Tag Archive | "transportation"

Sag Harbor School District Presents Budget Draft on PPS, Transportation and Technology

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the third budget presentation before the Sag Harbor Board of Education this school year, district administrators outlined their respective draft budgets for Pupil Personnel Services, technology and transportation.

In addition to the 2-percent tax levy cap, the district must contend with state-mandated instructional training, data reporting and technology equipment to meet new educational standards.

PPS Director Barbara Bekermus presented her department budget to the board on Monday. Ms. Bekermus has included an increase of 20 percent, or $5,000, under “instructional salary tutor” because she feels the demand for at home tutoring is growing.

Overall, the PPS department asked the board to increase its funding by 3.83 percent or $184,337 for a total of  $4.81 million.

Director of Technology Scott Fisher presented his portion of the budget, saying that many of his requests stemmed from direct conversations he had with the teachers and administrators at both Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle and High School “to try and better understand what the instructional needs of the students are.”

“By and large,” Mr. Fisher told the small crowd, “what I heard from the teachers was everything’s running really well, but we need to have more computers.”

Technology equipment expenses are projected to increase by 15.63 percent, representing an increase of $125,904 from last year’s budget for a proposed total of $931,640.

The transportation budget, prepared by Head Bus Driver Maude Stevens and presented to the board by School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, asks for a 0.98 percent increase, or $7,300. If accepted, the department’s total budget would be $750,992.

During the 2014-2015 school year, with payments spread between July 2014 and June 2015, the district will pay $1.44 million in debt service for bonds issued in 2006, 2009 and 2011.

UPDATE: Town Declares State of Emergency; Nine Inches of Snowfall on the East End

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A backyard pool in East Hampton Friday morning.

A backyard pool in East Hampton Friday morning. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

UPDATE Friday 11 a.m. 

Nine inches of snow fell in Bridgehampton overnight, according to Joey Picca of the National Weather Service. Light snow is ongoing and over the next hour, locations on the East End could see another half inch of snow.

“For the most part,” said Picca, “intensity is winding down and we expect that trend to continue for the next hour or so.”

Winds coming from the north and northwest remain strong and gusty, and the already fallen powder will continue to be blown around throughout the day. The wind chill is expected to remain at anywhere from 0 to -5 degrees throughout the afternoon.

The Town of Southampton has issued a blizzard warning, effective until 1 p.m. Friday.

The South Shore of Suffolk County is under coastal flood advisory Friday from 7 p.m. to midnight. The northwest region of Suffolk County has been issued a coastal flood warning, from 9 p.m. Friday until 2 a.m. Saturday.

All town offices in Southampton and East Hampton are closed Friday due to inclement weather. Many businesses in Sag Harbor and throughout the towns remain closed.

East Hampton Town is still urging residents to stay off the roads and has prohibited parking along public roadways. Any parked vehicles may be towed. Emergencies should be reported via 911 and storm-related non-emergency calls may be directed to 907-9743 or 907-9796.

A man walks down Main Street in Sag Harbor Thursday afternoon.

A man walks down Main Street in Sag Harbor Thursday afternoon. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

 

UPDATE Thursday 6 p.m.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell has declared a State of Emergency, effective 4 p.m. Thursday.

The town is urging residents to refrain from driving during the storm and has prohibited all parking along public roadways. Parked vehicles may be towed.

The LIE (Long Island Expressway) and other major roads will also be closing at midnight due to hazardous conditions, Governor Cuomo announced Thursday.

Southampton Town has declared a limited state of snow emergency, effective at 3 p.m. Thursday. All town facilities and government offices will be closed starting at 6 p.m. and remain closed on Friday, January 3.

The Sag Harbor School District has closed all buildings and cancelled all sports and other activities for Friday, January 3 due to the weather.

All East Hampton Town Senior Citizen programs at the Fireplace Road Facility and the Montauk Playhouse scheduled for Friday have been cancelled.

For non-emergency police calls related to the storm in East Hampton Town, contact 907-9743 or 907-9796.

 

Original Story

A blizzard warning has been issued for Suffolk County starting at 6 p.m. this evening and ending at 1 p.m. Friday. The East End can expect to see up to 10 inches of snowfall, according to Tim Morrin of the National Weather Service’s Upton, New York forecast office.

Most of the snowfall will occur tonight after 7 p.m., Morrin said. A steady, heavy snowfall is expected to start this evening and continue overnight and into tomorrow morning, with a total of eight to 10 inches of snow accumulating.

By Friday at noon, the snow “should be nothing more than a flurry,” Morrin said.

Following the blizzard, the National Weather Service expects the weather Friday to be extremely windy and “dangerously cold,” with the wind chill temperature dropping below zero.

Sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph with gusts of up to 45 mph are forecast.

On the roads, East End residents can expect “rapidly deteriorating conditions tonight and into tomorrow morning,” according to Morrin.

Road conditions will remain hazardous tomorrow afternoon, as the windy conditions will likely blow additional snow into the road and add density to the already fallen snow.

Although Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to shut down the Long Island Expressway or any other major highways, his New York City Press Office said the governor is projecting road closures.

“Blowing, drifting snow can make travel difficult and dangerous,” Governor Cuomo said in a press release issued Wednesday, “so I encourage citizens to exercise caution if they have to leave their homes.”

“We recommend,” he added, “that everyone in potentially affected areas utilize mass transit and take steps to safeguard against frigid temperatures. Keep a close eye on the weather, follow any instructions issued by local emergency officials, and check on your neighbors and family members.”

The Suffolk County Department of Public Works has been salting all county roads since early this morning and will continue to monitor and respond to conditions.

The Emergency Operations Centers for both New York State and Suffolk County are open.

All storm-related non-emergency police calls in Suffolk County can be directed to 852-2677.

The New York State Department of Transportation provides a travel advisory system with frequently updated reports. To access it, dial 511 by phone or visit 511ny.org.

School Budget Up For Technology

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By Claire Walla


The Sag Harbor School District can potentially save over $1 million on transportation expenses over the next 10 years, according to District Treasurer Janet Verneuille.

All it will take is six new buses.

At a budget hearing held on Monday, Verneuille unveiled a new plan for the district’s transportation department that would effectively make the Sag Harbor School District independent from Montauk Bus Service. (For the most part. The district would still contract out services for some sports games and miscellaneous activities.)

While the school currently contracts out for three of its five current bus routes, purchasing its own buses would allow the district to put all local routes — including trips to Child Development Center of the Hamptons and Our Lady of the Hamptons — under the district’s purview.

To become self-sufficient, the district would need to purchase four 66-passenger buses and two 30-passenger busses at a cost of $541,502. Though Verneuille pointed out that that’s only an estimated cost, she emphasized that the savings after 10 years would amount to over $1 million.

“So, it’s well worth it,” she exclaimed.

However, at this point it’s not clear whether or not the board will ultimately decide to pursue this plan — it would have to pay for the buses with a bond, which would have to be approved by voters. Plus, board member Walter Wilcoxen brought up the inherent risk of setting up an independent program to be operated by one very capable person.

“The problem is when Maude [Stevens, the district’s transportation coordinator] is gone, then what kind of a position would we be in?” Wilcoxen asked, rhetorically. “Let’s not be so fooled about the money that we don’t’ see there’s risk involved.”

Verneuille went on to present the proposed transportation budget for 2012-2013, excluding the costs associated with this bus-buying measure. For next year, the district will see a budget totaling $1,085,160, a proposed decrease of $118,855, or 9.8 percent.

For the technology department, however, the financial picture is a little different. When all’s said and done, the proposed technology budget is 20 percent higher than it is in this year’s operating budget, coming in at $805,521. But, according to Technology Director Scott Fisher, the jump is largely tied to the effort to improve the school’s computer equipment.

“What we want to do is get on a ladder for technology,” explained Verneuille. This means updating all computers and computer equipment according to a four-year cycle. “A lot of companies do three years, but you get a little more bang for your buck this way.”

According to the 2012-2013 proposed budget, this four-year plan would begin next academic year by replacing one-fourth of the computers used by both teachers and students within the district. It would also replace all of the student computers in one of the Pierson Middle/High School computer labs.

At the elementary school, $55,000 would be spent on new laptops, and $3,600 would go toward purchasing new iPads, which, overall, brings the elementary school equipment budget up 18.77 percent over this year’s budget.

At Pierson, that figure jumps to an increase in the equipment budget of 53.16 percent. This includes $13,200 for new laptops for teachers, $33,000 for a new set of laptops for the humanities department, and another $33,000 for new desktop computers for the Pierson computer lab.

While Fisher’s proposed technology budget represents an increase of about $134,693 and increases costs for an equipment overhaul next year, the Pupil Personnel Services department has a proposed budget that more than makes up for that added expense. Coming in at $4,328,364, the overall budget for this department represents a savings of $492,303.

“I really don’t have any significant changes in my budget,” said Dr. Lisa Scheffer, Director of Pupil Personnel Services. She projected that next year there will be fewer students in the district enrolled in the Child Development Center of the Hamptons, a charter school in Wainscott that caters to special needs students. This alone will generate a savings of $150,000. And, she continued, there are currently no students enrolled in any BOCES program, which is a savings of $182,252.

Even though there aren’t any students participating in these programs, Scheffer kept that line item at a comfortable $240,000.

“I still feel we have enough cushion in the BOCES line,” she said. When asked if she felt her department was in good shape despite the budget decrease, Dr. Scheffer replied: “Definitely.”

MTA Hopes to Implement Some of SEEDS Study Before 2015

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By Claire Wall


Do you remember when you could see a flicker of light at the end of the Long Island Rail Road tunnel?

Well, according to those integrally linked to the future of transportation here on the East End, it may be faint, but it’s still there.

It’s been 10 years since local transportation experts banned together under the leadership of the New York Mass Transit Council (NYMTC) to create SEEDS: Sustainable East End Development Strategies. And while not much has been said of the plan since it came to a conclusion in 2005, those at the helm of the effort believe change is afoot.

“I’m optimistic,” said New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. of the possibility of increasing rail service between Patchogue and Montauk. He noted that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has already allotted $80 million in its capital plan for 2010 – 2015 for small diesel trains, called “scoot trains,” that would be added to rail lines to increase the frequency of train service in the east.

What’s more, as Southampton Town Director of Transportation Tom Neely pointed out, the MTA has also reserved $50 million in its five-year capital plan to create an electronic signal system on the South Fork. One of the biggest issues responsible for the infrequency of train travel between Patchogue and Montauk, Neely explained, is that train operators on this leg of the LIRR track are in “dark territory”: they’re not in communication with one another, so two trains headed for each other on the same track would have no way of knowing they’re aiming for collision.

“It’s the same way they did it 150 years ago,” he exclaimed.

While funding is only really targeted for this service at this point and is not a total guarantee, Thiele continued by saying, for him, seeing this support from the MTA “is a step in the right direction.”

It also helps, Thiele continued, that the newly elected Suffolk County Legislator Steve Bellone “has endorsed all of this,” having made transportation his number one East End issue on the campaign trail.

“We’ve had the most support we’ve ever had on this,” he added.

Comprising nearly five years of research, the SEEDS study lays out comprehensive plans for both sustainable growth in terms of population and infrastructure, and increasing the frequency and efficiency of public transportation on the East End. In the end, the two go hand-in-hand. In building up village and hamlet centers to be high-density and therefore low-impact, this would create opportunities on the East End for implementing transit centers.

Neely pointed to the new development plan at the Bulova building in Sag Harbor as a good example of sustainable growth. Because it aims to create high density residences in a downtown area, “it’s a very good example of a development that can make good use of public transportation,” he said.

Recognizing the problems with scant train service on the East End and the subsequent absence of a coordinated bus system, the SEEDS study ultimately resulted in two plans aimed at increasing train travel to and from the East End, Neely said.

The system would ideally function with inter-modal transportation hubs. After restoring train service to Calverton and Grabeski Airport, Neely said there would be at least five major inter-modal hubs (linking train and bus services) throughout the East End: East Hampton and Southampton Villages, Hampton Bays and downtown Riverhead. The SEEDS study also discussed the need for a water taxi between the North and South Forks, which would necessitate an inter-modal transportation hub in Greenport, as well.

“To move forward we would need strong political report,” said Neely, who played a significant role in overseeing the SEEDS process. The transportation projects alone are estimated to cost more than $1 million to fully implement.

While he did say Congressman Tim Bishop had once requested $1 million in earmarked funds to continue this project, the poor economic climate has impacted the state’s ability to move forward in support of this.

“Earmarks are pretty much dead in the water at this point in Congress, “Neely said.

And while Assemblyman Thiele has also drafted two bills, one to create a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Council and the other to create a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority, he said legislators have thus far failed to act on either measure.

Ideally, Neely said the five towns of the East End — Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Riverhead and Southold — should work together to create a Transportation Development District, as NYMTC recommended. However, at this moment, nothing seems to be moving forward on that front.

While he continues to hope the MTA will pull through and put its money where its mouth is, in the meantime Neely said efforts to rebuild and construct the towns of the East End in environmentally sustainable ways will have to be done on a local level. Southampton Town, for example, has adopted a Complete Streets policy that will encourage new developments to consider adding bike lanes and sidewalks, for example, when repaving town roads.

In the end, Neely hopes legislators will continue to work to get state funding to act on the SEEDS plan.

“Anything would be better than what we have right now,” he continued. “Which is nothing.”

School Faces Loss of Revenue While Costs Rise

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Len Bernard, business manager of Sag Harbor School District gives presentation on 2009-2010 budget

In light of the current economic climate, the Sag Harbor school district has decided to begin delivering the expected budget for 2009-2010 to the community in chunks, prior to board of education meetings over the next few months.
There will be five or six budget meetings in total. The first of these meetings was on Monday when the school’s business manager, Len Bernard, presented a proposed budget for certain departments of $9.7 million — up from $9.4 million for the 2008-2009 school year.
Departments included under this portion of the budget are the board of education, district clerk, district meetings, chief school administrators, auditing, treasurer, purchasing, legal, personnel, public information, transportation, recreation, employee benefits, and insurance and debt service.
According to Bernard, the district is expected to lose 11.6 percent in state aid next year, the highest amount among East End schools. In response, the district has been looking at ways to reduce costs.
One cost saving plan the district is considering is the purchase of a school bus and a van for the transportation department, which would lower the total of this portion of the budget from $9.7 million to $9.6 million.
Currently, the school district contracts for bus service and in his report, Bernard outlined the benefits of purchasing the two vehicles, indicating that a savings of $684,133 could be realized over the next six years.
“You are talking about quite a bit of savings,” Bernard said on Monday, “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Bernard presented two different analyses, one for the bus and one for the van. The bus, he said, can be used for school trips, while the van could be used for sports activities and transportation of BOCES students, which Bernard said is expensive through contracted bus service, even for one-way trips. The van could also be used for district students who travel to the Ross School or Stella Maris. Bernard explained the district is expecting teaching assistants and custodians to become the drivers.
“We could pay them to do the extra work,” Bernard said.
In his analysis, Bernard included $10,000 for the cost of the drivers, which he added could increase if the district has to find outside drivers.
School board member Ed Haye asked if those numbers reflected vehicle insurance and maintenance that the school would have to pay on both the van and the bus. Bernard said that he talked to the district’s current bus company and found that it would fall under the umbrella of insurance they already have.
Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the useful life of a bus is 10 years, “But in all likelihood, it would last longer.”
Bernard also said that he talked to the bus vendor and said the company was willing to give the school a bus for lease for a trial run.
The van could transport up to 30 kids and would be wheelchair accessible, according to Gratto.
“We have a lot of flexibility here,” said Gratto.
A few weeks ago, the school district held focus groups for different community groups, parents, students and faculty asking for suggestions on how to cut costs in light of the reduction in state aid. Some of the ideas generated from the forum were also mentioned in Monday’s presentation. Of those suggestions, the bus and van were the most frequently mentioned idea, according to Bernard.
In the chief administrator’s office both the superintendent and the superintendent’s secretary and the administrators in the business department will all receive five percent raises in next year’s budget. Bernard also said that there was a reduction of one full time staff member in the business department that will not be filled for next year. The two departments combined are projected to cost just over $530,000 for 2009-2010.
Another idea that came from the focus groups was to explore health insurance and dental coverage options, which Bernard said is being considered; but some of that depends on the on-going contract negotiations with teachers, custodians and secretarial unions. Bernard said during his presentation that the school does have another health insurance provider that could give better rates.
Of the departments that were presented on Monday, health and dental insurance had the biggest portion of the proposed budget. It is projected to cost the district $2.7 million for 2009-2010, up from $2.6 million for 2008-2009. Bernard said that this number was determined from an estimate of a five percent raise for the teachers, custodians and secretarial contracts that are still being negotiated.
Of the departments talked about on Monday, debt service represented the second highest dollar amount for next year’s budget.
“We sold a note the first week of September,” Bernard said and then talked about the economic climate crisis that hit the following month. “Then everything hit the fan, now rates are down again.”
He said the interest rates keep coming down and “it will change on a day to day basis.” Next year, Bernard said, will be the last payment of the 1997 bond — which was used to make improvements to the high school.
When asked if there is any consideration for changes to the other existing bonds for new interest rates, Bernard responded, “No, but we are always looking for windows of

On East End Public Transit Advocacy

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And A Futile Attempt to Work with the Town of Southampton

On the Coordinated Rail and Bus Network Feasibility Study

 

By Hank de Cillia

 I recently resigned as Executive Director of Five Town Rural Transit (5TRT) Inc., the public transit advocacy group I co-founded that created the East End Shuttle concept and originated the Feasibility Study that has been underway since December of last year. (In case you are not familiar with 5TRT’s East End Shuttle concept, it proposes to use new small-scale rail cars to provide much more frequent rail service on the existing LIRR tracks, coupled with new small-scale connecting buses that would meet the rail cars at most stations and take riders to a final destination.)

 

I am compelled to respond to two recent allegations emanating from Southampton Town that I believe have been used to exclude me from working on this Feasibility Study project as a paid consultant to handle local government and public communications about the work, which is being done by the U.S. DOT Volpe National Transportation Systems Center under contract to the Town of Southampton on behalf of the five East End Towns.

The first allegation is that I “colluded” with former Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney on a “sweetheart deal” to get a contract to work on the project. It is true that 5TRT brought what was then called the East End Shuttle Feasibility Study project to the Town of Southampton via Supervisor Heaney when we learned that only municipalities could apply for the New York State grant, not a non-profit group like 5TRT. The 5TRT Board made several requests in that meeting with Supervisor Heaney: Southampton should become the lead applicant for the NYS grant on behalf of all five towns, the towns should contribute the 10% matching funds required in proportion to their population size, the towns should hire the Volpe Center to be the principal contractor for the study and the towns should hire me as a non-voting member of the 5TRT Board to handle government, public and press communications on the project.

To his credit, Supervisor Heaney immediately embraced the 5TRT proposal. Regarding the last request that I personally be involved on a paid basis, he suggested I work out a subcontract with the Volpe Center once their contract was in place, and I agreed. I went to the Volpe Center people and advised them of Mr. Heaney’s request and they agreed. Over the next 18 months, while the NYS grant was applied for and awarded, and the contract with Volpe was then negotiated, my only contact with the town was through Deputy Supervisor Robert Ross to keep him advised of the progress on my subcontract.

Late last year, as Volpe was finalizing their own contract, they told me they could not do a subcontract after all. The intriguing reason given was that since I was one of the people who formally recommended Volpe for the job, if they gave me a subcontract it would have a “quid pro quo” appearance. I never did get an answer as to why it took them so long to reach this conclusion, nor were they willing to put their opinion in writing after two requests. Nevertheless, by the time I tried to get back to Heaney and Ross, the election had already taken place and they were not returning my calls. There you have a summary of my alleged “collusion” with Skip Heaney.

From that point on 5TRT dealt with new Supervisor Linda Kabot and our first meeting didn’t occur until mid January of this year. She told us the town would have to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for me to work on the study project and I would have to compete for the job. In late February, the town issued the RFP and in mid March I submitted my proposal. But in late June I withdrew it after having had no reply from the town as to its status, including when a decision might be made, for over 90 days. I have since learned my proposal was the only one they received, but that didn’t prevent them from continuing to exclude me.

Which brings me to the second allegation—-that I have a “conflict of interest” in working on this project. The convoluted town logic is that since I am a public transit advocate on the East End, I would have a conflict of interest in communicating information about the Volpe work to the public. By this reasoning I guess, only people who are against public transit or uninformed about the topic could ever be hired to do this work. I’m told the town has even sought an opinion from the NYS Attorney General about my suitability to work in this capacity!

But since the Town of Southampton has raised this allegation, let me identify what I think is a much more significant conflict of interest with its own Town Transportation Director Tom Neely. Although I’m not suggesting “collusion”, Mr. Neely got his job from Supervisor Heaney a few years ago. Prior to that, he had been working for a bus company, the Hampton Jitney. It is clear from his recent public comments that Mr. Neely favors bus solutions for public transit on the East End over rail. So, is it not a conflict of interest that an acknowledged bus advocate with ties to local bus transit providers is managing a “Coordinated Rail and Bus Network Feasibility Study,” as the Volpe work is described now? Further, his own job description on the Southampton Town website says one of his responsibilities is to “advocate for improved public transit.” Doesn’t that mean he has the same “conflict of interest” that I supposedly have? Has the town also sought an opinion from the NYS Attorney General about Mr. Neely’s apparent conflict of interest in this instance?  If not, why not?

In summary, the allegation that I colluded with Skip Heaney to get a contract is simply false and the allegation that I have a conflict of interest makes little sense. Both allegations have been used to prevent me from working on the project, as far as I can see.

This commentary is only provided to defend my reputation because I am no longer willing to work for the current Southampton Town management on this critically important project. I do believe, however, that the five East End Town Councils, together with the 5TRT Board, need to look more carefully into how this study is being managed to insure, amongst other things, that the original project goals and process are still in place.