Greg Helsmoortel, a politician who inclines away from hyperbole, even at the risk of sounding downbeat, looked with an appraising eye backward and forward on the cusp of the new year.
His assessment: things went pretty well last year, town-wise. They look pretty good for the coming year as well, town-wise.
Helsmoortel is the embodiment of the phrase “cautiously optimistic.” It’s an attitude that has paid off for him over the years; whatever else 2016 may bring the town, it will also give it the first of Helsmoortel’s final two years in public office. Aside from 2012-13 when Kelly Myers had the job, Helsmoortel’s been supervisor since 2000.
Among his disappointments last year was the failure of a group of New York City nursing home investors to win a coveted state license to grow and process medical marijuana on a parcel of land on Kings Highway next to the Army Reserve Center.
“I was disappointed about that, no doubt,” Helsmoortel said on Monday.
His tone brightened slightly when he said he’d received news — on Christmas Eve, no less — of an out-of-the-area business that was interested in the same Kings Highway site. It could mean 35 new jobs, he said. But he declined to give the name of the potential business, citing ongoing negotiations.
On a brighter and more readily discussed topic, Helsmoortel took a bow for the town’s successful sale of the former Vertis Communications building to Kevin Pitcock, the owner of Peak Trading, a Hurley-based manufacturer of cables, ropes and rigging equipment.
Helsmoortel said he expects Pitcock to relocate his three businesses to the huge vacant building. Initially, that will mean 25 new jobs, he said, adding that Pitcock plans to find additional tenants — and an unknown number of jobs — to fill whatever space he doesn’t use.
A disappointment that extends from last year to this is the state’s refusal to isolate the cost of health insurance for the town’s 75 employees under the state’s tax cap formula. Roughly $80,000 in insurance costs have risen eight percent, and shouldn’t, in Helsmoortel’s estimation, be included in the formula.
He sounded a skeptical note when asked if any Albany representatives were making an issue of it. Democrat Kevin Cahill has told Helsmoortel he was “aware” of the problem.
Helsmoortel sounded a similarly bleak note when discussing the fate of any solar conversion plans for the town, saying the state was not offering sufficient incentives to make it real.
Turning to the future, Helsmoortel saw two private developments as offering promise: the recent sale of Lynch’s Marina on Ferry St. to HITS President Tom Struzzieri and the construction of a new Holiday Inn Express on Rt. 32.
As for the town’s biggest environmental hot potato, the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline which would run through the town on its way from Albany to New Jersey and back, Helsmoortel sounded as if his attitude hadn’t improved since the company pulled out of a public hearing at the last minute last summer.
The project recently made headlines when, despite the pleas of 25 communities along its proposed route that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation replace the New York State Thruway Authority as lead agency on the project’s environmental review, it was announced that the two agencies will “co-lead” the review.
“First of all, I was very surprised by that decision,” Helsmoortel said. “It was not needed and there was no desire for it. But I’m sure Pilgrim is thrilled by it.”
The Thruway, he said darkly, is in desperate need of money, and on that basis alone, should be part of the review.
“As far as the company goes, they had an opportunity (last summer) which they handled very, very poorly… I don’t think they’re very sharp businessmen.”
Would he welcome another public hearing in Saugerties?
“The review process has already begun; we’ll keep an eye on it.”
Helsmoortel has said his eighth term in office would be his last. He said he’ll stick by that plan, even though it means he won’t be the town’s longest-serving supervisor. That honor, he said, belongs to a man named Pete Williams, who served nine terms.
“I had my eye on that back when, but no longer.”