by Jay Lawson
All Town of Webb candidates, that will be facing opposition in the November 3rd election, participated in a question and answer forum at VIEW’s Gould Hall on Tuesday, October 27, before an audience of nearly 100.
The event was sponsored by CAP-21 with Nick Rose, the organization’s Executive Director, serving as moderator.
Supervisor candidates were H. Stuart deCamp and Robert Moore.
Council candidates were incumbent James B. Herron Jr., and David Berkstresser, William Brooker, Barbara Green and George Hiltebrant.
CAP-21’s president, Tim Foley, got things kicked off with a welcome to the audience and candidates, and a thank you to VIEW.
The first question was about local transportation services, specifically the Transportation Shuttle that began operating last June.
The candidates were asked what role the town should play in supporting it and how local transportation services could be improved.
Barbara Green said the shuttle seemed lightly used. She attributed that to its newness and people being unfamiliar with its concept.
“I think financially the town supported it greatly without knowing how it was going to be accepted” she said.
She suggested determining the actual need for the service. Better signage might help too, she said.
Bill Brooker said the service could be improved with less ambiguous vehicles.
He said the white buses may not have been readily recognizable as public transportation.
Trolleys that some other communities use are more distinctive in their appearance and conducive to on/off-style ridership, he said.
The service itself is worthwhile, he said.
“We definitely need something for all the elderly citizens who come up here that can’t walk the Old Forge mile, up and back, without some sort of assistance,” Brooker said.
“I’m in agreement with the town helping to pay for it, and the CAA as the local business organization. But I think [the shuttle] needs to be looked at for usage and revamped a little bit,” he said.
Councilman J.B. Herron said the initial support from the Town Board was needed to get the project off the ground, and that the decision was unanimous.
“To continue to support it, I would like to see numbers and [evaluate its progress],” he said.
Herron noted that the buses weren’t as full as they should have been.
“There needs to be research done before it’s funded again. I’m all for it if it’s needed,” he said.
Herron added that he would like to see a private entity operate the system, similar to the way the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society handles train operations for the state. Either that or have the funding come from Main Street businesses, he said.
Dave Berkstresser said many Adirondack tourism communities have shuttle services, and he would like to see it work in the Town of Webb.
“The fact that it was underutilized doesn’t surprise me in its first year,” he said.
Berkstresser said he would like funding to continue until the service has had an adequate chance to take hold.
As a suggestion for improvement, he said charging a small coin amount per ride might sound gimmicky, but that marketing professionals do such things to add value to a product.
“People question something when it’s too cheap or free. If you put a nickel or quarter sign on [the bus], I think you would increase your riders,” he said.
“But, yes, I would like to see it continue,” he said.
George Hiltebrant also noted the shuttle’s underutilization.
“I’m not opposed to it, but I think it needs to be looked into a little more. Maybe we can cut down on the number of buses that there were,” he said.
Hiltebrant said he would also like to see actual ridership numbers.
“I still think the town should go ahead for a least another year, and see if we can’t improve on it. [The service] is necessary,” he said.
Nick Rose said figures for the shuttle’s first season are being compiled for a report to be released soon.
RAILS OR TRAILS
Nick Rose asked whether the candidates preferred using the Adirondack Rail Corridor for rail services or as a multi-use trail.
Robert Moore said he has held the same position on the subject for a long time.
“I am an avid supporter of keeping the rails intact,” he said.
Stuart deCamp also supports the corridor’s train function.
“My position is rails,” he said. “I don’t think Rails & Trails are possible without spending a lot of additional money to do that (building trails alongside the rails).”
George Hiltebrant made it three in a row.
“I think the rails ought to stay in,” he said.
Hiltebrant said no one at the state could tell him who would do the maintenance if the rails were removed for a multi-use trail.
“And until that question can be answered, I say to leave the rails in,” he said.
Berkstresser kept the rail streak going.
“I agree: Rails. Once you remove the rails you’ll never have them back—they’re gone forever,” he said.
Herron said, “I’ve heard both sides, and for now I’m for the rails. I haven’t seen anything that would convince me to pull them out.”
Brooker? “I’m still for rails,” he said.
Brooker said it’s not unusual for seemingly passé things to make a comeback.
“[When that happens, I think] a lot of communities that the rails no longer reach… I think they will be disappointed,” he said.
Barb Green delivered the clean sweep.
“I would say keep the rails in place. I don’t believe in removing infrastructure without a really solid reason,” she said.
“I remember going to Stillwater on a trip in my second term. There were people that were pushing to make the trails more rideable or remove them. And there were also people who were saying they did not want the road or path alongside the rails, because they like the privacy that they have. So, there’s always both sides to it. But I would like to see the rails stay in place,” she said.
The next question was about local Seniors. And Youths.
What more should the town be doing for them?
“The town could do more for seniors,” said Hiltebrant. “The seniors basically need to get out. And they can’t get out if they don’t have some help from the town.”
Hiltebrant said he likes SHARP. “It’s a good program,” he said.
Berkstresser said, “As far as seniors go, we’ve got to continue to press for assisted living.”
He said we need our seniors to be able to stay in their community.
“And, yes, the town has to subsidize and provide,” he said.
Berkstresser complimented Linda Heistman on her work with the SHARP seniors.
“[She’s] doing a wonderful job… And the Community Transportation Service does a great job,” he said.
Councilman Herron acknowledged the Senior Recreation Program work that Council-woman Mary Brophy Moore has done on behalf of the Town Board.
“I think it should be expanded. Still it’s tough for towns to come up with money for programs like this,” he said.
Herron thanks the Community Health and Wellness Fund for helping out with meals for the seniors.
He said that in Webb, a community with such long cold winters, it’s important for seniors to have activities and to get out.
Bill Brooker said that, though seniors and youths have differing concerns, they may be able to combine for somewhat of a solution.
“I believe [seniors and youth] need to be brought together,” he said.
He said that maybe seniors could be brought to McCauley in winter to watch the youths ski. And the youths could meet with them, talk with them, and maybe swap Polar Bear ski stories.
“[Seniors] could also teach the kids the lost arts. Things like knitting, things like crocheting. Our seniors have cooking [skills to share]. Our seniors have so much value, yet our youths stare at their phones so much. They need to put that stuff aside and get together,” Brooker said.
“I believe if we…figure out a way to put people together, it would make the winters go a lot quicker,” he said.
Barb Green said the SHARP program is a great start for seniors and should continue to evolve.
Green said she goes to the library as a book buddy in the Linking Lives program, where she reads to second graders.
She said she would like to see Key Club age students reverse the concert. In the winter, they could go to seniors’ homes and share each others lives and interests. That could provide some companionship and perspective to both age groups, she said.
Robert Moore agreed that the SHARP program has been a great start for the community.
“I think we’re moving in a good direction. The advantages of having a senior program are clearly visible on the faces of the people that participate,” he said.
“There are people that have contributed to this community for their entire lives [or] a good portion of their life. So we have to consider and keep the conversation alive…expand on what we have,” Moore said.
Stuart deCamp said a motivating factor for his return to the Town of Webb, was to care for an aging family member. He knows the difficulties, he said. And many of them are financial.
DeCamp said the Board should consider whether it has a role to play in helping seniors—and those caring for them—navigate the financial hurdles that can be considerable.
DeCamp said that he, too, would like to engage youths with our seniors.
“I would love to get conversations going with different organizations, with the different churches, with different denominations, with the school, to see what we can create…as a community event that would engage our seniors AND our youths, and our population as a whole, to participate in some common goal, some event that would get our youth off their iPhones and off their computers and actually engage,” he said.
DeCamp said a strong network that includes adults and church would help them when having difficulties.
How can the Board work better with the Town of Webb school and the Central Adirondack Association (CAA) and businesses?
Dave Berkstresser said, “You can start by being transparent.”
The Board can also engage these groups and encourage participation, he said.
Councilman Herron said, “The more communication the better,” pointing out that the Board has two members on a liaison committee to the CAA.
As for the school, Herron said there needs to be at least one or two meetings a year between the Town Board and the School Board.
“Communication is key,” he said.
Bill Brooker said the Town Board needs to do a better job of considering those who are affected by the decisions it makes.
He said a decision to raise usage rates that the North Street pavilion effectively killed more than one event.
“If [the Board] had said, ‘Hey, what would an increase of this amount do to your event?’…it would have possibly changed that decision,” he said.
Robert Moore said that what sometimes appear to be factions in the community are ultimately part of a larger whole.
“We may polarize for whatever reason…but ultimately it comes down to: We are all responsible for each other. What’s good for the CAA—good for business—should be good for the whole town. When communication is in place, things get solved,” he said.
Stuart deCamp said he would like to see all Board meetings broadcasted over the internet.
He would also like the school and board to work together to involve students in their town government.
George Hiltebrant said everyone in the community needs to make it their mission to get involved with their government.
He has served in elected positions for 36 years, he said.
“And I can honestly say that very seldom do people come to the meetings,” Hiltebrant said.
“Go to the meetings,” he advised. “You’re not going to learn [what’s happening by] sitting at home. You have to take the time to go, or to go talk to [your representatives]. It always comes down to communication…it’s as simple as that,” he said.
What about implementing a local bed tax?
None of these candidates will be doing that, they said.
Do these candidates support financial assistance by the Town toward the Ambulance Corps’ staffing for Advanced Life Support (ALS)?
Fund it, while monitoring it, said Bill Brooker.
“It’s an unbelievably great step [ensuring this service]. The need is there,” he said.
Barbara Green agreed.
“I absolutely think the town should help support ALS to the best of their ability. We absolutely need that,” she said.
Robert Moore said, “I support it one hundred percent.”
He said times have changed, and the local department is evolving to provide necessary service to residents and visitors at times of critical need.
The pool of volunteers is aging, said Stuart deCamp. “We are extremely fortunate that for all these years we’ve had those volunteers… but the town has to come up with a plan,” he said. DeCamp said he supports the financial town’s involvement.
“[It’s] an immediate and acute need that has arisen,” he said.
George Hiltebrant said that, having reviewed some preliminary documents, there may be some opportunities for savings but, “I think it is absolutely necessary,” he said.
Councilman Herron thanked the local emergency volunteers for their service.
“It’s a huge commitment to do what these members have done. And it’s been too much burden for too long. They need to be subsidized a little bit,” Herron said.
Dave Berkstresser said the new ALS could expand into improved health care locally, and that he would like to see it do so.
“I would like to see it incorporated more as what they call a ‘community paramedicine program,’ so that we’re paying paramedics to work with the hospitals—St. Elizabeth’s up here—to follow up on patients,” he said.
“[They would] go out into the community, go to the seniors and check to make sure they’re complying with their medications. [They would] make sure the people are doing what they were told after they visited the doctor’s office. [They would] follow up on the doctor’s office,” he said.
It’s the wave of the future, according to Berkstresser.
“They call it Mobile Integrated Healthcare, where paramedics and Advanced Life Support people not only sit around waiting for…a call. They also go out and work in the community to improve health care in the community… Hopefully to cut some of that [emergency service] traffic down.”
Election Day is Tuesday, November 3rd.