By CRAIG FREILICH
CANTON – Two community-minded Republicans are running against each other in this year’s village mayoral race.
Both candidates say infrastructure – roads, sewers and water mains – are a concern. But their campaign styles have been very different.
The incumbent, David Curry, is a small business owner finishing up his first two-year term as mayor after 19 years as a village trustee.
His opponent, Mary Ann Ashley, is a school counselor with three years’ experience as a village trustee and six years on the Canton school board.
Ashley is a Republican running on the Democratic line after unsuccessfully seeking her party’s nomination for mayor over Curry in the village GOP caucus. Village Democrats offered her their endorsement, and she accepted.
“We just accomplished the Main Street project,” said Curry “We have new water, sewer, sidewalks and lights on East Main.
“We’re also looking at new water sources,” Curry said. “We’re looking at different sites for wells to get more water. We just need extra water for the future, to keep water and sewer bills on the level.”
He said that can be accomplished “if we find the right site and it fits in the village budget.”
“For me the main issue is about infrastructure,” Ashley said. “We have a lot of infrastructure issues to address, along with our financial situation.”
“The Main Street project was just one mile, and we had to invest a million dollars just for the water” portion of the project.
She said she wants to see improvements to “roads, sidewalks, water and sewer for the whole village.”
Debt a Concern
But the current village debt load is a concern to her.
“We have close to a $6 million budget and $4 million in debt. I’m very concerned about that path. Interest rates are very high annually. So what I’ve tried to do in the past three years is try to turn that around.”
Both Curry and Ashley will take credit for the fact that taxes in the village have not gone up for the last three years – “the tax levy, not just the rate,” Curry said.
“We did not overspend the budget,” Curry said. “We have not raised taxes. We do have bonds with low interest, like any municipality has.”
But Ashley wants to see that reduced. “For this year’s budget my advice to the board was that we have to reduce our debt,” and expenses in general.
“The department heads were asked to come up with a five-year capital improvement plan,” Ashley said.
“We were able to produce a budget this year with no new taxes and no increase in water and sewer rates.
“I suggested a 25 percent cut in spending for each department. The board approved a 10 percent cut,” she said.
Soon the village will be paying off the debt on the new fire station “to the tune of $695,000. So for me, that’s the first part of the infrastructure we needed to start turning around,” said Ashley.
As a businessman and village resident, Curry says he knows “the village, the people, what they experience with taxes and what they expect for their tax dollars. They expect everything to stay where their pocketbooks can handle it, where they can afford to live.”
Curry is banking on the downtown improvements to bring fresh business to the village core, increasing the tax base. “There are offices and apartments for rent here” that he hopes will be filled soon.
He also wants to see new development at Mid-Town Plaza, the site of the former Jubilee store and other businesses, possibly with a hotel on it, “if we can get Mr. (Gary) Cohen to be reasonable on rental or sale,” Curry said of the plaza’s owner. “Right now people think it’s too high.”
Ashley says she has taken a personal approach in dealing with Cohen. “I’ve met him, toured the property with him. Every time I go to New York City I offer to meet with him.
“We have to do something with that plaza. We have to develop it. I’m not giving up hope,” she said.
“But we need a hotel, for alumni and parents’ weekends, Peewee organization events – hockey, baseball, football. People coming to those things have stayed in Malone and Ottawa. I’d like to see a hotel downtown, and Mid-Town Plaza would be good,” he said.
Ashley said that “35 percent of the property owners pay 100 percent of the taxes,” because there is so much tax exempt property in the village owned by the university, schools, churches and medical facilities, and Curry says he would “like to see a lot of tax exempt land turn to taxable,” but he wouldn’t mention specific ideas along those lines.
But his main emphasis was on bringing more business to Canton.
“We bring more business to Canton, the economy will be in good shape and we can keep taxes low.”
And he believes that the village’s recreational facilities, such as the two golf courses and the Grasse River, can “attract people here. And the more business we have will draw more people in for the fact that they know they can get some recreation, do business, and get more businesses interested in doing business here.”
Ashley says the municipal golf course, Partridge Run, could benefit from investment in its people, “getting enough people out there to make it the best, and to help the pro to allow him to market it better.”
Meanwhile Ashley believes that “we have to get more creative in bringing in more revenue through grant writing.” She says she is also emphasizing a thorough look at how the village and the town can better manage services jointly.
Both Natives, Different Styles
Ashley has made a point of taking her salary as a trustee and “reinvesting it in the community,” such as in the Recreation Department’s kayak rental program, which has turned into thousands in revenues for the department, she said.
During the campaign, she pledged to give her mayor’s salary back to the village if elected. For her interview for this article, Ashley agreed to come to our offices in Potsdam.
Curry has conducted a low-key campaign. He failed to return multiple telephone calls requesting an interview until after the fifth phone message, then arrived more than a half hour late to the scheduled interview at his office.
Both candidates are North Country natives.
Curry has lived in Canton all his life. He has owned the bar, Daves II, now at 35 Main Street, for 38 years, and is a longtime member of the Canton Volunteer Fire Department.
Ashley was born in Ogdensburg and went to SUNY Canton for an associate’s degree in criminal justice, to Plattsburgh State for a human services bachelor’s degree, and St. Lawrence University for a master’s degree in education. She works at BOCES’ Seaway Tech in Norwood as a counselor, and has lived in Canton for the last 30 years.