COLONIE — Town Supervisor Paula Mahan is looking for a seventh, two-year term and Republican George Scaringe is making his first run at elected office after being involved behind the scenes for some five decades.
Early voting is already underway across the state including in two locations in Colonie but none of the ballot will be counted until 9 p.m. on the traditional Election Day, Nov. 5.
The issues are not unlike those of the past and not unlike any facing older, upstate municipalities. Colonie, though, is unique in that it is centrally located, has two standout school districts, has kept taxes relatively low and is one of the few towns in the state that has added population.
With all that comes development and the good and bad that comes with it. Tax revenue and traffic, new buildings and less greenspace, more people and more wear and tear on infrastructure.
“Neighborhoods are not involved in the development of their community anymore. They are left off to the side while the Planning Board makes all the decisions,” Scaringe said. “I am not against development but when a developer comes to Town Hall, and I am supervisor, I want to know why this project is good for the town and the neighborhoods and the communities. I want the neighbors to be involve and have the developers explain why it will enhance the town as a whole.”
Mahan, though, said her administration already does that and struggles with the misinformation being propagated by her opponent and a vocal minority of anti-development people in town.
“I have spent a lot of time trying to work with people who raise these and concerns and show them the facts. I took a group around and showed them the open in space in town, and we have increased the amount of open space in town, and they didn’t even know it was space,” she said. “A lot of times, people say things because they have other agendas and they don’t care about the facts. The economy in town is great and the developers, by and large, are thoughtful and work to accommodate the people and the town.”
Scaringe has worked in real estate for decades and Mahan questioned how he could be in real estate and be anti-development. Scaringe said he is not anti-development but would like to see it done smarter, with an eye to the impacts any development has on the neighborhoods. Mahan said some of the best developments in her tenure have been the re-development of old sites like along Route 7, the old Starlite Theater site and the old Latham Circle Mall.
“I was selling houses to people who wanted to live in Colonie,” he said. “We had a growth in residential housing and not major corporations. You need some of that but you have to make sure there is a proper balance.”
“The development that goes on now is good development,” Mahan said. “We don’t want abandoned or boarded up buildings and underutilized plots of land. Those things bring other problems. I know other people look at what is going on in Colonie and with they were in the situation we are in.”
Both candidates recognize traffic congestion is a problem but both realize the majority of issues are on county and state owned roads — like Route 9, Albany Shaker Road and Central Avenue — and outside the town’s purview.
“Colonie is getting more and more like Long Island,” Scaringe said. “I don’t have a magic bullet answer for traffic congestion but I know I wouldn’t add to it with things like the development at the old Radtke Farm. That would just dump more traffic onto Albany Shaker Road and it just can’t handle anymore. I know it’s easy to say the town is a pass through but I would put together a team and build a consensus to figure out how to keep traffic moving in Colonie.”
“The main issue is where we are located, right in the middle of Schenectady, Troy, Albany and Saratoga,” Mahan said. “During the day you can get around town. At night you can get around and on the weekends you can get around. It’s when people are passing through, during rush hour, that it’s a problem.”
The population in town balloons from about 83,000 residents to about 250,000 during morning and afternoon rush hours and that number seems to double if there is an accident on the Northway or any other major thoroughfare.
Mahan pointed to a new connector road from Route 9R to Route 9 and a proposed connector road parallel to Wolf Road on the Radtke property and the new Exit 3 as efforts already done or proposed or underway that should help keep cars moving in Colonie.
Traffic does take a toll on town roads and Scaringe said he would find more money in the budget to help pave more roads in a shorter amount of time. Mahan said he is just giving lip service, she has a long range plan to pave as many roads and make as many upgrades to infrastructure as the budget allows, and she would like to see how he would pay for more of it getting done without raising taxes.
Mahan said stabilizing the town’s fiscal condition is one of the accomplishments she is most proud of so far in her tenure.
“It was one of the most challenging and most difficult things we’ve had to do,” she said. “And we still must monitor and watch how we spend and we budget a certain amount each year for things like roads and infrastructure improvements. That’s how we have to do it. I think my opponent thinks he can just pull money out of the air.”
Scaringe said he may have gotten the previous administration in his capacity of Albany County and Town of Colonie Republican chairman, he had nothing to do with the actual governing of the town. He also said one reason the town is in better financial shape is because Mahan and company keep raising taxes.
“They go up a little bit each year but after 10 years you are talking about real money,” he said. “With the landfill and all the development going on in town right now, we should be cutting taxes not raising them every year. They could have stayed under the cap last year but they go right to the cap almost every year. If you take all the fees and everything else involved it is getting hefty.”
Mahan scoffed at his claim he knew not what was going on in Town Hall and said while the percentages may seem high the actual dollar amounts associated with the percentages are minimal because the town’s tax rate is so low.
“The budgets we presented allow us to keep up with the increasing costs like health insurance and retirement and we have our staff numbers up in the Police Department and the EMS Department,” she said. “We have worked hard on increasing those numbers and we couldn’t do anything about it while we were trying to stabilize our finances.”
Mahan came under fire recently for collecting an $80,000 pension plus the supervisor’s salary of $123,000.
She spent 29 years in the North Colonie School District and rolled those retirement credits over into the state system when she took office in 2008. In 2015 she retired to collect her pension and in 2016 she was sworn in and has been collecting the full salary.
“I was advised to take my pension to protect it for my husband and my family. It was a decision I made based on the rules that are in place right now. If they want to change the rules I will abide by them too. The difference between me and my opponent is I earned it. I worked all those years.”
Scaringe was the subject of an inquiry by the state Comptroller’s Office that found he worked some four hours a week and earned $62,000 a year. He also earned pension credits and now makes pension of just more than $51,000.
He said he fulfilled the job he was hired to do and found it ironic disgraced Comptroller Alan Hevesi is the one who criticized him for doing that job. He vowed to not collect his pension if elected supervisor.
“I think it’s wrong and I don’t think it’s ethical,” he said. “The taxpayers are paying her a good salary to manage the town and it seems to me there was a consensus among herself and others in her administration to double dip and I don’t think it’s right.”
Scaringe said he would implement a two-term limits on the supervisor and the Town Board members and said he would implement a ward system, or where the Town Board serves different parts of the town rather than at large.
Mahan is finishing up her sixth term and said the idea of a ward system was discussed years ago and never got off the ground.
Both candidates have been residents of town for decades and while one, Mahan, wants to keep it going on the same path, the other Scaringe, said he sees things slipping.
“I’m running again because I still have more work to do and I want to finish the job I started. I just want to continue to do the best I can for the people of Colonie,” she said. “The people who have lived in this town for years should know the damage the prior administration did and my opponent can say he wasn’t a part of it but he got those people elected. He was right in the thick of things. It’s frustrating when people are not truthful.”
“We dug ourselves out and we stabilized things and we have things going in the right direction. Just look around, we live in a great town and it will only get better.”
Scaringe said he came out from behind the scenes to run for office because it was on his bucket list.
“I’ve bene a lifelong member of the Colonie. I raised my family here. My relatives are here and my friends are here. And I’ll be honest, the last few years, I have not liked what I see,” he said. “I see the character of our community slipping. Residents who talk at Town Board meetings are just getting lip service and the people in Town Hall make a lot of promises they just don’t keep.
“I raised my family in a community and I want to return it to the community it once was. Someone had to step up and run against her and I did. I’m taking her on and I raised a lot of money do to it and I think people are excited about my campaign.”