Three dominant themes were touched on by Shelter Island Supervisor Jim Dougherty during his “State of the Town” address on April 17 — preventing tick-borne illnesses, keeping taxes low and water quality.
Mr. Dougherty spoke at luncheon hosted by the League of Women Voters of Shelter Island at the Ram’s Head Inn. In front of a packed room, including several students from Peter Miedema’s social studies classes at Shelter Island School, Mr. Dougherty opened by touting the Island’s “Aa2” rating published by Moody’s Investors Services on April 8.
Mr. Dougherty noted that the report indicated the Island has a solid tax base and small debt liability, “and I work hard to keep it that way. On the other side of the coin, one of the major issues we have to face, along with the entire nation, is health benefit costs for town employees, both active and retired.”
He explained that of the town’s annual $10.3 million budget, more than $1.2 million goes toward health care premiums. In 2017, he expects premiums will increase at least 7.4 percent and possibly as much as 9.8 percent.
“Since I came into office eight years ago, we’ve been working as a team to get employee contributions from new hires,” Mr. Dougherty said. “The town used to pay 100 percent of premiums. Now we get 20 percent from most employees, both union and nonunion.”
On the water front, since its inception in 1998 the Community Preservation Fund (CPF), a 2 percent tax on real estate transfers, has been used solely by the five East End Towns to purchase open space to preserve. But Mr. Dougherty is encouraged by a new law that could allow up to 20 percent of CPF funds for water quality improvement projects.
“Before the Town Board can do it, we have to get approval from you folks in a referendum,” Mr. Dougherty said, adding that the board plans to have such a referendum ready for November’s ballot.
Mr. Dougherty added that one water project is already moving forward — testing. For decades, he said, the U.S. Geological Survey has been testing water levels from 14 wells located around the Island. Now, those tests are being expanded to include water quality.
“Between the Waterways Advisory Committee and the Town Board, we’ll have to pick what we think are the biggest threats — be it nitrogen or chlorides — and test for those,” Mr. Dougherty said, adding that monthly water quality testing could begin as early as next month.
Spring is also the time for ticks, and in his address, Mr. Dougherty announced that in the last two weeks, 37 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — had been placed around the Island, with six of them in Mashomack Preserve.
The supervisor said that last week the town appointed Beau Payne as the Island’s full time animal control officer. Mr. Payne will monitor the 4-posters and work closely with hunters in culling of the herd as part of the town’s two-pronged approach to controlling deer and tick populations.
“The tick and disease menace is horrible and it won’t go away easily,” Mr. Dougherty said.
There were 482 deer killed on the Island this past winter, compared to 370 last year, Mr. Dougherty reported.
“This may just mean there are more deer, we don’t know,” conceded Mr. Dougherty. “A year ago it was a tough winter. This winter was more mild, there were semi-pleasant days to go out hunting. So, the weather might have helped. We’ll take it.”