medicaid.
“That is more than Texas, California and Florida combined,” he said.
The cost of Medicaid is funded with the federal government paying half and the state paying the other half. Katz said that New York is the only state that requires counties to fund half of the amount of the state contribution.
“It’s absolutely destroying us,” Katz said.
Falk said that recently the state applied for a federal education grant that required local school districts to implement new programs and regulations. Citing a particular school district, he said the cost of coming into compliance was $2 million, but the federal aid distributed by the state to that district only amounted to $50,000.
He also noted a recent effort by Albany to go paperless, which led to local school districts having to take on the cost of printing out test booklets.
“If New York State thinks it’s a good idea, they should pay for it,” Falk said.
Both candidates were asked what their opinion was regarding the idea of establishing a state-run bank.
“Its’ going to be the destruction of private banks,” Katz said, adding that he believed it would end up being controlled politically and was against the idea.
Falk said he thought it was an idea that needed to be considered, after the recent banking crisis and the stagnation of the flow of capital following that time. He said it could be a means to free up capital so that small businesses could borrow and grow.
“I am a capitalist. Capital runs this country. We need to get the capital back circulating on Main Street,” Falk said.