Former mayoral candidate William Rowback Jr. is running for councilman-at-large against incumbent Steve Smith in November's special election.
Rowback filed his petition on April 4 to run for councilman-at-large on the Republican Party line, while Smith, who filed his petition the same day to run as a Democrat, also intends to run as an independent under the "Gloversville Party" banner, alongside Mayor Vincent DeSantis.
Rowback, who said he still intends to be the mayor of Gloversville "someday," said he thought running for the council first would be a good idea.
"After the last campaign, I just thought I'd be able to get my feet wet and do the councilman-at-large and then in two years run for mayor," Rowback said.
DeSantis is running unopposed in the special election to fill out the remaining two years on former Mayor Dayton King's third term. King resigned in January as part of a plea bargain agreement in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor official misconduct related to the theft of some stamps from the city's postage meter.
King's resignation prompted the council to appoint DeSantis, who had been serving as councilman-at-large, to serve as interim mayor until the outcome of the special election in November. Smith, formerly the 4th ward councilman, was appointed councilman-at-large to fill DeSantis' former position. The council then appointed political newcomer Brenda Leitt to serve as 4th ward councilwoman.
Smith said he's running for reelection because he wants to maintain the policies promoted by the city during his four years of serving on the council, including lowering taxes. During his tenure, the council, using an approximately $7 million fund balance of unspent tax revenues, was able to lower the city's tax rate per thousand dollars of assessed value three times, lowering it to $19.95 for the 2019 budget.
"I think people have developed a confidence that the people we've got on the council now are making progress and doing a good job. I'm very plugged in to the grant writing process, we've garnered $3.5 million in grants since I've been on the council," he said.
Smith said lowering the tax rate is a key part of the council's strategy in marketing the city to new residents and businesses.
"We've been monitoring our sales tax revenue, and some of our other sources of revenue, and so far this year I think we're probably going to be able to decrease taxes again in our next budget in November," he said.
Rowback, who works for the city as a firefighter, said the council is running the risk of creating a fiscal cliff by not supporting responsible tax increases, which will necessitate larger tax increases in the future in order to maintain services. He said the city has also neglected priorities, such as increasing staffing for the city's DPW to better handle snowplowing and catch basin repair. He said the city shouldn't spend, or borrow, $4.2 million to replace all of its catch basins when it could more easily assign catch basin replacement to the city's DPW personnel.
"We're spending money in places we don't need it, and we're neglecting areas that do need it," he said. "If we have a mason, which we do, and a couple of laborers — their job for the summer could be do catch basins. They should be able to do 80 to 100 per year, but [they're] taking employees off to clear branches off the rail trail, or do other things."
Smith said one of the major battles on the council during the first few years of his tenure was the fight over adding five police officers and reducing the city's fire department minimum staffing clause from seven firefighters on duty to five. He said he was in favor of both those moves because the city needed more police protection.
Rowback said the five-man minimum staffing clause creates problems when the fire department needs to put out fires. He said that while he'd like to staff the fire department back up to a minimum of seven, he will only do so if the city's finances appear to be strong enough to pay for the increased personnel. Rowback said he'd prefer the city take whatever tax cut DeSantis and Smith have planned in November and reduce it to a smaller cut, and create a fund to help pay for the repair and replacement of the city's "ancient" infrastructure. He said it's "ridiculous" the city hasn't settled its DPW contract, and he believes that should be a priority. He pointed out that Gloversville recently discovered a sinkhole, and questioned what the cost would be if more sinkholes were discovered.
"The current administration are worried about Main Street from the Four Corners up to Prospect Street, but there's more to Gloversville than just that little corridor," Rowback said.
Smith said his experience running a small business, Smith Engineering & Architect, and his service with nonprofit entities, such as the Glove Theatre board and helping to design and build Trail Station Park, give him an advantage over Rowback in understanding how best to revitalize the city. He said he's skeptical of the potential costs of adding city personnel.
"It's always a great idea to spend money, if you've got the money to spend. The city of Gloversville's budget right now is doing very well, but you've got to mitigate our desire to spend with our desire to reduce taxes," he said. "Taxes are a big part of why people move or don't move here. You've got to balance your desire to increase the DPW with your desire to do other things, and to reduce taxes.
Rowback said he believes the city isn't doing enough to attract manufacturing businesses to its industrial parks. He said the city should also try to market its relatively inexpensive housing stock to GlobalFoundaries employees in Malta, and create a program to provide them with busing to and from the business.
"That's a no brainer," he said.
Rowback said that if he is elected to the council or as the city's mayor, he will retire from the fire department. If he isn't, he will likely stay on as long as his health enables him to continue to work. He said he's 53 and isn't eligible for mandatory firefighter retirement for at least ten years. He said from the time he announced his mayoral candidacy he heard accusations from people arguing that his purpose for running for city office was to ensure that his son, Brandon Rowback, could replace him on the fire department. He said his son chose not to take the most recent firefighters civil service exam, because he didn't feel he'd have a chance to be hired in Gloversville due to the bad blood with the King administration from the prior election, after which King faced criminal charges stemming from an incident involving information from Rowback's personnel file being discussed by King during a radio debate on WENT.
"I've said it before, and I will continually say it, even when I become mayor in two years, whether it's my son, a friend of mine, or anybody else [all applicants] have to take the civil service exam, and you have to score high enough. As mayor, as a council member, you give the authority to the fire chief and the police chief to make a recommendation to the mayor of who they want to hire, that's how it's done," he said. "If he scores high enough, and the fire chief thinks he's capable of doing the job, it's my responsibility to take the word of the fire chief, whatever he recommends. If he doesn't recommend Brandon, I would not [reject candidates] until they hired my son. I would not do that."
Smith said he would like to debate Rowback. Rowback said he'd be open to debating Smith, but he'd like to do it in a public forum rather than on the radio.
Rowback will have former councilwoman Ellen Anadio for the 4th ward council seat running along side of him on the Republican ticket. Smith defeated Anadio four years ago. Anadio will face Leitt running in her first election.