The ability to draw on years of municipal and private sector experience, as well as call on the contacts that he has developed along the way, were cited by candidate for county district 7 legislator Jeff Stark as two aspects that distinguish him from the other candidates.
During a recent interview at the Walter Elwood Museum, Stark talked about his twenty years of experience as president of the Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council, and his former term as Montgomery County supervisor.
“One of my unique talents is that, of all the candidates of all the legislative districts, not just mine, I think I have a greater grasp and far reaching relationships that may or may not come in handy at some point in time,” said Stark.
“If [the Montgomery County Business Development Center as an example] goes to an owner and they’re trying to entice him, seven out ten of times that owner has already worked with me and they trust me,” he said.
In regards to his current full-time position with the trades council, Stark explained, “Basically I work with the owners of these large projects…to write construction contracts to build them. I write about a billion dollars of work each year.”
Stark cited involvement with construction projects such as the Schenectady casino, the Albany County convention center, and Global Foundries.
He said his job entails working with project owners, contractors, and construction managers to keep construction costs down, as well as helping to resolve employee related issues.
Stark said the training and certification with the International Benefits Foundation that was required by his job helped him during his 2012-2013 term as county supervisor as he evaluated the county’s health insurance trust.
“The health insurance trust was way too costly for the county. It was because of my experience in benefit trusts that I was able to examine those papers and determine we were paying approximately a million dollars per year too much,” said Stark.
“I got criticized at the time on the radio that I didn’t know what I was talking about,” added Stark. “But in the following year, after the trust was dissolved, the [NY State] controller’s office did a routine audit on that, and determined that it was saving the county $940,000 per year, and that’s been four years now.”
Stark said his former experience with the county budget will help him come up to speed on budget issues better than someone who would be new to the county government.
“Municipal accounting is much different that corporate accounting,” said Stark. “I think I’m in front of the learning curve.”
As a former supervisor, Stark said he actively supported the effort to change the county government charter to create the current legislature and executive structure.
“I was convinced then, as I still am convinced, that a legislative form of government serves the people better because there’s no way that a board of supervisors with 15 different opinions can lead your county as effectively as an executive,” said Stark.
“That being said, of course you have to have the right executive and you have to have the right balances and checks,” he added. “One of the faults that I have right now with our legislators, and it’s very hard to say that because a lot of them are my very good friends…but I think the board of legislators have relinquished too much control and basically fell in lock step with [County Executive Matt Ossenfort].”
Stark said he is concerned about the increase in the county’s budget over the past three years and the hiring of many new management positions.
In regards to discussion by the current legislature on increasing the county executive’s salary from $85,000 to $110,000, Stark said, “If the salary for the county executive goes to $110,000, he would then make more than 11 governors in the country, and he would tie with the 12th governor.”
If he is elected, and the pay increase issue comes up for a vote next year, Stark said, “I will vote no.”
Stark pledged that if elected, he will stay objective when it comes to votes on salaries and contracts, abstaining from a vote if there is a conflict of interest, and will avoid owing anyone political favors.
“I will not have anybody – this is my principle and mine only, I’m not saying it’s wrong or not wrong…I will not have anybody that I have to vote for or vote against, helping my campaign, because when the time comes, when I have to vote for or against them, there’s going to be a conflict.”
“I also don’t have anybody carry my petitions, that’s going to come before the county, to do business, to get a contract,” he added.
When asked if he was referring to any other candidates in the race, Stark replied, “I would say that everybody that’s a voter should be aware of what’s going on. Because politics in Montgomery County and the City of Amsterdam becomes blood sport.”
Other ideas Stark said he would bring to the table include studying the feasibility of purchasing vehicles and equipment for the county to transport it’s own solid waste, rather than contracting with a private company. He said the switch could potentially save the county money. He also said he would advocate for making sure that commercial businesses who receive financial assistance from the county are required to utilize local contractors and provide high-paying jobs. He also suggested looking into whether the county’s print shop could bring in more revenue by providing services to other municipalities and non-profit organizations.
In addition to his trades council job, Stark said he is also a member of the Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie County Workforce Investment board. He also enjoys being active in the community, through the local Knights of Columbus.
“I love this city,” Stark said of his hometown of Amsterdam. “I think it’s one of the most generous and caring cities, even with all its faults, this is a great town to raise your children in, this is a great county to be a part of.”
Stark will appear on the Democratic line on November’s ballot and will face Michael Pepe on the Republican, Independence, and Conservative Party lines, and incumbent Barbara Wheeler who is running on her own independent line.