Race for Amityville mayor, 2 trustee seats

Amityville Village Hall

Amityville Village Hall (Credit: Alexi Knock)

With the election for village officers looming later this month, Amityville's current financial predicament has been as fiercely debated as competing plans for its future over weeks of robocalls and at a meet-the-candidates event earlier this week that drew hundreds.

In the mayoral race, James P. Wandell, an accountant and former Zoning Board of Appeals chairman, says the current administration has raised taxes too high while spending unwisely and that a wholesale leadership change is needed.

He faces two long-serving trustees, Edward C. Johnson and Peter M. Casserly, who both say fiscal health should be a priority but that the roughly $700,000 budget deficit would be closed or greatly diminished if the village is paid money they say it is owed by Suffolk County and the developer of an unfinished condominium project. Their government experience is valuable, the two trustees say, and will help them continue to assist residents still reeling from superstorm Sandy.

The trustees race features six candidates vying for two seats: Joseph G. Morin, Kevin P. Smith, Bruce Jenney, and Charles A. Walters, along with Jessica T. Bernius and Peter G. Himmelmann, who are running on a ticket with Wandell.

At the candidates' event, everyone agreed on the need to develop the property of the now-demolished Brunswick Hospital. Once a major source of property tax revenue for the village, it will generate much less until improvements are made. Many agreed on the need to spur investment downtown, slow traffic and beautify Broadway, and many praised the police department.

Consensus ended there, for the most part. The platform outlined by Wandell -- who is 68 according to public records -- and his running mates includes proposals to end health benefits for sitting elected officials and to cut salaries for the mayor and trustees by 20 percent. The three also committed to remaining inside the 2 percent tax levy cap.

They say cutting benefits would save the village more than $100,000 a year, a claim confirmed by the village clerk.

The village already has eliminated benefits for incoming elected officials, but village attorney Bruce Kennedy has said such benefits cannot be removed for those already in office when the measure passed.

Other proposals include changing the term for trustees from four years to two, limiting office holders to four terms, and updating regularly the village website.

 

2 trustees in 3-way race for mayor

Johnson, 58, who owns Johnson's Florist in Amityville and has been a trustee since 1997, said much of the village's spending in recent years has been non-discretionary -- e.g., employee health care and retirement benefits. He said he would work to balance the budget through zero-base budgeting, restructuring village debt, and hiring outside counsel to negotiate employee contracts on a flat-rate rather than hourly basis. He would delay large purchases until the village has a final accounting of money to be received from FEMA and its insurance companies.

As part of a downtown redevelopment plan, he would seek to reduce Broadway's four lanes to two, and add a center median and more stoplights. Starting with Brunswick Hospital, he would mandate that developers of major projects use a minimum of 25 percent local labor.

Casserly, 64, the deputy mayor for 25 years, is a former Babylon Town commissioner of planning and of general services and is now director of government relations for Progressive Waste Solutions of Long Island. He said he has talked with Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone about collecting promised county funds and with the developer of Wellington Park Villas, the unfinished condo project, about unpaid fees.

Casserly said one of his top priorities is the prompt redevelopment of the Brunswick Hospital property, which he said would be "key for the fiscal health of the village." Squabbles between the property's current ownership interests have forestalled any redevelopment there, village officials said.

Casserly said he also is working to bring more businesses into the downtown, and is in talks with the owner of the Vittorio's and Vero restaurants about opening a steakhouse on Broadway.

 

6 candidates vie for 2 trustee seats

In the trustees race, Morin, 56, a house painter who worked in New York City's garment industry, said he would focus on balancing the village budget. "Until you have financial stability, you're not going to get respect from Wall Street, homeowners or business owners who want to come into the community and invest," said Morin, who received a business degree from LIU Post in 1981.

He would seek savings by converting some village vehicles and streetlights to "green" technology. Conversion of streetlights alone, he said, could save the village $80,000 a year.

Bernius, who declined to give her age, retired from teaching health and physical education in the South Huntington and Amityville school districts in 2011. She earned a master's degree in health education from Adelphi University in 1969.

She said she and her ticket-mates would do a line-by-line reading of the village budget to identify possible cuts. Revitalization of the village beach is among her other priorities. She would push for free access to the beach and free swimming lessons for village residents, calling swimming lessons a "safety issue" for village children.

Himmelmann, 57, who retired from the beverage industry in 2008, attended Farmingdale State College. He said his background as a union delegate in contract negotiations prepared him to bargain with unions representing the village police and public works departments. He said he would draw on contacts in the national restaurant industry to attract a midmarket family-style restaurant to the Brunswick Hospital site, and would push for a restaurant at the village beach to attract more visitors and provide additional revenue for the village.

Smith, 55, a building inspector who attended LIU Post, said he would focus on Amityville's budget ills and on strengthening its tax base. One of his first initiatives would be to organize an independent board of local businesspeople to make recommendations on Brunswick Hospital, the waterfront, and a possible community cultural center.

Jenney, 67, a musician who attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, said he would focus on civic involvement and government transparency, regularly updating the village website. Development of the Brunswick Hospital site is key to the village's financial health, he said. "This could be drawing traffic to downtown. There should be more than one business there," he said. Supermarkets such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's could anchor other businesses, he said.

Walters, 57, is administrative director of Suffolk Surgery Center in Shirley and graduated from St. Joseph's College with a bachelor's degree in health administration. He served nine years as an Amityville school board trustee and has been a volunteer firefighter for 34 years.

Walters said he would focus on "frugal and wise spending, effective budgeting practices . . . and wise handling of new development." He said he would push for a medical facility or chain restaurant at the Brunswick Hospital property and develop a long-term plan to revitalize business areas in the village, possibly offering tax incentives to attract new businesses.

Voting is March 19 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with voting locations available from Village Hall.

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