Charlton town Supervisor Alan Grattidge is looking for a return to financial stability for county government in 2013, as well as progress on selling the county nursing home and landfill.
As incoming chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, the man who once worked in Canadian oil fields will oversee plans to sell Maplewood Manor and the unused landfill in Northumberland. Both could generate millions of dollars for the county, which has increased property taxes two years in a row after decades of what looked like almost-effortless low-tax fiscal management as the county population grew.
Now, Grattidge’s goal is to return the county to financial stability.
“What it boils down to is, we have a place people want to raise families,” he said. “I see my legacy as trying to find a way to continue that.”
In addition to managing the two controversial sale or lease deals, Grattidge plans to ask for more belt-tightening from county workers.
“I’m getting a reputation for asking people to do more with less,” he said. “Our revenues aren’t rising as fast as our expenses.”
The challenge of balancing a budget isn’t new to Grattidge, a Republican who has been supervisor of one of the county’s smallest and most financially conservative towns for seven years. He has also run a small local gravel and excavating business with his brother for more than 30 years.
“He’s got a good business background,” said Saratoga town Supervisor Thomas N. Wood III, who has chaired the board for the last two years and will step aside at Wednesday’s organizational meeting to let Grattidge take over.
Generally, the board chairmanship is rotated annually among members of the Republican majority who haven’t previously chaired. Wood served a second year after Milton town Supervisor Frank Thompson, who otherwise would have been in line for the 2012 chairmanship, was defeated in a primary.
“It’s been a tough two years, but I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Wood said recently.
Malta town Supervisor Paul Sausville is in line to be vice chairman in 2013 and chairman in 2014.
Grattidge, now 57, grew up in Niskayuna wanting to be a farmer, even though his father was a General Electric physicist and his mother sold real estate. The family bought 47 acres on Jockey Street in Charlton when he was 10 and began spending summers and weekends there.
“That was the beginning of what got me interested in agriculture. We had horses, and I was in 4-H, the Rusty Spurs 4-H Club,” Grattidge said.
As a teenager, he also worked summers at an uncle’s commercial beef ranch in Alberta. After graduating from Niskayuna High School, he enrolled at SUNY Cobleskill, thinking ranching might be his living.
He graduated from Cobleskill in 1975 and went to live on the uncle’s ranch, but the beef market took a sharp downturn and he spent a year as a hand in the western Canadian oil fields. It was steady work for a 21-year-old, but Grattidge knew it wasn’t a career.
“The biggest drawback to western Canada is it gets 40 below zero for three weeks at a time,” he recalled.
His mother didn’t think it was any place for her son, either. In 1978, she convinced Grattidge to come home and become partners with his older brother, John, in buying an excavating business. With a backhoe, bulldozer, dump truck and trailer, they started Charlton Suburban Services, which they still run today.
“Our business was mainly working for landowners, digging ponds, doing construction in the Charlton-Ballston area,” Grattidge said.
When the business started, then-town Supervisor Fred Hequembourg provided the brothers a lecture on the importance of being involved in local politics. There was also a big controversy in Glenville when the brothers sought to open a sand and gravel bank, and that was another reminder of the important role local government plays, Grattidge said.
In the 1980s, Grattidge became politically active, fighting against a proposed Charlton zoning law he thought put too many restrictions on new residential development.
In 1996, he was elected to the Town Board after defeating an appointed incumbent in a primary. He ran for supervisor in 2005, when Fred Acunto retired.
During his term, Charlton finally built a new town hall after decades of discussion. Though construction faced repeated delays, and there is still litigation with a contractor, Grattidge points to the building as one of his major accomplishments.
“It was a challenging project with many delays, but it’s a beautiful building that will meet the needs of the residents of Charlton for 100 years,” he said.
Another high point is that the town has had no property tax throughout his tenure and has now gone more than 30 years without it.
Wood, a fellow Republican, said following through on selling the infirmary and the landfill will be big challenges for the new chairman.
“In a sense, making the plan is the easy part and carrying them out is hard,” Wood said.
He said he thinks Grattidge will be a good chairman.
“Alan has a good understanding of Saratoga County: the agricultural component, the high-tech component, the historic component and the recreational component. He’s got a good understanding of it all.”
Grattidge has been married to his wife, Charlotte, since 1981, and co-operated Burnt Hills Books with her from then until 1990. They have two daughters: Emily, 22, a graduate of SUNY Oswego, and Erika, 20, a nursing student at SUNY Brockport.