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LWV Debate: East Hampton Council Candidates Eye Governing in Stressful Times

Posted on 23 October 2009

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Seemingly more amenable to each other than the supervisor candidates, East Hampton town board candidates hashed out their views on the town’s financial crisis and conservation, during a League of Women Voters sponsored forum last Thursday at the East Hampton Firehouse and Emergency Services Building.

Republican and Independence Party candidate Theresa Quigley opened the debate providing the close to 100 residents in attendance a little background on her Northwest Woods upbringing.

“We all love East Hampton,” said Quigley, an attorney with Farrell Fritz. “There is not much not to like, except for our government.”

Noting the town’s finances are a “train wreck,” Quigley said while both parties promise to protect the environment and restore strong fiscal management of the town, the professional backgrounds of her fellow Republican candidates will “professionalize” town government.

Patti Leber, who is running on the Democratic line, said her experience with a number of local not-for-profits, including the Children’s Museum of the East End (CMEE), the Montauk Playhouse, as well as her work on the Montauk School District’s PTA and board of education gives her the credentials to aid the town in such tumultuous times.

“Every year we have to balance a budget and bring it to voters,” she said of the school district.

Leber added another focus would be to bring “green collar” jobs, or those focused on environmental sustainability to the town.

Dominick Stanzione, who is running with the Republican, Independence and Working Families parties, and has a background in professional and financial services, noted that he was also instrumental in the creation of a town budget advisory committee.

Some of his professional experience, he added, was when he was assigned to a team of analysts working on the financial crisis in New York City in the 19070s.

“It seems very close to what is happening in East Hampton,” said Stanzione.

Like Quigley, Democrat and Working Families party candidate John Whelan is a native East Hampton resident, who grew up on a farm in Northwest Woods with 11 brothers and sisters.

“It teaches you to listen to other people and respect other’s opinions,” said Whelan.

With a father entrenched in East Hampton Town government and a background in architecture, including a number of years as the project manager for the Ross School construction project, Whelan said he is very comfortable working in government and managing large budgets.

When asked how the town can continue to preserve land given the dwindling resources in the Community Preservation Fund (CPF), Quigley said she believes the town should aggressively conserve land, but only after it is sure it can cover debt from borrowing against anticipated revenues. Leber, Stanzione and Whelan echoed Quigley’s position.

When asked should the town consider selling preserved lands or other assets, Leber noted anything preserved with CPF, by law, cannot be sold, and given the real estate market, this may not be the best time to sell other land.

“Yeah, I think we are probably going to have to sell some assets,” said Stanzione. He said he would like to see 2010 dedicated to forums to figure out what residents think should be sold. Ideas he has include leasing the town-owned skating rink to a new firm and creating a new revenue source for the town.

While agreeing CPF-preserved lands cannot be sold, Whelan said he would be open to selling other parcels if it was carefully analyzed. He also said he would like to see affordable commercial spaces developed in the town and supported selling other assets as well.

While supporting continued land preservation, like Stanzione, Quigley suggested making new revenue sources out of properties already owned by the town, including the skating rink and the Montauk Playhouse.

Stanzione suggested renegotiating the contract at the scavenger waste plant, which he said costs $1.4 million annually and is only operating at 30 percent capacity. Turning it into a scavenger waste facility, he said, could give the town an additional million dollars in revenue. He said reducing the cost for commercial carters could also help boost revenues.

Whelan said he would hate to see any jobs lost, but would ask department heads to cut 10 percent from their budgets, would freeze all new projects and recommend a policy of attrition.

“There is going to have to be a paring down and a paring down of services,” he said.

Leber said recommending the leaf bag program over pickup could give the town an additional $500,000 to work with. Keeping consultant work “as much in house” as possible is also a priority, as is better reporting of the town’s finances “so we can all stay on top of all the numbers.”

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