Board candidates discuss Chester's greatest challenges

| 30 Oct 2014 | 10:21

Democrat Stephen Diffley is challenging Chester town board member Linda Ranni, a Republican, for a seat on the board on Election Day, Nov. 4. The Chronicle has asked the candidates to identify what they believe are the three biggest challenges facing Chester today, and explain how they would deal with them. (For the supervisor candidates' answers to these questions, please see page 8.)

Linda Ranni: Budget, town center, zoning

I am Linda Ranni, and I am running for the position on the town council in the Town of Chester.

In order to make good decisions for Chester, I believe you must be a true and active member of the community, and I am confident to say I am. I have spent many years being involved in different aspects of the town. I have become aware of the needs of the town throughout my time as, a resident, Zoning Board of Appeals chairwoman, county and town committee member, and, currently, town councilwoman. All decisions I have made for the town were never taken lightly, and I pride myself by saying I will continue to make the best decisions I can for the better of the community.

I was asked to respond to what the three most pressing issues of the town are. I believe that the town board works efficiently and does diffuse all pressing matters in a timely fashion, so there is nothing pressing at this time. But several issues that are currently being addressed are the following:

The first issue, and also a very important issue, would be the town budget. We are currently working on the 2015 budget for the town. That is keeping taxes below the tax cap, which entails looking deep into the costs and spending of the town. The town board has been able to keep the taxes below the tax cap, with great direction and guidance from our town supervisor Alex Jamieson. Once again, next year's budget will be below the tax cap.

The second issue that should be addressed, is the construction of a possible senior center and recreation center. Both the seniors and the youth are a growing population within our town and their needs should be addressed. I do not believe that there should not be a waiting list for residents to become members of the senior center. There should be a place where the youth can participate in activities.

There is a need for a senior/youth center and the need for public input of the construction. I would help secure grants available to the town for such projects. Currently there are grants pending for this potential project.

The third issue that the town needs to address is the updating and rewriting of the current town code. Our code has not been rewritten in almost 40 years. The needs of the town has changed over the years. During my time on Orange County Municipal Planning Federation I had been exposed to the growing needs of communities, through both education and interaction of the residents. I was part of the Chester Comprehensive Plan Committee as well, and would like to see the vision of Chester come to realization. This can be done through the adoption of the new proposed Master Plan, with public input and modified as necessary.

I am running run for the position of town council because I wish to give back to my community. I want to make it a place that people could afford to live, where families are not forced to move. I want to do this by continuing to keep taxes down. By creating a town with activities for the seniors, the youth, and all the residents.

I have the education, experience, and desire for this position.

I am asking for your vote on Nov. 4!

Stephen Diffley: Flooding, public participation, ethics

Chester has many pressing issues, as most towns do.

One of the most important, I think, is protecting homeowners and businesses from the devastating effects of flooding. This is not a new issue but it is one that has not been properly addressed. Many families and businesses within the town and village have suffered through floods. The town is now in a position to go a long way to mitigate flooding through the new Master Plan. I feel the Master Plan should, in no uncertain terms, prohibit building in flood plains and on wetlands. This would protect current homeowners and businesses by stopping the filling in of wetlands that provide natural flood protection. It would also protect future homeowners from buying homes that they assume are protected because the town has issued permits and certificates of occupancy for them. I assure you that, if elected, I will not vote to approve a Master Plan that does not include the outright prohibition of building on flood plains and wetlands.

The town can also mitigate flooding by cleaning and maintaining waterways within the town. In fact, I am one of 14 claimants who have filed a lawsuit against the town for refusing to clean and maintain Seely Brook. The result of this was devastating flooding during Hurricane Irene in 2011. The Town took responsibility for the maintenance and promised to complete it but then ignored that responsibility. Contrary to what has been written in the comments section of the online version of the Chronicle, my run for Town Council does not constitute a conflict of interest. The only conflict would be if I were involved in any decision making or voting by the Council regarding this lawsuit, which I will not do.

Another issue within the town is the feeling many residents have of being ignored or alienated by the town government. While knocking on doors over the past several weeks, the most common complaint about the town I heard was some form of “What difference does it make? They do what they want anyway.” We must include the entire town in the governing of the town. I repeatedly heard from the residents of the subdivisions off Lakes Road that, even though they are Chester residents, they feel ignored because their zip code is Monroe. If elected, I will make it a priority to go to every area of the town throughout the year, not just during the weeks before the election, to hear the concerns and complaints of the residents. I would also suggest a sort of travelling town hall meeting where we bring the town board to the people to listen to them.

Another way to foster the atmosphere of inclusion is to promote and not discourage volunteerism. I feel we should find a way to re-establish a volunteer ambulance service with whatever oversight is necessary to ensure that it is operated correctly. I do not believe that the Parks and Recreation Commission was an unnecessary layer of government. I believe it was an excellent way to involve town residents in the decision-making process, and I would not have voted to dissolve it. While the improvements to the parks are great, I don’t think the end justified the means.

This brings me to the last but certainly not least of the three pressing issues facing Chester. I believe that the town ethics code is woefully lacking. Enforcement of the current code would be a good start but therein lays the problem. The code is unenforceable. Neither the Town Board nor the Ethics Board has any power to enforce the code. The town needs an ethics code that is unambiguous and beyond reproach and an Ethics Board with investigative power and the power to enforce the code. I will work to make a new ethics code a reality.

If these issues are important to you, I respectfully ask for your vote on Nov. 4.