Housing, health care, economy top of mind for full slate of candidates
By Jamie Organski
In small towns prone to gossip, election season is often a prime time for residents to sit back and watch the drama unfold. Typically by this time, people put out lawn signs in support of their favored candidates, rivalries have been identified, and the election becomes the talk of the town at local diners and bars for the next month.
The town of Webb is no exception and this year’s candidates represent not only a broad spectrum of age and experience in local government, but wildly contrasting personality types. While this combination proved entertaining, the tone feels different this year. Candidates and residents speak of the urgent need for transparency, open mindedness and action when it comes to local leadership and the future sustainability of the community.
A call for unity in times of trouble was a prominent theme during a recent event, hosted by LivingADK (CAP-21), where the candidates for town supervisor and town council introduced themselves, detailed what they hope to accomplish over the next term, and fielded community-provided questions.
Candidates for supervisor include Dave Berkstresser (Democrat, incumbent), Bonnie Baker (Independent), and Megan Ulrich (Independent). Town council candidates include Don Haehl (Republican, incumbent), Mike Ross (Republican, incumbent), Kyle Lindsay (Write-in candidate), and Tom Greco (Independent).
Here are some of the issues on candidates’ minds:
SHORT-TERM RENTALS: All candidates are in rare agreement that government oversight is integral to maintaining order for the rise in short-term rentals (STRs). Webb council candidate Don Haehl said the town has a responsibility to respect landlords’ right to rent their properties but the town also has a responsibility to uphold the rights of neighboring residents. The town STR law should not be overbearing, Haehl said, it should serve as a guide that falls in line with current town codes.
Supervisor candidate Bonnie Baker said the town needs to strike a balance between residents and vacation rental guests. Baker spoke of a deed restriction program that she said has proven to be instrumental in helping the town of Vail, Colorado, in improving its workforce housing issue. According to the agreement between the property owner and the town, deed-restricted housing must be occupied by at least one person who works at least 30 hours per week in an Eagle County business.
Current Supervisor Dave Berkstresser said one of Webb’s weaknesses is its seasonality, which makes it difficult for businesses to thrive all year. Council candidate Tom Greco, who runs the Front Door Diner/Back Door Bar in Old Forge, disagrees with Berkstresser, stating he feels the Town of Webb is a year-round town and officials needed to cater to it by solving the affordable housing issue.
“[The town] needs to be willing to let go of what has always been and adapt to growth,” Greco said.
NEW HOUSING: Lindsay suggested the town work with the Herkimer County IDA and research existing land structures that could be used for housing.
“The focus has to be on getting there, stepping forward [which is] a hard step to take,” Lindsay said. “I hope the board listens to all aspects presented. We need to have all our ducks in a row before anything is signed that may hurt us in the end.”
Council candidate Mike Ross said the town board is taking the need for local workforce housing seriously and as building a housing development is uncharted territory for the board, the project will take careful planning and time. Berkstresser agreed with Ross, stating that the replacement or reengineering of the town’s sewer lines will need to be done within 10 years, another costly and time-consuming undertaking.
HEALTH CARE: Webb’s limited health care services is another area that needs improvement, said supervisor candidate Megan Ulrich. She feels that while residents are lucky to have the local health center, the board should investigate urgent care possibilities, as there is a dead zone between Raquette Lake and Barneveld. An accessible healthcare facility is vital, so people do not need to call 911 for ailments such as broken fingers, increasing the burden on emergency services volunteers who are already stretched thin and seeking additional manpower, Ulrich said.
OVERNIGHT BOAT PARKING BAN: Ulrich criticized the board for consistently taking the easy way out when it came to making controversial decisions such as banning overnight boat parking at the Old Forge Lakefront.
“[Local government] needs to start partnering together and stop being complacent,” Ulrich said.
In defense of the decision, Haehl said the ban allowed everyone equal lakefront access, and the board has been discussing alternative options including utilizing a kiosk system, and creating finger docks to accommodate more boaters. Haehl suggested the town establish their own public boat launch at the former Old Forge Lake Cruises location so boaters do not have to travel 10 miles away to Inlet to enjoy the local waters.
SMALL BUSINESS STRUGGLES: Local resident, Erica Murray, who owns the Old Forge Hardware store alongside her husband, spoke of the struggles of navigating through the pandemic as a small business owner, adding it would have been nice to have support from town leadership. Murray encouraged greater communication between the board and the community for the betterment of all.
“I’ve always felt like the red-headed stepchild,” Murray said. “No one works together and no one is united in a world that is divided. [It would be] great to feel like you want us here.”
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2. For more information about the upcoming general election, visit https://www.herkimercounty.org/government/board-of-elections/.
Story update: A week before the Nov. 2 general election, Webb supervisor candidate Megan Ulrich announced that she had decided to drop out of the race and endorsed candidate Bonnie Baker as she vies for the title against David Berkstresser, incumbent. In a statement, Ulrich wrote that Baker is in a better position than she to devote the time and energy necessary to fill the office of supervisor. Ulrich’s name will still appear on the ballot come election day along with Baker who is running as an Independent and Berkstresser who is a Democrat.
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