By Annette Hinkle
This November, voters in the Second Legislative District will see a race for Suffolk County Legislator, with Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi challenging five-term incumbent Jay Schneiderman for his seat.
Both Nuzzi, who is serving his second and final term on the Southampton Town Board and has been tapped to run for legislator by the Suffolk County Republican Committee, and Schneiderman, a member of the Independence party now seeking his sixth and final term as legislator, appeared at the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday night as part of an informational session.
During his presentation, Schneiderman reflected on 10 years in the county legislature. He cited achievements such as the inception of Sunday bus service, closure of sex offender trailers in Westhampton and Riverhead and the building of sidewalks on the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike as examples of accomplishments during his tenure.
“One thing that has helped everyone was County Road 39,” said Schneiderman referring to the road’s expansion to four lanes. “That has made a difference. This area, I think has gotten some relief.”
But resident James Ding was critical of the road. He noted one day this summer when it took him more than three hours to get from Hampton Bays to Noyac.
“There’s just tremendous volume on County Road 39,” responded Schneiderman, “and the day you’re talking about there was a fatal accident where a woman appeared to be texting while driving.”
“When there’s a fatality it becomes a crime scene and they have to do an investigation and the medical examiner must make the death pronouncement,” explained Schneiderman. “The medical examiner was stuck in the same traffic. Southampton has to figure out within its own department how best to route traffic.”
“But the road was closed from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” countered Ding.
“It took too long,” conceded Schneiderman. “Whenever there’s a major accident, especially a fatality, we’re going to be inconvenienced.”
Schneiderman also touted a bill he has introduced to restrict the use of methoprene, an insecticide to control mosquitos in estuaries and salt marshes which he said also affects young lobsters and crabs. He also said he is pushing the county to develop a program to address Lyme disease.
“I have a bill that would require the county to develop a plan and a budget focusing on Lyme and other tick born diseases,” he said. “I feel the county should take a leadership role.”
While Schneiderman—who also has the endorsement of the Democratic and Working Families parties—focused on accomplishments, for Chris Nuzzi it was largely about the financials, which he noted is the biggest issue facing Suffolk County.
“The county has a $180 million plus year to year operating deficit and it’s impacting initiatives that we expect,” he said. “Suffolk County in terms of finances is in complete disarray. If they don’t deal seriously with the financial issues, they’ll have a problem.”
Nuzzi said he has witnessed those financial problems first hand through the town board.
“I think you see that related to us in terms of investment into county roads,” said Nuzzi. “We have this debate all the time at the town, the county’s refusal to do maintenance or large scale improvements to their roads, pushing the burden onto municipalities.”
Nuzzi also slammed the county’s environmental preservation efforts, noting there is just $400,000 left in county coffers to make land purchases.
“Our real estate being what it is and our market — especially east of the canal — is expensive and we often need partners,” said Nuzzi. “But we don’t have a partner with the county anymore. The fact is no money, no partner. I saw that in Southampton Town Board and open space acquisitions. You either have to go it alone or not do it.”
Nuzzi also questioned the wisdom of a $26 million package of grants and loan guarantees Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wants the legislature to approve for affordable housing and sewage treatment upgrades throughout the county, including $8 million proposed for the Riverhead wastewater treatment plant.
“I’m not sure the county is in a position to spend that money. It’s a hole they can’t fill,” he said. “Instead of taking tax payer money I’d rather we work with the development community as a component to their investment and let them find the way.”
On Tuesday, the Noyac Civic Council also heard from seven of eight candidates running for the five open Southampton Town trustee seats this fall. The candidates shared information on their backgrounds and philosophy for managing the town’s waterways.