By Matt Youngfrau
SULLIVAN COUNTY October 28, 2003 District 7 consists of the southeastern sliver of the Town of Neversink and most of the Town of Fallsburg.
The current representative is Legislature Chair, Republican, and Conservative Leni Binder. Her opponent is Fallsburg businessman Nathan Steingart.
Leni Binder is one of the four original legislators left on the board. Only the second person to hold the chairmanship, Binder feels that her work is far from complete.
I thought that there were too many unfinished projects that need mature guidance, Binder commented. It is a full-time job to watch all the details. The county is growing, and this is a critical time. We are on the cusp of many big projects. There are too many things that cant be left to chance.
In her eight years as Legislady, Binder has compiled an extensive record. She is the county-level representative on the New York State Real Property Alliance. She is the acting Chair of the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) Standing Committee on Welfare and Medicaid. Locally, Binder was a founder of Sullivan First and is one of the people responsible for the countys new Master Plan.
Binder knows there are many tough issues facing the county, including taxes, casinos, and the landfill.
We have few rateable properties, Binder said. We have to deal with tax-exempt lands. It is a tax base issue. Through the efforts of the Partnership, we are working on that.
We are looking at bringing in backroom and light industry, Binder continued. We are a home rule state. We have no control on what the towns and villages desire. We will work with them for what they want.
That is the key to the master plan, Binder went on. It will enable us to see where we want to put industry. This way, we will not waste time, and it will only go where it fits. It is our desire to enhance the area.
Binder is cautious of growth, however.
It is dangerous if we grow too fast, Binder cautioned. I am not in favor of a property tax increase. However, if we did get the three-quarters sales tax increase we asked for and the state contained Medicaid costs, we would not be facing this problem. I did and still do favor a sales tax increase over a property increase.
Sales tax hits everyone, Binder continued. Property tax only hits some. Both Orange and Ulster County have raised their sales tax, so we are back to where we were. The next few years will be tight ones. If the state does not help, we will be in worse shape.
The Sullivan County Landfill has been a very touchy issue.
This has been a source of great frustration, Binder stated. It is unfair and unequitable. We should have another committee appointed to study the issue.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions and lots of committees. The real road of tax-level maintenance is paved with creative funding, eliminating duplication of services, and increasing our tax base. That is our challenge.
If we close the landfill today, it is there forever, Binder continued. We can slow down importation but cannot stop it completely.
Next is casinos.
We have a major concern with the potential effect of casinos on schools, remarked Binder. We have to look at the whole picture.
I have spent 50-60 percent of my time as chair on this issue, Binder said. It is critical that we take care of mitigation. We are now doing a study on the effects of all the potential casinos. It is a necessary part of our planning.
Binder summed it up by talking about her accessibility.
My number is in the book, commented Binder. In my tenure here, I have knocked on every door to make sure everyone knows what the issues are. I am here all the time. I am available to everyone.
Binder lives in Woodridge. She has two children.
Although Nathan Steingart is a newcomer to politics, he is a lifelong resident of the area. He has a deep love for it and its future, and that passion is what made him seek the District 7 seat.
I was unhappy with the direction the county was going in, Steingart stated. I did not like the decisions the leadership had made on many issues. The main issues on the forefront are the landfill, gaming, taxes, and consumer affairs.
Being a South Fallsburg businessman, the sales tax increase last year hit close to home.
The tax increase hurts, Steingart said. The leadership has claimed that the sales tax will be generated the most by outside residents that is not true. It affects everyone who spends money. It is a struggle to make ends meet.
Steingart is opposed to the county managers proposed five percent real property tax increase.
It is more strain, remarked Steingart. It is especially difficult in District 7 when we have so many tax-exempt properties. We have to generate new business by aggressively promoting the area. We need to cut costs in government. Layoffs will be a last resort. We need to run government more efficiently. I can help with my business experience.
And what about casinos?
I am pro-gaming, commented Steingart. We need to work together with all the groups. We have to sit down with the groups, look at the projects and the effects on the area. We have to move forward and not guess what the impacts are. We need a larger cut from the state.
We are the only area that imports garbage, Steingart said. Why would people want to live there? Why is it in the county seat? It is bad enough we have it there. There should be no importation. The figures with importation are not exactly known. It is a health hazard. Do we close our eyes and ignore it?
Steingart talked about making government more open.
Most of the meetings are during the day when people have to work, stated Steingart. We should have meetings at night so people can put in their input. Every now and then, we should go to a different part of the county.
Under this Legislature, all decisions are made in caucus, Steingart continued. I want to de-emphasize the caucus system. We need to have the Republicans and Democrats work together. This infighting hurts the constituents. We need to work together better.
Steingart is an advocate for the now-gone Consumer Affairs Department.
Consumer affairs is important, Steingart commented. Seniors need help from the government when they are taken advantage of. Other counties have entire departments for consumer affairs. We had someone in place that was qualified. Now someone is doing it as a second job. We deserve better.
Steingart focused on economic development.
Six- or seven-dollar jobs are not the answer, Steingart said. We have to entice the right industry here. This area has a tremendous amount of resources. We are ripe for development. We have to approach it the right way.
Steingart concluded, We need to bring government back to the people. We have to return this area to what it once was. When I grew up as a child, my town had three drugstores, a supermarket, a movie theater, and a restaurant. I want the same for my children. I am not looking for personal I want to better the community. I want to see my home return to its glory days.
Steingart is co-owner of Steingart Associates in South Fallsburg. He and his wife, Rachel, have two children.