Tag Archive | "kabot"

Shinnecock Want Protection for Ancient Gravesites

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“Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what kind of people you have,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, referencing a Benjamin Franklin quote, at a work session on Friday, June 19. In the audience, dozens of Shinnecock tribesmen and women nodded in agreement as Kabot recited Franklin’s words, but tensions still ran deep as the group discussed a lack of town-wide protections for ancient Native American grave sites.

“This is all about justice,” said Shinnecock member Becky Genia. “There are laws to protect the marshland … but there are no laws to protect the graves of our ancestors. The first thing I would like to know is what has your [town] attorneys come up with.”

The members of the town board, however, said Friday’s meeting was meant as a roundtable discussion. Kabot added that a working draft legislation, originally authored by East Hampton lawyer George Stankevich in 2005, had been passed through three town attorneys and the current assistant town attorney, Joe Burke, still needed to be brought up to speed on the issue.

According to Burke, the town currently doesn’t have any laws or formal policies in place which protect historical burial sites. Stankevich’s proposed legislation also points out that federal laws specifically protecting Native American grave sites only protect remains on federally owned land. On the East End, however, most ancient grave sites are found on private property.

Stankevich’s proposed legislation calls for the creation of a Southampton Native American and Colonial Graves Protection and Repatriation Local Law, and a committee to oversee the implementation of the law. The draft law dictates that once a burial site is discovered, a property owner — or builder — must cease activity on the site until a final decision is made by the committee, the chief of police and the Suffolk County Medical Examiner. The proposed legislation also suggests that if a property owner and the committee cannot reach an agreement on how to handle the remains then the remains will be left on site and memorialized.

However, this last provision causes some concern for the board, says assistant town attorney Joe Burke who has taken over this issue for Southampton.

“There is a concern over property rights. We have to make sure the law doesn’t amount to a taking [of property]. We can’t take a property if there is no just compensation … that is a federal standard,” explained Burke. “My job right now is to look at other state laws around the country and see how they struck the balance between the two, [the grave sites and the property owners.]”

Burke added that only four states, including New York, do not have a law directly protecting grave sites, although the Shinnecock people can file their grave sites as historic landmarks with the state office of parks, recreation and historic preservation.

Some members of the Shinnecock, however, believe private property rights often trump the protection of ancient gravesites.

“All of our obstacles are because of the sanctity of private property. It has become paramount over all things,” said Chief Harry Wallace of the Unkezhoug nation of the Mastic and Shirley area, who is also a member of the inter-tribal historic preservation task force. “You want to protect the wetlands or a rare bird species. We are fewer than the rare birds and we aren’t growing anytime fast.”

Wallace and other audience members argued that if gravesite protection was high on the list of town priorities, then there would already be a law on the books.

Kabot contended that she has requested grave protection legislation for a number of years, but her efforts were met with opposition from previous town boards.

As of late, it seems the current town board is taking an interest in working with the Shinnecock Nation. Burke expects to meet with Stankevich sometime this week to go over his draft legislation and Shinnecock member Genia said the town recently scheduled an upcoming meeting to further discuss the issue.

Kabot, however, encouraged the Shinnecock Nation to assemble a report on the suspected Native American burial sites in the town to help both parties move forward.

Opportunity for Transparency

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Last week, elected officials in the Town of Southampton seemed to justify why nearly $20 million dollars in the town’s accounts were unaccounted for. The “missing” funds were explained as bonds that were authorized but never issued. And now the town is reviewing all the capital projects to determine the reason behind the discrepancy.

We believe while the problem here is that money has been misplaced and there are sloppy accounting procedures going on at town hall, the biggest problem lies with the miscommunication of the town board and the failure to be transparent in their workings.

The community was blindsided to learn of the “misplaced money” in the capital accounts when this news was released. The accounting has been done so poorly we actually believed the town misplaced $19 million. If East Hampton’s recent financial woes have not been enough of a wake up call for Southampton, perhaps this misstep will be. Clearly this is not turning out to be nearly the debacle our neighbor to the east is experiencing, but the impression of a missing $19 million is not comforting — especially for nervous taxpayers of Southampton Town.

Clearly, we agree that resolving the capital budget is the priority at this point, but it is unfortunate that the town now needs to spend so much time on resolving the issues when there are many other matters that need to be addressed.

We believe that by putting Richard Blowes on the case purely to work on the capital budget is a smart move. Supervisor Linda Kabot appointed Bill Jones to Blowes’ old position of deputy supervisor this week, and we can only hope he will begin to resolve the current miscommunications which seem to be occurring among members of the board.

While we appreciate how hard the Town of Southampton seems to be working now to straighten out its financial problems, we feel it was a step that should have been taken a long time ago.

We believe that a work session on one single capital project should not be the arena in which board members are made aware of a major monetary inconsistency in the town’s accounts. Hearing the disclosure of both councilman Chris Nuzzi and councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst who repeatedly asked to see the capital budget, but were not given the document, makes us concerned for the relationship between board members and citizens of the town.

Sitting on the outside looking in, we see how these two elected officials were confused and left in the dark. Imagine how the public must feel when it doesn’t have access to that kind of information.

Town officials are supposed to be transparent in all they do, especially where dealings with the town’s finances are concerned — but this has been murky at best. And we’ve seen far too much of this kind of thing around here lately.


Hashing out the Gateway

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Although the Town of Southampton is busy with budgetary issues, with the November 20 deadline looming for the tentative town budget, board members had time to hear the opinions of residents, experts and neighbors talk about the Sag Harbor Gateway Study.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, members of the community as well as home and business owners in the ‘gateway’ area along the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike spoke about their concerns regarding the current zoning, which is Highway Business. The Gateway Study proposes to change the zoning in the area from a highway business to a hamlet office zone.

The first to speak at the hearing was Katherine Reid, proprietor, with her sons, of Reid Brothers, Inc., who said that, although she spoke at the last meeting and said she thought the decision to change the zoning where her property lies was “un-American,” she is still upset. She sold her house in another part of Long Island in 1984 to buy this property in Sag Harbor, she said, because of the potential to make more money if a business was allowed. “I’m being gypped out of my money,” she said on Tuesday.

Sandra Ferguson, of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, told the town board about the importance of protecting Ligonee Brook. She said the brook is part of the Long Pond Greenbelt, a natural system of streams, ponds, and swamps that connects Sag Harbor to Sagaponack. Ferguson said the brook plays an important function for eel and alewives. She also explained that there are wet and dry seasons of the brook, which is why sometimes it looks like it isn’t flowing. Ferguson also gave a report to the board detailing a walk she took through the area with other experts and trustees, that highlighted the wetlands they were speaking about.

Robert Reid, owner of the Reid Brothers, an auto repair business along the Turnpike, said that if something were to change with the zoning, it should be something that should benefit the community as a whole.

“I hope you understand that when you change the zoning, you are taking something away from somebody that is valuable,” he said to the board.

Sag Harbor resident Priscilla Ciccariello argues that there are many environmental aspects, such as being adjacent to the Long Pond Greenbelt, that make the zoning change a concern for other residents. She also said that if the proposed five properties outlined in the gateway study were developed in this area, traffic would increase by 200 percent on the Turnpike.

A neighbor of the Bay Burger, Bette Lacina said that she would also support the change to hamlet office, because if it weren’t changed, Bay Burger could become a nightclub or other loud venue. The restaurant is her next door neighbor and she would prefer it remain a less intrusive business.

John Landis, owner of Bay Burger, said on Tuesday, “When we purchased the property, we did rely on what the zoning was and what we may be able to do in the future.” But he also added, “Couldn’t the gateway study include an addition, a possibility of hamlet office and residential to highway business.” Landis asked about a “bubble approach” a possibility supervisor Linda Kabot said may be feasible, where the town may consider a Planned Development District, (PDD), which would allow for a combination of highway business and hamlet office.

Sag Harbor resident Dean Golden said that he owns two of the four properties that will be surrounded by new zoning. He said his neighbors, the Fabiano family, expressed their interest in the rezoning of the area. But Golden also said he would be a proponent of a car wash, an earlier plan the Reid family had proposed. He said that many ideas proposed for nearby property owned by brothers Pat and Mike Trunzo, which included affordable housing, will also still be allowed under hamlet office, but he said to the board, “what you are doing is fine, but I am concerned for the Reids.”

Jeremy Samuelson, from  Group for the East End, hung up three posters at Tuesday’s meeting showing what would be allowed under hamlet office and what is allowed under highway business. And then he showed what could be allowed under the special exceptions category. Under highway business, he said the town would be walking away from things like taxicab services and mobile home dealers. Allowed under hamlet office are things like, physicians’ offices, dentists, and professional organizations.

After a few other speakers, representing their arguments for or against the study, councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst read a statement by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., saying he would like to support the gateway study.

The meeting was adjourned and will be revisited at a meeting November 25. 

Human Services will take a hit in Southampton for 2009

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The Southampton Town board started their Tuesday night board meeting by giving what supervisor Linda Kabot described as “belated awards” to honor three local citizens for their work in transportation improvement.

The awards were given to Rich Warren, Ann LaWall and Buzz Schwenk in honor of their hard work along County Road 39 in Southampton. In the same evening, the town board discussed their 2009 tentative budget, and how they will deal with what Kabot has called, “a year where many will be under tremendous financial constraints.”

Last Friday a public hearing was held for the $82 million preliminary budget proposed by Kabot. The tentative budget proposes a five-percent increase in tax levies for Southampton town and using “rainy day” funds to relieve this tax increase. Kabot praised fellow board members for using a “big red marker” and for “sharpening their pencils” to create cuts to possibly give the town greater tax relief. But members of the community came to the hearing to talk about cuts to certain human service departments.

Doctor Larry Weiss, Vice President for Programs at Family Service League, spoke about his concern for cuts to the human service departments within the town. He first thanked the board for their help in providing funding, particularly for the youth within the town in need of family counseling. He explained that the funding his organization has received in the past was upwards of $100,000 a year for mental health, and this funding provided for a very successful program for the children in the community.

“As I understand, it is not included in the 2009 proposed budget, and I urge you to consider the impact on the emotional well-being of children and their families, and the mental services they need,” Weiss said on Friday.

Christopher Halucha, also from the Family Service League, spoke about the importance of funding social services.

“The statistics show that 1 out of 10 children have a serious mental illness,” he said. “And only 30 percent of those children in the country graduate with a high school diploma. If you look at the statistics for Southampton, they are pretty comparable – they don’t go outside the norm.”

Halucha added that his organization provides the youth of the community the mental health services it needs.

“There is an extremely long waiting list,” he said.

Halucha also relayed an experience that he had earlier this year. He told the board that his car was stolen and when he reported it, six police cars responded. He then explained that the unknown person who stole the car, if caught, would then have to use the police and judicial systems. But, Halucha argues, if youth are offered counseling, they may not resort to crime in the first place. Ultimately, he said, it is costing the town more money to take funding away from these services.

At Tuesday night’s town board meeting, Elizabeth Yennie from The Retreat, a non-profit organization that helps women and children escape domestically violent situations, explained that a cut in funding of $2,000 from the town, even though it is not much, makes a huge difference to her organization. She said a few years ago The Retreat was at 80 percent capacity, but this year, they are at 100 percent capacity.

“A cut of $2,000 is a lot of money — it’s four months of someone getting counseling,” she said. 

Kabot said there are no straight line cuts. She said the cuts are coming from an annual grant program that allows $100,000 for health and human service agencies. Kabot said that in the last two years, the town was even able to increase this amount to $150,000. She also said that there are two things that increase during a financially stressful time: public safety needs due to stresses and the need for social services and the prevention of violence in families.

Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who is the human service liaison for the town board, said that the program is a vital service to the community.

“We are working with the community service department,” said Throne-Holst. “And I know how hard it is considering how broke our health care is.”

But she assured Yennie, “I will fight for this.”

Kabot said that the 2009 budget includes cuts to certain contracts and programs where the board has proposed to cut back some funding.

“For recipients for these services for families, that relationship has been a worthwhile pursuit and tough decisions have to be made,” she said. 

At Friday’s hearing, Kabot said that the number of employees at town hall seems to be increasing by about 15 people per year, and she along with other board members will be looking at freezing vacancies for 2009. Kabot also commended department heads for offering cuts and volunteering to cut back additional expenses.


Modest Increases in Face of Shortfalls in Southampton

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“If I sound tired, it’s because I am tired,” Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot said on Monday. Last week Kabot was practically pulling all-nighters going over budget items and changing the previous language to a more legible version along with the town’s deputy supervisor, Richard Blowes, and town comptroller, Steve Brautigam.
Early Monday morning the Southampton Town Board gathered to review the tentative budget. The proposed 2009 budget will total over $80 million, up from last year’s of $76.7 million budget.
As part of her 10-page budget message, Kabot explained that, “The total amount of surplus being applied to reduce tax levies is over $4.5 million, which includes $2.25 million from the ‘rainy day fund’ (restricted general fund) as a ‘bail-out’ for waste management for 2009, and to cushion the impacts of increased police and highway taxes.”
During Monday’s meeting Kabot presented the budget to fellow board members who will have until November 20 to review and make a decision on whether to adopt this tentative 2009 budget. Kabot explained how the town’s $4.5 million deficit in the police department, and the $2 million in waste management from 2007 have to be included in the 2009 budget by law.
“Southampton Town is now in a negative financial situation,” Kabot said. “Property taxes must be increased to not only cover current operating expenses and prior deficits, but also ensure adequate reserves are on hand to maintain the town’s high bond rating for the Capital Program.”
Recently the bond rating for the town from Standard & Poor’s was raised from an AA+ to AAA.
In the police fund and highway fund, Kabot has proposed a five-year deficit reduction plan. For the next three years, the budget will pay $750,000 to the police deficit and in 2012 and 2013 $800,000 will be applied to the deficit to give it a zero balance by 2013. For the highway fund’s roughly $750,000 deficit, the tentative budget suggests $150,000 for the next two years, and $250,000 for the three years following to pay it off in its entirety by 2013.
Kabot also explained that last year, the tax rate was set at $1.25 per thousand and it was the same as 2006 because there was a freeze in the town. For 2009, she proposed a mandate of $1.32 per thousand for taxpayers.
“For a home that costs, $500,000 that person will pay an increase of $31.45 for the year,” Kabot said.
This is the total possible increase that the town can apply to the tax rate, which by law may not increase more than five percent from the previous year.
According to Kabot, half of the mortgage taxes collected in the town are usually included in the budget.
“We budget for it, we rely on this, it keeps the property taxes down,” she said adding that due to the decline in building and construction activity, “This is not as fat as it used to be.”
Kabot says that the mortgage tax receipts will be dedicated for payment of debt service and the Capital Program, rather than operating as a subsidy to the general fund, as it has been in the past.
Last year mortgage tax receipts were just over $12.5 million and the tentative budget outlines the first half of this year is only $4.2 million. The Community Preservation Fund is also down from last year —an estimated $32 million is expected for 2008, down from $55 million collected in 2007.
Councilwoman Nancy Graboski said after the meeting that with the five percent property tax cap, it becomes very difficult to produce a clear and concise budget.
“It’s tough all over, with this economy,” Graboski said, “We’ve all had to sharpen our pencils and tighten our belts.”
“This gives us a very clear picture, we have all the numbers, and it’s accurate,” she continued, “We have serious deficits and we have to address all these concerns.”
Graboski, also said this is the first time the town has ever had this type of analysis.
“I can’t wait to go home and read it,” she noted.
The Southampton Town Board will had two more meetings this week on financial issues, and will vote today on whether to hold a public hearing for Friday, October, 24.

Tweak Energy Code

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In late July the town of Southampton adopted some of the strictest energy standards in both New York State and the country concerning construction of new buildings and swimming pools. However the adoption of the code carried a caveat that certain aspects still needed some “tweaking.”
At the heart of the law is the requirement that any new or substantially reconstructed dwelling reach certain Home Energy Rating Scores (HERS) based on the size of the buildings — the larger the building the higher the rating. The law also requires all new swimming pools to be heated primarily by solar electricity.
After meetings with various representatives from the business community, the town’s green committee has agreed to a number of changes in the law and a resolution sponsored by councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst established a public hearing on September 9 to consider them. Among the changes are a definition of a solar heating system, the ability for owners of swimming pools on small lots to be granted exceptions from the solar heating requirement, giving the town’s chief building inspector Michael Benincasa sole authority to decide who gets such an exception and allowing a waiver from the law for historic structures.
Another public hearing will also be held on the same date to discuss whether or not to extend the effective date of the code from October 1 to January 1, 2009. Councilwoman Nancy Graboski sponsored that resolution and when the code was originally adopted spoke out against the October 1 effective date.
We’re supporting two slightly different resolutions,” said Throne-Holst. “They’re similar in gist and the only difference is the implementation dates. [Graboski] would like to see the implementation date moved from October 1 to January 1 for all of the requirements.”
Throne-Holst’s resolution makes one exception in terms of the effective date and that has to do with builders obtaining the HERS rating. Due to the small number of HERS raters on the East End, Throne-Holst’s resolution allows a builder to hold off on obtaining the rating until the first of the year.
“That was something we did in response to both the architects and building community who were asking for a little bit of respite,” she said.
As for Graboski’s resolution, Throne-Holst said moving the implementation date to January 1 for all aspects of the law would be a bad idea on a number of levels. She said Benincasa has already told her he’s seeing a spike in applicants attempting to sneak in before the code goes into effect.
“Our concern, which has been the history here when new codes [are adopted], is that [builders and developers] scramble to get in under the radar,” said Throne-Holst.
She said if the date is extended to January 1, there’s a distinct possibility a number of large homes will be able to sneak in and forego the energy saving requirements. And it’s the large homes, according to Throne-Holst, that the town is most worried about.
She also mentioned the possibility that if the date is extended, the law would be susceptible to people seeking to “water it down” so much so it could lose its original intent.
“If this does extend to January 1, we keep ourselves open to all attempts to water this down,” she said. “In the end we could see a very good piece of legislation, that the board voted four to one to support, get watered down to where it no longer [serves its intended purpose].”
She said she understood there would always be resistance to change, but that “the intent of the law is very good” and benefits the entire community. She pointed out that the law comes on the heels of the town’s yearlong battle with the Long Island Power Authority over their new transmission line, in addition to the rising energy prices and global warming. She also pointed out that Southampton, while their law is by far the strictest, is not the first town to institute green building standards. There are eight other towns on Long Island with similar laws.

Photo: Supervisor Linda Kabot and councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst