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Money woes weigh on Town Board members

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Councilman Paul Shepherd joined discussions at the Town Board work session Tuesday on ZBA fees and infrastructure projects.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Councilman Paul Shepherd joined discussions at the Town Board work session Tuesday on ZBA fees and infrastructure projects.

“I appreciate your pretending to listen,” said Paul Shepherd at Tuesday’s Town Board session.

“Welcome to democracy,” Councilwoman Chris Lewis responded.

The exchange came after Supervisor Jim Dougherty decided to wrap up a discussion, which has been aired out at several board sessions, to raise Zoning Board of Appeals fees. Mr. Shepherd and Councilman Ed Brown have opposed raising the fees, while Mr. Dougherty, Ms. Lewis and Councilman Peter Reich have the votes to defeat their objections.

The three members in the majority point out those fees have remained the same for 10 years, plus the ZBA expends much more money than it receives from applicants seeking variances. In a memo distributed to town officials last November, Town Attorney Laury Dowd showed that in 2013, the costs associated with the ZBA, including stipends for members, attorney fees and clerical costs, came to $32,350. Fees collected totaled $2,000.

But Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Brown said the ZBA was a service to taxpayers, and “not there to spank the taxpayers, “as Mr. Brown put it.

There will be a resolution on the issue at an upcoming meeting and raising the fees is expected to pass, three to two.

Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. went before the board Tuesday to, again, speak about how to repair the Island’s roads after a particularly brutal winter. The problem is lack of money and promised state grants that have not come through. Mr. Card laid out two options to get a handle on Midway Road, which is needs extensive work.

One option is a patching job of about 2,920 feet of road costing $98,000. The second option is to pave 10,000 feet of the road for $334,000. The first option seems to be the most realistic and the town will try to find funding to do the job.

Mr. Card urged board members once again to put pressure on elected officials in Albany for help in a crisis of funds trickling in from the state when serious appropriations are necessary for repairs and maintenance.

In the “around the table” section of the meeting, when members can discuss issues not on the agenda, Mr. Brown brought up another serious infrastructure issue that, he said, he’s asked to be put on the agenda 25 times or more without any luck.

The specific concerns were a bulkhead project at Mabel’s Creek and shoring up Shell Beach against dangerous erosion. Mr. Brown asked for a one-time solution at Shell Beach, which would involve stonework to fortify the beach.

Mr. Dougherty weighed in that this was a discussion that should take place later in the year when the board will be putting together budget.

“We’re not doing anything,” Mr. Brown said, “and we’ve been discussing this for years.”

The idea of looking at major projects in a systematic way was brought up by Mr. Shepherd. “We should be listing and prioritizing,” he said. “Firm up what to do and why.” If not, then “we’re just yakking,” he added.

Police Chief Jim Read agreed with Mr. Shepherd that projects have to be ranked according to the general welfare and safety of the Island. Speaking as the Emergency Management Coordinator for the town, Chief Read said a beach might not be at the top of the list, compared to elevating a road, such as West Neck Road along West Neck Bay, which is subject to flooding and could cut off access to communities.

Given the state-imposed cap on tax increases, Mr. Card asked how much the town could afford for a capital project.

“Nothing,” Mr. Shepherd said.