Recovery issues top Bellport election
With a population hovering around 2,000 people, the village of Bellport maintains a vibrant presence on the South Shore of Suffolk County.
But behind the village's picturesque Main Street and scenic waterfront lie serious issues of revitalization, economic woes and storm recovery, say candidates for the village's board of trustees.
As Mayor Will Veitch prepares to leave office this year, three candidates are running to replace him, and four are vying for two trustee seats.
The village's economic situation is each candidate's top priority.
"We're getting less and less for our taxes and some of us are not from very wealthy positions," said Janine Roe, who is running for mayor.
Roe, 53, an administrator, grew up in Bellport and ran the Ho Hum beach concession for 11 seasons. An unsuccessful trustee candidate in 2009, she also has served as a volunteer firefighter.
"I think we're failing on creating a village that is full of life and vitality and young people," she said, adding her work as a "community organizer and activist" will help her to revitalize the village's faltering downtown. "I think we need a good manager."
Raymond Fell, 67, was superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford school district before retiring in 2001. A former trustee, he served one term and lost a re-election bid in 2009. He's a supporter of the Boys and Girls Club of Bellport, and active in the Bellport Village Program Fund beautification group.
Fell said the village hasn't effectively marketed its amenities, which include the golf course, marina, Ho Hum beach on Fire Island and a bay beach. "The village golf course has been losing money over the last three or four years," he said. "A new plan has to be developed."
He also mourned the state of the village's commercial area. "The downtown area is in a depressed state right now," he said. Fell said with his background of winning several grants for the village as trustee, he could reach out to "landlords and business owners, help them to do what they need to do to improve their business."
The third mayoral candidate is trustee James Vaughan, 64, a retired Brookhaven Town parks and recreation supervisor. He has served four years as trustee. A Vietnam War vet, he's a volunteer firefighter and fire police captain, trustee of the South Bay Art Association, and former South Country school district school board member.
Vaughan said the village has to fix its downtown. "It's very difficult for stores to make it in this community in these economic times, and we have to be more creative," he said.
He said the village is applying for county and town funding for much-needed sewer lines to allow vacant storefronts to have wet-store uses, such as spas or nail salons. He also said some village amenities were damaged by superstorm Sandy. "We're working with FEMA to repair that, but it's a very arduous process," he said.
Fell is running with trustee candidates Michael Ferrigno and Robert Rosenberg.
Ferrigno, 74, a retired veterinarian, grew up in Patchogue and has lived in Bellport for decades. He said he hopes the new village board can tap into residents' skills and expertise for help with issues ranging from loans to legal matters. "It's a question of creating a committee that's directed to specific goals, and getting their input," he said. "The more eyes you have looking at the subject, the better the decision is."
Rosenberg, 56, lives in Manhattan and Bellport. He's a retired insolvency lawyer and mediator. In addition to helping the downtown and better managing village amenities, he said the board will have to handle "wise rebuilding of the waterfront after the damage from the hurricane."
Vaughan is running with trustee candidates Fred Hall and Kenneth Budny.
Hall, 61, is vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company. He moved to Bellport in 2011 and also is concerned about the downtown. "I would make it a priority to fill all the storefronts," he said. "I'd like to get all the business people in one room and ask what's working and what's not working in Bellport."
Incumbent trustee Budny, 67, is a retired clam digger who works for the Post-Morrow Foundation nature conservancy in Brookhaven hamlet. He said the village is working on better operation of the golf course. "It's an important part of our village," he said. He also said that amid widespread investigations into allegations of improper contracts awarded for Sandy cleanup, Bellport has been untouched. "We haven't been investigated because our village clerk has done a wonderful job of documenting everything," he said.
The mayor's salary is $9,000, and trustees make $5,400 yearly for two-year terms. Voting is Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Bellport Community Center, 4 Bell St.