Tag Archive | "east hampton town"

CfAR Presents $5,000 to East Hampton Town Trustees

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This past weekend offered prime September beach days and on Sunday, a not-for-profit dedicated to ensuring all residents in East Hampton Town have the right to continue enjoying the town’s beaches, handed an oversized check to the town trustees in an effort to fulfill their mission.

On Sunday, September 23 Citizens for Access Rights or “CfAR” presented a check for $5,000 to the East Hampton Town Trustees at their Bluff Point Road, Amagansett headquarters during the trustees’ annual largest clam contest. The funds are designated to be used to help in the defense of current lawsuits that have been filed by some waterfront homeowners in an effort to privatize a popular public bathing beach off the Napeague Stretch.

This is the second $5,000 check CfAR has presented to the town trustees. The not-for-profit’s first donation was made in October 2011.

“If we can keep doing this year after year we should be able to at least make a dent in the kind of funding the trustees need in this effort,” said CfAR board member Nicole Starr Castillo on Monday.

CfAR was founded by a group of East End residents who support open access to local beaches. In response to two lawsuits in which private individuals are claiming to own the ocean beach at Napeague, CfAR has come together to support the trustees, the East Hampton Town Board and any other governmental body willing to oppose the privatization of local beaches. CfAR is not affiliated with any political party and its objectives include the preservation of residents’ right to enjoy local beaches and donating funds to the town trustees for beach stewardship.

For more information on CfAR, visit www.citizensforaccessrights.com.

 

East Hampton Fisherman Continue Quest to End Warrantless Search & Seizures by the DEC

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Following a request last month by a group of East Hampton baymen, acting New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott has begun investigating what some fishermen view as the illegal seizure of fish and shellfish by officers of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

However, the baymen’s attorney, Daniel G. Rodgers of Riverhead, said he has also asked the Inspector General’s office to investigate whether officers confiscating fish and shellfish related to cases and selling it, rather than finding a way to save it for trial, actually flies in the face of the agencies own laws.

On Monday, Rodgers — surrounded by the Lester family and fisherman Larry Keller — said he and his clients had met with investigators in the Inspector General’s office last Friday.

Rodgers’ clients have asked the state to investigate warrant-less searches and subsequent seizures of fish and shellfish by DEC officers who believe a fisherman has violated fishery law. It’s a decades-long practice they contend violates their Constitutional rights. In light of the fact that much of the seafood confiscated is sold by DEC officers to local fish markets or simply dumped off a vessel, Rodgers has also asked for a forensic audit of the proceeds of those sales. He’s also asked for the overall lose in revenue for local fisherman, particularly since some of the DEC’s cases against these individuals are later overturned.

Rodgers said because the seizures happen before any trial, and property is not returned or restitution provided to fishermen found innocent of Conservation Law violations, a full forensic inquiry by the state was necessary to restore public faith.

He has found support from local government leaders, including New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., and State Senators Ken LaValle and Lee Zeldin, who have drafted legislation that would eliminate the DEC’s ability to seize fish or equipment from fishermen without a warrant.

“The Investigator General’s Office is taking this very seriously,” said Rodgers. “And we are grateful for that.”

Rodgers said the DEC’s explanation for why they should be able to search property such as backyards, trucks and boats (though not inside  baymen’s homes, which are protected),  is because fish should be considered “mobile,” as in something that can get away and therefore enforcement rules need to be relaxed so DEC officers can do their jobs.

“Well, we call that Constitutional relaxation,” said Rodgers. “And everyone knows there is no such thing as Constitutional relaxation. It is a fixed document. You cannot relax the rules from one individual to another.”

Worse, said Rodgers, is he believes it is possible DEC officers are breaking their own laws by seizing fish and selling it rather than retaining it for trial.

“While DEC officials continually point to rules to search and seize properties, seemingly they do not follow the rules that require them to follow some minimal role in Constitutional restraint,” said Rodgers.

Rodgers cited New York State environmental law that specifically deals with the powers and duties of enforcement officers — the very section that gives officers the explicit authority to seize fish, shellfish, game or plumage without a warrant. In that section of law, Rodgers said it demands that if officers seize fish or shellfish without a warrant they must retain custody of that property until the determination of any prosecution in which it is being held for evidence.

“DEC officers have been violating their own rules by illegally converting that property of fisherman and paying [the department] with the proceeds,” said Rodgers. “Fisherman are getting ripped off, possibly in the many thousands of dollars.”

Rodgers said he immediately brought this to the attention of the Inspector General, and hopes it will be added to the overall investigation into the DEC’s regulation of East Hampton baymen.

“Part of the argument is, what is the alternative,” noted Rodgers. “If any officer attempts to confiscate fish, shellfish, lobsters or any other food fish how will they keep it for trial? Well, frankly, that is not my problem. If you are going to confiscate someone’s fish as evidence for trial in a criminal case, the law says you must keep it safe until a determination is made by court. That is called due process.”

Many baymen and fisherman, added Rodgers, have had to watch for years as their livelihood was seized, knowing it would be sold or thrown back into the water before their guilt was ever determined.

Two of Rodgers’ many clients, siblings Paul and Kelly Lester, had a case against them dismissed last summer by East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana. They were charged with possession of untagged fluke, for having fluke over the daily catch limit and for not having a permit to sell shellfish from a roadside stand in front of their Amagansett homes.

According to Rodgers, in that case the DEC came onto the Lester’s property without a warrant and seized the fish, selling it to a nearby fish market.

Despite attempts, no restitution for the $200 in fish has been offered by the DEC.

“A drunk driver has a vehicle seized if he has more than one conviction in New York State,” said Rodgers, a criminal defense attorney by trade. “A drunk driver has more due process rights in getting a vehicle back than a fisherman in trying to get back the fish they worked hard all day to catch.”

“That is how crazy this system is,” he added. “A drunk driver has more due process rights. They are entitled to a hearing, they are entitled to notice, they are entitled to a lawyer and are actually heard on whether or not their vehicle should be taken from them. The fishermen get squat, they get nothing and I think that is part of the inherent unfairness of this system.”

Image: Riverhead attorney Daniel Rodgers with a group of East Hampton baymen and fishermen on Monday evening. Rodgers is helping the group fight for the end of what they call illegal searches and seizures of their fish and shellfish.

East End Towns Honored for Preservation Efforts

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Above: The historic Adelaide DeMenil and Edmund Carpenter homes before they were converted into the current East Hampton Town Hall. (Photo courtesy of SPLIA.)

By Claire Walla

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA) semi-annually awards projects and local efforts to boost preservation in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. And this year, while pouring over the various preservation projects that came to fruition here on Long Island in 2011, SPLIA’s Director of Preservation Services Alexandra Wolfe said two projects from the East End stood out.

On Sunday, April 22, both East Hampton and Southampton towns will be recognized for their efforts to preserve history here on the East End.

SPLIA is honoring the architectural firm Robert A.M. Stern for its efforts to restore the Adelaide DeMenil and Edmund Carpenter houses and turn them into the new East Hampton Town Hall facilities.

“East Hampton got a lot of flack about the funding for the project,” Wolfe admitted. (The overall cost of the project was about $6 million.) “But, the bottom line is that it really is a beautiful project. These buildings were incorporated into a complex arrangement, which speaks to the history of East Hampton and serves a very important function.”

The project incorporated two, two-story homes, which now serve as town hall offices, and two old barns (all buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries), which now serve as town meeting spaces. The buildings’ exteriors remained intact, while their interiors were modified to accommodate the current uses.

“By recognizing their good work, the hope is that it will influence the town at large to incorporate preservation into its larger policies,” said Wolfe, like in Southampton, where SPLIA recognition is being paid to the town-wide effort to promote preservation, rather than a specific entity.

“It can be a project, an organization or an individual,” Wolfe clarified. “It’s really about who comes forward and does good work.”

One big effort that came to the forefront of discussions was the efforts of the town’s advisory Landmarks and Historic Districts Board, led by Sally Spanburgh who also works at the Bridgehampton Historical Society, to update town code as it pertains to demolition permits. Now, the building department is required to run proposed demolitions by the Landmarks and Historic Districts Board before buildings are torn down.

But the other big change came from Zach Studenroth, who was hired last year as the town historian. He had been working as a consultant for the town since 2006, but last year his efforts to preserve the town’s historic burial grounds made a lot of headway.

“There are tombs here from as early as the 1680s,” Studenroth exclaimed. “And these carved stones are out in the open, unprotected.”

Studenroth was able to organize a slew of volunteers to help clean some of the headstones in the 10 cemeteries (of 40) actually governed by the town. He estimated there must be about 2,500 headstones that need to be maintained. He said a lot of restoration work still needs to be done.

“Some of the stones have toppled over and are broken,” he said. “We realize that the scope of the work far exceeds the resources of the town.”

He has been reaching out to local civic associations to help with the effort, and said that so far North Sea has gathered residents to clean up the cemetery there, realigning headstones and trimming some of the trees.

“The next stage is raising funds to hire professionals to realign some of the more heavy stones,” Studenroth added.

Wolfe explained that Southampton Town is also being recognized for the fact that it managed to involve the community in this effort to preserve local history, but also the creative steps it took to provide information to the public.

Working in conjunction with the Town Clerk’s office, Studenroth ultimately helped to create a searchable database online, providing the names of those who have been buried in Southampton Town and the locations and conditions of their tombstones.

Ultimately, Wolfe said Southampton Town is being recognized for “its creative approach” to preservation.

“It’s an initiative that has a much larger application,” she said.

This Sunday, Southampton and East Hampton towns are being recognized at SPLIA’s headquarters in Cold Springs Harbor, during a ceremony at 3 p.m.

Other award winners include The Seatuck Environmental Association, for its dedication to preserving “Wereholme,” the former Scully Estate, for use by the Suffolk County Environmental Center. And the Aquinas Honor Society of the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates, Queens for their ongoing efforts to report on local history.

East Hampton Airport Debate Turns Contentious at Meet the Candidates Event

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Republican candidates Steven Gains, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Richard Haeg at Wainscott CAC meeting last Saturday.

What started as a run-of-the-mill Meet the Candidates Forum at the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting on Saturday morning quickly dissolved into a contentious debate over the East Hampton Airport. It was a debate that ended after East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson was repeatedly questioned by members of the Quiet Skies Coalition and CAC Chairwoman Diana Weir stopped further discussion about the airport from the gallery.

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Following a roughly 50-minute talk with Democratic supervisor Zach Cohen and town board candidates Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc, an hour-and-45-minute introduction and airport debate ensued during the Republican portion of the morning. Meanwhile, Marilyn Behan and Bill Mott, Independence Party candidates for town board, waited an hour past when they were scheduled to speak.

The Republican portion of the debate began cordially enough with Supervisor Wilkinson speaking. Wilkinson, who lost the 2007 election to then-Supervisor Bill McGintee, but won handily in 2009 after close to a $30 million town deficit was uncovered, detailed how he was able to streamline departments, cut 50 positions through voluntary retirement and present a 2011 budget that cut taxes by 11 percent. The supervisor’s 2012 budget, now under review by the town board, cuts taxes by an additional 0.2 percent.

But after his fellow Republican candidates, including town board hopefuls Steven Gaines and Richard Haeg, made their introductions, the topic quickly switched from finances to the airport.

The East Hampton Airport and its operations has become one of the most heavily debated issues in this campaign season, primarily due to the growing ranks of the Quiet Skies Coalition. The vocal group made up of East Hampton and Southampton town residents hope to control activity at the airport.

Cohen and town board candidates Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc have already announced their positions on the airport. In the wake of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) approval of the town’s Airport Layout Plan (ALP), which has led the town towards the construction of a seasonal air traffic control tower, the Democrats said they support implementing the tower, but would refrain from taking FAA grants and the accompanying assurances until they are convinced the tower would solve some of the noise issues and other environmental factors being voiced.

The team has called for a two-year comprehensive study of the tower’s effect, as well as the finances of the airport.

On Saturday morning, Quiet Skies Coalition vice chairman and Wainscott resident Frank Dalene credited Supervisor Wilkinson with his handling of the town’s finances, and said now it was time to discuss the airport.

Dalene recounted a situation last week where he had a helicopter fly within 10-feet of his house to avoid the cloud layer coming off the ocean.

Supervisor Wilkinson, who said he had been to Dalene’s house in response to his complaints, believes the airport is an asset. He said he would take FAA funding since it has already been taxed federally, and will continue to work with state and federal officials, as well as a new regional noise abatement committee, to develop solutions like a southern flight path over Georgica Pond and the installation of a seasonal control tower to address issues at the airport.

Dalene asked the supervisor to take his own data on air traffic “more seriously,” after which Gaines said the airport issue had “hijacked the whole meeting”

Noyac resident Dan Rudansky said the helicopter and aircraft situation was also impacting Southampton Town residents and that taking FAA money would not allow the town to have full control over the airport.

Wilkinson said he believes the FAA grant assurances actually prolong the town’s agreement with the FAA to 2021 and that he would accept additional funding in the future.

At that point, Weir — a former Republican town board member — began trying to wrest back control of the meeting, calling for an end to all airport questions.

“Why are questions being restricted,” asked Quiet Skies Coalition chairman and Wainscott resident Barry Raebeck.

Weir said the airport was a “contentious issue” and the forum was not hosted solely to discuss that one issue.

“It is the number one campaign issue,” said Raebeck.

“It wasn’t the number one issue four years ago, six years ago,” replied Weir.

“I didn’t have seaplanes flying over my house constantly four years ago,” said Raebeck.

After a discussion about the impacts of what has become known as “The Pit,” an industrial commercial property that, like the airport, has drawn the ire of some residents for a decade, Dalene took to the floor again, objecting to the fact that the CAC denied the right of Wainscott residents to speak about the airport.

Weir responded that she felt “things were getting out of control.”

Gaines added he felt the debate was “disingenuous.”

“To tell the truth, I don’t know what the truth is,” said Gaines. “I know the noise issue is intolerable. I know we have to change it. It just can’t go on.”

While the issue was not as hotly debated among the Democratic candidates, Cohen said he has gotten more emails about the airport than any other issue.

“There is a real division in the last 20 years that has not led to a good dialogue,” Cohen said.

Cohen admitted all the candidates for supervisor and town board believe the installation of a seasonal control tower would be a benefit. But he said he would not take risks that would shut down “future options to control the airport” until the town knew it would have full control with the tower in place. He called for a two-year-study to ensure that would happen before taking FAA money, saying he was not against taking federal funds, only that he would first want more assurance through a study, if elected.

Cohen added that even if the town gains local control it would have to use that power under approved standards, for instance, only allowing some of the less “noisier” jets to fly into the airport.

Raebeck said that while noise is an issue, and a form of pollution, he is concerned with the other kind of pollution being generated by the airport. “If there were a coal power plant being operated on that property, it would be monitored,” he said.

After the meeting, Independence Party town board candidate Marilyn Behan shared her views on the airport.

“The airport is not going away,” she said. “It is going to be with us for a long time and yes, it is growing.”

Behan said that she feels the town should take FAA funding, based on her research on other airports, talking with pilots and the FAA.

“It is better to be on the safe side than any other place,” she said. “We need a deer fence, we need to repair a runway, we need a tower to control the landings and take offs and their approach positions and we will be able to work with that once we have the ALP plan in place. I feel there is a noise problem.  That would be something for us to work on.”

Behan added she would like to see discussions about limiting the times aircraft is allowed to come into the airport.

Mott, a decades long member of the Bridgehampton Fire Department, which services Wainscott, said there are maintenance and repair issues that need to be completed at the airport. Like all candidates, he agreed the tower was a key component to controlling the airport. However, he said he would like to take a “wait and see approach” on whether or not to take FAA funding.

“I don’t know if we should take money for the next two years,” he said. “I like the concept, but I believe we should operate cautiously.”

Stanzione Says Report Shows Economic Benefits of Airport

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For many years, and certainly this political season, the benefits and detriments
of the growing East Hampton Airport has resulted in lively discussion. However,
according to East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, one issue
that should not be up for debate is whether or not the airport is a significant
contributor to the town’s overall economy.
Last week, Stanzione put out a press release detailing a report issued by the
New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) in May that details the
economic impact the airport has on the region.
According to the report — NYS Economic Impacts of Aviation issued by
Joan McDonald, Commissioner of the NYSDOT — concluded that the airport is
responsible, indirectly and directly, for the creation of 91 local jobs and brings
$12.6 million into the local economy.
The study was meant to detail the economic impacts over 80 airports in
the state have on their regions. It concluded the Wainscott-based airport was
responsible for the creation of 65 jobs, with another 26 jobs created indirectly by
the airport and the businesses its infrastructure supports. The income generated
by that employment totals $5,812,800, according to the report.
In total, when taking into account expenditures at the airport and at businesses
outside the airport, the report concludes the airport brings in $12,806,100
annually throughout the East Hampton economy.
Stanzione described the report’s conclusion as “important evidence of the
economic contribution our airport makes to every taxpayer in our community.”
“There are few, if any, other economic enterprises that can compete with that
performance,” he added.
The release comes on the heels of the recent approval by the Federal Aviation
Administration of the town’s Airport Layout Plan (ALP), which Stanzione
maintains will allow the town to gain greater control over its airspace by installing
a seasonal control tower, staffed by town-paid air traffic controllers.

For many years, and certainly this political season, the benefits and detriments of the growing East Hampton Airport has resulted in lively discussion. However, according to East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, one issue that should not be up for debate is whether or not the airport is a significant contributor to the town’s overall economy.

Last week, Stanzione put out a press release detailing a report issued by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) in May that details the economic impact the airport has on the region.

According to the report — NYS Economic Impacts of Aviation issued by Joan McDonald, Commissioner of the NYSDOT — concluded that the airport is responsible, indirectly and directly, for the creation of 91 local jobs and brings $12.6 million into the local economy.

The study was meant to detail the economic impacts over 80 airports in the state have on their regions. It concluded the Wainscott-based airport was responsible for the creation of 65 jobs, with another 26 jobs created indirectly by the airport and the businesses its infrastructure supports. The income generated by that employment totals $5,812,800, according to the report.

In total, when taking into account expenditures at the airport and at businesses outside the airport, the report concludes the airport brings in $12,806,100 annually throughout the East Hampton economy.

Stanzione described the report’s conclusion as “important evidence of the economic contribution our airport makes to every taxpayer in our community.”

“There are few, if any, other economic enterprises that can compete with that performance,” he added.

The release comes on the heels of the recent approval by the Federal Aviation Administration of the town’s Airport Layout Plan (ALP), which Stanzione maintains will allow the town to gain greater control over its airspace by installing a seasonal control tower, staffed by town-paid air traffic controllers


East Hampton Town Takes Sharp Knife to Spending

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East Hampton Town Supervisor William Wilkinson has presented a tentative 2011 budget of $63.67 million, which cuts net spending by $8.05 million or 11 percent from the 2010 budget.

The tentative spending plan presents a 20.4 percent town tax decrease for residents living inside the Village of East Hampton, with residents outside the village looking at a 17.7 percent decrease in town taxes.

The tax levy, the actual amount of property taxes collected to fund town services and government, is reduced by $10.4 million in the tentative budget, an 18.5 percent decrease from the 2010 budget.

“My tentative budget moves the town away from the six year financial wasteland from 2004 to the period prior to January 1, 2010, when general fund deficits exploded to a projected $30 million, proper accounting of finances ceased to exist, and the budget process lacked basic discipline; towards the priorities of closing our huge structural deficit, properly guarding and accounting for the people’s money, and making the processes of government professional, honest and open,” stated Wilkinson in his tentative budget message.

During a town board meeting on Tuesday, Wilkinson said the tentative budget was achieved through the hard work of board members, the budget office and department heads alike, and a commitment to a zero-based budgeting process.

According to the tentative budget, over half of the decreases in spending come from 34 full time positions being eliminated through New York State’s early retirement program, saving $2.7 million in annual salary and benefit costs. Additionally, Wilkinson reports that 18 funded positions within the town, positions either not filled or those that became vacant over the course of the year, were kept vacant and have been eliminated in the 2011 spending plan. This has resulted in a savings of $1.53 million, for a total of $4.23 million saved as a result of staff reductions within the town.

The tentative budget also shows a net decrease of $1.2 million through cuts in equipment costs, operations, insurance costs, contingency and debt throughout town departments. Wilkinson states in his tentative budget message that the overall decrease is significant as the town has seen an $824,000 increase in its state retirement contributions, a $943,000 increase in the cost for health insurance premiums and has increased its debt service payments in regards to the deficit financing to pay down the town’s $30 million deficit.

“Importantly, the tentative budget does not rely heavily on the sale of assets to meet our tax-cutting goals — although we hope to generate far more revenue from asset sales in 2011 than we project in the budget,” said Wilkinson in the tentative budget message.

According to the budget, the $63.67 million revenue target will be achieved through $46 million in collected property taxes, $1.13 million of appropriated Highway Department surplus funds and $16.54 million in non-tax revenues. The tentative budget includes a $1.25 million net increase in new non-property tax revenues, some of which Wilkinson states will come from a new town program that auctions surplus equipment. The town has projected that program will raise $207,500 in revenues, although Wilkinson said he predicts the revenues raised in the sale of assets exclusive of real property will in fact be higher than budgeted.

Wilkinson estimates net revenue of $250,000 from the sale of surplus property.

The supervisor also proposes to cut the town’s leaf pick-up program, which traditionally costs around $450,000 annually plus an investment of $120,000 in equipment.

“For some of our residents this decision is not a popular one, but it is a program that has become a luxury in light of the dire financial situation created over the last six years,” said Wilkinson. “We will be working with local volunteer groups and the town’s community services program to assist seniors in moving their leaves from their residences to the Town Recycling Center. As in the past, residents can self haul their leaves to the Recycling Center with no drop off fees.”

The Recycling Center will also be closed one day a week, which Wilkinson said will save the town $250,000 annually in operating costs.

Reorganization of staff in order to share resources between departments, and a stricter car pool policy, are other areas Wilkinson said would be addressed towards cost savings.

On Tuesday, October 5 at a town board meeting, Wilkinson said the board will spend two hours discussing the budget in work session on October 12 and again on October 19, prior to a November 4 public hearing. Copies of the tentative budget are available in the town clerk’s office.

After a November 9 work session to take into account public sentiment on aspects of the spending plan, Wilkinson said he hopes to have the budget adopted by November 18. The town board must adopt the budget by November 20.

“My tentative budget is the product of many difficult decisions, the most difficult of which is the implementation of staff reduction remedies,” concluded Wilkinson. “We thank each and every member of the staff that has retired through the State early retirement program. I thank you for your years of service and for your actions that prevented so very many more involuntary terminations.”


East Hampton Town Plans for the Future

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Ed McDonald has lived in Sag Harbor for five years, but being born and raised in East Hampton, generations of his family steeped in Bonacker history, McDonald feels deeply connected to the town.

“I am very highly invested in East Hampton,” said McDonald. “I feel like a traitor moving to Sag Harbor.”

Light-hearted groans erupted when McDonald admitted he lived on the Southampton side of Sag Harbor.

However, McDonald was one of roughly 60 people who turned out on a brisk Saturday afternoon at East Hampton High School for a special town board meeting aimed at setting new priorities as the town moves through solving a multi-million fiscal crisis under a newly-elected Republican administration. Residents expressed concerns about the estimated $25 million to $30 million deficit the town faces, the impact that could have on services and East Hampton’s commitment to preserving and protecting its environment.

“I love my town,” said McDonald. “I was very much embarrassed by the situation that came up with financial irresponsibility. I know you guys are going to put things back together.”

However, McDonald said he also hopes the new board continues to preserve open space, noting it has enabled East Hampton to preserve its character and unique beauty that makes it a special place to live, and visit.

“If the financial crisis were not our first priority, then the environment would be,” said Supervisor Bill Wilkinson.

Wilkinson, who was joined by Republican board members Theresa Quigley and Dominick Stanzione as well as board member Pete Hammerle at the forum, explained the public input session was designed to bring transparency and inclusiveness to town government.

“Our intent here is to listen,” he said.

Like McDonald, Springs resident Barbara Jordan said she was concerned about any plans the town had to sell property it owns.

“I think it is being penny wise and pound foolish because whatever we sell we will be selling at a loss and land is finite,” she said.

“Our focus on land is not just for the purpose of dealing with the economy, but also to look at the properties we own and ask ourselves, why do we need them,” said Quigley.

Wilkinson added the land the town is contemplating selling is not preserved or protected land, and they would not be considering it but for the fact they are stuck dealing with an estimated $30 million in accumulated debt from the last administration.

Northwest Woods resident Jennifer Mulligan, a second homeowner who served on a financial committee that made recommendations to the town board in the wake of the deficit, quizzed the board on when financial information from the town auditors would be available to the public. She also suggested, as a means of generating revenue, the board could create naming opportunities at the new town hall, which is in the midst of construction. Lastly, Mulligan asked the board take a look at the town recycling center and whether it would be more costly to privatize the facility or charge contractors more than single families to dump there.

From a financial standpoint, Wilkinson said, “I can’t tell you how many surprises there are on a daily basis. The focus is trying to still get to the bottom of where we are and set the tone for our expectations dealing with the crisis we are in.”

Budget officer Len Bernard explained his office is attempting to get its arms around creating a system for capital projects that will allow the town to keep track of finances on a project-by-project basis. Bernard added the town is expecting an auditors’ report in the next two to three weeks as well as a report detailing the spending from CPF for 2008 at the end of this week.

“We are just about to reformulate the budget advisory committee, which will have an expanded footprint,” added board member Dominick Stanzione. That committee, which has focused on the annual town budget, will now also look at the CPF budget and the capital budget.

This week, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and Senator Ken LaValle also announced plans to work with East Hampton in increasing the town’s deficit financing through the state.

“Somehow we owe $28 million,” said Quigley. “We don’t have a choice here.”

Quigley said the town needs to make up that money either by raising taxes, bonding or selling assets and has decided the latter two methods will be easiest on taxpayers.

“We are not increasing the deficit,” said Wilkinson. “We are trying to deal with the cards we have been dealt.”

“Right now we are trying to figure out where the $25 million to $30 million went,” explained Bernard, who said the auditors’ report should detail what accounts were borrowed from during the last administration to cover annual expenses.

While members of East Hampton’s Guild Hall and Phoenix House, a substance abuse center, both implored the board to increase funding for their programming, resident Mary Jean Pinto said before the town spends money in any one direction it should have a handle on what the true demographics and needs of the community are.

“I feel we cannot serve a community whose numbers are unknown,” she said, imploring the board to make an effort to communicate more with the public, using the town’s website as a resource.

Stanzione and Wilkinson agreed understanding who government serves, and in what capacity it should, is a key question. Wilkinson added it is his belief that social programs should be supported, in part, by the town.

“Others may not agree with me,” he offered.

Liquor License for Poxy Golf Course Withdrawn

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Prompted by a liquor license application for the Poxabogue Golf Course, the Sagaponack Village Board has been paying particular attention to the public nine-hole course at recent board meetings. Although the course’s co-owners, the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, sought to eventually expand the operations at Poxabogue, Sagaponack Village Mayor Don Louchheim maintained that any expansions or renovations of the property would be under the purview of the village, in regards to terms of use and building and zoning code requirements. Mayor Louchheim recently met with a representative from East Hampton as well as Southampton Town Services Administrator Town Blowes and his assistant Sandra Cirincione, and councilwoman Nancy Graboski where they detailed their long term plans for the golf course. The towns hoped to build a new club house and to create a catering facility available for parties and events at Poxabogue. Since the plan was unveiled in the beginning of this year, it seems the towns have deferred the project due in part to protest from Sagaponack Village officials and the Wainscott Citizen’s Advisory Committee, said Louchheim.
Despite delaying these long term construction plans, the towns did agree to consolidate the management of operations for the course. As Louchheim explained it at the board meeting on Monday evening, the towns are set to lease the use of the links and buildings to a golf course operator who will then subcontract the use of the restaurant at the site. Currently, Dan Murray is the proprietor of the Fairway restaurant at Poxabogue. Michael Avella, who owns the Mattituck-based Love Lane catering business and restaurant, however is expected to take over operations of the Poxabogue eatery in March of next year. According to Louchheim, Avella submitted a liquor license application to serve wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages at the course’s restaurant and also wished to extend the hours of operation to include a dinner service. Avella’s attorney’s have since sent a letter to the board noting that his liquor license application has been withdrawn. Should Avella seek to expand the footprint of the building, noted Louchheim, the project would be subject to a full State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) by the village. Time is of the essence for Avella, added board member Lisa Duryea Thayer, if he hopes to move into a renovated space by the spring when he assumes the restaurant lease at Poxabogue.
“I’ve gotten feedback from community members that they like [Poxabogue Golf Course] the way it is and they don’t want it expanded into a major facility,” remarked Louchheim at Monday’s meeting.

AHRB Review Committee

Hoping to expedite the review of minor architectural work, the Sagaponack Village Board of trustees plans to create a one-member review committee to forward insignificant projects to the building inspector and thus bypassing approval from the Architectural and Historic Review Board (AHRB). The sole member of the review committee would be appointed by the chairman of the AHRB.
“We want to try and unclog the AHRB from very routine matters. This is both to get [these types of projects] off its plate and to provide not an unnecessary delay for someone wanting to replace a window or door. It shouldn’t take two months to get it done,” statedLouchheim at Monday’s board meeting. Village clerk Rhodi Winchell added that the committee would allow building inspector John Woudsma to process construction applications throughout the month and not after the monthly AHRB meeting.
“No one has brought it to our attention that this is a problem,” argued Ann Sandford, chairman of the AHRB.
Louchheim urged ANN to sign off on the committee saying the village would test out the idea. He added that if the one-member committee felt an application pertained to a historically or culturally significant structure, of the project was substantial, it would be directed to theAHRB for further review.
“The alternative is [the AHRB] can meet twice a month,” said Louchheim, adding that frequent meetings would allow insubstantial applications to be approved more readily.
The village board plans to set a date for the public hearing on the law at the next board meeting on Monday, December 21.

East Hampton Adopts $71.7 Million Spending Plan

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The East Hampton Town Board of Trustees adopted its 2010 budget on Friday, November 20 with very few changes made to the spending plan since it was formerly introduced earlier this fall.

The $71.7 million budget has been pared down from the original $72.1 million spending plan submitted by former town Supervisor Bill McGintee just before his resignation in October. The budget will increase taxes by 10.7 percent for residents of the town who do not live in the village with village residents looking at an almost 9 percent tax increase.

Last year, town residents had to swallow a 23 percent tax increase with village residents having their taxes raised 39 percent.

The incoming Republican majority – Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and new town board members Theresa Quigley and Dominick Stanzione – promised during their successful election campaign they plan to spend roughly $10 million less than the current budget calls for. They will join existing board members Julia Prince and deputy-supervisor Pete Hammerle in January.

A majority of the increases projected in the now-adopted budget will cover the cost of debt service on a state backed $15 million in deficit financing to cover rising deficits over the last two years. The total town deficit is predicted to be above $20 million by the close of this fiscal year.

In the last two weeks, minor changes have been made to the budget, including the addition of funding for Project MOST, the East Hampton Day Care and the East End Special Players. All three not for profits lobbied the board to continue their funding at the first budget hearing in the beginning of November and after learning the town would receive approximately $100,000 more than expected in sales tax revenue from the county, board members decided to add the funding back into the budget. Project MOST will receive $15,000, the East Hampton Day Care will get an additional $25,000 in town funding and East End Special Players is slated to receive $10,000 to continue their Saturday afternoon programming in Bridgehampton.



LWV Debate: East Hampton Supervisor Candidates Focus on Finance

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Which supervisor candidate in the Town of East Hampton is best equipped to handle the town’s financial crisis was at the root of a majority of the questions posed during a League of Women Voters-sponsored debate between the town supervisor candidates on Thursday night at the East Hampton Firehouse and Emergency Services Building.

Republican and Independence Party candidate Bill Wilkinson opened the forum by noting he predicted the financial mismanagement of the town during a failed supervisor race against Bill McGintee in 2007.

Two weeks ago, McGintee resigned from his post as supervisor of the town. The resignation came amid criticisms from the state comptroller about the financial health of East Hampton, a multi-million budget deficit and in the wake of the arrest of budget officer Ted Hults who faces felony charges related to the financial mismanagement of the town.

“For three years I have spoken about the corrective actions necessary,” said Wilkinson. He said during the same period, Democrats were looking to their party leadership for answers – answers they did not receive. While noting Ben Zwirn, the Democratic and Working Families candidate for town supervisor, had nothing to do with the financial crisis, Wilkinson added he also did not take his party to task for the situation.

“Instead the East Hampton Democratic committee and my opponent stood silent,” he said.

“We have gone through one of the most traumatic periods in this town’s history,” replied Zwirn. “We are rudderless.”

Zwirn said Wilkinson would like residents to believe it was the Democratic Party at fault for the town’s budget crisis.

“It wasn’t a party that caused this problem, it was people,” he said, noting both McGintee and town council member Pat Mansir were once Republicans, and that state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and county legislator Jay Schneiderman have both left the Republican Party.

“Does that make them anything less,” asked Zwirn. “Of course not.”

“For three years Bill Wilkinson has been going around town pointing fingers,” said Zwirn. “That is not a plan.”

The question on everyone’s mind was asked first by East Hampton Star editor David Rattray, who wondered what the candidate’s budget plans entailed and how they differed.

Wilkinson noted his slate came out with their plan on September 25, waiting late in the race because “we didn’t want to politicize it.”

“We are the only group that has recognized the 800-pound gorilla in the room and that is a $28 million deficit,” said Wilkinson. Wilkinson said his team’s financial plan aims to prevent a one time tax increase by increasing the amount of deficit financing currently provided to the town by the State of New York.

“I am tired of the poor people of East Hampton bearing the burden of financial malfeasance by the town board,” said Wilkinson, adding both Assemblyman Thiele and state senator Ken LaValle have endorsed this plan

Zwirn criticized the Republican’s plan, first noting that a $28 million deficit has yet to be confirmed with the books in 2009 still open.

“That number is not real until it is certified by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli,” said Zwirn, adding whether to bond over a long or short term period to cover the deficit will be contingent on the final figure.

Zwirn said the major difference between the two plans, is while the Republican plan focuses on the deficit, Zwirn believes over-spending is also key.

“If you keep spending more money than you have we will have deficit financing forever,” he said, questioning where the Republicans plan to cut an estimated $10 million in 2011 with costs predicted to rise across the board..

“They don’t tell you what jobs, what programs, will be affected,” said Zwirn.

Zwirn said whoever is elected should take office immediately following the election, and his first order of business would be to go after the town’s independent auditors, Albrecht, Viggiano and Zureck, for half a million dollars for budget software they recommended, and sold, to the town that has never worked.

Continuing to maintain that spending needs to be cut in the town, Zwirn said, “The reason we survived without any problems is because the real estate market was booming.” Now, with a downturn in the housing market nationally, Zwirn said the town has been left with an unsustainable budget.

While Zwirn said he believed educating the public on the benefits of a town-wide reassessment, which would benefit homeowners in Springs and on the Sag Harbor side of East Hampton, he added safety measures, such as a four-percent cap, would need to be put in place to ensure elderly homeowners were not negatively affected.

Wilkinson said after building his own home two years ago, and suffering through reassessment, he views it as a dramatic adjustment and not one to be made with such a large deficit to contend with.

“I think it will cost us $3 million to do an assessment of the Town of East Hampton,” saying the town’s focus should be on reducing the deficit.

The hiring of a professional town manager, similar to a system of government used in East Hampton Village, has been posed at several town board meetings. While Wilkinson said he would wait a few quarters to decide on that issue, he believed it was important enough to ask the town’s comptroller Janet Verneuille to budget in the expense.

“It is a form of government that has worked well in other municipalities,” said Zwirn, who said ultimately he believes such a shift in government should be approved by voters in a referendum.

Wilkinson said referendum rules could be avoided in the job description of a town manager, making the decision one for the town board.

“I think that is a good distinction between you and I,” said Zwirn. “I think it should be [the people’s] choice, not three or four people sitting on a board.”