Town of Smithtown officials will pay for a $2 million reconstruction of downtown St. James out of the general budget, leaving the sewer reserve fund intact, Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and Deputy Supervisor Tom McCarthy said.
Those reassurances came after a pair of board meetings Tuesday where board members, including Vecchio, said they wanted more time to review the project. They included the project in the amended 2017 capital budget with a 3-2 vote Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, civic and chamber of commerce leaders from the hamlets of Kings Park and Smithtown said a proposal from Vecchio to pay for the project out of the sewer fund could threaten revitalization plans for their downtowns that have been in development for years. Those plans are closely tied to the promise of sewer system construction.
McCarthy, Councilwoman Lynne Nowick and Planning Director David Flynn advocated at Tuesday morning’s work session for the St. James project, which calls for extensive improvements to the Lake Avenue business corridor. The project was not included in the original capital budget the board approved April 27.
“Nothing’s been done in this district in 85 years,” said McCarthy, who said he began working on the project months ago with town staff. “If we’re not willing to fix our own house, then shame on us.” Cost estimates were only finalized in recent days, he said.
Other board members said that left them too little time to evaluate one of the town’s largest capital projects in recent years.
“I had little knowledge of this,” Vecchio said. “We had ample time to discuss this… We had a capital budget meeting two weeks ago, and no one talked about any of this.”
Councilman Edward Wehrheim said he’d heard conflicting information about the project from town staff, but that the town comptroller had told him funding would come from the sewer reserves, an idea he compared to taking “$2 million in the dark of night.”
By the afternoon board meeting, a host of civic leaders had aligned against that idea, worried it could imperil $40 million promised by New York State to partially fund sewer systems for downtown Kings Park and Smithtown. Experts say the sewers are needed for redevelopment and denser use of those areas.
“That money may be needed,” Kings Park Civic Association Linda Henninger said. “It’s not good government to present a $2 million project at 10 a.m. and call for a vote four hours later.”
Vecchio and McCarthy clarified the funding source for St. James reconstruction late Tuesday, and Vecchio said the town would be seeking grants and other funding assistance for the project from other levels of government.
Henninger said McCarthy had reassured her in a phone call. “We’re really happy the town has decided to handle it this way, and we’re happy for St. James, too,” she said.