Virginia Luppino has operated a landscape design and installation business in the village for nearly 30 years. She’s been active in community affairs. She’s lived in the village for seven years. Prior to that, she lived in Olive Bridge. She has two children, a 21-year-old daughter and a 33-year-old son. She has volunteered for many community groups, including the Esopus Creek Conservancy and the farmers’ market. She has served on the environmental commission in Woodstock and organized the Olive National Heritage Society, which went on to map all the flora and fauna of Olive. She has taught environmental education in schools and lectured to garden clubs and community organizations about gardens.
What do you believe should be done with Golden Hill, the county-owned health facility?
I’m in favor of Golden Hill remaining in county hands. On a recent visit there, talking to the administrators and the caregivers, and the residents … it’s a unique facility, and we really need to support it, and support the jobs that are there and to fine-tune what repairs really need to be done. I had never been there, and I expected to see it look like a ramshackle, falling-apart place – but it’s a beautiful place. It’s been suggested that there are things they can do to increase the income by doing some rehab there. I don’t think we have to do what Mike Hein is suggesting [create a corporation to run the facility until it can be sold]. I’m not convinced that the care level would not go down. After speaking with the caregivers there and discussing how the private nursing homes cherry-pick their patients, I’m convinced that a lot of people at Golden Hill need people to help them get around. I’m not convinced that that would be available if Golden Hill wasn’t there. Last month they did a preliminary vote on a resolution, and it lost by one vote. Another resolution will be put forward at the meeting in October, we’ll see how that goes. This is not a partisan issue. In Saugerties, everyone seems to be on board with wanting to keep it.
The town of Saugerties is working with the county to share snow-removal services. Do you think more services should be shared between the town and the county? If so, which?
I think shared services is great, they should be implemented at every level. I’ve heard people say we should have shared services with the Sheriff’s Department, that it would be a big money saver, but this is something that I would need to look into more, to be honest. The town of Saugerties was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon with the shared snow plowing. I think that was a good situation for everybody.
If elected, what would be your top priority?
Economic development. I think the economic development model we’re using is outdated. I would like to see us think about economic development from the ground up. I would like to see us support local businesses that are already here, to help them grow. We know they are not going to leave overnight. We need to have more oversight over the Ulster County Development Corporation and the Industrial Development Agency and their PILOT programs. What they did here in the village, with the hotel; they told us we need it for the tax base, but it turns out they won’t pay full taxes for at least 20 years. We need to keep an eye on that. As Kings Highway gets developed, we need something in return if they are not paying full taxes. I’ve started a conversation with the young people in the village, trying to find out what they want. As much as we need to take care of our seniors, we need to create opportunities for our young people. As the mother of two young kids, 20 and 30 something, I can see … my children are actually working in jobs they like, but that’s not the case for most of their friends. There are things we can do in Ulster County … there are models out there. There are models for development, and for our historical agriculture. We need to expand our agricultural base by expanding markets. There are many young people out there who want to be farmers. I don’t have the answers yet, but I want to start these conversations. Create jobs that are not subject to the ups and downs of the global economy, things we need here.
How does your experience make you a good candidate?
I have extensive experience running a small business for 28 years which requires clear communication, excellent organization and thorough information gathering. I also have experience as an educator, a community activist, member of the arts community, and business mentor for young entrepreneurs. I have always had the ability to bring various viewpoints to the table to resolve problems and move forward. The bottom line will be, “How does this serve my constituents?”
As a single parent of two young adults I know first hand the difficulties facing working families and will work to keep Saugerties affordable for families and seniors. I also see first hand the difficulties facing the younger generation of twenty and thirty somethings. I am particularly committed to providing opportunities for our young adults.
Describe the role of a county legislator. What effect does county government have on residents?
The county Legislature, its role is to oversee the budget, to work with the county executive to establish priorities in the budget, and right now, with 70 percent of the budget mandated by the state, there is very little left for county services that aren’t mandated. I think the county should be working more with the state to get funding for a lot of these mandates. Especially now, with the tax cap, mandates should be capped at 2 percent as well.
The county is responsible for all the services that we need: transportation, social services, safety, economic development, health and human resources. The county Legislature has a lot of things it oversees. The county raises taxes for all these services, but the county taxes are the smallest part of our taxes. One of the major things the county does is to promote economic development and tourism. They oversee Ulster County Community College. I think UCCC does a great job, but in this economic climate we need to rethink a bit what we’re doing there. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, the college was geared to associate degree programs that enabled people to learn a trade and start a business. I was one of those people, and everyone that I went to school with in those days has started businesses. They all started businesses and employ people.
To really grow our economy from the ground up, five, ten twenty jobs at a time, jobs that will stay here and educate people with things they can do here. It’s a great jumping-off place – they go there for two years, and it’s less expensive and then they go off to get their four-year degree and then there are no jobs for them here. I don’t want my kids going off; I want them to be nearby, and I think there’s an opportunity here for UCCC to bring back those kinds of programs that will train young entrepreneurs, and to have that going on in the county. In the ’80s they gave up a lot of those programs and focused on giving students the two-year education to move on to four-year schools. It’s not serving all our young people.
What specific policies will you advocate? How will these policies serve the interests of Saugerties residents?
I would like to see our agricultural base expanded. There are farm-to-market and farm-to-schools programs that we can tap into. There are so many young people that want to farm, but when I talk to people they say agriculture doesn’t pay living wages. But it does if you’re a farmer, and we have the example of some of these young people coming to the farmers market. They only have a few acres, but they are making a nice living because they have found a niche market. Twenty years from now we are not going to be able to ship food across the country, with the increasing price of fuel. We need to think about creating a more sustainable Ulster and really branding Ulster – like we have Ulster County Fresh, it would be great to have products made in Ulster County so we all supported each other. Education can be tied in with that as well. There’s a thirst for that kind of knowledge among a lot of young people – for farming and sustainability and resourcefulness. As much as we want to care for our old, we need to create opportunities for our young.
How would you rate the job performance of County Executive Mike Hein?
I feel like Mike Hein is doing a great job. I don’t agree with his stance on Golden Hill. Mostly in other ways I agree with a lot he is doing. He showed leadership through this disaster with Hurricane Irene. He could act because being the executive, he could make decisions. If we didn’t have this new form of government, he would not have been able to act as quickly as he did. His budget for 2012 is coming in under the tax cap. He’s really sympathetic to families knowing that that is a huge issue for us right now.
Do you think the balance of power between the executive and legislature is as it should be?
The legislature can put forth legislation, he can veto it, and they need a 60 percent majority to override his veto. I think that’s fair. The legislators, especially going forward with one legislator for one district, we’ll really be in touch with what our constituents want. That makes it even more fair going forward. This will be something new, one legislator for one area that they have to live in. That’s something we never had before.