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East End Digest: December 11

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ARF: Cats and Dogs Calendar 


         The 2009 Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons (ARF) Pet Calendar is now on sale at area bookstores, galleries and specialty shops. There are more than 100 animals featured in the calendar including mutts, pedigrees, former shelter animals as well as ARF cats and dogs available for adoption. The cover features Mimi Vang Olsen’s painting of cats and dogs in a kingdom setting. The calendar also features many candid photographs, contributed by pet owners.

         “While it’s handy for keeping a busy 2009 schedule, the Pet Calendar is just as likely to find its home on a coffee table,” says Dick Huebner, an award-winning art director who designed the original calendar.

         Founded in 1974, the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons has found loving homes for over 15,000 animals. ARF currently provides for the health and welfare of dogs and cats on the South Fork of Long Island and Shelter Island through shelter and adoption services, medical care, spaying and neutering programs, community outreach and humane education. The calendar retails for $25, the 2009 ARF Pet Calendar is also available at www.arfhamptons.org, as well as local retail locations and galleries.


Southampton Town: Justice Court Receives Grant


   According to Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, the Town of Southampton has been awarded a grant in the amount of $6,500 under the State’s Justice Court Assistance Program. The grants awarded through this program make it possible for the local justice courts to make renovations and purchase equipment to improve their operations and make their facilities more secure.

         Of the grant, the State’s chief Administrative Judge, Ann Pfau, said, “Town and Village Courts play a critical role in the justice system of our State. It is vital that these courts, whose jurisdiction includes non-felony criminal prosecutions, motor vehicle cases, small civil claims, and landlord-tenant disputes, be well equipped and secure. I am therefore pleased to announce Justice Court Assistance Program grants totaling almost $5 million, statewide, to help ensure that these courts which date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

         Senator LaValle added, “Local courts are the closest to the people and are an integral component of our justice system. However, town and village budgetary issues can limit their resources. This grant will help the court to better serve the community and improve the administration of justice.”


County Road 39: Sign Change on CR 39


         Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy today said that billboards cautioning drivers to watch their speed while moving through the fixed portion of County Road 39 will be changed at the request of Southampton Town officials, including Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot and Councilwoman Anna Throne Holst.

         “After our project to provide a second eastbound lane was completed this spring, we felt it was necessary to properly warn drivers to maintain a safe speed,” said Levy. “This stretch of road was known for decades for being a bottleneck, and we did not want to be victims of our own success and have drivers speeding through the two smooth flowing lanes.”

         “Hopefully that message has been delivered this summer, both to visitors and to year-round residents, and we are happy to accede to the Town’s wish for more low-key speed warnings,” Levy continued.

         The billboards received a great deal of attention when they were vandalized in early December. An unknown vandal painted over the image of a police officer leaning onto his official vehicle, while pointing a radar gun at the oncoming traffic, covering it with white paint. The vandal spray-painted “Thank You” on the westbound side of the road and “Please” on the eastbound side.


Riverhead: Ribbon Cutting for New Unit


         On Thursday, December 4th, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, and Health Commissioner Dr. Humayun Chaudhry officially opened the county’s second state-of-the-art digital mammography unit in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The site of the new mammography unit is located at the Riverhead County Health Center.

         “This is a tremendous benefit for our patients,” said Suffolk County Health Services Commissioner Humayun Chaudhry. “We are proud that the county has taken such a proactive role in bringing this resource to our patients and in advancing the quality of health care services for our citizens.”

         The new unit in Riverhead is the second digital machine to come into operation in Suffolk under Levy’s leadership. In 2006, Levy sponsored a resolution to modify a portion of the first floor of the Health Center to accommodate the equipment, which was performed as part of the ongoing renovations to the Riverhead County Center. The first digital unit was installed in Coram in 2006; Suffolk is also proceeding with the availability of digital mammography equipment for its health centers in Shirley and Brentwood.



Suffolk County: A Gift of Food


         During their general meeting, on Tuesday, December 2, the Legislature by Certificates of Necessity adopted an amendment to the 2008 Operating Budget, which will provide an additional $20,000 of funding to the Island Harvest. Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman introduced the resolution that made these amendments possible, and was readily adopted in order to expeditiously make these funds available to Island Harvest. During this holiday season and in these challenging economic times, many more families will be able to receive additional food assistance.

         Island Harvest is one of Long Island’s largest hunger relief organizations that serve as the bridge between those who have surplus food and those who need it. Their volunteers and staff collect food from over 600 local restaurants, caterers, farms, and other food related businesses; and distribute it to a network of close to 500 soup kitchens, food pantries, residencies, shelters. Last year Island Harvest provided nearly 7 million pounds of food to local hunger relief organizations.


Suffolk County: Good Samaritan Diva


         Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) attended the Red Hat Divas Christmas luncheon to thank the ladies who collected supplies for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The divas collected donations from friends, family and neighbors over the last month. They contacted Legislator Schneiderman’s office, an official drop site for supplies donated to the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Legislator Schneiderman has been working with the Family Readiness Group representing the Fighting 69th Army Reserve National Guard, collecting donations for the servicemen and women. These items include AA batteries, insect repellant, flea collars, and bags of charcoal briquettes for troops stationed in Afghanistan.

         “The County of Suffolk and its residents owe a debt of gratitude to our brave servicemen and women who often find themselves in dangerous and hazardous circumstances and give their lives for their County, making the ultimate sacrifice in the service of others, ” Legislator Schneiderman said. “I am pleased to assist in any way possible and encourage donations of these items for our troops.”


New York State Assembly: Request for LIPA Audit


         State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., and State Kenneth P. LaValle have sent a letter to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli requesting that its current audit of LIPA include the Southampton to Bridgehampton Transmission Line Project.

         LIPA originally proposed an approximately nine-mile transmission on the South Fork in the Town of Southampton from Southampton Village to the Hamlet of Bridgehampton. LIPA had proposed that the transmission line be constructed 45% above ground and 55% below ground through the heart of the South Fork’s farm country, where substantial amounts of land and scenic vistas had been preserved with public dollars.

         There was universal community outrage and opposition to the LIPA proposal including litigation. In response, Thiele and LaValle mediated the dispute between LIPA and the Town and the community. After long and extremely difficult negotiations, an agreement was reached this spring. The project was completed this summer.

         The agreement provided that LIPA would contribute the cost of its original proposal towards payment of the project (estimated to be approximately $20 million.) The incremental cost of burying the remaining 45% would be borne by LIPA customers from Southampton Village to the Southampton/East Hampton town line. This charge would be based on the actual electric usage of LIPA customers in the benefited area. After the project was bid, it was estimated that the incremental cost would be about $8 million.

         LIPA authorized substantial overtime to complete the project. As a result, LIPA is now estimating that the incremental cost may be as much as $12 million. Thiele and LaValle have requested the State Comptroller determine the total cost of the project, determine whether the up to $4 million increase in the cost of the project was prudent and justified, and determine whether any portion of the up to $4 million increase should be legitimately borne by the VBA area.

         Thiele and LaValle stated that this additional expenditure of up to $4 million dollars does not in any way increase the visual benefits for those in the benefited area, if indeed such addition expenditures were prudent at all. It is certain that not all the additional expenditures were to construct only 45%, which was the subject of the VBA.





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.”