Is the town spinning its wheels after a decade of progress? Is it just now turning a corner? Or has it been on the wrong track for some time now?
Your answer is a good indicator of which candidate you’ll be inclined to support for town supervisor in the Nov. 5 election.
Former six-term Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel hopes to pick up where he left off in 2011, first-term incumbent Kelly Myers wants more time to put her reforms into practice, and to both, challenger Gaetana Ciarlante says, “been there, done that.”
Top issues include economic development, taxes, the budget, leadership and management ability. Warning: there’s no love lost between these three. Let’s get started.
This year’s budget
A town supervisor only serves two years, so every other year the budget is prepared in the midst of an election. The opposition often accuses the supervisor of short-term planning to come up with a low number, and that’s exactly what’s happening this year. Myers’ budget, which projects a 1.7 percent tax decrease, has been criticized for its process and contents. She’s happy to address both.
The process used to include more input from department heads and board members, with a higher tentative budget gradually whittled down. This year, Myers took the numbers provided by department heads and made additional cuts without consulting them or their liaisons. It’s up to the board, she says, to argue for their restoration during October’s budget workshop meetings.
“If you have a system that’s broken, you don’t do the same thing every year,” she said. “And this year I didn’t want the same outcome. I shook them up this year. I planned this. I put this board on the hot seat. They can’t keep requesting more and more money.”
Indeed, adjustments have been made since Oct. 1. About $100,000 in required police spending was reinstated.
The most controversial part of the budget is its salary increase projections: zero.
Contracts for the Teamsters, UPSEU, CWA, and police (PBA) all expire at the end of the year. Myers said even if negotiations are unsuccessful, arbitrators could still rule in favor of zero or one percent salary increases. (Only the police union has binding arbitration.)
Helsmoortel doesn’t believe this will be successful, particularly with the police department. He said that while it’s true arbitrators might be allowing no salary increases in contracts, that’s more likely in a town where police officers are paid well in relation to surrounding towns– not the case in Saugerties.
Myers cites budget reform and spending cuts often as evidence of her fiscal responsibility. Helsmoortel is more likely to cite economic development, which he feels has been “neglected” in the last two years. He says he has the relationships, experience and communication skills to attract businesses and make it easy for them to set up shop.
“Elna Magnetics, Tom Struzzieri [of HITS], Dr. Bacchi at the [Lazy] Swan, Mark Bronstein [of Markertek], Kevin Brady [of Precision Flow Ceres Technologies]— I know they would all say I had a hand in facilitating their move or expansion in Saugerties,” said Helsmoortel.
He said the Army Reserve Center on Kings Highway counts as economic development even though it pays no taxes and doesn’t offer local jobs because it brings many people to Saugerties and they spend money at local businesses.
He said he helped bring water and sewer service to Kings Highway, which made the Reserve Center possible, and the town had completed a study called a Generic Environmental Impact Statement that would make it easy for new businesses to get approved on Kings Highway. He feels Saugerties would have seen more economic development if he were still in office.