By Kathryn G. Menu
Next Tuesday, Sag Harbor Village residents will turn out for one of the only contested village elections on the South Fork, with newcomer Kevin Duchemin hoping to unseat one of the incumbent members of the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees — Dr. Robby Stein and Bruce Stafford.
While certainly not as heated a race as in previous years, during a candidate roundtable at The Sag Harbor Express on Monday morning, the three candidates demonstrated they have different priorities, and opinions, on a number of issues. Those include the impending passenger ferry, the ongoing police contract negotiations and what the village board should focus on in the next two years.
Duchemin, 44, is a volunteer firefighter who said he has been interested in running for village trustee for over two years now. The father of three children, Duchemin is a sergeant with the East Hampton Village Police Department, with which he has served for over 20 years. A union president, Duchemin is also the first vice president of the Suffolk County Conference.
His goal in seeking office is simple, Duchemin said on Tuesday. The lifelong native has long had aspirations to serve his community.
“Now is the time,” he said.
Stafford, another Sag Harbor native with three children, is hoping for a second term with the village board. The 44-year-old is a landscaper, volunteer firefighter and serves as the chairman of the board for the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church.
“I have a connection to almost all of the people here one way or another,” said Stafford on Monday. “When [Sag Harbor Mayor] Brian [Gilbride] approached me two years ago to run I was hesitant, but being on the board the last two years I think we all work well together and are thinking about what is best for the village as a whole.”
Dr. Stein, 64, grew up in Hempstead, but summered on the East End. The clinical child psychologist who has one stepchild with his wife, Alex McNear, is seeking his second elected term on the board. In 2009, after he was elected mayor, Gilbride appointed Dr. Stein to serve on the board of trustees.
A member of the board of Bay Street Theatre, Dr. Stein also serves as a member of the Mashashimuet Park Board and in the Sag Harbor School District’s Key Communicators group.
“The central reason I want to be re-elected is I think it is important there is continuity in the village, particularly now,” said Dr. Stein. “Our waterfront and the health of our harbors is critical to the village and it is at a precarious point.”
One of Dr. Stein’s top priorities is continuing to work with environmental organizations and other local governments towards solutions that can help protect the health of the Peconic Estuary. Dr. Stein said he would like to see the village revise its wetlands code in the next two years and continue to look towards ways that wastewater management, stormwater management and regulating underground septic systems can be explored to reduce the environmental impact the East End’s population.
Part of that will include the remediation of Havens Beach, a project Dr. Stein has championed since he first ran for village board.
Duchemin said developing ways to create affordable housing – particularly through the village’s accessory apartment law — is an issue he would like to fight for if elected to the village board. Duchemin was one of three applicants to attempt to legalize his attached accessory apartment in 2010 after the village allowed residents the ability to do so in the village code. He said the amount of review and approvals needed to move forward with his application proved too onerous and all three applicants eventually dropped their petitions.
According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, since the attached accessory apartment law was finalized just one resident has successfully petitioned the village to legalize their unit.
“I would like to look into that deeper,” said Duchemin. “It seems like that kind of went to the back burner.”
Duchemin said he would like to see the village explore expanding the accessory apartment law to include detached apartments, an initiative the village tried and failed.
Stafford said affordable housing was first on his agenda in 2010. But learning what kind of costs are associated with bringing an apartment up to code — a requirement in the accessory housing law — left him with the impression it would cost too much to make it viable for a landlord to rent that apartment at an affordable rate.
Keeping taxes low, said Stafford, is one of the ways he would like to keep Sag Harbor affordable.
“This year all our department heads came to the table ready, willing and able to keep spending down,” said Stafford. “That was the best thing for village residents.”
Since Duchemin threw his hat in the ring to seek office, rumors have swirled that the only reason he is running is to help the Sag Harbor Village Police Department in its quest for a new contract.
The village and the police department have reached an impasse in negotiations and will meet with a mediator next week.
“I am spending my own money to get elected,” said Duchemin. “I would never benefit from that contract so I don’t know why this is out there.”
Duchemin said he could bring a lot to the table in terms of understanding how contract negotiations work. He questioned whether the village allowing the contract to move to arbitration was wise or whether it was a waste of money.
“Back in 2007, it cost one municipality $65,000 to go to arbitration just to get the contract that was the going rate at the end of it,” said Duchemin. “It is a waste of taxpayer dollars. I would rather bring them back to the table. Do I think negotiations are going to happen that change health care and retirement, sure, but don’t think that negotiation is going to start with a 13-person police department. It will start with the county and have a trickle down affect.”
Stafford, who has helped with negotiations, said the original offer on the table was a contract with a 2.999-percent increase, but PBA president Pat Milazzo did not accept it.
“This is Sag Harbor and that is what I care about,” said Stafford. “What East Hampton gets, what Shelter Island gets, it doesn’t matter to me. [Trustee] Ed Gregory and I asked them to wait a year or two, let the economy get stronger. People are losing their houses, their jobs. Do the police deserve a raise, yes, but we just asked for a year or two.”
“I know we have had to be responsive to a two-percent tax cap this year and that has played into this,” said Dr. Stein. “I think what we will eventually see though, and it is happening on the county level, is we will start asking for police to help with health insurance and long term benefits, because it is something you are seeing happen all over the state. We have friends and family in this police department and I would love to see this worked out. I can’t believe we are talking about a one or two percent difference and it cannot be worked out.”
One of the most debated issues this year is the village allowing the Hampton Jitney to run a passenger ferry service to Greenport as a part of a pilot program that assesses the viability of water transportation.
Duchemin said he is opposed to the passenger ferry service, mostly because he believes the process to approve it was “rushed.”
“I don’t think there was much public input and I don’t think residents around the school district are very happy about the parking issue,” he said. “They all have a lot of traffic that they expect during the school year, but in the summer they expect some peace and quiet. Now there will be buses and shuttles near midnight … It will benefit Greenport more than us.”
Stafford said he has heard more people in favor of the ferry than opposed to it. He added that the principal, the Hampton Jitney’s Geoffrey Lynch, is a village resident who has agreed to allow trustees to pull the plug on the ferry should it become too burdensome for village residents.
“We are a maritime village, surrounded by water and this can get some cars off the road,” said Stafford. “As far as revenues, the village will get $12,000 and the school $20,000. I don’t think in this day and age we can turn away from that. Instead we can put that back into the wharf, back into the beach.”
Dr. Stein said he viewed the trial run this summer as a way to study whether or not a passenger ferry service is right for Sag Harbor.
“The idea that this did not have public discussion or was rushed is ridiculous,” said Dr. Stein. “A year ago this was brought before the board and they were told we need more information. They came back six months ago and there have been at the very least three board meetings before this week that we have listened to public input.”
Dr. Stein said he did support the trial run, but did want the village to establish clear guidelines to assess the ferry service and would work towards that end.
“This is very, very preliminary,” said Dr. Stein. “There are a lot of big issues we will be looking at this summer.”
Sag Harbor Village Elections will be held on Tuesday, June 19 from noon to 9 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department Headquarters on Brick Kiln Road.