By PHIL NOBILE
The candidates in the race for Harrison’s Town Council went toe-to-toe over town spending and several other issues in an Oct. 22 debate.
The debate included incumbent Republican candidates Councilman Joe Cannella and Councilwoman Marlane Amelio, and Democratic challengers Margaret Pritchard and Rosemarie Verano. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the veteran’s memorial building on Halstead Avenue, candidates presented their cases for why each should be part of Harrison government.
The Democratic ticket immediately expressed disapproval of the work done by the incumbent council.
“Despite Republican philosophy of lower government spending, Harrison’s recent board has spent excessively. A recent study by the New York State comptroller said Harrison was spending far above other towns,” Pritchard said. “It’s time for a change.”
Councilmen Cannella said voters should keep the council the same as the past term to ensure Harrison continues “in the right direction.”
“We have a really good thing here,” Cannella said. “We had a very difficult time in the past years. We made it through the storm support, and we did far better than others. If we’re not careful, we can mess this up.”
When asked about an audit performed by the state in 2010 that determined Harrison needed to make structural budget changes, Verano attacked a consistent distinction made by Republic-an Mayor Ron Belmont’s campaign, referring to town governement expenditures as investing rather than spending.
“Balancing the budget isn’t about spending but about reducing our spending,” Verano said. “I’d like to take a look at our capital budget. Can things be repaired instead of spending money in those ways?”
Amelio, who first took office as a councilwoman four years ago, fired back with criticism of Democratic former mayor, and current mayoral challenger, Joan Walsh’s time in office.
“Investing in infrastructure is one of the most important things we can do in this town,” Amelio said. “Unfortunately, under the previous administration, nothing was done.”
A recent proposal pitched to the town to introduce electronic signage in the form of billboards into areas of Harrison as a form of alternative revenue was also discussed. Amelio defended the board’s involvement in the plan.
“It behooves all of you to have a board that is investigating ideas on how to hold your taxes, how to increase revenue stream,” Amelio said. “We are going to investigate any viable idea where we can save you money and add to our revenue stream.”
Pritchard criticized the plan.
“I think signage in Harrison would be a distraction and certainly not add to the beauty of the town,” Pritchard said. “We really need to fix the buildings downtown and work with the landlords. We need to limit the kinds of businesses that go downtown. We don’t need more repetition of new businesses.”
Candidates from both camps were polarized when it came to the topic of reducing the mayor position to part-time and bringing in an outside administrator like some other Westchester municipalities have done. The Walsh ticket expressed strong support for the idea, a focal point of the ticket’s campaign thus far.
“It would make a difference in the way things function in the town, where you can’t always get things done because of who you know,” said Pritchard, who also serves as chairwoman of the town’s Democratic Party. “It can free up the mayor to do more ceremonial types of things.”
While Amelio said the possibility of hiring a town administrator would be dependent on whether or not it was “a concept agreeable to the voters,” Cannella, a councilman who has spent 11 years on the town board, stood firmly against diminishing the position of mayor.
“I like a mayor that can interface with the town,” Cannella said. “I don’t think a town manager would survive this board, to be perfectly honest. I don’t think anyone could have the dexterity of skills that would be required.”
However, if the town were to establish an administrator position, it would not require a public referendum, unlike a town manager. The Walsh campaign expressed interest in an administrator over a manager because a manager has hiring and firing capabilities while an administrator cannot. Both camps have claimed public opinion in favor for and against changing the mayor position.