Jabs, Sales Tax and Poverty Highlight Chemung Executive Race
ELMIRA, NY (WSKG) - Chemung County will have a new county executive next year. Tom Santulli is stepping down. He’s held the seat since 2000.
Three candidates are vying for the position. Some of those candidates were exchanging jabs even before the race began.
Fuel card and lawsuits
“It made me angry because people who have committed themselves to the community the way I have deserve better than what Sheriff Moss gave me,” said Mike Krusen, a candidate for Chemung County Executive.
He’s talking about an investigation brought by Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss, the Republican candidate in the race.
The investigation centered around a county fuel card Krusen used even after he went from full time to part time as Deputy County Executive. Moss alleges Krusen used it improperly. Krusen filed a libel suit against Moss.
"On the advice of my lawyer, since there's pending litigation, I'm really not at liberty to talk about it at this point," Moss said. "Hopefully, in the near future, when it's been put to rest, I'll be more than happy to shed some more light on it."
Krusen was cleared of wrongdoing with the fuel card by the Steuben County District Attorney, who was appointed to look into the allegations. Moss also launched a separate investigation into Krusen and his role in the county acquiring Elmira’s First Arena.
That whole situation occurred before either candidate said they would run, but Krusen said it was an attempted political kill shot by Moss.
“Shame on him. Shame on him," Krusen said. "Because I think it was an abuse of office. It was beneath the dignity of the office of the sheriff. He’s never bothered apologizing.”
Krusen used to be the Chemung County Republican Chair, but decided to run on the Independence line. He says he didn’t want to go through a messy primary with Moss, but he’s more of a centrist anyway.
Krusen also says he’s not as political as Moss.
“He's not as political as me?" Moss responded. "This is an individual who was the chairman of the Republican County Party for multiple years."
"He’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Republicans in this county as well as the county GOP. Yet, he stands up and tells people, well, he’s more centrist now. Well, I find that hard to believe from an individual who’s the former chair and I think a lot of residents see that,” Moss added.
Sales tax formula(s)
A big issue in this race is sales tax distribution. The county changed the formula a few years ago to take a larger piece of the sales tax revenue than towns and villages. Some local governments have lamented this.
As Deputy County Executive, Krusen was part of that decision.
“It has worked well for many, many, many people in this community. Their taxes are lower than they would’ve otherwise been. Services have been improved," Krusen said. "Are there some bumps in that road? Absolutely. Can we work through them? No question about it.”
Moss says the county has gotten too financially comfortable with the current sales tax distribution. He would base a new formula on public safety.
Towns and villages with their own police force would get back all the sale tax revenue they’ve lost.
Municipalities without a police force would get half back over time.
“At the end of the day, one of the things county government was founded on was public safety and roads and highways," Moss said. "I think as Elmira starts to experience maybe an uptick in having some new buildings put and possibly the medical college, we have to make sure our community is safe. People aren’t going to buy houses, bring business here, go to the schools if they’re afraid to go into the City of Elmira.”
"We're all Americans"
That brings us to the third candidate in the race: Democrat Jerome Emanuel. He wants to focus on poverty. That’s been a big problem for Elmira, but it’s not just the city that struggles with it.
“Because there’s rural poverty as well," he said. "And in some cases rural poverty can be even worse. Especially when you’re talking about food deserts and things of that nature. So, I’m passionate about solving that problem and I will do whatever we can possibly do to put a serious dent in the poverty numbers in Chemung County.”
A Democrat in Chemung County faces an uphill climb. There are about 5,000 more active Republican voters.
“I’m not targeting certain groups of people. We’re all Americans," Emanuel said. "The last time I checked, there are a lot of yard signs out there. I don’t see anybody’s yard sign have 'Democrat' or 'Republican' on it.”
"This is about people," he added.
Even with the jockeying between Moss and Krusen, all three candidate complimented the others. They say they all want the best for the county. The difference lies in the direction.