Tag Archive | "Bridgehampton CAC"

Town May Open Door for Bigger Role for CACs

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Citizen Advisory Committees (CAC) across Southampton Town have spent the last year working towards a greater voice in government, particularly when it comes to development issues, forming coalitions east and west of the Shinnecock Canal. Now they would like the town board to allow the committees an opportunity to weigh in on issues in front of the planning and zoning boards in work session, rather then be limited to letters or three minutes of time during the public hearing phase of an application.

On Monday, April 27 Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot told the Bridgehampton CAC that she would propose an initiative that would “open the door a little wider” for the CAC when it comes to planning board access on development projects that could have a cumulative impact to a particular area of the town.   

Kabot recognized there is a sentiment from town residents that attorneys and planners for applicants have the upper hand in the planning process, with a greater ability to present their case to the board without the matched ability for the CAC to weigh in on a project in front of the planning board until the public hearing phase of a project is underway.

“You don’t feel the playing field is as level for residents, which the planning board wants to be responsive to, but at the same time there has to be a record established,” said Kabot, noting the town must protect itself from being sued by developers. She added that while people are “griping” about the level of development activity in Southampton, compared to other areas on Long Island, Kabot thinks the town has protected itself from being overdeveloped, primarily through “stringent zoning” and preservation.

Regardless, Kabot said she would like to pass a resolution that allows the chair of a CAC to speak on cumulative impacts in front of the planning board during a work session. While not finalized, Kabot said the board may decide to allow the opportunity every other month and split it between CACs on the east and west sides of the town.

“We have to start being able to be more responsive,” said Kabot. “I heard that outcry in the last several years and I would like to be the vehicle to get it there.”

Bridgehampton CAC co-chair Tony Lambert said he was concerned about the zoning board of appeals, charging the board has an agenda and often the CAC is noticed about issues only after the opportunity to weigh in has passed. Lambert also suggested the town host a public forum with both the planning and zoning boards.

Kabot said her local law would be specific to the planning board, noting the zoning board is a quasi-judicial board and the town attorney’s office has objected to the concept. She was open to the idea of a public forum with both boards.

Committee member Jeffrey Vogel said a specific problem with the zoning board was that the CAC often does not receive its notice until the last minute.

“The notice is so short we have to scramble,” he said.

Chairman Fred Cammann said the planning board has improved on noticing the committee and in access to the planning department, but charges the zoning board was inaccessible.

“The issue is we do need to protect the property owner’s rights, especially when it comes to this board,” said Kabot.

John Halsey countered the committee is not trying to infringe on property owner’s rights, nor are they looking for “secret meetings” with the zoning board, but they would like an opportunity to be heard by the board.

Another idea floated at the meeting was an annual report on development and variances — one that would spell out how many projects were approved town wide and how many variances were granted — a concept Kabot warmed to.

The other topic of the evening was the fiscal health of the town, particularly in light of a national economic downturn and a $5 million shortfall in the town’s capital fund.

“I think the town’s budget transcends politics,” said Kabot. “It is not about Republican or Democrat — it is about doing what is right and doing what is right requires working with the full board.”

Kabot said the capital fund shortfall has made her “lose sleep” at night and her top priority is ensuring the board works towards the adoption of a corrective action plan, which it will send to the state comptroller for review.

“We also have issues with our independent auditors,” she said. “Why did this not show up?”

With steep declines in mortgage tax revenues and the Community Preservation Fund with no cushion, Kabot said the board has needed to cut wherever it can without disrupting services for residents. All vacant positions have been abolished in town hall, as have interns, travel budgets and other discretionary spending in the town, she said.

“We really went to what we thought was a more barebones budget,” said Kabot, adding the board will revisit the budget mid-year so any unanticipated loses in revenue as a result of the economy can be addressed sooner rather than later.

The Bridgehampton CAC will meet again on Monday, May 18 at 7 p.m.


Vets Learn About Health Benefits in Hard Times

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Veterans young and old packed the Sag Harbor American Legion meeting room on Monday night and waited for representatives from the Northport Veterans Hospital to arrive. A few elderly veterans of World War II straightened their American Legion caps atop their heads as they chatted with fellow retired servicemen.
Tony Lambert, vice-chair of the Bridgehampton Citizen’s Advisory Committee and an Iraq war veteran, stood in the back of the room, outfitted in a baseball cap and sweatshirt, swapping stories with a former Marine. Lambert heard of the meeting on WLNG. He stopped by hoping to get his veterans health care network card renewed.
Christopher Stone, of Sag Harbor, came to see if his Veterans Administration benefits would cover some of his dependents’ prescription needs. Mark Wilson, a local gardener and former Navy officer, is currently uninsured and came to inquire about his eligibility for VA benefits.
Marge O’Malley, a community outreach coordinator for the Northport hospital, met individually with every veteran at the meeting. Overall, she said many attendees came to learn if they were eligible for any benefits at all. According to O’Malley, many veterans fail to realize they are eligible for benefits or have received misinformation on eligibility requirements. Other veterans believe they earn too much to qualify for benefits, since there is an income cap of $49,000 a year. With many former veterans losing their jobs or experiencing pay cuts, O’Malley said more veterans are eligible for benefits than before.
This is the case for Wilson. He was previously insured through his wife, but recently went through a divorce. Wilson’s gardening work has been scaled back lately. With less income coming in, he cannot afford even the cheapest health insurance plans, which cost between $300 to $500 a month.
Although O’Mally informed Wilson he is most likely eligible for benefits, a certain part of him believes it is wrong to accept this aid.
“It is a conflict for me … I feel like the benefits should be reserved for the guys who fought in World War II and Korea and Iraq, to the people who were seriously afflicted by wars. I sort of feel like this is something I should channel on my own,” said Wilson, who served in the Navy from 1976 to 1980 when the country wasn’t engaged in active conflicts.
Lambert is already enrolled in the VA health benefits program, but told O’Malley it is difficult for him to travel to Northport for general check-ups, eye exams and prescription pick ups. He is currently employed full time with the Bridgehampton Post Office, but reported it is still a struggle to cover his family’s monthly expenses. He added it is inconvenient to take a day off work to visit Northport’s satellite clinic in Westhampton.
O’Malley informed Lambert that the Northport VA Hospital will establish a full service health care and mental health clinic in Riverhead within the coming year. The clinic will be funded in part by the county and will serve the veterans of Suffolk County. The services provided at the clinic will include psychiatry support, optometry appointments, outpatient services and a pharmacy.
O’Malley reported many Long Island veterans use the VA health benefits to supplement their current health insurance plans, especially for senior veterans who are enrolled in Medicare. At the hospital’s pharmacy, veterans receive significantly discounted rates on their monthly prescriptions. However, these prescriptions must be written by VA doctors, instead of their primary practitioners.
Martin Knab, the first vice commander of the Sag Harbor American Legion, uses his VA health benefits for second opinions from other doctors. Knab already has an insurance plan, which covers himself and his family, but this plan doesn’t pay for second opinions on a diagnosis.
Knab feels fortunate to have another form of health insurance, especially when he sees many local veterans becoming uninsured as they are laid off.
“There are other people in our community who could use these benefits a lot more than me. A lot of veterans have their own businesses and are self-employed or they are hired by big contractors and were laid off. [Most of the time] they don’t have insurance. So when something happens and they end up in the hospital they are facing huge debts,” said Knab.
Helping out struggling local veterans was one reason Knab asked O’Malley to visit the Sag Harbor American Legion.
These are the types of veterans O’Malley hopes to specifically reach out to and help. According to O’Malley, only eleven percent of veterans on Long Island enroll in the VA health benefits program. She will soon send out a letter to more than 2,000 veterans on Long Island informing them, if their income has decreased in the last year, they could be eligible for VA benefits.
Although Northport hospital representatives continue to visit veteran organizations throughout Long Island, Knab believes the hospital does a good job in helping veterans, but the East End veteran community is still underserved because there isn’t a clinic nearby.
“They do a superb job, for they job they do; but there still isn’t a facility available for vets on the East End,” said Knab. Though Knab hopes this problem will be solved when the Riverhead clinic is established.

To learn more about VA benefits or the VA hospital in Northport visit http://www.northport.va.gov/

Above: Vets learn about their eligibility for VA benefits during one-on-one sessions with representatives of the Northport Veterans Hospital.