Caroline town supervisor candidates talk policy

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Mark Witmer, Incumbent, Democrat, Caroline

TW: Why are you running for Caroline town supervisor?

MW: I’m running for supervisor to maintain the wonderful qualities of Caroline and seek opportunities to support our community. The issue that drew me in was fracking after I learned that it posed serious threats to our clean waters, the fabric of our rural lifestyles, and to the welfare of the planet. I knocked on doors with fellow activists and the town ultimately passed a local law banning gas development. I was inspired by the active engagement of the town government with the community. I first became involved in several town volunteer committees, then was elected to the board in 2014 and as supervisor in 2016. I enjoy the collaborative nature of town work. I want to build on the important strides we have made.

TW: How would you distinguish yourself from your opponent?

MW: I believe government has a critical role to play in protecting the welfare of the town and its residents. Elected officials must address the community’s needs by inviting public input and maintaining strong relationships with fellow public servants at all levels of government. I am committed to continuing the sustained efforts in Caroline to move us to a low-carbon energy future. This work is strongly supported by both New York state and Tompkins County. I have been inspired by the collective vision and determination of various levels of government to address what is clearly the most serious threat of our time, climate change. One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is working together with colleagues at all levels of government to address community needs.

TW: What would you describe as your strengths and weaknesses as a public servant?

MW: Strengths: I like people, and this is a people-centered job. I’m in every day and welcome visitors. This has been a truly rewarding aspect of the job. I am constantly evaluating how to do things better. I embrace honesty, openness, and I am receptive to new ideas. I have learned so much about local government and people. I work to make sure every decision I make is principled and in the best interests of the town and its residents. I am determined. Weaknesses: I am determined.

TW: If elected, what are your top three priorities as supervisor?

MW: A top priority right now is upgrading town facilities, both the Highway Garage and Historic Town Hall. We just completed installation of a super-efficient geothermal heating and cooling system at the town hall and will be moving forward to shrink its energy needs by “envelope” improvements. This will greatly reduce energy and maintenance costs to the town. We will be completing a bioretention swale next year that will control stormwater and enhance efficiency of the geothermal system. And we will be expanding parking for both Park-N-Ride and town hall patrons. We are moving forward on plans for a new highway facility. We’ve built reserve funds over the past decade to support both of these projects.

My second priority is to explore options to guide projected growth in Caroline. Our residents value the rural beauty of Caroline and in order to maintain that we will need to identify measures to support rural livelihoods and open spaces. I will facilitate completion of the Comprehensive Plan Update and examine ways to sustain local agriculture. We have supported successful farmland and conservation easements during my tenure.

A third priority is to develop plans to guide responsible siting and sizing of communications and energy infrastructure, such as telecommunications towers, solar projects and wind generators. These measures are needed to support expansion in both realms.

TW: What would you like potential voters to know about you?

MW: My door is always open, and I want to hear from you. I want to keep Caroline such a wonderful place to live by working collectively to build a future that we can all embrace. I like to fish, golf and bird-watch.

TW: What’s your vision of affordable housing development in Caroline?

MW: Providing affordable housing is a key concern and is clearly articulated in the town’s Comprehensive Plan. I would like to see livable, walkable communities that are well served by public transportation. We recently revised the town’s Subdivision and Site Plan Review Laws with a focus on energy and water conservation to support these goals. I will make every effort to expand on the work of the town’s energy committee to help folks take advantage of renewable energy options like residential solar panels and geothermal and air-source heat pumps that can significantly lower operating expenses of a home, especially for those currently relying on propane or fuel oil.

TW: What is your plan or perspective on renewable energy in Caroline?

MW: I am committed to providing opportunities for all of our residents and businesses to obtain low-cost renewable energy. Six years ago, Energy Independent Caroline instituted Solarize Tompkins Southeast, the first community Solarize campaign in Tompkins County. That effort catalyzed home solar adoption in our region and has now grown to the HeatSmart Program to promote super-efficient geothermal and air-source heat pumps. We are currently implementing our Brighten Up Caroline, our Clean Energy Communities grant to transition town streetlights and homes to energy efficient LED lighting and provide residents guidance on how they can lower their home energy costs and improve comfort. My vision is to continue to support energy conservation and renewables with creative solutions.

TW: How do you plan to increase broadband access?

MW: We have increased broadband access in Caroline, but there is more to do. We provided funding to support extension of 16.8 miles of high-speed internet to 126 homes. We will be seeking ways to extend high speed broadband coverage to areas of the town that remain underserved. Broadband is an absolute necessity today for both residents and businesses.

Pete Hoyt, Republican, Independent

TW: Why are you running for Caroline town supervisor?

PH: I have been displeased with the way the town has been run over the past few years and, being newly retired, am now in a position to try to correct what I see as past mistakes and bad practices. I wish to return town government to the people through increased transparency in board actions; more citizen access to the board during formal meetings, ensuring that public servants actually serve the people; and cooperating with the town clerk and highway superintendent for the good of the Town of Caroline.

TW: How would you distinguish yourself from your opponent?

PH: I respect and support the independence of my fellow elected officials and would never attempt to undermine any of them. In contrast, my opponent recently attempted to enact local laws to make the positions of two of his elected colleagues appointed positions. I am willing to publicly engage in an open dialogue on any topic, controversial or not. My opponent has, more times than not, shut down any attempt to publicly engage in dialogue with residents in open meeting even when all we really wanted was an answer to a question or the reasoning behind any particular action.

TW: What would you describe as your strengths and weaknesses as a public servant?

PH: My strengths are common sense, empathy, my work ethic, my organizational skills and my honesty. I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong and take responsibility. My biggest weakness, which I am constantly working on, is impatience. I have rightly been accused in the past of being both overly negative and a poor listener. I think I have made considerable strides in both of these areas.

TW: If elected, what are your top three priorities as supervisor?

PH: With the cooperation and support of my fellow board members, I would reorganize town board meetings with respect to scheduling, agenda and public input; replace the building code officer; and reorganize access to and responsibility for the town’s computer systems and web server, a task I would be able to perform personally.

TW: What would you like potential voters to know about you?

PH: I have a website, www.unifycaroline.com, with my personal background and a dozen or so blog postings discussing some of my opinions and ideas on a variety of issues affecting Caroline. I encourage everyone to look at it. I am open to discussion and debate on any topic affecting the Town of Caroline.

TW: What’s your vision of affordable housing development in Caroline?

PH: Caroline does not have zoning. This enables people with less money to explore many housing possibilities such as manufactured housing on smaller lots or developments like Boiceville Cottages, and there is always the possibility of large developments.

TW: What is your plan or perspective on renewable energy in Caroline?

PH: I recognize that the board has a fiduciary obligation to spend taxpayers’ dollars responsibly. Of course I will investigate any and all clean energy options and weigh the costs and benefits of them. These are decisions I will be making about spending other people’s money, not my own, and I will therefore protect it even more than my own money.

TW: How do you plan to increase broadband access?

PH: I plan to stay on top of the providers who have been awarded the responsibility of providing high speed internet access to areas of the town and have not followed through. I also plan to investigate possible coverage of any areas left not awarded.

Answers have only minor edits for grammar but are otherwise the words of the candidates from emails. Early voting is now through Nov. 3 at Town of Ithaca Town Hall, 215 N Tioga St., Ithaca, and Crash Fire Rescue (C.F.R.), 72 Brown Rd., Ithaca. Sample ballots, early voting and additional information can be found at the Board of Elections website at tompkinscounty.gov/boe

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