All three candidates running for two seats on the Whitehall Village Board agree that addressing the community’s antiquated infrastructure must be a priority for the village.
Incumbent board members Patricia Norton and Robert Putorti Sr., both running as Democrats, are being challenged by political newcomer Tracy Ellis, running on the My Choice party line. The election will be held Tuesday, March 21, with polls at the Whitehall Recreation Center open from noon to 9 p.m.
Addressing the village’s infrastructure woes, which include century-old water lines that frequently break, is a must if the village is to grow and prosper, the candidates agree. But they caution that there is no quick fix.
“It didn’t get there overnight; it’s not going to get fixed overnight,” Ellis said. Upgrading the infrastructure is “going to take money,” she added.
Norton agreed, noting village taxpayers are not really able to pay for projects that will run into the millions of dollars.
“With unfunded mandates required by the (state Department of Environmental Conservation) and (Department of Health), we must constantly be looking for grants to help fund the projects,” Norton said.
Putorti noted that village officials have been working hard to get grants for a major waterline project on Poultney Street and have been working to upgrade the water main from the village’s Pine Lake water source in Dresden across Neddo Street into the village.
Ellis said her other priorities if elected would be to increase community interest and involvement in village government through improved communications and to promote the creation and growth of businesses in the community.
Too many village residents are apathetic about how they are governed, only getting involved when they see an issue that directly affects them, she said. Issues such as infrastructure seem removed from their everyday lives (until a water main on their street breaks), so there is little public pressure to aggressively deal with the problem, she said.
Ellis, who is a consultant with the Launch and Lead entrepreneur start-up program, also said the village is caught up in a vicious cycle of needing tax revenues to address problems such as infrastructure but needing improved infrastructure to attract new businesses. The village needs to work closely with state and federal officials to obtain the money needed to break the cycle, then build on that success to increase the tax base, she said.
Norton said her other priorities are to improve the appearance of the village – which in turn would make it more attractive to potential new businesses – and to develop a plan to replace village-owned vehicles on a set schedule, rather than only when absolutely needed – another issue she acknowledges is driven in part by the availability of funds.
Whitehall needs “to make our community more presentable to visitors and businesses that would like to move here. We need to instill a pride in property owners to maintain their properties,” Norton said. “Perhaps, the Chamber of Commerce could help us with this.”
A vehicle replacement schedule may involve some up-front spending but could save the village money in the long run, Norton said.
“We run our equipment into the ground before replacing it. It’s time to come up with a plan of replacement where there’s trade-in value involved so that our payments are not so high,” she said.
Putorti said that, in addition to infrastructure upgrades, his priorities include making sure a deteriorating retaining wall at the northern end of Lock 12 is repaired and addressing the problems of drug use and crime in the village.
He also said he wants to continue working to improve the appearance of the village and to ensure the Police Department is adequately funded and staffed. He said he has been “working closely with the code enforcement officer to clean up properties in the village that are run down and look horrible to people passing by” and has been trying to make sure both the wastewater treatment plant and the Police Department have the “proper finances . . . to get what needs to be done in the village.”
Ellis, 56, retired after a 30-year career with H&R Block, including owning six franchises in Washington and Essex counties. The East Boston, Massachusetts, native came to Whitehall on assignment as a troubleshooter for the company and fell in love with the community. “I knew I was home,” she said.
The village board race is her first foray into politics, although she said she had a long-time interest village government. Her job, she said, precluded her from stepping up earlier but now that she has time and no restrictions on her activities, “I’m going to help, regardless” of the outcome of the election, she said.
Norton, 80, has served in village government for many years, both as a village board member and as mayor. She retired from the Whitehall Central School District after 33 years and currently serves on the district Board of Education – a position she said she plans to seek again in May.
She is also a volunteer at the Whitehall Food Pantry.
A lifelong Whitehall resident, Norton said she would “like to continue serving my community” as a member of the village board.
Putorti, 76, is retired from Finch Paper and currently operates the family business Putorti’s Repair and Towing. He has also been involved in a number of community organizations, including helping to organize the Whitehall Youth League, serving as a Cub Scout leader and being a member of the Whitehall American Legion Post 83, the Whitehall Elks Lodge #1491 and a 30-plus-year member of the Skenesborough Fire Department.
He was first elected to the Village Board in 2021 to fill an unexpired term – deciding to run after no one else stepped forward – and is currently seeking a full four-year term.
“I’d like to stay in the trustee position to help serve the community to the best of my ability,” Putorti said. “I feel I can help the community.”