Near a train crossing improved under his watch, at the intersection of a road he spent years promoting for development, former six-term supervisor Greg Helsmoortel officially launched his candidacy for the seat he lost in 2011 to Kelly Myers.
It was not a surprise announcement: Helsmoortel, 66, told the town’s Democratic Committee he would run months ago. Chairman Mike Harkavy said the committee would support his nomination at the party’s caucus July 9, though the committee’s support doesn’t guarantee the nomination. (So far no one else has declared for the Democratic nomination.)
Surrounded by about 20 supporters at the intersection of Tissal Rd. and Kings Highway, Helsmoortel mainly spoke about his accomplishments. His only swipe at current supervisor Kelly Myers was lack of communication – as supportive board members Fred Costello and Bruce Leighton looked on nodding, he said Myers was not keeping town department heads and fellow board members in the loop on important issues, which made the town government run less effectively.
As accomplishments, Helsmoortel cited the Town Hall building, bringing municipal water and sewer to a 3.5-mile corridor of Kings Highway to encourage development (behind him was a “shovel-ready” parcel, called that because necessary studies have already been funded by government, which will speed development when a buyer is found), improving the railroad crossing at Tissal Rd., creating an ambulance district when local service was in trouble, joining the Greenway, which he says has brought the town valuable grants, constructing/improving the Glasco and Malden miniparks and town skate park, helping businesses relocate (Simulaids, Elna Magnetics, Markertek and HITS), and beginning a shared services program with the county and town Highway Department.
He vowed to be more vigilant in defending himself against accusations by the opposition that he was in 2011. He mentioned three points that have already been made by Republicans. On the police merger, which the GOP chairman has said cost the town taxpayers money at the expense of village taxpayers, Helsmoortel cited the recent League of Women Voters forum on the issue that concluded it succeeded by lowering the overall cost of policing in Saugerties while maintaining service. On not appropriating nearly $400,000 for county welfare charges, he said Saugerties did this as a protest to the county’s unorthodox system of billing individual towns, and the protest helped convince the county to take on the charges. On not appropriating funds for election charges from the county, his explanation was similar.
Accused of depleting the town’s fund balance, he admitted to using it. But he said he had to because it was the middle of the economic downturn and it was necessary to offset tax increases.
He said if elected he’d work on shared services and economic development issues. Saugerties is ideally located between Albany, where the governor is concentrating on encouraging development, and New York City, which continues to thrive, said Helsmoortel. During the IBM days, that company supported many other small businesses as vendors. So even without a huge employer in town, Saugerties could do well by attracting small businesses that serve industries elsewhere. He said he was a “people person” who had the right set of skills to get businesses to locate in Saugerties.
For shared services, he mentioned working with the village on roads. Currently the town has a highway department and the village a department of public works. He said the village’s unique identity must be preserved, but the trend will be to continue to combine services to save money.
Helsmoortel, who began his career as a Republican, later left the party and began to receive support from the Democrats, though he never joined the party. He won several elections as a candidate not enrolled in any party. But he’s now a member of the Independence Party.
Kelly Myers has not yet said if she will run for a second term, but Gaetana Ciarlante, the president of a group that supports U.S. servicemen and a vocal affordable housing critic, said last week she’d seek the Republican nomination at party’s June 19 caucus.