It is undeniable that both Fred Costello Jr., the sitting town supervisor of Saugerties, and Paul Andreassen, a town councilman elected in the same cycle, who has now challenged Costello for the top position, have a deep roots in Saugerties. Both come from long-entrenched Saugerties families. Both have ample prior experience, Andreassen as a longtime building inspector/code enforcement officer in Saugerties as well as in three other towns including Woodstock and New Paltz, and Costello as a town councilman under previous supervisor Greg Helsmoortel for 14 years before ascending to his current position.
On June 25, the pair will face off in a primary for the Independence party line on the November 5 generally election ballot; currently, Costello has secured endorsements with the Democratic and Working Families parties, while Andreassen will hold Republican and Conservative party lines. Regardless of the outcome of this first skirmish, the two will again square off in the November general election.
Over their past year and a half, the Saugerties town board has apparently experienced a gradual rift, openly acknowledged by both candidates now that they are political opponents. After months of across-the-board “yes” votes on virtually every motion that the board considered, the two began to disagree publicly — first regarding the replacement of a police dog and then regarding the manner in which the deteriorating Kiwanis Ice Arena should be handled.
As the rift got bigger, so apparently did Andreassen’s will to run, culminating in a press release announcing his candidacy in spring. Since, the pair have remained stiffly amicable at board meetings.
Saugerties Times asked both candidates a series of questions concerning their aims, should they attain the Supervisor position, and their aspirations for Saugerties at large.
ST: What achievements are you most proud of in your career as a public servant?
COSTELLO: We had Glasco Mini Park, [which] I’m extraordinarily proud of. The police merger [which took place while I held a position on the town board] I’m extraordinarily proud of. The consolidation of the water district I’m extraordinarily proud of. In the past year– I’ve only been supervisor for year and a half — we enacted seven local laws. The town board hasn’t done more than seven local laws in over a decade. We took the energy that the board had and translated it into real change. We did agreements with all five unions that the town does agreements in within 12 months. We are on the cusp of transforming Bristol Beach from an abstract idea into a real park, we already have tangible progress to show this year. the parking area is open, the next step is to develop a trail down at the waterfront, I think that can get done this year. The water extension of the Malden district, I think that’s a really significant achievement. That will go from something we’ve talked about in 20 plus years to a real thing, I’m really proud of that.
All of the energy initiatives that we’ve instilled…will change the town’s energy costs and footprint forever, and there’s a lot of hard work that came out of many committees to make that possible. The solar project will come online this year. We just finished the cleanup that was necessary for our project. I’m really proud of the fact that we had an extraordinary sixteen months. We set out with a bold agenda, and we were able to check a lot of those boxes. as we move forward, we will be able to check off many more.
ANDREASSEN: I think as a building official I was very, very fair and equitable across the board, fair but firm. Employing the codes equally across the board, uniformly. I’ve pretty much already tried to not show any preferential treatment and to treat everyone fairly and equally. I’ve tried to look at each issue with an open mind as I could. I tried to address as much as possible to attract businesses to the town. I can’t say that we’ve had a lot of success with it,
ST: What are your ideas to bring new business to the King’s Highway corridor and elsewhere in Saugerties?
ANDREASSEN: I think we need to at least update the zoning of some of our industrial corridors to attract perhaps some retail businesses, some light manufacturing, if we could possibly reuse some of the vacant buildings, re purpose some of those buildings. I think we’re going to have to address some of the vacant buildings on Kings Highway and throughout the township to impress upon the property owners to either fix them up or they’ll have to be removed or torn down if they’re not moving. The zombie buildings are a blight on all communities. We can put the welcome mat out all we want, but unless we get some viable takers we can’t just create them out of thin air.
COSTELLO: [On] King’s Highway, we are going to adopt changes to the zoning that are going to be more welcoming. We are the focus of many interested local businesses and new businesses that want to come here and they have looked seriously at King’s Highway, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. I am very optimistic about Saugerties, We have a robust economic, a robust sports economy, Cantine Field and the ice rink are a part of that, and I’ve ensured that that facility not only survives but thrives for the next 25 years. Some time this summer, we’re going to have a lot of hearings.
ST: What ongoing local concern do you think is the most pertinent?
COSTELLO: Right now, the most immediate concern is the continued dumping situation. That, we don’t have a clear solution to yet, we’re waiting for judges and courts to make analysis, but we don’t have enough data to know whether the groundwater is in jeopardy or not. The next concern, we need to come up with some legislation to address short term vacation rentals. We have ongoing problems that went into foreclosure during the financial crisis and [fell into disrepair] the process through the courts is cumbersome. We need a faster process to deal with buildings that aren’t secure.
ANDREASSEN: The most pertinent local concern would have to be how can we keep people able to afford to stay here, afford to live in Saugerties. What type of activities can we create or foster to allow all residents a spot at the table. I think we need to foster some manufacturing jobs, foster growth in some of the local industries that we do have: Markertek, Fehr Brothers, Ceres Technologies, LoDolce, Elna Magnetics, and to support your average entrepreneur, small business owners mom-and-pop shops. and the beneficiaries of growth and sustainability, the restaurant and service industries.
ST: Why did you decide to run for town supervisor?
ANDREASSEN: I was actually asked by people. I ran for town council and I was asked by quite a few people to run for town supervisor. Some of them are party leaders in all the parties, and at the time I just thought it would be best if I didn’t run against Jimmy Bruno who seemed to have put his hat in the ring early on. Fred Costello put his hat in the ring and called me several times wondering which way I was going to go.
Pretty quickly, once on the town council, being voted in with a hefty majority of the electorate…the majority of the town board are not exactly in sync. Well, a couple of instances that I had brought up really fell on deaf ears. I want to discuss term limits, consolidations, I want to discuss reducing the workforce — not eliminating positions but certainly by attrition. It become pretty apparent that myself and perhaps Mike MacIsaac might be the only ones thinking in those terms and you can’t get anything moved forward without a majority of the board. It was pretty apparent that I’m not in the majority.
COSTELLO: I felt that at the moment that Greg [Helsmoortel] retired, I had the best skill set to pick up where Greg had left off and moved Saugerties forward. Now, I think I am far and away the best person to move Saugrties forward — passing seven local laws is a testament to the leadership that we have been able to provide and our success, and the fiscally responsible way that we’ve been able to move Saugerties forward is also a testament of our success. Now, I’m definitely the best person to move Saugerties forward. I’ve been able to deal with hostile board members, and I have deep relationships with emergency services, with all the department heads, I have deep relationships that are strengthening. There is a trust that has developed over years that no one else running for supervisor can claim.
ST: On a broader level: what is your vision for the town of Saugerties?
COSTELLO: We have many with regard to economic development and maintaining our distinction as a community that’s good to raise families in. I want to work with all of our partners and make sure that legacy continues. If ten years from now people are still raising their families and looking for opportunities for employment here, we will be successful. Partnership with our schools, our business community are important for that. There are many things going on, on a small scale that need an opportunity to grow.
ANDREASSEN: The big picture is to take a long, long look at the infrastructure needs to identify where we’re lacking, certainly in roads and bridges and buildings and long-term viability of all of these things that are under our watch. we have to pay for all this stuff. I really think we need to have a capital improvement fund which is a certain percentage of our tax dollars to be prepared for news things like when the ice arena needs a new roof or when a property needs to be updated or when roads or bridges need to be replaced. We can’t do that taking out bonds and hoping that grant money will surface or some benevolent political entity will fund something. the money is so stretched, those days of block grants are gone. my broad view would be to take a hard look at what we’re not doing correctly. If we had an endless treasury we could do everything, but we don’t, so we need to see what we can do to streamline and be as efficient and green-minded as we can. With efficiency comes energy savings and so on across the board.
ST: What’s your take on the town’s recent legal battle with J Karolys & Son and its C&D dumps? How can a similar situation be prevented in the future?
ANDREASSEN: I wonder how that situation actually did mushroom so quickly and so out of control with so many flags being raised? Not pointing a finger at anybody…it just seems to me that took on a life of its own, if you will, right under our nose, and it just got out of control before it could become under control and it’s still not resolved, which is very surprising. As a former building official for 21 years, I’ve had a lot of enforcement and zoning code and regulatory enforcement under my watch and this appears to be one of those instances where everything just didn’t align and then it got out of hand rapidly. One side is leaning on their rights, the other side is leaning on the statute and the courts are involved. It’s an unfortunate situation, and again, I do not point a finger at anybody. It just seemed to take on a life of its own. I have personal friends living near some of the sites and hear their frustration. We can take a hard look at what did we miss and how can we perhaps adopt some legislation that this will never happen again. I’m not sure what the answer is, but there should be some balance. I’m pro business, I’m all for contractors, I’m a former contractor builder myself. These people are the backbone of our community, I admire all of the tradespeople, but in this particular case seems to have become an abuse of their rights to do that.
COSTELLO: I don’t know how a similar situation could be avoided — we actually have pretty robust laws in place, we’re just having a hard time getting the court to acknowledge those laws. In the fight against Winston farm, in the fight against the tire dump, our zoning and municipal laws are pretty sensitive to the idea of dumping and we have a lot of laws we’ve enacted locally that will help us in this fight, we just need the opportunity to make that case in court
ST: As town supervisor, how will you update local regulations regarding short-term rental properties?
COSTELLO: I think it’s important that we give the committees, the comprehensive planning committee and the comprehensive planning update committee working on it the freedom of reaching a conclusion on their own. I do have some opinions about things that should be incorporated. There are some things about traffic that are relevant in that conversation, too.
ANDREASSEN: I attended the public hearings at Woodstock town forums and they’ve enacted some regulations. I know some of the municipalities that have adopted some or are thinking about it. As a property owner myself and a owner of a small airbnb cottage, I’m not certain that one size would fit all. It certainly is a rapidly growing industry throughout the state, not just the region. I think paying a fair share of a rental tax would be good, some sort of regulatory oversight with the perhaps the number of times a place can be rented without the property owner being at least on the site or available. It may take on several different variations before the town can get behind one specific standard. It’s certainly disturbing, the property owners disturbing the neighbors, those that are renting out spaces and upsetting their neighbors that on a case-by-case basis is going to have to be dealt with. That’s not what we would like to continue.
ST: Does Saugerties need to amend its zoning laws?
ANDREASSEN: I think there are some areas in the zoning law that should be amended. Several of them could permit more variety of businesses in some districts. It could be in reverse, it could be amended to restrict businesses in some districts, but I think if we’re going to attract businesses, especially in the industrial corridors…we’ll really have to look at what will work that way. We don’t want to do anything to make Main street a ghost town — we have wonderful businesses in the village and we certainly don’t want to put someone there out of business. You wouldn’t want to open a Barnes and Noble on Kings Highway and put Inquiring Minds out of business, or a Home Depot that would put Smiths Hardware out of business. I think we should look at that, we should amend it. Maybe some people won’t be happy, it may not satisfy everybody, but if its going to create sustainable jobs that allow people to make a living… Markertek is a wonderful example, people who work there, we’ve known forever. We need to support them, we need that kind of business and more of it.
To answer the question as far as changing the zoning, we have to do something and we should do it sooner rather than later. I drove on the Thruway today, and I just see the old Sawyerkill motel falling apart, the old candle factory is a blight…we need to support people like Mullen Construction who are out there, you know, be as welcoming as we can without hurting another town.
COSTELLO: Zoning is never done and Airbnb is a perfect example of that. Communities — nobody even knew what airbnb was five years ago. As communities move forward, it’s important that the comprehensive plan reflect society. Zoning always needs to be addressed, and I think one of the things that’s significantly lacking in our zoning is King’s Highway and short term vacation rentals. And we need a property maintenance law, I’m not sure if that’s through zoning or general municipal law.