By Rob Montana
Voters in the Town of Dryden will find themselves with choices when they head to the polls on Tuesday, November 7.
There is a contested race for town supervisor, as well as for the two town board seats up for grabs this year. The sole unopposed person is Highway Superintendent Richard Young, running for re-election; he also has widespread support, being listed on the Democratic, Republican and Independence ballot lines.
Incumbent Town Supervisor Jason Leifer, on the Democratic and Protecting Dryden ballot lines, is being challenged by Bruno Schickel, listed on the Republican and Independence lines. To get to know the supervisor candidates better, we asked them a few questions about the town and what they offer in a leadership role.
Appointed to the town board in 2008, Leifer was elected to a full term in 2009. He was appointed deputy supervisor in 2012, and was elected to his current position in 2015. In addition to his elected positions, Leifer serves on two Tompkins County Legislature advisory boards that address criminal justice issues, and is a member of Dryden Kiwanis.
Tompkins Weekly: Why are you running for Dryden supervisor?
Jason Leifer: I am running for re-election because we are on the right track in Dryden. For instance, this year we are proposing a budget that lowers the tax rate because our pro-growth policies are working. Since 2015 the town board has approved over $65 million worth of new fossil-fuel-free development that adds to our tax base while also addressing climate change.
This figure includes $40 million in community solar development that the board approved in August. If built, this solar development would bring millions in new revenue to Dryden schools, the county, and the town over the next 20-years. That will save Dryden residents money on their local property taxes. In addition, these community solar projects will lower the electric bills of approximately 7,500 households.
Unfortunately, opponents of these projects are not acting in Dryden’s best interests and are doing everything they can to stop them from being built, including suing the town. This is unfortunate because these community solar projects would make affordable solar power available to all Dryden residents, including renters. Solar power should be available to anybody, not just homeowners or the wealthy.
TW: What is the top issue currently facing the Town of Dryden?
JL: The top issue in Dryden is development because Dryden is an attractive place for people to live and work. More people are moving to Dryden every year but we need more affordable housing and more commercial services for new and longtime residents. We also want to expand our recreation and tourism opportunities for residents and visitors. This is one reason why the town board created the Rail Trail Committee. This committee includes members from across Dryden and has done great work re-assembling the easements for the old rail-bed that, decades ago, was abandoned by a town board that did not support recreation trails.
TW: What makes you the best candidate for supervisor?
JL: I have the vision, experience, and positive attitude necessary to solve the problems currently facing Dryden while also planning for Dryden’s bright future. The progress Dryden has made since I joined the town board is significant. Our accomplishments include our successful effort in banning fracking, protecting farmland from development pressure, incorporating solar panels for clean energy and new revenue, and encouraging green commercial and residential development that protects our air, water, and soil.
This forward-thinking approach respects Dryden’s roots in agriculture but looks towards the future. In addition to our farms we have successfully attracted high tech businesses and value-added industries such as craft breweries and even a yogurt maker. I believe that when people look for an example of a successful town in New York they should be looking at the town of Dryden.
This is because my colleagues and I on the town board have a community-minded approach to decision making. We take the time to listen to everyone, and work to be consistent and fair. We live here, we pay taxes here, and we want Dryden to be the most successful town in Tompkins County and the Southern Tier.
Shickel got his first taste of public service interest when his mother, Marion Schickel, was the first woman elected to the Tompkins County Legislature in 1969. He helped organize the Montgomery Park playground build in the Village of Dryden last year, and this year has been serving as vice chairperson of the Dryden Rail Trail Task Force this year.
Bruno Schickel: My volunteer work with businesses and neighbors on the Rail Trail inspired me to throw my hat in the ring for town supervisor. I’m energized by the spirit of community that has emerged from the Rail Trail work, and I’m ready to do more. I’ve lived in Dryden my whole life, and this community has made me the man I am. At this phase in my life, it’s time for me to give back.
BS: The top issue isn’t a town problem. It’s a leadership problem. No one is listening. This failure in leadership is most noticeable when we view what I see as the most urgent, time-sensitive, and obvious event in Dryden. I’m referring to the town board rolling out the welcome mat for a multinational company to build large-scale solar installations in problematic locations that flank our historic Willow Glen cemetery and a hillside in Ellis Hollow. When – at meeting after meeting – citizens came out in droves to raise very reasonable concerns about the solar installations, the board disregarded their views.
The town board also disregarded the recommendations of their own appointed boards (both Planning and Agriculture), which voted for a six-month moratorium to study the siting of these solar ranches. Everyone’s questions and concerns were completely disregarded, and this inspired Don Scutt, Joe Osmeloski, and me to run for office. We know we can do better.
One positive aspect of this heated debate is that many Ellis Hollow residents find themselves aligned with the farmers and folks from McLean and Freeville at Town Board meetings.
Please understand: I’m 100 percent pro-solar for Dryden. I simply support a better placement strategy for large-scale solar projects that reduces the visual impact on neighbors and our rural landscape. I also support the fracking ban. This is a critical ban that protects our water and environment, and one that I will continue to uphold.
Additionally, in the last three years the Town Board has raised the property tax levy 51.7 percent and STILL cannot balance the budget. This is a strong indication of how out-of-touch the board is. Do they realize just how great a burden this places on Dryden citizens?
Responsible governance starts with respectful listening and building consensus. And that’s exactly what Joe Osmeloski, Don Scutt and I promise to do.
BS: I’ve run a successful building company for 33 years and employ a crew of 13 full-time craftsmen who build multi-million dollar homes as well as smaller remodels. I’ve also designed and built a tiny house community in Brooktondale – known as Boiceville Cottages – that is home to 140 rental units. Currently I am building a European-style hillside village with 40 tiny houses in Hector, just 10 minutes north of Watkins Glen.
My business experience has prepared me well for the role of Dryden town supervisor. I am no stranger to complicated issues that require creative solutions. But great solutions can only be found by tapping into the expertise and insights of our citizens. As town supervisor, that is exactly what I will do.
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On the town board, incumbent councilpersons Dan Lamb and Kathy Servoss – both listed on the Democratic and Protecting Dryden ballot lines – are both running for re-election, with Joe Osmeloski and Don Scutt – on the Republican and Independence lines – also are seeking a spot on the council. We asked all four candidates about issues facing the town and why they are the best person for the job.
Currently completing his second year as deputy town supervisor and Dryden town board member, Lamb previously served as a congressional aide for 15 years and was a candidate for Congress in 2012. He also has experience in public transit management, public infrastructure consulting, and serving as an aide in the New York State Senate.
Tompkins Weekly: Why are you running for Dryden town board?
Dan Lamb: I want to continue the progress we’ve made over the last couple years making town government work for the people of Dryden. We have wonderful residents who deserve a government that works as hard as they do – and cares as much about the future. I enjoy helping people, from working with the Red Cross and families displaced by the fire at the Poet’s Landing Apartments last summer, to advocating on behalf of my constituents to state and federal agencies. I have many contacts in government who I regularly call upon to help Dryden residents.
I want to continue developing the Dryden Rail Trail, which will connect the villages of Dryden and Freeville with Varna and Ithaca. One of my first actions on the board was establishing the Dryden Rail Trail Task Force, and now the trail is finally happening. This initiative has become so popular, even our opponents are taking credit. I see great opportunities ahead for the town of Dryden and I want to make sure we make the most of them so that Dryden continues to be a great place to live, work, and raise families.
DL: We were able to cut the tax rate this year and I want to continue working to reduce the property tax burden on residents. We can do this by finding strategic opportunities for economic development to grow our tax base. While the school districts place the largest burden on local property tax payers, it’s often up to municipal leaders to guide private sector growth so homeowners aren’t shouldering so much of the bill. We take this responsibility seriously.
In addition to bringing in investments to the town, such as the community solar project – which will be the largest private sector investment in Dryden’s history, this work includes leading an effort to revitalize Dryden’s Revolving Loan Fund to support small businesses and create jobs.
TW: What makes you the best candidate for town board?
DL: I have decades of experience serving the public and get tremendous satisfaction restoring people’s faith and trust in government. I know how to put my background to work for the people of Dryden. I understand and appreciate the functions of federal, state and local government, which is part of what I teach at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. Because we are a large town with many views and many needs, it is critically important that we remain open-minded, respect diversity and practice inclusiveness in all our actions. I see a very bright future for Dryden.
Servoss worked for the state of Florida for more than 10 years and has spent almost 10 years employed for the City of Ithaca’s Public Works Department. She also has been a member of several other boards, including chairperson of the Leadership Tompkins Advisory Board in 2016-17, and is currently chairperson of the Tompkins County Youth Services Advisory Board, and helped to revive the Dryden Lake Festival.
Kathy Servoss: I am running for town board because I believe I have more to do for the community. The Town of Dryden graciously accepted me and my children when we moved to New York in 2007, when we were lost and trying to find our way through some tough situations.
I want to give back to the community that has helped my family in so many ways. Two of my sons have graduated from Dryden High School; my youngest son is a junior there. My middle son is currently a student at TC3 and my oldest now works for the Dryden School District. This community is truly our home and I want to help it thrive.
KS: Community Solar is one of the top issues. The projects that the town board approved recently will help up to 7,500 households, including renters, save money on their energy costs. Town residents are being given a chance to sign up first for the savings, which is awesome! These solar projects will also bring income into the town that we currently do not receive and will not put a drain on town services (i.e. infrastructure, fire, ambulance services, etc.).
In fact, Dryden was able to benefit from an early PILOT agreement. The developer agreed to pay $8,000 per megawatt; other municipalities will receive $4,000-$6,000 per megawatt through TCIDA’s agreement. It’s a win-win situation!
KS: I believe I am the best candidate because I listen to all sides of issues and obtain the facts before making any decisions or recommendations. I am fair, objective, and want the best for everyone, not just the rich. I am also willing to learn additional skills in order to be a better board member. It’s not about me; it’s about doing what’s best for the community and everyone living it.
Currently a member of the Dryden town board’s Conservation Board, Osmeloski previously served two years as a member of the Dryden Agricultural Committee, which formulated and completed the Dryden Agricultural Protection Plan.
Joe Osmeloski: I’ve been thinking about running for Dryden town board for a number of years now, and have been looking for a real important issue I could wrap my arms around, take hold of and have as a focal point of my candidacy. Back when we had fracking, I fought fracking vehemently in Dryden, which seemed to be the consensus, and then there was the statewide ban and local ban.
Obviously, now we have an important issue wrapped around solar, the way solar is going to be done in Dryden. I thought, if I’m going to make a difference in Dryden, this is the time and I have a solar plan for Dryden – now is the right time for me to run.
JO: There are a lot of little issues. For me, obviously, solar and the question of how we do solar right in Dryden is a big issue. Everybody in Dryden is pro-solar – no one is against solar. It’s a wonderful technology, we just want it done right. The current town board had a chance to use solar to rally the town around solar, if they had a vision and a plan, instead of rally the town around an industry, but they divided the town.
I have a three-part plan that could rally the whole town around solar and it can be done right for everybody, not just a portion of the town. The interesting thing about the solar issue is it brought into focus some other issues we have in Dryden, like taxes, the PILOT program, our laws. We have to protect property rights, and the town board, as it currently sits, is not listening to the people of Dryden.
JO: Because I’ve lived in Dryden for 31 years, I’m part of the permanent fabric of Dryden. I’ve served on two important boards and I have a vested interest in this town.When we bring new technology to the town, I want to make sure it’s done right. I think my solar plan is the only viable one – to me that makes me the best town board candidate at this time.
A member of the Dryden Kiwanis for more than a decade, Scutt runs the Dryden Kiwanis Youth Baseball and Softball programs, which serve close to 200 youths from ages 4-13 in the Town of Dryden every year, and helped with the revitalization of the Kenny Van Sickle Ball Field on Wall Street. He and his wife have been members of the Dryden Sports Booster Club for more than seven years.
Don Scutt: I’m running because Dryden has problems that the current town board is incapable of solving. I care deeply for Dryden and have the work experience and background to help solve the issues facing Dryden today. It is time the town board had at least some members with deep roots in the community. I was born and raised in Dryden, my wife and I raised our own family here and we are still here. It’s all about Dryden, the people and our way of life.
DS: I see TAXES as being one of the major issues facing the Town of Dryden. First and foremost, it is the dangerous game they are playing with taxes – pretending to balance a budget on funds they haven’t even received. Dryden has seen double-digit tax increases the last three years and it’s projected that we will receive yet another double-digit increase in 2018.
Dryden has a large population of people on fixed incomes, retirees, and low-income households. These tax increases have got to stop. I will be focused on growing the tax base, not on taxing people more. We need economic growth in Dryden that adds to our quality of life.
DS: As a business owner, I know what it takes to balance a budget and plan for the future. I have successfully owned and operated insurance agencies in Tompkins and Cortland counties, most recently opening my independent insurance office in the Village of Dryden. For many years I have regularly attended and spoken at town board meetings; I understand what the position requires and the many challenges that have been and will be faced.
I will offer a fair and balanced approach to decision making and will respectfully listen to all viewpoints. In serving on the town board I will be working for the people of Dryden, they are my neighbors, friends and family, and I take that very seriously
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