KINGSTON, N.Y. â Democrats on Sunday heard from three of the four candidates seeking the party nominationÂ for Ulster County executive on a ballot that is expected to go in front of voters within the next 90 days.
The 90-minute forum at Kingston City Hall included Patrice Courtney Strong, 63, of Kingston; Pat Ryan, 36, of Gardiner; and Marc Rider, 40, of Rifton. Party representatives said Jeff Moran, 66, of Woodstock, was unable to attend the forum due to a family obligation.
The candidates responded to questions submitted by audience members.
Among issues that elicited varying ideas was addressing the absence of affordable housing. Rider, a deputy county executive, was the first to suggest using property that has been unused since the county Law Enforcement Center opened.
âWe have an old jail that is sitting vacant right now,â he said. âOnce demolished, which would cost the county about a million dollars and I will look for private funding to do so, it will have all of the infrastructure in place … to get somebody to develop housing there.â
Located on Golden Hill Drive, the old Ulster County Jail was abandoned in 2007 when the Ulster County Law Enforcement Center opened.
Strong, who worked as an advocate for municipal use of state energy efficiency programs, said the county should model a program after the Kingston city land bank. She added that the county would be able to work with each municipality to determine how community needs should be addressed.
âWe can do two things at once in Ulster County,â she said. âWe need to explore developing … the Kingston land bank into a county land bank. … It can clear title on dilapidated and abandoned properties and get them out for sale and then on the tax roll. They can be preferred housing for seniors, for low- and moderate-income people, whatever the entity is looking for.â
Both Strong and Rider suggested the Hudson Valley Mall in the town of Ulster could be used for affordable housing.
âIt does look like a place for senior housing under some circumstances when you look at the beautiful views there, and you think about the walking clubs that have been there for years,â Strong said.
Rider said the mall âhas become more of an art gallery than a shopping center these days.â
Ryan, a business owner, said the county needs to improve its status on affordable housing through projects such a the proposed Kingstonian development in uptown Kingston.
âWe have to significantly increase the percentage of affordable housing thatâs required in every single new project, new development, as well as upgrades of existing development,â he said.
âThe second thing is tenants’ rights,â Ryan said. âThey donât have a voice to raise their concerns of the problems to get action taken, so we need to empower them and then we need to create a place in the county where those complaints and issues could be adjudicated and resolved and people donât need to hire lawyers or travel outside the county.â
Each of the candidates said the experience of county cooperation with federal immigrationÂ authorities should discontinue after New Paltz business owner Luis Martinez was detained. Rider said county officials were apparently unaware that county activity was being tracked by federal authorities and knew when Martinez was scheduled to meet for a probation appointment.
âWe were using a federal system to find out a probationerâs immigration status,â he said.
Rider added that use of that system has ended and promised that the county would follow the lead of New York City.
âBack in 1993, Mayor (Rudy) Giuliani signed an executive order that the NYPD (New York City Police Department) does not cooperate with ICE,â he said. âHow far Mayor Giuliani has come. If itâs good enough for him back in â93, itâs good enough for Ulster County today.â
On a question over environmental concerns and the economy, Strong said there could be opportunities to work with colleges to strengthen the job base.
âWeâre not all going to get up on the roof and start nailing down solar panels,â she said. âWhat SUNY Ulster has done with that is showing the broad universe of green jobs. Somebody has to be in the backroom working with the customer, the homeowner. Somebody has to pull the permit from the local government. Someone has to work out the insurance.â
Strong added that employment training could be increased through apprenticeship programs for high school and college students.
âWe need to create connections at an earlier stage between the high schools and the employers,â she said.
In response to questions about tax breaks through the county Industrial Development Agency, Ryan said there needs to be an emphasis on providing assistance for small businesses that rivals reductions provided to large companies.
âThe only area that I would really be excited to look at (involving payment-lin-lieu-of-taxes) is for our small businesses, because, the way it happens right now, the people who tend to get the attention when theyâre coming forward to ask for PILOTâs are bigger companies,â he said.
âWhat weâve been doing (is) not working,â Ryan added. âWe need to fundamentally rethink how we do it.â
Ryan also said the county needs to increase hiring of people from various groups.
âWhen I come in as county executive, I will absolutely prioritize increasing the diversity of our county workforce and to the degree that we can make sure weâre legislating to increase diversity across all of the employers in the county,â he said.