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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 3, 2011

District 38
First run for Mackey, no competition in new district

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — In a newly created district that covers most of the town of New Scotland and a portion of the town of Bethlehem, Michael L. Mackey, a Democrat, who also has the Conservative and Independence lines, is making his first run for the county legislature.

It is an uncontested race, so he plans to step down as the lawyer for the town of New Scotland at the end of the year, before taking his seat in the legislature.  He is also the Democratic Party chairman in New Scotland and is a private practice lawyer in the Guilderland firm of Feeney, Centi, & Mackey.

Mackey does not support the idea of cutting the municipalities’ share of the county sales tax, he said.  “That’s really kind of passing the buck” to the property taxpayer, he said, explaining that towns and cities would still have to raise the same amount to cover their budgets, which means that taxes would be higher.  “What you save on the county tax bill, you’ll pay on the town tax,” he said.

Of raising the sales tax, Mackey said that increasing it by a quarter of a percentage point could cover the budget gap and, since the county has two shopping centers that draw from outside the county to bring in a lot of sales-tax revenue, it would be a more popular way of closing the county’s budget gap than raising other taxes.

The county certainly should  try to stay within the state’s new tax-levy cap, Mackey said, noting that the much of the budget is made up of mandated programs.  One place where the county could save significant money is in the handling of its nursing home, Mackey said.

He called the possibility of a 19-percent tax increase “unacceptable,” but was unable to comment on the details of what could be done to allay the steep rise since, he said, he not yet in the legislature and is not part of the committee meetings where it is discussed.  That increase should, at least, be cut in half, he said.

The currently bleak financial state is the time to use some reserves, Mackey said, without drying them up.  He suggested filling the budget gap by a third with reserve funds, a third with cuts to spending, and a third with increased taxes.

Of cutting further jobs, Mackey said that the amount of savings to be realized may not be worth it.  There’s “not a lot left to cut,” he said.

If the county’s nursing home were to be closed, he said, there wouldn’t be enough beds in the area to satisfy the need, and a primary concern is making sure that people can stay close to their families.  The nursing home is losing $20 million a year, Mackey said, and it needs to be run more efficiently — privatizing the home might be the best way to do that, he said.  He also said that the in-home care program could be expanded.

“I’m opposed to hydrofracking,” Mackey said, adding that he wouldn’t bar the practice if the circumstances were appropriate.  The part of the county most likely to draw interest, which is also the area that he would represent, is heavily dependent on well water.  Even without the issue of contaminating groundwater, Mackey said, the drilling itself could change the flow of water below the surface.

The county legislature is an appropriate place to address the issue, he said, since hydraulic fracturing performed in one town could affect the groundwater of a neighboring town.  The county could act as a larger umbrella.  Mackey noted that one problem contributing to the statewide debate over the practice is that people are feeling rushed — the county could slow down to examine the issue and study the possible ramifications, he said.

Since he wasn’t part of the process, Mackey said, it’s hard for him to say what should have been done differently about redistricting, although he’d have liked to see New Scotland put in one district rather than three.

The legislature as a whole is too big, he said, and the number of legislators should be reduced.  People always pledge to shrink the legislature when they are running for it, he said, and then they don’t follow through when they are seated.  “People don’t want to vote themselves out of a position,” he said, so it should be voted on to take effect in the election after the next redistricting, in 10 years.  That way, the people who have to vote on it won’t have as much of an interest in keeping their own seats.  It should be cut down to have between 21 and 27 seats, Mackey said.

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