Supervisors Talk Budget Constraints, Sharing Services & Deer at League of Women Voters Forum

Posted on 12 March 2014

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East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Southampton Town Supervisor at a League of Women Voters-sponsored forum Monday night at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton. 

By Mara Certic

Newly-elected East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell joined re-elected Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst at a League of Women Voters forum at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton on Monday to discuss plans to improve quality of life through cooperation and consolidation across town boundaries.

Being a supervisor is “about balancing the needs of the community with balancing the need for environmental protection, with a need for economic development and local jobs,”  said Mr.Cantwell, “and finding that balance is really what we do almost every day.”

The supervisors discussed how improving water quality, affordable housing, sustainable energy, transportation and deer management within the constraints of their budgets would meet the towns’ needs. In order to do that, both supervisors said sharing services was critical in order to fall below a New York State-mandated 2-percent property tax levy cap.

Ms. Throne-Holst discussed potential benefits of a centralized information technology core that would allow for information-sharing between towns and villages and would expedite permit approval processes.

“East Hampton has been involved in consolidating some services and facilities between the town and the village,” said Mr. Cantwell, referring to a $400,000 government grant to build a new joint-fuel facility. “Over time we’re going to save millions of dollars because instead of building three, we’re going to build one, and that’s the whole point of the consolidation process.”

He added, however, that he is “not a big fan” of the 2-percent tax cap.

“In communities that are growing,” he explained, “you’re increasing your tax base and therefore increasing the amount of property tax collected. If you’re in a growth community and more services are required, you can’t take advantage of that increase in growth of the tax base because there is a 2-percent tax cap, not on the rate, but on the amount that you can raise taxes.”

Mr. Cantwell said the budget restrictions will force the towns to become more cost-effective, but also help them find other sources of income to balance the budget and fund the needs of the community. An example is East Hampton Town’s planned participation in three energy proposals through PSEG, which, if approved, would produce renewable energy in East Hampton by leasing appropriate town-owned sites to solar contractors. The contractors, in turn, would build solar arrays that would feed into the electric grid. The revenues from those arrays would be shared by the contractor and the town, and would help supply an already overburdened electric grid.

“There’s a potential here to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional revenue for the town and to contribute to the energy needs of the South Fork and to do it in a sustainable way,” said Mr. Cantwell.

While stating that the assessment system in East Hampton Town is “broken and should be fixed,” Mr. Cantwell does not envision the town spending the required $3 to $5 million for reassessment in the near future.

“The system is archaic and creates a lot of inequities, but how those balance out is in the detail,” he said.  In Springs, for example, reassessment would not necessarily shift away the tax burden to another area, he explained.

“The assessed value base of the Springs School District is still going to be the same,” he said. “The truth of the matter is, the tax dollars are in your school taxes.”

Ms. Throne-Holst was asked to comment on the recent lawsuits that challenged the financial practices of the Southampton Town Trustees.

“Lawsuits questioned how they spend their money and questioned whose jurisdiction some pieces of land belonged under,” she said. “I, 100 percent, if not more, support the trustees.”

“I did not bring those lawsuits,” added Ms. Throne-Holst. “I have supported them in fighting those lawsuits and will continue to do that.”

Ms. Throne-Holst explained that although trustees have complied with the judge’s orders to  hand over their books to the board, there is a system in place for that allows them to retain autonomy over their finances while they put together their appeal.

On the subject of water quality, Ms. Throne-Holst stated that all local industry relies on ground and surface water, but that nitrogen and pathogen pollution have degraded water quality to a critical level.

Although there are retrofitting systems and technologies available today to mitigate this situation, she said, the price tag of $15,000 to $30,000 per household makes them cost-prohibitive.

“The idea that each and every homeowner would be able to cough that money up is not realistic,” said Ms. Throne-Holst.

Ms. Throne-Holst has created a proposal already presented to Governor Cuomo, where the state would work with the county, county health department, SUNY Stony Brook and other organizations to tackle water degradation problems cooperatively. The first phase of her proposal involves a feasibility study in which every waterway in the region is mapped in order to understand more fully their levels of degradation. The second phase is to create a water technology hub on the East End.

“Think Silicon Valley for information technology, think Suffolk County for clean water technology,” she said. Ms. Throne-Holst suggested that this would be an opportunity to deal with this environmental crisis while creating economic development and jobs.

Ms. Throne-Holst lamented how “woefully inadequate” the town has been in terms of the availability and types of affordable housing, which she deems vital to Southampton so young professionals can afford to live here and provide necessary services. “We cannot attract school teachers out here, or retain our volunteer firefighters,” she said. She aims to design and put forward a master affordable housing plan to conquer this problem.

The supervisors were asked about the possibility of resurrecting plans for the Five Town Rural Transit Authority, which was intended to create a transit authority for the East End, a concept that has had support but failed to gain steam before largely folding in 2008 as an economic crisis bloomed. Although costly and difficult to execute due to local geography, Ms. Throne-Holst proclaims herself a “huge proponent of mass transit.” She said the creation of a new transit authority must be reconsidered as the economy continues to improve. “It’s the way of the future,” she said.

When asked about East Hampton’s new flexible deer management plan, Mr. Cantwell explained that it will expand the opportunity for local hunters to take deer while also exploring more humane methods such as immunocontraception and 4-Poster devices, deer feeding stations that apply a tickicide to the necks of feeding deer and are designed specifically to reduce the tick population.

Ms. Throne-Holst pointed out the many shortcomings of the Long Island Farm Bureau’s planned cull, explaining that a wider, more scientific and long-term approach would be more successful. She said she is working with the DEC and other agencies to create such a proposal.

“I think this is a perfect example of how we need to come together as a region”, she said. “Deer don’t know boundaries,” Supervisor Throne-Holst said. “I can put out a great plan in Southampton and they’ll all just run over to East Hampton.”

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