BALLSTON SPA – With Mayor John P. Romano retiring this spring after 24 years in office amid questions surrounding the village’s finances, the chairman of the citizen Budget Advisory Committee has emerged as the likely next mayor.
Larry Woolbright, a retired Siena College biology professor, plans to seek the Republican nomination for mayor, and has Romano’s support. Democrats don’t have a candidate for mayor, and may not, though they expect to field candidates for two open village trustee seats.
No matter what, there will be major changes coming from the March 19 village election.
Romano and village trustees Robert Cavanaugh and Stuart Hodsoll — all Republicans — have all decided not to seek re-election. Romano and Cavanaugh have been in their positions 24 years, and Hodsoll for 23 years.
“I’ve been in office 28 consecutive years, four as a trustee and 24 as mayor,” Romano said. “I’m 74 years old. I just hope whatever time I have left, I’d like to enjoy it. I’m the survivor of a major heart attack. This was not a sudden decision.”
Romano, who is also chairman of the village Republican caucus, said he will support Woolbright.
“He’s a brilliant, intelligent guy who will bring new ideas to the village,” Romano said.
From its formation last fall until it completed its work earlier this month, Woolbright chaired the citizen Budget Advisory Committee, which convened after a state audit released last October was severely critical of the village’s financial condition and financial recordkeeping. In its final report, the committee recommended specific areas to look at cutting spending, as well as measures to increase financial accountability and accuracy in estimating spending and revenue.
“Somebody really needs to get in there and straighten out the village’s finances, because we really don’t know where they stand,” said Woolbright, noting that the last time the village filed a year-end financial report with the state was 2014.
Romano and the Republican trustees were criticized in the state audit for losing control of the village’s finances — the village has had to raise taxes and borrow money in recent years to cover expenses. The October audit was the latest in a series of reviews critical of village finances. As the audit was pending, the village treasurer and then a bookkeeper resigned.
If elected, Woolbright said his goal would be to initiate changes to improve the 2019-2020 budget process as soon as he becomes mayor, and hopefully within two years be able to see the village finances stablized, and the board starting to rebuild the village’s depleted financial reserves.
“It’s a great little village, and I don’t want anything to happen to it,” Woolbright said. “I’m not interested in a big political fight, I’m just interested in serving the village.”
Woolbright, 66, taught at Siena for 31 years, retiring in 2015. He was chairman of the town of Milton Planning Board until Jan. 1, when he did not seek re-appointment in anticipation of running for mayor. In 2017, he was the driving force behind Milton’s efforts to acquire Camp Boyhaven, the former Boy Scout camp, though he later withdrew from those efforts.
Woolbright also served 12 years on the Ballston Spa Board of Education through the 1980s, most of that time chairing the board’s finance committee — experience he said will be helpful in dealing with the village’s problems.
“I think the village is a great place and it has a tremendous amount of potential, but the finances need to straightened out first,” Woolbright said.
With village Republicans scheduled to caucus on Jan. 24, Romano said he is also supporting local photography business owner Peter Martin and real estate agent Rory O’Connor, who owns and rehabilitated the former Masonic Lodge on Milton Avenue, to replace Cavanaugh and Hodsoll. Both served on the village’s Budget Advisory Committee with Woolbright.
“All three of them, I think, will do an outstanding job,” Romano said.
The Village Board was entirely Republican-controlled until 2017, when in that spring’s elections Democrats Shawn Raymond and Noah Shaw won seats, defeating incumbents. The GOP continued, however, to have a 3-2 advantage.
Village Democrats will caucus, and are expected to nominate Liz Kormos and Christine M. Fitzpatrick. Kormos and Fitzpatrick are also planning to run on an independent line, “A Better BSpa.”
Both women were active in Smart Growth Ballston, the ultimately successful effort to keep a Wal-Mart super store from being built on land just outside the village. Both have also been active in the Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association, and both have financial management experience.
“We have two extremely qualified candidates,” village Democratic Chairwoman Ellie Dillon said. “We wouldn’t put a candidate forward if we didn’t think they were well-qualified to deal with the village’s challenges.”
Kormos was also one of the five members of a citizen Budget Advisory Committee that recently made recommendations on how to cut expenses and otherwise improve the village’s finances — the same committee that Woolbright chaired.
Kormos owns a firm that provides marketing, financial and development advice to non-profits, and she was previously active in civil affairs in New Scotland, where she then lived.
Fitzpatrick has done planning and budgeting for a non-profit organization, and has also worked in corporate management, teaching, and for the governor’s Office of Employee Relations. Both women have been active in civic organizations.
While attention in recent months has focused on the village’s troubled finances, Romano said that if people look back at his entire 24-year tenure, they will see that there have been major improvements, especially in the business climate — nearly every storefront is now occupied.
“There’s been a real turnaround for the village,” Romano said. “It was a combination of the Village Board, myself, and a lot of great volunteers working together that turned the village around.”
The mayor said he plans to remain active, even after leaving office. “I will be available to give guidance and assistance if asked,” Romano said.