Leeanne Thornton has been a Town Board member for eight years. She is a social studies teacher at Taconic Hills Middle School in Columbia County. Thornton attended Mount Vernon College in Washington, DC (since merged with George Washington University) and has done graduate work at the State University of New York in Albany and Russell Sage College in Troy. Thornton, a member of the Independence Party, is running on the Democrat, Independence and Working Families party lines.
If elected, what would be your top priority?
To continue working with the village and town comprehensive planning group to complete an update of the village and town master plan. This is something villages and towns are required to do on a regular basis as conditions change. For instance, one of the goals of our current comprehensive plan was to merge the village and town police departments. That has been done.
How does your experience make you a good candidate?
I have been on the Town Board for eight years, and I have experience with the board and the issues. I am also on the board of directors of the League of Women Voters, a good training ground for anyone running for office. As a middle school teacher I deal with a variety of adolescents, which requires understanding and conciliation. I’m involved in a variety of community organizations, such as the Episcopal Church. I’ve been a Girl Scout leader, a softball coach, and I’ve been involved in a lot of local groups.
Describe the role of government, what it should do and what it shouldn’t
The town is the first level of government people have to deal with. If you get a ticket, you go to the town court, you go to the town hall to pay your tax bill or get a dog license. The town is the closest level of government to you. We’re the largest town in Ulster County, with about 20,000 people. We have to provide safety, emergency services, highways, planning and economic development. We also have to have taxes that are affordable; it’s a fine balance. Our town budget has pretty much held the line. We have tried to be fair to our employees, but we are below the average in the county for compensation. We want to provide decent health insurance for our employees, but the cost keeps going up. Providing excellent services for the town does cost money, and we have been criticized for helping the library and providing the skate park. Both the library and the skate park, as well as the sports complex, have added to the quality of life in the town.
How can the town encourage economic growth?
We have a strong economic development committee and we have community events that bring people in, such as the Garlic Festival and the recent Old Timers’ Day, which we hope to repeat. These events bring people into our town, and many are impressed and want to come back and establish businesses here. Our Chamber of Commerce reaches out to others in the area. Channel 23 cable television is one of the best, and when people come during the summer they’re impressed. The Discover Saugerties book we produced for the Bicentennial is very popular, and people keep asking for it. One Kingston business distributing it asked why other towns don’t produce similar publications. HITS draws many people during its season, and the Diamond Mills project (a motel, conference center and restaurant) brings people in. The Kings Highway project is the only shovel-ready complex in the county; it offers access to the Thruway and water and sewer ready to hook up.
In your opinion, what are the town board’s top priorities?
Right now, we’re meeting with department heads to develop the 2012 budget. We’re trying to maintain the same level of services at a reasonable cost. We also have several contracts coming up for renewal. Employees in Saugerties government are represented by several different unions. We’re revising our zoning – a section on resources protection is ready to send to the county for review.
Do you think there would be negative consequences if candidates of the opposing party were elected? What would they be?
I believe in our two-party system, but our supervisor (Greg Helsmoortel) is not enrolled in a party, three members (herself, Bruce Leighton and Fred Costello) are Independence Party members and one (Jimmy Bruno) is a Republican. I don’t think in terms of party, and I don’t see negativism (based on party affiliation). Once you’re elected, you have to look after the interests of the town. For instance, Jimmy Bruno brings a lot to the board. He has voted with the rest of the board in most instances after discussion of the issues. We should be asking, “is it good for the town,” not “is it good for the party?” We all want to see the community prosper.