Despite Protest, East Hampton Town Votes to Sell Poxabogue Golf Center to Southampton

Posted on 12 October 2011

Despite a request by some residents to hold off on the sale of East Hampton Town’s share of the Poxabogue Golf Center in order for the sale to be fully vetted by the community, on Thursday the East Hampton Town Board formally approved the sale of the golf center to Southampton Town.

According to the resolution approving the sale of the town’s share of the 38.9-acre golf center property, Southampton Town will pay East Hampton $2.2 million to retain full ownership of Poxabogue. According to East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, the town will also be entitled to an additional $200,000 — its share of the money the golf center has brought in this season.

East Hampton originally purchased Poxabogue through its general fund for $3.25 million in 2004.

The sale is subject to approval by the New York State Legislature, according to town attorney John Jilnicki, as the sale constitutes the town giving up parkland. The town will also need to purchase an equal amount of property through the Community Preservation Fund to make up for sale.

It is also subject to a permissive referendum meaning if a resident opposes the sale they have 30 days to collect resident signatures to force a public vote on the sale. According to state law, the petition would need the number of signatures equal to five percent of those who cast a vote for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

Before the vote was made by the East Hampton Town Board during its Thursday night board meeting, Springs resident and Democratic and Working Families candidate for East Hampton Town Supervisor Zach Cohen questioned whether the sale made financial sense. He also asked whether or not the town board had included the community benefit the course offers town residents in making the decision to sell it.

Cohen noted that during peak season, the golf center offers a discount for residents of both East Hampton and Southampton Town. Residents are charged $28 to play, while non-residents are charged $40. While Wilkinson said there is an agreement in place securing the discounted rates for town residents, as it is not laid out yet in the draft contract of sale, Cohen questioned whether or not town residents will truly be protected.

The town cannot legally pay off the whole of its debt on the Poxabogue Golf Center until 2016. The town has said it will bank the total $2.4 million from Southampton Town into a reserve account, used to pay off the annual debt on the parcel through 2016 when the reserve account will be used to pay off the whole of the town’s debt from purchasing the golf center.

However, Cohen said that as a result of selling the property he believes residents will have to pay an additional $350,000 in interest payments over what it would already have to pay over the next four years, and will be left without ownership of the facility when all is said and done.

Cohen called for a complete financial analysis of the sale and the impact to the town, how much money the facility is expected to bring in over the next decade and beyond, as well as the community benefit the course gives residents.

“The real total loss on the property is staggering,” said Cohen in a press release after the meeting.  “Not only is there $1.05 million we lose on the original purchase price of $3,250,000, we will also have paid $1.1 million in interest by the time we pay off the bond in 2016. The real total loss of taxpayer money, with legal and other fees, must be $2.2 million. That will be the sum of what it cost us to own Poxabogue for seven years.”

He added if the town kept the property, once it was paid off in 2023 the town’s general fund would benefit from “an income-producing asset.”

However, on Thursday night East Hampton Town budget officer Len Bernard defended the financial sense of the sale. He said that over the next four years close to $700,000 will be paid on the principal balance the town owes on the golf center out of the $2.4 million reserve account. That money, noted Bernard, would have had to be raised through taxes otherwise.

Bernard said that in 2016, when the town can legally get rid of the municipal bond, it will owe $1.71 million on the property, but will have $1.75 million in the reserve account.

Bernard said the town will save about $2 million by selling the property eight years before it would have been paid off.

Wainscott resident Jordy Mark, a member of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, also asked the town board to hold off on the sale and give the public more time to research the issue. She said she was in favor of the town maintaining its ownership, and that in doing so the town would have a say in any future development of the property or the restaurant on-site.

Mark called for a public hearing before a formal vote was taken.

Wilkinson noted that because Southampton Town originally purchased the property with CPF monies development would be prohibited at Poxabogue.

Mark responded that there was debate over the last two years as to whether the restaurant at Poxabogue Golf Center could be expanded to include night hours, although the concept never came to fruition.

“I would say, convince me,” said Mark. “Even if the end result is to sell it, I still feel members of the community deserve a public hearing.”

Wilkinson noted the board was not required to have a public hearing by law, but board member Julia Prince said that while she supported the sale, she also believed it was worthwhile for the board to have a public hearing.

Prince was overruled when the board voted in support of the sale, with the support of Wilkinson, and board members Dominick Stanzione and Peter Hammerle. Prince abstained and deputy supervisor Theresa Quigley was absent from the meeting.

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