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Hitting the roads — Town Board debates grants for infrastructure

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Highway Department workers on St. Mary's Road last summer.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Highway Department workers on St. Mary’s Road last summer.

Two documents were on the desk in front of Supervisor Jim Dougherty at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. Mr. Dougherty asked his colleagues if he should sign them.

They were offers from the Island’s state representatives, Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) of grants totaling $450,000 for roadwork projects. Called “reimbursable grants,” if the town accepts the offers, it has to spend the money and then get it back from the state.

Mr. Dougherty questioned if they were necessary, and if so, where the money would come from. The supervisor said there was no urgent need to spend money for roadwork, citing a study by the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) last summer that concluded, he said, that the Island’s “roads are the best in Suffolk County.”

The main function of the CLRP is to store and analyze data and generate reports to assist municipal officials in making cost-effective decisions about roads. It evaluates the condition of roads and the rate of continuing damage, and helps prioritize maintenance strategies.

The program rates road conditions roughly on a scale of zero to 100, with the ideal road at the top end and worst road at the bottom. The CLRP gave the condition of Island roads a passing grade, with an average of 63, or in the “good” category. But below 60 the roads fall into the “fair” category.

Another conclusion of the study is that if steps aren’t taken soon to upgrade town roads, the cost to redeem them when they go wrong could be astronomical.

Police Chief Jim Read, who is a member of a town committee exploring grant opportunities, asked why the board was discussing spending money on roads when there was no consensus for a need for repairs. Councilman Paul Shepherd said that was an unfair statement, that the board was still discussing the idea.

Mr. Dougherty also questioned what would be the source of the money the town would have to lay out before being reimbursed if it was decided the projects were worthwhile.

The supervisor balked at Councilman Jim Colligan’s suggestion that reserve funds should be built up so it’s an easy task to spend money when it’s offered.

The problem with reserve funds, Mr. Dougherty said, is that the town “is taxing today’s taxpayers who get no benefit whatsoever,” and “you have this pool of money and so it’s kind of stealth spending.”

He noted that in his business experience, setting up reserves become “nice little hobby pots for managers to tap into with no particular review.”

Mr. Shepherd said he disagreed, adding that money can be set aside dedicated to reimbursable grants. “We need money in the system to do what needs to be done,” he said.

Chief Read said the issue of a reserve fund was academic in this instance since there was $150,000 in the highway fund to be used for roadwork. for future work and be refunded.

Mr. Dougherty signed both documents to send to the state, with the members agreeing it was not ultimately binding to the town.

Cell Tower
Elite Towers representatives will be conducting tests at the Manhanset Firehouse on Cobbetts Lane Tuesday, March 29 at 9 a.m.

The aim is to determine how high a cell tower would need to be to effectively provide service for cellphone providers whose antennas would be attached to the tower.

But even after the tests, Elite must pass muster with the Town Board for a special permit to erect the tower. If it is constructed, the Shelter Island Fire District would benefit from an initial payment of $100,000 and then get a 50-50 split of the profits from fees cellphone companies pay to put their antennas on the tower.

In addition, the fire department would be able to have its own antenna placed on the tower without charge to improve communications where it currently experiences a lack of service in parts of Hay Beach and  the Rams.