It remains unclear whether the Republicans or Democrats will take the majority of the Cortland County Legislature, but with two seats to be determined by absentee ballots, Republicans lead Democrats, 8-7.
Two races — District 5 in Cortland and District 12 in Cortlandville were too close in complete but unofficials results Tuesday night.
In District 5, Democrat Susan Wilson leads Republican Laurie Comfort by 12 votes, 165-153. Incumbent Chad Poli, running on a third party line, had 21 votes.
In District 12, Republican Joseph L. Nauseef leads incumbent Democrat Michael Barylski by 13 votes, 330-320.
The legislature now has a one-vote Republican majority, 9-8. If Democrats win both seats, they’ll take the majority. The Republicans need to win just one.
Expect final results about Nov. 21, said Bob Howe, the Republican Board of Elections commissioner. Absentee ballots cannot be counted until seven days after the elections, then more than 900 write-ins must be counted and the machines audited.
Nancy Governali of Cortland has lived in the county since 1974. This year the number one thing on her mind heading in to vote was the county’s financial situation.
“At this point, the financial state of the county is not good,” she said as she was heading out of the New York State Grange polling site at 100 Grange Place, Cortland. “I’m concerned about fiscal responsibility because there are so many needs, both human needs and material needs.”
Nine legislature seats were contested. Republicans held three, Democrats held three and two were filled by third-party incumbents. Two races had no incumbent, with one of them also being uncontested.
Incumbent Chad Poli lost his seat. However, it is unclear whether the winner will be Wilson or Comfort until absentee ballots are counted. It is also unclear whether Barylski will keep his seat until absentee ballots are counted.
“I can only say we were hoping for better,” said Democrat Pam Jenkins, who lost to Republican Christopher Newell for District 11 in Cortlandville.
Republican incumbent Paul Heider beat Democrat Richard J. Nauseef Jr. for District 16, which covers Cuyler, Solon and Truxton.
“The priority is getting the finances in order, changing the direction of the ship of the county,” he said. “We need all the legislators working together to accomplish that.”
Democratic Party Chairman Tim Perfetti said he was surprised by the results, “because all of our candidates ran a good race.”
“I’m proud of how our guys ran and they ran hard,” he said.
Republican Party Chairwoman Connie White said she is confident Nauseef will defeat Barylski, although that will be decided by absentee ballots. She was also hopeful about Comfort’s candidacy, but that race too will come down to absentee ballots.
“I believe the majority is going to be in the column of the Republicans,” she said.
“We’re going to have a new day here in our county. Everybody knows that we’re in trouble here – We all know that something’s wrong, and my party is determined to find out what it is – I’m very hopeful.”
This year’s most talked about county issues:
Legislature Chairman Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville), who is stepping down after four terms, announced a 7% increase in the property tax levy for the 2019 tentative budget, which would require a super-majority to approve. Whitney said the county will become insolvent in five years if it doesn’t fix its financial practices. Other legislators said three years is more likely.
The county has been without a full-time administrator since 2014 following clashes between legislators and the past two administrators. In October 2018, a candidate was brought before the legislature, but wasn’t hired. In December 2018, legislators created an advisory committee to seek an administrator. The group was down to two candidates, but couldn’t agree on which to present to the legislature. The questions remains whether the position will be filled by the end of the year.
Jail and justice reform
The Cortland County Jail has been crowded since 1997. County policy makers have sought ways to reduce the crowding for years, including consideration of building a new jail. New state justice reform laws taking effect in January may reduce the population, but may add costs elsewhere in the process. Legislators will need to consider what to do with the jail and how to proceed with criminal justice reform.