President of the Noyac Civic Council Elena Loreta, left, and New York State Senator Ken LaValle in a meeting on Tuesday, July 8. Photo by Mara Certic
By Mara Certic
New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. were special guests at the monthly meeting of the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday, July 8, where they spoke to their East End constituents about local concerns.
“I have a slogan,” began the senator, who arrived wearing his trademark baseball cap. “First district first,” he said. “If you look at the legislation that Fred and I have introduced, easily 50 percent of it deals with local issues and local problems.”
Both the senator and the assemblyman said they were pleased to see so many other elected officials at the Old Noyac Schoolhouse that night; Southampton Town Board members Bridget Fleming, Christine Scalera and Brad Bender were present, as well as newly elected North Haven Village Trustee Thomas J. Schiavoni.
“We spend a lot of time talking to people and listening to people,” the senator said as he mentioned one of his mother’s favorite sayings: God gave you two ears and one mouth and he did that for a reason: so listen!”
Senator LaValle and Assemblyman Thiele answered questions about topics ranging from gas prices to speed cameras, but most of the meeting was spent discussing taxes, education and water quality.
“One of the things I felt is that taxes are too high, property taxes in particular,” said Senator LaValle. “So we passed a multi-year plan,” he said in reference to the state-mandated two-percent tax levy cap that went into effect three years ago.
“You’re all familiar with the property tax cap and quite frankly it’s not perfect,” Assemblyman Thiele said. “But I think it’s worked very well.”
The tax cap was coupled with a tax freeze for the next two years, he explained, and residents of Sag Harbor will receive a tax rebate check this year. In future years, he explained, a tax credit will be given to those who live in a school district that does not pierce the tax cap.
Next year not only will the town, the school district and the county all have to meet the cap, but they will also have to submit a government efficiency plan to reduce the tax levy by 1 percent over the following two years. These plans will have to be approved by the state, the assemblyman said.
“Southampton and Tuckahoe are exploring the idea of consolidation,” he said of the neighboring school districts. “That might qualify for a government efficiency plan.”
“All of us agree that our schools should seek to have higher standards, we have to compete in a global economy now,” he said. That being said, Mr. Thiele quoted a colleague of his in the Assembly who said that “the Titanic had a better roll-out than Common Core.”
Mr. Thiele went on to say that he believed that the implementation of the Common Core this year was “a failure.”
“It was implemented from an ivory tower in a top-down fashion that didn’t take into account parents or teachers,” he said, adding that it should have been put in place “from the ground up.”
“The last thing that both Fred and I were very, very busy with,” Mr. LaValle said, “is the protection of our groundwater and surface water.”
The two men have spent the past year working on legislation called the “Long Island Water Quality Control Act.”
“In spite of all our best efforts we’re still seeing a decline in water quality,” said the assemblyman, who is in part responsible for the creation of the Peconic Estuary Program.
Previous legislation, he said, had focused on regulations for “future land use” when town land was split evenly in three: vacant, occupied and protected.
Today, he said, less than 10 percent of the land in Southampton and East Hampton is unspoken for. “If we’re going to change the issue, we need to change how we treat existing land uses. That’s how we’re going to make a difference and that’s what this legislation seeks to do.”
The two men lauded Southampton Town for the leadership role it has taken regarding research into new technology and alternative septic systems. The two state officials had a meeting organized for the following day at Stony Brook University about creating such new technology.
“We all want to see clean drinking water, but if you tell people they’re going to have to pay $25,000 to $30,000, people can’t afford that expenditure. The technology has to be evolved,” Mr. Thiele said. “Clean water is not just an issue on Long Island, it’s an issue globally.” He said he hopes that Suffolk County can become an incubator for water-quality technology, which would also create high-paying jobs, he said.
Mr. Thiele heard from the DEC, he said, that Governor Cuomo plans to release his own report on water quality in the next two to three weeks. “When he wants to do something, he’s going to take center stage. Nobody preempts the governor.”
Mr. Thiele encouraged Noyackers to write to the DEC about wells that monitor water quality near sand mines, such as Sand Land off Millstone Road in Noyac. In light of a recent ruling that instilled home-rule powers in upstate New York over hydrofracking, Mr. Thiele suggested that local officials might have an existing authority to mandate the monitoring by local law.
The Noyac Civic Council meets next on Tuesday, August 12, at the Bridgehampton Nutrition Center when Congressman Tim Bishop will attend to answer questions about the Federal Aviation Administration. Elena Loreto, president of the council, reminded residents to report disruptive aircraft noise and to send letters to the FAA in the next week to ensure that helicopters continue to follow the North Shore over-the-water route. Senator LaValle and Assemblyman Thiele said that they, too, would contact the FAA.
“We wrote to them before and we’ll be happy to do it again,” said Mr. Thiele. “We have supported this for quite a while.”