This year’s race for two seats on the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees pits a sitting member of the board against lifelong village residents, one a government employee and the other a volunteer dedicated to both the fire department and the governing body of the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church.
During a sparsely attended “Meet the Candidates” debate, hosted by the Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor (CONPOSH) on Sunday, it appeared Dr. Robert Stein, Ryan Horn and Bruce Stafford agreed on a majority of issues with concerns about the size of government, spending and motivation to serve on the board of trustees the main issues of debate
Stein, a child psychologist who was appointed to the board last year, highlighted his active involvement in the village, not just on the board of trustees, but as a member of the Mashashimuet Park Board, with the Sag Harbor School District as a member of the key communicators, and liaison to groups like the Sag Harbor Business Alliance, Bay Street Theatre and Save Sag Harbor.
As a trustee, said Stein, there are a number of initiatives he would like to see come to fruition, like the reorganization and upgrade of the village wastewater treatment facility, the village’s proposed music permit and changes to the village’s accessory apartment law.
“I am looking at many issues that deal with, in part, environmental aspects of the village to protect the waterfront,” he said. “And I want to look at some of the larger issues like drainage and what is going to happen to the wetlands code.”
Ryan Horn, a fifth generation resident of Sag Harbor, is not unfamiliar to government service, having worked as a legislative aide to Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and also as a spokesman for former Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot. Currently serving the town as a citizen advocate, Horn said his lifelong residency in Sag Harbor has given him a special connection to the village.
“It is one that has given me a deep love for the village, shared by the gentlemen who sit with me today,” said Horn.
Stafford, also a lifelong resident who owns his own landscaping business, has been with the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department for 33 years, currently serving on the board of wardens. The chairman of the board of the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church, Stafford said it was a great tragedy the congregation had to sell its historic Madison Street church two years ago, but that he has taken pride and an active role in the construction of their new church off the Sag Harbor- Bridgehampton Turnpike. A Boy Scout leader, and Little League coach,
Stafford said his volunteer work in the village is an example of the commitment he has to Sag Harbor.
Affordable housing, an issue at the core of the last several village elections, all three candidates agreed would remain at the top of their agendas.
Horn said on a personal and professional level he understands for many young professionals hoping to return to Sag Harbor, there are not many options given the cost of living. He advocated for inclusionary zoning provisions, noting that the village is limited by Suffolk County in the kind of density bonuses it can offer, but that agreements could be reached if housing was connected to the village’s wastewater treatment plant. Expanding the village’s accessory apartment law, he added, will also increase affordable housing options. He also advocated working with neighboring towns through inter-municipal agreements, particularly in developing affordable housing on the East Hampton Town side of the village.
Stein, who has co-authored the proposed expansion of the village’s accessory apartment law, said affordable housing was not only key in keeping young people in Sag Harbor, but also in enabling seniors the ability to stay in the village, and to provide the local workforce with housing.
The accessory apartment law expansion, which if adopted would extend the current law to allow for housing in accessory structures like cottages and barns, could lead to some 100 legal apartments in Sag
Harbor that meet code and are therefore safe, he said. In the current economy, he added, relying on developers to create or fund affordable housing is not something the village board can count on.
Stafford said his hope for affordable housing in Sag Harbor is that it will enable current residents in the village the ability to afford to stay here, advocating for the expansion of the accessory apartment law to do just that.
Water quality and pollution at Havens Beach has also been at the forefront of this year’s campaign.
“I think basically the health of the harbor depends on the wetlands, so we need to protect all the areas on the waterfront,” said Stein, who noted water quality issues are related to both aging septic systems and stormwater runoff – two separate issues when it comes to treatment.
He said he looked at improving drainage systems throughout the village as one method of protection. Ensuring waterfront property owners have proper septic systems and are aware of green practices will also help with water quality, he added.
Stein said he believes bio-filtration systems, similar to one proposed for Havens Beach years ago, are always a step in the right direction as they inherently improve water quality of the wetlands. However, he added, at Havens Beach, the issue may have more to do with septic systems, and the key there will be identifying what the source of the bacteria is.
“I don’t think there is enough we can do to protect the waterfront,” said Stafford. Having a pump-out boat available for boats docked in the harbor is a “step in the right direction,” he said, as is introducing green systems to deal with stormwater runoff.
Horn said his primary concern is to see the results of the village’s work on Havens Beach and the over 100-acre watershed that empties into the dreen there before expending the estimated $400,000 to $500,000 a bio-filtration system can cost. In the next village budget cycle, Horn said he would like to see long-term remedial plans for Havens Beach discussed.
Horn believes Sag Harbor is a small village, and therefore should boast small government, criticizing the spending practices of the current board.
“We should manage our money better, particularly during an economic downturn,” he said.
“Taxes are only as good as the services they provide,” countered Stein, praising the village highway department and staff for providing excellent services during a particularly harsh winter.
Stein said he hoped for a zero percent tax increase this year, but that the village was faced with mandatory increases in spending, including for retirement costs – not something the village can control, but required by the State of New York.
Stafford agreed, praising the services residents in Sag Harbor enjoy including weekly leaf pick up and snow removal.
“Main Street was open a day or two after the big storm,” he said.
Stafford and Stein also took issue with Horn comparing his involvement with government and community organizations to theirs, with Stein pointing out that he and Stafford volunteer their services for the good of the community and are not paid to attend meetings as Horn is as a town employee.
“The difference between being a volunteer and working in the community and being a paid person in the community is very different,” said Stein.
Horn countered he feels the more than 40 hours a week he puts in serving the community is done in the spirit of volunteerism.
“Second, the reason I do collect a paycheck is I am one of those privileged people who gets to do what he loves to do and there is nothing I love more,” he said.