Featured Story

Everyone agrees on clean water, but . . .


Two town committees that are, in many ways, on the same page when it comes to improving water quality and preserving land, are in different chapters when it comes to handling debt service.

The differences between the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board (CPF) and the Water Quality Improvements Advisory Board emerged at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. Both boards are funded through a 2 percent tax on property that buyers pay that had been used for years solely to purchase and preserve open space.

But a referendum passed by voters in November 2016 said up to 20 percent of that money could be used for water quality improvement projects. The Water Quality board was created to vet and promote clean water projects using that money.

However, at Tuesday’s meeting, CPF Chairman Gordon Gooding asked the Town Board to take into consideration debt service it incurred in 2010 on money borrowed from the full amount of CPF money the town receives each year, before calculating the Water Quality Board’s 20 percent of funds.

The debt service “should be honored first, prior to any spending,” Mr. Gooding said.

To do that, he called for the debt service on a CPF long-term bond be deducted from CPF money before it releases 20 percent of its funds to the Water Quality Board.

By his calculations, for CPF money collected in 2017, the Water Quality Board received $410,550, but should have received $369,490 had the debt service been paid before the Water Quality Board’s 20 percent was calculated.

Mr. Gooding’s request is not sitting well with Ed Shillingburg, a member of both boards.

Supported by two of his colleagues from the Water Quality Board — Tim Purtell and James Eklund — he said there was no provision in the state law establishing the use of up to 20 percent of CPF money to be used for water quality projects or in the wording of the resolution Shelter Island voters approved in November 2016 allowing for money for CPF debt service to be taken out of the Water Quality Board’s money.

The debt was incurred by the CPF for a bond for land acquisition. Mr. Shillingburg said it would cost the Water Quality Board about $41,000 per year at least two years.

It was those two years for which Mr. Gooding was asking for the funds, saying that until the new town government took over in January, he had always been told unused money from the Water Quality Board would revert to the CPF coffers at year’s end.

It was only later that the Town Board determined there was nothing in the law requiring that unused money revert to the CPF.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. told the Town Board Tuesday it could decide to let that stand as an automatic rollover or vote each year. Town Board members appeared split on whether to make it an annual vote or an automatic rollover and will discuss it further before making a decision.

At issue for Mr. Gooding is ensuring his committee has enough money and borrowing power for land acquisitions to preserve what could come along. He said his committee is currently looking at a few major projects.

Councilman Jim Colligan noted that if the CPF money had more borrowing power in the past, it might have been able to acquire other pieces of land on which it had to pass. “We learn from our mistakes,” Mr. Colligan said.

But undercutting water quality money is “not an option for me,” Councilman Paul Shepherd said.

Supervisor Gary Gerth, Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams, Mr. DeStefano and town financial advisor Tom Major will meet to discuss the issue and report back to the full Town Board.

In other business, the Town Board:
• Received an appeal expected to be granted at Friday’s Town Board meeting to publish a request for proposals to purchase a “hot box” that heats asphalt for patching roads.
• Is expected to approve purchase of a 2013 Subaru Crosstrek All Wheel Drive vehicle for $6,000 being offered by Renee Bartoletta Yang, whose mother, Donna, was helped by Shelter Island’s Senior Services.
• Heard from Building Permits Coordinator Lori Beard-Raymond on suggesting how to handle removal of existing septic systems in town wetlands areas. Ms. Beard-Raymond said wire backed silt retention  fencing should be installed and maintained throughout the removal process and remain in place until the soil has stabilized as determined by the building inspector. All construction materials, debris and equipment should be staged outside of the regulated 100-foot town wetlands area. Mitigation measures would be determined by the building inspector and checked periodically during the length of the project.