Tag Archive | "southampton town board"

Seniors Protest Budget Cuts

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web recession seniors

By 11:30 a.m. on a weekday morning, the Bridgehampton Senior Center is a beehive of activity. The cooks are in the kitchen preparing lunch. With the help of a few octogenarians, the entrees and sides are dished out and steaming plates of food are lined up on a pushcart. Stella Sawicki, a Bridgehampton senior, wheels the cart through a swinging door into the cafeteria as over a dozen retirees wait for their mid-day meal. Madelaine Doran, the 82-year-old president of the center, stands at the front of the room with a microphone, leading the group in the national anthem while others work on Thanksgiving decorations at a nearby table.

Above: A senior helps serve lunch at the Bridgehampton Senior Center.

For many seniors in Sag Harbor and the surrounding community, the Bridgehampton center is an important part of their day. Southampton Town provides the lunch served at the center and maintains the building. The town, however, is proposing to lay off two positions in the senior services department next year and wishes to increase the price of the daily meal, much to the dismay of several elderly residents.

“I heard the price of lunch is going from $2.50 to $3. If I wanted a $3 lunch I could go to McDonalds,” remarked Doran who added that several seniors rely on the food provided by the town. During a later interview, town supervisor Linda Kabot noted that the fee is simply a suggested donation and isn’t a mandatory charge. However, the town is budgeting their 2010 lunch revenues based on the assumption they will receive $3 for every meal.

Over the summer, a chef was out for three weeks on medical leave. During this time, the Bridgehampton seniors were bused to the Hampton Bays center for lunch.

Kabot stated at a previous town board meeting that because of the town wide hiring freeze, the town can no longer provide backup staff for the senior center kitchen.

“What would happen if a hospital closed because they had no back-up crew?” asked Doran.

The town is proposing to cut a community service aide and a food server position within the town wide senior program next year to help defray some of the costs of running the program. During a later interview, Kabot said with the help of human services director Bill Jones, she pinpointed these positions because they would have a lesser impact on the delivery of services.

The community service aide, noted Kabot, works more as an office assistant to director of senior services Pamela Giacoia and the food server mainly prepares and serves the meals. These duties, said Kabot, could perhaps be handled by other employees within the department. She added that these two employees were close to retirement age and will most likely agree to a retirement incentive package. The town is offering to pay $500 per year of service to these employees as a way to encourage early retirement and save positions for those at the beginning or in the middle of their careers.

“The elimination of these two positions would impact service delivery,” claimed Giacoia. But as the budget is still being vetted and tweaked by the town board, she wouldn’t go into further detail. The board must file a final budget by Friday, November 20.

By removing the community service aide position, the town will save roughly $52,000 next year. The overall expenditure of the senior citizens program was reduced by around $17,000. The elimination of the food server position could also save the town close to $42,000 in 2010. The total cost of running the Southampton Town nutrition program was reduced by close to $104,000.

Despite these cuts, many area seniors still rely heavily on the centers, not only for the meals they provide, but the companionship as well.

“The center is a very nice place to come,” says Doran. “You make friends and it helps to relieve some tension.”

Cablevision Fees to Increase

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In 2010, Southampton Town residents will notice a slight increase in their Cablevision bills. The Southampton Town Board passed a law on Friday, November 13, raising the Cablevision franchise fees from 4 to 5 percent. These fees are tacked onto Cablevision customers’ monthly bills.

Due to the increase, residents subscribing to basic service will pay an additional 17 cents per month or roughly $2 annually. Customers with the family plan will pay 52 cents per month, or $6.24 per year. IO Silver subscribers should expect an increase of 76 cents per month, or a yearly increase of $9.12. Lastly, clients enrolling in the premium service, IO Gold, will pay a 91 cent raise in monthly fees, or $10.92 for the year.

Councilwoman Nancy Graboski said the town will receive $250,000 in additional revenue from this measure. Although supervisor Linda Kabot was absent on Friday, she has previously remarked that these revenues could re-instate funding for SEA-TV, youth programs and senior services.

Although councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst will officially take office in January of next year, she presided over the town board work session on Friday as supervisor LindaKabot was on vacation. The heavy rain and lousy weather no doubt kept the public at home. Only town employees, with the exception of incoming councilman Jim Malone, attended Friday’s budget hearing.

The hearings regarding the budget and piercing the five percent tax rate increase cap were adjourned until Friday, November 20. The board must file a final budget by then.

Similarly, a resolution allocating $275,000 in funding for video arraignments was tabled until this Friday’s meeting.

In Midst of Financial Debacle, Town to Adopt New Finance Policies

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In the wake of discovering numerous accounting blunders dating back several years, the current Southampton Town Board hopes to wipe the slate clean for the town by tightening accounting controls and procedures for the future. The town’s present financial predicament stems from two main procedural oversights. Firstly, beginning in 2003, the town doled out a number of interfund loans from the general fund to other funds, like the police, waste management and highway fund, making sure these departments wouldn’t end up in the red at year’s end.

However, at a work session on Tuesday, July 21, comptroller Tamara Wright explained state law dictates an interfund loan cannot be extended for more than a year, meaning the loan must be paid back to the lending fund within a year’s time. In the instance where an interfund loan isn’t repaid within a year, the loan begins to accrue interest. The town’s failure to rectify these interfund loans resulted in several million dollars worth of indebtedness to the general fund.

The second major accounting error on the part of the town was the incomplete transfers from the general fund to the capital fund. A transfer, Wright pointed out at the work session, isn’t a loan and is simply a transference of money from one fund to another. However, beginning in 2004, previous town boards resolved to give a certain amount of money by way of direct appropriations, or direct cash transfers, from the general fund to the capital fund for various capital projects. Several of these transfers, however, were posted to have taken place on the town’s accounting database, but in fact the money wasn’t moved and remained in the general fund.

In order to prevent future town boards from repeating the mistakes of the past, supervisor Linda Kabot presented a draft law directly targeting these kinds of accounting errors.

“It is my belief that interfund loans should be done by town board resolution,” declared Kabot at the work session, detailing the first provision of her proposed law. In 2008, the town first implemented this policy, however, Kabot wishes to make this policy a law on the town books.

“This is an example of administrative policy, but I want to take it from policy to code amendment,” she said.

In addition, the comptroller would need to provide the town board with an annual or semi-annual report on all interfund loans throughout the town, specifying the lending fund and the receiving fund, the original loan amount, and the amount still owed on the loan at the close of the year.

To combat the second accounting problem revealed by the current town board, Kabot seeks to create an annual interfund transfer report. The comptroller would compile the report and distribute it to the town board.

Similar to the interfund loans report, the interfund transfer report indicates “the revenue source district/fund and receiving district/fund and the town board resolution authorizing the transaction.” Interfund transfers will also appear on the town’s annual operating budget and the funding source for each project will be specified.

Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, however, wished to take the tracking of available balances and spending for capital projects one step further.

“I want that level of recording and tracking as the project or funding is allocated and as that project proceeds forward, so the town board can always refer back to that to see where the cash lies,” said Throne-Holst. She would like to see information dispersed to the board on the cash available for the projects, how much has already been spent on them and if the full amount allocated for the project wasn’t used in its entirety.

Kabot suggested the town publish an additional report to include this information and said it would give the town an easy “opportunity to recoup money” that wasn’t spent.

In addition to these measures, under the draft law the comptroller would release a report on the “Authorized, Unissued Bonds.” Currently, the town has approximately $19 million in authorized, but as of yet, unissued bonds.

The draft law is still pending validation from the town attorney and it will also be put through the ringer of public hearings.

“I want to show that the board is moving proactively to manage our financial turmoil,” maintained Kabot. “This will lead to greater town board oversight.”

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.

Noyac Center Off the Table As Town Faces Finances

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For nearly five years, Noyac community members had been petitioning Southampton Town for a community center, and in November 2008, it looked like the hamlet was one step closer to getting their wish. Town supervisor Linda Kabot visited the Noyac Civic Council in late November and told the group the town was receptive to the idea of erecting a new center on a parcel of land adjacent to Trout Pond. The town had even scheduled funding for the project as part of the 2011 budget.

  Only five months have passed since the meeting, but in that time, a host of fiscal blunders in Southampton Town have come to light — leaving the town strapped for cash and unable to complete many of the projects it had hoped to accomplish, including a new Noyac Community Center.

  “There was great discussion on the board about the Noyac Center, about creating a brand new facility, but in these times it certainly doesn’t seem prudent,” deputy supervisor Bill Jones reported during an interview last week. “There is basically no surplus. The plan for capital projects for 2009 has slowed to a trickle unless there is a great need or if there is an issue of public safety.”

  Jones added that this bare bones approach to funding capital projects would likely continue through the next couple of years. Supervisor Kabot said the projects which will take precedence now include roadwork, necessary building improvements and drainage, while other projects like playground and community centers will be put on the back burner until the town’s coffers are healthy and plump once again.

  As 2009 approaches the mid-year mark, it seems the Town of Southampton is experiencing a perfect storm of financial troubles. The town continues to reconcile the hidden I.O.U.s from the capital fund to the general fund from 2004 through 2006, but is also burdened by $19 million in authorized — but unissued — bonds, which must be issued at some point. In order for Southampton to go out to bond, the financial statements of the town must be completely accurate, which is only possible after the town’s financial records are fully reconciled. In addition to these worries, the town is also facing a $2 million revenue shortfall from mortgage taxes and the possibility of decreased property assessments for the next tax year, both of which are due to the ailing economy.

  In town hall, expense cuts have already been implemented across the board. The town has enacted a hiring freeze and is looking closely at part-time positions, said Jones. He added that the town hasn’t ruled out a lag payroll, in which employee wages for certain days work are deferred until employment is terminated. The supervisor has also frozen each department’s contingency fund.

  “Her [Kabot’s] message there is don’t overspend,” explained Jones. “There is no safety net.”

  Of the loss in mortgage tax revenue, Kabot said, “The taxpayer cannot absorb the difference. We must cut the expense side of the balance sheet.”

  In these situations, Kabot added that trimming spending could possibly translate to personnel cuts.

  Financial consultant Tamara Wright, who was recently appointed to the position of town comptroller, noted that decreases in revenue streams is a problem municipalities across the nation are grappling with, but unlike other municipalities Southampton Town must issue $19 million worth of authorized but unissued bonds. Both Kabot and Jones, however, noted that the town can ill afford to issue these bonds all at once. Jones said if the town issued all of the bonds and increased the tax rate up to the 5 percent tax rate cap, almost 4.4 percent of the tax increase would be set aside to pay off these bonds. Furthermore, the remaining .6 percent wouldn’t cover the expenses associated with running town hall or the town.

  “If we were to borrow all of that money in September 2009, it is like a mortgage. At some point in 2010 we would have to pay the principal on it,” explained Jones. “No way and no how would that 4.4 percent solve the problem because the town still has to continue operating into the next year.”

  Kabot remarked that it was the town’s duty to issue these bonds, which had been signed off on by previous town board administrations, and said the taxpayers will most likely have to pay back this debt over the next 30 years.

  For now, the town is focusing its efforts on reconciling the I.O.U.s from the capital fund to the tune of $10 million, of which $8.7 million is owed to the general fund.

  “We are looking at the transactions to see what was spent and then we have to analyze what was supposed to be spent in terms of budgets and authorized spending,” said Wright, who added that she has poured over thousands of resolutions for the 175 accounts, dating back to 2002, which need to be reconciled down to every penny spent. Kabot predicts the town will have a full analysis of the actual spending by Monday, June 1.

  According to Jones, the town will have certified financial reports for the audit of the 2008 budget by August. Jones expects the New York State Comptroller to come in at the end of the summer, or early fall, to conduct a risk analysis, which he predicts will prompt a full blown state audit of the town.

  In terms of the capital fund debacle, it is still unclear exactly where the fault lies, though former comptroller Charlene Kagel admitted she knew of the problem in 2007.

  Of any future legal actions, Kabot said, “It would be premature to assign culpability [right now.]”

Sprucing Up Hamlets with Outdoor Dining

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The photos pinned to the wall of the Southampton Town Board meeting room on Tuesday evening showed pleasing and inviting scenes of the Southampton Village streetscape. Each of the five pictures highlighted a different village restaurant’s bustling outdoor dining area, where patrons noshed on meals while basking in the sun as pedestrians walked by.

These photographs weren’t snapped by a professional photographer hired by the restaurants, but were in fact taken by town councilwoman Nancy Graboski who, along with councilman Christ Nuzzi, has spearheaded a campaign to allow outdoor dining throughout the town. Graboski presented the photos, which she took over Memorial Day Weekend, at a Southampton Town Board meeting to show the board the acclimating quality of outdoor seating.

Employing the help of deputy town attorney Kathleen Murray, Nuzzi and Graboski drafted legislation to allow outdoor sidewalk dining. The draft law was modeled after similar legislation found in Southampton Village.

“This is a law to create a license so that restaurants can put a few tables on the sidewalk,” explained Graboski. “It is consistent with the resort nature of our town. This will help keep our hamlets viable in this difficult economy. One major goal of the 1999 comprehensive plan was to be sensitive to the viability of our hamlet centers and this will help us do that.”

According to Graboski, the new law will apply to the Southampton Town hamlet’s of Bridgehampton, Hampton Bays, Water Mill and East Quogue and will help promote economic sustainability for food establishments. Graboski said a local restaurateur told her that having seating areas situated outside his restaurant in the winter months increased his business by 10 percent.

The outdoor dining legislation comes with a few standards, which Murray enumerated at the meeting. Firstly, the law only applies to restaurants with a primary enclosed business, and excludes take-out operations, drive-thrus and drive-ins, bars and nightclubs. The outdoor seating must be located in front of the restaurant’s indoor operation. There must be at least 10 feet of space between the restaurant’s exterior wall and the curb of the sidewalk. The restaurant will leave six feet clear to accommodate pedestrian traffic and safety. For example, if there is 12 feet of space between a restaurant and the sidewalk curb, the dining establishment may use six feet of sidewalk width for outdoor dining. Restaurants are allowed to install retractable awnings over the outdoor seating, but umbrellas are expressly forbidden.

To maintain the same occupancy limits for the restaurant, the town stipulates that indoor seating must be reduced to correspond with the additional outdoor seating, and the outdoor seating may not exceed 20 percent of the total indoor seating capacity. Licenses issued to restaurants by the town would only be valid for the season — May 1 through November 1, and allow dining from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“This is a good business initiative,” said Nuzzi of the legislation, which was unanimously passed by the town board. “It will assist the business community and hopefully expanding dining opportunities will additionally flow out into the retail establishments.

East End Digest: February 26, 2009

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Bridgehampton
Citarella to Open

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

Sag Harbor
Library Moves on Building Plans

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

Southampton Town
Interviews for Board Candidates

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

New York State Assembly
No to Cap

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

Suffolk County
Veterans

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

Your LIPA Surcharge is Coming

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Bob Schepps talks about LIPA surcharge at southampton town board meeting

After months of consideration, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) decided last Thursday that it will charge many Southampton Town residents and businesses a usage-based fee to pay the roughly $10 million cost for the burial of high voltage power lines that the utility installed this summer between Southampton and Bridgehampton.

The decision came after a LIPA board meeting last week where 11 board members voted in favor of the usage-based fee and 1 voted in opposition.

The visual benefit assessment (VBA) surcharge will appear on LIPA bills for Southampton Town residents east of the canal, excluding the areas of Tuckahoe, Shinnecock Hills and Shinnecock Indian Reservation beginning in April 2009. LIPA representative Ed Dumas said on Tuesday that his organization is still finalizing the costs and working towards a better fee for the customers who will have to pay. It is estimated that residents who use 12,386 kilowatts a year, for example, will pay an additional $30-40 a year, while businesses using 36,903 kwh will pay an extra $120 a year for 20 years.

The decision of whether to adopt a usage-based fee or a flat fee had been at the center of controversy in the town of Southampton because some residents and business owners feel they will unfairly carry the burden of a usage-based fee.

Bob Schepps, president on the board of the Southampton Chamber of Commerce, said although he was in favor of burying the lines, he strongly opposes the usage-based surcharge.

“Last week’s vote – in the final hour — was not unanimous, it is economically unfair in my view and there are business that will be charged much more with this VBA surcharge,” Schepps said. “It unfairly impacts local people. I live in the village and my neighbor uses their house three weeks a year – same house, same property value – and I will be paying more. I will be penalized for living here year round,” he said on Monday.

The Town of Southampton passed a resolution earlier this year where the town settled in court to accept the surcharge as LIPA proposed. Community members began to speak up against the VBA surcharge, and a meeting was held in Hauppauge in mid-September to consider the option of a flat fee, where LIPA board members were able to hear the community concerns about the surcharges.

According to Schepps, the town assumed the liability of any lawsuits dealing with the surcharge, he said, “The chamber [Southampton Chamber of Commerce] got a letter from a retired lawyer that seriously questioned the legality to hold LIPA harmless in the collection of the surcharge because there is no precedent for this – it is very challengeable in court, people will get their bills and realize what they haven’t paid attention to – and say ‘what am I paying?’”

Schepps believes there will be a major revelation in April.

Schepps also spoke at Tuesday night’s town board meeting regarding the town budget. He asked the board, “How much have you budgeted for your VBA? How much did you budget and how much have you set aside to pay the VBA and for legal fees related to the VBA?”

The town attorney said that the information is internal and confidential.

Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot’s office also released a statement this week that said, “With these conditions, should a court invalidate the VBA, the town could assign the obligations to property taxpayers within a special taxing district. However, establishing it requires state approval and a separate hearing process during 2009.”

“Our leap of faith is a little shorter since LIPA has held up its end of the deal,” Kabot said. “Now we’re counting on the state to introduce and approve legislation allowing us to set up a special taxing district to ensure coverage of the required indemnification on collections.”

“Essentially our board ratified what had been negotiated as part of a court ordered settlement on the town,” Dumas said, “The combination was unprecedented – it represents the best possible compromise on part of the parties.”

Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst said, “I’m glad they made the decision, but I am even more glad that they are expecting to see a rate lower than what was originally talked about.”

 She also said that she does, however, have a high level of discomfort for what this is going to mean for the town’s ratepayers, and those not affected by the burial of the lines. “All in all, this is probably the best solution, it was a lose-lose situation; but the lower users will pay a lower rate.”

“I’m thrilled to death that we buried these lines, but the situation has put an undue pressure on an economy that’s already under pressure,” Schepps said, “And pile on another economic burden on the businesses of these communities.”

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. 

Two for Council Seat

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While the Southampton Town Board is considering making more changes to the stringent green energy legislation they adopted in July, Republican councilperson Dan Russo is campaigning in a special election this fall to keep his seat against Democratic nominee, Sally Pope.

This was Russo’s first year as a councilman on the town board, and this will be Pope’s first run at a political position.

Earlier this year, Russo was appointed to the board to fill a vacancy left by Linda Kabot when she was elected as the town’s supervisor. Members of the board interviewed candidates from all parties before settling on an applicant. Russo says his appointment went across party lines because he even received a vote from the Democratic party’s endorsed candidate, Anna Throne-Holst.

“At the time it was really not a concern to me what they wanted to do; an appointment or wait for a special election,” says Russo. 

The board chose to appoint Russo to the position in a 3-1 vote. Nancy Grabowski did not vote for Russo because she believed the board should wait for a special election. Throne-Holst says if they waited for a special election for six months or longer it would be problematic in that there could be numerous four way ties on votes and that each board member already had a slew of legislation assignments. Without a person in that seat, the workload for each trustee would have increased significantly.

Russo says the appointment has given him a few months to tackle things that he wanted to as well as the opportunity to show voters what he is capable of doing. But he says, “As confident as I am I don’t take anything for granted.”

Pope says her biggest concern is the financial situation of the town. She says she can see “that there is a large deficit with the majority falling into two categories; the Police Department and Waste Management.”

“We have only hit the tip of the iceberg [within the town’s financial situation],” she says.

Pope was nominated by the Democratic Party and is endorsed by the Independence Party, Working Families and Integrity Parties. She has never run for a political position but says her past experience has prepared her for this opportunity.

Pope began her career as a corporate attorney on Wall Street and then moved into her own private practice. She taught mediation for the New York City Bar Association and in corporate settings and law schools. She says she believes her work in mediation has helped her understand people on a local level.

Pope has lived in Remsenburg for 25 years and commuted into New York City where she worked closely with the community groups and police officers to help improve community relations.

Pope believes that board reform is also very important to her.

“I hope to reform the various boards within the town,” Pope said on Wednesday, “like the planning board and the zoning board of appeals that make critical decisions and are caving into major developers,” Pope says her campaign plans will include meeting as many people as she can.

“I hope to understand the concerns of the citizens of my town.”

Russo lives in East Quogue and is a partner in a private practice law firm there. His family has also been residents of the Town of Southampton for 25 years. His work practice includes experience in the Major Crime Bureau of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office handling cases from arrest to trial. He is also a former U.S. Naval Reserve member.

Russo says he has spent a lot of time working on affordable housing for young families and says that voters will see some changes before the November elections.

“The major issues are the same as this past year,” says Russo. He believes that code enforcement was specifically important over the summer months while they were tackling the summer share houses. “It became a quality of life issue, and there are still a number of places that are overcrowded,” says Russo. “Being responsive to the community is important also, and we have made great strides here but we have more work to do.”