HOMER — Eight of 10 candidates in primary races for the Cortland County Legislature took part Saturday in a forum, meeting about 50 voters and answering questions including how to deal with the county’s jail, how to attract business, and how to end drug problems.
Other questions at the forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Cortland County in advance of the Sept. 12 primary, caught them off guard: Should the county-run Jacobus Center for Reproductive Health be closed? (It shouldn’t, candidates said.) Should senior centers remain open? (They should, candidates said.)
Larry Jones, a Homer town councilman, said he is concerned about the county’s potential $3.3 million budget gap, but understands balancing a budget isn’t as easy as it seems. “Sometimes new brooms sweep cleaner,” said Jones, a Republican, as are both incumbent Gordon Wheelock and challenger Kelly Preston in Jones’ district.
Katie Fairchild, a resident of the 6th District, which Mary Ann Discenza represents, is worried about the budget and the jail. She is throwing her support behind Michael Magee.
“He’s an honest man, he’s done his homework and wants District 6 to be a better place,” Fairchild said.
Richard Stock, who runs the Cortland Community Center and also lives in the 6th District, is concerned about the distribution of sales tax — he favors giving the county more of it — making sure senior citizens have a voice and reducing the jail population.
“I was impressed by (Beau) Harbin and Preston, they both did a great job,” Stock said. “Magee showed he wanted to work more with the people. They have my respect the way they answered the questions.”
Stock said he counts both Magee and Discenza as friends, so he has not decided which he would vote for.
After opening statements, the candidates responded to questions from moderator Alison King, the president of the League of Women Voters chapter, such as the budget deficit, what they learned from meeting with voters and how they would change the Legislature’s reputation.
District 1, Cortland
A Cortland resident since 1958, Democrat Douglas Bentley favors reducing the number of jail inmates and the Clinton Avenue Gateway project to make Cortland attractive to businesses. He feels the more the community works to understand the problem of drug addiction, the better it can treat it.
Incumbent John Troy did not attend.
District 2, Cortland
Democrat Beau Harbin, the vice chairman of the city Zoning Board of Appeals, says he is experienced in dealing with budgets. He favors exploring alternatives to a new jail like a detox center and assisting the college’s drone program and the county’s agriculture industry. He wants to bring in inpatient addiction care so drug addiction can be treated as a disease, not a crime.
Incumbent Amy Cobb did not attend.
District 6, Cortland
Incumbent Mary Ann Discenza, a Democrat, has worked to get the budget down and keep services affordable. She is in favor of a new jail, because the current one is in need of serious repair, and she wants to give small businesses tax breaks and create training opportunities for jobs.
Challenger Mike Magee said spending is out of control and taxes are too high. He is willing to listen to what people have to say about the jail. He wants to expand an electronic monitoring program for low-level offenders to get people out of the jail and working and possibly give the city more sales tax revenue.
District 10, Homer
Incumbent Gordon Wheelock, a Republican, is a member of seven committees, including the highway and solid waste committees, and the Buildings and Grounds Committee, which he chairs. He says the county cannot afford a new jail and that state regulations are driving businesses away. He wants more law enforcement to counteract drugs coming into the county and maintaining the county’s sales tax distribution.
Kelly Preston, a former clerk with the Cortland City Court, said she is concerned about the county’s $42 million debt and $3 million budget shortfall. She believes in finding alternatives to incarceration and improving what industries the county has in order to bring in new ones. She wants to look into creating a methamphetamine court and keep the current sales tax agreement where it is.
District 13, Cortlandville
Incumbent Kevin Whitney, a Republican, is the county Budget Committee chairman; he used to be the Legislature’s majority leader before being replaced a few weeks ago, but said not all the Legislature’s problems were his. He is open to different ideas for the jail and believes the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau are doing a great job. He said city courts will not sentence more people to wear ankle bracelets and the county should hold the line on the sales tax.
Challenger Richard Woodrome, president of the Cortland chapter of Disabled American Veterans, wants to make sure county residents can afford to live here. He prefers to explore alternatives for the jail and giving tax breaks for small businesses. He wants to send drug addicts to mandatory counseling with regular follow-ups and keep the sales tax the same.