Election 2017: Who’s running for Fourth Ward?

PORT JERVIS — With November 7, general elections happening around the state, Port Jervis is no exception. Polling place information can be found on the city website.

The Fourth Ward in Port Jervis, which spans from Church Street in town to the edge of Deerpark and New York/New Jersey, has four candidates running for the two seats open to the ward, as there are for each ward, this election. This is a vast difference from past elections which had fewer or one single candidate — a common democratic issue in Port Jervis.

“Having an election with only one candidate running is impossible. This is not a democracy.” — Bhumibol Adulyadej, Former King of Thailand

“Elections are about choices.” — Ken Cuccinelli, Former Attorney General of Virginia

Residents of the Fourth Ward, as citizens with the inalienable right to vote, now have a selection to gather information on and form an opinion of, as they are undeniably free to do, before choosing one, if any, that best represents them. Engaged residents in this respect came up with a list of questions for the Ward’s candidates regarding it’s hot-button issues.

All four of the Ward’s candidates answered in each interview in their own words and are unaltered, exclusively here. Commonly used abbreviations found herein are listed at the end of the article for reference:

Jill Lindner

“This is my first time that I’m throwing my hat in the ring and I am talking with PJ citizens and really seeking out how Port Jervis works. This is the only way the council can be of service, by listening to the needs of the people. I’ve walked around and really observed the great potential this city has. The unique old houses can be renovated and uptown is being revitalized. My hopes are that it brings many jobs to PJ citizens and we get out of our slump of not having enough for all. I want to work as a community that really cares for others. I want to show its not about me, it’s about us. Our families are important and our aging population are a big part of PJ and we have to respond to all their needs.

My stand on raising taxes is very simple, I feel that’s a heavy burden on the taxpayers. I would like to see what else we could do instead of raising taxes and cutting monies from DPW and Police. I would be open to do a little more research instead of taking the easy way out. This is where the council has to do some creative footwork for the people, I’m willing to do that.

I think some of the housing problems come from the absentee landlords, I believe they should be held accountable for letting the properties get so run down and allowing the tenants to be disruptive to the neighborhood. It doesn’t make for good relations to neighbors nor do the houses on the street retain their value. Something has to change.

Installation of council members because of resignation or death, NYS law allows for those appointments by a majority on the council. If I were on the council and this occurred I may not agree with the legal process but I would be conscientious of what choice would best serve the people of Port Jervis.

The demolition of the fire house on Seward was very disturbing to me that for seven weeks it had unsealed asbestos left on the site while the families living and breathing within such a short distance of this, were exposed for so long. More should have been done to protect people. It was unacceptable.”

Lisa Randazzo

1. Where do you stand on the property tax increases we have seen in the past few years and will you support them in the future if elected?

“The budget process is no easy task, prior to even reviewing a wish list, the Mayor and Council are charged with maintaining the services we currently have, as well as making sure we follow and abide by contracts that have often been agreed upon by our prior elected officials.

Sometimes, it can take years before the current Council can even request a change to things such as labor contracts.  Even with that initiative, comes the cost of labor attorneys.  With that said, many things are set forth for us without any decisions on our behalf.  Contractual increases such as health insurance, just to name one this upcoming year, will place the city at a 4% increase to city taxes.  Then there are other things such as maintenance of our city vehicles, city reservoirs, culverts, streets and sewer lines just to name a handful.  These items are reviewed and considered based upon their priority and need then placed into the city bond.  This year happened to be when the city renews its five year bond and the cost increase for those items is approximately just shy of a 3% increase to the tax base.

So when asked if I will support tax increases, my answer is it depends on the items I directly have consideration and the power to make change with a vote.  If this year any sitting Council member voted not to pass a minimum of a 7% increase, we would have to consider the removal of some essential services.  No one wants to live without the things we are used to having such as garbage pickup.  We would also need to consider a decrease in the police force, which would then increase the issues present particularly in the fourth ward.  See lower taxes do not always work to the benefit of the wards in the most need of additional services.  I am not looking to make any unnecessary increases to the city budget.  However, I do believe that years of using the contingency to the point of depletion has placed our city in a poor financial position.  The only way to improve that is to implement a plan over the next several years to correct that issue while looking for additional revenue streams.  The city is a business and should be run as such.  I believe in fiscal responsibility and a solid strategic plan however, as elections come and go well so does leadership which then can cause a drastic shift in the way the business is operating.”

2. What are your thoughts and plans for improving the living conditions in our ward?

“The fourth ward requires several things to improve the living conditions.  First, we need to at least maintain and possibly increase the number of police officers on the city force.  The PJPD has made our ward a priority however there is an entire city that requires patrols.  With that said, additional resources cost additional money which has a direct impact on our budget.  If we do not employ additional officers then we are faced with overtime costs when there is a need.  See how desired improvements always impact the bottom line?  I am in support of additional officers for the PJPD which would allow for more attention to the 4th Ward issues.

Second, the city has employed a part-time seasonal position within the building official’s office to attend to building violations.  We all know that if our neighborhoods are kept clean and orderly that less crime will be attracted to areas of our city.  I think that we need to encourage more people to become an active part of their respective neighborhood watch groups.  This is essential as the Fourth Ward has an active committee but more people need to become a part of our neighborhoods.  This would make those that are causing disruption and performing illegal activities aware by their presence and to know that if ‘we see something we will say something.’

Lastly, I am confident that the downtown projects to include the Promenade and White Water Park will help to enhance the Fourth Ward over the next several years.  Both business owners and residents seem to be taking an initiative to enhance their properties and we can see that impact by the number of permits being issued thru the Building Officials office.”

3. What is your position on installing council members without a public vote in the circumstance a member quits or dies?

“The appointment process to the Council is outlined and set forth by the Orange County Board of Elections and carried out by the Mayor with the support of the respective Council members.  It is not a process that is taken lightly and I do not feel that leaving a seat vacant does any justice for the residents of a ward.  If the seat is left open, then there is no representation whatsoever for a period of time.  Council members serve their constituents whether appointed or elected. I do not feel that anyone goes into this job thinking otherwise.  In my particular situation, I was appointed for a period of six and a half months and had to run in a special election of which I worked to receive the support of the constituents through the voting process.  And here I am seeking re-election because I care for my community and am vested here.  I am an alum of Port Jervis High School, I own my home and am a city taxpayer, I have raised my four children here and put them all through public school all while taking the time to volunteer for my community through a long list of organizations. Ironically, I haven’t heard much scuttle over the other vacated Council seats or their respective appointments over the past year and I did support those appointments because I do not believe vacant Council seats in any way, shape or form help our residents.”

4. If you were a sitting council member now how would you handle the situation with the demolished firehouse on Seward? Not only the dealing with the actual debris but the information keeping the public informed?

“As a current sitting Council member in the Fourth Ward, our job was to convene at a special council meeting, listen to the information presented to us in regards to the danger that the building presented due to its physical structure.  The issue of permits, demolition and removal all fall under the preview of our City Building Official who I believe followed the same procedures and protocols he has with any other dangerous building demolition in the city.

By chance, I was on the only vacation I took all year and out of the city limits when the issue of a delay with the contractor arose.  Therefore, I did not have knowledge of any concerns by the residents for about one week. I had not been contacted by phone, email, text or any means of social media by any resident at that time.  Upon my return from vacation, I learned of the delay in demolition and the concerns posed by one resident.  I immediately contacted other city officials and we personally went to the 4th Ward to address that person as well as neighboring residents to the firehouse who were home.  I’m not sure how much more personal one can get then showing up when called upon.

In regards to the information shared with residents, I did speak to this regard at a Council meeting and I used my Facebook page to get the word out.  I also often attend the 4th Ward Neighborhood Watch meetings and share information of this nature with those in attendance.  In addition, I know that Councilman Siegel, Mr. Rivera as well as Mayor Decker all had conversations with neighbors on multiple occasions.

I don’t know that there is an exact means to the dissemination of information that will please the entire public but we do our very best.  I think perhaps this is something that we need to discuss with the residents and take into consideration the feedback we receive.  One way I am addressing this is by having a Fourth Ward meeting this Wednesday, September 20th at 7pm at Howard Wheat Firehouse.  While I realize this may be too late for this particular instance, in the future I think regularly scheduled ward meetings may help to communicate this information more quickly.”

Stanley Siegel

1. Where do you stand on the property tax increases we have seen in the past few years and will you support them in the future if elected?

“I have been on the City Council, as a Councilman at Large and 4th Ward Councilman for 12 years.  I have frequently voted against tax increases because I have felt that they were above an acceptable level, and above what many of my constituents can afford.  I have always stated however, that there is a need for a ‘modest’ increase every year to keep up with increased costs, mostly mandated.  If this was followed, it could help eliminate some of the drastic increases that our residents have seen.”

2. What are your thoughts and plans for improving the living conditions in our ward?

“One of the biggest causes of problems in our ward is Absentee Landlord’s.  Many, but not all absentee landlords, purchase houses, do little or nothing to them, rent them and then provide little or no oversight, and at some point, abandon them.  More has to be done to encourage rental property owners to be better neighbors.

Additionally, along with that, there are some tenants that have little regard for their neighbors or neighborhood. We have to work on developing respect for each other.

Another is the drug epidemic that has infiltrated the 4th Ward as well as the entire nation.  The Police are working hard to combat that but it still is a concern that needs continuous police attention.  I have asked for this and the police have responded with extra patrols.”

3. What is your position on installing council members without a public vote in the circumstance a member quits or dies?

“There are very specific state rules that regulate how a seat is filled depending on the amount of time to the next election.  If the vacancy falls within the period where a seat can be filled, I would prefer that it be filled by the candidate that received the 3rd highest number of votes, in that election, in that ward.  If there is no 3rd candidate, then we should have a special election.”

4. If you were a sitting council member now how would you handle the situation with the demolished firehouse on Seward? Not only the dealing with the actual debris but the information keeping the public informed?

“I typically make several tours of the ward on a daily basis.  I was informed by a resident that there seemed to be a structural concern on the north wall.  I immediately took photos and called the Building Official.  The Building Official met me at the site within ½ hour.  He saw what we saw and he opened the front door.  At that point, we noticed that the 2nd floor had fallen into the 1st floor.  The DPW was called immediately to put barricades around the “fall zone” of the site.  Then he and I visited residents around the site to notify them of the concern and potential danger.

At another occasion, I, along with other city officials visited the homes of the closest residents, to assure them that safety is of utmost concern. Additionally, I visited the site frequently, and spoke to residents on nearly a daily basis to keep them as informed as I was.  Monitoring equipment was placed around the site on a Friday and continued to test the air for asbestos.  We were informed throughout that process that there no asbestos contamination. I spoke to the Mayor and Building Official quite often to determine why there is a delay.  Not satisfied with the slow response, I called our state Assemblyman for help in getting a demolition permit from the state DOL, quickly.  The DOL called me back the next day with an offer to expedite the permit and waive a $5,000 fee since it is a city owned property.  I am told that there were delays outside the DOL process which I could do nothing about.

The site work was not completed by 9/15/17, so I put a call into the Buildings Department to try and determine the reason for the delay, but I am also aware that there is no health concern at that site.

I will continue to do all that is within my authority to push this along, as I have each day since becoming aware of this issue.

Thank you for reaching out for this information.  Anything else, just contact me.”

Zoe Valdez

“1. I’m a homeowner myself and increasing taxes is not something I will support.

2. As far as my plans to improve the quality of life in our ward, i can tell you right now that the only way we can achieve positive changes is by engaging our community, as the large majority of our residents feel alienated with no representation. And I will fight for every single one of them. So that we can rebuild our ward together!

3. I believe Council members must be elected by the people for the people.

4. That firehouse should have never been demolished. Period.
Let me know if you are available to meet and chat. I really love your passion and feel that we need to stick together! You clearly care about our community and I want you to know I’m on you side.”

Abbreviations above:

  • DOL – New York State Department of Labor
  • DPW – Port Jervis Department of Public Works
  • Mr. Rivera/Building Official – Port Jervis Building Official
  • NYS – New York State
  • PJ – Port Jervis
  • PJPD – Port Jervis Police Department

Author: Brienna Parsons

Brienna Parsons is a Freelance Writer and Customer Service Specialist. Recently studied Linguistics and Philosophy at SUNY New Paltz, she is currently working on publications such as BriennaParsons.com and YourPortJervisIsShowing.com in hopes of better herself and the world around her, in that order. Brienna loves a good joke, or a bad pun, but has a deeply serious side that is concerned with democracy, transgender rights and issues, and all things environmental.

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