Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman delivers his “State of the Town”
At this point, I have been in office as Town Supervisor, just over 100 days, I want to take this opportunity to update the Town Board and the public on the status of town finances and some of the major initiatives we are undertaking.
Starting with finance, I am pleased to report that we are in excellent fiscal health! Standard and Poor’s recently upheld our AAA credit rating, the highest rating available and offered a strong outlook over the next few years. We retain healthy fund balances and a surplus in excess of recommended levels by ratings agencies.
Our real property tax base continues to grow at a rate exceeding 3 % and our bonded indebtedness continues to shrink by a rate of 5 %. In other words, property values continue to appreciate and we continue to retire more debt than we accumulate.
Revenues are exceeding projections in several key areas including building permits and mortgage taxes. The Mortgage Tax alone is on target to outperform estimates by a million dollars, a reflection of our strong real estate market and our conservative budgeting practices. Our Comptroller Len Marchese was once again awarded a certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting by the General Finance Officers Association. I want to congratulate Len and his staff on this award and thank him for his oversight of Town finances.
Our Community Preservation Fund revenues from the 2% real estate transfer tax continue to produce significantly for land preservation with a current CPF balance of $ 94 million dollars. I want to thank our CPF Committees and our CPF Manager Mary Wilson for assisting the Town Board with multiple acquisitions of open space, farmland, historic landmarks and public access.
We have also received several million dollars in grants for capital projects that will help the Town move forward without burdening local taxpayers.
As other levels of government struggle to balance their budgets, Southampton maintains a structurally balanced budget. For example, even after 4 snow storms including a blizzard, our snow removal budget has a healthy balance of $300,000.00 and we’ve added an additional truck to the fleet for snow removal. I want to thank our Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor and his staff for their hard work this winter in keeping our roads clear and safe.
Last month, the Town Board reached an important settlement with the CSEA, the bargaining unit for the bulk of our Town employees. This agreement amicably settles long standing inequities within the workforce, addresses cost of living concerns and will improve worker morale. I want to thank CSEA President Laura Smith for her dedication to our town workforce and to Russell Kratoville, our General Services Director for working closely with the Town Board to craft a settlement that fairly serves the Town workforce while protecting Town taxpayers. From serving meals to seniors to processing building permits, from plowing our roads to maintaining our parks, our town employees are the public face of our Town and we are all proud of their hard work and dedication.
The Town Board also last month accepted the retirement of Police Chief Robert Pearce. Chief Pearce will serve until the end of September helping us through the busy summer season allowing us time to recruit a new police chief. We are setting up a search committee to help us find his replacement. Chief Pearce has a distinguished 35 year long record of service to the Town including serving the past 4 years as Chief with distinction. He has done an excellent job. I want to thank Chief Pearce for his service and wish him every blessing on his well-deserved retirement.
I would like to now update the Board on several capital projects.
The Board has long recognized the necessity of elevating Dune Road to make it passable during high tide events. We are still working on the financial pieces to make the long sought project a reality working within the Town’s financial abilities. We have a shovel ready $5. 1 million project that may combine funding through the County, the Town and taxpayers within the Tiana Erosion Control District. We know this stretch of road is not just vital to our residents who live there, but also to the residents who enjoy our beaches and recreational programs, the commercial fishing fleet who work our waters and the local waterfront restaurants and private marinas. I am working with County, State and Federal officials to secure grant funding that will allow this project to move forward. I want to thank County Executive Steve Bellone and our State and Federal delegation for their assistance in identifying potential grant opportunities.
Also with County financial support, we are moving forward with improvements to the Maritime Park in Hampton Bays along the Shinnecock Canal. In addition to making the area more accessible to the public, we are proposing the addition of benches, a family picnic area as well as a comfort station. Because of the sensitive environmental nature of this location, we are in discussions with the Clean Water Institute at Stony Brook University about piloting an innovative technology for removing nitrogen from wastewater at this facility at no cost to the Town.
The improvements to Good Ground Park in Hampton Bays are underway and the new amphitheater should be ready for use later this year. I want to thank our Deputy Supervisor, Frank Zappone, for really taking the lead on this project. I also want to thank New York State Senator Ken La Valle and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele for their work in helping secure $1 million in additional state grants for Good Ground Park.
Additionally, in Hampton Bays, Montauk Highway is currently being re-paved and large sections of the Main Street sidewalks are being replaced. All work is expected to be completed by Memorial Day. This is a joint project of the Town and County. I want to thank Suffolk County Department of Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson for expediting this important project.
We are also working with County DPW engineers on improving traffic flow in several key areas. Major improvements to the Riverside traffic circle are on schedule for this fall. And, next week, we will be conducting a test project along County Road 39 near the college to evaluate the impact of blinking the traffic light during morning rush hour traffic. The Tuckahoe Road light will be set to blink from 6am to 9am next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, April 19th, 20th and 21st. Other traffic mitigation measures are also being discussed.
In the months ahead we will be discussing possible improvements to beach facilities, economic revitalization efforts, workforce-housing initiatives and increased public participation through our web site, including tracking code violations. We are also discussing new requirements for livery vehicles. I want to thank Councilman Stan Glinka for his work with the taxi companies as well as the emerging ride share industry.
We are also discussing a moratorium on Planned Development Districts applications. As we look to our future let’s make sure we are making the correct choices for growth. I will look forward to a lively discussion with the Board on the future of the new PDD law.
Southampton Town continues to take the lead in the Great East End Clean up. This year’s event will take place the weekend of April 30th and May 1st. Councilwoman Christine Scalera coordinates this annual event. Last year 750 volunteers removed 25 tons of litter and debris from our beaches, parks and trails. I want to thank Councilwoman Scalera for her great leadership on this and other important community issues.
We have a long tradition of preserving our historical landmarks and architecture. We are proud that five renovation projects are currently underway. We are restoring the Nathaniel Rogers House in Bridgehampton, the Lyzon Hat Shop in Hampton Bays, the Canoe Place Chapel in Hampton Bays, the Tiana Life-Saving Station in East Quogue and the Tupper Boat House in North Sea. All of these buildings are part of our rich history and deserve preservation.
Farming and fishing are also deeply woven into our town’s history. Both industries, we are proud to say, prosper today. We are promoting food-farming through the use of enhanced easements in an effort to support agriculture. We are beginning to discuss important ways to reduce the use of chemical pesticides.
Our fishing industry continues to succeed with dozens of fishing vessels that homeport at the Shinnecock Dock. We are undertaking needed repairs to this county/town facility. Commercial fishing faces a number of challenges in the years ahead. One member of our Board comes from a fishing family. Julie Lofstad’s family owns a commercial vessel and she brings great insight to the Board to help us in our endeavors to support our dock and the commercial fishing industries. And I want to thank Councilwoman Lofstad for her insight on this important industry and efforts on behalf of working people in general.
We are working hard to improve our water quality in Shinnecock Bay. The number of closed shellfish areas is decreasing slightly and some recent research from Stony Brook Southampton indicates we may be diminishing our high incidence of brown tide. The success may be in part to reseeding shellfish efforts. Reseeding our bays with shellfish is showing some promising results.
Councilman John Bouvier is working with Cornell Cooperative of Suffolk County to set up a shellfish nursery and Marine education center. The facility will be used as an educational center for children to help teach the next generations on innovative ways to protect our bays. I want to thank Councilman Bouvier for his hard work and leadership on these important water quality issues.
Our surface waters continue to face many challenges mainly due to human activity such as nitrogen loading from septic systems. Our Town Board is working on a comprehensive plan amendment to restore water quality. We are also working closely with Town Trustees on water quality and beach access issues. . I want to thank the Trustees for their stewardship efforts. We stand united.
We have formed a partnership with the Shinnecock Nation and Tribal Council Chairman Brian Polite to improve the quality of our bays and preserve our environment. I am proud that we have two tribal members appointed to our boards and committees. Sunshine Gumbs is now a member of our Conservation Board. Shavonne Smith is becoming a member of our Sustainability Committee. We welcome their voices as we move forward.
We have a terrific group of citizens who have committed their time and expertise to sit on our boards and committees. Their incredible devotion to issues that are important to all of us is deeply appreciated. We are shaping our future…all of us have a stake in this. I thank you all for your dedication as we work together for the people of Southampton!