With both Suffolk County Legislative candidates new to Shelter Island voters since redistricting moved the town from the First to the Second District, incumbent Jay Schneiderman (Montauk-I, D, WF) and challenger Chris Nuzzi (R, C) made their cases Saturday morning to voters here.
In candidate’s forum at the Shelter Island Public Library — sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Shelter Island, the Reporter and The Shelter Island Association — the main contention between the two men was fiscal policy.
Mr. Nuzzi, a Southampton Town councilman, criticized Suffolk County legislators for creating what he called a “structural deficit” of between $180 and $530 million.
Mr. Schneiderman countered, claiming the numbers cited were projections of how the deficit would grow if the county Legislature had continued spending at the pace it had before the recession hit.
“That is not the course we’re on,” Mr. Schneiderman said, citing layoffs of hundreds of county personnel, sale of some assets to help close funding gaps and a recent increase in sales tax revenues of about 7 percent. He said the current operating deficit is $14.2 million.
Acknowledging that the recession resulted in a $100 million loss to the county in revenues, Mr. Schneiderman said he and his colleagues had effectively managed the crisis and are back on track to end deficit spending and identify new sources of revenue.
Mr. Nuzzi criticized the sale of assets as a “one-time fix,” arguing that the Legislature had to curb its spending habits when it comes to salaries and benefits for county workers. He also called for pushing back against state and federal mandates that are “crushing” the county’s economy.
Neither candidate offered concrete suggestions about costs they would eliminate, but Mr. Nuzzi made references to Medicaid expenses and costs of maintaining the jail system, while Mr. Schneiderman talked about wanting to ensure there would be no hike in the county sales tax.
Both disdained party politics when it comes to representing residents on a local level. But Mr. Nuzzi accused his opponent of being an opportunist, switching from the Democratic to the Republican to the Independence parties.
“The question is who are you and what do you believe?” Mr. Nuzzi said.
Mr. Schneiderman said he has been consistent on the issues and wants to “support good ideas regardless of party affiliation.”
Asked if there was a conflict of interest between his professional real estate work and his efforts to promote open spaces and affordable housing initiatives, Mr. Nuzzi said there was none, pointing to his his record as a Southampton Town councilman in supporting open space purchases. He accused Mr. Schneiderman of being part of the effort to deplete the county’s money for open spaces projects.
Not true, the legislator said. What he supported was borrowing to acquire appropriate sites while they were still available and the reason the money is now depleted is the need to repay those loans. During his tenure, the legislature helped acquire 1,600 acres of open spaces and farmland spending $100 million.
“If we lose our rural character, we lose everything,” Mr. Schneiderman said.
One area for new county revenues could be casino gambling, Mr. Schneiderman said.
Where? Not on the East End, both candidates agreed because of quality of life issues and the East End’s infrastructure wouldn’t support a casino. Mr. Schneiderman said the Shinnecocks, based primarily on the South Fork, should have the authorization to open a casino, adding that the tribe has been exploring sites in Yaphank and farther west.
Both men support county efforts to help combat the deer and tick problems on Shelter Island and throughout the East End, with Mr.Nuzzi calling for extension of the hunting season to cull the herd and favoring Mr. Schneiderman’s bill — passed last week unanimously by the Legislature — that directs the county’s Vector Control, active with spraying for mosquitoes to prevent spread of the West Nile Virus, to take a role in helping control tick-borne diseases.
To a question from Mr. Schneiderman, most in the audience said they or someone they knew had contracted Lyme Disease or other tick-borne illnesses. Every dollar the county spends on deer and tick control, the state is obligated to match, Mr. Schneiderman said.
On the controversial subject of helicopter traffic that plagues Shelter Islanders, Mr. Nuzzi said he favors more control by the Federal Aviation Administration while Mr. Schneiderman called for splitting the overhead traffic so that half of it continues to fly east down Long Island Sound and while the other half is routed east along the Atlantic to fly back up to the East Hampton Airport.
Both candidates were cautious about calling for public bus service on the Island, saying they would defer to the will of the people.
While Mr. Schneiderman avowed a desire for a separate Peconic County, Mr. Nuzzi said it had long been discussed, but switched his comments to the need to push for more money coming from the county Legislature back to the East End.
In response to a question from the Reporter’s county columnist, Karl Grossman, about efforts the Legislature should undertake with respect to the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Connecticut, Mr. Nuzzi said it should adhere to federal standards and is responsible for coordinating emergency responses to any crisis. Federal standards currently call for evacuation in a 10 mile radius should there be a nuclear incident.
Mr. Schneiderman said it would be virtually impossible to evacuate Shelter Island and the North and South forks in the event of an incident such as occurred at Fukushima in Japan in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami. There, people were being evacuated within a radius of 50 miles.
“I would sleep much better if Millstone were not operating,” Mr. Schneiderman said. There are alternative energies that don’t pose the threat that nuclear power does, he said.
After the many references from both candidates to bowing to the will of the people, Linda Holmes, from the audience, demanded to know how the two men would know the public’s thinking.
Mr. Nuzzi said he was a better listener than speaker. Mr. Schneiderman had previously cited that he already knows Shelter Island because he lived here and his son, Ruben, who was born here — at home with a midwife — made him a harelegger.
But that wasn’t enough for Ms. Holmes, who wanted know specifically how the two men planned to be in touch with residents, not just public officials.
“Call me,” Mr. Schneiderman said, drawing laughs from the audience.