By Matt Youngfrau
SULLIVAN COUNTY October 24, 2003 District 5 consists of the towns of Callicoon, Fremont, and the western parts of Liberty and Delaware. Republican Majority Leader and Conservative Rodney Gaebel is the current representative. His opponent is businesswoman and Democrat Joan Kern.
Rodney Gaebel is one of the four original legislators. In fact, he is the only one who served on the old Board of Supervisors.
I have been involved with county government for 12 years now, Gaebel reflected. We have accomplished a lot. There is still much to do. I look forward to the challenge. I commit to do what is right for the people.
Gaebel has worked in that time to help the county attract economic development. In fact, he was one of the people who created the Emerald Corporate Park in Rock Hill.
We have to have smart economic development, remarked Gaebel. The County Legislature and myself have been trying hard to attract diverse economic development. The county is heading in a good direction. We are working hard to make sure it is diversified. We will not put all our eggs in one basket. While we want to enhance our county, we want to retain our natural beauty.
To that end, Gaebel has worked and tried to help the agriculture industry. During his tenure, the Legislature has assisted in developing an approved Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan. Many of the suggestions therein have been implemented. He also helped to spearhead the creation of the agri-business revolving loan fund.
We commit to follow through, remarked Gaebel. This will help the community. It will enhance tourism. We will continue to market the natural beauty of the county.
Along those lines, Gaebel has been on the forefront of the countrys tourism efforts.
We want to make sure this area is a destination people want to come to, Gaebel stated. The Visitors Association has done a great job. They have enhanced our tourism.
Recent criticism has been fired at the Republicans because of the caucus system. They have been accused of making decisions behind closed doors and keeping the public out of the decision process. As majority leader, Gaebel refuted those claims.
We have invited any person or entity with concerns to come in and share information, Gaebel said. We want county-wide involvement.
Things have been done under the same guidelines for all my years here in the Legislature, Gaebel continued. Our public meetings are open. We give proper notice. The caucus is needed to share information with your colleagues. We are not doing anything different than what the Democratic majority have done over the prior seven years. It is amazing that, to them, the process no longer works, because they do not have the majority.
You cannot get any more open than I am, Gaebel went on. I put in 40 hours a week here talking to staff, the county manager, and taking calls. I work on the concerns of my district and those county wide.
Another decision that came under fire last year was raising the sales tax.
We had a choice last year, Gaebel stated. We could either raise the sales or the property tax. I chose the sales tax because that would spread the burden. With sales tax, it is a small amount to pay throughout the year. For a property owner, it is a large increase they would have to pay in a lump sum. It was a very tough decision.
This year, County Manager Dan Briggs has suggested a 5 percent property tax increase and some county layoffs.
It has been a very tough budget year, Gaebel reflected. The impacts are mostly due to Medicaid increases passed down from the state. To a lesser degree, health benefits have risen as well. We have been lobbying the state and federal governments for a number of years to change things. We are only one of two states in the country that has counties pay for Medicaid.
We want to minimize the impacts, Gaebel continued. We have until December 20 to adopt the budget. We will figure out what services to cut or how to generate revenues to offset rising costs.
Our major issue facing the county is the possibility of casino gaming.
I supported the concept, commented Gaebel. One purposed, single casino site would have the least impact. It would be contained and controlled. September 11 forced the states hand. There was an interest to create revenue. One casino became two or three. It could even become six or more.
To move forward, it has to be done right, Gaebel continued. we have to mitigate the impacts. If those things are not in place to protect us, then we do not need them. We have to focus on the positive effects.
Gaebel has been the chair of the Department of Public Works (DPW) Committee. In that role, he has had to deal with one of the countys most controversial issues: the Sullivan County Landfill.
It is an emotional issue, Gaebel said. We inherited it from the Board of Supervisors. We are in a precarious position. there is not one legislator here that wants to put one more piece of trash there than we have to.
We have to put a plan together that is responsible, Gaebel continued. How do we handle the loss of revenue? The economy is picking up. We are rounding the corner. We have a brighter future. But it has been a struggle. There are no easy answers.
Gaebel and his wife Bonnie live in Youngsville. They have three children and five grandchildren.
Joan Kern has a long background in community involvement and activism on Long Island. She moved up to the county and opened a bed and breakfast. While here, she noticed some familiar things that concerned her. I am afraid of the changes coming to Sullivan County, Kern commented. Economic development and environmental preservation have to keep pace. The county is not doing preservation. We have to look at how other states, like Vermont and Pennsylvania, have handled change. The farmers here say New York is a joke. There is no money for the farmer.
Kern has suggested expanding the Empire Zone. She would like to see those benefits go to farmers and bed and breakfast owners.
We need growth, remarked Kern. It needs to be monitored. It scared me when I heard there may be nine casinos. we have to preserve the land. We cannot become the suburb of the casinos.
Kern offered her views on gaming.
There should have been a referendum, she said. I dont object to the Video Lottery Terminals. That will create decentpaying jobs in Sullivan County.
After the casinos are in place, the state takes a bigger bite, Kern continued. It is a tough thing. Part of the county needs it, part doesnt. It is like the dump. There has to be a reasonable solution.
That led Kern to discussing the landfill.
We need to follow the Golden Rule, stated Kern. We have to help the people of Monticello. It is a disgrace. It makes people sick. If you can smell it, it is harming you. It is dangerous.
We have to have studies, Kern continued. We should not have importation. We should talk about moving the landfill. It is unfortunate.
Along those lines, Kern wants to see some changes in the tax system.
We are only one of two states that counties have to pay for Medicaid, Kern said. I hate that property taxes fund education. It is unconstitutional. It is inequitable. It is not based on the ability to pay. Because of it, some people have to move away. They make choices between paying for medication, food, or taxes.
On long Island, Kern created the Community Planning Council. When she moved to North Branch, she brought the organization with her.
We petitioned for help on taxes, Kern stated. I helped with the creation of the STAR Program. It was not what we wanted. There has to be a responsible way to take care of the money. Young couples and seniors cannot afford it.
Like her fellow democratic candidates, Kern believes in open government.
Ive been an activist most of my life, she said. We need to bring the Legislature to the people. We cannot sit back. We have to have open government and treat people with respect. It is important for the people. I feel that it is our job to serve them.
Kern is also careful when it comes to planning and growth.
We need to prevent tragedy, remarked Kern. I have seen it happen everywhere else. People here do not know what it is like. We have to be careful. We have to preserve the beauty. We have to preserve what is important.
Tourism is our number one business, Kern continued. Sullivan County feels good. I thank God every day that I am here. We have to lure business here that will compliment the area. I know we can.
Kern summed things up this way: I am scared of the future of the area, Kern concluded. I think it is better that I was not born in this area I bring experience and knowledge. There is such beauty here, we are very lucky. We can have balance. Lets do it.