This time of year, some people know Paul J. Sausville best for the Christmas trees he sells annually from his woodlot on Raymond Road in Malta.
But that’s only a hobby — along with a recent interest in blacksmithing — for the Malta town supervisor.
He’ll have less time for hobbies starting next week, when Sausville is scheduled to become the 2014 chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.
During his one-year term, Sausville said, he wants to put an emphasis on character education and also to work creating a new economic development plan for the county.
The retired Department of Environmental Conservation civil engineer will succeed Alan R. Grattidge of Charlton under the Republican majority’s rotating leadership system, which gives everyone who achieves enough seniority a turn. His selection wasn’t certain until last week, when an appeals court ruling affirmed his one-vote re-election victory in November over Democrat Cynthia Young.
With that controversy behind him, Sausville said he’s excited to pursue his ideas for the county.
To promote character, motivational speaker Jay Rifenbary of Saratoga Springs will speak at Sausville’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 2. Through the year, the plan is to have high school student essayists make presentations to the Board of Supervisors.
“I think it’s important in our everyday lives that we tell the truth. We have a responsibility as the top elected leaders of our towns and the county to set a good example,” Sausville said.
He also thinks a new strategic economic development plan, now being drafted by a consultant, could have benefits. He’s hoping the county can apply to be an “innovation hot spot” under one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new programs.
“It just seems like a natural,” Sausville said, pointing to the growing GlobalFoundries computer chip plant and the roster of high-tech and innovation businesses at the Saratoga Technology + Energy Park in Malta.
Saratoga town Supervisor Thomas N. Wood, a former chairman of the county board, said Sausville developed strong administrative skills during his career with the DEC — and he’ll need them,
“One thing I can tell you is the job requires a lot of administrative work,” Wood said.
Because of the extra workload, the board chairman earns $25,187, whereas other supervisors earn $18,508.
Wood said he has confidence in Sausville. “He is an extremely hard worker and diligent in studying an issue as long as needed before taking a position,” Wood said.
Sausville, 74, became town supervisor in 2006, but has been involved in Malta town government’s decision-making for nearly 40 years. Though the town has grown enormously over that time, he often talks about the benefits of keeping a “small-town” atmosphere.
Sausville’s opposition to Malta’s established growth-control policies — he’s been opposed to dense downtown development — has earned him criticism from Town Board members and the business community. His re-election this year required winning a primary in September and ended with his contested one-vote win over Young.
“I have run in 10 elections and won every one, though the last one by one vote,” he commented.
Sausville said he expects to retire at the end of his new two-year term.
Sausville comes by his interest in small-town values naturally. He grew up in Bennington, Vt., in the 1940s and 1950s.
“My parents worked six days a week as clerks,” Sausville recalled. “My father worked in a hardware store, my mother worked in a dry cleaner’s. They put their kids through college.”
The seeds of future community involvement may have been planted by his mother, who he said was always active in the community, and his high school girlfriend, Nancy — more than 50 years later, his wife — whose grandfather was the highway superintendent in the nearby town of Shaftsbury.
Sausville wanted an outdoor career. A high school counselor suggested civil engineering, with its emphasis on building roads, bridges and dams. Sausville took the advice, though not everything went as planned.
“The reality is after the first few years, I spent most of my career in the office,” he said this week.
He graduated from the University of Vermont, worked on road survey crews, including one laying out an interstate cloverleaf near Burlington, and landed a job at what in 1963 was the New York State Conservation Department — later to become the DEC.
At first, Sausville was part of a team looking for new sites for hydroelectric dams — but that was just before the rise of the environmental movement, with its opposition to dams that destroyed scenic natural areas, which killed most new dam projects.
“It was a fun time,” Sausville recalled. “Robert Moses was our hero for building the St. Lawrence Seaway.”
Sausville retired from DEC in 1999, having supervised a number of programs, including petroleum and chemical storage, setting water quality standards and planning for municipal sewage systems. He became a partner in a small engineering consulting firm until 2006, when he became town supervisor, which is a full-time job.
Earlier in his career, Sausville served on the Town Board, spent more than a decade as chairman of the town Planning Board and served on other town planning and zoning committees — all during a three-decade period during which Malta’s population nearly quadrupled, due to residential and later commercial growth.
“It’s really been a lot of fun,” Sausville said.
He and Nancy have two daughters, a son and nine grandchildren. His son, Paul John — the supervisor is Paul James — will swear him in on Jan. 2. His son is a U.S. Army attorney, an Iraq war veteran, assigned to the state’s Division of Military and Naval Affairs.
The swearing-in will take place at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 2 at the county boardrooms in Ballston Spa.