The Southampton Town Board promoted veteran Town Police Officer Lawrence Schurek from lieutenant to captain on Tuesday afternoon.
The resolution passed 4-0, as Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi was absent.
Capt. Schurek has been a member of the Southampton Town Police Department for 28 years and has been a lieutenant since April 2010. The promotion makes Capt. Schurek the heir apparent for the chief’s job should Chief Pearce retire in the near future, as has been speculated.
“This is an important moment for the Southampton Town Police Department,” Town Police Chief Robert Pearce said. “During those 28 years of serving this town … he has had a constant day-in, day-out dedication to service. He certainly has earned this position.”
Turning to Capt. Schurek beside him, he added: “I look forward to working with you as my executive officer.”
The police department’s lone captain’s position had been vacant for nearly a year since Chief Pearce took over as the head of the department with the retirement of Chief William Wilson Jr. Chief Pearce had been captain for just six months when he took over as chief. Prior to that, the position had been vacant for more than a year following the retirement of longtime Captain Anthony Tenaglia.
According to the town’s 2014 tentative budget, the captain is set to earn a base salary of $168,000, a figure that goes up to $263,000 when benefits are factored in. As a lieutenant, Capt. Schurek was slated to earn a base salary of $150,000 next year.
Traditionally, the police department’s captain serves as the unit’s executive officer and assists the chief with clerical and logistical management of the department’s 86 officers and other staff.
The move drew criticism from the officers’ union. In a letter to the Town Board, a copy of which was provided anonymously to The Press, Patrolman’s Benevolent Association Vice President Kevin Gwinn said the promotion, and its associated costs, were unnecessary and that the money could be better spent elsewhere in the department.
“Our department’s Emergency Services Unit’s budget has been cut some $15,000, which no doubt effect [sic] training and equipment needed to keep our elite tactical officers at a level, as they address the most dangerous elements throughout our town,” Officer Gwinn wrote. “It is the PBA’s opinion that this unnecessary title promotion should be examined further … because of our desperate need for a safer level of police presence.”
The union representative also noted that the $30,000 in additional salary and benefits that Capt. Schurek’s promotion will cost could be better invested on staffing and training costs.
The Town Board on Tuesday approved amending the 2013 budget to cover up to $100,000 in unbudgeted overtime pay for Town Police officers. The money will be appropriated from other lines of the police department budget, such as vehicle and equipment maintenance.
The police department, which has been operating at reduced staffing levels for several years, has commonly overspent its budgeted overtime allotment as department brass often must fill shifts with part-time officers and by awarding extra shifts.
“It’s part of the balancing act we’ve been working with,” Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “It’s been a little bit higher this year than the last couple years—we had several special events like the [U.S. Women’s Open]. But we’re still at a point where the overtime is less expensive to us than adding salaries would be.”
Ms. Throne-Holst is in the midst of contract negotiations with the town’s police officers union, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association. The supervisor says she has a draft contract that she plans to present to the Town Board this week for their tacit approval before taking it to the PBA.
The contract negotiations with the PBA are likely focused on issues of health insurance plans and contributions by officers, the use of part-time officers to fill shifts, and salary increases. The new contract would be retroactive to the start of 2013. The tentative budget Ms. Throne-Holst submitted this fall forecasts a 2-percent raise for officers.
Governor Andrew Cuomo last month signed legislation that declares the Southampton Town Trustees, as well as their counterparts in East Hampton and Southold towns, to be municipal corporations and makes them eligible to accept gifts in the form of land seized by Suffolk County.
The legislation was drafted and presented to the State Legislature by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle.
The new designation will put the Trustees boards, each of which has been sitting and continually elected since the colonial era, on the same legal footing as towns and villages in terms of accepting ownership of lands.
“The Trustees are clearly local elected government bodies,” Mr. Thiele said. “They will greatly benefit from the ability to receive land at no cost from the county or other local governments, to be placed under their stewardship.”
Suffolk County commonly transfers lands that it seizes for failure to pay back taxes to local municipalities at little or no cost. The lands are often used to create affordable housing or preserve open space. State law requires that the lands be passed to municipal corporations.
“The passage of this bill not only allows us to acquire sensitive wetland parcels,” said Southampton Town Trustees President Eric Shultz, “but, just as important, recognizes the Trustees as a municipal corporation, which will strengthen our standing on other issues.”
The town has received more than a dozen bids from companies interested in redesigning the Deerfield Road and Mill Pond drainage and outflow system.
The bids ranged from $91,840 to more than $218,000. The lowest bid was submitted by Bimasco Inc, a Hauppauge materials company that was also awarded a contract by the town this week for the maintenance of all the town’s recharge basins.
The project will renovate a system of drainage pipes that funnel runoff from the broad watershed, much of it farms and polo fields, north of Mill Pond and ending at a turn in Deerfield Road where it runs along the pond’s northeastern shore. Three separate pipes will be combined into one. At the end of the pipe will be a stone splash area to prevent erosion, and a buffer of plants and shrubs to help filter sediments from the water before it reaches the pond.
A swale running down the west side of Deerfield Road and extending about 200 feet up from the pond’s edge will also be cleaned out and redesigned to include check-dams that slow the flow of water, allowing sediment carried in it to settle. The swale will also be vegetated with specially selected plants to capture more sediment and nutrients.
The work is seen as critical to the effort to rid the pond of the choking algae blooms that have plagued it for years. Last spring the town began a two-year experiment using a mineral specially engineered to bond to phosphorous in the pond’s waters, in hopes of starving the algae blooms of their food source. But controlling runoff is necessary to slow the influx of additional phosphorous and other pollutants that could spark other blooms.
The town budgeted some $250,000 for the drainage work, the money coming from a $320,000 grant from the Suffolk County Water Protection and Restoration Fund.
Proposals Also Received
The town also received three responses to its request for proposals for its Riverside Revitalization Action Plan. The request seeks a developer to help guide and shepherd the redevelopment, rehabilitation and revitalization of the hamlet’s commercial district.
The proposals received came from Renaissance Downtowns, a New Hampshire firm that specializes in urban downtown development and the creation of “boutique cities,” a group listed only as VHB, and by The Southampton Inn, whose owner, Dede Gotthelf, had spearheaded a proposal a decade ago to develop a hotel and conference center complex along the Riverside waterfront.
The proposals are being reviewed by the town’s Department of Land Management.