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Supervisor Gerth gives ‘State of the Town’ summation

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO League of Women Voters of Shelter Island President Lois B. Morris with Supervisor Gary Gerth at the League-sponsored ‘State of the Town’ event at the Ram’s Head Inn on Sunday.

At Sunday’s 12th annual “State of the Town” luncheon, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Shelter Island at the Ram’s Head Inn, Supervisor Gary Gerth discussed successes his administration has achieved since last April, and outlined challenges facing the Island.

League President Lois B. Morris noted that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Island’s chapter, and the 100th anniversary of New York State’s chapter. Ms. Morris said, before introducing Mr. Gerth, “that the league is a political organization, but not a partisan one.”

She praised the town’s government for functioning “on the common ground for the common good, and there’s much good to be had here.”

Mr. Gerth spoke about the town taking firm positions when two organizations — Winthrop Hospital and Chase Bank — threatened to pull out of Shelter Island, leaving many residents, especially older ones, facing a lack of services.

When Winthrop, responsible for staffing the town’s Medical Center, said it was leaving last August, Mr. Gerth threatened litigation against the hospital group to hold them to their contract of remaining until December 31. He also intensified negotiations with Stony Brook University Hospital to take over management of the Medical Center. He added that Stony Brook had sound ideas on improving the facility and would be on board for 2020.

Responding to a question from the audience, Mr. Gerth said that staffing would be the prerogative of Stony Brook, but he was pushing for Dr. Josh Potter, an Island resident, to be included on the medical team.

The supervisor also fought to keep the Chase Bank branch here, he said, successfully securing an agreement from the bank.

Last spring, rumors surfaced that Chase would close its branch in the Center, going the way of Capital One’s branch, which pulled up stakes in the fall of 2017. It wasn’t long before the Chase rumors turned into fact.

Business owners — such as restaurants in summer months — wouldn’t be able to make large, after-hours cash deposits and elderly residents, told they could use Chase branches on the North or South forks, were concerned about going off-Island every time they had to go to the bank.

Mr. Gerth met with Chase officials to appeal the decision to close the Island’s branch, but before he could make his pitch, he told the audience, bank officials said he had already won his case.

On the subject of short-term rental (STR) legislation — and the amendments to the law his administration has proposed — Mr. Gerth said that after taking office in January 2018, he commissioned a Garden City attorney “to do a legal analysis” of the STR law.

In the amendments to the STR law there is a provision — called the “Homesteaders Hardship Exemption” — that would allow people who claim a primary residence here, and meet income requirements, to be exempt from certain requirements. The draft law would allow a couple earning $82,300, or a family of three with an income of $139,000, to qualify to rent their properties up to six times per year for any period of time, short term or long term.

“These are not people taking a cruise,” the supervisor said. “They’re not heading down to Disneyworld. These are folks maintaining their homes and paying their taxes.”

Cathy Ann Kenny asked if the zoning code would be addressed in connection to the proposed STR law. Mr. Gerth said he couldn’t comment on that, but asked Ms. Kenny to call his office on Monday to discuss it.

Similarly, when Mary Dwyer asked the supervisor who would enforce an STR law, he said details have “not been worked out.”

Mr. Gerth urged residents to attend a public hearing on the amendments to the STR law scheduled for Friday, May 3 at the school. In the law, he said, “There’s something in there for everyone to like, and something in there for people not to like.”

On infrastructure, Mr. Gerth said plans to shore up Reel Point and protect Coecles Harbor was ongoing with the Army Corps of Engineers, and work on the Ram Island causeway was also being discussed.

He broke some news by saying that the search to hire a new town engineer, to replace John Cronin, who is retiring, is back to square one. “We had one hired, but he walked out for more money” elsewhere, the supervisor said.

A question on providing safe drinking water came from the audience. Mr. Gerth said there were 65 applications for state-of-the-art nitrogen reducing septic systems, and the town was working on completing clean water systems at the school and the American Legion building.

He noted there were town, county and state rebates in place for homeowners installing the new systems, but the town was battling County Comptroller John Kennedy over excessive taxation. In January, the comptroller informed those who received county grants that the money is considered income and they are responsible for paying federal taxes on those amounts.

Mr. Gerth finished by inviting any resident with questions or concerns to meet with him at Town Hall, with no appointment necessary. “This is the beginning of a dialogue,” the supervisor said.