BARKER – Two familiar mayoral candidates will face off yet again Wednesday in the Village of Barker, offering a wide difference in age and experience.
The election – the only mayoral contest in Niagara County this year – pits current Mayor Aaron Nellist, 36, who is finishing up his first term at the village helm, against Herbert “Herb” Meyer, 80, who served as mayor from 2011-13. It is a rematch of the village’s last election two years ago when Nellist won by a count of 69 to 43 votes.
The candidates list similar goals in their campaigns – improvement of village infrastructure, replacement of old equipment and hope for attracting new business.
When Meyer ran for mayor in 2011, he was unopposed. He had served on the village’s Planning Board for 17 years before joining the Village Board as a trustee in 2010.
Nellist finished up one term as a trustee before running for mayor in 2013.
Nellist is a graduate of Barker High School and has worked for the New York State Canal Corp. for the past 14 years, currently as a maintenance assistant. He and his wife, Heather, have two children, one still in Barker schools.
In fact, he credited the reputation of the Barker School District with helping lure young families to the area in recent years.
Meyer is a retired master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force, who spent a combined 37 years in the Air Force and New York Air National Guard. He and his wife, Janet, moved to Barker in 1992 and have four children, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Meyer believes his availability as a retiree makes him an attractive candidate.
“I used to attend all of the conferences that were offered,” he said, keeping him up to date. “I could, because I’m retired. I always made myself available.”
Both men name Barker’s aging infrastructure as a top priority for village government.
“The bulk of the work we’ve accomplished these past couple of years – and plan on continuing – revolves around infrastructure,” Nellist said. “You know the saying, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Well, that’s true whether it’s people or businesses. The roads, sidewalks, the water supply – all have to be top-notch.
“We did quite a large area of sidewalk repair last year and there’s still money in that budget left to do some large-scale intersection repair – it was money we put in the current budget following a rough winter (in 2013),” Nellist noted. “There are spots on Pallister Avenue and on Main Street we need to fix. We’re just waiting for a break in the weather. And we’ll be repaving East Avenue and Coleman Road.”
Meyer also has his eye on the village’s aging infrastructure.
“I’m looking forward, if I’m elected, to getting these streets repaired,” he said. “I know money’s tight, but I’m hoping we can come up with some grant money, like they just did in Newfane (a federal grant to spruce up Main Street). Our Main Street is in real bad shape – it’s old and broken up and has to be stripped down and started over and that will be expensive. We also have drainage problems, with a lot of broken tiles, because they’re probably as old as the water lines. I’d try and find the money to fix that.”
Phase I and II of the water line replacement project has been completed, but Nellist said the village will soon add to it.
“We’ll be doing a smaller section, not included in Phase I and II, in front of the new Barker Brewing,” he said. “This affects one house, the police station and the brewery and we’ll extend it a bit beyond to serve a property the village owns (on former Birds Eye property) that we’d like to market, which was the old barracks. A few people have expressed interest, but we need to extend the water service to that property first.”
In 2007, the village purchased a 7-acre site in the heart of the municipality that contained six buildings and more than an acre of green space for $20,000 from Birds Eye. The corporation had operated a processing plant and provided housing for migrant workers on the property for many years. It sold the larger portion of its site to Mayer Brothers for warehousing and the smaller portion to the village, which obtained it in order to find an appropriate use.
The sale in recent years of two buildings on the former Birds Eye property has been viewed as a catalyst for business development in this village of 533.
The popular Barker Brewing opened at 1693 East Ave. last fall in what had been Birds Eye’s cafeteria building.
“While I was mayor, we sold a couple of pieces of property and one is now Barker Brewing,” Meyer said. “I want to find some funds to put in a real road back there, because it’s really just a dirt road going back there now. The other piece of property we sold there hasn’t been developed yet.
“And I’d like to try to bring more little businesses in – that’s another one of my goals,” Meyer said.
“In the past one and half years, we’ve had two new businesses come in – the brewery and the laundromat (located on Church Street),” Nellist said. “Those buildings were rundown and now they’re drawing people in and making money. We couldn’t be happier about seeing these businesses succeed.”
Meyer said he also would like to see “a long-range plan in place for timely replacement of village equipment.”
Nellist said the Village Board is doing just that, “trying to reduce the costs of maintaining our fleet by trading them in every four to five years.”
Nellist said he was encouraged to see that Barker is second in Niagara County only to the Village of Wilson in the percentage of its garbage that is recycled at 19.4 percent, according to 2014 figures compiled by the county Public Works Department.
“Switching to pickup every other week has made a big difference for us,” he noted. “And, it’s rare to have a contract that’s under cost or just about at the cost of what it was in the past, but that’s what we have with this contract.”
Nellist said the village is updating its computer programs. It also is working to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
“We’re going to borrow inmate help from the county to repaint Village Hall this summer, and a local artist will be redoing our village signs,” he said. “We’re doing some spring cleaning and sprucing up the area.”
He also commented on some of the shared services the village has entered into with the Town of Somerset. The town and village boards voted last year to sponsor legislation to expand the town’s fire protection district to include the village.
“We have one fire district now, and there is the possibility of a health care consortium, which will hopefully work for everyone in keeping our costs down,” he said.
Nellist said he considers working directly with the board and village employees to be the best part of serving as mayor these past two years.
“We’ve got the best crews around,” he said. “They may be small things, but I couldn’t think of a better place to be. For example, I recently got a call while I was at work from a resident that his storm drain was plugged with snow. That could have been a problem. But I called (Deputy Mayor) Mark Wilson and he was off work that day and said he’d handle it.
“People really come in and pick up the slack for each other here,” Nellist said. “You see that everyone has the common goal of taking care of the village of Barker.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Meyer, who has nearly 20 years of service in Barker village government and 20 years with the Barker Fire Company, five as treasurer. He also has been a member of the Somerset Masonic Lodge since 1971 and served as treasurer of the Somerset Conservation Club for 10 years.
One of the highlights of summer is the village’s Farmers Market, and Meyer said he’s determined to make sure it continues and grows.
“We need to advertise it a little more,” he said. “The market also had entertainment and a cruise night and it really brought in a lot of people.”
Meyer isn’t doing any door-to-door campaigning this year, because he is on the mend from knee surgery in January.
But don’t think he’s slowing down. He went skydiving just last year to help his grandson celebrate his 20th birthday.
He decided to toss his hat back in the ring for this year’s mayoral race because, he said, “I enjoyed being available to help people. If anyone wanted to get a hold of me, they could always reach me. I once had a call at 2 a.m. and I took care of it. I think it’s satisfying to try and do things for the village and I enjoyed it. It felt a little like I was giving back to the community.”
Two candidates are running unopposed for two available trustee seats on the Barker Village Board in Wednesday’s election. They are incumbent Gregory Kerth, who is completing his first two-year term, and Scott Matheis, who was elected to the board in 2012 and stepped down in February of last year due to a conflict when he was named chief of the Barker Fire Department. The fire company’s recent redistricting has allowed Matheis to serve, once again, in a village office. Wilson, the deputy mayor, decided not to seek re-election.
Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. at Village Hall, 8708 Main St.
The only other village election Wednesday in Niagara County is in Middleport, where there are uncontested races for mayor and trustee. Polls are open noon to 9 p.m. at Middleport Village Hall, 24 Main St.
Middleport Mayor Richard Westcott is seeking his third term in office. He first served as a trustee from 1990-1996, then returned to the board in 2008. He took the reins from retiring Mayor Julia “Julie” Maedl in 2011.
The two incumbents seeking re-election to their trustee seats are Wayne Blumrick and Rebecca Hinkson, who are both finishing their second terms.