Michael Pepe, candidate for district 7 legislator, cited his years of service on multiple boards and committees as an accumulation of experience that has prepared him to serve as county legislator. His resume includes involvement with organizations such as Fulton Montgomery Community College, St. Mary’s Hospital, Fulton County Economic Development Corp., Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Catholic Charities of Montgomery County, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Montgomery County among others.
“I’ve been very involved with the community over the last 30 years,” said Pepe. “Now it’s a natural progression to apply all that experience and all those skills to the world of government and attempt to make an impact and make a difference in that arena as well.”
Pepe began his professional banking career in 1976 as a teller, and has since worked his way up to his current position of vice president and senior relationship manager for NBT Bank.
He said his years of professional banking experience would also be valuable on the legislature.
“I think it’s potentially one of the strengths I bring to the table on the legislative team. Having been a commercial loan officer for the last 30 years. The gist of my job is to annually collect financial information on all my borrowers, as well as the new ones we take on,” said Pepe.
“Annually, we analyze their financial statements to determine their capacity to repay us. So I have an intimate working knowledge of a lot of different types of financial statements from…not-for-profits, retailers, wholesalers…some of my customers have budgets that are larger than the county’s,” he added.
In regards to the approach he would take with the county budget, Pepe said, “Every budget cycle is it’s own animal.”
“We need to always maintain a solid fund balance to secure our bond rating. I don’t think accumulating it for accumulation’s sake is necessarily the answer. Nor do I think we should continually go into it for 3-4 million every year until it’s depleted,” said Pepe.
In regards to raises for elected officials, he said, “They were elected into an office at a certain salary level, and I think they should remain where they are.”
However, Pepe said he would open to some adjustments to bring some salaries in line with similar positions at other counties with similar budgets.
“I don’t know if I would be against investigating the possibility of increasing some of them based on the position and the duties,” said Pepe. “Let’s take the sheriff for instance. I think the safety of the people is paramount, and I think our sheriff does a tremendous job.”
Pepe then said some might think that increased salaries might mean higher taxes, “but I don’t know if that necessarily has to be the case,” he said. “We’re not talking about tons of money here. There may be an adjustment here or an adjustment there to some of these positions, especially the most impactful ones.”
Pepe said that the county’s economic development efforts are key to supporting sales and property tax revenues to balance the budget. He referred to his time on serving on the Fulton County Economic Development Corp during which various industrial parks were developed, including the one which now contains the Walmart distribution center.
“It was amazing how they developed those parks, and they were four or five miles removed from the thruway, from the rail, from the waterway. Given our closer proximity to all those assets, I think it’s something we continually have to look to use to our advantage,” said Pepe.
Pepe said he hopes to see cooperation between Montgomery and Fulton County to develop a regional business park.
“I think it’s a great idea. We have to look at ourselves regionally to a certain degree. If we look at ourselves as a Montgomery County fiefdom, and not be willing to partner with an adjacent county – there was a time in ancient history when Fulton and Montgomery County were one county called Tryon County. But I realize boundaries have long been in place with different schools of thought,” said Pepe.
He added that he was sensitive to the opposition to the construction of bypass roadways leading from exit 28 on the Thruway that have come up in the discussions related to the regional park.
“I wouldn’t want to see any kind of access roads that people are debating about…to this potential park, ruin anybody’s existing living experience,” he said. “Maybe there’s a way to be able do it without having that effect on people.”
He said he sees plenty of potential in the City of Amsterdam for development in the Amsterdam Industrial Park, and envisions residential and specialty retail development on the Mohasco site and at the site of the old FGI building.
Pepe said he grew up in Amsterdam, and later when deciding where to settle down, he and his wife chose to return to Amsterdam. He currently commutes often for his job to Albany.
“I did not want the congestion and the headaches of living in an overpopulated area. I wanted five miles to be five minutes, I didn’t want five miles to be fifty minutes,” he said.
Pepe said he hopes the region can still gain traction for being known as “bedroom community” for the capital district.
Cooperation and collaboration are the keys to moving forward in the county, according to Pepe. Although “give and take” is always required, Pepe said, “The legislative board is a team, and if we don’t look at each other as a team, then we’ll never accomplish things.”
Pepe will appear on November’s ballot on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence party lines. He will face Jeff Stark on the Democratic party line and incumbent Barbara Wheeler who is running on an independent line.