. Please share a little of your background: where are you from, how long have you lived in the area, if not from here originally, what brought you here to live?
I am 45 years old. I have lived in the district my entire life, with the exception of going away for college, law school and a couple of years immediately thereafter. More specifically, I have always resided in Marcellus most of the year and spend time every summer at my family’s camp on Skaneateles Lake, which my family has owned my entire life. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I have been married to Deborah (Oberlender) Plochocki for 14 years. She is also a native of Marcellus, and we originally met in Mrs. Fenner’s 1st grade class at Marcellus Heffernan Elementary School.
2. What inspired you to run or seek reelection?
I ran initially, and continue to run, because I have been inspired by my parents to dedicate my life to public service. My parents, Leon and Julie, have dedicated their lives to public service, both as teachers and as very active volunteers in the Marcellus and Skaneateles communities. Anyone who knows my selfless parents – and many in the community do – would easily understand why I find them so inspiring. I believe public service to be a noble calling, and I enjoy making a difference in our community for the better.
3. What is your professional background and do you think that experience is beneficial to your service to the county and the communities in the district?
I went to college at Cornell University where I majored in American government and was on the Dean’s List. I then attended Law School at the University at Buffalo, where I was awarded a Dean’s Fellowship and became a certified environmental lawyer by receiving a Certificate in Environmental Law. I have been an attorney for over 20 years, much of it in private practice. In addition to private practice, I have served as a Staff Attorney for the NYS Supreme Court, Appellate Division, as in-house Counsel for Best Practice Associates (a Skaneateles-based health care consulting company), and as a guest lecturer and assistant trial team coach at Syracuse University Law School.
A legislator is, by definition, a lawmaker. Similarly, a lawyer is defined as one who is educated in the law. Being a lawyer, thus, is an excellent background for being a legislator. Moreover, my five years working as counsel in the health care industry gave me a solid understanding of Medicaid issues. Being a trained environmental lawyer is particularly helpful in my role as the Chair of the Legislature’s Environmental Protection Committee.
4. What is your background in terms of elected office? Have you served in other capacities, have you held any elected positions? How long have you or did you serve and how has that experience helped you?
Prior to holding elected office, I worked for other elected officials. In particular, I worked as a White House Staff Member for the Domestic Policy Office of the First Bush Administration and as a Legal Staff Member for Governor Pataki’s Office of Regulatory Reform. Both positions were fantastic experiences and allowed me to understand how things work “at the top” of the federal and state governments. I did not, however, have a desire to live in Washington or Albany. My heart will always be with my home in Marcellus and my family’s camp on Skaneateles Lake. I had the privilege of serving as the Mayor of the Village of Marcellus from 2006-2010, during which time I oversaw the largest infrastructure projects in the Village’s history. This allowed me to learn how government works at the local level – which is, of course, how government truly works on the front lines – and it is different from what one learns in the books or experiences in the White House or the Governor’s Office. I then had the added privilege of serving my constituents of the 6th District for three terms (six years) from 2012 to the present. The entire time on the Legislature I have served at the Chair of the Legislature’s Environmental Protection Committee. On the Legislature I have played a key role in lowering county property taxes, in returning an added $2.5 million in county sales taxes to the County’s villages, in overseeing the Onondaga Lake cleanup project, and in doing all that I can to protect Skaneateles Lake and all the bodies of water in my district.
5. From your perspective, what do you see as a few of the most important issues currently facing the communities in the district?
(1) Lowering property taxes. Every issue is important, but the number one issue that constituents tell me again and again is the most important to them is keeping county property taxes down. There is no better way to promote economic development in the district, and throughout the state, for that matter, than to lower property taxes. Period.
(2) Ensuring that large sums of county sales tax money return to the County’s local governments.
(3) Protecting Skaneateles Lake from another blue-green algae outbreak.
(4) Making sure that the massive amount (approximately $500 million) of County tax money spent on the County’s portion of the Onondaga Lake Cleanup Project is spent effectively.
6. What are some things you would do to address these issues?
I have done things – and will continue to do things – to address all of these issues.
(1) The Post-Standard refers to me as a “fiscal hawk” for my efforts in leading the fight at the Legislature to successfully cut property taxes in EVERY single budget since I have been a legislator. The Onondaga County property tax rate is now at its lowest level in over 25 years. I will continue to lead that fight.
(2) Simply lowering County property taxes, though, is not enough. Due to my efforts, in the past five years the county’s villages have received a total of $2.5 million ($500,000/year) in ADDITIONAL sales tax revenue above the amount they receive from the county annually since the 2010 agreement. While I could not muster enough votes to accomplish this during my first year on the Legislature in 2012, in 2013 and every year since I was able to convince enough of my fellow legislators to share this additional $500,000 with the villages. I am so passionate about this issue because I was the Mayor of the Village of Marcellus when the County Legislature at the time pulled the rug out from under the towns and villages by drastically cutting back the sales tax revenue it had been previously sharing. I was furious. I will continue this fight, as well.
(3) As with all waterways in New York State, Skaneateles Lake is owned by the state and the state is tasked with protecting it. Every year since I was elected to the Legislature and became Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee, I have ensured that Skaneateles Lake receives approximately $25,000 – the largest portion – of the state money that the County receives to fight invasive species in local waterways. That entire amount is given to the Skaneateles Lake Association (SLA) to aid in the fantastic job it does battling milfoil. I also fight every year for the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District (OCSWCD) to be allocated more County money. The OCSWCD is overseen by the County, but is funded with federal, state, and County funds. For over 20 years it has been the primary entity that has been working with the farms around the lake to protect the Skaneateles Lake watershed. In next year’s draft budget – over my objections – the money the OCSWCD had asked for from the County had been slashed. With the blue-green algae outbreak, I made a renewed push with my colleagues for money for the OCSWCD, and I gathered the votes to not only restore all of its funding for next year – but to increase it. Perhaps most importantly, though, I have used my time as Chairman to change the way that the Legislature views its role with Skaneateles Lake. Prior to my Chairmanship of the Committee, there is no time in recent memory – and perhaps ever – that the County has made a direct allocation of County tax dollars to aid Skaneateles other than what it gives to the OCSWCD. Starting three years ago, I changed that by getting a direct allocation of $7500 to the SLA for its milfoil boat, and have increased that sum each year since; this summer I announced to the SLA at its annual meeting that I had obtained $50,000 towards the new boat-washing station. I am determined to make this a permanent trend.
I have taken a comparable amount of all of these actions on the behalf of Otisco Lake, as well.
(4) I could write a book on all I have done in my role as Chair of the Environmental Protection in overseeing the County’s federally-mandated approximate $500 million dollar role in the larger Onondaga Lake Cleanup Project – which in its entirety is currently the largest lake cleanup project in the world! As my answer to this question is already long enough, I will just say that I will continue to ensure that the County money involved in this project is spent in the best way possible.
7. Where would you like to see things go in the next few years for the communities you represent? Just for example, growth, more businesses, more homes being built, etc.?
First, I would like to see a Skaneateles Lake with no further algae outbreaks and both Skaneateles and Otisco Lakes making progress against invasive species. Second, I want to continue to see business growth in our community. Business – especially small business – growth in the district is vital for the tax base. The recent expansion at Welch Allyn is a perfect example of what needs to continue.
8. What are some thing you would do to encourage the goals you would like to see come to pass in the next few years?
Please see my detailed answer to question #6.
9. From your perspective, how do you see the relationship between the communities in the district and the County and vice versa? What would you do to strengthen the relationship between these entities? What is/will be your approach as a liaison between the district and the county?
I have worked hard to build strong and productive relationships between myself and the Supervisors and Mayors, as well as many of the other elected officials, in the district. I am literally on a first name basis with all of them and have worked with all of them in the past. They all know how to reach me, and they all know they can (and do) reach out to me anytime. Whether it’s helping the Mayor and Supervisor of Camillus obtain County money for the new Camillus Cutlery site project or other endeavors, aiding the Supervisor of Spafford obtain state disaster money after the July storm, helping the Supervisor of Skaneateles get County money for playground improvements in Skaneateles Falls when federal funding fell through, meeting with the Supervisor in Otisco about his objections to Consensus, gaining the Mayors of Marcellus and Skaneateles unprecedented access to a County Legislature closed-door caucus meeting so they could directly confront the Legislature on sharing more sales tax monies with the villages, or working with the Supervisor and Mayor of Marcellus to convince the state to provide money for the large unfunded mandate placed on the Marcellus Wastewater Treatment Plant, I’m always active and available. I have the same relationship with the constituents of the district. I literally receive calls and emails on a daily basis from constituents asking for help, advice, information, etc., and I treat everyone respectfully and equally regardless of party affiliation.
10. What else should voters know about you and consider when voting?
I have never voted for a raise for myself in any of my elected capacities and never will. I was one of the few legislators who voted no on all of the much publicized raise votes for the legislators and County Executive in the past couple of years.
Also, I am an outspoken critic – in interviews with the papers, TV, and radio, as well as at public forums – of the proposal to take down the I-81 viaduct and replace it with a stop-and-go boulevard without a tunnel. This proposal is terrible for many reasons, but would be an absolute disaster in terms of truck traffic for Skaneateles.