The Daily Star

October 22, 2007

Otsego County


It's Pritchard vs. Fournier in District 5


By Tom Grace

Cooperstown News Bureau


Democrat Thomas Pritchard, the county's former director of Employment and Training, wants to represent District 5 (Milford, Hartwick and New Lisbon) on the Otsego County Board of Representatives.


``I retired last year and I have the time now,'' he said. ``I saw what they did with the budget last year, and it seemed they made mistakes every step of the way. As I heard more about it, I'd think to myself, `here they are, tripping again.'


``I have 13 years experience as a department head, two degrees in administration and 28 years of experience on planning boards,'' said Pritchard. ``I would hope I could do better than that.''


Until earlier this year, Pritchard chaired the Otsego County Planning Board, and previously he chaired the busy planning board in the town of Hartwick, home of the Dreams Park youth baseball camp.


``I do know the district and I know the county; I've been here a long time,'' said Pritchard, 55.


If elected, he would work to establish a county administrator's post, he said. ``With the size of the workforce we have now and a $115 million budget, we absolutely need it."


He also is running on a platform of ``equity of pay for county employees. You know, these guys on the board have prided themselves on being the lowest-paying county in the state, but that's not the way to attract the best people.''


Pritchard also said the county board should do away with showing preference for potential employees who live in Otsego County, and judge candidates strictly on their merits.


``We need to get rid of this geo-centricity and pick the people who will do the best job, regardless of whether they live in Delaware County or Chenango County. That's the way to be responsible to Otsego County's taxpayers.''


Pritchard said he favors initiatives that lead to more sustainable living in the county and area.


``That's the direction we've got to go in; we may as well be leaders,'' he said. ``I think that as we replace vehicles in the county fleet, they should be as efficient as possible. They should get high mileage or be hybrids.''


If recent trends are any guide, the price of energy will continue to rise, said Pritchard. By making smart energy choices now, the taxpayers will be better served in the future.


Pritchard said he wants to see tax reform, and would do what he could as a county legislator to phase out the property tax.


``The property tax is inequitable,'' he said. ``It hurts people on fixed incomes. We need an alternative to it, and that has to come from the state.''


But the voice for change has to come from the people, from places such as county boards, if New York state government is ever to be moved, he said.


Pritchard said he strongly favors an initiative to make broadband Internet services available to everyone in the county. ``It's just like REA in the '30s. The investor-owned utilities didn't want to bring electricity to the farmers until government led the way.''


With reliable Internet service, reasonable taxes and electricity costs, and efficient government, Otsego County would prosper, he said.


Republican Stephen Fournier, who chairs Otsego County's Public Safety Committee, is seeking election to a second term as the District 5 representative on the Otsego County Board of Representatives.


``In my first term, I've learned a lot about how the board operates, and I want to put my experience to work for the people in my district and the county,'' said Fournier.


``We have a lot of work to do and one area I think we need to concentrate on is the cost of Medicaid to the county,'' he said. ``It's costing us about $9 million a year in local dollars and part of that is fraud, people abusing the system.''


Fournier said he would like to redouble the county's efforts to make sure that health-care dollars are spent only when the patient is deserving.


``I want to help the people who need Medicaid; I'm not talking about them,'' he said. ``But I think our fraud investigations have to be rigorous.''


Fournier said he has been visiting constituents, asking what they'd like to see county government do.


``The biggest issue with people is their taxes. They want us to keep their tax bills from going up and I agree with them,'' Fournier said, adding that he believes the county board should more-closely analyze how tax dollars are spent to make sure that programs are worth their price tags.


``It's not enough just to approve a budget; we have to move to performance-based budgeting,'' he said. ``If you're spending $10,000 on a program and it's benefitting only two or three people, it may be something you want to cut.''


Two years ago when he first ran for a board seat, Fournier opposed creating a county manager's post and he hasn't changed his mind.


``I don't believe it will work with our system of government,'' he said. Currently, the county board delegates responsibilities to committees, which oversee individual departments, he noted.


A county manager might interfere with the relationship between department heads and their parent committees, he said.


``If we want to change our system of government from a board of representatives to a board of supervisors and change the committee structure, if that's what people want, I can see how we might need an administrator,'' he said.


But such a change would require a referendum, he noted, adding that the ramifications of sweeping change have not been discussed.


A year and a half ago, the county board retained consultant and former board Chairman David Brenner to study how other counties of Otsego's size govern themselves.


``That report hasn't even been discussed, and it hasn't changed any minds,'' he said. ``As far as I'm concerned, it was a waste of $7,000.''


Fournier noted that he has changed his mind on other issues, however, as he has learned more about them.


``I did favor having the county buy DREs (direct recording electronic voting machines), but after hearing about how they compare to optical scanners, I've changed my mind.''


Scanners, which count actual paper ballots that can be recounted by hand, when required, are simpler, more reliable and the results can be trusted, he said.


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