AUBURN — Two candidates vying for a spot in the Cayuga County Legislature returned to the stage where they debated for the same position four years ago.
Joseph DeForest, a Democrat, defeated Conservative opponent Hans Pecher in 2015 to represent the 8th District at the county level. This year, Pecher is again challenging the now-incumbent legislator to represent the towns of Venice, Genoa and Locke.
While introducing the two candidates, moderator Guy Cosentino noted that this race was something of a "rematch" between them.
DeForest and Pecher answered questions Tuesday afternoon about water quality, redistricting of the Legislature and county government operations during a debate produced by Cayuga Community College Telecom/Media Department.
One point of discussion about county-wide issues during the debate Tuesday was how to improve water quality with algal blooms in nearby lakes and how to source drinking water.
DeForest expressed hope that Owasco Lake, where much of the county draws its drinking water, will receive attention from Albany for its status as one of the Finger Lakes and potentially undergo restoration with state funding.
He also supports utilizing Cayuga Lake as a second source of drinking water, which would give the county more control over its water delivery infrastructure
Pecher agreed that water quality is an important concern — "how to achieve it is the problem," he said. Skaneateles Lake, which he described as highly managed, still has algal blooms. He said he hopes that "the state would be willing to chip out money" to improve water quality, though.
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DeForest said he found the input from a steering committee organized in 2017 to re-examine the rules for for Owasco Lake's watershed "very helpful," while Pecher said he had not read them.
The two clashed on the question of whether the county should consolidate its water districts into one. Pecher did not support it, but added that "possibly, in the future, we might need a countywide system." A proponent of the consolidation, DeForest cited the cost of maintaining equipment and personnel to maintain multiple districts.
Some key shifts in county government's operation and hierarchy also entered into the discussion. DeForest said he had a difficult time understanding why the county administrator was ousted from the Legislature in June, while Pecher felt the removal was justified.
The director of the Public Works Department — which consolidated several county departments when it was established last October — also resigned in August. The candidates disagreed on how to deal with that still-vacant position.
DeForest recommended that its leadership be replaced, but Pecher did not see why the department was necessary. He continued that it never should've been created and should be scrapped "as soon as possible."
In response, DeForest said that one "shortcoming" of the Legislature was a lack of commitment to long-term planning: a responsibility that the DPW director would take on if there was one.
Pecher contested the idea of further redistricting the county to decrease the number of legislators, out of concern that it would split up towns. The current number — 15 — was chosen to "keep towns whole," he said.
However, DeForest said he found that number of legislators difficult to work with. "Perhaps it would be easier to reach consensus if the number could be decreased," he said.
But DeForest did agree that drawing lines through towns would make for "a lot of unhappy people," saying he was open to any research that might be able to help with the question of redistricting.