District 31: Challenger Viscio talks about working together

Nicholas Viscio

ALBANY COUNTY — Democrat Nicholas Viscio, a 22-year member of the Knox Town Board, is making his first run for a county post.

“My motto has been: Imagine what we can do when we work together,” he said. “It’s what I believe and what I practice myself...I believe that respect is not an entitlement and must be earned. You have to constantly maintain a good relationship.”

His goal, if elected, Viscio said, is “to begin to set up the foundation for success of every piece of legislation that affects western Albany County.”

Some of the accomplishments he is proudest of on the Knox Town Board, Viscio said, include establishing Section 8 federally funded housing in Knox “to assist the elderly and struggling families....it’s brought in over a million-and-a-half dollars — federal money, our tax dollars.”

Viscio recalled he first ran for the board “because of a botched revaluation — a mass appraisal firm valued land at ridiculous prices,” he said. “I took the bull by the horns and worked with the assessor for an in-house revaluation. Less than a dozen people came at Grievance Day.”

“At the county level, I’m stepping up because I see a huge void,” he said. “I could not sit back...I would be a completely different representative than what we have now.”

Viscio said of his Republican opponent, Travis Stevens, “He squanders nearly every opportunity to work together....He would remain unengaged at critical times.”

Recalling a time when the two served together on the Knox Town Board, Viscio said Stevens remained largely silent during board budget discussions but would grandstand before the public with a proposal to cut town salaries by 10 percent. “You need to come up with something real, line by line, not posturing,” Viscio said. “He stands up and says ‘no’ but refused to engage in the process.”

Viscio also objected to the way Stevens, in published letters to the Altamont Enterprise editor, “pigeon-holes and insults his colleagues.”

Viscio said, “You can’t shovel manure on your neighbor’s front porch and expect your neighbor to invite you for dinner.”

In other letters, Viscio said, Stevens claimed credit for things like the recent rural broadband forum or the well-water protection bill that he had little part in. “He says, ‘I was happy to co-sponsor,’ which is a formality. C’mon. Why didn’t you work on the bill and engage?’

Viscio went on about Stevens, “The final thing is the gas station in town. As Travis promotes the need for change, it rots in the center of town, left to his family...It was on the auction block for back taxes. Somebody bid $5,000 put never paid for it, afraid it would be a brownfield. There’s a potential for us to have to pay several hundred thousand dollars....Does he pull out the weeds? No.”

Viscio concluded, “I’m tired of being silent on the obvious reasons we need a change in leadership. I’m 180 degrees from where he has been, squandering our opportunities.”

Viscio, 59, built his house with wood he milled on his land. “We’ve never had a mortgage,” he said. He and his wife, Marie, raised three children there; they now have seven grandchildren. He is retired from a career at the Guilderrland schools overseeing video technology. A filmmaker, he produced a movie in the 1980s on family life in western Albany County.

“My son, wife, and I started Helderberg Design, manufacturing over 150 aircraft,” some of them used in a James Bond film, Viscio said. He is also a pilot. Viscio said his volunteer work has ranged from providing Angel Flights for patients to repairing the septic tank at Knox Town Hall.

Viscio supports the revised county charter “because it’s a referendum item — everyone will have the opportunity to vote,” he said.

Viscio went on, “the charter is a constitution for the county; it sets a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.”

He added that he would also support a referendum to determine the size of the legislature. “I get discouraged when I see what happened last time,” he said, referring to the redistricting. “Those close to the county seat divide things up and we get splintered.”

Because of that, the district he is running to represent includes western Guilderland with two-thirds of Knox and some of Berne.

On oil trains, Viscio said, “I admire the effort Executive Dan McCoy has put forward as well as recent legislation to hold individuals responsible to notify of a spill. It’s a good step to keep these large entities on alert. Small sloppiness leads to big sloppiness, which can lead to disaster.”

On “nanny laws,” Viscio said, “I can’t speak to any great depth on their effectiveness” Efforts should be made to protect people’s safety, Viscio said, but time should not be spent on “items we can’t alter.”

Viscio called Sheriff Craig Apple’s efforts at the county jail with heroin addicts “commendable.” He said, “The program to work with recovering addicts is one of the most effective things we can do in the intervention stage. Social counseling and monitoring at that level would be great one-on-one; we don’t have the resources to do that.

“However, the boat has left the dock without the right tools...This should be all about prevention.” Viscio said a dollar spent on prevention saves hundreds of dollars on intervention.

He recalled broadcasting, from Guilderland Town Hall, victim impact panels, which people convicted of drunk driving are required to attend. “When people told their stories, grown men cried,” said Viscio. “We need to take that approach to the prevention component and expand that program to include drugs and testimony by addicts and their families. Have it infused in the schools,” he said.

On consolidation, Viscio said, “County, town, and state trucks cross each other’s roads to get to their own roads without dropping plows. We need contracts to share these services in specific ways. Start with plowing schedules. Add up the miles, agree on a exchanges of services or compensate.”

Viscio went on, “Highway service is the biggest expense we have locally.” In Knox, he said, “The highway budget is bigger than the general budget.” Knox has shared equipment with other towns, like Guilderland, he said, and it uses the county salt shed.

Asked about suburban poverty, Viscio said, “In Albany County, I have more of a grasp on rural poverty. Right from the beginning, the greatest poverty we need to overcome is the poverty of caring. We can’t say, ‘It’s a shame this is going on’ without intervening.”

He also said basics like transportation can make a difference. “In the Hilltowns, we used to have a CDTA bus; it no longest runs,” said Viscio of the Capital District Transportation Authority. “We all pay state and federal taxes that augment CDTA.”

He went on, “Bus service leads us to off the Hill, to jobs.”

Viscio also said, “We have to care enough to take risks in our intervention. If we don’t intervene, noting will happen.” Viscio said, for example, there are requirements for teachers to be reporters if they observe or suspect abuse of a child. He suggested perhaps town officials could be educated and instructed to do the same.

Alluding to the December murder of 5-year-old Kenneth White, Viscio said, “The tragedy on the Hill — if we can increase the possibility of being aware and changing, we have to take that risk, not stand back and say, ‘How tragic.’”

On caring for veterans who struggle, Vviscio said, “The veterans’ issue is complex. Many of our veterans were permanently damaged by war. We often see the umbrella as the VA,” he said of Veterans Affairs. “Soldier On is turning the Ann Lee Home into a facility. That’s a huge thing to move forward on. I agree with that.”

He went on, “A majority of veterans live in houses and want to remain in them. There are other means of helping,” he said, citing the example of tax breaks for veterans to keep them in their homes.

On caring for the elderly, Viscio said, “The new administration for the county nursing home has worked out very well, making improvements and decreasing deficits. Retaining a county home is an essential piece of what the county should provide.”

Viscio said that his father, who died in 2008, was able to stay in his home in part because of services provided by the county. “Several aids came out to assist us, not with medical things. It was enough to help us fill the gaps and allow my father to remain at home with dignity,” he said, concluding, “That’s a great program, a service worth investing in”

Visico also spoke of several homes for the elderly that had once dotted the Hilltowns but are now closed  because “state regulations became so stringent.”

“It allowed the elderly to stay in the community,” he said. “I wonder if...in-house county services could relieve restrictions” so such homes could function again.

On minimum wage, Viscio said, “There’s a lot of grandstanding that has taken over...and has become a push for strictly fast-food workers. People deserve a decent minimum wage but for just fast-food workers to profit...we’re leaving people out of the picture,” he said, citing occupations like emergency medical technicians who have valuable training but would be earning less than fast-food workers.

Viscio went on, “We’re looking at redefining a minimum wage to being a sustaining wage. For local business, a mom-and-pop operation, to force upon them the responsibility of providing a sustainable wage is a little unfair.”

Minimum wage works for a first job out of high school, Viscio said. “You progress and get more money as you get more experience. Some end up with minimum wage as a sole support. We need other mechanisms to help the burden of these people like Section 8 housing.”

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