It’s 2020, so Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr., Village Mayor Bill Murphy and Police Chief Joe Sinagra have postulated about various projects that may culminate or begin in the new year.
Projects that are on Costello’s radar include the further development of hiking trails at Bristol Beach, the turning-on of the long-anticipated Bluestone Solar Project and further fundraising for a new town animal shelter and for replacement of the Small World Playground. Costello also expected the forming of a committee to zero in on a location for the much-discussed Saugerties dog park, installing additional electric vehicle charging stations and replacing dozens of 30-year-old water pumps throughout the town’s water and sewer system with newer variable-speed pumps.
“If we get half of that done, I’ll be very happy,” said Costello.
After months of bushwhacking, the town has laid out a map of where rudimentary hiking trails will go. In 2020, they will be cleared along the path of a narrow-gauge rail bed, where workers once loaded clay from the river to be made into bricks.
“The key to that project’s success is that it needs to be a tangible resource,” said Costello. “Right now, everybody’s excited, but it’s in everyone’s heads. It’s not practical yet. Once it begins to get used, we’ll be able to get the financial support we need to [further improve it.]”
The Bluestone Solar Project at the intersection of Churchland Road and Churchland Lane will go online within the next two weeks, Costello said, which will drastically change the way that the town consumes energy. Saugerties will purchase 80 percent of the energy produced onsite. The project could either save the taxpayer money via lowered energy costs, or insulate the taxpayer to offset a potential spike in energy costs.
“If the energy market is stable, we would probably finish 2020 with some fair surpluses,” said Costello. “The savings, if it becomes realized and we have surpluses in our energy needs, we can memorialize that and reduce our budget amounts or offset other expenses. I expect to benefit from that as soon as this year. If those savings are tangible, we’ll decide what to do with those.”
In 2019, the Community Foundation of Saugerties raised $10,000 toward the rebuilding of Small World Playground, which was built in 1994 by Saugerties residents. If the group can raise a total of $30,000 to $50,000, Costello said that a grant could be pursued to finish the project.
Both the town and the village of Saugerties are committed to cleaning up the Esopus Creek in 2020. Zdenek Ulman said he may sell the harvester machine that he used to remove a sizeable portion of the latticework of milfoil plants near Saugerties Beach. Ulman said, according to Mayor Murphy, that he would give the village the first opportunity to purchase the machine.
“That’s my number one goal this year, to keep that moving forward,” said Murphy of the plant-elimination initiative. “If we don’t purchase it, we’ll continue to hire someone to … make a dent in that.”
Murphy said that, regardless of whether the machine was sold, the village would work alongside the town to clear milfoil further up the river this year. Costello confirmed this.
“It’s important that we partner with the town and handle not just the village beach but up into the town to control as much as possible,” said Murphy.
Murphy also aims to replace the rotating biological contactor at the sewer treatment plant, which village trustee Don Hackett said would cost about $300,000 at a Dec. 16 village board meeting. The trustees are looking for an option to purchase the new equipment without putting the burden onto taxpayers, but Murphy said that the solution is still up in the air.
Also due for replacement is a ladder truck owned by the Village Fire Department, which is 27 years old. The village is the only area of Saugerties that requires a ladder truck as it’s the only area in town with multi-story buildings.
The village will also replace about 200 sodium vapor streetlights to LED streetlights this year. The town of Saugerties is also replacing numerous streetlights with LEDs.
Sinagra said that the department is “one step away” from becoming an “Opioid Overdose Prevention Program Provider,” which would allow the Saugerties police to “stockpile” Narcan and the ability to host regular classes on its use. Once the designation is achieved, Sinagra said, any individual could visit the police department and receive Narcan training. The last step, Sinagra said, is the assignment of a clinical director to oversee the program at the department.
This year, the police department will continue conducting “lethality assessments” when officers respond to instances of domestic violence. The program is conducted through the department’s Intimate Partner Violence Intervention Program (IPVIP). Between April and December of this year, 65 of 150 lethality assessments received “high” scores — the victims of these “high-scoring” incidents received information detailing resources available to them for support hand-delivered by an officer, and are also approached by a case worker from the Ulster County Child Advocacy Center.
“We’re trying to make our community healthy — part of it is the follow-through the day after,” said Sinagra. “The victim may say [to the responding officer], ‘I was afraid to tell you this was also happening.’ We say we have those services, but we need to make sure the person is getting access to those services.”
The police chief said that the Saugerties department would continue their partnership with the Child Advocacy Center, which they elected to join after withdrawing from the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team (URGENT). Sinagra said that the department may rejoin URGENT in the future, but that it wasn’t currently economically feasible — while the Child Advocacy Center provides state funding, URGENT doesn’t have such returns.
“That increases the tax burden on our residents, which we don’t want to do,” said Sinagra.
Sinagra said that a sizeable portion of change at the police department will stem from New York bail reform.
“During the past six months, we have made great strides toward ensuring our obligations to these newly unfunded mandates are achieved without sacrificing the current level of services we provide to our community,” Sinagra said. “Bail reform and the new discovery demands are reshaping the way in which we will be doing business in this century.”
Adhering to new discovery laws, which limit the information-gathering period of a criminal court proceeding to 15 days, will come with a steep learning curve for officers and detectives, Sinagra said.
The department will purchase and install several pieces of new equipment in 2020: Sinagra said the department will replace a number of outdated computers within the IT room of headquarters and in police vehicles. A new computer will be installed specifically to store officers’ body camera footage, and a bad drive will be replaced in the voice recorder.
Additionally, officials are looking to repair surveillance cameras in the village; only two of the total six are functional, and Sinagra said that they are “plagued with issues” and “rarely, if ever, achieve any form of connectivity.”
Sinagra said the department got a new “forensic evidence dryer” this year, which helps dry garments, paper and anything that may have body fluids or blood on it in a way that preserves DNA evidence. Previously, wet and bloodied evidence was hung to dry in the department’s evidence room, which left the articles exposed to contamination. This was paid for, Sinagra said, using residual money left over in the 2019 police budget.
Due to a drastic increase in pedestrians struck by cars in 2019 from 2018, Sinagra said that the department will engage in another “See and Be Seen” campaign to remind locals crossing the street to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic. Such incidents have increased by 700 percent last year, up from one individual struck in 2018 to eight throughout 2019. Sinagra intends to use the department’s new bicycle officer program both in this initiative and to establish a greater presence in the town on First Fridays. Through “Targeted Enforcement Details,” many including officers on bicycles, the department hopes to catch more open-air drug sales and “anti-social behavior” around the business district.
“[We’re targeting] quality-of-life issues, people urinating on people’s foyers, individuals throwing beer cans around, just stuff that makes people feel uneasy,” said Sinagra. “You don’t want to come here and visit if that’s taking place.”