Looking back on 2021, Saugerties Village Mayor Bill Murphy said 2021 was a much better year than 2020, as widespread vaccination arrived and businesses reopened and beloved Saugerties events like the Fourth of July and the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival returned.
“The community got behind getting people vaccinated and we got our seniors vaccinated with Neal Smoller from Village Apothecary,” Murphy said, adding that it built on programs the village hosted during the darkest days of the pandemic in 2020 like the meal plan.
He said more recently the village’s Christmas toy giveaway sponsored by Sawyer Motors was a massive success. “It was great to see everyone back in the community after a very quiet year.”
Even with the omicron variant spreading rapidly across New York and the world, Murphy remains optimistic looking into winter and spring 2022.
“Hopefully it won’t be as bad as people are saying and we can get back the spring,” Murphy said, admitting he’s really sick of Covid uttering an expletive. “It’s been a very up and down two years, but I think this community as a whole really showed its strength.”
He said one of the nicest things to happen in 2021 was to see the historic Orpheum Theater open back up under the care of Upstate Films, which shows a mix of independent films and a curated selection of Hollywood films.
“I’ve been once. It’s great to see the marquee at night,” Murphy said. It’s great having an old theater back where you can grab dinner and catch a movie. “It’s an old school, small-town Saturday night.”
The mayor praised the work of Jason Silverman and Paul Sturtz, Upstate’s co-executive directors not only for bringing back the theater, but on keeping ticket and concession prices lower.
He also praised HBO’s Pretty Little Liars, which shot throughout the town and village.
“They were nothing but a pleasure to work with,” Murphy said. “Some people experienced some inconveniences, but it was a plus on everything they’ve done.”
Looking ahead to 2022, Murphy wants to get to work on a number of initiatives like purchasing a second water chestnut harvester, a plan that Town Supervisor Fred Costello also supports. The town and village split the cost of purchasing and operating the present harvester.
The mayor promised the village will find a way to get another harvester, and he’s confident it will be ready for the summer harvest season even if the village can’t use Federal American Rescue Plan Acts (ARPA) to purchase the machine.
“It’s needed, we will figure out a way to get it, whether we use ARPA or not,” Murphy said.
As for a proposed change to parking regulations, which called for an increase in parking requirements for multi-family dwellings that would apply to new construction or homes modified from single-family to multi-family, the mayor said that proposal has been tabled and officials will consider a different approach in concert with regulations the village are working on in regards to short-term rentals.
As village officials mull regulations for these accommodations, Murphy noted the village faces different short-term rental-related issues than the town.
Murphy said unlike the town, village officials have not received a lot of noise complaints from neighbors about short-term rentals in the village.
That said, village officials do have concerns over short-term rentals that are not registered with any government entity, and he admitted officials presently have no real way of knowing how many are out there.
But he questions if people who only rent out on short-term rental sites when HITS comes to Saugerties in the summer or during special events, would even want to register.
When asked if the village could play host to affordable housing options, Murphy, who serves on a county-wide affordable housing committee, admitted the village’s hands are tied with only one or two parcels available for the potential development of such housing. With Ulster County and the Mid-Hudson Valley deep in the midst of a growing affordable housing crisis, area officials are scrambling to scale up new affordable housing projects such as one to be operated by RUPCO, Catholic Charities and Family of Woodstock at the former Quality Inn near the Thruway Exit 19 interchange in the Town of Ulster and another project being developed at the site of the old Ulster County Jail in the City of Kingston by Ulster County and Philadelphia-based private developer Pennrose.
Murphy said he couldn’t say for sure if a boom in short-term rentals has resulted in a decline in the number of apartments that were traditionally affordable, such as those above the stores and eateries on Main and Partition streets being turned into short-term rentals. But he noted this remains a concern on the minds of officials countywide.
Out-of-town landlords have made inroads in the village with quite a few buildings now owned by out-of-towners, the mayor said. He added village officials have attempted to respond through a local law requiring all apartment buildings to have a local contact person.
Murphy said entering 2022 the village is working to find a secondary water source, although instead of using FEMA money as previously proposed, the village will turn to local developers John Mullen, Anthony Montano and Randy Richers, who purchased Winston Farm in 2020. Murphy said developers have promised to find the village a secondary water source as part of a massive development project proposed for the site of the Woodstock ’94 Festival.
“They will find a secondary water source and eventually the plan is to turn that over to the village,” Murphy said. “They told me recently they found the right spot.”
Like Costello, he said he’s totally confident the project will be positive for the developers and the village and town.
Another big project on the docket for the village in 2022 will be the start of a $4 million program to upgrade the village’s sewage treatment plant that could last upwards of five years. Murphy said it would represent the major first upgrades to the plant in 20 years with provisions for growth.
Murphy said the current system is not at capacity. And even if the Winston Farm project is built, it will not affect the village plant as the development is slated to have its own self-contained treatment plant, he added.
Murphy said the present equipment is getting old and it’s not cost-effective to simply repair it every time. And with the village not saddled by debt, it’s a good time to bond.
A new ladder truck is also set to come online soon, although Murphy cautioned it might be delayed again by production and supply chain issues that have spanned industries across the globe.
He said with fire trucks out of the way the village will turn its attention to upgrading its fleet of Department of Public Works trucks which are more than 20 years old save for one truck. The plan is to replace one truck each year for the next few years until the whole fleet is replenished.
And even with so many upgrades underway, Murphy said he wants to keep things budget neutral and avoid increasing taxes.
The mayor said he’ll push for a 12th straight year without tax increases and he wants to keep the budget flat, but he admitted officials will have to wait until spring to see their final spending, before they draft the budget which is due June 1.
“I don’t want my taxes going up,” Murphy said. “I pay my taxes as everyone on my board does.”