East End leaders look to 2013's challenges
Newsday asked the leaders of Long Island's 13 towns and two cities what they see as their biggest challenges in 2013. Here are the answers from the leaders of the five East End towns. Responses from the five Western Suffolk supervisors appeared Wednesday, and Nassau's leaders will run Friday.
EAST HAMPTON TOWN
Saying his town board has split along party lines, East Hampton Republican Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said his biggest challenge in 2013 might be finding how to get the entire board to agree on ways to solve critical town problems.
Wilkinson was elected for the first time in 2009 by an overwhelming margin to deal with a massive fiscal crisis. But the political landscape in East Hampton changed dramatically in 2011 when Wilkinson was re-elected by fewer than 20 votes and two Democrats defeated two Republicans.
Since then, Wilkinson said, the town board has not been able to agree on what to do with its sewage treatment facility, how to deal with erosion problems or what approach would be best in dealing with airport noise complaints.
He said dealing with erosion -- and the need to protect the town's shoreline to preserve its homes and businesses -- is a vital problem that needs to be addressed immediately. "It's either protect or retreat. There is no other alternative," Wilkinson said.
Republicans on the board have said that Wilkinson does not fully involve them in discussions before resolutions come up for a vote.
A special election looms in mid-January that could result in Sean Walter's departure as Riverhead Town supervisor -- he is running for a seat on the Suffolk County Legislature. Win or lose, Walter said, his biggest challenge in 2013 will be to get the town's Enterprise Park at Calverton subdivided so it can be sold and new businesses can open up there, bringing jobs and tax revenue to the town.
"EPCAL should be done in less than a year. We're two years into the [subdivision] process, and we lost 10 months with the Department of Environmental Conservation and storms," Walter said.
Walter added that, if he does not win the election, he will be spending even more time trying to get state approval for the EPCAL subdivision. "I've started to lobby in Albany," he said. "I'm spending one day a week there already."
Riverhead Town recently hired former Democratic congressman George Hochbrueckner as a lobbyist to help get approval for its EPCAL plans.
Dealing with state environmental regulations has proved difficult for the town, which wants to have a master plan in place so that a business buying land there will not have to go through as extensive an environmental review.
The issue is complex, because part of the EPCAL property is in a sensitive pine barrens water recharge area, and the town's overall plans for sewage service and other infrastructure improvements currently have to be factored into each individual development application. The town wants the state to recognize that planned sewage facilities will deal with all new development, and not require individual reviews.
SHELTER ISLAND TOWN
Supervisor James Dougherty said his biggest challenge in 2013 will be finding the money to deal with state-mandated payments for pensions and health benefits.
"They're really destroying the fabric of local towns, even those who do a pretty solid job. We can't just keep absorbing these huge pension increases," he said.
Dougherty said that finding money to preserve open space on Shelter Island is another goal, and added that he will work toward getting Suffolk County to spend some of its open space preservation funds in his town, the smallest on Long Island.
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the town's recovery from superstorm Sandy continues to be a major priority and challenge as Southampton works to clean up and re-nourish its beaches. But the town faces other obstacles, she said, including improving water quality.
"We have a growing number of impaired water bodies and we see our bays threatened, we see our shellfish and fishing industry threatened, and home values threatened as a result of that," Throne-Holst said.
She said the town is also working toward a better solution for the area's semi-permanent homeless shelters that "spreads the burden out a little bit," she said.
Southampton has lived within the state property tax levy cap and hasn't raised taxes in three years, Throne-Holst said, but that is getting more difficult with the rising costs of health care. The solution, she said, has to be more sustainable and comprehensive than laying off town workers.
Another topic of concern for East Enders is managing the deer population.
"Recognizing the cost to public health is huge with a deer population that is, first of all, growing well beyond what we can support out here, but as well the tick-borne diseases, which no doubt circle back to the deer population being what it is today," Throne-Holst said. "The cost to quality of life, but to public health, too, is enormous. We have to come up with a real manageable solution there."
While Southold continues to focus on rebuilding and recovering from Sandy, Supervisor Scott Russell said, the town also will be negotiating two collective bargaining agreements in 2013 -- one each with the Police Benevolent Association and the Civil Service Employees Association.
The town also has undertaken an update of its comprehensive plan, Russell said, and 2013 will bring a robust discussion on zoning and land use.
"The challenge is to create economic opportunities and to encourage investment while we look to preserve the character of this community," he said. "Chief among those challenges is to promote opportunities for our agricultural segment and to identify and encourage businesses and industry that will provide meaningful, long-term employment for the young families we are seeking to keep here."
Russell said the Economic Development Committee was created to help the town with those goals.
Southold will continue to focus on preserving active agricultural lands and open space, Russell said, and will be looking at a variety of options to make that happen -- including the consideration of new open space/farmland purchase of development rights bonds.
Russell said the town recently issued a request for proposals seeking input by developers for the creation of affordable housing and housing for seniors, and continues to struggle with managing a township in an era of dwindling revenue.