“I am not seeking reelection” in 2019, said Lloyd Town Supervisor Paul Hansut. After a dozen years in elected office following a career as a police officer in Poughkeepsie, Hansut is ready to move on. “I’m tired,” he said, and ready to let someone else take the reins.
A proponent of term limits for elected officials, Hansut said that newcomers always have “vim and vigor,” but that service causes a certain kind of fatigue to set in over time. In recent years he’s also lost his father, mother and brother; he made what he says was not an easy decision in conjunction with his wife, and hopes to have more time to spend with grandchildren and other family members once he steps down at the end of this year.
“Hopefully, potential candidates will start attending meetings in January,” Hansut said. Being supervisor is “a full-time job, and you need to understand the issues.” By “full-time,” he means that in addition to office hours and evening meetings, issues regularly crop up at night and over the weekend as well. “I haven’t had a two-week vacation in 12 years,” he said. Hansut began his political career serving in the county legislature, rising to majority leader before running successfully for town supervisor, a position he will have held for eight years when he completes this term.
The 2019 town budget hangs over his head as a worry. “We made the tax cap,” he said, “but a lot of the fund balance was used.” The fund balance is the money left over after what’s spent is spent. It is money that in one sense didn’t need to be collected from taxpayers, but it’s also the only form of savings for a municipal government, the only emergency fund outside of borrowing. “I prefer to put money away,” Hansut said, but his colleagues opted to lower the tax levy more and just be prepared to borrow if something comes up.
Hansut is comfortable borrowing for long-term projects, ones that are likely to still be in good shape when the money’s paid back. Sidewalks are high on his list in the new year: by the library, along Commercial Avenue, and other places where they are either desperately needed or “in desperate need of repair.”
The supervisor is quite proud of the phase three rail trail extension which opened this year. “It looks great, and we didn’t have to borrow,” he said.
Realigning the Tillson-Toc-Vineyard intersection at Route 9W is a long-planned project which will likely be put to bid this spring. There’s grant money and savings alike being used for this long-anticipated change. It’s likely to be a big deal to square that offset intersection under the best of circumstances, and the supervisor warns, “We don’t know what’s in the ground” which could add more steps to the process. Early plans to install a roundabout were nixed by state officials. It’s a heavily-traveled intersection, and managing that flow will be critical to keeping the project on track. “I’m not sure how it will play out,” Hansut said. What he does know is that new rules require that the project be managed by a full-time employee, and for that he tapped his confidential secretary, Kate Jonietz, who will manage the paperwork and ensure all the proper forms are completed.
Come January, Hansut wants “a serious conversation about a five-year plan, money and otherwise,” including a careful look at every town department with an eye toward streamlining. Consolidating in the way County Executive Mike Hein has done is definitely on the supervisor’s radar. He is quick to praise town workers for their efforts, but at the same time he recognizes that costs continue to escalate on the backs of taxpayers.
Looking back, Hansut is proud of his time in the town’s big chair. He sees this as a time when the police stepped up their community involvement, taxes were kept in check and he was able to honor residents at events such as senior citizen and veterans’ breakfasts. There have been partnerships with public and private leaders, representing interests from the Walkway Over the Hudson to various state parks to Scenic Hudson to the late state senator Frank Skartados. “It’s important for a supervisor to keep those relationships going,” he said.
However, Hansut doesn’t expect that the tone of disagreement on the board is likely to change in the near term. He considers it more about personal agendas than overarching politics, but nevertheless he feels council members collectively could do better. “We are all elected, given a duty, and I take it seriously,” he said. “I always make decisions for the community as a whole.” He hopes his successor has a similar commitment.
While not endorsing anyone, the current supervisor also isn’t recommending that a business owner run for the job. “It’s devastating to a business to be on a board,” he said, pointing to his own experience owning Quality Dry Cleaners. Some longtime customers stopped patronizing the business once he took it over, over his work on the board. Since selling it, the customer base has rebounded. “People talk about the value of business experience,” but perhaps it’s best that the business no longer be open, at least in the same town.
While he doesn’t characterize recent tensions as political, Hansut does think politics changed markedly in 2016. He recalls how, when on the county legislature, members talked to one another, in person; now faceless exchanges via electronic screens are the norm. That’s made civil disagreement more difficult, in his view, and makes it easier to react without knowing all the facts. “Elected officials need to do their due diligence,” he said, and constituents are easily swayed by “half-truths and lies” disseminated via social media. “People don’t take the opportunity to talk,” despite his maintaining an open-door policy and releasing his cellular phone number publicly.
Demographic change is coming to the town, and Hansut said that this represents a big responsibility for the Democrats now in the majority on the Town Board after 20 years of Republican control. “It’s a lot of time, a lot of commitment,” he said. His own father, when he served on the board, would dedicate his two-week vacation to the town budget, and he sees the time commitment as only rising. “It’s not a hobby,” he said. He recommends to his fellow residents not to vote along party lines, but to ask, “Do you have the time?”
When his time is up, Hansut intends on staying in town, where his four-year-old grandson lives, perhaps becoming an advocate for senior citizens or walking on opiate dependency issues.
“There’s a lot of political conversation” about the latter issue, he said, “but policy makers don’t understand it.” Having completed rehabilitation, recovering addicts are pushed out into the world without jobs, credit, housing or even a driver’s license in many cases. “They have a bright outlook, but it’s easy to go back to” using drugs, he said.
Job prospects for those in recovery are slim, he said, and “housing is a disaster,” as proposed projects invariably get opposed by neighbors.