The three candidates vying to lead Sag Harbor as its mayor for the next two years expressed wide-ranging, sometimes divergent priorities this week on where they believe village government needs to focus its energy in what is emerging as one of the most contentious campaigns the village has seen in years.
On Monday, at an interview at The Express office, incumbent trustee and deputy mayor Brian Gilbride, zoning board of appeals chairman Michael Bromberg and attorney and economist Jim Henry began debating issues ranging from the village’s fiscal health to charging for parking on Main Street as all three begin to heavily campaign for the June 16 mayoral election.
On Sunday, the debate will continue at 3 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church in a debate sponsored by the Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor (CONPOSH).
Bromberg, an attorney, member of the zoning board of appeals since 2001 and that board’s chairman since 2005, is also a former member of the Sag Harbor School Board and paramedic for the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps. He said that affordable housing remains a top priority for him.
“I think it is a necessity and we have to work harder to get that accomplished,” he said.
While the new village code has inclusionary zoning standards, requiring developers to include affordable housing in projects or pay into the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, Bromberg wondered why the village would mandate 20 percent affordable housing rather than the 10 percent New York State has legislated in the Long Island Workforce Housing Act and questioned whether that could be a disincentive for developers.
Bromberg called for the creation of a mix of affordable housing options for village residents, from affordable homes for sale to affordable rental units, and questioned what work the village has done toward the affordable housing issue.
“Sag Harbor traditionally has been a blue collar, un-Hampton and I don’t want to see us lose that,” he said.
Providing more village parking is another priority for Bromberg. One concept he floated was the use of air rights over the municipal lot behind Main Street or the parking lot adjacent to Sag Harbor’s American Legion on Bay Street — for which the village would have to negotiate the rights —Â in order to construct parking and affordable housing. Both sites, said Bromberg, would enable the housing to connect easily to the village sewer system. Addressing storm water runoff concerns at Havens Beach is another issue Bromberg would take on if elected mayor.
For Gilbride, who has served on the board of trustees for 15 years and is a member of the village fire department and former head of sanitation for the Town of Southampton, the concern is looking at the budget when weighing what projects the village should tackle in coming years.
“As far as going into the future, the [zoning] code we just adopted, to me, is a work in progress,” said Gilbride who added that the village intends to fine tune the wetlands section of the code. “I am sure there are some elements that may sue us over the code and we are prepared for that. The most important part is getting that code out there now and seeing where the strengths and weaknesses are.”
“I would like to see something done with a greenings code for the historic district to start to make provisions to regulate what can be done,” said Gilbride, who wants opportunities for people who would like to install solar panels on their residences.
“Pretty much in the village, it comes down to what we can afford and we fight pretty hard over little bits of money in the budget process,” he said, adding a majority of the village’s spending covers basic items like employee and police contracts, emergency services, sewage and public works.
Henry, who lost a bid for Southampton Town Supervisor in 2007, is an attorney, economist and founder of the Sag Harbor Group, a consulting firm for technology-based businesses. He was one of the founding members of the group Save Sag Harbor.
“I really want us to work on a vision for where this community wants to end up – how we make it a sustainable Sag Harbor,” said Henry who added that he sees a number of issues not yet budgeted for that the village will need to address in coming years, including remediation of Havens Beach.
“You can argue whether there is pollution there today or next week, but the fact is there is a $500,000 project that needs to be addressed,” said Henry, referring to a plan to create a filtration system at the beach to address storm water runoff concerns.
He also suggested Long Wharf is under-utilized in its current form as a parking lot and would like to see it developed into a more “user-friendly” space for the community.
As for parking, Henry said he would not seek to build more lots, but rather charge for parking, using meters in the center of the village with free parking on the perimeter of the downtown area. Henry said this could provide additional revenue for the village, which could be used to provide more services for area businesses.
Charging that the village has not anticipated a drop in property tax revenues, Henry said the current budget will result in either a tax increase or a spending cut unless other sources of revenue are found. He questioned why Sag Harbor has not approached Southampton Town for more monies from the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) and said it should be more active in seeking funding through the federal government’s stimulus plan.
Financially, the mayor is the village’s chief fiscal officer. From a budget perspective, Gilbride said he believed the board was successful in keeping the budget tight in the face of a lagging economy, approaching department heads early on and asking them to hold the line on spending.
“In the village, we live the old fashioned way – we do what we can afford,” said Gilbride, who added that Southampton and East Hampton towns both have multi-million dollar deficits, with East Hampton considering employee layoffs and the selling of town owned land.
“Now I think we are in good shape,” said Gilbride. “We have actually been in good shape the last few years. Since [mayor] Greg [Ferraris] has been in office, taxes have actually dropped 10.2 percent. But I think we are at the bottom now. Quite honestly, for me, as we move forward if we want to do any of these projects the tax rate will have to increase.”
The village has also employed a grant writer to look for revenues to complete projects, added Gilbride who took issue with Henry’s criticism of the village’s budget.
“Jim mentions the budget — I never saw him at one budget meeting, I never saw him at one village meeting,” said Gilbride, later adding, “You have all these answers — it’s great, but where have you been.”
“I don’t think that is fair,” responded Henry, noting he was involved in Save Sag Harbor and ran for supervisor in Southampton. “I think I have a track record of having to work on all these issues from the outside.”
Henry suggested the village look at new ways to tackle current spending in a more affordable way and increase revenues.
“I think the village has a limited vision, pardon me for saying so, about what the village can do to make what I would say is the quality of life stuff a priority,” said Henry. “I am talking about making the parks more valuable, the walkablity issue, culture and recreation.”
What the village is spending in these areas, said Henry, is way out of proportion when examining budgets for the police and fire departments.
“It’s not a question of cutting those departments or transferring money,” cautioned Henry. “It’s a way of being more creative, going out and finding other revenue sources.”
Bromberg said he was unsure what he would cut or add to the budget, as he would want to talk with department heads and hear about their priorities first.
Looking at the current administration, Bromberg said the adopted zoning code represented what the current administration got right and wrong.
“I think most of it is workable. I think parts of it will need to be tweaked,” said Bromberg, who also called for a comprehensive plan for the whole of the village.
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” he said.
Bromberg expanded on the idea of a comprehensive plan, noting it would cover more than just zoning, but would encompass schools, economic growth, demographics, ethnicity.
“I kind of disagree that we would all come together and move on,” said Bromberg, noting the village is currently comprised of different factions – an old Sag Harbor and a new Sag Harbor.
“What has to happen here is an amalgam,” said Bromberg. “We have people in this village that have enormous talents. I think they can contribute mightily to the village if they are asked. Brian asked where Jim has been. Well, sure, but Jim has some good ideas and maybe if someone had approached him earlier on we could put some of these ideas into effect.”