Neighbors of Greenport’s Hashamomuck Cove met with Southold Town representatives Thursday morning for a succinct meeting to discuss how to pay to replenish the sand in front of their storm-battered coast.
The Soundfront neighborhood, where 76 property owners would be directly impacted by a proposed $14.6 million Army Corps of Engineers sand replenishment project, has been battered by this winter’s nor’easters, after years of severe erosion.
Neither Southold Town nor Suffolk County have expressed interest in being a “local partner” in the Army Corps project. The local partner would pay 10.5 percent of the initial cost of construction and 15 percent of renourishment costs at five-year intervals for the next 50 years.
Neighbors of the cove are now discussing the possibility of forming a taxing district to allow them to tax themselves and use the funds generated to pay the local share.
Such a taxing district would require an act of the New York State Legislature, which is only in session through June before reconvening in January 2019.
Once the taxing district is set up, collecting the funds would be “fairly cut and dry,” said Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who said the taxing district would function similarly to a fire district or a park district. “Southold’s role would be the collection agent.”
Mr. Russell said a Board of Commissioners for the taxing district would give the figures on the amount of money to be raised each year to the town tax assessor’s office, and the assessors would calculate raising that money, according to the properties’ assessed valuations, in the town’s Dec. 1 tax bills.
But how much money property owners would pay each year is still very much in question.
The local share, as calculated by the Army Corps, would be $1.53 million for the initial cost and $546,000 for renourishments every five years, assuming the beach erodes at a rate consistent with the Army Corps’ expectations.
Southold Town Tax Assessor Kevin Webster told the several dozen neighbors in attendance that, if the initial cost were to be paid all in the first year, it would cost $2,617 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Southold Town assesses properties at a fraction of their full market value, so homeowners would need to know their own assessment number in order to make that calculation.
Mr. Webster said that, if the initial cost were to be amortized over 30 years, residents would pay just $87 per $1,000 of assessed valuation each year.
Lynn Laskos, a homeowner on the cove who has been the driving force behind getting the Army Corps involved in shoring up the beach, said she believes from discussions she’s had with Army Corps representatives that there’s a possibility of extending payment over 30 years under the Superstorm Sandy Recovery Improvement Act.
Town Engineer Michael Collins, who has been working with the Army Corps on details about the project when the town was considering taking the role as the local sponsor, isn’t sure if extended financing is possible.
“When it was a municipal project, it was explained to us that the local sponsor is responsible for paying its full share when billed by the state,” he said. “The state would send the bill to us, and it would lag the work by two years. I have no idea if that arrangement would hold if it was a taxing district.”
Mr. Collins added that the local sponsor is also responsible for obtaining any real estate necessary to complete the project, which requires public access at three separate locations along the 8,400 linear feet of the project.
“I don’t know how a taxing district can take land by eminent domain,” he said.
In order to create the special taxing district, residents would have to work with State Senator Kenneth LaValle and State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo to draft the legislation.
Town Attorney Bill Duffy explained that, when the petition to create the district is sent to the state, it must be signed by owners of at least 50 percent of the assessed valuation of land within the district. After the law is enacted, it would be subject to a permissive referendum — a forced public vote — if a certain percentage of voters in the proposed district filed their own petition to force a vote. If that were to happen, more than 50 percent of the voters must approve the district.
If a public vote were to be held, only real people who live in and are registered to vote in the taxing district could participate. People who hold land in the district through a corporation and are registered to vote elsewhere could not vote.
The state legislature would also have to examine whether other properties that are not included in the Army Corps plan should be included in the taxing district.
Several residents wondered aloud if they should be pursuing rock revetments in front of their properties instead of or in addition to the Army Corps sand replenishment project, and wondered if their houses would still be there after the time it takes to set up a taxing district.
“If you want to do a hardening of property you own, you have every right to apply for permits to do so,” said Town Councilwoman Jill Doherty, a former president of the Southold Town Trustees, who handle coastal issues.
Ms. Laskos said she would call state representatives to continue the dialogue with them.