FULTON — The four Fulton mayoral candidates discussed issues ranging from drugs to privatizing city services to the Nestle factory site at their first debate Oct. 3.
About 65 people who gathered at the CNY Arts Center in Fulton were greeted by knowledgeable candidates who gave their views on various issues for an hour and a half. Others at two local restaurants and at their homes also were watching the debate while it was being live streamed on the Internet.
The debate was filled with information and even some light moments when candidates laughed at each other and themselves.
What was missing from the debate was nasty comments, derogatory statements and negativity.
The only thing close to a negative comment was when independent candidate David Webber challenged Republican-Conservative candidate Deana Michaels on how she was going to devote full time to the mayor position while still maintaining her full-time job with Pathfinder Bank.
All four candidates were asked right out of the gate whether they would be full-time mayors. While the position is listed as part-time, current Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. has served as a full-time mayor and moderator Fred Reed of Dot Publishing and Oswego County Today asked if the candidates would do the same.
Webber said he would be a full-time mayor and independent candidate Ethan Parkhurst said he would give up his construction company to serve full time as mayor.
Democrat-Independence-Working Families candidate Daniel Farfaglia said he has an arrangement worked out with his employer, the state Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities, to cut back on his hours and take a pay cut to serve as a full-time mayor.
Michaels said she “would give her full-time attention to Fulton” as mayor and would have posted hours for when she would be in the office (even on Saturdays). She said as mayor, she would be out and about in the city at events and meeting with people.
But she did not answer Webber’s question about her full-time job as branch manager for Pathfinder Bank in Fulton and did not address her bank job in her answer to the question.
She did say a couple of days after the debate that she has an arrangement with Pathfinder so she can serve as a full-time mayor.
Here are answers to other questions during the debate:
Privatizing city services
The candidates were asked if they would consider privatizing any city services, such as garbage pickup, the water treatment plant or snow plowing, to save money.
Farfaglia, Michaels and Webber said no.
“That is not how you build a local workforce. There are a whole other group of problems if you privatize,” Farfaglia said.
“It’s not the answer. But we should look at the efficiencies in all department,” said Michaels.
“We have no knowledge of what you’re going to get and what is will cost,” Webber said of privatization. “People would lose their jobs.”
Parkhurst said he favors selling the water treatment plant and using money from the sale to address other issues in the city, such as paving roads and expanding the parks. He said there is company in New Jersey that could buy and operate the plant and possibly even add more workers.
Health insurance costs
The candidates were sensitive to the fact that health insurance offered to city workers is dependent on union contract negotiations.
Webber said perhaps more negotiating with the unions could be done to keep the insurance costs in line. “We should try to negotiate the best deal we can,” he said.
Parkhurst said the city should talk to other municipalities to see if there could be shared insurance benefits to help keep the costs lower and talk to other insurance vendors to see if they have cheaper rates.
Michaels said the city should begin a wellness program for workers, such as smoking cessation, weight loss programs or walking programs. If employees are healthier, the city could keep the insurance costs low.
Farfaglia also agreed with talking to other communities and sharing services to get good health benefits for workers at a lesser rate.
Nestle site redevelopment
Webber said he sees a quality hotel and convention center, movie theater or clothing store on the old factory site.
Parkhurst said he also likes the idea of a convention center, although with other smaller development announced for the site recently, he isn’t sure that is a viable plan. He said “it’s up to the people with that they want over there” and it possibly could be a site for a number of small businesses.
Michaels said some plans for the Nestle site are part of Fulton’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The city won the most recent round of the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative contest and has $10 million to put its plan into effect. She said something needs to be done to “get tourists to stop here and spend money here.”
Farfaglia said the city has to begin “trying to get its fair share” of state and federal grants to help with redevelopment of sites like Nestle. He said the former Beechnut plant site in Canajoharie received $6 million for its redevelopment. “We should work with local business and the Chamber of Commerce to bring multiple companies and entertainment to that site,” he said.
All the candidates agree the city’s codes enforcement office is understaffed and can’t keep up with complaints and issues.
Parkhurst said the city should increase revenue so it can hire more codes staff. He also said there may be a possibility of other city departments helping the codes enforcement office.
Michaels said one of her first priorities as mayor would be to increase the codes enforcement staff. “Without a strong codes department, we will struggle,” she said.
Farfaglia said properties are falling apart in the city and there is regulation overkill on inspecting new structures being built. Both can change with more codes workers.
Webber said two additional codes enforcement officers must be added -- one recently announced by the Community Development Agency and one to be hired by the city. “We can find the money -- get some grants,” he said. He also advocates contracting with a grant writer to help the city receive more grants to pay for services.