The town of Penfield is used to challenges.
In recent years, for example, there have been floods in the Panorama Valley that made a temporary mess of some homes and businesses --- and, some say, highlighted the problems of inappropriate development in a floodplain. (Federal, state, and local officials are on the case.)
And then there was a political fight over preservation of some delicate acreage along a semi-wild stretch of Allens Creek. (Eventually, an office park central to the controversy got the procedural go-ahead and was built.)
Now something else is on the horizon: A longtime county legislator, George Wiedemer, is challenging the longtime incumbent Penfield supervisor, Channing Philbrick, for the crucial Republican slot.
Wiedemer, a Rochester businessman (Cable-Wiedemer, a restaurant supply firm), has represented Penfield in the County Lej since 1985. He's due to be "term-limited" out of his Lej seat in 2005.
In his official bio, Wiedemer touts his co-authoring of Monroe County's anti-smoking regulations and sponsorship of grants for Alternatives for Battered Women. He says, too, that he "helped bring together the Monroe County Water Authority and the Town of Penfield in a money-saving cooperative that brought low-cost water to certain areas in Penfield."
Local Republicans are noted for their internal solidarity --- some would say stolidity. So why is Wiedemer seeking to unseat a fellow partisan? Looming term limits?
No, says Wiedemer. "The short answer is taxes and spending," he says. The town's property tax rate, he says, rose 17 percent "last year alone" because of a new $10 million plan to preserve open space. (Approved by voters last year, the plan aims to protect land through conservation easements, purchase or transfer of development rights, agricultural zoning, and other means. It was anticipated funds would come from local property taxes, state and federal grants, and so forth.)
"There's a lot of different ways they could have done that" other than by raising taxes so much, says Wiedemer. He thinks more grant money could have been found, for one thing. And he says it's wrong that the bulk of the money will go to protect just eight parcels. The town of Macedon, nearby in Wayne County, did it better, he says. Town leaders there got money through the Nature Conservancy and similar sources, and they spent only $2 million total, he says.
"The biggest difference between Channing and me is management style," says Wiedemer. He thinks his style would have profited the town in one high-profile case: negotiations with Paychex Inc. over expansion of the company headquarters in the Panorama area. Paychex eventually decided to look to the town of Webster instead. "It was clear," says Wiedemer, "that Channing talked to them as if they were any business. You've got to get the biggest company in town on the fast track."
"We just think it's time for a change," says Wiedemer. He faults Philbrick for treating people in the Panorama Valley with less sensitivity than needed while government bodies were finalizing a flood-control plan. The people there, he says, "were not very pleased with the process. I would never go into a neighborhood and force a change. I'd meet them door-to-door on their own turf."
When asked, Wiedemer couldn't give a status report on the flood-control plan, though.
A former Penfield town board member who's been supervisor for a decade since retiring from Eastman Kodak, Philbrick defends his record.
"It's been pretty hard to find out what my opponent thinks is 'broken,'" he says. "He's having a hard time articulating it."
Philbrick has no regrets about the open-space plan or its funding mechanism. The voters gave the plan "a mandate," he says. The property tax rate rose for only one year, from $2.51 to $2.95 per thousand, he says. "We've kept the tax rate flat for nine out of the last 10 years," he says. "We're pretty tight with a buck here."
What's Philbrick's agenda? He talks of wrapping up the town's open space plans and of expanding community and recreational space for seniors at the town hall. And like Wiedemer, he says a leaf-pickup service could begin --- if a town board majority coalesces.
What about Paychex? "They opted to acquire that building in Webster," he says simply. "We went right to the Governor's office to move the DEC [state Department of Environmental Conservation] a little faster" on the permitting, he says. "They probably would have moved there anyway," he says, purely because of the Webster site's lower costs.
And the $7 million Panorama flood-prevention plan? "It's still an active project," he says. "At the rate they're going," he says, work will get underway "probably next year." (The planning for installation of levees and flood walls to contain what engineers call a "500 year storm event" began around four years ago.) "We think it's an example of stepping up to an issue," Philbrick says.
He adds the project is important for Nalge Nunc International, a plastics company on Panorama Creek Drive. Nalge Nunc, he says, is the largest, and maybe only significant, manufacturer in Penfield. "They're a good neighbor," he says.
Primary elections will be held for several elected offices in Monroe County on September 9. To vote in the primary, you must be a city resident and a registered member of the political party holding the election. Polling hours will be noon to 9 p.m. Information: Monroe County Board of Elections, 428-4550 (TDD: 428-2390).For more about the 2003 Primary elections, visit the News Articles section by clicking here!