MASSENA — It’s been a busy year for Debra A. Willer since her appointment to the Massena Town Board, and she wants to continue staying busy with another term.
Mrs. Willer is joined on the ballot by veteran village Trustee Francis J. Carvel and newcomer John Roder in the race for two unexpired terms. She currently fills one of those seats, and the other is held by Thomas C. Miller, who is not seeking another term.
She had been asked by former Councilor Susan J. Bellor to fill a board seat after Mrs. Bellor’s election to town supervisor left a vacancy, and took her seat in January.
“I’ve known Sue for quite a while. When she was a town board member she would bounce stuff off of me only because I knew so many of the internal workings. I worked at the hospital and knew a lot of the community,” Mrs. Willer said.
She said it was difficult finding individuals to step up, so she agreed to take the appointment.
“She could appoint someone for the first year, and then the second year you have to run for the position. I put so much time into learning the ins and outs of government that I thought I’ll run for the second part of it for next year,” she said.
Since her appointment, Mrs. Willer has served as liaison to several boards, including the Massena Rescue Squad until its transfer to the village in January. She had already been a volunteer board member at the Massena Rescue Squad prior to her appointment.
She has also served as liaison to the highway and airport committees.
“The airport is very big. People don’t realize our little airport serves a lot because we have a commercial airline that comes in, Boutique. But, we’re also used by some of the medical flights that come in and out, and we have private planes that come in and out, and police activities. They use our airport for training because we’ve got the electronics that they can land with at night and we have a good airport. Some small airports don’t have that,” Mrs. Willer said.
In addition, she serves as liaison to the Massena Electric Department and the Massena Museum Board.
“There’s a lot of departments, and we get two liaisons assigned to each one so if one can’t go, at least one of us can be at the meetings,” she said. “We’re simply there to listen and to relay information back and forth that the board needs to know about.”
The liaisons not only provide oral reports to the board during monthly meetings, they prepare extensive written reports.
“It’s better if you simply submit the written report and review it at the meeting,” Mrs. Willer said.
Besides serving as liaison, she also works with other councilors to review and approve bills submitted to the town that need to be paid.
“There’s two of us every month that review every bill that has to be paid and signed off on. All of these people have to be paid. Utilities have to be paid just like it was your own home — your telephone, your internet, everything, and then all the additional things that come through like bond payments, vehicle payments, lease payments. It takes a couple hours every month to sit down and go through all the billing,” she said. “People see us at a town board meeting every month, maybe for an hour or two, In the background, we’re working eight or 10 hours for the week.”
Most recently, Mrs. Willer and the board have been focusing on the town’s 2023 budget.
“It’s difficult when you’re not receiving the money that you normally had been. We’re trying to be good stewards with the town’s money,” she said.
Many of the board members like Mrs. Willer are serving their first term, and she said they’ve been lucky to have guidance from the Association of Towns of New York State.
“We have to educate ourselves all the time. We have to keep up with everything. They’re wonderful at offering educational pieces. They’ve been a great resource for us,” she said.
If elected in November, Mrs. Willer said there are outstanding issues that she and the board would like to continue addressing.
“There’s the cryptocurrency stuff. That moratorium is ending at the end of November, so we have to decide what we’re going to do with that. There’s a lot of just general issues. Every year there’s going to be some kind of union negotiations. We finished the one with the highway department through the Teamsters. The library had done theirs the previous year,” she said.
“We’re just focusing on keeping a plan so that hopefully we can pay off some of this debt that we have coming our way, and trying to recruit new businesses in. You want businesses that are going to employ more than five people. Small business is fine, but you have to keep your eye on something just a little bit bigger, that’s going to be good stable jobs and good paying jobs,” Mrs. Willer said.
And, through every action they take, she said it’s important to stay transparent.
“You have to be right up front and you have to make your decisions from your brain, not from your heart. Sometimes saying no is very hard to understand when people want something and organizations want something and you just can’t do it,” she said.