Four candidates are competing for three two-year terms as trustees on the Village Board in the election, set for Tuesday, March 16. Also running is village Mayor Bill Murphy, who has no opponent. Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m.
Incumbents Jeff Helmuth, Jeannine Mayer and Brian Martin will be joined on the ballot by Justine Tomkiell, running for her first term. Murphy and the three incumbent trustees are running on the New Vision Party ticket; Tomkiell is running on the Enhanced Living ticket. (In the village of Saugerties, candidates traditionally don’t use major party designations.)
Brian Martin has been named Firefighter of the Year twice, and has served as the chief, among many other jobs in the department. He has also worked with Diaz Ambulance at one time served on the service’s board of directors.
Here is Brian’s description of his background and service to the village:
I am a lifelong resident of the village of Saugerties and a graduate of Saugerties High School. I am the father of three beloved children: Emily, Amanda, and Brian Jr.
My career working for the village of Saugerties began in 1986 as a dispatcher for the Village of Saugerties Police Department through 1998, then transferring to the Village Highway Department where I worked up until my retirement.
My public service has included active membership in the Saugerties Fire Department since 1987. I have held the positions of firefighter, lieutenant, captain and chief of department. I held the position of chief twice, once from 1999-2001 and again from 2005-2007. I remain an active member of the Department responding to calls. I currently hold the position of president of the Town Association of Emergency Services and sit on the Board of the Ulster County Firemen’s Association.
I was first elected as village trustee in 2011 and re-elected for five additional terms. I have overseen the Village Water Department and am currently the liaison overseeing our Buildings and Grounds. I was appointed to the position of Fire Commissioner by Mayor Murphy in 2018 and also continue to serve in this position.
I look forward to continuing my service to the residents of the Village of Saugerties and if re-elected as a trustee, I plan to continue the work I have done so far upgrading the aging infrastructure, improving our buildings and grounds while offsetting the costs through grants, keeping our taxes as low as possible.
Look over almost every list of organizers of events in the village of Saugerties, and you’re sure to Jeannine Mayer’s name. She’s involved in numerous village organizations, and volunteers for many of the events that define Saugerties.
She has been a member of the Village Board since 2009, and was named deputy mayor in 2011.
One of the village’s assets is the “small town” feel, Mayer said, and “every committee I’m involved in has something to do with that.”
Her official responsibilities include special events, public relations and Lighthouse TV23. She’s the Village Board liaison to the Saugerties Area Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Village Revolving Loan Committee and on the Comprehensive Plan Committee, which is rewriting and upgrading the Comprehensive Plan (or Master Plan) for the town and village. She is also the village liaison to the Saugerties Arts Commission.
Mayer recently brought a proposal for low-cost green energy, which the Town of Saugerties is also pursuing, to the Village Board.
She is active in the Kiwanis, and has served as the site coordinator for the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival as well as serving on the organization’s July 4, Karing for Kids and Community Needs committees.
Mayer worked in the banking industry for years, retiring from her job at M&T Bank in 2017.
Mayer’s view of the Village Board is that it is not a very political organization; instead, it focuses on issues that affect the everyday lives of residents. A current example is the village’s involvement advocating for its interests regarding the discharge of large amounts of water from the Ashokan Reservoir into the Esopus Creek, which has an impact on downstream ecology and recreation.
Among recent actions Mayer favored was a revolving loan program for small businesses affected by the pandemic. The program, similar to an existing program designed to help businesses with growth and development, has been expanded to help businesses hurt by the virus to meet ongoing expenses like rent, payroll, mortgage, utilities and supplies. The village traditionally made loans only for fixed costs, like expansion or renovation of their buildings.
Mayer is a lifelong Saugertesian. She is a graduate of Saugerties High School and Ulster County Community College, and holds an associate’s degree in applied science degree in business administration. She has two daughters, three granddaughters and a grandson.
Justine Tomkiell has been living in Saugerties for two years, having moved from Troy, New York, seeking better environment for her children. While she admits she doesn’t know a lot about the nuts and bolts of running a village, “I’m a fast-learner and I will work hard to learn what I need to know.”
Tomkiell emphasizes diversity as an important component of town governance. “Diversity is my goal; bringing the village to where we want to be. We’re mostly white, but not entirely. We have a fairly large Hispanic population, and some citizens of many other groups.”
Acceptance is a two-way street, Tomkiell said. “People of color need to work on their bias against white people. If we don’t look at our biases how can we criticize white biases?”
Some of the practical things she said the village needs to do for its citizens are better lighting on some streets, maintenance on cracked sidewalks that make walking difficult for people with disabilities, and especially difficult for those in wheelchairs.”
“Our senior center is well used,” Tomkiell said, but she would like to see more activities, “especially those that can bring young people in to talk to seniors, help with activities while also learning from the older people.”
In the wake of the pandemic, there will be a greater need for mental health services in the village and town, Tomkiell said.
While Saugerties is seen as a prosperous community, “our schools are Title One, which means there are a lot of people struggling,” Tomkiell said. “I grew up in the projects, and I have seen that people can use resources until they can handle their problems. We need programs for people who have fallen on hard times.”
Tomkiell acknowledged that many of the programs she feels are needed are beyond the scope of the village alone. “I would reach out to the county, and even the state, to see if there are programs that can help Saugerties.” For instance, “nobody should be evicted in a pandemic. As trustees, we should contact the county and state to get them the help they need.”
Tomkiell has three children, a son and a daughter in the middle school, and a son in Cahill Elementary School. She describes herself as an artist and a Tarot reader, but she sees the Tarot cards as “a way to get people to focus, not as fortune telling.”
Even if she is not elected, Tomkiell said, her campaign “will focus more attention on the Village Board. People didn’t even know there was an election. I have a lot to learn, but I’m willing to put a lot of time into learning.”
Jeff Helmuth has been a member of the Saugerties Village Board since 2016, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy. He was elected to a full term in 2017.
Before his appointment to the Village Board, Jeff served on the Planning Board for 11 years, nine of them as chairman. Why join the Village Board? “It was like a step up from the Planning Board,” Helmuth said.
Helmuth has lived in Saugerties for the past 30 years, having moved here from Ohio. He is a graduate of Ohio State University in Agricultural Engineering. “This is closely related to soil and water conservation.
It was, in fact, water conservation that brought Helmuth to this area. He was an engineer at the Ashokan Reservoir, which serves New York City. He is currently chief of the Engineering and Construction Division at the New York Department of Conservation, Bureau of Water Supply, Source Water Operations. He is a licensed professional engineer and holds a water treatment plant operator’s license.
Asked about the village’s most significant actions in the past year, Helmuth said the acquisition and operation of a weed harvester to reduce the milfoil and water chestnuts that choke parts of the creek and make a mess of the beach areas. However, he is quick to credit Trustee Donald Hackett with the leadership in that area.
“My job for the village is not exciting,” Helmuth said. “The water plant can be complicated, and it takes a bit of work to keep it running, but it isn’t as exciting as some of the jobs people are doing,” Helmuth said. The village is fortunate to have a very good chief water plant operator in Mike Hopf, he said.
Helmuth is also the liaison to the Waterfront Advisory Board and the Zoning Board. “We work closely with the Planning and Zoning boards, and if you like the character of the village, we will work to keep it as it is.”
This is a busy time for villages; the budget process is underway, Helmuth said. “We just completed the Water Department budget,” he said. Village Treasurer Paula Kerbert, Hopf and Trustee Vincent Buono worked with him on the budget.
One of the new initiatives in the Water Department has been the establishment of online bill payments, which began in 2020. Village taxes can also be paid online.
Helmuth is a member and past commander of the Sons of the American Legion, the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum, of which he is a past board member, and the Ulster Artists’ Club, which meets at the Saugerties Senior Center.
Helmuth has a daughter, Kelly, who attended Saugerties High School and Syracuse University.
Saugerties Mayor William Murphy is running unopposed. He first elected to the Village Board in 2003, and was appointed mayor in February 2010 to fill the seat of Robert Yerick, who retired. He was elected to the seat the following year. He has taken an active interest in youth sports over the years. He has been employed by the IBM Corporation since 1996, and had earlier worked for the Town of Saugerties with the Parks and Recreation Department. His wife, Dana, is a teacher at Riccardi Elementary School.