Saugerties Town Councilman John Schoonmaker intends to run for the Ulster County Legislature when his term on the town board is up this year. He announced this week he would be running for the District 2 legislative seat, which includes the Village of Saugerties and part of the surrounding town.
Schoonmaker, in announcing his intention to run, focused on four major areas of interest. He discussed his platform on Zoom on Saturday, January 2.
The first of these areas is the environment, which has been one of Schoonmaker’s major interests.
Schoonmaker said he intends to work on controlling invasive species in the county. “Those of you from Saugerties know we have been slowly working on the invasive species that we have rampant in the [Esopus] creek. We made some great progress here as a town in partnership with the village and John Mullen.” The village has purchased a harvester, and has begun clearing the weeds from the Esopus Creek, he said. This type of project would work better on a county level, Schoonmaker said.
He’s interested in alternative energy. “I want to start drafting up some studies and looking into plans to provide solar panels over county parking lots,” he said, noting that this space was not fully utilized.
A second focus Schoonmaker also wants to look into is how the county deals with plans and problems. He has been “popping into meetings” to get a better handle on how the county operates. He described his perspective on a county Ways and Means Committee meeting during the budget process last year.
The committee was considering whether to support a number of amendments to the budget, and “the only thing they had was each amendment’s title, but some of those titles were as vague as ‘insurance.’ We didn’t have any accompanying documents that actually told me what these amendments were about, so I was sitting there wondering did they discuss that specific amendment?” The lack of background information meant that “none of us from the public had a clue what was being voted on.”
As a county legislator, Schoonmaker said he would talk to department heads directly about whether particular expenditures were needed and what their financial implications would be.
Housing is a third issue Schoonmaker hopes to work on. “This has been an ongoing issue in Ulster County, and the pandemic only made it worse,” he said. “We’ve seen apartments go for way higher rents than before. I have been hit with two rent increases in the course of a year.” Both rent increases and increased housing prices are making it hard for local people to stay, he said. The influx “helps with bringing money into our towns, but it has to be coupled with an assurance that those already here aren’t pushed out.”
Schoonmaker gave support for such non-profit organizations as Rupco [Rural Ulster Preservation Company] to provide low-income housing. “The big thing I would like to look into is to inquire as to whether there have been studies done, or to get one started on the viability of the county providing public housing.”
Pilot [Payment in Lieu of Taxes] agreements are the fourth area Schoonmaker wants to look into. “Unfortunately, this is something we have to deal with, because if we just said ‘no Pilots’ these businesses would go elsewhere. What we need to be doing is making sure that these agreements are fair, that they are actually bringing in a much-needed service. The example that comes to my mind is The Kingstonian,” the $60-million housing, hotel, apartment and restaurant project between Schwenk Drive and North Front Street. “They are asking for a 25-year Pilot, and I’m just trying to wrap my head around why they need such a large Pilot when they are already receiving a grant from New York State. They are also benefiting from federal tax relief.”
Given the amount of public funding and tax breaks to the project is receiving, Schoonmaker said it was hard to justify further financial help from the city and the county.
Schoonmaker is a native of Saugerties. He graduated from Saugerties High School in 2010 and studied biology at Siena College. He is employed at Taconic Biosciences and has served on the Saugerties Town Board since 2018.