BALLSTON SPA – The four people running for Village Board seats in Tuesday’s Ballston Spa election agree that the village’s opaque and troubled finances are a major issue. But their approaches to the issue and the village’s best future differ.
Due to retirements, residents will be electing a new mayor and two new trustees, marking this as a the most significant village election in a generation.
With two incumbent Republican trustees retiring from a board that has a 3-2 Republican majority, the election has Democrat/Better BSpa candidates Christine Fitzpatrick and Liz Kormos competing with Republicans Peter Martin and Rory O’Connor. For each of them, it is the first run for elected office.
Voting this week will be from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the village’s two fire stations, Eagle-Matt Lee on Washington Street and Union Fire Co. on Milton Avenue.
Kormos, 67, is a business consultant who has written more than $100 million in grants for non-profit housing and other projects, and she has been active in planning and zoning issues in both Ballston Spa and New Scotland, where she previously lived.
“I have the skills, the energy and the passion to make a better Ballston Spa,” Kormos said at a recent League of Women Voters candidate forum.
Like Martin, O’Connor and Republican mayoral candidate Larry Woolbright, Kormos served on the citizen budget advisory committee, formed last fall after a series of increasingly critical state audits and the revelation that mandated annual financial reports hadn’t been filed with the state since 2014. The village has had to borrow $500,000 or more short-term for the last three years to cover operating expenses.
“We don’t know where we are,” Kormos said of the finances. “We don’t know whether we need to make major cuts. We are in the dark, and that is not a good thing.”
Kormos said the need to develop a long-term village financial plan is obvious.
Kormos said she and Fitzpatrick created the A Better BSpa ballot line because she doesn’t believe village elections should be political, though they sought and accepted the Democratic endorsement.
Fitzpatrick, 68, is retired after working in employee relations and health care management for private companies, non-profits and in the governor’s Office of Employee Relations — experiences she said give her skills in both problem-solving and working with people.
“Our finances aren’t in good shape…We have problems with our infrastructure, roads, streets, sewers, water lines. We have police cars and trucks that haven’t been properly maintained,” Fitzpatrick said at Wednesday’s forum, which overflowed a meeting room at the village VFW Hall. “Like all of you, I know a real problem when I see it. I am interested in long-term solutions.”
Like the other candidates, Fitzpatrick said the village government needs to be more transparent about its finances and other public issues. Meeting agendas and minutes should be promptly posted to the village website, she said, and more use should be made of citizen advisory committees.
“It is better to go slow and be transparent than to move quickly to solve a problem in secret,” Fitzpatrick said.
Martin, 59, is the co-owner, along with his wife, of Village Photo. He repeatedly emphasized his ability to get along with people and avoid argument despite disagreements. He was previously a manager with the Grand Union supermarket chain.
“I believe my strengths are working with numbers, working with people,” Martin said. “I get along with people….I will be transparent about everything going on in the village.”
Martin said the village is making moves to address its financial issues: hiring an outside auditing firm to develop financial reports for 2014-2017, and hiring a new treasurer who was previously a school business manager to work on the current budget.
“I would presume that within four or five months we will be able to get our paperwork in and move forward,” Martin said.
O’Connor, 72, who owns the 199 Milton Ave. professional building and has worked in corporate crisis management and real estate, said the village’s finances may not be as bad as some people think. The new treasurer is predicting a $250,000 fund balance at the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year in May — that after the fund balance had dropped as low as $30,000, on an annual budget of about $4 million.
“What is it not being done properly is accounting,” O’Connor said. “We don’t have the information, we don’t have the level of detail, we don’t have the proper procedures in place.”
O’Connor said the village should do more to promote itself as a visitor destination — like putting more emphasis on its history, and marketing the number of antique stores in the village.
All the candidates said they’d like to see more redevelopment in the village, which has some derelict and abandoned properties. They said increasing fines on the owners of rundown properties could encourage them to improve their properties.
Woolbright, a retired Siena College biology professor who served on the Ballston Spa Board of Education in the 1980s, is running for replace 24-year Republican Mayor John Romano, who did not seek re-election. Woolbright has also called for addressing the village’s financial problems as the top priority. He was chairman of the citizen’s budget advisory committee, which made a number of specific suggestions for how the budget should be changed and systemic issues addressed.
He has no party-supported opposition, but former mayor James Capasso is running a write-in campaign for the position he held from 1991 to 1995.