As a write-in candidate for Southampton Town Supervisor, former Republican Supervisor Linda Kabot has not had a formal debate against incumbent Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst on the issues facing Southampton Town.
But at this week’s Bridgehampton Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, the two clashed, while basically remaining on the same page, over the town’s desire to borrow over $100 million against the Community Preservation Fund (CPF). The money would be borrowed over the course of the next four years in order to purchase around 2,000 acres in Southampton Town.
Following a 2012 budget presentation on Monday night by Throne-Holst, who is the Democratic, Working Families and Independence Party candidate in the November 8 election for supervisor, Kabot approached the board with her pitch for candidacy in the uncontested race. Kabot, with retiring Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Grabowski seated at her side, said she was running in an effort to give town residents a choice in who should lead the town board through 2014.
Kabot began by stating it was under her lead, not Throne-Holst, that the town began getting its finances together through the aid of the town comptroller Tamara Wright.
“Immediately, in 2008, I set a course of financial management to move us through the turmoil,” she said.
Kabot questioned that the full Democratic Party slate, which includes Throne-Holst, Councilwoman Bridget Fleming and candidate Brad Bender, has taken credit in its advertising for restoring the town’s bond rating. Kabot said it was a feat attained in February 2010, before Fleming was elected in a special March 2010 race.
“We transitioned to a new town supervisor who worked diligently for the town, and I will not take that away from her,” said Kabot.
Kabot said the town should continue to cut spending, in particular because the economy nationwide is still sagging and the tax base is not growing. She added residents she has spoken to are also concerned about code enforcement and protecting property values. Taking care of the highway department roads and ensuring the preservation of the town’s leaf program is also important, said Kabot.
“The local economy is in a recession still and we need to do more for our local businesses to encourage them to foster and grow,” said Kabot, calling for a more streamlined regulatory process for minor changes on a property or in a business.
However, it was when Kabot tackled the CPF that a debate erupted between she and Throne-Holst.
Kabot charged that Throne-Holst was proposing a $125 million bond act that would borrow against CPF to purchase properties in the town immediately.
“I do agree we need to extend our purchasing power, but not to the tune of $125 million,” said Kabot.
She said if the CPF failed to perform as hoped, the town may have to dip into its general fund to cover such an expense. Kabot advocated looking towards a $50 million bond instead.
“The CPF isn’t merely there to willy-nilly buy open space,” said Throne-Holst. “It is here to protect our greatest economic engine, the viability of our environment.”
Throne-Holst said the $125 million proposal was “not random,” but a figure conceived by the town’s Community Preservation Fund committee, a bi-partisan group, that has targeted 2,000 acres for preservation in Southampton Town. The supervisor called the properties “critical,” much of it active farmland and watershed properties that if developed could negatively impact the town.
Throne-Holst noted many of the committee members are fiscal conservatives, but that the whole group supports this idea, particularly when facing the reality that real estate prices are now at an all time low and the town could save millions purchasing property now, rather than in 10 years.
She added the concept does not involve seeking a $125 million bond, as Kabot suggested.
“It would be done over a four-year period, which means we can opt out at any time should anything dramatic happen to the economy,” said Throne-Holst, who added that the town could look to borrow as little as $30 million in the first year of the program.
Bridgehampton CAC resident Janice Delano said that from a financial perspective, Throne-Holst’s plan made sense given the current real estate market.
However, chairman Fred Cammann said he was wary of leveraging anything given the financial nightmare that emerged in 2007 and 2008 because financial institutions were doing just that.
Water Mill CAC Co-Chairman Steve Abramson countered that even the CPF architect, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. has advocated in favor of borrowing against the CPF, as has former Governor George Pataki.
“We know if we don’t spend it now to buy a certain amount of real estate in a few years we will spend the same money for less property,” said Abramson.
Delano added it wasn’t very long ago that she remembered the same people bristling at the concept at Monday night’s meeting supporting a similar idea just a few years back.
“In 2008, the world changed,” said Cammann.
Ultimately, Throne-Holst said, Kabot proposing a $50 million bond is more aggressive than the $30 million she hopes to bond for in the first year of what she sees as a long-term plan for CPF.
“This does not have any party affiliation tied to it,” she said. “This is a commitment to preserving the character and economic engine of our town, which is our environment. And that, in fact, is preserving property values in Southampton.”