Tag Archive | "linda kabot"

Public Dissent on Dark Skies

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When the “Dark Skies” legislation was first proposed by Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, it appeared to be praised by members of the public. Local citizen advisory groups, including the Sag Harbor CAC, had long asked the town for laws impeding light pollution to be put on the books.
Oddly enough, at the first public hearing held on Tuesday, the “Dark Skies” law was met with both outrage and congratulations from local residents.
Richard Warren, the village’s planning consultant, spoke against the draft law on behalf of the Southampton Business Alliance.
“This will incur significant costs for [residents] personally. I know from my own experience an electrician can cost $250 just to come to your house,” said Warren, who is the president of the alliance. He added that the legislation should apply to only new construction or a homeowner building a new addition. Warren believes the town should create incentives for people with pre-existing outdoor lighting to adopt “Dark Skies” lighting. In the current version of the law, all pre-existing outdoor lighting must be brought into compliance within 10 years of the legislation becoming effective.
Some supporters of the law, including a representative from the Group for the East End, suggested town residents be given only five years to become compliant.
Bob Schepps, president of the Southampton Chamber of Commerce, said the legislation would essentially over regulate town residents.
Assistant town attorney Joe Burke said the intent of the law was to reduce light pollution, to cut down on electricity waste and to prevent the glare or “sky glow” which can infringe on the night sky vista.
“We don’t regulate lighting at all right now,” reported supervisor Linda Kabot. “What Nancy is trying to do is put a comprehensive lighting code on the books.”
Graboski adjourned the hearing and carried it over to the June 23 town board meeting at 6 p.m.

Young Vets Get Benefits of Affordable Housing
In a previous Southampton Town board meeting, the resolution giving military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan first priority on certain affordable housing properties received criticism from the public. Some said it was unfair to single out one particular group of veterans to benefit from the program, though councilman Christopher Nuzzi, who sponsored the legislation, said all income-eligible veterans are included in the general lottery. During Tuesday’s board meeting, however, town residents came out in support of the legislation.
“This law was inspired by several non-profit housing organizations looking to do something good for returning veterans. These young people who go off to war often have to delay a career,” said former town supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney, the current county economic development and workforce housing commissioner. Heaney added that the law piggybacks a similar one passed by the county.
“This is aimed at first time home buyers,” continued Heaney.
Daniel Stebbins, a 43-year-old veteran, said housing prices in the town are prohibitively expensive for young residents, forcing them to move elsewhere.
“It would be a shame if in 50 years, there were no vets here,” noted Stebbins.
The board passed the legislation becoming the first town within the county to do so.
“It is great to have Southampton be the model. We hope other towns will meld this into their own code,” remarked Kabot.

Town to Buy Pike Farm, Waiting for County
In a partnership with the county, the town plans to buy the development rights to a 7.4 acre farm on Sagg Main Street in Sagaponack, where the Pike Farm Stand operates. The rights will be purchased from the Peconic Land Trust for around $6.4 million. Suffolk County has promised to pay 70 percent of the purchase price.
“This is a community treasure — that is why you see the county stepping up to the plate,” said Kabot, but added that the purchase was contingent on the county partnership.
Mary Wilson, the town’s community preservation fund manager, wasn’t sure if the county’s recent plan to use their main open space funding source to abate county property taxes would affect the purchase of the development rights. During a later interview, county legislator Jay Schneiderman said open space projects are now on hold until the county votes on this legislation, which is expected to be up for a vote in the coming weeks.

Southampton Town to Lease Electric Mini-Coopers

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Southampton Town residents might soon see town employees whizzing down the streets of Southampton in electric Mini Cooper cars. Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who drives a Mini Cooper herself, was first approached by the company, owned by the BMW group, to participate in their “Mini E” pilot program, allowing the town to test the endurance of the electric versions of these characteristically compact vehicles.
During a special board meeting on Friday, June 5, Throne-Holst informed the board that the Mini Cooper company offered the town the use of up to five electric cars for one year. The town in turn would pay a $120 annual lease for each car, but Throne-Holst added that the company would oversee the maintenance for the vehicles. According to the company, the cars travel between 100 to 150 miles on a single charge.
“If we participate as a municipality, we could add some cars to our fleet and [perhaps] take other cars off the road,” said Throne-Holst. “This will help us see how we can move this kind of technology forward.”
“Would [the company] give any consideration to loaning these five cars to cash strapped residents to do the same type of program?” countered Councilman Chris Nuzzi.
Throne-Holst explained that Mini Cooper is targeting municipalities to participate in this program because of the extensive liability insurance held by government bodies. If the town signs onto the project they will follow the lead of several other municipalities, including New York City, which added 10 “Mini E”s to their fleet in January.
“We shouldn’t do this as an advertisement for mini … This will help reduce our costs for this year,” said Throne-Holst, noting the cost savings associated with the project.
“We do have a few cars in our fleet used by various department heads that ought to be replaced. Some have 150,000 plus miles on them,” said Throne-Holst during a later interview. “This way we could put the ‘Mini E’s to use instead and delay the purchasing of new vehicles.”
She added that town comptroller Tamara Wright is going to conduct a cost savings analysis on the project. The town has a signed memorandum of understanding, said Throne-Holst, and she expects the cars will be delivered sometime this month.

Discussion of the Mini Cooper pilot program offered a much needed lighter note to a meeting dominated by discussion against a proposed piece of legislation coming out of Suffolk County. The county is looking to divert funds from the County Drinking Water Protection Program, which is one of the county’s main revenue sources for land preservation said legislator Jay Schneiderman, to use for property tax relief in the coming three years.
“This legislature determines that in assessing the difficult choices that must be made to maintain the county’s fiscal stability, this legislature cannot treat any program as a ‘sacred cow,’” reported the county in a draft of the law.
According to town supervisor Linda Kabot, in 2007 county residents voted to continue using funds from this program for land purchases until 2030.
“This is ill advised and breaking faith with the voters. We stand in opposition,” declared Kabot.
“This program is the main way we purchase land,” reported Schneiderman. “We are one of the most vital areas for preservation in terms of critical habitat.”
The legislation would have a direct impact on the town’s purchasing power. Recently, the board has discussed focusing their CPF monies on debt repayment and the creation of a rainy day fund. Additional land purchases in the town will most likely have to be made in partnership with the county.
“If the county doesn’t have any money to buy land then it can’t partner with the town,” noted Schneiderman, during an interview.

Kabot Wants to Create “Lock Box” For CPF

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In light of Southampton Town’s troubled finances and decreased revenues, supervisor Linda Kabot asked the town board to consider “lock boxing” money for the Community Preservation Fund (CPF). Kabot says the plan would allow the town to continue paying off the CPF’s annual debt without relying on the general fund to cover any shortfalls from decreases in transfer taxes, which is the CPF’s main revenue source.
“You would do this in your own home. If you had a mortgage and you lost your job, you would want a savings account to pay for your obligation,” explained Kabot. “We have a mortgage on the CPF program that is over $100 million.”
Over the past 10 years the town spent around $400 million on land purchases, continued Kabot, but only received $300 million in transfer tax revenue. The remainder of this expense was procured through bonding. This year the town will pay around $9 million towards the principal and interest on these bonds, though next year these payments will increase to roughly $10 million. Kabot said the town should be “judicious” when deciding whether to purchase a piece of property in the future as the town will most likely have to bond for future purchases.
“If we are getting $1 million a month in revenue that is $12 million for the year, minus $10 million which is spoken for for debt services, leaving us with $2 million if we are giving certain school districts and other eligible districts PILOTs [Payment In Lieu of Taxes],” explained Kabot. “If you’re going to be paying for land and you aren’t doing it on a pay as you go basis, you may be borrowing and that will increase your debt services.”
Based on recommendations made by former town comptroller Steve Brautigam, Kabot’s plan, which is in the form of a resolution, calls for the creation of a $1.2 million preliminary cushion fund. This money is already in CPF coffers and was transferred there at the end of 2008, when it was ascertained that the CPF fund paid too much into the town’s debt clearing fund.
CPF manager Mary Wilson said the second part of the resolution would “designate a portion of future monthly revenues” which would go into this rainy day or debt reserve fund. For the next six months of 2009, Brautigam proposed that $250,000 in CPF revenue be segregated for this fund. In 2010, the town would increase the allotted savings to $350,000 per month.
“The goal is to get up to a point where there is at least $11 million in this reserve fund or at least one year’s debt services,” said Wilson.
Current town comptroller Tamara Wright said the town’s projections of receiving around $1 million a month in revenue wasn’t conservative. She added that last month, the town received only slightly over $1 million, but in the prior months, received under $1 million.
“If we were planning conservatively, by my estimation, you would be almost $3 million short of being able to reserve adequately,” said Wright. “If the revenue streams stay where they are, paying for properties out of cash is going to be very difficult for the next 18 to 24 months.”
“The dilemma is that this is an unprecedented opportunity to stockpile open spaces at prices that aren’t going to stay at this level in our lifetime,” observed councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst. “We need to look at the bigger picture. It is estimated that for every $1 of land that is developed rather than preserved $1.30 is needed to provide services for the infrastructure that goes with that.”
Kabot said she hoped the board would come to a consensus vote at the next town board meeting on Tuesday, June 9.

Dems Pick Throne-Holst for Supervisor

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As expected Sag Harbor’s Anna Throne-Holst, presently a Southampton Town councilwoman, was picked by the Democratic Party on Friday, May 29, to run for Southampton Town Supervisor. The nomination sets up a contest which will pit the one-term councilwoman against the head of the town’s Conservative Party, James Malone, who was nominated by the Republican Party last week to run for the top spot. Malone himself is expected to face a primary from incumbent town supervisor, Linda Kabot, who waged a primary challenge herself two years ago over then-incumbent supervisor, Patrick “Skip” Heaney.

A press release, emailed to the press by Throne-Holst last week, said she “would not engage in the messy and negative campaigns of her opponents in the race for Supervisor, incumbent Republican Linda Kabot and the Republican nominee James Malone, the Conservative Party Chairman.”

Of her opponents she said, “The challenger has not demonstrated any capacity to manage town government and the incumbent has demonstrated a complete incapacity to do so.”

She added, “My candidacy is about addressing the issues, fixing what is clearly broken and restoring confidence in town leadership. Rather than joining the bickering, I will use the months ahead to lay out my priorities and improved approaches for better governance,” she said. “I know that we’re all tired of the endless politicking and finger-pointing. Instead we have to focus on the business of building Southampton’s future.”

Throne Holst is joined by fellow town council candidates Sally Pope of Remsenberg, who won a seat last year, and Bridget Fleming, an attorney from Sag Harbor. Pope and Fleming will face incumbent Chris Nuzzi and first-time candidate William Wright.

Kabot acknowledged yesterday that she will fight Malone for the party’s line on the November ballot. As she did in 2007, Kabot is painting herself as a candidate not beholden to party officials.

“I’m going to take this to the people,” she said yesterday. “I believe I’m the people’s supervisor, if not the party’s.”

“Unfortunately the committee apparently disagrees with my type of government,” she said, “which supports transparency and is inclusive.”

Kabot claimed that party leaders engaged in “Boss Tweed-style politics” in their effort to force her off the ballot, and feels that the move is a kind of retribution for the very public way she has recently explored the town’s financial woes, which may reflect badly on fellow-party members.

“I don’t think they like the way I shine the light of day on town finances,” said Kabot. “But shining a light is the best disinfectant.”

In nominating Malone last week, GOP chairman Marcus Stinchi said, “Clearly one of the lead story lines will be the overwhelming decision of the committee to not back the re-election of incumbent supervisor Linda Kabot. I said all along that, in the Republican Party, incumbency is no guarantee and this year was no exception. I think the choice crystallized for most of the committee in the last two weeks.”

Throne-Holst declined to handicap the Republican primary, which is scheduled for September 15.

“She has the incumbency, which is a position of strength,” observed Throne-Holst, “but on the other hand, he offers an option within the party.”

Regardless, she said, whoever wins will not affect the way she runs her campaign.

“My campaign will be entirely issues-oriented,” said Throne-Holst. “And only to work toward Southampton’s future.”

The current financial problem in town is an overriding issue which “trickles down” to affect virtually all aspects of town government, she added.

“We’re going to have to make some difficult decisions; how we bring efficiencies and how we restructure certain departments,” she said.

“Mass layoffs are not a real option,” she cautioned, “but there are some changes that will have to be made.”

Throne-Holst said her hesitation to announce her candidacy — widely believed to be a forgone conclusion — was to give her a chance to “think long and hard about it.”

She also urged the Democratic Party — of which she is not a registered member — to “leave no stone unturned” in searching for a suitable candidate. She said she wouldn’t wage a campaign of her own if, for some reason, Friday’s vote hadn’t gone her way.

She feels her status as a “blank” — unregistered in any political party — is not a handicap.

“I really think party politics are a big source of the problem,” said Throne-Holst. “I mean it when I say I want to represent everyone — and the Democrats are comfortable with that.”

Southampton Town Picks New Comptroller

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Southampton Town Hall will undergo an administrative reshuffling in the Comptroller’s office. During a work session on Friday, May 22, town supervisor Linda Kabot announced by way of a resolution that as of June 1, Tamara Wright will be appointed as the town comptroller. Wright will serve out the remainder of current comptroller Steve Brautigam’s term, which expires in December 2009.

Since July 2008, Wright has worked as a financial consultant to the town. Brautigam will take over the position of Assistant Town Management Services Administrator, working under the authority of Richard Blowes, the town services administrator.

In addition to the new appointments, the duties of comptroller and assistant town administrator will be segregated. As always, the comptroller will oversee the financial reporting and accounting for the town, but the assistant town administrator will be responsible for many of the functions of the town’s capital program. Steve Brautigam will also coordinate between the town and the state comptroller, when the state conducts a risk analysis and audit. The state will likely commence the audit at the end of the summer or early fall, according to deputy supervisor Bill Jones.

“The intent of the re-organization is to provide greater leadership and strategic management for the comptroller’s office in terms of financial reporting and use of technology and staff resources to accomplish critical accounting duties for the town,” said Kabot in a press release distributed by the town last week.

“This reflects what I proposed several weeks ago,” councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst chimed in. “This comes at a time when we need to re-organize our financial oversight in the town.”

The decision appeared unanimous on the board, until councilman Chris Nuzzi raised complaints over Wright and Brautigam’s appointments.

“For months, I have raised numerous questions regarding how our current comptroller is performing in his job … Now it is my understanding that this inability is being rewarded with a $100,000 a year taxpayer-funded job offering … full benefits. This is completely and utterly unacceptable,” said Nuzzi in a statement released on Friday.

“In light of the continuing deliberation on budgetary numbers, capital dollars authorized and spent, authorized and unspent, fund balance amounts and budget reconciliations that have yet to be completed, I am calling for the withdrawal of this resolution,” continued Nuzzi.

According to Nuzzi, the resolution was previously discussed at a meeting attended by only four other board members, excluding himself, the supervisor’s office and the office of general services. He added that the decision of the new appointments was made “under the cloak of darkness” and that it was imprudent to vote on the resolution before a holiday weekend.

In his statement, Nuzzi recommended the town advertise for the comptroller’s position, conduct interviews in June and hold off on creating a new position in the office of general services.

Other members of the board, including Throne-Holst and councilwoman Sally Pope, strongly disagreed with Nuzzi’s statements saying the board had discussed the reorganization of the comptroller’s office for several months.

“We have discussed this issue for far too long without taking action. Yes we could have voted [on this resolution] at a regular board meeting, but we are not adding budget line. We are doing what we should have done a long time ago,” countered Throne-Holst.

“We have multiple audits underway. There is no question that our staff is being pulled away from the day to day operations of the town,” added councilwoman Nancy Graboski. “we need to have financial personnel who are on the inside.”

Kabot informed the audience that the resolution was budget neutral, meaning the town had already budgeted for the salaries of the comptroller and assistant town administrator. Wright will earn $115,000 a year, while Brautigam will earn $100,000. The town will also eliminate the director of audit and control position with a salary of $85,000.

Nuzzi’s comments did little to sway the other board member’s opinions and the resolution was passed.

Southampton Town Faces Four Main Financial Hurdles

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As Southampton Town officials continue to wade through hidden I.O.U.s from the general fund to the capitol fund in the years 2004 through 2006, last week Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot announced that the town would hold off on filing an annual update document with the State Comptroller, as recommended by the town comptroller Steve Brautigam. In a press informational session held by Kabot on Monday, May 18, she said the total authorized unissued debt for the town was around $19 million and added that the town faces four major hurdles in terms of correcting its finances.

Firstly, reported Kabot, since 2003 the town used interfund loans from the general fund to cover other town costs, such as police fund expenses, waste management expenses and highway fund expenses. These loans, she added, kept property tax increases at bay for these town expenses.

According to documentation provided by Kabot, “As of December 31, 2007, approximately $7.5 million in operating deficits were reported by the external auditors for the Police, Highway, and Waste Management Enterprise Funds, as well as various special assessment districts.” Kabot reported the “co-mingling” of funds was the crux of the problem. She added the town plans to enact a five-year deficit reduction plan, which was part of the 2009 adopted budget. The plan will steadily increase property taxes to cover these interfund transfers.

The second dilemma the town must reconcile is the often reported upon “errors, omissions and hidden I.O.U.s in the capital fund,” said Kabot.

“An unreported liability totaling over $8.5 million due from the General Fund to the Capitol Fund was confirmed March 19, 2009, for the years 2004, 2005 and 2006 … this administrative oversight for the years 2004 through 2006 was not conveyed to the town board during 2007 or 2008,” stated Kabot.

She added that it has been reported that the former comptroller Charlene Kagel admitted to knowing of the problem in July 2007.

“Since about six weeks ago, we have had no discussion with Charlene,” said deputy supervisor Bill Jones.

“It appears everyone is lawyering up,” Kabot stated, who added earlier that “the town is looking at all legal options.” Though, it remains unclear if the former comptroller will be subject to any repercussions.

Kabot added that the town “is still digging to get to every penny” of money that was approved to be transferred from the general fund to the capital fund but was never moved.

Town management services administrator Richard Blowes said the town should have certified financial reports by August, which will help ameliorate the third problem facing the town. The town needs to have accurate financial reports in order to authorize unissued bonds to begin paying off the town’s debts. Kabot added that she is insisting upon an external audit to “help review and restate fund balances.”

The town’s fiscal worries are further compounded by significant decreases in mortgage tax revenue. According to Kabot, the town is anticipating a $2 million shortfall for 2009. The town had originally budgeted for $7.5 million in mortgage tax revenue. This will lead to several cost cutting measures at town hall. Purchase orders at or above $1,000 will require Kabot’s signature and all equipment, vehicle and electronic gadget purchases will be suspended.

CAC Wants Voice at Planning Board

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Despite a stagnant economy, commercial and residential development in Southampton appears to continue. Oftentimes, the Southampton Town Planning Board’s agenda is filled with a sizable number of projects varying in size and scope. But recent projects like Trumpets Catering Hall in Eastport, Woodfield Gables in Speonk and Water Mill Station — a 20,000 plus square foot office and retail complex approved by the planning board just this week — has brought to light a problem that Jeremy Samuelson of Group for the East End says has been simmering for years. According to Samuelson, the public can comment on the possible environmental impacts of an application only after the board has already decided whether or not to make the applicant undergo a New York State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR).

“The piece that is missing is public input. It is set-up to exclude the public because a critical decision is being made before the public ever has the chance to testify against the application,” exclaimed Samuelson at a Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Friday, May 15. “That is part of our outrage.”

Southampton councilwoman Sally Pope was in attendance at the meeting. She believes the planning board can be reluctant to go back and alter their decision once they have given a project a negative declaration, meaning the project doesn’t require a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

“I think their concerns are valid,” said planning board chair Dennis Finnerty referring to comments made by Samuelson and members of the Sag Harbor CAC. Finnerty noted, though, there are two types of projects the planning board analyzes: residential subdivisions and commercial site plans. The board holds a pre-application hearing on residential subdivisions, where the public can air any concerns they have with the project. For commercial site plans, however, there isn’t a pre-application hearing and the public comments on the project after the board has made a SEQR determination.

“We are trying to get the town board to amend the code to provide for some sort of public input prior to a SEQR determination,” Finnerty stated. “We are powerless to address this [unless the code is changed.]”

“For the last 10 years [The Group] has tried to change this … but we feel like we have been hitting our head against the wall,” Samuelson stated at the meeting. In reaction to public outcry, Group for the East End has formulated a solution in which the town would create an Environmental Review Committee (ERC).

According to the Group, the seven-member committee would “evaluate the potential environmental impacts of each application and issue a report, recommending a Determination of Significance to the appropriate lead agency” be that the planning board or the zoning board of appeals.

During the assessment process, the ERC would give members of the public three-minutes to speak on any particular project.

But some members of the CAC feel establishing the ERC would add another layer of bureaucracy.

“I could hear the pluses and minuses [of the proposal] at the CAC meeting,” said Pope later. “Why do we need yet another committee to take care of a process of another committee? I am definitely favorable towards the purpose of the proposal, but I think the planning board needs to hear the concerns of the public — not just get another set of recommendations.”

Opening the channels for public comment in the planning board proceedings is just one way CACs hope to establish a stronger foothold in town government. At a recent Bridgehampton CAC meeting, town supervisor Linda Kabot reportedly said she was taking steps to give CACs more access to the planning board.

The Sag Harbor CAC plans to hold Kabot to her word at an upcoming Shinnecock Hills CAC meeting on June 2, which will be attended by CACs and Civic Councils both east and west of the Shinnecock Canal. If their concerns are not met with tangible action in the town, Sag Harbor CAC chairman John Linder said the group hasn’t ruled out staging a protest in front of town hall in the coming months.

Office Space Quandary at Town Hall

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Most residents, or at least those who have been issued a parking or speeding ticket, know the Southampton Town Justice Court is located in the lower level of Town Hall, but in two weeks this department will relocate to a new space in Hampton Bays. As the justice court prepares for the move, the town renovations committee, in conjunction with the town board, is in the midst of deciding what to do with the vacant space.
Town board members floated ideas of housing the town’s army of auditors in the court’s former offices. However, deputy supervisor Bill Jones pointed out that moving a whole department isn’t as simple as packing up boxes.
“There are substantial costs involved to refit the justice court to fit the needs of any individual department,” said Jones.
Town supervisor Linda Kabot remarked that town hall is already “packed to the gills.”
“I believe we should hire an outside firm to do an assessment of our spatial needs,” Jones added, saying outside specialists will direct the town on the best use of the office space.
Last year the committee interviewed architecture firms who specialize in these kinds of assessments, but their services came with price tags ranging from $30,000 to $70,000 for a complete study of the town’s spatial needs. With limited funds available for an extensive renovation, some board members believe it’s an inopportune time to spend money on outside consultants.
“If the economy stays slow for a couple years, we can’t do a big renovation,” said councilwoman Sally Pope, who believes the preliminary assessment work could be done in-house through a questionnaire distributed to each department. Although divided on hiring an outside consultant, the board seemed to endorse Pope’s idea for now and said the town and the committee could start to create questions.
“I think we need a consultant, but at least we are starting the data gathering,” Kabot said.

Town May Open Door for Bigger Role for CACs

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Citizen Advisory Committees (CAC) across Southampton Town have spent the last year working towards a greater voice in government, particularly when it comes to development issues, forming coalitions east and west of the Shinnecock Canal. Now they would like the town board to allow the committees an opportunity to weigh in on issues in front of the planning and zoning boards in work session, rather then be limited to letters or three minutes of time during the public hearing phase of an application.

On Monday, April 27 Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot told the Bridgehampton CAC that she would propose an initiative that would “open the door a little wider” for the CAC when it comes to planning board access on development projects that could have a cumulative impact to a particular area of the town.   

Kabot recognized there is a sentiment from town residents that attorneys and planners for applicants have the upper hand in the planning process, with a greater ability to present their case to the board without the matched ability for the CAC to weigh in on a project in front of the planning board until the public hearing phase of a project is underway.

“You don’t feel the playing field is as level for residents, which the planning board wants to be responsive to, but at the same time there has to be a record established,” said Kabot, noting the town must protect itself from being sued by developers. She added that while people are “griping” about the level of development activity in Southampton, compared to other areas on Long Island, Kabot thinks the town has protected itself from being overdeveloped, primarily through “stringent zoning” and preservation.

Regardless, Kabot said she would like to pass a resolution that allows the chair of a CAC to speak on cumulative impacts in front of the planning board during a work session. While not finalized, Kabot said the board may decide to allow the opportunity every other month and split it between CACs on the east and west sides of the town.

“We have to start being able to be more responsive,” said Kabot. “I heard that outcry in the last several years and I would like to be the vehicle to get it there.”

Bridgehampton CAC co-chair Tony Lambert said he was concerned about the zoning board of appeals, charging the board has an agenda and often the CAC is noticed about issues only after the opportunity to weigh in has passed. Lambert also suggested the town host a public forum with both the planning and zoning boards.

Kabot said her local law would be specific to the planning board, noting the zoning board is a quasi-judicial board and the town attorney’s office has objected to the concept. She was open to the idea of a public forum with both boards.

Committee member Jeffrey Vogel said a specific problem with the zoning board was that the CAC often does not receive its notice until the last minute.

“The notice is so short we have to scramble,” he said.

Chairman Fred Cammann said the planning board has improved on noticing the committee and in access to the planning department, but charges the zoning board was inaccessible.

“The issue is we do need to protect the property owner’s rights, especially when it comes to this board,” said Kabot.

John Halsey countered the committee is not trying to infringe on property owner’s rights, nor are they looking for “secret meetings” with the zoning board, but they would like an opportunity to be heard by the board.

Another idea floated at the meeting was an annual report on development and variances — one that would spell out how many projects were approved town wide and how many variances were granted — a concept Kabot warmed to.

The other topic of the evening was the fiscal health of the town, particularly in light of a national economic downturn and a $5 million shortfall in the town’s capital fund.

“I think the town’s budget transcends politics,” said Kabot. “It is not about Republican or Democrat — it is about doing what is right and doing what is right requires working with the full board.”

Kabot said the capital fund shortfall has made her “lose sleep” at night and her top priority is ensuring the board works towards the adoption of a corrective action plan, which it will send to the state comptroller for review.

“We also have issues with our independent auditors,” she said. “Why did this not show up?”

With steep declines in mortgage tax revenues and the Community Preservation Fund with no cushion, Kabot said the board has needed to cut wherever it can without disrupting services for residents. All vacant positions have been abolished in town hall, as have interns, travel budgets and other discretionary spending in the town, she said.

“We really went to what we thought was a more barebones budget,” said Kabot, adding the board will revisit the budget mid-year so any unanticipated loses in revenue as a result of the economy can be addressed sooner rather than later.

The Bridgehampton CAC will meet again on Monday, May 18 at 7 p.m.

 

Town Tables Cablevision Verdict

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 By Marissa Maier 

 Southampton Town and Cablevision appear to be at an impasse once again over the issue of the availability of local public access TV stations to certain residents. At the town board meeting held on Tuesday, April 28, neither party could agree on how to best accommodate analog customers as the company prepares to transition to “digital only” service.

 After months of back and forth negotiations between the cable provider and the town, Cablevision representative Joan Gilroy said her employer was willing to supply free “cable boxes” to analog households for a 90-day period. The company offered a similar promotion to analog customers in the fall of 2008. Gilroy reported this deal would likely be off the table if the town pursues legal action against Cablevision. Since January, the town has floated the idea of filing a formal complaint with the state public service commission.

 The discord between Cablevision and Southampton began after the company switched the public access channels 20 and 22 from analog to digital on September 15, 2008. Gilroy estimated that of the 24,000 East End subscribers roughly 10 percent still use analog televisions. After the switch, these customers could no longer access the public, educational and government programming found on these channels. In order to get these channels, customers needed a Cablevision converter box or a digital television.

 “Purchasing a digital television is too expensive for [many customers],” Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot wrote to Gilroy on April 8. “Many are elderly; very often their only access to what is happening in local government is through Channel 22.”

 Gilroy reiterated the company’s proposal to offer free converter boxes for a three month period, but town councilwoman Nancy Graboski said this would hardly mitigate the problem. Cablevision would only provide one free box per household, regardless of the number of televisions. If a home had a combination of digital and analog television sets, the residents wouldn’t be eligible for the promotion. Gilroy said Cablevision is exploring offering a second converter box for customers in extenuating circumstances.

 The town previously tabled the issue eight separate times as the board seems divided on the appropriate next step.

 “Are we putting off the inevitable?” asked councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst. “It seems to me this is where technology is moving today … I am concerned that by us stopping the negotiations process at this point [by taking legal action] we are in fact not helping Southampton residents and taking away their opportunity to get a free box.”

 Southampton Town isn’t the only battleground where this issue is being fought. In Dearborn, Michigan a court issued a temporary restraining order against the cable operator Comcast pending a decision from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

 “The FCC is actively reviewing this question — does the cable company have the right to digitize access channels?” said Gilroy.

 Town attorney Dan Adams noted that it is unclear when the FCC will deliver an opinion. The board ultimately decided to table the issue once again and continue negotiations with Cablevision.

 “This has gone on for almost a year … And I am feeling frustrated,” said councilwoman Sally Pope, though she opted to table the issue for the next town board meeting in two weeks. 

May Give Housing Preference to Vets 

A discussion of giving priority to veterans for affordable hosing in the town was one of the lighter notes at the recent board meeting.

 The town has long recognized the need to provide affordable housing for middle and lower-middle income residents. Southampton councilman Chris Nuzzi is hoping to extend the eligible pool of residents for this type of housing to include military veterans.

 The Suffolk County Legislature recently adopted legislation which gives affordable housing preference to military veterans. Southampton Town is following suit and hopes to enact similar code amendments. The town, however, will give preference specifically to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are year round residents. In addition, the veterans must be income-eligible for the program. Those who qualify will be given priority before any open lottery is held for housing. The legislation also authorizes the use of Community Housing Opportunity Funds to make affordable housing properties accessible for disabled veterans. A public hearing on the code amendment is set for Tuesday, May 12.