Kathee Burke Gonzalez, Larry Cantwell and Job Potter Sunday at a “Listen In” sponsored by the East Hampton Democratic candidates at the Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor.
By Kathryn G. Menu
Affordable housing, the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) and in general building stronger ties between East Hampton Town and the Sag Harbor community were some of the issues touched on during a “Listen In” held with candidates running on the Democratic Party line for East Hampton Town supervisor and town council on Sunday at the Christ Episcopal Church on Union Street.
Sunday’s hour long conversation was the fifth “Listen In” held by the Democratic candidates who have had similar forums in each hamlet and village in the town since July.
“We have found them to be terrific ways to have conversations with people in different hamlets,” said Democratic and Independence party candidate for town supervisor Larry Cantwell.
Cantwell noted that while being responsive to issues in the town as a whole is critical, villages and hamlets each have their own concerns specific to their community.
Cantwell, currently the only official candidate running for town board, recently retired as East Hampton Village Administrator after 30 years of service.
“We have a daunting task in my view in East Hampton come January,” said Cantwell.
Praising current supervisor Bill Wilkinson for having to contend with the aftermath of a financial crisis in the town, Cantwell added that millions in budgetary cuts, including reductions in staff, has consequences.
“At the town highway department the roof leaks so badly, they had to abandon office space and the town is renting a temporary trailer while that is fixed,” said Cantwell, adding similar issues have arisen at the town’s recycling center. Roads, beaches and infrastructure are also falling into disrepair, said Cantwell.
“There are a number of ways to deal with these issues,” he said. “One way is to strike a balance between the needs of the community and finding a way to fulfill those needs while still being fiscally responsible.”
Cantwell was joined Sunday by his Democratic Party running mates, Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Job Potter.
Burke-Gonzalez is a resident of Springs and former member of the Springs School Board. As president of that district’s school board during the first years the state’s mandated tax cap was implemented, Burke-Gonzalez noted she helped develop and manage nine budgets, the last two developed under the restraints of the state mandated tax cap with over 70 percent approval by voters.
Potter, a former member of the town planning board and town council, said he would like to understand more how the town could interact with the Village of Sag Harbor. As someone with experience in conservation and preservation, Potter said he would like to see the town’s affordable housing program revived. Potter also said the candidates share the concern expressed by many residents about the impact helicopters flying into the East Hampton Airport have had on surrounding communities.
“Sag Harbor is a part of the incorporated Town of East Hampton,” said Cantwell when asked he if could be held responsible, if elected, for the lack of town pump out boats coming to waters off communities like Azurest, Ninevah and Sag Harbor Hills. “We want a relationship with the community, the mayor and the board of trustees. We cannot isolate these problems. Ground water protection, surface water protection, open space, issues with the airport. We are really one community and we have to work together to solve these problems.”
Affordable housing was one issue that was raised. While the Town of East Hampton has developed affordable housing projects in the past, some residents wondered why a project closer to Sag Harbor had yet to be implemented.
“The first step, and we could use help when we get to this, is to identify land and start talking to people in the neighborhood to see if there is support for a project like that,” said Potter, who added he believed that would be an initiative supported by the new town board should the Democratic slate be elected on November 5.
Similar to affordable housing, Cantwell said the village could harness the potential of the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) as well.
“In the Village of East Hampton, we worked out a deal with the Town of East Hampton so a certain percentage of CPF funds were to be spent in the Village of East Hampton,” he said. “So there was an understanding right at the beginning how that would be allocated. I am not sure Sag Harbor has the same agreement, but I would be happy to work with the village to make projects happen.”
Anne Mackesey, a Sag Harbor resident and former member of the Sag Harbor School Board, suggested one way to build the bridge between East Hampton Town and Sag Harbor Village might be to hold joint meetings between the village board and town council twice a tear to talk about common issues.
“We do like local control, but we are within a township,” she said.
Michael O’Neill, a Sag Harbor resident and activist, said the town could consider having one of its work sessions in the village each month, similar to what it does in Montauk.
O’Neill said he would also like to see the town board become a leader in welcoming the Latino community instead of allowing community members to “actively denigrate” an important part of the town’s population.
Burke-Gonzalez noted the East Hampton School District has developed an outreach program with great success and suggested the town could work with the outreach coordinator there, Ana Núñez, to develop its own program.
“That would be a great place for us to focus our efforts,” she said.
“We have to accept the fact there is a growing Hispanic population in East Hampton and they are a growing part of our community,” said Cantwell.
Sara Gage wondered what the candidates thought about a town wide reassessment.
“I have been advised the only way there will be a reassessment in the Town of East Hampton is if people sue the town,” said Gage. “The people it most affects are the people in Sag Harbor and the people in Springs.”
Gage said she believed most in those communities would see a decrease in taxes if the town did a reassessment.
“I think it is the right thing to do for any number of reasons because there is so much inequality,” said Potter. However, he added, a reassessment would cost the town between $4 million and $5 million.
“The truth is given the financial condition of the town, spending $5 million on a reassessment is probably not going to happen in the immediate future,” said Cantwell.
Cantwell said he would need to study the impact of a reassessment before agreeing to sign off on a reassessment.
“I will say this though — the assessment system in the Town of East Hampton is clearly broken and has been for many, many years,” said Cantwell. “It is something the town needs to do. The truth of the matter is the town is not going to spend $5 million now to do that. That is the honest answer.”