Russell: Southold Spent 2013 Shaking Off Sandy

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell gives his 2014 State of the Town address
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell gives his 2014 State of the Town address

When Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell gave his 2013 state of the town address last year, Superstorm Sandy overshadowed just about everything else that was going on in town.

This past year, he said in his 2014 address Thursday night, Sandy still devoured the lion’s share of the town’s time and resources.

The town trustees and building department spent much of the year issuing permits to rebuild after the hurricane’s damage, he said, adding that the trustees did 1,400 inspections of damaged properties and issued 135 emergency permits in 2013.

He said the town also handled 13,067 tons of debris from the storm. Southold has received $616,000 in emergency aid for the storm and is still expecting to receive $500,000 more, as well as “several hundred thousand” dollars to repair damage to the Fishers Island ferry terminal and airport.

Mr. Russell cited the town’s new eWaste program, where residents can drop their old electronic equipment off at the Cutchogue transfer station, as a new stream of revenue, and said the town preserved 64 acres of land last year.

He said revenue for the Community Preservation Fund, which comes from a 2 percent real estate transfer tax, had ticked up to $5 million in 2013, up from $3.8 million the prior year, and he hopes the real estate market will continue to improve, driving that revenue source higher.

“We still need to be conservative and manage our money well,” he said. “Now’s not the time to be freewheeling with the Community Preservation Fund.”

Mr. Russell also praised the town’s planning department for putting in place zoning on federally-owned Plum Island, which he said will ensure that the much-talked about potential for a golf course course and condominiums on the island will never happen.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which manages the island plans to close the agriculture department’s animal disease  laboratory and sell the island.

“We very much want to see Plum Island in the research business,” said Mr. Russell, adding that 600 acres of the island are now preserved for wildlife and will continue to be preserved whether the island stays in federal hands or not.

He also highlighted the town’s adoption of a new special events law that now allows special events on all agricultural properties, not just on winery properties as had been allowed in the passed. He said the town had issued half a dozen permits for events on agricultural property just last week.

“Agriculture operations need to have a direct market with customers,” he said.

In 2014, he said, the town’s planning department will be hard at work on the land use section of its current comprehensive plan update, which will include recommendations for zoning changes.

“That’s probably the most difficult chapter in the comprehensive plan,” he said. “It’s only going to work if we get the public to buy in. Everybody needs to come to the table.”

Mr. Russell said the town also plans to research the possibility of going to a “single stream” recycling system so that residents don’t have to sort their glass, cans and plastic separately, and to allow a first time homebuyer exemption from the Community Preservation Fund transfer tax. He also wants to revisit and expand the town’s accessory apartment law to allow more people to build apartments in their homes and outbuildings.

He didn’t shy away from mentioning controversial programs in his highlights, including the town’s work last year to change laws regarding dogs on beaches.

“Why’d you put this in here, Phillip?” he asked town special projects coordinator Phillip Beltz, who helped prepare the speech.

Mr. Russell said the town code had been written in the past to say that no dogs were allowed on the beach, but his administration’s attempt to relax that code had gotten dog owners all hot and bothered last summer.

The town’s six-year-old deer management plan has enabled hunters to kill more than 800 deer and donate more than 20,000 pounds of venison to food pantries, he said.

Mr. Russell offered to take questions at the end of his speech, but the only person who got up to speak was frequent town board critic Benja Schwartz, who said that deer are beautiful animals and he doesn’t understand why Southold is continuing to work with the Long Island Farm Bureau’s current culling program using USDA sharpshooters. A state judge put a halt to further DEC permits for the program on Thursday, though existing permits are still in place.

Mr. Russell said deer are creating a public health crisis and an economic crisis in Southold.

“Southold Town is committed to its hunting program,” he said.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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