Oneida County executive race gets off to litigous start
The candidates running for Oneida County executive are now out on the campaign trail after spending the start of their contest in the courtroom.
Incumbent County Executive Anthony Picente and the Oneida County Board of Elections challenged more than 200 signatures gathered by Democrat Michael Hennessy. A state supreme court judge later validated enough of them to secure Hennessy's spot on the ballot. Picente appealed that ruling, but was unsuccessful.
Picente says he stands by that decision.
"We felt there were numerous discrepancies," Picente said. "It’s a right we have. If you want to get on the ballot, you have to follow the law and the rules of the election."
Hennessy, however, suspects foul play.
"He was just, in my opinion, desperate and wanted to carry this on at the interest of knocking me off so he didn’t have an opponent," Hennessy said.
Hennessy considered filing a separate lawsuit against the Oneida County Board of Elections because the deputy Republican commissioner, who is Picente's sister, didn't recuse herself when the signatures were counted. He has since decided against that in order to spend more time on the campaign trail.
Hennessy's chief message is about economics. He wants to cut property taxes and lower the sales tax rate, which he did several years ago as a member of the Oneida County Board of Legislators. Hennessy says in exchange, he would rein in spending.
"We've gone from $300 million to $425 million over the past eight-nine years in spending," Hennessy said. "We have to reduce our bonding because we’re spending $6-7 million in interest on those bonds and you might as well go to the tenth floor of the Oneida County building and throw the money out into the public and we would get a better benefit than what we are doing with that money now."
Picente defends his economic record. The sales tax rate of 8.75 percent is higher than other counties because the property taxes haven't increased here in six years, according to Picente. And while spending is up, Picente says it's being spent strategically.
"The very nature of what we have invested in are the very things that our people deserve and things that we need in terms of public safety in terms of roads, bridges, flooding issues, making people's lives easier, safer, healthier," Picente said.
Picente also notes that the cost of this larger budget is curtailed in part by the county's casino revenue agreement with the Oneida Indian Nation, which he says has brought in $80 million over the last five years.