BUSTI - On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Busti residents will select one of two candidates for a council position on the Town Board.
The candidates are Bill Burk, who is running on the Democratic Party line, and Todd Hanson, who is running on the Republican Party line. Burk is a member and vice president of the Southwestern Central School District Board of Education. Hanson is an incumbent member of the Busti Town Board. He was appointed in April to the council position when it was vacated by Jesse Robbins, who was elected town supervisor.
Voting polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day. The Post-Journal asked each candidate three questions and below are their responses.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the town of Busti and how would you handle the issue as a councilman?
Burk: The biggest challenge facing Busti will be handling new realities in the budget. Rising costs, especially obligations to retirement funds, workman's compensation and current contracts have forced the current board to suggest a 12 percent tax increase.
That is a real burden on the town. I have been part of extremely difficult budget processes as a member of the Southwestern school board. Through extensive planning, preparation, foresight and belt-tightening, we were able to keep a brutally challenging budget situation in check. In this climate budgeting should be a year-round effort, with some portion being discussed at most meetings to maintain awareness of its importance. I would scrutinize expenditures thoroughly (i.e. the recent purchase of an expensive policy-coding service recently was a questionable decision) and help prepare for inevitable future mandates and budget issues. I also believe it is vital that we protect the town tax base, and this includes detailed scrutiny of any PILOT programs given to non-manufacturing development. Retail corporations should pay their fair share of taxes to do business in Busti Township. I plan to bring this fiscally responsible attitude to the Busti Board to help keep taxes as low as possible.
Hanson: The two things that concern me the most are the rising cost of government and the decline in our population. As far as the cost of government, I am not only concerned about the amount that is spent, but the alarming rate of the increases due to many items that are out of our local control and some that we do control. Being part of the town budget process this year has been very enlightening and there are some hard decisions that are being made, and there will be more to come in the next few years. Residents cannot afford double-digit increases in the tax rate year after year. We need to find workable solutions to lower costs and share more services with other government entities. There needs to be a balance between spending and adequate services so that the long-term goals of the town are sustainable and allow us to attract new residents and businesses. As a member of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, I have seen firsthand the population data for the town and the village of Lakewood. There has been an overall decrease of more than 5 percent in the last 10 years, which is more than 400 people. So the trend of higher costs and less people every year means that everyone will need to pay more and more each year until we come to our own fiscal cliff. There needs to be a long-term plan to encourage people of all generations and families to move into Busti and be involved in our community. I believe we have a lot to offer and that it will happen if we can all work together towards some common goals.
Q: Why do you want to be a town councilman?
Burk: I have three basic positions that I believe are important to the town of Busti.
1. Fiscal responsibility: The currently proposed 12 percent tax hike is outrageous - there is a reason the state put a 2 percent cap on property taxes. It was so taxing entities like towns would not raise taxes like this. I understand workman's compensation and retirement obligations have increased, but these burdens should have been foreseen and addressed a long time ago. The five budgets I helped work on for the Southwestern school board had consecutive tax levies of a decrease of 1.87 percent - yes, we actually lowered the tax levy, 0 percent, 2.32 percent, 0 percent and 1.74 percent. I want to bring the experience and knowledge developed in those budget sessions to the town.
2. Fair representation: Right now the town board consists of five voting members - four live outside the village of Lakewood. It is my understanding that the board has always sought to be representative of its voting constituents and have at least two members who paid village taxes. The township (hamlet) of Busti has 54.78 percent of the taxable land parcels in Busti proper, Lakewood has 55.13 percent of the total assessed land value. There should be equal representation. I will seek to fairly represent my township (Busti) and village (Lakewood). I've proven this ability as a Southwestern school board member, and responsible, concerned citizen of both the town and village.
3. Open and transparent government: The board is currently (and has been for some time) all Republican. While I do not believe that political party affiliation influences decisions at the town level, I know this board uses the political party majority to avoid Open Meetings Laws. They have in the past gone into executive sessions (they call them caucuses because they are all in the same party) to deliberate decisions and policy, essentially closing town government to their constituents. It is a legal procedure, but I do not believe it is good practice for open and transparent government.
Hanson: I have always tried to be an optimist and, with that in mind, I believe I can make a difference in our community and town government. My agenda is simple. I would like to see Busti be an example for the rest of the country, an example of how municipalities can use creative and out-of-the-box ideas to solve issues and create a place that people want to invest in and call home. An example of taking on hard issues and changing the way we do business to keep our town fiscally sound for years to come. An example of working together and putting people first and politics last to get things done. And lastly, an example of how to constantly look ahead so that we can continue to meet the challenges of what lies ahead and so that we leave our community a better place than we found it. I would appreciate the opportunity to make these goals a reality.
Q: Why should people vote for you to be a town councilman?
Burk: I grew up here and have a deep passion for this area. I believe this town has the environmental, business and intellectual resources to be a great place to live, and the best place to raise a family. Efficient and responsible budgeting, sharing services with adjoining municipalities and creative, collaborative legislation are the keys to making Busti Township an affordable, progressive and attractive place for families and businesses. I have the experience to manage difficult budget cycles, develop coherent policy, protect town resources and to represent both village and town constituents.
Hanson: I believe that my background and experience in many varied areas will help me provide useful input and ideas for our town government. In my current career of 23 years, I have valuable experience in management, budgets, planning and working with customers and other professionals to plan, build and complete projects. In the private sector, there is a greater understanding and emphasis on planning ahead and making wise choices with finances to be self sustaining, economical and timely. As a member of my church I have been a trustee, head of the board and helped to plan and complete multiple building projects. These positions also allowed me to gain further insight into another area of finances and working as a team. As both a cadet and senior member of the Civil Air Patrol (auxiliary of the USAF) for eight years, I have gained experience in leadership, working with the youth and the value of community volunteerism - along with a deepened respect for our military. In other organizations like Upwards Basketball, I have learned, as a coach, a new understanding for working across church and denominational boundaries to put people first and prioritizing the ultimate goal over self agendas. I believe my faith, family values, background, optimism and integrity make me the right choice to fill the town council position to grow our community in a positive direction.