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Board meeting turns ugly over rentals and roads

REPORTER FILE PHOTO A contentious meeting was held at Town Hall yesterday.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO A contentious meeting was held at Town Hall yesterday.

The normal sense of calm, civility and courtesy among Town Board members was broken at the Tuesday work session, replaced by raised voices, accusations and sarcasm.

A resident near the end of the meeting joined in, loudly castigating the board for wasting time and failing to act on important issues.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty and Councilman Jim Colligan traded harsh words over two agenda items, short-term rentals and paying for road repaving, issues that Mr. Colligan, who along with Councilwoman Mary Dudley on the former, has taken the lead for the board.

Regulating homeowners who rent for short periods of time while they are absent has been the subject of debate before the board since May. All arguments have been aired numerous times and Tuesday was no different.

As Councilwoman Chris Lewis noted at one point, if the board was involved in health care, there would be a lot of dead people.

The matter originally came to the board’s attention from residents complaining about weekend renters making life miserable for neighbors through all-night partying and boorish behavior. Those residents demanded action to regulate the short-term rental situation, which has grown due to online rental companies.

But people renting their homes on a short-term basis maintained at nearly every board meeting that they are following a long-time Island tradition, and the income from renters is necessary for many people to keep their homes.

The debate changed over time, from a quality of life issue to a so-called “commercialization” of residential neighborhoods, and reports of speculators buying up houses solely to rent them, which will, opponents say, negatively change the Island.

Tuesday the board seemed to be moving toward finalizing draft legislation on the issue. Mr. Colligan presented a plan that would include registration, licensing, advertising and penalties.

He outlined a formula allowing a maximum of eight rentals per calendar year and a maximum of six rentals per calendar year of seven days or less. This formula had changed from one recently aired that restricted rentals only during the peak summer season.

The board seemed to agree on the terms, but Mr. Dougherty opened the work session for comments from residents, even though he noted it was not a public hearing on the issue. Some residents made a case for not restricting rentals year round, and protested the idea that short-term rentals were commercializing neighborhoods, pointing out the many home businesses on the Island.

Mr. Dougherty said he wasn’t buying the idea that residents using their homes for short-term rentals constituted a commercialization of a neighborhood.

“I think we leapt a little too quickly from high season [restrictions] to 12 months a year, “ Mr. Dougherty said. He added that speculators buying houses to rent wouldn’t be “terribly interested in renting in the off-season because they won’t get top dollar and the return on investment might drop substantially.”

Ms. Lewis, who had been exasperated by allowing extensive public comment again on the issue rather than waiting for a public hearing, said “we’ve made this extremely generous, of eight times a year. I think it deserves to be written as a [draft] law, put on the website and heard at a public hearing. Putting this off constantly for another week [is irresponsible].”

Mr. Dougherty reiterated that he was “not ready to buy that this is a commercial business,” and seemed to be against any regulation at all, saying the board “shouldn’t regulate every hop, skip and jump of our community.”

People were “trying to survive out here and keep their homes,” he added.

Mr. Colligan said it would be a mistake not to restrict the rentals year round, and Mr. Dougherty said, referring to an earlier proposal, that “it’s what you drafted so you made a big mistake,” and then he laughed.

Mr. Colligan expressed confusion and Mr. Dougherty said, “you goofed.”

Slamming the table before him with both hands, Mr. Colligan said he had spent a lot of time on the issue, as Mr. Dougherty was speaking over him. He asked in angry terms that the supervisor not “throw me under the bus because I attempted to do something.”

On repaving and the money to pay for it, emotions boiled over again. There is approximately $575,000 expected in state grant money coming to the town, according to Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. The board, with the exception of Mr. Dougherty, are moving toward passing a resolution to take some money from the town’s “A Class account,” which is normally not used for operational purposes, to begin repaving roads.

The plan is that when the grant money comes in, the account will be reimbursed.

Mr. Card has listed roads on the Island that need repaving or total repair, using the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP), a study done in 2014 to assess the state of the Island’s roads.

The main function of the CLRP is to store and analyze data and generate reports to assist municipal officials in making cost-effective decisions. 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.

Mr. Colligan read from a list given to him by Mr. Card prioritizing roads to be repaved — Menhaden Lane, Duvall Road, Hudson Avenue and Gardiners Bay Drive — based on CLRP measurements that indicate the work now is necessary.

Mr. Dougherty dug in his heels on the need for repaving those roads — with the exception of Hudson Avenue — because he had driven over them and they were fine, he said. He also disagreed with moving money out of an account and using it for roadwork, questioning if the grant money would ever come to the town.

Mr. Card said after the meeting he was fully confident that the grant money would arrive in town coffers. State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), one of the officials responsible for securing the grants, has never let the town down, Mr. Card added.

In the discussion, Mr. Dougherty disagreed with the CLRP’s analysis, calling it at one point, “hearsay evidence,” but on the other hand praised it for concluding that the town’s roads made a passing grade.

The supervisor said he “keeps asking to have the Cornell guy back again,” who, he said, had told him that the roads were better than most towns. Ms. Lewis pointed out that the CLRP study only analyzed two other towns.

“I keep saying let’s invite him in again, but somehow that invitation never gets extended,” Mr. Dougherty said.

Ms. Lewis angrily told Mr. Dougherty, “Well, invite him.”

“I didn’t know I was the one to do it,” the supervisor said.

“You’ve got the office with the phone,” Mr. Shepherd responded.

Mr. Dougherty said that a week after adopting the 2017 budget it was irresponsible to go into the A Class fund, “raiding it” for money.

It wasn’t a matter of “raiding” an account, Mr. Colligan said, but borrowing and reimbursing when the grant money arrived.

Mr. Dougherty demanded to know “who’s responsible” for tracking the process and when the grant money would arrive.

Mr. Colligan, his voice rising, answered, “We are, when we process the paperwork.”

“We” wasn’t a proper response, Mr. Dougherty said, and after demanding several times throughout the discussion who would take the lead on tracking the money,  Mr. Shepherd said, “Who is the CFO [Chief Financial Officer]?”

The answer is the supervisor, but, Mr. Dougherty said, sarcastically, “if we don’t get it, then, ‘Dougherty didn’t make a phone call.’”

The argument continued with Mr. Dougherty maintaining the roads didn’t need repaving.

Mr. Colligan said, addressing the supervisor, “We went into your office and made this presentation and you don’t attempt to throw me under the bus … You come into this room and something drastic happens to you. I don’t know if it’s the cameras or what the hell it is. You feel the need to turn on me. I’ll be honest with you. I’m not putting up with that [expletive].”

Fred Buonocore, president of the Hay Beach Property Owner’s Association addressed the board at the end of the meeting, noting that there was guaranteed money coming in grants, earmarked to fix the roads. He angrily told the board to “do your jobs. Stop with the good old boy club and get the job done. You’ve made procrastination an art form.”

Mr. Shepherd, Mr. Lewis, Ms. Dudley and Mr. Colligan said they wanted to vote on the issue of securing the money to fix the roads and it will likely be on the agenda at the board’s regular meeting Friday, November 18.