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Year in Review: A quiet start, a loud finish to 2017 politics

The candidates for Town board in 2017. Clockwise from lower left, Albert Dickson, Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Gary Gerth, Marcus Kaasik and Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams.

PETER WALDNER ILLUSTRATION The candidates for Town board in 2017. Clockwise from lower left, Albert Dickson, Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Gary Gerth, Marcus Kaasik and Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams.

It was a relatively quiet campaign season on Shelter Island to fill two Town Board seats and elect a supervisor.

Republican Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams, running for reelection, was considered such a shoo-in that she wasn’t even challenged by the Democrats, who put up Albert Dickson, chairman of the town’s Water Advisory Committee, as the only Democrat challenging for the two seats. Councilwoman Chris Lewis announced early on she was retiring, and the GOP put up political newcomer Marcus Kaasik to run.

If it was a quiet campaign, the results were anything but, with Supervisor Jim Dougherty, seeking a sixth term as supervisor, narrowly upset by Gary Gerth. A month after Election Day, when all absentee ballots were counted, Mr. Dickson won the open seat, after trailing Mr. Kaasik on election night.

The final results were Mr. Gerth squeaking past Mr. Dougherty by 33 votes, 648 to 615, and Mr. Dickson gaining his seat against Mr. Kaasik 711 to 686. Ms. Brach-Williams won in a walk, recording 902 votes, the most of any candidate.

At a candidates forum in October at the school auditorium sponsored by the Shelter Island Association and the League of Women Voters of Shelter Island there were no fireworks or serious disagreements.

There was some news, however. Gary Gerth, Republican candidate for supervisor, asked incumbent Supervisor Jim Dougherty, a Democrat, why the results of a survey asking residents questions related to deer and tick issues would not be released until after Election Day.

Mr. Dougherty answered, “I’m ready to go,” but information later revealed he had asked for a delay until after the election, citing scheduling issues.

All of the candidates listed the lack of affordable housing as the key issue that will affect the Island’s future.

Ms. Brach-Williams echoed Ms. Lewis by saying the real roadblock to affordable housing on the Island “is a lack of political will.” Mr. Dickson agreed, saying there is “an inertia” and “dramatic steps need to be taken.”

The candidates agreed it was necessary to have strategic planning to maintain infrastructure on the Island through budgeting. Mr. Gerth called for long term strategic planning, and “professional management,” especially on a capital plan. Mr. Dougherty said the town had a capital plan — although this was the first time it had been mentioned — the town’s coffers were full and “we have plenty of planning.”

His proposed budget for 2018 includes “half a million to keep infrastructure up to date,” he said, and pointed to ongoing renovations at Justice Hall.

Mr. Gerth cited a report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that most municipalities “have been underfunding their capital needs over the last several decades,” and the comptroller “encourages local government officials to develop and implement multiyear capital planning.”

Mr. Dougherty was aware of the report, he said, dismissing it as “boilerplate.” As chief financial officer of the town, he reiterated that he that was doing his job of keeping taxes low, and bringing in responsible budgets.

One notable disagreement among the candidates had to do with short-term rental legislation passed by the Town Board in April after more than a year of contentious debate and heated public meetings where ad hominem attacks were common.

All candidates except Ms. Brach-Williams were opposed to the legislation, which regulates residents renting their homes on a short-term basis, including how long and when they can rent their places when they’re not present.

Water quality was a topic around which, again, the candidates formed a consensus. Mr. Kaasik made the point that as a fisherman, he cares deeply about water quality, and nitrates flowing into the bays are killing our most precious natural resource. The county-approved upgrades to septic systems, even with subsidies to homeowners are much too expensive, Mr. Kaasik said.

He was against mandates imposed on homeowners by the county not only for the expense and maintenance costs, but because mandates open the door to allow “officials to come on your land.”

Mr. Dickson said that water quality has to be addressed for Islanders’ health and the overall economic well-being of the community. An Island-wide commitment to ensure clean drinking water from the aquifers is imperative, Mr. Dickson said.

On the issue of ticks and deer management, all candidates were in agreement with the town’s three pronged approach of 4-posters — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — aggressive culling of the deer herd and educating the public about tick borne-illnesses.

Mr. Kaasik added that he remembers when he was a child that there were controlled burns on properties to keep the tick population at bay, and said the idea should be revisited.

Summing up, Mr. Dickson said to residents: “I want to engage you. I want to encourage your participation.”

Mr. Gerth would bring professional management to Town Hall, he said, and his greatest asset is that he’s “a problem solver.”

Supervisor Dougherty said the town was sound financially, and noting that Ms. Lewis and the town attorney are retiring and the town engineer has resigned, “Shelter Island is at a crossroads.”

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