Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hamilton and Hallenbeck: Debate 2

As predicted, in tonight's debate, Mayor William Hallenbeck seized every opportunity to bring up the fact that during his tenure the fund balance had increased and property taxes had been kept low. He mentioned it so often, working it into his answers to several different questions and making it the theme of his opening and closing remarks, that it prompted this listener to wonder, "Is that all ya got?"

In his closing statement, Hallenbeck, after declaring that as mayor he managed a $12.5 million budget, uttered, seemingly out of the blue, the word bankruptcy. He then stated, "I didn't raise bankruptcy. She did," referring to Tiffany Martin Hamilton's admission, in her opening remarks at the first debate, that she had filed for personal bankruptcy in 2014.

In her closing statement, after asserting that she had addressed each question while the mayor's responses had been "duck and weave," Hamilton responded to the mayor's reference to her bankruptcy by declaring, "What you will not get from me is intellectual or ethical bankruptcy."

That said, let's review the rest of the debate.

Hamilton's opening statement had all to do with a vision for Hudson five years from now, in 2020. Hallenbeck's opening statement might be called anti-visionary. He began by stating, "I'm dealing with 2015, 2016 and 2107." He spoke of the "outcry to keep taxes low" and declared, "I did that and continue to do that." As he has before, he spoke of Hudson's renaissance as if it all happened during his four years in office and was somehow the result of his leadership.

What follows is a summary of the candidates' responses to the issues raised by questions submitted by audience members.

Vision for the Waterfront
Hallenbeck began by saying, "It's already become a waterfront that doesn't have oil tanks and car crushers." He then declared that the future of the waterfront "will become what the residents of Hudson want it to become." He spoke specifically of the Dunn building, saying he did not want the building to fall into private hands and have promises to develop the building not kept.

Hamilton said of the waterfront, "That's where Hudson's revenue will be coming from, when it is properly developed." She revealed that the recently sold Stageworks building on Cross Street is to become a hotel with 50 to 55 rooms. She asserted that "the key to development [of the waterfront] is access" and identified as a goal of her administration to have the Ferry Street bridge "fixed by the end of 2016."

Cultural Diversity
Hamilton spoke of bringing "disparate groups together toward a common goal" and of developing the north side for business and residences. "Our diversity," said Hamilton, "is something we should celebrate every day."

Hallenbeck took this as an opportunity to comment that his opponent had "spent too much time in New York City and California, because she doesn't realize how much 'togetherness' we have among our cultures." He declared that Hudson has "always been welcome and open to new communities." He then segued into talking about affordable housing, declaring, as he has before, that creating more affordable housing requires three things: a community that wants it; elected officials that support it; and tax incentives to developers.

Increasing Revenue Without Raising Taxes
Hallenbeck's immediate response was, "I've done that." He talked about being conservative with spending and conservative in estimating what revenues will be, and predictably he talked about the significant increase in the fund balance and the insignificant increase in property taxes.

Hamilton noted that Hallenbeck's claims about the increased fund balance were based on data from the end of 2014. She pointed out that 70 percent of the increase in the fund balance during Hallenbeck's administration came from "anomalies"--payment of back taxes, the sale of property seized for nonpayment of taxes--that were not likely to happen again or at least not on a regular basis. She also pointed out that in 2015 $845,000 of the fund balance had been spent or committed. She then stated her intention to allocate $1 million of the fund balance to a capital reserve fund for a new tower truck for the fire department and replacing the Ferry Street bridge.

The Weighted Vote
Hamilton declared herself "perplexed by the mayor's veto of the resolution" calling for a referendum. She spoke of the need to put the decision about the weighted vote into the hands of the voters.

Hallenbeck came up with a new reason to vetoing the resolution: the plan being proposed to correct the inequity of the weighted vote, of which the referendum was the first step, would take too long. He then spoke of presenting "a multitude of choices" of how the inequity of the weighted vote could be resolved and letting the voters decide which one to pursue.

Jobs with a Living Wage
Hallenbeck started out by alleging that his opponent wanted to tax the tax exempt entities that were the largest employers in Hudson: the Hudson Correctional Facility, Columbia Memorial Hospital, the Hudson City School District, and the Firemen's Home. He noted that many small business owners in Hudson didn't live in Hudson, then called for those small businesses to hire local residents "with fair wages."

Hamilton began by challenging the mayor to "cite when I said that I wanted the big employers to be taxed." She then spoke about the importance of training and mentorships in preparing people for job opportunities.

Specific Ways to Assist the Business Community
Hamilton spoke of the business round table she held a few weeks ago and expressed her intention to work collaboratively with businesses and to work actively as an HDC (Hudson Development Corporation) board member in the effort to support local businesses and to market the city. She then noted that the mayor has been absent from four of the last seven HBC board meetings.

Hallenbeck pooh-poohed the notion of City Hall collaborating with local businesses. "There is already a business coalition, and there doesn't need to be one in City Hall." He asserted his involvement and support of local business by proclaiming, "No mayor has been out in the community more than me." He then declared that "6,700 people need a mayor" and he did not have "tunnel vision" focused on the business community.

Snow Removal and Its Impact on Businesses
Hallenbeck began, "I think we've done a pretty good job." He went on to cite the programmable signs positioned at the city's gateways, robocalls from the Columbia County Emergency Management agency, and notices about snow emergency rules sent out with the water bills. He then explained, regarding snow emergency rules, "I don't make the laws. I enforce the laws."

Hamilton, after summarizing that the mayor was not going to make any changes in the snow emergency regulations because "that's not what the executive branch does," pledged to "work collaboratively with the Common Council to improve things." She cited problems with notification and in particular with informing visitors of the regulations to help them avoid having their cars ticketed or towed.

Parades on Warren Street and Their Impact 
Hamilton commended the extended lead time written into the amended mass gathering permit procedure, stressing the need to communicate with businesses about events that would shut down the street and impede access to shops and restaurants. 

Reacting to her response to the question about snow removal, Hallenbeck told Hamilton she should "collaborate with the rest of the community on snow emergencies not just businesses." He went on to explain that he had vetoed the amendments to the mass gathering procedure "because there was nothing wrong with the process as it was."

Public Transportation
Hallenbeck, as he has before, stated that bus service in Hudson was not cost effective. He did, however, talk about the possibility of buses that "run on solar" and noted the "enhanced funding that is now unrestricted" (presumably referring to the City's fund balance) might make this possible.

Hamilton noted that "the most vulnerable people of the community were impacted when the buses were eliminated." She also recalled that the trolley buses that used to exist in Hudson could not leave the city and therefore were of little use to people wanting to get to the supermarkets and shopping centers on Fairview Avenue in Greenport. She called for restoring in-city bus service and collaborating with the county to provide bus service to shopping centers and to Columbia-Greene Community College.

Implementation of the Lodging Tax
Hamilton explained that the lodging tax had been approved at the city level but still needed approval at the state level--not unlike the LWRP, she quipped--and stressed the need to work with state representatives to get the home rule request approved.

Hallenbeck took the question about what he called a "luxury tax" as the opportunity to report that he had called every B&B to learn their thoughts about the proposed tax. He said in effect that he didn't support it because someone said he should, but he supported it after he learned that B&B owners were not worried about it.

Limiting the Mayor's Ability to Veto
Hallenbeck responded to this notion by saying, "It is our system of government--checks and balances." He went on to say, "We need to work together, and that's what we have done in the City of Hudson."

Hamilton began her response by asking, "Why have there been so many mayoral vetoes?" She answered her own question by saying that the mayor has a "very adversarial relationship with the Common Council." She suggested that "if the mayor would work more collaboratively with the Council, we wouldn't get mired in vetoes and overrides."

Making the City More Friendly for the Disabled 
Hamilton identified three ways she would work to improve things for the disabled: (1) transportation--bringing back the city bus; (2) sidewalks--creating a comprehensive plan to fix the sidewalks; (3) accessibility to public buildings--initiating a plan to address the challenge of handicapped access to City Hall.

Hallenbeck began by claiming that "lots of handicapped individuals come to City Hall" and falling back on the explanation that money to be spent for such purposes had to be appropriated by the Common Council. He cited his efforts on behalf of the disabled: increasing the number of handicapped parking spaces and pursuing a grant to build a ramp at Promenade Hill. Regarding the sidewalks, he reiterated that the city code states that property owners are responsible for the sidewalks in front of their buildings, thereby exonerating city government from that responsibility.

In addition to bringing up bankruptcy in his closing remarks, Hallenbeck declared that the voters knew what they were getting with him but a vote for his opponent was "a vote for an experiment."

Election day is Tuesday, November 3. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. If there's a chance you may not be here for the election, click here to learn how you can vote absentee.


  1. From my consigliere at the Department of Justice: "The sidewalk issue sounds troubling and wrong. The law does not allow a municipality to contract out its ADA obligations, and putting the burden of compliance on homeowners does just that."

  2. Does anyone have any hard numbers on how many students actually need public transportation to Columbia-Greene Community College? Are we talking about 1 student, 10 students, 100 students? If bus service is needed, perhaps the college should step up to the plate and provide bus service, or at least subsidize the cost if the city provides public transit. Food for thought.