Tag Archive | "Suffolk County Legislature"

Suffolk County Approves Ferry Service

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Now that it has the approval of the Suffolk County Legislature, as early as next Thursday, the Peconic Bay Water Jitney will make its inaugural voyage from Greenport to Sag Harbor. On Tuesday, the legislature voted unanimously to grant the service a license and approved the rates it will charge to transport customers on the passenger ferry between Greenport and Sag Harbor villages on a trail basis this summer.

It was the last step the Peconic Bay Water Jitney needed to begin service between Mitchell Park Pier in Greenport and Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Both villages have already approved the venture, which will be run by a new corporation formed by the Hampton Jitney and Response Marine.

“We don’t have everything yet,” said Jim Ryan, president of Response Marine and a principal in the Peconic Bay Water Jitney corporation, which is being funded by Hampton Jitney’s president, Geoffrey Lynch. “I need a successful summer season and then I feel comfortable saying, ‘We have everything we need.’ Honestly, I am just grateful we received the approvals to operate.”

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman — one of the leading supporters of the ferry service — said on Tuesday he hopes it is a success this summer and that it could potentially be expanded to other ports like Montauk.

“We are just testing this idea, but I do believe it will reduce car traffic, bring the North and South forks closer together and provide a little relief for Shelter Island, which deals with the brunt of car traffic travelling between the Forks,” said Schneiderman. “It will be good for businesses, who will see more foot traffic, and it may pave the way for expanding to other waterfront villages or hamlets like Montauk.”

Schneiderman added the service is only allowed on a trial basis and this is an opportunity to try out a concept discussed as a possible transportation alternative for years — water-based transportation around the East End.

“I applaud the village board in Sag Harbor for having the courage to allow this to be tried out,” said Schneiderman. “Assuming the numbers work out for the Jitney, and it isn’t too burdensome on village residents, this could be the kind of thing where people end up fighting to ensure this kind of service is never taken away. It could become a part of the fabric of Sag Harbor’s waterfront, which let’s not forget has a rich maritime history.”

Ryan confirmed the 53-person catamaran, which will be blue and grey displaying the Peconic Bay Water Taxi logo with the traditional Hampton Jitney wave, will have its inaugural voyage on Thursday, June 28. On Wednesday, June 27 his brother John Ryan, a Catholic priest, will bless the vessel at Mitchell Park at 10 a.m.

The ferry, which Lynch said will operate through Labor Day weekend, will offer seven round trips between Greenport and Sag Harbor Monday through Thursday and add two additional round trips on weekend nights.

The boat will depart from Greenport at 7 a.m. with the first departure from Sag Harbor scheduled at 8 a.m. Departures will be every hour, alternating from Greenport to Sag Harbor.

The Suffolk County Legislature has approved a one-way passenger fare of $11, and a round trip ticket price of $20. Children under 12 are offered a round-trip ticket for $11 and a one-way ticket for $6. Bicycles will be stowed gratis.

Schneiderman Re-elected Legislator; Bellone Elected New County Executive

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For incumbent Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, winning re-election on Tuesday night was certainly something to celebrate, but so was the election of Steve Bellone into the Suffolk County Executive’s seat.

“That is a big thing for me,” said Schneiderman on Wednesday morning. “I am looking forward to what I think will be my best term yet on the legislature. I have a great relationship with Steve Bellone. I have big coalition to work with in the legislature, so we should be able to get a lot done.”

Schneiderman, an Independence Party member who was cross endorsed by the Democratic Party and Working Families Party, sailed to a comfortable victory over his Republican challenger, Cornelius Kelly, on Tuesday night.

According to unofficial results posted by the Suffolk County Board of Elections (BOE), Schneiderman nabbed close to 66 percent of the vote, earning 11,260 ballots before absentee votes were counted. Kelly, an East Quogue businessman, earned 5,882 votes in his favor.

The race for Suffolk County Executive was a closer call, but just after 11 p.m. Bellone — the Democratic candidate —announced victory. The Babylon Town Supervisor will replace Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat turned Republican who pulled out of the race for another term at the helm of the county amid an investigation into improprieties in his campaign fundraising.

According to unofficial results out of the Suffolk County BOE, Bellone earned 130,607 votes, about 57-percent of the ballots cast. Republican candidate Angie Carpenter trailed with 100,119 votes in her favor.

On Wednesday morning, Schneiderman said he was grateful that residents on the South Fork appreciated the work he has done on the legislature over the last eight years.

“I had a real opponent this time and he campaigned hard,” said the Montauk resident. “The results show that doing a good job still matters and people want to keep public servants who are delivering results for them”

Come January, with Bellone’s help, Schneiderman said he would seek to have sex offender trailers in Riverside and Westhampton permanently shut down. Jump starting the economy, and ensuring the South Fork is given its fair amount of sales tax revenues to support its local police forces are also top priorities, as is settling the ownership issue of Long Wharf with the Village of Sag Harbor, said Schneiderman.

“Bellone was a town manager,” he said. “He is going to have a strong relationship with towns and villages, where Levy took a more adversarial role. I think Bellone will be interested in what is best for the village and what is also good for economic development.”

Spending, Effectiveness & Preservation Focus in Legislator Debate

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The debates this week between incumbent Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and his Republican challenger, Cornelius Kelly, focused largely on Kelly’s criticism of Schneiderman’s effectiveness in the legislature.

The candidates squared off during two debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters, first at Rogers Memorial Library on Thursday evening and then on Monday night at LTV Studios in Wainscott.

The incumbent candidate, an Independence Party member who is also running on the Democratic line, spent time at the debates defending his job performance, which he notes includes a history of preserving land on the East End, as well as his overall record of serving the South Fork during two terms in office.

Both debates focused on the same issues, namely land preservation, the county’s spending and a $150-to-$180 million budget gap, as well as the effectiveness of services like Sunday bus service and the ongoing battle with the county over sex offender trailers in Westhampton and Riverside.

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“I am running for office because I don’t like what is going on with the county’s finances,” said Kelly, a businessman from East Quogue during Monday night’s debate.

With a $2.7 billion budget, Kelly said Suffolk County spends more than most states.

“What are we getting for that out on the East End,” he asked. “A few plowed roads?”

In his opening remarks, Schneiderman countered that the county’s biggest issue is not spending, but a lack of revenue, citing that residents on the East End have not seen an increase in property taxes from the county in the seven budgets that have passed while he has been on the legislature.

“People have told me they want certain things of their elected representatives,” said Schneiderman. “Someone who would protect the character of the community, which I have.”

Schneiderman pointed to the “thousands of acres” that have been preserved during his time on the legislature, as well as during his previous position as East Hampton Town Supervisor. He also noted that he was able to have County Road 39 in Southampton expanded in an effort to reduce traffic issues and succeeded in bringing Sunday bus service to the East End during the summer.

Moderators at both debates asked whether or not that service should be expanded year round and how it would be funded.

Kelly said the last figures he looked at for the Sunday bus service, which was accomplished by raising bus fares from $1.50 to $2 on the S-90 bus line, showed running the extra day of bus service resulted in a $20,000 deficit.

“I do not think that it should continue all year,” he said on Thursday night. “It was a money loser. Instead I would advocate for additional train service. More trains means less cars on the road, less congestions, and less overall pollution”

“Sunday is a really critical day out here in the summer,” noted Schneiderman.

While the service may have not broken even this year, he added that was likely the case because it did not begin until July. He also noted that he has worked on a bill to provide interconnected Sunday bus routes throughout the county.

With Suffolk County facing a $150-to-$180 budget shortfall in the coming year, at Monday night’s debate, candidates were asked how they would close that gap.

“It is very hard to close a $200 million hole,” said Schneiderman, noting that in the past the county has looked at selling assets, but that is a short-term solution to a larger problem.

With 1.5 million people, Schneiderman added, Suffolk County is larger in population than most states, which is one of the reasons it boasts such a large annual budget. Facing a budget shortfall, he said, meant the county was unable to fund programs like the East End Hospice in order to ensure residents do not face a hike in property taxes. There are only so many people the county can layoff, he added, without threatening basic services.

“We lost $100 million in revenues when the recession hit and it has never come back,” said Schneiderman. “And the state has dumped mandate after mandate on us.”

It is those mandates, not increases in spending that have led to the budget shortfall he said.

“We don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem,” he said on Thursday night, adding that he supports programming like the county-funded East Hampton Clinic, but would like to make it a walk-in clinic model in order to increase its efficiency.

According to Schneiderman, the clinic serves 1,500 patients through 7,000 visits.

“I do believe that the East Hampton County Clinic is necessary because East Hampton needs access to medical coverage,” said Kelly on Thursday night. “I think that money would be found in cutting the waste associated with the clinic.”

Kelly again blasted the county’s budget as “behemoth,” and said he believes that with restructuring the county could find $30 to $35 million in savings, although he was not specific where that savings would be found. A zero-based budget plan should be the model the county uses for its spending plans, said Kelly.

“I’m not looking to balance the budget on the backs of homeless children,” said Kelly. He said he wanted to cut spending but keep critical programs that help the most disadvantaged open.

Kelly then made an example of government waste that could be taken care of on day one. He charged that the county donates to an organization which has a director that takes a $600,000 salary, although he refused to divulge the name of that director.

After the debate, Kelly said the charity was the March of Dimes. On Wednesday, Schneiderman said the county does donate $60,000 to the organization for programming throughout the county, and that only 20 percent of the grant money can be used for administrative costs.

On Monday night, Kelly criticized Schneiderman for the introduction of a bill that he says moves for the sale of the county’s jail in Riverhead, with the concept of leasing the property back from a new owner.

“We are going to be paying rent to these folks,” said Kelly, calling the concept “a boondoggle, a gimmick and a short term game so we don’t have to make any cuts now.”

He also charged that the county was funding $1 million for the restoration of a mosaic at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum.

Schneiderman responded that the bill Kelly was referring to only calls for a study of the of the sale of the county jail, which would be leased back to the county. The county, he added, would take back ownership of the building after 20-years under this kind of plan.

Republicans in the legislature, said Schneiderman, have supported the idea.

As for the mosaic, while the county does fund building repairs at the Vanderbilt Museum, as it is required to do by law, Schneiderman said, “there is no million dollar mosaic.”

Schneiderman said he contacted the museum’s director and curator, who confirmed there is no mosaic that has been funded for repairs by the county. The art in the Vanderbilt is preserved and restored with endowment monies.

Kelly said the East End needs a legislator representing the South Fork that has a strong coalition of support within the legislature, calling Schneiderman “an army of one” and pointing to Schneiderman’s unsuccessful attempt to pass a bill requiring the county to give the East End its fair share of sales tax monies to fund local police forces.

“First of all, the bill he is talking about — it was a 9-9 tie vote,” said Schneiderman. “That bill would have been historic because it would have made it illegal for the county to treat any region unfairly.”

Schneiderman added that he works in coalition with the Democratic majority in the legislature. Being given the position of chairman of the public works committee, he added, is a powerful position given to a legislator not supported by the rest of the Suffolk County Legislature.

Schneiderman said he doesn’t believe people vote along party lines in the legislature, but rather for what is best for their district. Issues like western legislators agreeing to send more police monies east and out of their districts, or where to place sex offender trailers, are “difficult” and time consuming debates within the legislature.

“We have very informed people in the legislature that make bi-partisan decisions,” he said.

Kelly noted that this district “has the privilege of receiving every homeless sex offender from the county.”

On Thursday, Schneiderman said the district is housing 30 individuals and that he has passed a law that ends the sex offender program as it is currently run. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, said Schneiderman, “continues to throw up road blocks. I keep pushing away the roadblocks.”

“My opponent blames everybody else,” said Kelly. “Well-articulated excuses are not getting it done.”

“I think that is what the people want, an independent legislature that works with both sides of the aisle,” responded Schneiderman.

Kelly also criticized Schneiderman’s record on the preservation of open space in East Hampton, stating $48 million has been spent in the town during Schneiderman’s tenure, while $100 million has been spent on preservation in Riverhead.

“Right now by any measure, we are getting dwarfed,” said Kelly.

Schneiderman said that preserving farmland on the North Fork is a benefit for the entire region, and that the North Fork and Riverhead happen to have more farmland left to preserve.

“The last time I looked at the numbers, we have preserved thousands of acres,” said Schneiderman.

“I believe we need to take Suffolk County in a new direction,” said Kelly in his closing statement. “One that benefits the South Fork in a more substantive way.”

“You know with me what you are getting,” said Schneiderman, pointing to his record on environmental issues, and in particular, preservation.

“I work hard and I will continue to work hard for you,” he said.

Sale of Long Wharf is No Longer in Suffolk County Legislature’s Hands

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First there were threats. Then there was a deal. Then there was no deal and now things may stay the same.

That is the short story in what has been a year long debate over the future of Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf, an intrinsic part of the village’s waterfront, but technically a county road.

For over a year now, the village has been negotiating to take over the Long Wharf completely, handling not only the annual maintenance of the facility, which it already does, but also taking on the costly, long-term capital repairs the wharf will need to survive throughout the years.

Those repairs have traditionally been paid for and completed by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works.

After the Suffolk County Legislature waffled this summer on whether or not to sell Long Wharf to Sag Harbor — an initiative pushed forward by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s office last fall — it appears a sale could move forward or at the very least, the county could continue to lease the wharf to the village at no cost, as it historically has done.

Last week, the Suffolk County Legislature passed a resolution giving the Commissioner of the Public Works Gil Anderson the right to sell or give Long Wharf, along with a number of other county roads that are currently maintained by smaller municipalities, to the towns or villages the roads lie in.

Anderson will be able to pass the ownership on without the approval of the Suffolk County Legislature, according to Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman.

“He will not have the authority to force them to take it, but if they want Long Wharf he has the authority to give it to them without going back to the legislature,” said Schneiderman.

Anderson is not required to offer the wharf to the Village of Sag Harbor, said Schneiderman, who added he would be meeting with Anderson in coming weeks to discuss the situation.

Last fall, county officials offered to sell the 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 Long Wharf will need in the next five years.

Initially, after village officials expressed concerns over being able to take on the financial burden of Long Wharf, county officials hinted at the possibility that the county could sell the wharf or take over its operations itself, collecting the revenues from boat slip rentals instead of the Village of Sag Harbor.

According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, while during a banner 2009 the wharf brought in $90,000 in revenues, the average amount of money the village collects from dockage at the wharf is closer to $50,000 annually.

However, Sag Harbor Village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. questioned the legality of the county selling Long Wharf, and Mayor Gilbride questioned whether the county could afford to maintain and run the wharf in its annual budget.

By last February, the village board of trustees passed a resolution allowing Sag Harbor Village to take ownership of the wharf and Windmill Beach, but by the summer the county legislature voted against the sale, requesting time to study the value of Long Wharf. Schneiderman supported the sale to Sag Harbor Village.

“Now, I think we are in a much better place for the Village of Sag Harbor,” said Schneiderman on Monday. “The village only wanted the wharf because the county was saying it wouldn’t maintain it. Now, if they want it, they can have it, but maybe can also go back to the way things were and work out a deal where we can increase revenues on the wharf and maybe share some of those revenues.”

Schneiderman said in addition to holding a fundraiser – through the newly conceived Friends of The Long Wharf – to help offset the cost of maintaining Long Wharf, the village and county could also look at initiatives like setting up a small passenger ferry service from the wharf.

“There are a lot of ideas I would like to explore for revenues at the wharf, but it will depend on if the village would like to do it,” said Schneiderman.

Paid parking is not one of those ideas, he added.

The Friends of the Long Wharf committee, a group made up of several county officials, as well as Mayor Gilbride, Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Robert Evjen and Jack Joyce from the Sag Harbor Historical Society, will begin discussing these ideas at a meeting next Tuesday afternoon.

There is currently no lease in place for Long Wharf between the village and the county. On Tuesday, Mayor Gilbride noted the village is still maintaining it, and paying for insurance.

He added he has been willing to work with the county from the outset, but does need to know whether or not the village needs to budget the $100,000 it planned to put in a reserve account for the long-term maintenance of Long Wharf. Revenue sharing, he added, was not likely a viable option. Mayor Gilbride estimates the village spends between $40,000 and $60,000 on caring for the wharf after it applies the $50,000 it collects in revenues from boat slip rentals.

“I am the mayor that is willing to bite the bullet and take Long Wharf,” said Mayor Gilbride. “We will work with the county, but profit sharing is not going to work out for us.”