Tag Archive | "Westhampton"

League of Women Voters Hosts Southampton Town Board Candidates Debate

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By Tessa Raebeck

In front of a packed room Thursday night, candidates for Southampton Town Board debated experience, integrity and economics. Democrats Brad Bender and Frank Zappone faced Republicans Stan Glinka and Jeff Mansfield in a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons at Rogers Memorial Library.

Moderated by Carol Mellor, voter service co-chair for the league, the debate included questions asked by members of the audience, as well as by Bryan Boyhan, editor and publisher of The Sag Harbor Express, Joe Shaw, executive editor for the Press News Group, and Judy Samuelson of the league.

Noting that all the candidates would be first time town board members, Shaw asked what issue their first piece of legislation would address.

“Water quality is going to be my number one issue,” replied Bender, mentioning his endorsement from the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum. “The first thing I want to do is really take a look at how we’re going to start saving our town — how do we work regionally with state, local, federal governments to make a difference for our waterways.”

“We have dragged our feet for way too long,” he continued. “We are so far behind in the technology in this community that we should be ashamed.”

Mansfield answered that his top three issues are fiscal responsibility, code enforcement and water quality. He said he fully supports Councilwoman Christine Scalera’s septic rebate program, but that “we need to do more.”

He advocates working with the schools to plant more eelgrass and seed the bays with shellfish.

“That’s nature’s way to filter the bays,” he said. “There’s a lot of nitrogen-reducing technology available in states like Rhode Island and Maryland that have a lot of tributaries and waterways. We don’t have it approved by the county yet — we need to lobby hard.”

Glinka pointed to three things that he would “have to tackle all at once evenly,” economic redevelopment, public safety and the environment. He said it is “vitally important” to have a good relationship with town trustees.

“Many of the small businesses in this town are struggling, making it economically feasible to stay here but also to attract new businesses,” he said, adding that he would also look at further staffing the police force and code enforcement office to increase public safety.

“Although these problems are very important problems for the town, they’re not going to be impacted by a single piece of legislation,” responded Zappone, who serves as deputy supervisor for the town. He said that he and the current administration moved code enforcement into the town attorney’s office, effectively quadrupling the number of enforcement actions due to improved communication.

“My first piece of legislation,” he said, “would be to bring fire marshal and code enforcement into one public safety unit so they could work closely with the town attorney and our court system so that we can effectively prosecute and proceed to getting some compliance issues addressed throughout the town.”

Shaw posed a question from the audience asking the candidates to state their position on the proposed Tuckahoe Center supermarket and retail complex on County Road 39.

“I believe firmly in representative government,” answered Mansfield. “So my job is not to tell you what I think is best, my job is to do what you think is best and my job is to find out what that is by vetting the issue, going out to the community, finding out the pulse of the community then taking action in a cost-effective and timely manner and that’s exactly what I will do.”

Glinka referred to his experience as president of the Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce.

“I think communication and education are the two foremost important factors in here and making sure that we make the best decision as a group,” he said. “It’s very important to hear what you as a community wants and what the people in the town want, not what I want as town council.”

“We need updated traffic studies,” replied Zappone. “We need updated analysis of the changing demographics of the community and we also need to look at the potential merger of these two school districts [Tuckahoe and Southampton] and how that might impact the community. So there’s a lot of information to gather before we go out communicating and educating the community, which is important to do but we need the information and we need the facts collected as best we possibly can.”

Bender pointed to the numerous vacant lots that are on County Road 39 adjacent to the proposal property.

“We don’t need to build new things when we have things sitting empty,” he said. “We’ve got empty stores up and down County Road 39, we’ve got blight up and down County Road 39 and until we address these issues we have no business then building anything else in that spot.”

Acknowledging Bender’s comment, Boyhan asked the candidates what pressures the town can bring to bear on property owners who have had unsuccessful businesses or let their buildings deteriorate and what can be done to force the repurpose of those buildings.

Glinka advocated streamlining the process by which new businesses can come into Southampton.

“Sometimes we’re anti-business,” he said. “It makes it very difficult for people to come in here and set up businesses. If we could make it attractive for developers to come out here and revitalize those [old motels that have been turned into section eight housing] and make it certain that that’s what they’re going to do and bring the tourism back out here and make it affordable for people to come out here with families, I think that would start a domino effect in attracting businesses,” he maintained.

Zappone said it’s important to take advantage of the business advisory council that resides at the Stony Brook Southampton campus, as well as initiating tax relief elements.

“If businesses are going to be viable on that road,” he said of County Road 39, “something has to be done about the way traffic flows on that road.”

He advocates bringing in low volume businesses such as law offices and consulting firms and called for a regional approach to addressing blighted properties.

Bender referenced his involvement in the Riverside Economic Development Committee and spoke of working together with the International Development Association (IDA) and the Regional Economic Development Council to help small businesses and also ensure they can help themselves.

“The last thing that small business owners need is senseless regulation from the government,” replied Mansfield. “I’m a capitalist. I believe in free markets, I believe in competition. I think if government isn’t helping small business it needs to step aside.”

Mansfield called for the small business office to return to town hall and emphasized listening to small business owners.

Referencing the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Boyhan asked the candidates whether the town is prepared for another major storm and what can be done to improve the town’s response to such an event. All of the candidates applauded the work of the town employees and officials in response to Sandy.

Referring to the fatal traffic accident that stopped traffic on County Road 39 for nine hours July 25, Mansfield said, “There’s still work to be done and we’re vulnerable to a big evacuation. I think we can do a better job of warning our citizens and making sure they can get out if they need to get out.”

Glinka said he would definitely work on “ensuring if we did have to evacuate the area, how would we do this in a timely, safe manner.”

“Our demographic area — it’s very unique and I think we have to approach it in such a way,” he continued. “I think just enhancing and working with what the current administration has in place already, I think we can only improve upon it. And also working with community members and civic organizations and public safety areas and getting their input as well.”

Zappone thanked the other candidates for the recognition of a job well done.

“Yes, we are better prepared,” he said, adding that, with the help of consultants, the chief of police, fire marshals and the fire chief, the administration has completely revised and rewritten its emergency operational procedures and is in the final stages of preparing a hazard mitigation plan that “will give us a better opportunity to be resilient in the case of a storm.”

Bender called for the completion of the Flanders Nutrition Site, which he said is supposed to be a command center.

“If we do have one of these major storms that’s going to make us move off our shore, where are we going to go?” he asked. “What are we going to do? We have a command center that’s not complete, we could finish that.”

Residents of Southampton Town will be able to vote for two of the four town board candidates in the general election November 5.

Sag School Board Talks Parking, Process for Bond Proposals

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By Tessa Raebeck

“We’re just trying to get facilities that are as good as the children we serve,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, said of the district’s proposed capital improvements bond at Monday’s board of education meeting.

In anticipation of the November 13 vote on the bond, district representatives addressed concerns and opinions voiced by community members in recent weeks — particularly in regards to the proposed parking lot renovations — and clarified the design process that would take place should the bond pass, as well as details of the current diagrams. With the help of district architect Larry Salvesen, Dr. Bonuso emphasized all plans are conceptual schematics that could undergo continual revisions that would not change the face of the projects, but could alter their scope.

The bond is separated into two distinct propositions. Proposition 1, with a projected cost of $7,357,132, covers the majority of the proposed capital work. Through five categories (architectural, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and site), it addresses facilities preservation and renovations, building code compliance and ADA compliance, health and safety issues, energy conservation improvements and efficiencies and supports the district’s curriculum.

In addition to capital improvement work like installing CO2 sensors and re-piping the domestic hot water heater, Proposition 1 includes: the renovation of the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium, as well as construction of support facilities; renovations to the Pierson shop/technology classroom space; expansion of the Pierson kitchen; the addition of a storage room in the Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) gymnasium; and the restoration and reconfiguration of the Jermain Avenue parking lot at Pierson and the Hampton Street lot at SHES.

At the estimated cost of $1,620,000, Proposition 2 will be voted on separately and provides for the installation of a synthetic turf athletic field, a two-lane walking track and other site improvements, such as a scoreboard.

At Monday’s meeting, Dr. Bonuso and other administrators emphasized the timing is as good as any to execute the bond, as bond rates have lowered and the district will receive approximately 10 percent in state aid.

“Most of these things we would go ahead and we’d do it anyway [through annual budgets], the problem is we would pay more money and we would have to wait a whole lot longer to reap the benefits,” explained Dr. Bonuso.

Due to the state-imposed property tax cap, completing such projects through the annual budget would negatively impact the funds allotted for school programs, the district said in a newsletter on the bond.

“We know what the worst choice is,” said Dr. Bonuso. “The worst choice — forget all the options, everyone has their opinion on what to do — but I think everyone pretty much agreed on what is the worst thing to do — the worst thing to do is to do nothing.”

In addition to failing pavement and crumbling curbs, the district said the parking lots’ designs are unsafe for both children and the community at large and maintained that the parking lots absolutely need to be reconfigured and restored, but the district remains open to suggestions as to the best ways to do that for Pierson’s neighbors, passing pedestrians, school children, cars and emergency vehicles.

“We look at it in a schematic fashion,” explained Salvesen. “We get a general understanding of the approach to the project and create a diagram that represents what is proposed and then we use that to create a cost estimate.”

That process was completed before the bond was presented to the community. If the bond is passed, the next step toward enacting the proposed projects is the design/development stage, during which the scope is reviewed and the design is refined. After additional community input, the final recommendations are brought to the board before the plans are sent to the State Education Department for approval.

If the bond is passed, the Educational Planning Facilities Committee, a group of 21 teachers, parents, administrators, board members and members of the community who met at least six times over the past year in preparation of the bond, would be reformed to invite continued conversation and review possible changes. After additional community input, the final recommendations are brought to the board before the plans are sent to the State Education Department for approval.

Following the recent dialogue between members of the EPFC and the community, Salvesen has drawn in several amendments to the parking lot plans. The original diagram for the lot at Jermain Avenue, for example, did not have an explicit sidewalk drawn in until this week.

“That’s something that would come with the evolution of the design,” Salvesen explained. “There is money to put a sidewalk along there; it is a desired element.”

According to the district, some residents were concerned the Jermain Avenue lot changes would infringe on Pierson Hill or the property’s trees.

“We are not going to negatively impact Pierson Hill,” clarified Dr. Bonuso. “We love Pierson Hill, we love the tradition. We’re going to be very respectful of it.”

“We’re going to be very respectful of the trees,” he continued. “In one or two instances, we’ve already picked out which trees we will purposely transplant just to make sure that we save them.”

Salvesen said after reviewing the plans with the district’s traffic engineer consultant, they found moving the parking lot’s entry point further away from the bend at the northwest side of Jermain Avenue would also increase safety. The district also chose not to pursue the expansion of the elementary school’s secondary Atlantic Avenue lot that was part of a proposed bond that failed to garner community support in 2009.

“That has been completely removed from the project in an attempt to address overall cost concerns,” said the architect.

Since its construction in 1946, the Hampton Street parking lot at SHES has stayed in the same configuration, according to Salvesen. After reviewing the plans for that lot with the traffic engineer, the district is considering altering the project to include one entry point, rather than two. Instead of the 25 additional parking spots in the original diagram, the revised plan would add 17 stalls.

“It’s not about the numbers here, safety is the point,” said Salvesen.

Members of the board were grateful community members had come forward with their concerns and hopeful the bond would ultimately pass.

“These are schematics,” reiterated Daniel Hartnett, a school board member. “We had to put something up to present to be able to move this forward…There is the opportunity — should the bond pass — as we move forward for people to come in and express their views and for us to tweak what we end up doing.”

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said such collaboration is “great because they’re voicing a variety of different perspectives and the more perspectives the committee and the board and the administration hear, the better solution we’ll have.”

If Sag Harbor voters pass the propositions, the estimated costs are the cap. Salvesen has built in contingencies so that the projected costs represent a high estimate, he said. By law, the district cannot spend more than is approved by voters. If the projects cost less than estimated, the district will return the money to the taxpayers.

Salvesen held that his firm, BSS Architecture in Patchogue, has a proven record in bonds staying well within their budget.

“Since the early 90’s,” he said, “we’ve done $1.7 billion in school improvement bonds and we have not gone over.”

“Well,” said Mary Anne Miller, a member of the board, “That’s why we hired you.”

Sag Harbor School Board Clarifies Public Input Policy

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By Tessa Raebeck

In honor of School Board Recognition Week, Monday’s meeting of the Sag Harbor board of education commenced with a short commemorative concert by members of the Pierson Middle/High School orchestra.

“We talk about music to the ears, that was music to the heart,” commented Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district.

Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone presented the board with letters of thanks from the younger students.

“My teacher says that you work long hours, exactly how many hours do you work?” a fourth grader asked in one letter.

Another read, “Thank you for volunteering the time but please don’t work too hard.”

Following the moment of praise, the board returned to work, approving a first reading of board operating procedures. The packet includes a handout prepared by Mary Adamczyk, district clerk, outlining Policy 3320, which addresses public participation at board meetings.

The handout is supplementary to existing policy; it does not change it. Rather, it explains the policy which was revised last spring. The revisions allow community members to sign up for Public Input I, a period of public comment that happens at the start of board meetings, on a sign-up sheet outside the library up until the time of the meeting, rather than through the district clerk’s office the Friday prior as was previously required.

“This just clarifies that a little more,” explained Theresa Samot, president of the school board.

Chris Tice, school board vice president, suggested printing Adamczyk’s handout on the back of every meeting agenda, so the community is clear on how they can participate. Tice said the idea was a suggestion of John Battle, a member of the community who regularly attends school board meetings.

The board will review the wording of the handout and the operating procedures, implement revisions and discuss them further at a second reading during their next meeting.

In other school news, the board accepted a donation from the Reutershan Educational Trust, which has the sole purpose of fostering art programs within the school district, for $30,700 in supplies, materials and equipment to support the programs and $5,863.67 in salaries and benefits for district personnel to supervise. Following comments by board member Daniel Hartnett, the board agreed to look into establishing a board liaison to the trust.

The next school board meeting will be held November 18 in the Pierson library.

Sag Harbor Village Trustees Unanimously Adopt $8.78 Million Budget That Lays Off an Officer

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Early last Thursday morning, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees adopted an $8.78 million budget for 2013-2014 which includes a $519,000 budget for the village’s sewer fund. But among the items reduced for 2013-2014 is the village police department’s budget —  which will now be forced to cut one officer, leaving the department with 10 officers and its chief.

The decision, after months of debate, will result in officer David Driscoll losing his job with the department as its newest hire. Driscoll, an officer who transferred to the department from the Southampton Town Police Department, was honored as the village’s officer of the year this past January for his work in 2012, including for his service as a member of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office East End DWI Task Force.

The general fund budget of $8,263,381 is a 2.57 percent increase over the 2012-2013 adopted budget and falls below the allowable 4.1 percent spending increase under New York State’s mandated two percent property tax levy cap.

The tax rate under the budget, per $1,000 of assessed value, is set at 2.830, a 3.89 percent increase over last year. Village treasurer Eileen Touhy estimates a house valued at $795,000 in Sag Harbor Village would pay $2,249.85 in village taxes, a 0.0389 increase or $84.27.

Throughout the budget process, the village board discussed scaling back the number of officers in the Sag Harbor Village Police Department to 10 officers. The department currently operates with 11 officers and the chief after the departure of officer Michael Gigante last year amid an ongoing contract negotiation between the village and the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association (PBA).

Officers in the department have been working without a contract for close to two years now. That contract negotiation is currently in arbitration.

While the vote Thursday morning was quickly held — and was unanimous among the board’s four members, Mayor Brian Gilbride, Deputy Mayor Ed Gregory, trustee Kevin Duchemin and trustee Robby Stein — what followed was a prolonged debate between members of the department, its chief and the village board about the impact this decision would have on public safety in Sag Harbor.

Police Chief Thomas Fabiano questioned the decision and asked if the board intended to increase his overtime budget, estimating it could cost as much as $300,000 in overtime to replace losing an officer.

“To me this is, again, an incomplete budget,” said Fabiano, adding he feels officer Driscoll has been used as a carrot in ongoing negotiations with the PBA.

Gilbride dismissed that claim and questioned how the schedule would necessitate an additional $300,000 in overtime.

“This is not about an officer or anything else, but it is about the fact we don’t have an unlimited budget,” said Stein. He added he has received calls from people asking the future of the department be put to a public vote, something he is reluctant to do because he is unsure whether the outcome would result in Sag Harbor maintaining its own police department.

Fabiano noted the village board had not even reached the tax levy cap limits yet and questioned why Stein — or other board members — had not talked to him about the impact this will have on his department.

Stein responded he had spoken about this cut at previous meetings, but did not want to have private meetings about a public issue.

Gilbride said ultimately the decision came down to whether or not the village could afford these kinds of costs. The police department budget for 2013-2014, before any figures are calculated when arbitration ends and officers are compensated retroactively for any increases in salaries or benefits for the last two years, is for $1,659,765.

Fabiano said this is a safety issue and called on the board to develop a long range plan for the police department.

“Summer’s coming up and now I have another guy leaving,” he said, adding part time officers are reluctant to come to Sag Harbor given the level of discourse regarding the police department.

“I am confident with 10 people this village can run a police department,” said Gilbride, who added he went to arbitration last week with a specific goal of trying to keep the 11th position with the support of the full village board. He alleged the PBA asked for a three percent increase in salary and eight-hour fixed shifts, but did not make an effort to save officer Driscoll’s position.

“Why would we put ourselves in a position to not negotiate on behalf of the total membership,” asked PBA president Patrick Milazzo.

He added that the village has offered zero percent salary increases in negotiations and denied claims the PBA did not try to save the 11th position.

“I don’t believe you,” said Gilbride. “And this is not the first time you have not done something to save that 11th position.

“What I am trying to do is negotiate for my entire membership,” countered Milazzo. “What I am not going to do is put myself in a position where I am going to negotiate for a portion of my personnel. That is absurd.”

He added he believes the village is trying to paint this picture to put the blame of this loss on the PBA instead of the village board.

“The village is getting to the point where we can’t afford it,” said Gilbride.

“Then don’t,” said Milazzo. “Do it or don’t, but don’t half ass it.”

“Are you saying we should put something up to abolish the police department,” asked Gilbride.

“If you are not going to do it the right way, don’t do it,” said Milazzo, noting that has been his position consistently when discussing the future of the Sag Harbor Village Police Department.

“By diminishing our department by officer Driscoll’s position you are putting us all in jeopardy,” said Sergeant Paul Fabiano.

He added he believes the police budget and the ongoing contract negotiations should not be linked.

“We are supposed to train, we are supposed to prepare but when you have a one person shift, you don’t have adequate personnel, equipment to do the job, you are set up to fail and that is what is happening in my opinion,” said Sergeant Fabiano.

He added the chief was able to find some $70,000 or more in the budget to try and save the position and the village board should have worked to find the rest of the estimated $180,000 needed to keep the 11th position for the upcoming fiscal year.

The fear is not just for the community, said Sergeant Fabiano, but also for officers on duty, some of whom he feared may have to be on duty on their own to accommodate this loss of an officer.

Gilbride said he believed most shifts would remain two-man shifts.

“Can this department run with 10 people, yes. Does it run efficiently, no. Is there a safety issue, absolutely,” said Sergeant Fabiano, adding Detective Jeff Proctor — the department’s only detective — must work patrol duty, taking away from his investigative work.

 

East End Hospice Reschedules Good Grief Bereavement Center Open House for this Sunday

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East End Hospice has rescheduled an open house for its new family bereavement center in Westhampton Beach for this Sunday, December 2, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The hospice canceled the open house originally scheduled for early November after Hurricane Sandy impacted the region.

The open house will be held at the center, which is an extension of Camp Good Grief, at 195 Mill Road in Westhampton Beach.

The open house will be held immediately after East End Hospice’s annual Tree of Lights Celebration, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. that day on the Village Green in Westhampton Beach. The annual ceremony honors the memory of family members and friends with special tributes and music.

The new center, which is expected to cater to more than 150 families annually, will provide support for grieving children, teenagers and their families.

To learn more about East End Hospice and its bereavement services, call 288-8400 or visit www.eeh.org.