Hearing slated on plan to charge for beach stickers and CPF plan

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The East Hampton Town Board will hold public hearings on a pair of much debated issues on Friday morning: plans to charge $25 for beach parking stickers, as well as the town’s proposed Community Preservation Fund expenditures for the coming year.

The public hearings will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

When he proposed his 2009 budget, Supervisor Bill McGintee proposed charging town residents for beach parking stickers for the first time in the town’s history. The $25-per-sticker fee he proposed would raise at least $250,000 in revenue for the town, Mr. McGintee said, adding that the estimate was probably conservative, based on the number of dump permits that are sold to town residents annually.

The Town Board adopted the budget, including the beach sticker fee, by a narrow majority of 3-2 with Councilwomen Pat Mansir and Julia Prince voting against the spending plan. Both cited the sticker fee among their reasons for voting against the budget. Councilman Brad Loewen voted in favor of the budget but expressed reservations about the sticker fee.

The supervisor and councilman Pete Hammerle both argued that the sticker fee was a fair way to raise revenues by passing on costs to those who use a town facility, namely parking lots. Southampton Town charges its residents $25 per year for beach parking stickers.

While the beach stickers have always been free for residents, last year East Hampton Town raised the fee it charges non-residents from $275 to $350 a year.

“We’re not charging people to use the beach, we’re charging them to use the parking lots,” Mr. McGintee said in defense of the proposal at a Town Board meeting this week. “You can use the beach all you want for free.”

During discussions of the budget, Ms. Mansir noted that cutting the $250,000 in sticker revenues from the budget and raising the money through townwide taxes would cost most residents only about $7 in extra property taxes paid, rather than $25, though some residents could opt against paying for stickers, while the tax would be mandatory.

Opposition to the beach parking fee is expected to be heavy at Friday’s hearing. The East Hampton Town Trustees, who are responsible for the beaches and have vowed not to impose fees for four-wheel-drive vehicles to drive on the sand, resolved at a recent meeting to oppose the sticker fee.

Also on Friday, the board will hear comments on its Community Preservation Fund management and stewardship budget for 2009. The budget covers the money the town plans to spend on construction, maintenance and administrative costs for its open space and historic structures preservation program.

The town is estimating it will take in $10 million in CPF revenues, which are collected through a 2-percent tax on most real estate transactions. The CPF bylaws allow that up to 10 percent of the town’s annual revenues can be spent on management and stewardship costs.

The town has proposed dedicating about $845,000 to such costs in 2009, nearly half of which would go to the costs of renovations to the Selah Lester House on North Main Street and the Amagansett Lifesaving Stations. The CPF will also fund the budget of the Department of Land Acquisitions, which develops the town’s preservation purchases and plans, and for portions of the budgets from other town departments, like the town attorney’s office, and parks and recreation.

Objections have been voiced from some critics about spending on historic projects, and at least one objection to the work being done at the Lester property being called historic restoration and being paid for by CPF.

In recent weeks, Zach Cohen, a member of the town’s CPF advisory committee, has questioned whether the restoration work on the Lester house would qualify as preservation of a historic structure. Much of the building is not historic, he has claimed, and is being outfitted with modern utilities so that it may be used as an office for the town’s Department of Land Acquisition. The property, at the corner of Cedar Street and North Main Street, was purchased in 2007 for use as a park.

The town was censured by state officials earlier this year for having used as much as $450,000 in CPF money each year to cover various town expenses without accounting for how those costs related to CPF purchases. The town was also censured for having borrowed millions of dollars from the CPF to cover operating costs in 2007, which led directly to a rewriting of the program’s bylaws.

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