Saugerties councilman-elect Paul Andreassen ready to take on latest challenge

Andreassen on the job back in 2011. (photo by Dan Barton)

Paul Andreassen, born and raised in Saugerties and about to take his seat on the town board come Jan. 1, intends to host about 100 people in their Malden-on-Hudson home this Christmas. Without a question, a portion of 4,056 voters that secured his place on the board will be in attendance.

“It’s felt good and humbling because over 4,000 people are putting great trust in me to do the right thing,” said Andreassen of his landslide win. “I hope not to let them down.”

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The stockings of his three children, three grandchildren and some of Andreassen’s 11 siblings have one of his house’s five fireplaces entirely coated with holiday hosiery. Unsurprisingly, the 62-year-old Andreassen, a building inspector for four different communities in Ulster County, chose to move into the five-bedroom (and two bathroom, one formal dining room, two office, one “music room”) fixer-upper in 1999, which he and his wife, town justice Claudia Andreassen, renovated within a year. According to Andreassen, the 4,300-square-foot home was used as a boarding house in the 1930s.

“People say, ‘You live up in that big house with just you and your wife?’ but if they saw the way I grew up with 11 kids, they’d understand,” said Andreassen.

Andreassen, who ran on the slogan “People, not Politics” pitched to a reporter the concept of a weekly “Everyday People” column highlighting community blue-collar workers, after helping a contractor lift a 200-pound pad compactor. Faced with his beautiful, albeit constantly interrupting, granddaughter Harper (who told me that she would like a “cutie car” for Christmas), Andreassen maintained his characteristic calm, which he described as “even-keeled” on election night.

“I don’t know much, but I know he is strong,” said 5-year-old Harper of her grandfather.

In preparation for his upcoming term, Andreassen has taken a webinar entitled “Just Elected — What Do You Do Now?” courtesy of the New York Association of Towns; in January, he and Councilman-Elect John Schoonmaker will attend a three-day Certified Town Official program in Albany, which includes courses on the fiscal responsibilities of a town board, competitive bidding for grants, a run-through of local laws and ordinances and a course on ethics. Although this is his first time served on a town board, Andreassen already appears to be amply prepared.

“Before I was a building official, I really had very little idea what local governments were involved with,” said Andreassen. “I’m still on the outside looking in — I still think it’s a learn-as-you-go process…  I’m going to try to immerse myself in the budgetary process — how many employees we have, what are our expenses, are our accounts receivable, are there areas we can cut costs and limit our involvement. Government can’t fix everything and it wasn’t meant to … [I want to] get a handle on what works and what doesn’t work.”

Born to build

Andreassen said that he was always gravitated toward “builder-type” role models as a youth, and was “hooked after [he] started banging nails and learning how to lay out walls, rafters and stairs.” After graduating from Saugerties High School in 1973, he enlisted the Navy and was assigned to the Construction Battalion, better known as the “Seabees.” He was a Builder 3rd Class, where he was deployed all over the world to build hospitals, runways, command outposts and base camps. Among other locations, he was sent to Yap Island, Diego Garcia, Spain, Guam, Thailand, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines; no location, however, captured him as Saugerties did.

Paul Andreassen on the Saugerties High varsity football team.

“I was away for four years in the military,” said Andreassen. “I look at those Catskill Mountains every day and I can’t think of a better place to live. I also feel that the people who come here and choose to make Saugerties their home — I think they know they’ve discovered a special place.”

Since then, Andreassen’s life has been hewn together with various elements of the building trade — he began performing building inspections in the 1980s, then took civil service exams for code enforcement. He was a senior building official for the communities of the Town of Ulster, Woodstock, New Paltz and Saugerties and was also a former Department of State instructor for courses on fire codes and codes division building. He’s taught at fire training centers and community colleges, is a licensed home and code enforcement inspector and operates a building inspection and consulting company.

Although the majority of his 20 years of dedication to structural integrity has been spent within the county, Andreassen has also put his expertise to work outside of Ulster County more recently. As a “badged” FEMA building inspector over the last five years, he recently assessed the damages to individual homes in Houston and Miami after Hurricane Harvey.

“The hundreds of inspectors, such as myself, strewn about in any number of municipalities, are busy almost nonstop conducting site visits and going house to house verifying the damage, grading the extent of the damage and, based on safety reporting to FEMA, the likely occupancy concerns to the residents,” said Andreassen of the experience in a September letter to the editor. “These inspections are not in depth and are general in nature so that assessments can be done rapidly and catalogued in an efficient manner to provide FEMA with basic information based on severity of the need as to where the resources should best be placed. All those decisions are way above our pay grade and we consider ourselves just the ‘sticks and bricks’ folks who, aside from conducting inspections non-stop, are, hopefully, bringing some comfort to an otherwise ‘stunned’ community.”

Rockin’ the Catskills

The multi-talented Andreassen has written between 400 and 500 songs to his recollection; his “Catskill Mountain Rock” group, the Paul Luke Band, has been inducted into the New York State County Music Hall of Fame since its inception in 1978, and played on the north stage in Woodstock ‘94. “I was playing shows down in Mississippi and I said, ‘I can’t really put Paul Andreassen on any type of flyer.’ Luke is my confirmation name and that’s where it came from,” Andreassen recalled.

He met his wife at one of his shows in 1983 after she moved to Malden three years prior.

Alex Ward is a fan. “We’ve both been building inspector, we’ve both been involved in construction, he’s a very good friend and I enjoy his music,” Ward said.

Andreassen is also an avid kayaker and photographer — the email inboxes of many are often graced with the pictorial results of his Hudson River paddles.

In line with his expertise, a major campaigning point for Andreassen was the appraisal and renovation of the many “zombie houses” in Saugerties, and he already has ideas.

“I would like to have all the properties in the village and the town that are questionable or vacant inventoried, perhaps step up the process of finding the responsible parties and work its way into the town taking the legal action necessary, which technically goes through the building department,” said Andreassen. “This is not to say that the town and village building departments are not doing their best to try to reach the owners or responsible parties — they are [just] understaffed … There may be some help through the zombie house website [www.dfs.ny.gov] through the state, where you can make a complaint online.”

Andreassen said he would also like more businesses to move to town: “With some positive reinforcement that Saugerties does welcome businesses, speaking from myself, [whether] you’ve lived here all your life or moved here two days ago, we want you to prosper. I think a town with a positive image that Saugerties does have, even with all its faults, makes people want to be part of it.”

Now, after their preparation in Albany, one of the first things the 2018 town board has to tackle is the appointment of an additional member to fill Fred Costello Jr.’s vacant seat. (Costello will be succeeding Greg Helsmoortel as town supervisor on New Year’s Day.)

“No one has contacted me directly to ask if I would consider them,” said Andreassen. “The natural thought process for me is Don Tucker, Vinnie Altieri or Mike MacIsaac. Anyone can apply and at least have their resume screened by the incoming board, but it would take too much time to have a hundred interviews.”

Costello said that as long as a consensus can be reached in time, the new town board member will be appointed at the new board’s reorganizational meeting on Jan. 1.

“[Andreassen will] be an excellent town board member,” said Costello, himself a longtime presence on the council. “His strength of character, his experience with building inspection, his work with the band and way with people will make him an excellent elected official.”

This new official’s mindset regarding his upcoming service is straightforward: “It’s the government’s responsibility to remain solvent and to spend the taxpayer’s hard-earned money wisely. If anyone doesn’t believe that, they should just read some history.”

Andreassen stressed that running the town is a group effort. “I cannot emphasize enough that the tempo of the town begins with the supervisor. The supervisor is at the top of the pyramid. Following the top are the town council members. Collectively we will decide the path and direction Saugerties will take. There will be disagreements, and just as [unsuccessful town board candidate] Don Tucker stated during his campaign that he was ‘not afraid to say no,’ neither am I.”

Paul Andreassen, seen here with granddaughter Harper, 5. (Photo by Christina Coulter)

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