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Massena trustee candidates discuss village issues

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MASSENA -The three candidates for two trustee seats on the Massena village board - Francis J. Carvel, Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies and DeWitt Forbes - discussed issues which could have a direct bearing on residents for the next four years at a forum this week.

The three are vying for two open seats on the village board held by Mr. Carvel and Mr. Deshaies. Whomever is elected on Nov. 6 will help determine whether the village maintains, cuts, or expands services like police and fire protection, road maintenance and snow removal. They will help guide the village board as it decides whether to hold the line on taxes in light of potential increases at the town and county level, or increase them to keep up with the rising cost of government.

Their input will factor into whether the village continues to invest in an economic development effort or cuts the service to save money. They will play a key role as the board determines how to address a growing number of blighted and troubled properties.

The Massena Democrats nominated Mr. Carvel and Mr. Deshaies at their caucus on Sept. 17, while the Republicans nominated Mr. Forbes at theirs the following night. The political forum held this week was sponsored by the New York State Women, St. Lawrence County chapter.

Mr. Forbes, 60, is a Brasher native and retired tractor-trailer driver who moved into the village in 2003. Mr. Carvel, 60, is seeking his second four-year term after retiring from the Department of Public Works in 2007. Mr. Deshaies, 80, first began serving on the village board in 1995.

The issues discussed at the forum ranged from economic development and public safety to budget concerns and blighted properties. The three candidates were asked whether they would seek cuts to the Massena Police Department, Massena Fire Department or Department of Public Works first if the village board ever faced a budget crisis and was forced to made reductions.

Mr. Carvel said the police department should not be reduced in light of recent public safety concerns, such as Monday’s drug-related assault on Bishop Avenue where one man was shot, another stabbed and a third suffered blunt force trauma to the head.

“The drug problem has escalated in the community, crime has escalated in the community,” Mr. Carvel said. “We need police.”

He pointed out that the village saved $100,000 by cutting the administrator position nearly two years ago, a cut he advocated for, and a job that had “no value to the average citizen in Massena.” He said he believed there were other areas in the village to cut but did not elaborate; a main priority is to keep taxes low for residents on fixed incomes.

“I don’t think it’s going after one single department or one single group of people,” Mr. Carvel said.

Mr. Forbes said he would not cut the fire and police departments. If he had to cut, it would likely be the DPW, he said.

“It wouldn’t be the police department or fire department. Crime is running rampant,” Mr. Forbes said. “It’s ramping up more and more.”

Mr. Deshaies said each department head should be provided with a fixed amount of money that they in turn must figure out how to provide services with.

“Everybody has got to assume some of the burden,” Mr. Deshaies said. “We’re in a dire situation here .... Everybody has got to pull their bootstraps up and go from there.”

All agreed that the village needed to give the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena another chance. Recently-hired Executive Director Michael Almasian should be given time to make Massena a more attractive place for businesses, they said.

Mr. Carvel said he would stick with his previous two-year commitment to the BDC; at that point, the village can revisit whether it is a worthwhile investment. Mr. Deshaies and Mr. Forbes said the BDC would be worth revisiting after one year.

“You’ve got to have a long-term vision,” Mr. Carvel said. “Everything takes a little bit of time.”

The three candidates also talked about what else the village board should do take to address public safety and quality-of-life concerns in the village’s Grove neighborhood, particularly after Monday night’s Bishop Avenue incident.

Mr. Deshaies said the village police should try to team up with other law enforcement agencies outside Massena for help.

“Today, you don’t even leave your doors open during the day. This is not the city. This is Massena, N.Y,” Mr. Deshaies said. “We’ve got terrorists in our own community, for cryin’ out loud ... We’ve got to have more protection.”

Mr. Carvel suggested other communities across the country are facing similar problems to Massena. Heroin use has been on the rise in the village recently, he said.

“Nobody can be everywhere all the time,” Mr. Carvel said. “We don’t have enough police to post one in front of every house.”

Mr. Forbes, an active Massena Neighborhood Watch volunteer, suggested the Massena Police Department find ways to increase confidential and anonymous tips and reporting from residents.

“People are afraid to speak out and say anything,” he said.

Mr. Carvel was asked what were the strengths and weaknesses to being a village board member who was also an ex-employee. He took exception to responding to a previous allegation made by Mayor James F. Hidy that he had an axe to grind as a retired DPW employee, calling that a personal issue and an unfair question, as neither of the two other candidates could specifically respond to that. Mr. Deshaies and Mr. Forbes were instead asked about the benefits and drawbacks of being a veteran village board member, and a newcomer to Massena government, respectively.

“I have more knowledge of what’s going on at the DPW and what’s going on today and whether it’s cost effective or not,” Mr. Carvel said. “If it doesn’t meet what others think ... I become a ‘disgruntled ex-employee.’”

Mr. Carvel said he has been able to change that perception by using his knowledge to propose cost-effective solutions; former critics found out he was “not a disgruntled ex-employee but had knowledge of the situation.

“I have a vast knowledge of the village, more than anyone else in the village at this time,” Mr. Carvel said at the end of the forum. “I know the way things should be in this village. I’ve enjoyed the last four years. I’m looking forward to four more years.”

On tackling blighted properties, Mr. Forbes said the village should avoid demolishing abandoned or dilapidated properties whenever possible. The village should instead seek out buyers who could rehabilitate a property, similar to businessman Shawn Thrana’s plan to rehabilitate the Homestead Dairy building on West Hatfield Street.

“You don’t tear it down and leave a vacant lot. Then you’ve got nothing,” Mr. Forbes said.

Mr. Deshaies agreed that pursuing demolitions was not the best solution.

“You tear them down, you take them off the tax roll,” he said.

Mr. Carvel said he researched how other communities like Hornell in the state’s Southern Tier successfully cracked down on blighted properties. Hornell used the codes it had; it didn’t have to pass new laws, he said.

“If the codes were enforced, we would not have that problem in this community,” he said.

Mr. Forbes said his volunteer opportunities as a Shriner, Mason and in other organizations has prepared him well for a stint on the village board.

“You learn how to work with people,” Mr. Forbes said. “We here in Massena have the talent in this community to make this a successful community.”

Mr. Deshaies said one of his accomplishments in his 17-year tenure was working on the construction of the Massena Community Center. He said that village government is often hampered by a lack of resources and cooperation from state agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Conservation.

He said budget issues have tied the village board’s hands in recent years. “There’s not that much going on,” he said. “What are you going to do when you don’t have anything to work with?”

Mr. Deshaies said he enjoys public service and hopes the community would give him another chance.

“If you don’t want me, kick me out,” he said. “Amen.”

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