Len Utter reflects on 12 years as supervisor

By Pauline Liu
As the year draws to a close, Middletown will be ringing out of the final term of Town Supervisor Len Utter. After serving for six terms, totaling 12 years, he is preparing to retire on December 31. His departure marks the end of an era in Middletown leadership.

His office at town hall in Arkville is filled with cozy photos of his family and a two-foot high plastic Christmas tree on the edge of his desk. The supervisor, who is known for his outgoing personality and a good sense of humor, admits he has “mixed emotions” about leaving. As supervisor, he served on the Delaware County Board of Supervisors and he enjoyed the monthly meetings in Delhi.

Liked the people
“I enjoy being around people and I’ll probably miss my work in Delhi,” he said. “I was chairman of the public works committee and it was almost like a promotion, because I worked 10 or 15 years for the (public works) department building bridges and it was a standing joke that the people I used to take orders from were now taking orders form me,” he added with a laugh.

What will he not miss? “The stress of trying to keep the town at even keel, staying within budget and dealing with natural disasters,” he said. Though Utter saw Middletown through several incidents of “high water” and a couple of major snow storms, he explained that none was as devastating as the flood damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene on August 28. The disaster racked up about $1.5 million worth of damage.

Utter modestly pointed out that he didn’t accomplish anything in town government on his own, but he listed his five proudest achievements while in office. They are: 1) The construction of town hall, which was completed in 2002 and brought all town offices under one roof at a cost of over $500,000; 2) The construction of the highway garage in 2000 for $1.5 million, which has been paid off; 3) Installation of a new water system for Halcottsville in 2004 for more than $500,000; 4) Installation of a new water system for Arkville to be completed this spring at the cost of $1.9 million; 5) Fiscal prudence.

Finances are strong
Utter believes he has left the town in good fiscal shape. “We were debt free with a healthy balance prior to the flood and we are still debt free even with $1.5 million in flood damage,” he said. “I set up two dedicated reserve accounts to the tune over $450,000 in each. The state allows us to set up reserve accounts for emergency funds. One is for equipment. The other one is for municipal buildings and highway.”

According to Utter, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) owes Middletown close to $2 million in reimbursement, which includes an outstanding $400,000 for a road project in Millbrook from three years ago.

However, Utter explained it’s not clear what effect the flood will have on next year’s taxes, since a number of buildings were simply washed away. “We have no idea what the impact is going to be,” he said. “We have had small growth, it will help offset the losses from the flood,” he added. Utter explained the impact might not be known by the assessor’s office until the spring.

As for unfinished business, Utter would like to see the New York City fulfill its agreement to build the sewer extensions for Academy Street, Bull Run, and Glen Acres. “The project was proposed before I took office,” he said. “We have been up, and around, and down, and it still has not taken effect,” he added. As for his relationship with the city, Utter said it has not worsened with time. “We co-exist but it’s a fight, “ he said. “There are so many rules and regulations. There are watershed programs under the CWC (Catskill Watershed Corporation). The City still discourages growth or industry here.”

According to Utter, the region has changed since he took office. “We have become a bedroom and retirement community for NYC,” he said. “This just seems to be increasing and it didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen in 12 years.” As a farmer, he mourns the losses to the farming community since the city’s reservoir system was built more than 50 years ago. “It took out a lot of good farms and our highway system began to improve, which reduced the drive from NYC from four-and-a half hours to two-and-a half hours,” he said.

Retirement will allow Utter to spend more time with his family, his wife Betty, his grown up daughters, Christine and Darcy and his granddaughter, Amber. He assures his supporters that he won’t be sitting around. In addition to his duties as assistant chief of the Arena Fire Department, he has just been elected as one of its fire commissioners and he will begin his term with the new year.
He has also agreed to help incoming Supervisor Marge Miller with her transition. “She did ask me if I would help her put together the agenda for the first meeting, so I’m not going to disappear,” he said. His wish for her is simple. “I wish her a lot of luck and a lot of patience to be able to sit and listen,” he said.

In the meantime, Utter said that a number of residents have stopped him on the street to thank him for his service. “It’s humbling, “ said Utter. “I’m just an old Catskill Mountain farm boy with down to earth values. What makes it all worth while is when you are able to help someone and they come up and thank you.”

Utter said he sought the job of supervisor because he wanted to give back to the community which been so good to his family.