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Candidates for Oneida County Executive face off in debate

The two candidates running for Oneida County Executive faced off in a debate at Utica Maennerchor Hall Tuesday night.

Posted: Oct 23, 2019 12:44 AM
Updated: Oct 24, 2019 11:15 AM

MARCY, N.Y. - The two candidates running for Oneida County Executive faced off in a debate at Utica Maennerchor Hall Tuesday night.

Incumbant Anthony Picente Jr. debated with challenger Michael Hennessy in front of a full room of voters, discussing many topics ranging from the budget, infrastructure, small businesses, agriculture, just to name a few.

The candidates both had 90 seconds to answer questions from panelists with a 30 second rebuttal to the other's answer. Later in the debate, the candidates took questions from the audience.

The debate began with opening statements from both candidates.

Picente pointed out what he has already done as county executive.

"For the last several years, we've seen the growth and work, the hard work, that we have put into county government, to make county government relevant again, to make county government a leader in public health, in public safety," Picente said. "We have a primary lead prevention program that I did on the first day in office, the opiate task force which is making great strides in combating this epidemic and on economic development we have worked tirelessly to bring jobs."

Hennessy touched on what he wants to do if elected.

"Government belongs in the hands of the people of Oneida County, no more top down decisions, we're going to get local participation, we're going to get government in your hands," Hennessy said. "The number one reason I'm running is there's just too many decisions made by a small group of people and you're expected to pay for it."

Financial issues were a big part of the night. The candidates touched on the budget, and how they will manage county spending.

"When you look at that budget, you really got to think about the people that are behind the numbers, not just look at willfully cutting amounts without having a good solid financial plan, which I've had in place since 2007 which my opponent voted for when he was in office," Picente said.

Hennessy says he has budget plans of his own.

“We’re going to cut spending,” Hennessy said. "We're going to change a lot of the personnel when we come into county government, we're going to bring a lot of young people, new ideas, people from colleges and universities around here and outside. We are going to cut government spending by five percent."

The candidates also discussed infrastructure in Oneida County, Hennessy specifically pointing out the roads in Utica.

"I'm committed to putting towards $2.5 million a year into infrastructure improvements that can be used throughout the county,"

Hennssey said. "We often forget the Uticans and Romans that you too pay county taxes."

Picente says it's not a county function to fix the roads and sidewalks.

"We have a record on infrastructure, it has been improved in my time and continues to do so," Picente said. "As far as sidewalks and other things in the city of Utica, Rome, we can't fix those, we're not allowed to go into the cities and fix roads and sidewalks, we don't do that."

Picente and Hennessy also discussed property taxes. Picente pointing out that this is the seventh consecutive year that the property tax levy has not been raised. He says he plans to keep the property taxes down. Hennessy argued that the property taxes are not being increase because Oneida County has the highest sales tax in Upstate New York.

The audience submitted questions, but the hot topic was the hospital. The question was 'What is your position on the downtown hospital?"

"I'm opposed to the downtown hospital, it will not be completed if I'm the county executive," Hennessy said. "I'm not going to put any debt on your children and your grandchildren they cant afford to stay in this county."

"Well it's no secret I have supported the downtown hospital and I believe that health care is the most important issue facing us as we go forward in this community and the need for a new state of the art hospital that attracts new physicians and new techniques and can serve our residents better than the old facilities, its very instrumental." Picente said. "There is no debt laid on the tax payers from the building of the hospital, let’s be clear on that."

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