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Septic grants to move forward, but new board will have questions

Councilman Paul Shcpherd at Tuesday’s Town board work session.

Councilman Paul Shcpherd at Tuesday’s Town board work session.

Occupants of seven households are slated to get a late Christmas present on December 28 when the Town Board expects to approve their applications for grants of up to $15,000 to offset the cost of installing nitrogen-reducing septic systems.

The decision came at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

Current plans call for putting aside $105,000 to cover seven $15,000 grants that would be paid upon completion of each project.

Reaching that agreement wasn’t without rancor, as Councilman Paul Shepherd, in an attempt to get definitive answers from Town Attorney Laury Dowd and his fellow board members, expressed frustration at everyone’s inability to provide clear answers.

“On Shelter Island, everybody will tell you what they think,” Mr. Shepherd said. “But I want to know what’s legal.”

Clearly, there are still details the Town Board needs to work out:

  • If an applicant has applied for a Suffolk County grant and a Shelter Island grant, can the town be the secondary payer after the county grant has been approved?
  • Should the Town Board set a time limit for a project to be completed and if so, should it be six months? A year? All agree that if there is a time limit, extensions should be granted as long as the applicant can show that the effort to complete a project is going forward. The concern is the time it could take Suffolk County to approve each project, although there’s general agreement that the county is moving more quickly with the septic systems than it has in processing applications for other projects.
  • Because the county doesn’t allow grants to go to those who would be building new houses or expanding the size of their existing houses, the Town Board wants to assure that those who get grants for larger systems than they need don’t expand the number of bedrooms at some future date? Bedrooms are the benchmark by which the county determines the size of a septic system needed.

There was some confusion over one application the board thought appeared to ask for a larger septic system than what would be needed for a four-bedroom house. The current system has two tanks, but serves only a four-bedroom house and the owner has no plans to expand and add extra bedrooms.

However, there’s concern that other applications could come in seeking a larger system despite no immediate plans to expand the number of bedrooms. The Town Board agreed that would disqualify the applicant from receiving a grant and decided all contracts with those applying for grants will contain a clause prohibiting any such expansion.

While there was talk earlier about some funding from the $440,000 allotted to the town for water quality improvement projects in 2017 going to finish the septic system installation at Wades Beach and possibly some going to the Fresh Pond Neighborhood Association for work it’s doing to improve the quality of that body of water, neither project was mentioned at Tuesday’s meeting.

Unless specific applications for those projects are approved before year’s end, neither can be funded with the 2017 Community Preservation Fund money. But any money not listed for water quality projects must revert to the town’s CPF account for use in land preservation.

In 2018, the Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board will receive another allotment of 20 percent of CPF money raised in 2017 and that can be used for future projects.

Engineering

The status of engineering services to the town under the incoming administration remains a bit of an enigma. Outgoing Supervisor Jim Dougherty presented the agreement he executed with Southold Town for its engineers — Jamie Richter and Michael Collins — to offer the town up to 10 hours of services per week at a cost of $50.64 an hour.

Supervisor-elect Gary Gerth has said he intended to rehire John Cronin who resigned the job in the fall citing a “leadership vacuum” as the key reason for leaving.

At issue, according to Mr. Dougherty, was a request from Mr. Cronin to receive added pay that would go to charities of his choice since his own income was capped.

That was something Mr. Dougherty said he and Ms. Dowd determined couldn’t be done.

If Mr. Cronin is to return to town employ at the proposed 1,000 hours a year, it will be up to the incoming administration to work out details of how much the former town engineer can receive, Mr. Dougherty said.

The rest of the Town Board Tuesday agreed that the hourly cost for assistance from Mr. Richter and Mr. Collins was very reasonable and might even result in the town receiving some grant money for a shared services agreement between the two East End towns. They have also agreed that the need for engineering services is far beyond the hours the two Southold engineers can offer.

Capital budgeting

In what amounted to his swan song with only one meeting slated before the year ends, Mr. Dougherty took one final swipe at criticism of his failing to maintain a written capital budget.

He said he polled various others and determined that the fire department, library, school and various town businesses have no written capital budgets.

“The leadership vacuum is Island-wide,” he joked, before repeating his view that a capital budget is “a cover for substantial tax increases.”

Given the changes in technology, no one can predict what the world is going to be like in years ahead, Mr. Dougherty said, so planning spending for the future is useless.

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