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Incumbent seeking another term in race for Bethlehem town supervisor

Democratic Town Supervisor David VanLuven [left] joined the Town Board in January 2016 and was elected as Town Supervisor a year later. Republican challenger Paul Heiser [right] is a senior research analyst for the New York State School Boards Association.
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Democratic Town Supervisor David VanLuven [left] joined the Town Board in January 2016 and was elected as Town Supervisor a year later. Republican challenger Paul Heiser [right] is a senior research analyst for the New York State School Boards Association.

Candidates for Bethlehem Town Supervisor recently participated in a virtual forum ahead of next month’s election.

Democratic Town Supervisor David VanLuven joined the Town Board in January 2016 and was elected as Town Supervisor a year later. Republican challenger Paul Heiser is a senior research analyst for the New York State School Boards Association.

In a nod to the times, candidates were asked "as new housing becomes more expensive, what do you believe the town should do to ensure housing is affordable for working people, middle income people, and for seniors who are on fixed incomes?"

Heiser says cutting taxes should be the first step for the Albany County town.

"I saw a statistic the other day that the median home price has gone up $50,000 between August 2020 and August 2021," Heiser said. "The cost of heating, the cost of heating fuels has gone up 21% since last year, so unfortunately, because it's like I said, some of the things we're seeing at the federal level, homeownership and rentals are out of the reach of many people. So what would I do? Well, there are several things. First of all, I would make sure that the their property taxes aren't overly burdensome."

VanLuven says there is deep misunderstanding about what affordable housing is, and believes the problem can be solved by working at the state level, to bring down the requirements of the state for funding affordable housing.

"To allow smaller scale, affordable housing projects so that we can have them not just in large places where there's a lot of open land, but we can have them in commercial centers," VanLuven said. "And we can also have them in the Bethlehem Central School District and the Guilderland School District, in places where people can walk to services, walk to the grocery store, catch the bus to work, drive to work more easily and be in a more central part of the community. And this is an issue that we are exploring very carefully in the comprehensive plan."

The candidates were asked which recommendations by Bethlehem's Police Reform and Reinvention Committee they would like to see go into effect. Heiser says outfitting officers with body cams should be top priority.

"It'll protect them, but it'll also protect us. So that was, that was the key recommendation from that report that struck the biggest chord with me, so I will work to implement that," Heiser said.

Heiser added that the report contains "recommendations to create committees to study things," adding that "issues have already been studied, studied to death.” He says he believes further committees and commissions are unnecessary.

VanLuven says his administration took effort "seriously," having held 31 hours of community public forums.

"We have an outstanding police force," VanLuven said. "But we also saw patterns in the data that indicated that there were some potential disproportionate policing that we needed to explore further."

Candidates were asked about their plans for water, sewer, gas, electric and broadband infrastructure. VanLuven says the town does not provide natural gas or broadband.

"We have an active plan that is implemented by our public works department for maintaining our water and sewer lines," VanLuven said. "And our crews do an amazing job maintaining it that what for them is about 400 miles of underground, water and sewer lines. We are in the closing stages of completing an $18 million improvement to the Clapper Road water treatment plant."

Citing a huge water main break last March in front of the middle school that led to a week-long disruption, Heiser says there are problems with the water and sewer lines that need to be addressed.

“So I think the main thing that I would do, I would survey the water and sewer systems in the town to see which ones are the oldest and which ones are the most decayed, which ones are the most in need of repair," Heiser said. "But then I would focus on those to be repaired immediately and quickly. We can't have another situation like the one we saw last winter, when this waterline broke, you know, the problem should have been diagnosed before it ever happened.”

VanLuven countered the town mapped out water and sewer lines in the last decade, adding that the challenge is finding the resources to comprehensively replace aging lines, which he calls "mind bogglingly expensive."

Perhaps the most contentious issue dividing the town is Proposition Six, involving the proposed Delaware Avenue Road diet that would shift traffic between the Albany City line and Elsmere Avenue into one lane in each direction. VanLuven supports the measure.

"Proposition six is about going through the financial steps so that we can continue the community conversation about what the design should be that we can do a detailed design of three different traffic configurations, and so that we can implement improvements to our sidewalks," VanLuven said. "If prop six is approved, we'll be able to take a $2.9 million grant to do that work. And to do that, can you get that continued community conversation? If we vote against prop six, then we will lose that funding will have major construction, but it's just going to replace the pipes and repave the road as it is no sidewalk work, no safety work and no more community conversations.”

Heiser says it would negatively impact the livelihoods of business owners and birth a traffic nightmare.

"When traffic's bottled up with what happens traffic goes to places like Bender Lane, it goes to Kent, whatever, streets that weren't designed to handle that volume of traffic," Heiser said. "It's going to be dangerous for bicyclists, because there are just too many curb cuts along Delaware Avenue. I understand there are 72 curb cuts on that 1.3-mile stretch of Delaware Avenue. So there are cars constantly turning in, pulling out, of driving so that's just tailor made for a serious collision with a bicyclist and in a motorist.”

Watch the complete debate here.

Early voting begins October 23.

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