Bethlehem supervisor candidates meet in debate

Candidate for Bethlehem supervisor Sam Messina and incumbent Jack Cunningham, who is seeking his second two-year term, met in debate on Thursday, Oct. 29, and clashed on a number of topics, most notably the town budget.

The debate was sponsored by Spotlight Newspapers and the Albany County League of Women Voters, and took place at Bethlehem Town Hall. In addition to opening and closing statements by each candidate, moderator and Spotlight Managing Editor Bill DeVoe read questions provided by the audience, to which each candidate had a chance to respond.

Several of those questions involved town finances.

Messina has been calling for the 2010 budget to include a zero percent tax hike, which he said can be achieved by a 2 to 4 percent reduction in every town department and pay reductions for Town Board members and the supervisor. Cunningham has said this reduction is not feasible without making cuts to services or making layoffs, and stands behind the proposed budget that includes a 2 percent town tax hike.

Cunningham said that the proposed tax increase would represent about $15 more for the owner of a $300,000 home.

Currently, our demand on revenue is greater than what we're bringing in, and part of that has to do with the downturn in the economyI believe that it's important for the continuation of our town government, the continuation of our town services, to keep this revenue stream going, said Cunningham.

"These are different times, these are tougher times, these are times when the people need to see their government be more responsible," said Messina. "The reduction I'm talking about can be done without impacting any services and any people. It's one half of one percent of our budget."

The candidates were also asked about the town's sagging infrastructure. Cunningham argued that years of avoiding tax hikes at all costs has left the town ill prepared for the future.

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