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Oct 22, 2019 2:34 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Five Candidates Seek Two Open Southampton Town Board Seats

Oct 23, 2019 12:58 PM

On November 5, five candidates will square off for two open seats on the Southampton Town Board, and while they may see differently on some issues facing the town, they mostly seem to agree on others.

Councilman John Bouvier, a member of the Democratic Party, is seeking re-election to a second, four-year term on the board. Councilwoman Christine Scalera, who at the end of the year will have served eight years on the board, cannot seek re-election due to term limits.

Joining Mr. Bouvier on the Democratic ticket is Craig Catalanotto, a business owner from Speonk. Joining them on the ballot are Republican Party candidates Richard Martel and Charles McArdle, both business owners from Hampton Bays, and Independence Party member Hannah Pell,a real estate manager from Tuckahoe.

All five candidates are running with the intent of addressing many of the same issues facing the town: things like a lack of affordable housing, poor code enforcement that results in unsafe conditions in overcrowded homes, high tax assessments and the decline in water quality in both surface and underground water.

During his first four years in office, Mr. Bouvier worked on numerous sustainability projects for the town to push toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 — including the transition of all 1,778 street lights to LED lights and reducing green house gas emissions.

He also established a Water Quality Board to review and fund water quality infrastructure projects, established a septic system replacement plan for nitrogen-reducing systems and helped decide where to spend millions of dollars in water management infrastructure to prevent runoff of nutrients, which contribute to harmful algal blooms that kill countless fish and create toxic environments for humans and pets.

Along with looking after the environment, Mr. Bouvier is not one to turn a blind eye on the fact that workforce housing is needed on the East End.

“Most of our workforce is priced out of the housing market,” he said. “How can we expect our businesses to find employees when they can’t live anywhere within a reasonable commuting time?”

While serving on the Town Board, Mr. Bouvier voted in favor of a new accessory apartment law that allows half-acre properties — instead of what was previously allowed on three-quarter-acre properties or larger — to create accessory apartments as long as they are offered at an affordable rate.

Mr. Martel, who has served his community as a business owner and volunteer in many organizations in Hampton Bays, acknowledges there is a need for affordable housing to keep younger people and senior citizens in the community.

“My oldest son has moved away because he realized in college the cost of buying a house and the high taxes make it almost impossible to come home,” he said. “I would love to help young people stay here and prosper here.”

In order to get more affordable housing, he proposed working with civic groups to help get past the “Not In My Back Yard” or NIMBY-ism attitude that prevents many projects from launching.

Mr. Martel also said he would support the additional half-percent tax on real estate transactions to help pay for affordable housing projects.

Under the current system, housing lotteries open to anyone in the country are held by the town because it accepts federal money to help fund projects aimed at getting more affordable housing.

Mr. McArdle, who owns a security firm and is a retired Southampton Town Police detective, said he is not in favor of opening the lotteries to people outside of the town. Instead, he would rather see a point system implemented that aims at putting town residents, first responders and town employees at the front of the line for the affordable units.

Mr. Catalanotto’s solution to getting more housing is to rehabilitate blighted sites into affordable units and work with local communities and school districts to determine needs and impacts as they relate to density.

Mr. Catalanotto got his start in serving the community when the Speonk Commons affordable apartment complex was proposed in 2015. At the time, he, like many people in his community, was against the project, but became a key player in the project after working with the town to come up with a less dense plan.

Ms. Pell, who works as a real estate manager and hopes to bring a younger voice to the Town Board, said the less stringent laws approved by the board to create more accessory apartments will provide great affordable options for young professionals.

The addition of the affordable units will also “slightly” alleviate traffic issues, she said, as the labor force will no longer have to travel from out of town.

Mr. McArdle’s solution to traffic along County Road 39 during the morning and afternoon rushes is to allow left turns onto Sebonic Road so all northbound traffic can exit the main thruway as soon as possible. He also suggested putting traffic control officers at several traffic lights on County Road 39 to keep traffic moving.

He also sounded off on issues pertaining to the lack of code enforcement.

“Code Enforcement needs a major overall with true leadership and increase in staffing,” Mr. McArdle said. “Overcrowded homes, with illegal living spaces, creates a dangerous condition for the tenants [and] increased school population …”

He added that under these conditions, the proper school taxes are not applied.

Mr. Martel agreed with Mr. McArdle that code enforcement needs to be improved, and said a leader needs to be hired who will go after landlords who create unsafe environments, through the court system and through fines.

Ms. Pell said she would like to see code enforcement conduct more spot checks and eliminate overcrowded houses that overpopulate the public schools.

“I care about people and the environment they live in,” she said.

The increase in property taxes and assessments is another issue many candidates are running on this year.

Mr. Catalanotto is proposing a program that incentivizes new light industrial building or expansion that would result in more tax revenue for the town. The additional money would reduce the tax burden on homeowners also, according to Mr. Catalanotto.

He also said he wants to work with the state to implement a cap on tax assessments, similar to a cap on the tax levy that prohibits the town from raising taxes more than 2 percent.

Mr. Martel said he wants “Market Condition” increases on homes to end and would like to see a cap on senior citizen taxes who have lived in their home for more than 10 years.

Another solution Mr. Martel proposed is to put a three-year freeze on new home purchases for young adults so they can improve their homes and settle in before being hit with high taxes.

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