A group of Hampton Bays residents has been meeting with lawyers over the past year in an effort to make their community Long Island's newest -- and geographically largest -- incorporated village.
Proponents say incorporation would raise taxes modestly but give residents of the largely middle- and working-class corner of the Hamptons greater control over code enforcement and land-use decisions.
"Home rule is as American as you can get," said Bruce Doscher, 67, an electrical inspector who is president of the nonprofit Committee to Explore the Incorporation of Hampton Bays. "The central issue here is to be able to control our own destiny."
Several residents formed the exploratory committee more than a year ago and have hired Central Islip attorney Joseph Prokop, who serves as the attorney for several Long Island villages and played a key role in incorporating Long Island's newest village, Mastic Beach, in 2010. Prokop did not return a calls seeking comment.
Hampton Bays residents have complained for years that much of Southampton Town's population density is concentrated in their community of 13,600 people, and bemoaned what they say is a proliferation of illegal and unsafe rental housing.
Thoughts of incorporating Hampton Bays have percolated for decades, said Bruce King, 66, a retired education professor who is vice president of the exploratory committee.
"It's been talked about since I was a little kid," he said. "There's a lot of people in Hampton Bays who are very in favor of this. They come up to me in the supermarket all the time."
Long Island already has more than 90 incorporated villages. Hamlets such as Montauk and Yaphank have flirted with incorporation over the past 20 years, but the efforts failed.
In Hampton Bays, committee members have drafted a detailed $2.8 million budget that estimates that in the first year of the village's existence, incorporation would raise property taxes $240 on a house assessed at $425,000. Village borders, under the proposal, would correspond with the boundaries of the roughly 15-square-mile Hampton Bays school district.
Under the plan, village officials would pay Southampton Town for police and highway services but would run their own justice court and code-enforcement department with one full-time officer and three part-time officers.
Proponents are seeking to raise as much as $40,000 in donations to cover legal and administrative costs of incorporation. A fundraiser is scheduled for Sept. 10 at Oakland's Restaurant & Marina in Hampton Bays.
To move forward with incorporation, committee members must perform a census of residents living within the proposed village boundaries, then get 20 percent of them to sign a petition. Eventually, a majority of residents would need to approve incorporation in a referendum.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she is officially neutral on the idea but cautioned that village residents would likely pay higher taxes and would still need to appeal to higher levels of government to make land-preservation purchases. The Southampton Town Board controls the town's community preservation fund.
"As I said to that group from the very beginning, they need to weigh the pros and cons of something like this very carefully," she said.
Throne-Holst added that the town government has aggressively moved to preserve land and enforce housing codes in Hampton Bays.
"There just isn't a piece of property that has a code violation that we're aware of or have been made aware of that is not under investigation," she said. "We have an extremely active and proactive code enforcement division."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and others have blamed a proliferation of villages and other taxing districts in the state for contributing to high property taxes. When he was attorney general, Cuomo championed a 2009 law making it easier for residents to dismantle or consolidate taxing districts.
But Doscher said a village would be better equipped to handle questions such as what should be done about the Hampton Bays Diner, a local landmark that closed in July and is already beginning to look "shabby."
"The governor, just like the rest of us, is entitled to his point of view," Doscher said. But he said it would be inappropriate for elected officials to weigh in on a decision that should be left to residents of Hampton Bays.
Mastic Beach officials have been invited to attend a meeting of Hampton Bays' village exploratory committee, scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. at the Hampton Bays firehouse on Ponquogue Avenue, Doscher said.