Editorials: Action on mail snafus, being honest about taxes

 

Water wears down rock. And getting a response from bureaucracies or elected officials when an election isn’t in the headlights will happen. Why do both activities move with the speed of glaciers?

We’re thankful for small favors, and appreciate the U.S. Postal Service finally getting back to us on mail problems here after a bit of badgering on our part. A spokeswoman provided some answers and promised more.

A spokesman for Congressman Tim Bishop came through finally with some action and not just words, saying Mr. Bishop, along with Councilman Peter Reich, had put in motion a public meeting for next month. The congressman also provided a special email address to his office allowing Islanders the opportunity to weigh in on the issue and offer solutions. The email is SIPostOfficeIssues@mail.house.gov.

Residents who have been affected by mail mix-ups should seize the moment.

The best policy

As the Town Board looks to hike certain fees, it’s refreshing to see some honesty displayed by members who don’t hem and haw about one of the most contentious issues a municipality can ever face: taxes, and how to raise them.

Deputy Supervisor Christine Lewis noted at a recent Town Board meeting that the 2-percent state-mandated cap on property taxes gave the town two options to find revenue to continue providing services to residents. Shelter Island has to either challenge the 2-percent cap with a special local law to be voted on by the residents. Or look to increase fees charged by the town.

Ms. Lewis left the former on the table and led discussions for three weeks running on where the town can hike fees. Already agreed upon are Councilman Peter Reich’s suggestions for raising some mooring fees and Councilman Ed Brown’s recommendation to put special exemption fees on large building projects on an escalating scale. In addtion, the board is in agreement to raise certain beach parking fees. (Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. had a third way, which is to invest money in machinery to go into the mulch and topsoil producing business.)

Councilman Paul Shepherd originally caught a bit of disparagement from other colleagues when he noted that charging a $50 fee for a video copy of Town Board meetings was violating the idea of an inexpensive public record and the responsibility of a government to present its dealings in the most transparent way possible. But now it seems that fee will be lowered to $5, simply because Mr. Shepherd was right.

But he was also honest in a conversation with the Reporter about what has been called “the California model,” or slashing property taxes to satisfy public outcry but then imposing user fees to make up the difference. Or, as Councilman Shepherd put it, “sneaky taxes.” He was in favor of crafting a local law allowing the town to go above the 2-percent maximum property tax.

Citing rates of inflation, especially when it comes to municipalities, Mr. Shepherd said it would be the only honest way of solving the problem of replenishing revenues. He wasn’t in favor of higher taxes, he told us. “Just like I’m not in favor of aging,” he said. “I just don’t know if there’s any way out of it.”