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Sag Harbor Candidates Discuss Issues

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Candidates Robby Stein, Bruce Stafford, John Shaka and Sandy Schroeder at a roundtable discussion.

By Stephen J. Kotz

The four candidates for Sag Harbor Village Board gathered in The Sag Harbor Express office last Thursday to outline their reasons for running and discuss how they planned to approach some of the key issues facing the village in the coming years at a roundtable discussion.

The election is Tuesday, June 17, with voting from noon to 9 p.m. at the firehouse on Brick Kiln Road.

Sandra Schroeder, a retired village administrator who fell short in a bid for mayor last year, is making her first run for a trustee seat, as is John Shaka, an active member of the group, Save Sag Harbor. Bruce Stafford, who served one term, from 2009 to 2011, is seeking to reclaim a seat, and Robby Stein, who is finishing his fifth year on the board, is seeking another term.

“The waterfront and water quality are important to me,” said Ms. Schroeder, echoing a concern also raised by Mr. Shaka and Mr. Stein. She also cited traffic, disappointment that the village was unable to settle a contract with its police union, and the need to invest in infrastructure, including the Municipal Building, Long Wharf and the sewage treatment plant.

“We need new things and we need new thinking,” she said, “and someone who is looking to the future at where we want to be.”

“I love this place,” said Mr. Shaka, who owns a painting business and has lived in Sag Harbor for 15 years. “The reason I’m running for trustee is I want to keep it beautiful and livable.”

Mr. Shaka called for better communication between the village and the school district to solve problems like traffic tie-ups at Pierson High School during drop-off and pickup times; a sharper focus on the environment, especially water quality; better efforts at historic preservation, citing the John Jermain Memorial Library expansion of an excellent example; and traffic calming, an initiative he has been deeply involved with in recent months.

Mr. Stafford, a landscaper who was born and raised in Sag Harbor, cited his local ties, including 36 years of service with the Sag Harbor Fire Department and his leadership role as chairman of the board of the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church.

He said there was a need to hold the line on taxes and cited his efforts to rein in spending while on the board.  He agreed that traffic is an issue but noted that options are limited because village streets are narrow because they “were made many, many years ago for horse and buggy.”

Calling Sag Harbor a great place to raise a family, Mr. Stafford added, “this is no longer our little home. It has been found. I’m just trying to keep it as long as possible.”

Mr. Stein, a therapist who now serves as deputy mayor, said there were many key issues facing the village, and cautioned against expecting easy fixes for any of them.

He said he was “passionate” about finding ways to manage “water and the health of the harbor and the way water is absorbed by this whole village.”

Mr. Stein said he would like to see the village review the code to see that it is keeping up with the times. The village, he added, needs to determine what infrastructure projects it will tackle first and where it can find new sources of revenue. An immediate challenge, he added, is that once the village police contract is finalized, the village will be headed right back to the bargaining table because of the short term of the new deal. He noted that negotiations have not been particularly cordial and said it was important to stabilize the contract for the long term because police costs account for more than half the budget.

“I think we really have to look at what our priorities are,” he said. “The character of the village is something we want to protect.”

When it comes to safeguarding water quality in the bay, Ms. Schroeder said a systematic plan needs to be put in place to install larger catch basins and dry wells to prevent as much initial runoff as possible. She also said she expected the village would eventually have to undertake a major upgrade of its sewage treatment plant.

The village will have to work with its neighboring towns and Suffolk County to tackle water monitoring and pollution abatement solutions.

“Sag Harbor can’t do it all by ourselves,” she said.

Mr. Stein, who has focused on runoff and water quality issues during his time on the board, disagreed.

“You can’t build big enough catch basins to hold the rainfall,” he said. It would be far more effective to try to retain as much rainwater on-site through porous natural solutions like rain gardens, which are typically planted depressions, which allow rainwater to be absorbed into the ground, he said.

He also disagreed that the sewage treatment plant needs to be expanded, saying it is operating at only about 30-percent capacity now.

Mr. Shaka said he was equally concerned about nitrogen seeping into the bay from overtaxed septic systems and said the village needs to collect baseline data of the situation by conducing regular water sampling.

He agreed with Ms. Schroeder that the village would be hard pressed to correct pollution on its own and said it would have to forge alliances with neighboring communities and levels of government to tackle the problem.

Mr. Stafford said the village could convert a portion of the Cilli Farm into a drainage and filtering area.

“Right now, it’s just a brushy pile of nothing down there,” he said, “and we’ve owned it for how many years?”

The ongoing contract dispute between the village and Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association was also a source of concern.

“The bottom line is taxes,” said Mr. Stafford. “The smart thing to do is wait and see what the arbitrator is going to come back with and eventually put on a referendum and let the village taxpayers decide” if the village should maintain a department.

“I like having a police department,” he said, “I like having two on at one time.” But he added that the PBA has been unwilling to work with the village and suggested that the village would be better off going with a reduced force and hiring more part-time officers.

“If it goes to arbitration, you are in trouble,” said Ms. Schroeder. “Arbitration rarely benefits the village.”

Mr. Stein said the problem went deeper than negotiations. The village is limited because it can only hire officers from a local Civil Service list or the county list. He said the department would be able to hire young officers at lower wages if it could use the Southampton Town hiring list.

He said it was important that the police pay be controlled much as the village is controlling spending elsewhere.

“It has to be a consistent piece of the pie,” he said, adding that police will have to ask for smaller raises and contribute to their health care costs in the future.

“I like having an affordable police force,” said Mr. Shaka. “Let’s wait until the arbitration is in, but I can tell you what isn’t affordable—if police have 4-percent raises every year.”

All candidates, save Mr. Stafford who praised Mayor Brian Gilbride’s pay-as-you go approach, said the village would benefit by borrowing money now, while interest rates are at historic lows, to tackle major infrastructure projects, like repairing Long Wharf.

Mr. Stein said the village should lobby East Hampton and Southampton Town for a larger share of Community Preservation Fund money, which, he said, might be used to buy easements from waterfront property owners to plant buffers to protect the bay.

“There’s no property here,” he said. “We aren’t going to buy anything else. There’s only one thing left on the East End and that’s the water.”

Sag Harbor needs to ramp up its code enforcement and revisit its zoning code, the candidates agreed, if it wants to protect its character.

Mr. Stein said the zoning code should be updated to limit the construction of oversized houses on small lots, as well as not overly restrict commercial uses.

“Code enforcement would be a good place to start,” said Mr. Shaka. A leader of the fight against a plan to redevelop the Harbor Heights service station with a convenience store and other amenities, Mr. Shaka said such plans should be stopped in their tracks.

Mr. Stafford said he was particularly concerned about illegal rentals and overcrowding in homes.

All four candidates agreed that there could be better communication both among board members and with the public.

Mr. Stein called for a better website and regular newsletters to taxpayers. The board should also hold monthly work sessions, he said.

“If nobody says anything you don’t hear anything,” quipped Ms. Schroeder, who said the board needed to be willing to listen to people who may have more expertise than they do.

“If you get enough people talking, you’ll solve your problems,” she said.


Sag Harbor Village Board Race Coming into Focus

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By Stephen J. Kotz

With village elections a little more than five weeks away, at least four candidates have announced they will run for two openings on the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees, while one incumbent has said he will step down from the board. But the picture remains cloudy in North Haven, where no candidates have yet to file nominating petitions, although the mayor’s seat and four trustee positions are open.

The deadline for candidates who want to run for village board in either Sag Harbor or North Haven to turn in petitions to the village clerk of either municipality is by the close of business on Tuesday. Elections take place in both villages on June 17.

Sag Harbor Village Trustee Kevin Duchemin said on Tuesday that he would not seek another term. “I’ve discussed it with my wife and family and I’ve chosen not to run again,” said Mr. Duchemin, who is an East Hampton Village police officer. He would not provide specific reasons for his decision, but said he wanted to remain open to a future run for village office.

Mr. Duchemin said he would endorse incumbent Trustee Robby Stein, who is seeking another term, and former Village Clerk/Administrator Sandra Schroeder, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor  year ago, and has announced she will run for trustee.

They will be joined at this point by newcomer John Shaka, a board member of the Save Sag Harbor advocacy group and former Trustee Bruce Stafford, who served from 2009 to 2011.

In North Haven, Mayor Jeff Sander, who was appointed to his position to fill the unfinished term of Laura Nolan, who resigned, is up for re-election for a two-year term.

The seats of trustees George Butts and Diane Skilbred are also up for two-year terms. The seat of James Davis, who was appointed to complete Mr. Sander’s term as trustee, is up for a one-year term. The two highest vote-getters will win two-year terms.

All are members of the North Haven Party.

On Wednesday, North Haven Village Clerk Georgia Welch said representatives of the party had picked up petition packets but that none had been returned yet.

“I won’t know until I see [completed petitions] who will be running,” she said. “I don’t do ‘Rumor has it…’ I don’t sing that song well. Adele does it better.”

None of the North Haven candidates could not immediately be reached for comment by this edition’s deadline, but the four candidates in Sag Harbor were eager to share their goals for the village.

“I always have a list that I’m pecking away at,” said Mr. Stein, who is seeking his third term. Mr. Stein, who said he tries to be a voice for environmental concerns,   listed the need to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and improve the health of the harbor and Sag Harbor Cove as priorities that need to be addressed on a continuing basis. He also said improving village information technology services, alleviating the village’s cramped parking situation, and completing the waterfront park as priorities that he would focus on if elected.

Mr. Shaka said traffic calming, improving water quality, and maintaining the village’s infrastructure were among the concerns he would work on if elected. He also said the village had to remain vigilant against inappropriate development.

“Everyone is in Sag Harbor because they love it. They love its quality of life,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything.”

Ms. Schroeder, who worked for the village for more than 20 years in various capacities, echoed the calls for improving water quality by through reducing road runoff and controlling development, while adding that maintaining infrastructure along the waterfront was also key.

“I’m very concerned about our water quality,” she said. “We are a waterfront village. And we have to take care of our docks. They are our second largest source of income behind taxes.”

Mr. Stafford said he saw “a lot of unfinished things in the village that I’d like to help out on. I enjoyed being on the board. I enjoyed helping the people.”

Mr. Stafford said he has always been community-oriented and has served on the fire department for 36 years as well as chairman of he Sag Harbor United Methodist Church board, among other things.

“I’d like to address affordability,” he said of the high cost of living in Sag Harbor. Although Mr. Stafford said he no easy answers to provide more housing, he said on his first term he had worked to keep taxes low, which, he said, was the first step toward making the village affordable.

Three Vie for Two Village Trustee Seats

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Bruce Stafford, Dr. Robby Stein, Kevin Duchemin

Bruce Stafford, Dr. Robby Stein, Kevin Duchemin

By Kathryn G. Menu

Next Tuesday, Sag Harbor Village residents will turn out for one of the only contested village elections on the South Fork, with newcomer Kevin Duchemin hoping to unseat one of the incumbent members of the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees — Dr. Robby Stein and Bruce Stafford.

While certainly not as heated a race as in previous years, during a candidate roundtable at The Sag Harbor Express on Monday morning, the three candidates demonstrated they have different priorities, and opinions, on a number of issues. Those include the impending passenger ferry, the ongoing police contract negotiations and what the village board should focus on in the next two years.

Duchemin, 44, is a volunteer firefighter who said he has been interested in running for village trustee for over two years now. The father of three children, Duchemin is a sergeant with the East Hampton Village Police Department, with which he has served for over 20 years. A union president, Duchemin is also the first vice president of the Suffolk County Conference.

His goal in seeking office is simple, Duchemin said on Tuesday. The lifelong native has long had aspirations to serve his community.

“Now is the time,” he said.

Stafford, another Sag Harbor native with three children, is hoping for a second term with the village board. The 44-year-old is a landscaper, volunteer firefighter and serves as the chairman of the board for the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church.

“I have a connection to almost all of the people here one way or another,” said Stafford on Monday. “When [Sag Harbor Mayor] Brian [Gilbride] approached me two years ago to run I was hesitant, but being on the board the last two years I think we all work well together and are thinking about what is best for the village as a whole.”

Dr. Stein, 64, grew up in Hempstead, but summered on the East End. The clinical child psychologist who has one stepchild with his wife, Alex McNear, is seeking his second elected term on the board. In 2009, after he was elected mayor, Gilbride appointed Dr. Stein to serve on the board of trustees.

A member of the board of Bay Street Theatre, Dr. Stein also serves as a member of the Mashashimuet Park Board and in the Sag Harbor School District’s Key Communicators group.

“The central reason I want to be re-elected is I think it is important there is continuity in the village, particularly now,” said Dr. Stein. “Our waterfront and the health of our harbors is critical to the village and it is at a precarious point.”

One of Dr. Stein’s top priorities is continuing to work with environmental organizations and other local governments towards solutions that can help protect the health of the Peconic Estuary. Dr. Stein said he would like to see the village revise its wetlands code in the next two years and continue to look towards ways that wastewater management, stormwater management and regulating underground septic systems can be explored to reduce the environmental impact the East End’s population.

Part of that will include the remediation of Havens Beach, a project Dr. Stein has championed since he first ran for village board.

Duchemin said developing ways to create affordable housing – particularly through the village’s accessory apartment law — is an issue he would like to fight for if elected to the village board. Duchemin was one of three applicants to attempt to legalize his attached accessory apartment in 2010 after the village allowed residents the ability to do so in the village code. He said the amount of review and approvals needed to move forward with his application proved too onerous and all three applicants eventually dropped their petitions.

According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, since the attached accessory apartment law was finalized just one resident has successfully petitioned the village to legalize their unit.

“I would like to look into that deeper,” said Duchemin. “It seems like that kind of went to the back burner.”

Duchemin said he would like to see the village explore expanding the accessory apartment law to include detached apartments, an initiative the village tried and failed.

Stafford said affordable housing was first on his agenda in 2010. But learning what kind of costs are associated with bringing an apartment up to code — a requirement in the accessory housing law — left him with the impression it would cost too much to make it viable for a landlord to rent that apartment at an affordable rate.

Keeping taxes low, said Stafford, is one of the ways he would like to keep Sag Harbor affordable.

“This year all our department heads came to the table ready, willing and able to keep spending down,” said Stafford. “That was the best thing for village residents.”

Since Duchemin threw his hat in the ring to seek office, rumors have swirled that the only reason he is running is to help the Sag Harbor Village Police Department in its quest for a new contract.

The village and the police department have reached an impasse in negotiations and will meet with a mediator next week.

“I am spending my own money to get elected,” said Duchemin. “I would never benefit from that contract so I don’t know why this is out there.”

Duchemin said he could bring a lot to the table in terms of understanding how contract negotiations work. He questioned whether the village allowing the contract to move to arbitration was wise or whether it was a waste of money.

“Back in 2007, it cost one municipality $65,000 to go to arbitration just to get the contract that was the going rate at the end of it,” said Duchemin. “It is a waste of taxpayer dollars. I would rather bring them back to the table. Do I think negotiations are going to happen that change health care and retirement, sure, but don’t think that negotiation is going to start with a 13-person police department. It will start with the county and have a trickle down affect.”

Stafford, who has helped with negotiations, said the original offer on the table was a contract with a 2.999-percent increase, but PBA president Pat Milazzo did not accept it.

“This is Sag Harbor and that is what I care about,” said Stafford. “What East Hampton gets, what Shelter Island gets, it doesn’t matter to me. [Trustee] Ed Gregory and I asked them to wait a year or two, let the economy get stronger. People are losing their houses, their jobs. Do the police deserve a raise, yes, but we just asked for a year or two.”

“I know we have had to be responsive to a two-percent tax cap this year and that has played into this,” said Dr. Stein. “I think what we will eventually see though, and it is happening on the county level, is we will start asking for police to help with health insurance and long term benefits, because it is something you are seeing happen all over the state. We have friends and family in this police department and I would love to see this worked out. I can’t believe we are talking about a one or two percent difference and it cannot be worked out.”

One of the most debated issues this year is the village allowing the Hampton Jitney to run a passenger ferry service to Greenport as a part of a pilot program that assesses the viability of water transportation.

Duchemin said he is opposed to the passenger ferry service, mostly because he believes the process to approve it was “rushed.”

“I don’t think there was much public input and I don’t think residents around the school district are very happy about the parking issue,” he said. “They all have a lot of traffic that they expect during the school year, but in the summer they expect some peace and quiet. Now there will be buses and shuttles near midnight … It will benefit Greenport more than us.”

Stafford said he has heard more people in favor of the ferry than opposed to it. He added that the principal, the Hampton Jitney’s Geoffrey Lynch, is a village resident who has agreed to allow trustees to pull the plug on the ferry should it become too burdensome for village residents.

“We are a maritime village, surrounded by water and this can get some cars off the road,” said Stafford. “As far as revenues, the village will get $12,000 and the school $20,000. I don’t think in this day and age we can turn away from that. Instead we can put that back into the wharf, back into the beach.”

Dr. Stein said he viewed the trial run this summer as a way to study whether or not a passenger ferry service is right for Sag Harbor.

“The idea that this did not have public discussion or was rushed is ridiculous,” said Dr. Stein. “A year ago this was brought before the board and they were told we need more information. They came back six months ago and there have been at the very least three board meetings before this week that we have listened to public input.”

Dr. Stein said he did support the trial run, but did want the village to establish clear guidelines to assess the ferry service and would work towards that end.

“This is very, very preliminary,” said Dr. Stein. “There are a lot of big issues we will be looking at this summer.”

Sag Harbor Village Elections will be held on Tuesday, June 19 from noon to 9 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department Headquarters on Brick Kiln Road.