Three seek two seats on Jerusalem board

Staff reports
Robert Evans

Incumbents Ray Stewart and Neil Simmons are not listed on the ballot, so Robert W. Evans,  Patrick Killen and Michael Steppe are seeking the two seats on the Jerusalem Town Board.

Robert Evans is retired, but owns a retail business at The Windmill. He has been on the Jerusalem Planning Board for seven years, serving as chairman for five years.

Patrick Killen, 46, is a criminal investigator at the Yates County Sheriff’s Office. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in management, both from Keuka College.

Michael Steppe, 51, is vice president of corporate accounts for ColorCentric Corporation. He is a member of the Jerusalem Zoning Board of Appeals, Yates County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors, Town of Jerusalem Ag/Res and Route 54A rezoning sub-commitee.

Why are you running for this office?

EVANS: To try to do good for Jerusalem, the prettiest place in the world. I know, because I have seen much of this world.

KILLEN: I have always had an interest in politics. I believe my experience serving the community for 21 years at the Sheriff’s Office in various capacities, which included teaching, supervision of others, coordination with outside agencies to further common goals, and grant writing, along with my Masters Degree in Management could be of service to the Town of Jerusalem.

STEPPE: Over the past seven years I have had the opportunity to sit on several Town and County boards and committees. I feel I’ve been able to bring a combination of business acumen, consensus building, and problem solving necessary to resolve complex issues. I believe our community will have tremendous opportunities to make decisions in the coming years that will ensure the continued vitality of the Town of Jerusalem.

What do you think is the role of the town in development for the Finger Lakes Museum?

KILLEN: The Town of Jerusalem comprehensive plan states in part that they want to “encourage tourism” and to identify economic development opportunities that promote tourism. The Finger Lakes Museum would promote tourism and open possible economic opportunities for example, sale of food, possibly lodging, or souvenir shops. Therefore the Town should facilitate this museum’s creation and any appropriate economic development related thereto, while keeping in mind the character of our community, its history, and scenic beauty.

STEPPE: As previously stated, I am a Founder Member of the Finger Lakes Museum and fully support the initiative to bring the museum to Keuka State Park. I believe the museum is consistent with our comprehensive plan, will complement existing tourism business, and will generate additional revenues for our town. I my opinion, the role of the town is to establish an environment which will encourage investment and improve the economic condition of our community. In anticipation of the museum, the town has established two sub-committees; 1) the Hamlet of Branchport sub-committee and; 2) Rt. 54A rezoning subcommittee. The purpose of the sub-committees is to study the current situation, consider alternative solutions, solicit community feedback, and make recommendations to the Town Council. My involvement to date has been as a member of the Rt. 54A Sub-committee. If elected to the Town Council, I will continue to support the Finger Lakes Museum and look for additional opportunities for the community to grow and prosper.

EVANS: Very little, because the museum is located on state property.

What is your vision for the town of Jerusalem in the next 10 years?

STEPPE: As stated before, I believe we have tremendous opportunities for the Town of Jerusalem. If you look to our neighbors to the south in Hammondsport, and a few miles further northeast in Skaneateles, they have a robust and thriving community based on tourism, set within a rural farmlands, anchored by a beautiful finger lake. We have the same potential; our challenge is to unlock it.

EVANS: That the town is able to develop procedures for the increased numbers of situations that are or may be headed this way — the museum and its influx of visitors, hydrofracking and the increased number of urban people coming here. We should/must preserve our scenic and agricultural attributes.

KILLEN: I would like to see the Town of Jerusalem maintain much of its “small town” community feel that encouraged me to choose to raise my family here. I see a thriving wine & agricultural tradition with tourism increased in part due to a Finger Lakes Museum, the scenic beauty of Keuka Lake and surrounding hills, and some appropriate economic development.

I see an extended sewer district which helps protect the lake, and allows current & future small businesses to increase capacity to keep up with an increased population & tourism base.

What do you see as the biggest threat to the town, and what recommendations are you making to address that threat?

EVANS: Hydrofracking may be a big problem. Regulations must be enacted in Albany to properly control and/or regulate. Towns will have to pressure their legislators.

KILLEN: One area of concern I feel is important after talking to some Town employees and local residents is the detrimental effect of what I could best describe as interpersonal animosity or personality clashes on the function of the Town of Jerusalem. I would encourage Town employees to try to set aside personal differences, feelings and emotions and to work collectively for the benefit of the Town.

A second area of concern is the recently enacted property tax cap, pegged at two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This will mandate careful review and limiting of any expenditures, possibly beyond any waste or excess, and may force cuts to services. The tax cap does not reduce or diminish state mandates on local governments, nor does it take into account the fact that some cost increases are not able to be controlled, like gas price increases cutting into Town Highway budgets. I would review current expenditures for any cost reduction or efficiencies that could be identified. I would seek to implement policies that encouraged appropriate economic development that maintains the character of our community.

Lastly, the issue of hydrofracking has many residents concerned. The Town of Jerusalem has enacted a temporary moratorium on hydrofracking (on 2/16/11). NYS Assembly approved a moratorium on hydrofracking until 6/01/12. Governor Cuomo has tasked the DEC with studying the issue and proposing guidelines for permitting hydraulic fracturing processes for drilling natural gas in NYS, even directing them to go to Bradford Pennsylvania to examine a site that had a blowout of fluids in April.

I am still trying to gather as much factual information as possible on this issue. There is a group studying the issue for Town of Jerusalem. Supervisor Jones has called for input from the community. I believe this may be a moot issue. From what I can ascertain looking at maps of the shale and geology, the Marcellus shale beneath the Town of Jerusalem is fairly shallow and not very thick, around 2000 feet, compared to other areas of where it can go as deep as 7000 to 9000 feet. Considering that Keuka Lake is around 200 feet deep, and the shale here is around 2000 feet deep, and thin, it would not appear that the DEC permit requirement for setbacks of over 2000 feet from potable water would be possible here.

STEPPE: I believe the biggest threat to the town of Jerusalem is the concern that change is bad. I think we can keep our quaintness and country charm, and yet prosper with reasonable and planned growth. I have four core beliefs that support my recommendations for the Town of Jerusalem:

1)    Preserve and protect the natural beauty of our lake and community

2)    Embrace the opportunity for economic expansion

3)    Respect the rights of farmers, growers and land owners

4)    Run our local government efficiently and effectively without being a burden to our citizens.

At times, some of these core beliefs may conflict. It is our responsibility as town council members to reasonably weigh all options, and in the end, make a decision which is most beneficial to the Town of Jerusalem.

Patrick Killen