The trio of Democrats seeking East Hampton Town Board seats in this fall’s election—Larry Cantwell for supervisor and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Job Potter as council members—last week released a platform outlining their combined stances spanning a range of topics from finance to quality of life and the environment.
The 20-plus-page document, titled “Where We Stand,” is organized into five categories: good governance, budgetary goals, managing growth, full and fair enforcement and the environment and human services, each of which is broken down into subgroups on topics such as the town airport, affordable housing, overcrowded housing and coastal policy, and contains no surprises from the traditional, polished party platform.
Featuring a front-page photo of the three candidates in business attire, smiling in front of a pond surrounded by vegetation, the text opens with a commitment to preserve East Hampton’s reputation as a nice place to live and work and concludes with a message about the “destructive political disputes” in town and a need to move forward.
One theme is a desire to do away with political interference. The good governance section, for example, notes that elected officials should ensure laws are enforced and not subject to political manipulations. It also notes that the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals must be free from political sway.
The Democrats propose in the document to control taxes by balancing increases with reducing expenses through consolidating services, improving efficiency and reducing the town’s reliance on property taxes. Employee benefits, for example, make up $16.6 million of the $69 million budget, and health benefits take up an $8 million chunk. The platform suggests the town could save in this area by offering an incentive to employees to switch to health insurance coverage provided by their non-town-employed spouses’ employers.
Mr. Cantwell, during an informal sit-down with his running mates and reporters at D’Canela restaurant in Amagansett on Friday afternoon to discuss the platform, explained how there is currently no such incentive, even though coverage might be similar. Employee benefits are an area where there is a need to get creative, he said.
The candidates also proposes consolidating the town’s emergency communications department with East Hampton Village’s, which they estimate would save $700,000. They also propose increasing non-tax revenue by, for instance, stressing the collection of fees from non-resident sources. The town has a population 10 times greater than the village and has a proportionately comparable number of more visitors than the village, they say, yet the village collects rakes in more than $1 million in non-resident parking permit fees, while the town gets about $400,000.
The platform urges the creation of a five-year plan for capital improvements, noting that lack of maintenance in the Highway Department has resulted in leaking roofs, flooded office space and the relocation of office operations to a rented trailer. It also notes that the old Town Hall is unoccupied due to its unsafe condition, although they do not propose an idea for what to do with it.
Gaps in services created by the town’s financial stabilization is another theme. Slashing the town workforce by 25 percent, the Democrats say, has resulted in an inability to keep the beaches clean.
In terms of East Hampton Airport, the Democrats say the town has the potential for more local control, that it must adopt legally enforceable restrictions to limit noise. They refrain from stating whether the town should continue to accept Federal Aviation Administration funds, saying a financial report should be done first.
The candidates say they would not approve the rezoning of an Amagansett farm for 89 units of luxury senior housing, as has been proposed, saying the increased density and removal of prime agricultural soils would violate the town’s comprehensive plan. They say they will refresh efforts to find willing sellers of farms and open space while their fair market values remain below what they were five years ago and will produce a plan to buy small lots to provide “pocket parks” and linked trails. One goal is to increase the rate of Community Preservation Fund acquisitions, while keeping reserves in place.
The packet notes that affordable housing is key, but only one potential project is in the works, a tennis courts property on Accabonac Highway, with a possible yield of 12 units.
The Democrats propose to up the ante when it comes to code enforcement, a huge headache for many residents.
They suggest upping the maximum fines for all zoning violations to the limit allowed under state law and employing one new code enforcement officer who would have investigative skills and would specialize in residential zoning enforcement. At Friday’s sit-down, Mr. Cantwell said that there would be no offset for the addition of one more officer.
The trio also suggests requiring certificates of occupancy to list the number of allowable bedrooms and bathrooms, and to create a group made up of police, code enforcement officers, and fire and Building Department employees to tackle residential zoning violations and health, safety and welfare issues. Hiring a chief building inspector is another goal.
Developing a hazard mitigation and recovery plan to better identify hazards and areas of shoreline vulnerability is highlighted, as is the opportunity to use about $20 million in federal funds secured by Representative Tim Bishop to rebuild dunes and beaches in Montauk. It also stresses the town’s responsibility in ensuring that residents and businesses can always dispose of septic waste at a reasonable cost and that a modern scavenger waste plant could be run without threatening the aquifer. Alternatively, the could provide a transfer station that has an intermunicipal agreement to send its waste to Riverhead.