Tag Archive | "Fred Thiele"

Finding Common Ground on Immigration Debate

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Dozens of East End citizens gathered in the lobby of Guild Hall on Friday evening, shaking out umbrellas while the rain drizzled outside. The crowd wasn’t there to see a play or meander through an art exhibition, but to attend a panel on how the immigrant population affects the local economy. Although the first immigration forum, hosted by U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop, New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, and Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst in March, was somewhat hostile, Friday’s event proved to be calmer, as participants were asked to write their questions on note cards. Many of those questions steered the discussion topics for the evening and people on both sides of the issue seemed to agree on certain points made by the panel.

“I think we can all agree that the immigration system is broken, though we might disagree on the solution,” noted David Dyssegaard Kallick, one of the panelists and a senior fellow at the state’s Fiscal Policy Institute. Other panelists added that economics is at the heart of the immigration argument.
“I think people are angry about how hard they have to work just to get by,” said Joe Gergela, of the Long Island Farm Bureau, responding to a question on why immigration is an emotional topic. His response elicited applause from both sides and dovetailed comments Bishop made earlier in the evening.
“This is an issue which inspires emotion and anger, but anger won’t solve the problem,” said Bishop. ”I want us to come together with the same set of facts.”
Kallick reported that 22 percent of the $1.02 trillion GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for New York State is generated by immigrant workers. In Suffolk County, immigrants account for 13 percent of the population. He noted that these immigrants work in a variety of fields and added that day laborers are a “tiny” portion of the immigrant workforce.
According to Gergela, these foreign-born workers are a vital part of agricultural production on Long Island. Suffolk County is the top agricultural producer for the state, he added. Gergela said enforcing immigration law wasn’t the job of farmers, but the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Noting the role of the federal government, Gergela added that ICE “raids” on local businesses would weaken the economy.
“During the harvest season, if you take away the workforce on these farms it could lead to bankruptcies,” said Gergela.
Maintaining a stable workforce is already a concern for local farmers, noted panelist and Dowling College fellow Judy Brink. Citing a 2008 survey on Long Island farms, Brink said around 68 percent of respondents reported that it was already difficult to maintain their workforce and losing even one worker would force them to sell their land.
For local farmers, attracting and sustaining a legal workforce is extremely difficult, due in part to complicated requirements and a dysfunctional visa system said immigration lawyer Melinda Rubin. Farmers must provide housing, which can be prohibitively expensive on the East End. For H2B visas, which are reserved for landscape, construction and hotel workers, a cap has been set at 66,000 visas nationwide, which Rubin said doesn’t satisfy the country’s labor needs. The visa process, she added, is laborious and long with some immigrants waiting years before receiving a visa.
“The government has made it easier to do the wrong thing instead of the right thing,” said Rubin of illegal immigration.
Although some complain illegal immigrants strain local resources, Rubin argued that illegal immigrants pay sales tax and contribute substantially to the Social Security system. Deporting the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants all at once, Rubin added, would cost around $206 billion, over a five year period, and would result in a $1.8 trillion loss in annual spending.
Kallick, however, disputed these figures and said it was futile to estimate these costs because mass deportation is a near impossible task.
“You don’t want a situation where people have to carry their identification papers on them at all times,” added Kallick. “We need to focus on how we can increase the legal workforce.”
Attendees of the forum, however, disagreed on whether the solution lies in a comprehensive reform of the immigration system or beefed up enforcement of the current immigration regulations.
Elaine Kahl of the Suffolk County Coalition for Legal Immigration believes stopping illegal immigration begins with enforcing the current laws, adding that local government should be diligent in upholding these laws.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Sally Pope said immigration law is a federal matter and the town won’t deputize its police force to carry out these laws.
Thiele promised there will be more forums before the summer season ends. He added that housing will likely be the subject of a follow-up forum.
Of Friday’s event, Throne-Holst said, “This is a process that is unfolding. There are a lot of facts out there and we want to bring them together to create a useful and healthy dialogue.”

Above: Fiscal Policy Institute Fellow David Dyssgaard Kallick says the immigration system is broken.

LIPA Bill is In, Plus Some

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Residents of the Town of Southampton will have to cover $11.2 million to underwrite a portion of a 9-mile underground Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) transmission line from Southampton to Bridgehampton. According to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. $1.2 million of the monies will cover modifications to a computerized billing system that will allow the power authority to add a charge to each resident’s monthly electric bill to cover the burial of the transmission line based on the amount of energy used in the home or business. 

Last year, LIPA proposed the transmission line, stretching from Southampton Village to a Bridgehampton substation just outside of Sag Harbor Village, with 45 percent of the line planned above ground, and the remaining 55 percent underground. LIPA cited an increase in energy consumption on the East End as the impetus for extending the line.

Residents and citizen advisory groups throughout Southampton protested the concept of above ground lines, citing the importance of scenic vistas to the region’s economy and overall aesthetic, with town officials quickly joining the fight to bury the lines.

Last spring, through mediation efforts by Thiele and state senator Ken LaValle, the utility and the town reached an agreement to bury the lines, with LIPA agreeing to pay the $20 million needed to complete the project as originally planned, and LIPA customers from Southampton Village to Sagaponack – defined as a visual benefit district (VBD) – covering the additional estimated $8 million to $10 million to bury the rest of the transmission line. Despite protests by some area businesses, the utility decided to charge residents and businesses a surcharge based on the amount of energy used, rather than a flat rate.

The project was completed last summer.

In December, Thiele and LaValle asked the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to complete an audit of LIPA that includes the Southampton to Bridgehampton Transmission Line Project after learning an additional $4 million may be needed over the original $8 million price tag to cover substantial overtime costs. The impetus for asking for the audit was to determine whether residents of the VBD should have to pay for the increase in costs.

On Tuesday, Thiele announced he was informed by LIPA that the final costs for construction, overtime and roadwork repairs would weigh in at $10 million for residents of the VBD. Additionally, an additional $1.2 million will be charged to upgrade the utility’s computerized billing system – a request made by the Town of Southampton.

According to LIPA, the modifications to the main frame billing system will allow the utility to render a separate fee on each customer’s monthly bill, enable the system to discern each customer’s monthly energy payment from their payment toward the underground transmission line project and install controls in the system to insure accuracy, auditing and reporting capabilities. According to a release issued by Thiele, it also includes separate reporting capabilities required by the town to reconcile the annual unpaid fees owed to the utility and reconcile with those who did not pay the separate fee for the project.

“While I am pleased that the construction for this project was completed within the $10 million commitment originally made to me by LIPA, the fact that the billing system is costing an additional $1.2 million is outrageous,” Thiele said on Tuesday. “LIPA blames the town. The town blames LIPA, but residents are stuck with the bill. It is incomprehensible to me that it would cost more than a million dollars just to collect this assessment. There has to be a less expensive method to collect this fee and still insure accuracy. Someone has some explaining to do.”

Calls to Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot and LIPA Vice President of Communications Ed Dumas were not returned as of press time. 

Railway Robbery

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If ever there was a time to protest taxes, today would be the day. The MTA payroll tax is misguided and unjust. It is infuriating how state legislators, including some elected to serve the best interests of Long Islanders, blatantly disregarded Suffolk County when they voted in favor of this tax. Apparently, the state believes our county is a piggy bank for New York City; and at the end of the day, there is little we can do about it because Long Island clearly has lost its political clout up in Albany. Why else would the state dare to charge us this egregious tax for a service that provides only three poorly timed trains a day. It would be one thing, if the MTA operated a bus network on the East End, but as it stands now we are paying for the subways of New York City and the commuter trains of the Metro North and LIRR trains far to our west, which run hourly in most cases by the way. Now, it seems the Hampton Jitney and people’s private vehicles are doing the job that the MTA should be doing, but isn’t. The maddening thing is, they are charging us as if they were doing the job.

Everyone will lose out in this tax. The businesses will be charged a tax they can ill afford in these economic conditions. They will then be forced to raise the prices of their goods, causing customers, who are likely not receiving raises because their employers now have to pay the tax on their wages, to buy less. And mark our words, the MTA will continue to hemorrhage money. It’s designed that way. The MTA is a broken system full of greed, graft and scandal. And even though taxpayers will spend billions to save this authority, the MTA hasn’t made any promises that they will restructure their business model — unlike GM which had to actually justify their public handout.

All of this is a recipe for disaster and as the governor has already signed this tax into law, there is little any of us can do besides contacting elected officials who will listen and band together in any way possible to protest this tax. Maybe we should put up a toll booth and start collecting a fare of say, a couple thousand dollars for every train that wants to cross the Shinnecock Canal.

It’s The Great Train Robbery, and we don’t mean the movie.

 

Local Gay Families Hope Law Will Offer Equality

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Beth Troy accompanies her young son to school each morning, where he recites the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I stand in school with our son and he is saying ‘with Liberty and Justice for all,’ not ‘with Liberty and Justice for a select group of chosen people’,” Troy said on Monday. “We are all born on this earth equal. Equality is not for a certain race, a certain religion or a certain sexual orientation.”

For Troy and her family, which includes her female partner of more than 11 years and their son, the State of New York has yet to truly live up to the words “with Liberty and Justice for all.” But Last Tuesday, the state assembly brought Troy’s family one step closer to the equality she seeks by voting in favor of passing a marriage equality bill. If signed into law, the bill would amend the Domestic Relations Law to give same sex couples the right to legally marry in New York.

The bill was co-sponsored by assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor and passed 89 to 52. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Maine have already legalized same-sex marriage and New Hampshire Governor John Lynch is expected to sign similar legislation into law any day now. 

Similar to 2007, when the assembly passed the same bill without the support of Thiele, a Republican, it appears the marriage equality act will have a much more difficult time passing the senate, which is required before a willing Governor David Paterson can sign it into law. On Friday, Thiele said he was unsure whether the senate would even bring the bill to a vote, but he hoped the people of New York would have the opportunity to learn where their state senators stood on the issue.

Senator Ken LaValle, who represents the East End, did not return calls seeking comment on the issue.

For many Sag Harbor residents, the passage of the marriage equality bill not only gives them the right to marry in their home state, but also affords them the same legal and civil rights as married heterosexual couples. According to Greg Ferraris, a certified public accountant and Sag Harbor’s mayor, the financial injustice of denying same-sex couples the right to marry is staggering. Ferraris said under state and federal tax codes, one has to be married to file a joint tax return, which can be financially advantageous.

“But more specifically, in tax code, health insurance benefits which a spouse receives are non-taxable, but there are tax implications for domestic partners,” said Ferraris. “A real estate transfer between a husband and a wife is also tax-exempt, but transfer for same-sex couples is taxable.”

Same-sex couples are also not afforded spousal benefits under Social Security, said Ferraris, which can be especially costly when a family loses a high-wage earner.

“The big one is estate taxes,” said Ferraris. “Marital transfer of an estate is automatic, but in a same-sex couple, one transfer to another is a taxable event and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Other factors include health insurance. Same-sex couples and their children are often denied access to family plans said Ferraris.

“There are so many issues at stake,” he said. “It just goes on and on and on.”

For Thiele, this was one of many reasons why he changed his tune on the marriage equality bill and decided to co-sponsor it.

“My first ‘no’ vote was not consistent with my record when it comes to equality issues or issues with sexual orientation,” said Thiele on Friday. “The vote just never felt right.”

Thiele said he also wanted to wait and see if civil unions, which were legalized in New Jersey in 2008, would afford same-sex couples the same rights as marriage, but ultimately found they did not. In New Jersey, civil unions were a separate designation from marriage and were termed “a failure” by Thiele.

“Through my job and in my life I have made hundreds of friends and professional acquaintances who were affected by this and I could not explain to them why I decided to vote ‘no,’” Thiele said. “Ken [Dorph] and Stuart [Lowrie] are at the top of that list. I could not look at them and say they should not be entitled to the same rights.”

Dorph and Lowrie, Sag Harbor residents, have been in a committed relationship for decades. The couple married in Vancouver in 2004. Dorph said it was not just a desire to be joined in matrimony that prompted their decision, but an understanding that in the event of a medical emergency their rights could be jeopardized if they were not legally wed. During their first trip to the Hamptons, a friend drowned at a nearby beach and they witnessed the inequities of same-sex couples first hand. Dorph noted the deceased man’s partner of 15 years was not considered next of kin by the authorities. The man’s father had to come to New York to release the body.

“They were treated like they were roommates,” said Dorph. “These are the horror stories … and when you realize it can happen to you personally, it is terrifying – that the person you care most about could be taken away from you and there is nothing you can do.”

Like Dorph and Lowrie, Troy and her partner have been together for over a decade and have a child together. Troy and her partner are registered domestic partners, but Troy noted the designation has not been enough to protect them. In addition to ensuring their rights are spelled out in the event of a medical emergency, Troy’s partner legally adopted her son, spending thousands in legal fees to make it happen.

“Eleven years ago I met the love of my life and we chose to have a family,” she said. “We would love to be married in New York, but if not we will go somewhere else, because this is an important step to take. It is important for our son.”

Author T.J. Parsell and therapist Tom Wasik, former Sag Harbor residents who now live in East Hampton, have been together for 17 years and raised an adopted daughter together.

“What is really important about extending marriage to all partners is it legitimizes all kinds of families,” said Wasik, noting that his family had to contend with enormous bias in attempting to adopt their daughter, who was in foster kinship care. As a same-sex couple, they were initially rejected.

“It took a lot of work to get someone to work with us. Many people are afraid of what they don’t know,” said Wasik who added that the Sag Harbor community and school district embraced his family, offering support without bias.

“We were probably one of the earliest families and they were bar none lovely and accommodating and did everything to help us out,” said Wasik. “We had a lot of support. People see we are a loving family, and we have the same issues as any other family.”

Sag Harbor’s Cee Scott Brown and his partner John Bjornen have been together for eight years and though they have created irrevocable trusts to ensure they are legally protected, they still see benefits to marriage. 

“We would definitely marry because of all of the equality issues,” said Brown. “It is not what I need for my relationship, but I see a lot of people are fed up with all the bigotry.”

Jennifer Brooke and Bea Alda met as parents and merged their families five years ago. They married in Montreal in 2006, but said despite it being a joyous event shared with friends and family, wished they were able to have their moment in New York. 

“It means we’re closer to equal rights everyone in this country should have,” said Brooke of the marriage equality bill. “For our kids it will mean less discord between what they know to be normal in their own lives and what the world sees as normal. It means our grandkids, who won’t be born for many years, will hopefully know all families are equal and will be looked upon that way under the law.”

She added that the issue cannot be seen as solely financial, but ultimately a denial of all civil rights.

“We are American, law-abiding, tax-paying, voting citizens,” she said. “We take our kids to school and Little League and community events just like every other local family. For our family to be denied any rights under the law is simply a denial of civil rights.”

Like Dorph, who will be meeting with senator LaValle next week, Alda and Brooke have been watching the politics of this bill and Alda expressed disappointment that New York, of all states, had yet to enact gay marriage.

“As New Yorkers, we consider ourselves a progressive state in the nation, but in truth, we are neither progressive nor egalitarian for denying thousands of families their civil rights,” she said. “It is simply unacceptable to deny people civil rights based on what does or doesn’t make one comfortable.”

“For instance,” added Brooke. “Right wingers may not make me comfortable, but I would never deem it my option to vote on their right to marry.”

 

Above: Tom Wasik and TJ Parsell have said  they have experienced bias.

 

Locals Outraged Over New MTA Tax

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“Isn’t this taxation without representation? I thought we already went through this,” said Sag Harbor Variety Store owner Lisa Field when asked what she thought of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new payroll tax.

The tax, signed into law earlier this month, will require local businesses, including hospitals, schools and governments, to pay a 34 cent tax for every $100 of payroll. Suffolk County is set to pump millions of dollars into the MTA to help shore up the authority’s $1.8 million deficit. From the halls of the state assembly to the sidewalks of Main Street, people are saying the MTA is unfairly taxing Suffolk County residents for a service they rarely use and the county is in essence funding the New York City transportation system.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele contends the MTA package was made “behind closed doors” with officials, hailing from the New York Metropolitan area, leading the negotiations.

Back in March, Thiele seemed certain the tax wouldn’t be voted through, but the state legislature indeed passed it on May 6, after state senator Brian Foley of Long Island swayed the vote, allowing the package to pass by two votes in the senate.

“Between March and now a lot of arm twisting went on,” explained Thiele.

“I thought we were pretty effective in putting up a unified decision,” stated Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of the efforts made by local officials to oppose the payroll tax. “We have lost the power, and all of this money is leaving Long Island and going to New York City.”

Schneiderman maintains the East End is underserved by the MTA. Although the county contributed $250 million to the transit authority last year, the MTA currently runs just three trains on weekdays from the East End to New York City.

Geoff Lynch of the Hampton Jitney said the transit system works well in New York City because the authority services a small geographic area with a high density population. But on the East End, he added, a smaller population is spread out over a wide geographic area.

According to a press release from Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine, the county will pay around $520 million when the new MTA taxes and fees are enacted or about $347 per resident per year — on top of the taxes residents already pay toward the MTA. Schneiderman believes only 10 percent of Suffolk’s population, or 150,000 people, ride the LIRR.

“The county will pay around $3,000 to $4,000 per rider. We could lease each of them a car and we could forget about the trains,” argued Schneiderman.

When asked if East End residents will get more LIRR service in exchange for their contribution to the MTA payroll tax, Sam Zambuto of the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) said no.

“[The Payroll Tax] allows the LIRR to maintain the existing level of service and eliminates the service reductions that were slated for implementation,” Zambuto reported. “It also reduces the fare increase from an average of 26 percent to an average of 10 percent.”

MTA representative Kevin Ortiz said even with $1.8 billion in funds procured from the payroll tax and other fees, the MTA will still face a small deficit in the upcoming year. Ortiz argued that the new funds would bring additional wages to the county because the MTA uses the services of  subcontractors in Deer Park, and other Suffolk locations. He added the MTA’s capital plan would create $11.8 billion in wages and salaries in the 12 counties it services.

“They have to look at the big picture,” said Ortiz of Suffolk residents.

But local residents, from hospital administrators to business owners, say they are having a hard time seeing the “big picture.”

“Everybody that is in business out here will be subject to this new tax,” asserted Sag Harbor Village Mayor Greg Ferraris. He added that the tax will cost the village administration upwards of $10,000.

Southampton Hospital faces an even steeper tax burden because of its large payroll. Marsha Kenny, the director of public affairs, said the hospital had already closed its books for the 2009 budget when they learned of the tax. The hospital expects to pay $140,000 to the MTA this year.

Len Bernard, the Sag Harbor School District Business Manager, estimated the school will pay between $46,000 to $50,000 for the tax, though the state has promised to reimburse school districts.

“I am not at all confident the state will give funds to reimburse the school districts,” remarked school superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “I am concerned that if they do reimburse the school district for the tax it will come at the expense of general state aid.”

“I can point to every single line item on the budget and tell you how it benefits someone in the community, but I can’t with this,” continued Gratto. “We are just subsidizing New York City.”

Responding to the outrage of local communities over the payroll tax, the Suffolk County Legislature voted on Tuesday, May 12, to create a commission to conduct a feasibility study on Long Island seceding from the State of New York.

“We want it to be on the ballot next year as a non-binding referendum to create the State of Long Island,” said Schneiderman. “Every year we give the state about $8 billion but we only receive around $5 billion in services.”

Schneiderman conceded, however, that a state hasn’t successfully seceded since the 1860s, when West Virginia split from Virginia.

“I think this is more symbolic,” said Schneiderman. “We want to send a message to Albany that the present situation is unacceptable.”

Thiele believes Suffolk County constituents are feeling increasingly overburdened by state taxes, especially in light of the economic downturn.

“I have never seen a recession end by taxing people more,” he declared.

It may be that the MTA payroll tax will have a trickle down effect, with implications not just for business owners but patrons of Long Island restaurants and retail establishments as well.

“A lot of businesses in the area increase their prices in the summer and decrease their prices in the winter,” said Tora Matsuoka, co-owner of Sen and Phao Thai Kitchen. “Prior to finding out about this tax, [and a new beer and wine tax] my feelings were that we wouldn’t readjust our prices, but it is something we are considering … taxes in New York are stringent and I think it is driving people out of the state.”

Assembly Passes Same Sex Marriage Bill

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On Tuesday, the New York State Assembly voted in favor of passing a marriage equality bill, which allows same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in New York.

The bill, co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., of Sag Harbor, passed 89-52 and now must pass through the state senate before Governor David Paterson can sign the legislation into law.

In 2007, the assembly passed a similar bill, 85-61, although the measure failed to get through the state senate. Assemblyman Thiele did not support the bill in 2007, a move he said he later regretted.

“I am committed to the civil rights of all New Yorkers,” said Thiele in a statement last week. “I didn’t support the bill in 2007, because I thought equal rights could be guaranteed through civil unions. Since then more states have experimented with civil unions as separate but equal, only to find that discrimination persisted in health care and other areas. The only way to ensure equality is by giving all couples access to the same civil right — the right to marry.”

If made law, the bill will amend the Domestic Relations Law to give same sex couples the right to legally marry in New York State, while including a provision that states no member of the clergy can be compelled to perform any marriage ceremony. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Maine have all legalized same-sex marriage and both houses in New Hampshire have also passed similar bills, although that measure is still waiting to be vetoed or signed by Governor John Lynch.

Governor Paterson, who has said he will sign the bill into law if it gets through the state senate, has already issued a directive to state agencies to recognize all same-sex marriages performed outside of New York, including marriages performed in Canada.

Towns Ask for New Rail System

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With an operational train station and ferries running to and from Manhattan, Sag Harbor was once a beacon of public transportation. The heyday of the village’s transport system was at the turn of the last century. Fast forward 100 years and the tracks have been ripped up, the ferries have been replaced by the Long Island Expressway and the village’s public transportation system has been reduced to two Suffolk County buses.
Municipal officials from Southold to Southampton, however, are hoping to reverse this trend. Based upon two proposals presented by the Volpe Center at a transportation forum held at Suffolk County Community College’s Riverhead campus on Friday, April 17, local government officials clamored for a hybrid plan to establish a coordinated rail and bus system throughout the East End.
The consensus of the group favored the first of Volpe’s proposals, with the caveat of adding certain elements from the second proposal, which called for a more intricate bus plan and a gradual phase-in of rail improvements. Proposal one calls for an overhaul of the East End railway system, which would be coordinated with a modest bus service. Sean Pierce of Volpe said trains would run seven days a week, every hour during off-peak times and every half hour during peak times. The service would operate 14 to 18 hours a day, depending on the season, and while the possible cost of train fare wasn’t offered, bus fares, which are currently $2, would be raised to $2.50 a ride.
Seven additional sidings — tracks that allow two trains to pass — would need to be built and 17 new trains purchased. Certain defunct depot stations, like those at Southampton College, Water Mill and Wainscott, would be reopened under the plan and updated to become handicap accessible.
The town and village bus system would be designed to operate around the train service. On demand bus shuttles would act as “feeders” to the train stations and serve residents living within a three mile radius of the station. Fixed bus routes, serving communities outside of the three-mile zone, would be maintained. Altogether, 52 buses would be purchased and a dispatch center created to process on-demand reservations.
“We already have the [railway] infrastructure,” said Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski.
Others asked the plan be tweaked based on geographical needs. Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell requested increased bus services on the North Fork because the rail road tracks end in Greenport and don’t provide service as far as Orient Point.
“We shouldn’t lose focus of the long term goals for the railroad … We need to take very progressive steps,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot.
“If we build it they will come … We have the potential to create the opportunity for increased ridership,” added East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee.
The first proposal, however, comes with a hefty price tag. Initial capital costs for the railway range from around $106 to $175 million and the annual operating costs are estimated at $19 million. The bus portion of the plan is projected at $25.6 million, with yearly operating expenses of almost $22.1 million.
The exact source of funding for the project also remains a pressing question, especially for Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who was the lone dissenting voice against both plans.
“There is a lot of good work here, but we need to scale things back and focus on a program that costs the least amount of money,” said Schneiderman. “The numbers scare me, especially in this economic climate … Even if we get the money how will we subsidize [the annual costs]?”
New York State Assemblymen Fred Thiele Jr., however, remains confident that the project is eligible for federal funding. Thiele, along with Southampton Town Director of Public Transportation Tom Neely and the town’s grant writer will draft and send a formal request to Congressman Tim Bishop seeking federal grant money for the next phase of the project.
“We are putting in a request … to make it a shovel ready project … [or] right up to the point of bidding,” said Thiele. To make the plan “shovel ready,” all the proposal details from the planning, design and engineering to environmental impact study would have to be completed.
Will Jenkins, a spokesperson for Bishop, said the congressman would request $250,000 from the transportation, housing and development appropriations bill to complete the next step of the process. If the bill passes, federal funding for the planning and design portion of the proposal could be granted by the fall.
Some locals, like Jake Jacobson, say they need additional services as soon as possible to ease their commutes. Jacobson rides the bus from Flanders to Sag Harbor several times a week for work, but said morning buses are often crowded.
“Sometimes I don’t even get a seat on the bus,” said Jacobson. “The 7:10 a.m. bus [from Flanders] passes me by because there are too many people on it. So then I have to wait for the next one, but there might be only one seat.”

Anna Throne-Holst

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The Southampton Town Councilperson on forming a coalition to address immigration on the East End, confronting conflicting ideals and what the coalition cannot do.

 

When the coalition first began – what were some of the immediate goals you hoped for concerning immigration?

Our goals were to try to get people from all parts of the community together and start talking about how we can start the immigration dialogue in our community. There are issues around it that are good and bad and indifferent. We began with the feeling that this is the elephant on the couch and no one wants to come out and take the politics out and address this issue. I think in the past it hasn’t been very easy for anyone to deal with it. Clergy and non-profits deal with it and it is very easy to say it’s a federal problem.  You could keep passing the buck – but nothing else will be done about it if we don’t come forward and talk about it now. 

 

Who are the key players involved in the coalition?

Tim [Bishop} and Fred [Thiele]. The clergy reached out to them. They invited elected officials and had a couple meetings which were held at the college to get the conversation going. Between the three of us, we represented three levels of government and are able to represent the different roles we play. The thought was that unless we all get together it’s easy to keep passing the buck. This way we take the political football out of here too. There is no particular agency or level of government but we are trying to take the bull by the horns and send the signal that we were willing to work together on this and be able to take the politics out of it.

 

Are there other organizations or coalitions that have formed in this country that deal with this issue or other issues that are similar?

Yes, I believe there are several. We haven’t modeled ourselves after anyone in particular, there are several organizations that have successful outcomes, but every community is different and the goals are different. We are hoping to get as much information as possible and craft solutions for our community. I’m sure our solutions will be unique to us.

 

Is the town looking to set new policies regarding immigration?

That is hard to say. I was asked at Friday’s forum what can I do as a town representative? It’s a good question. There are things we can do and things we can’t do. There are things we are restricted from doing. It’s important to understand what we can do on a local level.  I believe that I can have an open door, there are people with issues around this issue and I can deal with those on an individual basis. I can work with the things I have on hand, I can get code enforcement. We are concerned about the well being of families and I can go to the clergy group and ask them to help. We can start talking about the partnerships, but more than anything else we can start this conversation and look at it from all levels and see what we can do about this.

What that is going to lead to? It’s too soon to say. But we have to do something – nothing has been done so far and no one wanted to touch this issue. But we do know what we can’t do or don’t want to do.

 

And what are some of the things you can’t do or don’t want to do?

We can’t deport people. We don’t have the power to crack down on people who employ undocumented workers. We cannot strip them of their rights as humans. But on both sides of this issue, we can foster a healthy dialogue.

We want to bring all of this together. We want all the facts and figures brought to the table so we are all working from the same set of facts. We want to know how this is affecting neighborhoods, hospitals and schools.

 We can’t change the federal mandates. If this is an issue in our school then how do we work with the schools to somehow ease that? Or how can we help people understand?

The president of the hospital said those that work in the hospital are federally mandated to fix what comes in their doors; they are precluded from asking any issues of visa or residency. The bigger issue for them is uninsured patients. There could be someone as American as apple pie or a visitor to the U.S. who is on vacation but their bigger issue is uninsured Americans. And how do we wrap our heads around that?

 

Do you find that there is any structure or anything that needs to be tweaked concerning the issue of immigration?

Right now there are no laws or direction. There is no doubt that we need comprehensive immigration reform, and laws and a road map for going forward – and that is important to point out. One thing that both Barack Obama and John McCain agreed on was an immigration policy. But we need to know how that is going to come down the pike for us. Until we get that – it will be hard for us. Right now our laws don’t affect any of this so it’s more about finding practical solutions and our realities in the community.

 

How do you find a middle ground with so many conflicting ideals concerning immigration?

Allowing and welcoming the dialogue and making everyone feel they are welcoming the dialogue and that’s okay, but in the end we need to start talking and looking at the facts and figures and the problems. We need to look at what is or isn’t working and what is affecting the community and the quality of life and economics.

I hope the outcome is that there is a dialogue and people feel they are welcome to that dialogue and then we hope we can come to some consensus collectively. I think we want healthy dialogue; we want to recognize the many sides to this issue.

We don’t want what happened in Patchogue to happen here – we don’t want the quality of life to be adversely impacted. But we also want to know that businesses are being supported and laws are being respected, the solutions we hope will form themselves.

One thing we do know is there are confusion and a lot of anger and a strong sense that nothing is being done and that is not okay.

 

Overall, how do you think Friday night’s immigration forum went?

There was some anger. But the way I look at it, I could’ve gone home and put on my slippers.

But there were 150 people there – and what that speaks to this issue that is so important to so many people. It is incumbent on us not to get into our slippers on Friday night and bring people together, and the chips will fall where they are going to fall. We recognize what a big issue this is. And we are being proactive to work around it.

 

 

There Oughta Be a Law

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By Karl Grossman

There ought to be a law is the wishful expression. And when it comes to zone pricing of gasoline, finally there is a law in New York State. And it works.

Amazingly, after years and years of gas prices on the East End being substantially higher than in western Suffolk County, in recent weeks they’ve not been far apart—in fact, now sometimes they’re even lower in the east.

The reason for the higher prices on the East End: zone pricing, a marketing practice of the oil industry under which gas stations in various geographic areas charge different wholesale prices. The aim: to sock it to ostensibly richer areas.

But after a decade, a bill finally made it through the New York State Legislature—long lobbied against by the oil industry—which prohibits zone pricing. It was signed into law by Governor David Paterson in November.

Long championed by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, the measure carries a hefty penalty: $10,000 for each violation.

Even the fabulously wealthy oil industry would have to be concerned with what it would end up paying for repeated violations of the statute.

Right after it was enacted, Mr. Thiele wrote to oil companies informing them of the law and advising they had better comply with it. He noted that “as a state representative of the South Fork of Long Island, for years my constituents have been subject to these prices which financially constrain working families and individuals, seniors, and those on fixed income.”

Since the law’s passage, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigators have been out in the field checking for compliance, Mr. Thiele was saying from Albany last week.

And lo and behold, last week gas was as low as $1.99 a gallon at some stations on the East End—a few pennies less than the average price to the west. Mainly, it was several pennies higher.

“The differential has definitely narrowed,” commented Mr. Thiele. He says “between the new law and the attorney general’s office” being on the case, change has occurred.

Meanwhile, “we still plan to firm this up further,” Mr. Thiele said, with additions to the law to cover company-owned gas stations.

It’s amazing what a law—and enforcement of it—can mean. (Not infrequently laws are enacted but enforcement is nonexistent or lax and there is no change.)

Indeed, last year Suffolk Executive Steve Levy, who as a county legislator, state assemblyman and county executive has been super-active in introducing laws to deal with societal problems, held a “There Oughta Be a Law” initiative.

County residents were asked to recommend ideas. There were 180 submissions. The idea of Willard Christy of East Islip for a law that would require that unused prescription medicines be disposed of in a safe manner won the contest. His prize: his idea became a Suffolk law.

Mr. Christy, at an awards ceremony, explained how he came up with his suggestion: “You can open any major newspaper and read about drugs contaminating our waters on a regular basis…Our aquifer is less than 100 feet below the surface; that’s very close to the surface and our septic tanks. These drugs and chemicals can easily seep in and contaminate our drinking water.”

His idea led to a law, introduced by Legislator Steve Stern and overwhelmingly passed, that has established a “pharmaceutical disposal program.” Work is now underway to set up disposal sites throughout the county for old medicines.

“It was great to get a firsthand glimpse into many of the issues that are on the minds of residents in Suffolk,” said Mr. Levy who signed the measure in September.

Many of the other suggestions would also “make excellent laws but unfortunately need to be enacted at the federal, state or local town level,” he added. He said Mr. Christy’s idea “is just the type of forward-thinking I was looking for in creating the ‘There Oughta Be a Law’ program.” Mr. Levy plans to repeat the contest this year.

Now some would say: enough of government regulation. But when it comes to zone pricing of gas, the disposal of potent drugs, and many, many other issues, there sure need to be laws.

East End Digest: February 26, 2009

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Bridgehampton
Citarella to Open

The former location of the IGA in Bridgehampton will be opening under the name Citarella come April 2009. Citarella considers itself the “ultimate gourmet market.”
Clare Vail, a Southampton Town Planner said that applicant and property owner, Joe Gurrera, submitted an application of expedited review, “a speedy request,” on February 5, 2009.
The planning department held a favorable view and asked the applicant to submit the application on expedited review because there were only going to be minor changes to the building. The application was approved on February 12.
“The applicant wants to spruce up the building, and move the entrance way,” Vail said.
The entrance to the building will be moved to the north east side, from its original location on the west side facing the parking lot, according to the application.
Vail said the applicant wanted to add outdoor seating and improve the parking area – but that would need to undergo a full site plan review at a later date.

Sag Harbor
Library Moves on Building Plans

The John Jermain Memorial Library Board of Trustees continue to work with Newman Architects to develop a library plan that will, in the words of the architects, “serve the Sag Harbor community’s library needs.” During the past weeks a number of firms working in conjunction with Newman have visited both John Jermain and the library’s property at 425 Main Street near Mashashimuet Park.
Philip Steiner, principal from Altieri Sebor and Weber structural engineers, spent January 27 at the library reviewing the mechanical systems, the exterior of the building, and the roof. On February 5, two preservationists, John Glavin and Michele Boyd, from Building Conservation Associates spent 10 hours with the director of the library, Catherine Creedon, touring the building and reviewing the history of John Jermain including photographs, newspapers clippings, blueprints and board reports. It was the third site visit from this firm, headed by Ray Pepi.
On February 13, Deborah McGuinness and Ed Meade, structural engineers for Robert Silman Associates spent the day in Sag Harbor, evaluating both sites with an emphasis on examining the roof, the exterior envelope, the brick wall, existing blueprints, and documentary evidence related to repairs, additions and renovations.
New York State has also proposed an 18% cut in funding to libraries for 2009.

Southampton Town
Interviews for Board Candidates

Southampton Town board members have decided to open an interview process for vacant and holdover positions.
The appointees who serve on the three boards have salaried positions over a specific term of office consistent with state law. Their decision-making powers are exercised by a majority vote of the membership to approve certain types of land use applications.
The Planning Board processes applications for subdivisions, site plans, special exception use permits, lot line modifications, and also renders advisory reports to the Town Board on amendments to the zoning code or requests for changes to the zoning map. The Zoning Board deliberates on requests for variances from zoning strictures on dimensional requirements, changes of use, abandonment proceedings, and appeals of denials or approvals rendered by the Town’s Building Inspector. The Conservation Board processes applications for construction near regulated wetlands areas and prepares advisory reports to the Planning Board and Zoning Board.
Candidates seeking to be considered should send a letter of interest to Supervisor Linda Kabot and members of the Town Board at Southampton Town Hall, 116 Hampton Road, Southampton, NY 11968 prior to February 27.

New York State Assembly
No to Cap

Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr., the ranking republican on the Assembly Education Committee, blasted Governor Paterson’s proposal to cap state property tax payments to areas to school districts for state owned lands pursuant to existing state law. Under the Governor’s plan, payments to such areas would be permanently frozen.
The State of New York currently makes property tax payments to certain school districts for state lands. In Riverhead, including Southampton and Brookhaven, the payments are related to the Central Pine Barrens Preserve. Riverhead receives payments for all state alnds within the school district within the Town of Riverhead.
In 2007, Suffolk school district received around $20 million in such payments. A freeze in 2009 will cost these schools nearly $1 million. The freeze would be permanent and apply to all future years.
“There is no doubt that the costs diverted from communities hit by this tax freeze will be borne by local property taxpayers,” Thiele said. “This proposal assumes that school districts will decrease their spending. But the reality is that many districts are struggling in this tough economy.”
“It is the height of fiscal irresponsibility for state government to try and balance its budget on the backs of property owners. If the Governor truly wants to do the right thing for New Yorkers, he would support the swift passge of our ‘New York State Property Act.’ which would put the brakes on ever increasing property taxes and allow families and local eployers to stay in their communities,” Thiele continued.
Thiele said the legislation would prevent school district property tax levies from increasing by more than four percent each year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. It would also provide voters with the ability to override this limitation by a two-thirds majority vote. The initiative also provides significant unfunded mandate relief for school districts.
In other news, Thiele also introduced a comprehensive “home rule” plan to address the issue of school consolidation in the State of New York.
Thiele stated, “Exisitng state law inhibits the consideration of school consolidations. Many times school consolidation is derailed by special interests without even allowing the voters to be heard on the issue. In contrast, the Suozzi Commission has proposed a school consolidation procedure which would be imposed by the state with no local referendum. To be successful, we must first have an objective investigation of each potential consolidation in the state. Second, we must permit local voters the opportunity to evaluate these objectiv investigations and make the decision by referendum.”
Thieles bill includes several provisions. It would require the State Education Department (SED) to identify school districts that might benefit from consolidation. The study would include districts with 1,000 or fewer students and school districts that either share a common boundary with such a district, or school districts that have an existing contract with such a district to educate its students.

Suffolk County
Veterans

Last week, the Suffolk County United Veterans Project and other local veterans organizations held a press conference to highlight the impact of Governor Paterson’s proposed budget cuts on homeless veterans in Suffolk County.
County Legislator Kate Browning joined the veterans organizations and spoke out against deep cuts to many of New York’s homelessness prevention and assistance programs. She endorsed the Fair Share Tax Reform as an alternative budget solution that can ensure vulnerable veterans continue to get the care they need.
The press conference was part of an ongoing compaign by the Long Island Fair Share Tax Reform Coalition to advocate for a fair budget solution.