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Thiele Stands Alone; Russo, Pope Debate Finances At Debate

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New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. stood alone at the podium at a League of Women Voter’s sponsored debate in Bridgehampton on Thursday, October 23.

“If I put up a wild card and start debating myself, stop me,” he joked to the crowd of roughly 40 people.

Thiele’s dilemma was that his opponent W. Michael Pitcher did not attend the debate, to the surprise of league members and Southampton Press executive editor and debate moderator Joseph Shaw. According to published reports, Pitcher was detained at a family emergency and planned on attending a second debate at the Hampton Bays Senior Center on Thursday, October 30 at 7 p.m.

Despite Pitcher’s absence, Thiele was given an opportunity to address the audience and field a handful of questions by league members.

Thiele, a Sag Harbor native, has served on the New York State Assembly for 15 years. He is running on the Republican, Conservative, Independence and Working Families line in his bid to keep that seat following Election Day next Tuesday.

Pitcher is the Democratic challenger, a former reporter and newspaper editor on the East End and now legislative aide to Suffolk County Presiding Officer William J. Lindsay.

On Thursday night, Thiele said the State of New York was looking down the barrel of “one of the most serious financial crisises since the Great Depression” – a national crisis he said will hit New York particularly hard due to our reliance on Wall Street revenues. Governor David Paterson, a Democrat who was praised by Thiele, has already said the state is looking at a budget deficit as much as $2 billion as a result.

“And what that means is we are going to have to spend less, tax less and we are going to have to borrow less,” said Thiele.

One issue that is front and center for Thiele, especially in light of the hard financial times to come, is his quest to reduce real property taxes for New Yorkers.

“We need to reduce our reliance on the property tax to fund education,” said Thiele. “People should not have to decide between a college education for their children and whether or not they can keep their homes because of property taxes. New York needs to be fair and more equitable in how we fund education.”

“I can’t control OPEC, I can’t control international politics, but when I notice that gasoline out here is 20 cents higher I do want to do something about that,” said Thiele, referring to the recent legislation he spearheaded that outlawed zone pricing of gasoline in the state.

Thiele also touched on recent revisions to the Community Preservation Fund, a two percent real estate transfer tax that allows for the purchase and preservation of open space, farmland, recreational space and historic buildings, as well as his work to ensure the Southampton College campus remains a viable center for higher learning. This year, Thiele said he helped to secure funding for a new marine science center at the university, which is now a part of the State University of New York system.

Thiele said he would also continue to strive for mass transit on the East End.

Southampton Town Council Debate

While the Thiele-Pitcher debate may have proved anticlimactic, the debate between current Southampton Town Councilman Dan Russo, and Democratic challenger Sally Pope proved more eventful, with the two sparring primarily over fiscal issues.

Russo, the Republican incumbent, was appointed last winter to finish the council term of newly elected Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot. He and Pope, the Democratic challenger, are vying for the last year of that term.

A Remsenburg attorney, Pope opened the debate stating Republican rule in Southampton has left a municipality in both a financial and environmental crisis. In her opening statement, Pope called for control over development in the town, and said workforce housing, a Noyac community center, implementing the Sag Harbor Gateway Study and ensuring the protection of historic buildings in Bridgehampton should be priorities in the town.

Russo, also an attorney who hails from East Quogue, countered that had Pope attended town board meetings regularly, she would not see a Republican-dominated town board. Curbing development, he said, is being addressed in a multitude of ways, including through moratoriums the board has enacted in Hampton Bays, East Quogue and on County Road 39 in Southampton.

The Southampton Town Board passed a green energy building code this year – a code that mandates environmental initiatives in new building projects or large renovations. While Pope said she supported the green energy codes, she criticized the board for going back and making revisions to the code that pushed back the dates of compliance and reduced requirements for the biggest homes in the town.

 “We scaled it back for certain sized homes, but in the spring we hope to bring them back,” said Russo, noting the town’s adoption of the green building codes and creation of a green advisory committee are both initiatives the board is proud to have accomplished in the last year.   

The Sag Harbor Gateway Study is a town planning department study that recommends re-zoning over half a dozen parcels on the Sag Harbor Turnpike from highway business to hamlet office, which would mandate less intensive businesses for new developments in the area.

Russo said he was “looking forward to enacting the zoning changes” and was “ready, willing and able to enact those codes.”

“The residents of Sag Harbor do not want it to become another County Road 39,” explained Pope to the crowd. “I know the residents of Sag Harbor do want this enacted … to really make sure Sag Harbor has the kind of entrance it deserves rather than a commercial strip leading into town.”

The $82.5 million dollar proposed budget presented by Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot will result in a five percent tax increase. The town is prevented, by law, to raise taxes more than five percent.

Russo said he supports a hiring freeze and said there are cuts that still need to be made to the spending plan. He added he has asked department heads to cut their budgets by 15 percent.

“This is the single most important issue the town board is going to face,” he said.

Pope said she believed it was the town’s one-party Republican rule that has resulted in financial mismanagement, specifically in the police and waste management departments.

Town Justice Race

Prior to the town board candidates squaring off incumbent Southampton Town Justice Tom DeMayo and challenger Andrea Schiavoni were invited to give five-minute presentations on why voters should select them for office next Tuesday.

DeMayo, who lives in Westhampton, opened by detailing his decades of experience in law and on the bench, which included time as a Suffolk County District Attorney assigned specifically to the East End courts.

“I am the only judicial candidate in this race who has been certified by the Suffolk County Bar Association as qualified to serve as justice for the Town of Southampton,” said DeMayo, adding he has been told that the justice court in Southampton is currently one of the busiest in the state, earning $2.3 million. 

DeMayo said he also wanted to clear up some “misstatements that have been made throughout the campaign.”

He said the addition of the fourth justice was made possible by the town board after Assemblyman Thiele passed legislation making it possible, and was not a decision made by the justices themselves.

DeMayo said while Schiavoni would like to see the hours of justice court extended, he was able to bring night court to the town on Wednesdays, although night court only looks at town code violations currently.

DeMayo also criticized Schiavoni’s experience.

“We deal with every day problems,” he said. “I am the candidate uniquely qualified to serve and I will stand by my reputation.”

Schiavoni, a Sag Harbor resident, has a career that spans 19 years in law, where she practiced civil litigation against large corporations carrying what she admitted was a hefty caseload.

“That brings someone up to speed in terms of court procedure,” she said, adding she learned to be a great litigator “from judges who demanded I be a great litigator.”

Currently working as a private mediator, she said she is honored to have varied legal experience.

“I believe justice can be served if all involved are committed to protecting it,” said Schiavoni.

Schiavoni said she would like to see hours expanded at justice court and night court made into a revenue producing entity. She would also like to make use of satellite courts, see justices work longer hours, implement an e-filing system and make use of video arraignments.

“Most importantly we need to being transparency to the administration of town court,” said Schiavoni. 

Top photo: Southampton Town Council candidates, Democrat Sally Pope and Republican incumbent Dan Russo, prepare for battle before last Thursday night’s League of Women Voters sponsored debate in Bridgehampton.

Middle photo: Incumbent New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. addresses the crowd of roughly 40 people on issues like the financial crisis, the use of Community Preservation Funds and mass transit on the East End.               photos by k. menu

 

East End Digest – September 11

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North Sea: Bocce Ball Finals

Councilman Chris Nuzzi, Trustee Brian Tymann and other members of the Southampton Bocce League played the final game of the season at North Sea Community Park on September 2. The Pollino Crushers were victorious over the Founders in the championship game.

New York State: Thiele Asks Paterson To Sign Gas Bill

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. released a copy of a letter last week that he sent to Governor David Paterson requesting the governor sign two pieces of legislation. The two bills aim to reduce gasoline prices – one allowing gasoline distributors and retailers to purchase and sell unbranded motor fuels and another that would prohibit the marketing technique known as “zone pricing.”

Thiele, a longtime sponsor of legislation to lower gasoline prices, writes, “Unfortunately, my Assembly District has been unfairly subjected to this scheme for far too long. Gasoline prices on the South Fork of Long Island are often higher than any other prices found in western areas of Long Island.”

Thiele has requested the State Attorney General’s Office commence an investigation into gasoline prices on eastern Long Island. The results of that investigation are pending.

“I hope the governor realizes that although prices have begun to decrease, zone pricing continues to be a problem plaguing residents and families who work and visit the East End. In addition, allowing distributors to sell unbranded fuels will result in lower prices at the pump.”

Southampton Town: Roof Replacement

Southampton officials informed residents today that work will soon begin to replace town hall’s aging roof, and to make repairs to the building’s cupola, chimney, flashing, gutters, and similar fixtures.

“The work is necessary to fix the leaks and other problems at town hall each time it rains,” said supervisor Linda Kabot. “We expect the project to begin in mid-September, and weather permitting, will be completed by the end of November.”

In order to conduct the necessary repairs, scaffolding will be erected around town hall and remain until the work is finished. Because of the presence of trucks, dumpsters, and other equipment, certain parts of the parking lot will be closed for limited amounts of time.

However, “there will be no interruption of town functions or service,” added the supervisor, “Town hall will remain open during regular business hours.”

According to the town’s department of general services, the Southampton Village Trustees and building inspector have been made aware of the project, and letters will be sent to town employees, as well as the surrounding community — including Southampton Elementary School on Pine Street.

During the planning phase, the town learned that certain components of the roof — such as the tar flashing and one of the three layers of shingles to be removed — contain a tiny amount of asbestos. Pursuant to federal and state law, the town must undertake an abatement project to remove these materials safely. To do so, the town has hired a New York State-licensed asbestos contractor, and retained an independent consultant to oversee the efforts. According to the consultant, the asbestos-containing material is considered “non-friable,” in that its fibers are bound or locked into the product. Because of this, they will not become airborne when removed. Nevertheless, air quality testing will be conducted regularly within town hall while the abatement work is underway.

At the request of the town, Southampton Village Trustees granted permission for work to begin each weekday morning at around 6 a.m., enabling the abatement work to commence each day in advance of town hall’s opening. It most cases, it will conclude by noon. A smaller, additional amount of work around higher traffic areas such as the entrances will be done on Saturdays when the building is closed. However, to minimize noise-related disturbances, the Saturday work will be performed by hand.

“We are making every effort to ensure the work on town hall is completed in a safe, clean, professional manner, and as quickly as possible,” concluded Kabot. “We appreciate the patience of the community and its visitors while these critical repairs take place.”

Suffolk County: Beach Cleanup

Chairman of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Environment, Planning, and Agriculture Committee Jay Schneiderman announced Suffolk County will once again participate in the 23rd Annual Beach Cleanup on Saturday, September 20. The Northeast Chapter of the American Littoral Society, a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the study and conservation of the marine and coastal environment, coordinates New York’s involvement in the annual September International Coastal Cleanup.

Each year the American Littoral Society enlists the aid of beach captains from local businesses, civic associations, scout troops, schools, SCUBA diving clubs, environmental organizations and individuals to organize volunteers to clean up shoreline debris. The cleanup usually takes about three hours and no special skills are needed. Volunteers pick up the debris and note the kind of debris on data cards, which are sent to the Ocean Conservancy. The information is then analyzed and used to evaluate existing pollution abatement programs and to develop new national and international policies to control debris in order to protect the health and safety of humans and marine life.

“With continuing efforts and dedication from volunteers, our local beaches will remain the source of beauty, pleasure and prosperity so many generations have enjoyed,” said Schneiderman.

Clean-ups are scheduled at several sites within Suffolk County. Contact site captain Jorie Latham at 324-1267 for information on the cleanup in East Hampton, at Louse and Gerard Points on September 20. In Southampton, a beach cleanup will be held at Sagg Main Beach on September 19. Call Jean Hartnagel at 765-6450 for information.

For a complete list of the participating sites in Suffolk County, as well as the name and phone number of the beach captains who will say where and when to meet, log on to www.alsnyc.org or call their HOTLINE 1-800-449-0790.

Last year, 9,339 volunteers cleaned and documented 142,243 pounds of debris along 677 miles of New York State’s shoreline.

New York State: Hurricane Assistance For Gustav

Governor David Paterson deployed an interagency team of New York State disaster management specialists last week to help assist Hurricane Gustav-battered parishes in Louisiana. The 24-person team began a two-week tour of duty and is staged in Hammond, Louisiana, to assist one of four battered parishes – New Orleans, Palquemines, St. Bernard or Jefferson – in recovery efforts. Team members are specialists in managing the various aspects of response and recovery including command, operations, planning and logistics.

The deployment of the disaster specialists is the latest assistance New York State is providing to hurricane victims in the Gulf Coast. The New York National Guard has sent helicopters and personnel as a part of the Gustav relief effort. Additionally, the New York City Fire Department is deploying its Incident Management Team (IMT) to aid Louisiana.

“Even when Gustav was on the horizon, New York State was prepared and ready to lend a helping hand to our fellow Americans in the Gulf Coast,” said Paterson. “Fortunately, the damage caused by this storm was not as severe as was initially feared; but there is still work to be done. New York State will always be prepared to answer the call to assist the residents here and across the country in their time of need.”

The State IMT, which departed Albany on Tuesday, September 2, came about because the state is a member of EMAC, which establishes a mutual partnership with the other 49 states, the District of Columbia and three territories to provide aid assistance in times of emergency.

As a part of the September Preparedness Month observance, New York State has unveiled its new “Aware/Prepare” website, www.nyprepare.gov — a one-stop shop for New Yorkers looking for safety information.

New York State: Mobile Home Rights

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. announced this week that a bill he co-sponsored relating to a right of first refusal for manufactured home owners has been signed by Governor David Paterson.

The bill would provide resident manufactured homeowners the opportunity to purchase their park by and through a homeowner’s association within 120 days from the time the park owner accepts an offer to purchase the park. In order to be eligible for a right of first refusal, a homeowner’s association would be required to notify the park owner of its existence and register such information with the county in which the manufactured home park is located. If such a contract were not executed within 120 days and the park owner thereafter offered the park at a price lower than the price specified in his notice to the association, then the association would have an additional 10 days to meet the price, terms and conditions.

“This legislation gives residents the chance to save their park by purchasing it, whenever the park owner seeks to sell the facility,” explained Thiele. “This will insure that existing parks can continue as an important source of affordable housing, especially for senior citizens.”

Thiele sponsored the legislation, which passed the assembly in the 2008 legislative session. The bill would allow homeowners to challenge rent increases that exceed the consumer price index and cannot be substantiated by the park owners. Under current law, manufactured home owners who rent lots have no legal remedy for unjustifiable increases.

“I am pleased this legislation passed the assembly,” said Thiele. “Unfortunately, the homeowner lacks bargaining power and pretty much renders them captive to whatever terms the park owner may choose to impose. This bill would provide the homeowner with a mechanism to legally challenge an increase. I can assure my constituents that I will reintroduce this bill in January when the 2009 legislative session commences.”

Thiele has been working with the chairman of the assembly housing committee, assemblyman Vito Lopez and Assemblyman Marc Alessi on the legislation. Thiele also participated in a public hearing in Riverhead last fall specifically on this bill.

The legislation would be subject to the creation of a local law by the county in which the manufactured home park is located.

Southampton Hospital: Mind Body Wellness

Southampton Hospital’s Mind Body Wellness Program has announced the next program in their series, the Medical Symptom Reduction Class. Classes will be on Wednesday afternoons from 3 to 5 p.m. beginning September 24 through November 12 and will take place at the Hospital’s “Bridge Room” located on the second floor.

The program teaches methods on learning to reduce physical and emotional problems caused by an illness. The course is taught by mind/body/wellness certified staff, trained at Harvard Medical College and is covered by most insurance companies. Early registration is required as a medical evaluation is required and space is limited. For more information, please call 726-8620

 

 

Local Housing Plans Trumped By State?

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Could the state’s Long Island Workforce Housing Act trump more progressive affordable housing plans on the East End, including a plan over a year in the making in Sag Harbor?

According to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., who is also a village attorney for Sag Harbor, the legislation was drafted as a minimum requirement for municipalities. Currently the law does not expressly state a village or town housing plan can supercede the state law.

 “I just wanted to make sure as we are proposing legislation for inclusionary zoning in our new code,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris on Wednesday, who reached out to Thiele this week for clarity on this concern. “I want to make sure it is consistent with the state legislation and we are not doing something here that could be jeopardized.”

For over a year now, Ferraris has been crafting a Local Residential Housing Plan to address affordable housing in the Village of Sag Harbor to help aid what Ferraris witnessed emerge as one of the most pressing issues facing the East End of Long Island.

The Local Workforce Housing Act proposes to promote second story residential uses in the village business district and incentive and inclusionary zoning provisions in the proposed village zoning code. The village is also exploring legalizing accessory apartments in its draft code as another form of affordable housing and is exploring residential inclusionary zoning requirements as well.

Last month, Ferraris announced the housing plan was gaining steam, as the trust’s board membership began to take shape, and inclusionary zoning provisions appeared to be moving forward in the village’s proposed code. Which was why this week he reached out to Thiele to address the impact of the state legislation on Sag Harbor’s own plan at Tuesday night’s board of trustees meeting.

As Thiele explained the law, it is a bill that has actually been pending for a number of years in the New York State Assembly, although it has now passed the state senate and assembly and was recently signed into law by Governor David Paterson. The law, which applies to subdivisions and site plans for five units (or lots) and more, will become law on January 1, 2009.

For those subdivisions and site plans, the applicant is entitled to a density bonus of at least 10 percent, said Thiele, with those units gained as a result of the density bonus earmarked as affordable. Thiele said there are three choices for how the affordable provision can be met – by providing on-site housing, by building the housing elsewhere, or by paying into an affordable housing fund.

This week, Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot fired off a letter to Thiele, State Senator Ken LaValle and Governor Paterson expressing a number of reservations with the housing legislation, including concerns about how the cash in lieu of housing will present a windfall opportunity for developers on the East End.

Kabot argued since the legislation states the developer can pay either two-times the median income or the appraised value of the lot, whichever is less, on the East End developers stand to make a windfall as two times the median income is less than $200,000 and many lots sell for a million dollars.

Thiele disagreed with part of Kabot’s interpretation of the law, specifically who decides how the affordable housing requirement is met – the developer or a municipality.

“I think it is rather clear cut that the municipality chooses the best [affordable housing] option in each case,” said Thiele on Tuesday, whether it be on-site, off-site or payment into the fund.

In a letter this week in response to Kabot’s myriad concerns regarding the housing trust, Thiele acknowledged the legislation is “far from perfect” and believes a number of amendments are necessary for the law to succeed on the East End.

“I don’t think it will work any place on the East End,” he said on Tuesday, agreeing with Kabot that the way the fee requirement is legislated, a windfall for a developer is likely given the difference between median incomes on the East End and the value of land. Thiele said the impact fee should apply solely to the appraised value of the density bonus or land in order to ensure this windfall does not occur.

On Tuesday night’s meeting Thiele noted a broader question for Sag Harbor is whether or not the state law preempts the proposed village law, or whether it was intended to be a minimum requirement.

“One, I think it is a minimum,” he said. “You have communities out there already that have inclusionary zoning laws … the legislation was enacted because a lot of local governments were doing nothing at all.”

“Our concern is the village’s pending legislation is a little more progressive,” said Ferraris.

The inclusionary zoning requirements proposed by the village exceed the state law’s requirements in that 10 percent affordable housing is required for projects with five units or more without a density bonus. Developers would be able to make a cash in lieu of housing payment into the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, but at almost twice the price as the state law mandates.

Thiele agreed it would be nice if the state law specifically had a provision that allowed more progressive housing plans to supercede the state law, but continued to maintain it is not the intent of the law to override more progressive or comprehensive housing programs, but rather to require municipalities doing nothing, do something.

Thiele said he will seek an amendment that makes clear this is a minimum affordable housing requirement and municipalities have the right to enact legislation beyond what the state allows.

“I think it is safe to say we will work with the assemblyman to ensure the village’s legislation will supercede the state’s legislation as it is more progressive,” said Ferraris on Wednesday.