The need to replace aged septic systems on the Island could surpass the crisis of tick-borne diseases as a priority on Shelter Island.
That’s according to Supervisor Jim Dougherty, who spoke to more than 100 people Sunday at the Ram’s Head Inn for the annual State of the Town address, sponsored by the Shelter Island League of Women Voters.
Early results of testing by the United States Geological Survey show high levels of nitrogen in the water in certain areas and “the big impact is our antiquated septic system,” the supervisor said.
A subcommittee examining results to recommend solutions to protect the Island’s water supply includes members from the Water Advisory Committee, the Waterways Management Advisory Council, the Community Preservation Advisory Committee and two at-large community members.
At the same time, the supervisor said East Hampton is considering legislation to provide some funding for homeowners who want to upgrade their aged septic systems and could require upgrades to systems at existing houses where building projects were deemed to exceed 50 percent of the original house.
Suffolk County has been testing various alternatives to the old septic systems and also looking at ways to help fund replacements of aged systems. Mr. Dougherty said there are two systems that are looking particularly promising.
But the county is “broke,” Mr. Dougherty said, noting he’s not a fan of how the Suffolk County Legislature is allocating money. He was among those East End officials, he said, who several years ago won approval from the county to pay municipalities that don’t use Suffolk County Police. But now the county is threatening to stop the payments that netted $146,861 for Shelter Island’s 2016 budget.
Mr. Dougherty is working with County Legislators Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) and Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) to try to keep that money flowing, he said, adding “We’re entitled to that money and we’re going to fight for it.”
Speaking of finances, Mr. Dougherty noted that recently released Moody’s Investor Service report gave the town an “Aa2” rating for credit worthiness based on its low debt burden and “sound fiscal management.”
The announcement drew applause from the audience.
Town officials are currently negotiating with the union representing Highway Department workers, Mr. Dougherty said, and are close to finalizing a contract that will be back dated to January because the previous contract ran out at the end of the year. Pay increases will be at 2 percent, the same level as set for other town workers, but there are still some side issues to be worked out, Mr. Dougherty said.
“I think we have very high morale,” he said about the town’s workforce.
Returning to the subject of the battle against tick-borne diseases, the supervisor reported that 38 four-poster units have been deployed — six at Mashomack Preserve and the balance throughout the Island. “The tick count is way down,” the supervisor said, without revealing numbers. On the advice of Animal Control Officer Beau Payne, the Deer & Tick Committee recently decided to withhold numbers to avoid decisions being made with inadequate information.
Nonetheless, Mr. Dougherty said Shelter Island is in the forefront of the battle against tick-borne diseases.
Short-term rentals, which claimed much attention during the last year was addressed only briefly when Mr. Dougherty said the Town Board would begin talking this week about how to implement the new law that passed last Friday by a 4-1 vote with only the supervisor voting against the resolution.
In answer to a question about affordable housing from one nine high school students, Mr. Dougherty said he feared the new STR law would result in fewer year-round rentals.
Without the ability to rent their homes during the summer season, the supervisor speculated some will be forced to sell and leave the Island.
At the same time, he noted that Community Housing Board Co-chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt told him a March forum provided ideas on how to reach a goal of providing affordable apartments.