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In their own words: Island candidates on the major issues


The Reporter asked the two candidates for supervisor and three candidates for Town Council to give our readers their thoughts on four of the most critical issues facing Shelter Island.

The questions submitted were :
1. How, in practical terms, would you plan to achieve affordable housing?

2. How, in practical terms, would you address the issues of water quality, tick infestation and infrastructure needs without raising taxes?

Supervisor Jim Dougherty, 80, is a Democrat running for his sixth term as supervisor.

Affordable housing: Keep property taxes the lowest on Long Island as I have been successfully doing the past 10 years.

Allow residents to rent their homes to help pay expenses.

Aggressively investigate property tax relief for homeowners willing to provide affordable housing and grant opportunities to build affordable housing in appropriate areas.

Water quality: Using 20 percent of 2 percent open space money (hopefully close to $500,000 a year) for septic upgrade rebates and other water quality incentives (e.g. improving the quality of Fresh Pond; taking initiatives to confront sea level rise, etc.), sparing use of real property tax money.

Tick infestation: Continue to leverage Shelter Island’s 10-year leadership role in the tick-disease fight, to keep getting generous financial support from our county, state and federal governments to maintain, and expand where appropriate, our successful three-pronged program of 4-posters, reasonable culling of deer herd and education.

Infrastructure needs: Insist on continued realistic long term planning on infrastructure needs, avoiding the pet project syndrome, while aggressively seeking grants for legitimate infrastructure needs.
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Gary Gerth, 75, is a Republican in his first bid for elective office.

Affordable housing: I prefer to redefine affordable housing and to expand it by referring to it as community cottage rentals.

This definition would serve to promote cottage style development along with bringing ancillary buildings up to code for year round rentals.

Amend the zoning ordinance to ensure some development of community housing. Revise current regulations governing licensing of housing units.

Water quality: Oversee the work and guide the mission of the important volunteer water committees with town technical and legal staff. Adopt a cohesive and comprehensive water plan which will address the diversity of Shelter Island.

Tick infestation: Tick-borne illnesses are reportable diseases. Health practitioners must report incidence of them to Suffolk County Health Services.

We must gain access to the disease rate for Shelter Island for at least the last 10 years to properly assess and address the problem.

Infrastructure: Government, especially local government, is not funded solely by taxes.

My opponent likes to reference raising taxes to evoke fear. Alternatives based on solid capital planning include grants, municipal bonds, and other borrowing instruments.

In fact, competent planning ensures wise expenditure of taxpayer funds.

Infrastructure planning has been competently done during the last five years through the leadership of the commissioner of public works — but never adopted.

Adopt the extensive and already completed work product as a capital plan through the Town Board.

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Amber Brach-Williams, 55, a Republican is running for reelection to the Town Board.

Affordable housing: The plan to achieve affordable housing on Shelter Island is difficult.

There will need to be many approaches and they will need to incorporate both public and private initiatives and consider rental options more heavily over purchase options.

One option is to consider either town-purchased or tax-incentivized private acquisition of properties that can be developed or converted to multi-unit rental properties.

In keeping with the character of Shelter Island, we wouldn’t want apartment buildings, but rather units that mirror single-family housing and accessory dwellings. There are Suffolk County Department of Health Services and town zoning issues that would need to be addressed with multi-unit housing, and will take time to work through.

Another area to look at is to actively pursue the use of year-round renting of accessory dwellings. Again, health department and zoning issues need to be worked through to legalize what is in place and to upgrade these dwellings to year-round use.

We also need to change perceptions that affordable housing is a bad thing. Surrounding towns have made great strides in this area and we should revisit their initiatives now that the political climate and will is starting to change.

If we don’t start trying to think outside of the box and develop some concrete plans, we won’t make any progress.

Water quality: Tackling water quality issues without raising taxes has begun with the availability of the Water Quality Improvement Board and county monies for upgrading septic systems.

There are also four other water-related areas that Water Quality board funds can be utilized for. As the Water Quality board gets its structure in place for evaluating projects, the town will have a mechanism for targeting and prioritizing water quality initiatives.

Tick infestation: Tackling tick infestation without raising taxes will require evaluating closely how existing funds are utilized for the 4-poster program and culling of the herd and if we have the most effective mix.

That will require continued efforts on the part of our animal control officer and the Deer & Tick Committee to gather data and scientific research to support what is working or not and recommend changes in the mix.

Infrastructure: Maintaining infrastructure without raising taxes is also a difficult task, since repairing and replacing assets requires spending.

One way to manage that spending is to not be penny wise and pound foolish. If we have a long-range plan to rotate through asset management, we can take care of problems before they become more costly to repair.

We can also smooth out spending so we are not faced with major repairs or replacements in the same year.

The town is developing a long range capital plan that can assist with scheduling and help focus on grant opportunities so as to not impact taxes when possible.

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Albert Dickson, 64, a Democrat, is making his first bid for public office running for a seat on the Town Board.

Affordable housing: The rising cost of housing affects everyone — seniors, veterans, public servants and young working families.

Economic diversity and a robust year-round community ensures a thriving local economy, strong community services, new ideas and dedicated stakeholders.

We can make progress through immediate implementation of measures and through the development of a long-term plan.

This issue was at the fore in the 1980s and 1990s when the Comprehensive Plan was developed. I would start by adopting those recommendations. Article 1, Chapter 51 of the Plan establishes the Community Housing Law.

It calls for amending the zoning ordinance to allow permits for year-round rentals of second units accessory to single-family homes, which would help alleviate the needs here, and provide income for property owners.

I will push for the protection of undeveloped land parcels that might be used for developing community housing.

I will seek to limit allowances for developers to set aside parcels of open space within a development and enforce a commitment that a multi-family house will be incorporated within the scope of the single-family development.

Water quality: I believe there are a number of zero or low cost ways we can begin to address the issues of protection of our water, reduction in tick-borne illnesses, and fortifying our infrastructure.

The Water Advisory Committee, which I chair, is currently in the process of recommending measures, all of which could be paid by an allocation from the Community Preservation Fund with no impact to taxpayers.

We have previously engaged the U.S. Geological Survey for regular water quality testing. We would continue monthly water quality testing to understand the trajectory of any issues and the most effective methods to mitigate them. In the Center, where testing has shown high levels of nitrates, I would look to install the new septic system technology at locations such as the Legion and the school.

Finally, I would increase our focus on education that informs the public on best practices related to the use of fertilizers, water conservation, landscape irrigation and run-off that leads to the deterioration of our creeks and bays.

Tick infestation: I agree with a three-pronged approach utilizing 4-posters, culling and education. We need to prioritize Suffolk County Vector Control’s deer density level recommendation of 12 deer per square mile, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s recommendation to cull the herd by 40 percent annually.

We need to augment our culling efforts until our deer population reaches acceptable levels. I want to incentivize our local hunters to facilitate this effort.

Infrastructure: We can spend money that we’re already spending on maintenance, infrastructure and roads more wisely through long-term planning.

Any homeowner knows that maintenance and repairs in regular, predictable intervals are necessary, and it’s true for the vast majority of the town’s property and assets. By planning what needs to be addressed and when, we reduce our risk and know our costs far ahead. This is not a proposal to spend more money, or allocate unnecessary funds blindly.

It’s a recommendation to spend in a smarter way that to reduce our risk and save taxpayers money. I support retaining a full-time town engineer to actively identify infrastructure risks, advise how we can spend money most efficiently, and promote initiatives that ensure infrastructure and maintenance are completed in the best interests of the town.

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Marcus Kaasik, 48, a Republican, is making his first bid for public office running for a seat on the Town Board.

Affordable housing: I believe that full ownership of land and structures is still the American dream and should be the ultimate goal of any housing initiative.

I would look for more opportunities like the Bowdich Road development that cost nothing to the taxpayers, yet provided safe stable housing for six families for 22 years.

Sadly, this was our last success in creating affordable housing on Shelter Island despite ever increasing need.

I also realize the need for affordable rental units for young families who work on Shelter Island. Therefore, I am open to a situation where the town leases land to tenants who either pay rent or pay a mortgage on a structure they live in.

We should also look at the possibility of granting variances to allow construction in certain areas of more rental “cottages” at the owner’s expense under the condition that rents remain at a reasonable level. In the end, whatever path we take will require a great deal of political will.

Water quality: We must realize we have a sole source aquifer and the sole source of that is rain.

We must control rain run-off so it stays on land where it can naturally filter into the ground recharging our aquifer. This practice will also reduce run-off into our bays threatening the marine environment — our source of food.

We must be mindful that the chemicals we apply to our lawns and driveways can enter our aquifer and damage the ecosystem. We must incorporate this vigilance into Island culture.

I applaud the efforts of homeowners and organizations that install low nitrate septic systems on a voluntary basis. There are new monies — $440,000 this year — available to help with this due to changes to the Community Preservation Fund law.

The town should not supplant Suffolk County as the authority for septic systems since we do not have the expertise or staff to do so and should not subject ourselves to liability.

Tick infestation: On ticks, I support bringing the deer herd down to natural levels, and fighting to reintroduce controlled burning.  When I was growing up, this was the preferred method used to eradicate ticks.

We need to start with the roads. Many of our roads are long overdue for repair and time is running short to solve these issues. We need to take advantage of a New York State program that reimburses any costs related to major road improvements.

We also need a complete assessment of our infrastructure followed by a comprehensive capital plan that dictates schedules of infrastructure repair and replacement.

This will put us in a better position to take advantage of state and federal bonds and grants to fund these projects without raising taxes.