Tag Archive | "Steve Bellone"

With New County Executive, Long Wharf Debate Continues

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It has been over year and a half since former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy first requested that the Village of Sag Harbor take ownership of Long Wharf. But since that time, little has actually happened toward that goal aside from lengthy debates over the roles the village and county should play in maintaining the wharf.

For Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, the November election of Steve Bellone as the new Suffolk County Executive opens a new round of discussions about the fate of Long Wharf. These are discussions he would like to see resolved sooner rather than later so the village can fiscally prepare if it is to take on an estimated $100,000 in additional annual maintenance costs to sustain the wharf.

“The best fix for the village would be for the county to offer another 10-year lease to the village,” said Mayor Gilbride on Monday. “But they have to at least give me some direction after all this time.”

The village’s lease of Long Wharf with Suffolk County expired last year. While the village continues to insure Long Wharf and take care of its daily maintenance, as it has through the course of its lease, technically it has no rights to Long Wharf.

Over a year ago, county officials offered to sell Long Wharf and the adjacent Windmill Beach to the Village of Sag Harbor for one dollar. The county would not continue to pay for long-term maintenance under the deal, including $340,000 in repairs the county’s department of public works has estimated would be needed in the next five years.

However, the county legislature last summer failed to pass a bill giving ownership of Long Wharf and Windmill Beach to the village and later, in the fall, passed a resolution taking the decision completely out of their hands.

South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman supported the sale to Sag Harbor in the original vote. But in October, the legislature passed a resolution giving Commissioner of the Public Works Gil Anderson the right to sell or give Long Wharf, along with a number of other county roads currently maintained by smaller municipalities, to the towns or villages where the roads are located.

Anderson is now able to pass the ownership on without approval from the Suffolk County Legislature, but is not required to do so. Since then, the village has been waiting for a conclusion.

According to Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider, in order to make a decision that is in the best interest of the county and the village, Bellone has asked Schneiderman to reconvene an advisory committee created by the county to discuss the future of Long Wharf.

“It is a very important asset and we need to make sure we are working together with the community on the future of Long Wharf while also understanding the very real fiscal challenges Suffolk County is facing,” said Schneider on Monday.

“In a broad sense, we are facing a deficit in the county that we inherited that could be as large as nine figures,” he continued. “If there is an ability to take some things off the books and allow for stronger local control, that is something we have to look at. That being said, this is an important asset, it means a lot to the community and has a lot of potential. So we don’t want to do anything rash.”

According to Schneider, Bellone hopes to have the committee reconvened some time in the next month.

“I think we have a county executive in Bellone who is really committed to downtown revitalization and working with towns and villages as a former town supervisor,” said Schneiderman on Monday. “So we have hit a pretty big reset button.”

Schneiderman said he looks forward to the county and village working together on what the future holds for Long Wharf. But Schneiderman added he would like to see the village open to concepts like a pilot program for a 20-person water taxi — an initiative he said could increase revenues on the wharf and also draw more visitors to downtown Sag Harbor.

If the county does agree to another 10 year lease, Schneiderman said he would like to see some revenue funneled to the county, which pays an average of $100,000 in debt service on large capital projects to maintain Long Wharf. Schneiderman added he would like to see the Village of Sag Harbor use the revenue from Long Wharf to pay the maintenance costs in full, but that any additional revenue could be shared between the county and the village.

However, Mayor Gilbride said the village brings in very little revenue over what is needed to provide daily maintenance of Long Wharf.

“We are insuring it, we are maintaining it, we plowed it this past weekend and sanded it,” said Mayor Gilbride. “I want to have a good working relationship with the County Executive and I think it would be a good thing for them to have a presence in Sag Harbor. We send a lot of sales tax revenue to the county that we don’t get back, so I know the village is contributing quite a bit to the county during the summer when things are rocking and rolling.”

Mayor Gilbride said if they county really wants to benefit from revenues from Long Wharf, they can have it, but then they have to police it, maintain it and handle dockage. Otherwise, said Mayor Gilbride, he is open to another lease with the county and even taking ownership of Long Wharf, despite the added fiscal burden the village would have to shoulder.

“It is an important part of Sag Harbor,” said Mayor Gilbride. “That is why I am the first mayor who has said we will take it.”

Bellone Faces Big Challenges

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By Karl Grossman

Now comes the hard part for Steve Bellone: leading a Suffolk County government which has been battered — like governments and families across the nation — by the recession.

He’s to be sworn in as county executive next Friday — on December 30, two days short of the first of the year when he officially takes office. Why the early swearing-in?  January 1 is a Sunday and if the ceremony happened then, the county would have been required to pay double-time-and-a-half to county employees taking part. So to demonstrate from the outset that his administration intends to be frugal, the Friday event was arranged. Frugality, however, will go only so far in aiding the finances of Suffolk government.

The county’s budget is now dependent big-time on sales tax receipts — and they have been hurting ever since the recession began. Once, the property tax was the foundation of Suffolk government’s budget. But after a sales tax was instituted here in 1969, the county shifted — increasingly — to getting its income from the sales tax. It’s less politically sensitive. A jump in the property tax leaves people screaming. That’s the main reason Patrick Halpin two decades ago was a one-term county executive. He pushed for a substantial jump in the county property tax, ended up with the moniker “High Tax Halpin,” and lost his bid for reelection.

It seems the sales tax can be inched up slowly with less public reaction. It now provides for half of the county government’s budget, which in recent years has gone to well over $2 billion. Suffolk is among counties in the state most reliant on the sales tax. Federal and state aid, grants and fees — and property tax — make up the rest. And the property tax provides just a small fraction to the budget. (On a property tax bill, school taxes constitute the major share.)

All Suffolk government received from the general fund property tax last year was $32 million — a drop in the bucket considering a county budget of $2.58 billion (it’s to be $2.74 billion in 2012). Will Mr. Bellone take the political risk and try to hike the county property tax? Further, the property tax would need to skyrocket to make any difference. A three percent hike in that $32 million, for example, would raise just $1 million.

Mr. Bellone will seek to cut expenses. But county government has already been severely cut back. To economize further, it has approved a lay-off of 88 employees next month — and 600 more if necessary in July, causing Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk to question “whether we will be able to deliver mandated state functions” if that happens.

As to an increase in the sales tax, it’s 8.625% now (county, state and MTA combined). That’s plenty high. But it might be claimed that it’s higher elsewhere. Still, state approval is necessary for an increase, and the Republican-controlled State Senate would likely not go along.

Meanwhile, there are some on the Suffolk Legislature who would raid funds dedicated for open space and farmland preservation, a basis for both tourism which brings in billions and an agricultural industry that continues to make Suffolk the top farming county in the state in value of annual produce. If Suffolk is covered by suburban sprawl, kiss these industries goodbye. And there’s a drive to construct sewers with the claim this will boost the economy. Years back, there was the $1 billion Southwest Sewer District fiasco in western Suffolk, and now there’s no longer massive federal support for sewers. What stance will Mr. Bellone take on these schemes?

The dilemma Mr. Bellone faces is outlined in a report on the 2012 county budget by the Budget Review Office of the Suffolk Legislature. It states:  “Suffolk County is not alone in the problems we are experiencing. Governments at all levels, federal, state and local, are experiencing dramatic decreases in revenue…The poor economy is a major contributing factor to declining sales tax and weak property tax collections.” It says “the county has relied for far too long on sales tax” and charges that the “budget does not address the structural imbalance that was created by over-reliance on sales tax.”

“The new county executive will be faced with the significant challenge of operating a county based on a budget that may not be balanced,” it says, concluding:  “Downsizing to core missions is unavoidable in the current climate.”

The economy may get better — and sales tax collections improve. Holiday sales have been strong. Will Santa Claus come to the rescue of Steve Bellone and Suffolk government? And will any sales tax rebound continue?

Looks to be Wins for ATH and Fleming, Scalera Leads Bender By 85 Votes

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By Claire Walla

For the duration of the night of Tuesday, November 8, Independence Party candidate Brad Bender and Republican candidate Christine Preston Scalera were neck-and-neck in the race for Southampton Town Council. And though by the end of the evening Scalera edged Bender out of the number-two spot behind incumbent Bridget Fleming, the race has not officially been called.

Incumbent Bridget Fleming (D.) maintained a steady lead as voting results continued to pour in from districts throughout the town, and she ultimately ended the evening with a predicted 27 percent of all votes cast (excluding absentee ballots). Republican candidate Bill Hughes, on the other hand, remained at the tail end of the competition, trailing Fleming by three percentage points and garnering approximately 24 percent of the votes.

While the gap between Fleming at the top and Hughes at the bottom was arguably close — representing a difference of only 655 votes — the competition between Preston Scalera and Bender was even more intense. The two candidates swapped places in the race on more than one occasion, at one point divided by a scant three votes, or .02 percent.

Though Bender showed an early lead — edging out Preston Scalera by almost three percentage points — Scalera was soon ahead by a nose. But by 10:53 p.m., with 41 of the town’s 42 voting districts accounted for, it looked to be Bender ahead by 68 votes. Finally, at 11 p.m., the competition flipped for he last time.

The unofficial results as of Tuesday night showed Fleming in the lead with 26.97 percent, Preston Scalera in second with 24.72 percent, Bender in third with 24.32 percent, and Hughes rounding off the competition with 23.94 percent of the overall vote.

“This is not over,” said Southampton Democratic Committee Chair Gordon Herr at the Democratic committee gathering, held in the large auditorium of 230 Elm in Southampton Village. “We still have 791 absentee ballots. I’m still convinced Bradley’s going to win.”

In an email response Wednesday night, Preston Scalera wrote that she is “cautiously optimistic” that the results reported Tuesday night will remain.  ”I look forward to the opportunity to be able to serve the residents of this town,” she added. Hughes did not respond to a request for comment on the election results.

But in an interview on Wednesday, Bender said a margin of 85 votes is still too small to make a final call on the race. With 271 absentee ballots yet to be counted, he added that it’s anyone’s game.

“I wouldn’t want to concede or congratulate a victory with 85 votes,” Bender stated. Now it’s just a waiting game, which Bender said he’ll take one day at a time.

“For a virtual unknown to poll within 85 votes on my first time shows how well a race I ran and what the people actually think of me,” he said. “However the people decide is how the people decide.”

Standing on the stage against a patriotic backdrop lined with her running mates, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst (a member of the Independence Party who also was endorsed by the Democrats) offered similar sentiments.

“What you’re looking at here is the new majority of the town board,” she declared to much applause from the audience composed of Democrats. The supervisor continued by saying to her constituents that while watching the election results as they were projected against the wall of the building, “a moment of true emotion came over me.”

“[I thought about] what the last two years have been,” she added, referencing the fact that she has been the supervisor in the political minority on the town board. “And I’m confident that they’re over.”

“We’re only a few votes away,” Bender added from the stage.

Councilwoman Bridget Fleming also said she felt assured Bender would pull ahead and become the newest member of the town board. But she also made sure to congratulate the election of her fellow Democrat Steve Bellone who was voted the new Suffolk County Executive, replacing Steve Levy.

“I’m looking forward to working with him and not being ignored by the county executive’s office anymore,” she declared to the sound of much applause.

By the end of the night, incumbent Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst — the only supervisor candidate officially on the ballot — gained 63.43 percent of the total votes for supervisor, while 36.56 percent of votes were recorded for write-in candidates. Presumably, the vast majority of those write-in ballots went to former Southampton Supervisor Linda Kabot who waged a strong write-in campaign against the current supervisor.

In an email response Wednesday morning, Kabot wrote, “I am proud of all the grass-roots campaign efforts and the percentage points I garnered … without even having my name listed on the official ballot line-up.”

She added, “For me, this race was all about integrity and demonstrating a tireless and true commitment to public service.”

Even though she fetched an impressive 3,602 votes compared to the supervisor’s 6,349, that count was still not enough to tip the scale and oust Throne-Holst from office.

Also celebrating victories Tuesday night were Southampton Town Trustees Fred Havemeyer, Eric Shultz and Bill Pell — all Democrats — who joined Throne-Holst, Fleming and Bender on stage when the unofficial results were revealed. Across town, at the Republican celebration in Hampton Bays, trustees Ed Warner, Jr. and John Semlear cheered on victories of their own.

The three candidates challenging the town’s trustees in this year’s election race — Scott Horowitz, Janet Beck and Edmund Pavlak — were left out of the running when the final votes were tallied.

Finally, a Southampton Town proposition pertaining to PDD (Proposed Development District) legislation passed with 79 percent of voters voting “yes.” The proposition will make it so that a super majority of town board members will be required to approve all non-agrarian PDD applications in the future.

Merchants Air Concerns

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Candidate Steve Bellone pays village a visit.

Several familiar refrains were heard last Friday when Democratic candidate for Suffolk County Executive, Steve Bellone, took a tour of Sag Harbor’s Main Street. Bellone was accompanied by Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Robert Evjen and Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, and was later joined by County Legislator Jay Schneiderman making it a visit to several local businesses to learn about merchant’s concerns.

Chief among them seemed to be getting consumers to the village, and then providing parking for them when they arrive.

“Even in winter parking is an issue,” said Jessica Kenny, owner of Satori. “Customers can’t always find a place close to the business. People aren’t going to walk in the cold to shop.”

Acknowledging the parking problem, Schneiderman suggested the village consider developing a two-tier parking garage on the property that once housed the big blue gas ball.

Bellone added the county has resources that can be made available to small business districts, including grants for downtown development. He conceded that those resources are largely targeted at less robust business districts, but said the village would nevertheless be able to benefit from the program.

During a visit to the Variety Store, where Bellone was greeted by owner Lisa Bucking, Schneiderman announced he had hoped to start a Friends of the Long Wharf committee, which would be responsible for raising funds to maintain the wharf, which most acknowledged was key to local parking. The county, which owns the wharf, is currently debating whether to keep it or sell it to the village.

Schneiderman said a committee is already being established with representatives from the village and county administrations to negotiate a potential sale.

At the Wharf Shop, owner Nada Barry agreed with others that business is impacted by the Internet.

Thirty years ago, said Barry, the local merchants held promotions like treasure chests and drawings to attract business; but she acknowledged these kinds of events might not be successful in today’s market.

Barry also bemoaned the impending hurricane, and complained “this storm is going to cost us a fortune.”

Her grandson, she said, has a maritime-based business and speculated Hurricane Irene would cost him four days of business.

“We all will be affected by this,” she said.

Bellone said he would like to find ways to increase foot traffic in the village, and Schneiderman raised the proposed passenger ferry which would link Sag Harbor to Greenport and other East End villages.

“I’m all for it,” said Barry. “We’re a motorboating community.”

- Boyhan