Southold residents filled Town Hall on Wednesday, March 5, where Supervisor Scott Russell delivered his annual state of the town address detailing town accomplishments and goals in a dozen key government areas.
Russell said the town continues to have an excellent credit rating and healthy fund balances. Despite rising costs, he said the town’s 2019 budget was within the state tax cap. Fiscal goals for the coming year include streamlining purchasing processes by updating current accounting and time management systems.
Russell touted the ratification of collective bargaining agreements without needing to exceed the spending cap or borrow money and new hires such as a senior citizen aide serving seniors on Fisher’s Island and a community relations specialist, as well as a proposed full-time fire marshal. He said the town plans to review current staffing and shift priorities to avoid duplicating job titles, as well as expanding the code of enforcement office and employing an electrical inspector in 2019.
On the business and economic front, Russell said the town has been creating policy and programs, along with seeking grants, to make it easier for new businesses to come to Southold while also developing strategies to promote re-use of existing structures. Goals include reviewing current code to consider changes for existing buildings, creating a receiving zone “flow bank” to allow exchange of sanitary flow credit within commercial hamlet centers and secure funding, and establishing criteria for awarding grants to new and small businesses.
Russell listed transferring the responsibility for approving special events from the town Zoning Board of Appeals to the town board and special events committee as part of 2018’s accomplishments. He said he plans to work with the newly created agricultural advisory committee to modernize the town code for addressing changes affecting agriculture, such as adding processing as a permitted use on agricultural land, reviewing lot size requirements, and exploring a $5 million flexible farmland bond.
The supervisor noted the nearly completed comprehensive plan update as part of 2018’s land use/planning accomplishments, as well as the adoption of a temporary moratorium on issuance of approvals/permits in the area of Mattituck’s Love Lane intersection with Main Road, and the purchase of a 10-acre parcel west of Peconic’s Cochran Park. He said the traffic study related to the moratorium may be expanded to include Bay Avenue to Pike Street along Route 25.
On the affordable housing front, Russell said the town is making it easier to create apartments in existing homes and accessory structures and is looking at using $400,000 of the inclusionary building fund balance to spur the 50-unit work force multifamily apartment community project known as Vineyard View — Southold’s first major affordable housing project since 2008 — which is slated to start this spring. He hopes to create 50 additional affordable apartments/units in the next three years and said he will meet with state representatives regarding recently proposed legislation to create affordable housing by assigning a half-percent transfer tax on home sales in the same way the Community Preservation Fund targets environmental preservation.
Russell cited the dredging of Klipps Park Inlet and 11 creeks identified on the town’s priority list. Russell said grant funding has been secured for a new pump-out vessel and the town has joined the state to stop Connecticut from dumping dredging spoils into Long Island Sound. The supervisor said the town would focus on wildlife management practices, saying he has called on the state to declare deer overpopulation a “public health crisis.” He said approvals are in place for a solar array project at the Southold Animal Shelter and that 2.1 miles of new trails will be added to those currently open to the public with four boardwalks completed by the town Department of Public Works. He said the water conservation committee has been working to protect the aquifer and listed continued participation with Suffolk County Health Services to expand the use of alternative treatment systems as a 2019 goal to increase density levels needed for affordable housing.
The town-purchased Capital One building on Route 25 was identified as the ideal location for Southold’s “long-standing need for a justice court,” and Russell said he hopes to open it in the “historic original building.” He touted completion of a new salt storage facility on Fisher’s Island, mechanic shop at the highway department, and a number of capital improvements to town roads, sidewalks, and parking lots among Southold’s 2018 accomplishments.
On the subject of senior services, Russell said, “Seniors are a priority, and Southold has never had a waitlist as compared to other areas in Suffolk County.” He said the human resource center delivered 24,180 meals to homebound seniors in 2018 — plus 10,287 through the Congregate Nutrition program — listing numerous special activities, services, and special events available in the town for seniors with a 2019 goal of helping eligible Fisher’s Island seniors gain access to Medicare.
Regarding other quality-of-life issues, Russell noted the town was successful in shutting down Vineyard 48 and reducing helicopter traffic, adding Southold is currently figuring out ways to stem the traffic tide that “grips Southold Town each season.” He is proposing weight limits for the Peconic Bay Boulevard and is encouraging businesses to discourage welcoming party buses and limousines.
Recreational service accomplishments included completion of Tasker Park’s pickle ball courts and improvements to Fisher’s Island tennis and basketball courts, as well as continued Red Cross Lifeguard certification courses. Goals include an RFP to unearth possible private investors interested in developing recreational facilities at the 10-acre Carroll Avenue property in Peconic.
Russell’s final address segment covered general public services with accomplishments like establishing a new school resource officer program to address public schools safety issues, as well as creating a youth court program and holding an opioid overdose prevention program NARCAN training class.
Other goals for 2019 include revisiting recently enacted legislation restricting trailer use at Town boat ramps to town residents. He said while it was successful in addressing some concerns, he hopes to simplify it and allow limited out-of-town public use at certain docks.