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Former Valatie mayor ready for challenge of running Kinderhook

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KINDERHOOK–Pat Grattan’s first brush with local politics came at the age of 16, when he was working in the Kinderhook pharmacy with a clerk named Earl Devoe, who was also the town supervisor.

“People used to come into the store and complain to Earl about their grievances, and that was my introduction to Kinderhook politics,” Mr. Grattan says.

Complaints are the last thing Mr. Grattan, now 55, hopes to hear as he takes office as the supervisor of the most populous municipality in the county at the beginning of January. So one has to wonder why, after a 12-year hiatus from elective office, he decided to run for Kinderhook town supervisor in a time of economic crisis, when just about everyone is probably disgruntled about something.

“People asked me to run,” Mr. Grattan says. “They weren’t happy with the direction the county was going and thought I might be able to help.”

Born in Wales, Mr. Grattan’s family lived variously in England, Ireland and Canada before moving to Brooklyn in 1962 and then to Hudson Street in the Village of Kinderhook in 1968. Today, Mr. Grattan lives in the Village of Valatie with his wife, Elizabeth, and teenage daughter, Emily; and he maintains a private law practice on Route 9 between Valatie and the Ichabod Crane school campus. He also currently serves as Valatie village attorney. He was assistant county attorney from 1997 to 2003.

A lawyer from the age of 39, Mr. Grattan originally studied English and received his master’s degree in that subject from College of St. Rose. Still a voracious reader–his shelves are filled with literature–Mr. Grattan keeps a personal anthology of favorite quotes at his fingertips, including one by Winston Churchill that begins, “I do not agree with those who say every man must look after himself, and that intervention by the state will be fatal to his self-reliance, his foresight, and his thrift…”

A Republican, he won a substantial victory against incumbent, five-term Democrat Doug McGivney. But Mr. Grattan says that though he believes in efficient government, he is not looking to cut programs like swimming at Knickerbocker Lake or other institutions he feels are significant to the quality of the community. “I don’t want to cut anything, but I think there are efficiencies to be gained, particularly in a down economy; and it may be time to look at new opportunities for consolidation,” Mr. Grattan says.

As mayor of Valatie (1991-1997), Mr. Grattan negotiated what he believes is the only successful example of municipal services consolidation to date in Columbia County. He says that apart from capital expenses, “When we merged the Highway Departments of Valatie and Kinderhook in 1991, operational costs were $115,000 per year; and in 2009, the cost is $75,000. Without the merger, factoring for inflation, I believe highway costs would be a quarter of a million dollars today.”

Consolidation is only one form of efficiency Grattan hopes to pursue at both the town and the county levels; and job number one will be to assess the cost of every department in the Town of Kinderhook, meaning a holistic assessment of the entire $3.3 million budget. That budget has already been adopted by the current board when he takes office, but Mr. Grattan says, “I want to look, for example, at each building–what it costs to insure, what it costs to maintain, what will be the long-range cost of that property. I want to look at every department this same way, in terms of total cost, to see where we can save money.” Similarly, Mr. Grattan would like to see municipalities form a group in order to lower the cost of health insurance for their employees.

As a long-term initiative, he hopes to address the inevitable, increased tax burden of Columbia County’s aging population. With a median age of 40.5, more than 5 years above the national median, and with 26% of every tax dollar going to Medicaid, the cost of facility-based care is too expensive for the tax base to sustain going forward, he suggests. So he hopes to partner with programs like NY Connects and the Lombardi Program to look at ways to get older residents the care and support they need at home rather than in nursing facilities. “Most people prefer to hold onto their independence as long as possible and remain home if they can,” says Mr. Grattan, “and if it costs less, that seems like a win for everyone.”

As tight as Mr. Grattan would like to be about finances, he is flexible when it comes to attracting and supporting local business. “I’ll talk to anyone with an idea,” he says, “and we have to be willing to change rules when they’re no longer working for anyone. When there are too many regulations in place, the cost of doing business goes up, and small businesses get crushed.” Uncomfortable with finger-pointing, Mr. Grattan is well aware that situations like Kinderhook’s loss of the Toyota dealership’s now 48 jobs is the kind of issue that helped get him elected.

Mr. Grattan refers to the number of active businesses in Valatie as part of his legacy and what can be accomplished through compromise and “will power.” But that was in the 1990s, before these days of greater political polarization and deep recession, conditions that will test his skills as a self-proclaimed consensus-builder.

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