Unlike the Southold Town supervisor debate that followed it, Thursday evening’s four-person debate among Town Board candidates was a tame affair.
Incumbents Jill Doherty and William Ruland along with Democratic candidates Albie de Kerillis and Debbie O’Kane shared their views about the town’s future and what steps still need to be taken to address issues like traffic, water quality, code enforcement and more.
All of which were shared without the accusations and attacks that characterized the night’s latter debate.
The two-and-a-half-hour-long Town Board debate was sponsored by The Suffolk Times and moderated by editors Grant Parpan and Joseph Pinciaro. It was hosted by Peconic Landing, where residents nearly filled the auditorium to watch the event.
Read below for the candidate’s responses to each question of the debate in their own words. Some answers have been condensed:
Question: The Town Board recently hired a part-time code enforcement officer to work nights and weekends. Is that enough to address code concerns and, if not, what more can be done?
Albie de Kerillis: We’re going to make an example of short-term rentals: We’ve already had codes on the books. And those codes on the books? They’re supposed to be enforced … I think more needs to be done.
Jill Doherty: It always comes down to finance, but we’re working on it … in the 2016 budget we have not just a code enforcement officer, but that person will be a fire marshal as well, because of all the state inspections that need to be done … It’s not just whats on the books, you have to deal with the general public complaining and telling us what’s wrong out there and then we have to inspect [it].
Debbie O’Kane: I think the addition of a part-time and full-time code enforcement officer is very important to enhance the team around code enforcement. Again, 24/7 [coverage] is very important … Also, code enforcement needs to be the same, it needs to be fair and equitable and enforced the same across the board.
William Ruland: As we look at the idea of code enforcement, there’s not one silver bullet that fits everything. I think that going forward our vision is the code enforcement department will be organized — it’s only recently been reassigned to the town attorney department.
Q: Many different uses have been discussed for the school and recreation center on Peconic Lane. The Justice Court is also crunched for space. Do you believe the town is best utilizing its buildings and what improvements might you offer?
Doherty: We’re constantly evaluating our inventory and the best use for it. We sent a [request for proposals] out to have a company come in and evaluate all our buildings, for energy use, for other uses, for security … It’s tough because we’re dealing with old infrastructure … It comes down to finances. We have to make the best use of what we have.
O’Kane: I think adaptive reuse is a very important concept. Being able to take buildings that aren’t being used to the best of their abilities and reassess what their potential is is something that’s very important … The Peconic community center … is underutilized. It’s a wonderful space. I think it can be used for many other things.
Ruland: I would concur that the community center is underutilized. The word is out there that the building is able to be used … I think as far as infrastructure as a whole, we’re continually are wrestling with how we can do things differently. Again, there is just no one answer. I’m not in favor a building a new Town Hall. Should we build a new justice court? I’m not sure if that is or isn’t feasible.
de Kerillis: The most key important factor that they have failed to mention is the safety, the safety of the court officers, the court judges, the policemen, the defendants, the guests of the court. Is it feasible to put a court in the schoolhouse or the community center? … I would consider feasibility and certainly, most of all, safety.
Doherty: We met with the current staff and that is our number one the safety and that’s why a couple of these buildings won’t work. You can’t combine a justice court with an art project.
Ruland: now, we have adequate court officers we have metal detection we have procedures in place that make the facility that we’re using now as a stopgap measure much, much safer. And it’s also a credit to the judges who have said “we’re a part of this too” and have been helpful.
Q: This summer we saw numerous fish kills in the Peconic Estuary. What do you see as Southold Town’s role in solving regional water quality problems?
O’Kane: I think Southold Town needs to be taking on a leadership role as far as water quality is concerned. We did see this past spring some extreme circumstances, but I think that’s going to become more and more the norm … All of this is due to nitrogen loading … I know that Brookhaven town at this point passed legislation to require advanced wastewater treatment systems. I believe Southold can go ahead and take on this leadership role.
Ruland: Education is probably the key. The town has Chapter 236 of the code which deals with stormwater, and stormwater in this town has been a major source of runoff … Over time we’re certainly seeing results with this. In terms of wastewater, we need to be able to consider alternative wastewater systems.
de Kerillis: I am very dismayed that 41 bays and creeks are closed. This didn’t happen overnight … We need to start being proactive not reactive. A band-aid isn’t going to be able to fix this.
Doherty: I’m on the shellfish advisory committee. We have citizens that on their own time have been trained by the [Department of Environmental Conservation] to do water quality testing. lot of the reason why a lot of these creeks are closed is because New York State DEC doesn’t have the manpower to test the water … They just close the creeks instead of testing. It’s hard to take a really forceful role when you’re fighting with the DEC and county and they keep pushing you back, but I think the town is really looking forward.
O’Kane: Water quality is critical to our community. Our economy depends on it. Our boating, our fishing, our tourism industry. We wouldn’t have this economic base if we didn’t have good quality waters. This is an issue that has to be dealt with and has to be dealt with right away.
Ruland: The town has filed suit against the DEC to force them to follow their own rules.
Doherty: That’s what I was going to say.
Q: Do you believe the current Town Board has made prudent fiscal decisions?
Ruland: Yes I do. I think the most obvious point to that … Moody’s upgraded our bond rating. Which is huge. It doesn’t seem like that to the average person, but the fact that your bond rating is raised … you are able to get a lower interest rate it saves the people tens or hundreds of dollars over the life of a bond and that’s critical in my mind.
De Kerillis: The Moody’s report is very good. But that affects debt and how did we get that debt in the first place. My only concern is the NY state audit that I read from James DiNapoli. My concerns are with the expenditure of improper bidding, and we’re talking about bids to the tune of $3,000.
Doherty: I do feel this board has been fiscally responsible. We don’t make decisions lightly. We make some hard choices and some things we have to put off. We ask each department head to give us a report of what they foresee the capital budget would be.
O’Kane: I do commend the board. I’ve had lots of training of management of not-for-profits … and I’m a resident of orient and I see there’s about $88,000 paid to the Orient mosquito control district. I just wonder.. it’s kind of an archaic system.
Ruland: I think the other thing that we must recognize is the Supervisor is the chief financial executive of the town.
de Kerillis: I was elected chairman of the Orient East Marion park district … Basically we set the district financially sound for future generations.
Doherty: The report that Mr. de Kerillis was talking about before was an audit report. It talks about discrepancies, but it was nothing fraudulent. The way he presented it, it sounded fraudulent. There’s always room for improvement and we take those reports seriously.
Q: What ideas do you have to keep younger residents from leaving Southold Town and how might you as a town supervisor get them more civically engaged?
de Kerillis: The most important thing we can do for our children is make one of our Southold Town districts a vocational school where we can offer them classes in carpentry, plumbing electrician, becoming nurses. These are fields of upcoming growth. These are jobs our kids could have here in Southold Town … We need to keep young people in Southold Town and the only way we’re going to keep young families here with their children are affordable rentals, which haven’t taken place, and better jobs.
Doherty: I have two kids. They’re off in college right now and I know they’re not coming back here to live. The Town Board is always talking about this and we did change the code to make it a little easier to have apartments above storefronts … That is just a small dent in what we need. The housing, it’s just very difficult.
O’Kane: Right now, we have a very rich and vibrant diversity. We run the risk of losing our young people. We also run the risk of losing our seniors. The Cottages is a very good example of what has been done in Southold. If we had some form of affordable housing in each one of our hamlets, spread it throughout the town … As far as jobs go, I think we could be more creative. I’m thinking in terms of an economic incubator in Southold Town.
Ruland: The East End is served by H.B. Ward tech which is the most underutilized asset in BOCES, really. It offers all the programs we talked about. I don’t think any of our hamlets could afford to create a vocational school. There’s not enough students … I don’t think that government is in the business to create jobs, it’s to help private industry to create jobs and create an atmosphere where business can thrive. As far as affordable housing goes, you can’t force a developer to build an affordable house … The most that we can do is encourage people through incentives.
de Kerillis: Has the town ever considered perhaps building affordable housing?
Doherty: Nowadays, you can’t acquire the properties. And with the cost of the properties, to have the taxpayers pay that, it’s not feasible.
Q: There has been discussion recently of creating a part-time wildlife manager in town to help address the deer problem. What might this person accomplish and what other steps need to be taken?
Doherty: We already have a land management program in place. And we have a list of priorities. This person could help organize that a little bit better. As we acquire more property, more wooded area, more natural resources, it becomes more cumbersome for them … [the management officer] can get grants to help us maintain these places.
O’Kane: In this town we have to manage deer. Their populations have gotten out of control … I do think that this wildlife management coordinator needs to be trained and needs to be well educated … People need to understand why we’re doing this.
Ruland: Getting to the point where we have our own management program and issue our own tags because the program is credible is critical, it’s critical. Going forward the participation of more hunters [is important]. I envision this person could reach out to the landowners other than public lands and educate them as to the facts of the amount of disease and destruction … The herd is too large and it has to be thinned.
de Kerillis: We have to recognized that Southold has a very big deer problem. I think we’re in the right direction, but the urgency needs to be stepped up a little bit more. They’re going to go through a mating season which is only going to make the problem worse.
Q: Every year it seems our roads are getting more and more clogged up. How can you address concerns residents have over traffic and road safety?
O’Kane: Yes that’s true. I think this summer especially it was very hard to move around here in Southold Town. We’re still facing traffic congestion. That’s not to say we should be cutting back or curtailing our tourism. But we have to find alternatives. We cannot continue to have all of the cars on our roads. Last week there was a great article in the newspaper … about the county cutting back the bus service. I think we need to be thinking out of the box. We need to be looking at alternatives [like a public-private transit service].
Ruland: Today, we were meeting with department heads and I asked each department head “How many of your people come to work on the train?” because we were adding the different departments and how much we pay in this MTA payroll tax. The town’s paying $70 or $80k to the MTA and there’s no train service. It’s a travesty upon travesty … There is a movement to look at some kind of regional light rail … I think it can happen but it’s going to need funding from the local, state and federal level.
de Kerillis: It does seem that every year the traffic is getting worse and worse … We are in a catch 22. Southold Town needs to make a decision: do we want to keep tourism at the same level it is right now, do you want to increase it or do you want to decrease it? More needs to be done, more needs to be researched.
Doherty: [Tourism] is a great thing, but we don’t have the infrastructure to handle [it]. There’s no easy answer because we don’t have the help from the county from the MTA … They’re reducing. What happens when they reduce something is we’re the first to go. We need your ideas.
O’Kane: A [transit] model in Maine is funded through the federal government and through corporate sponsorships. They actually take 1 million cars off the road every year.
Ruland: The culmination when we finish our master plan is probably going to say to some people’s chagrin that there will be a saturation point where we can’t accommodate any more.
Q: Another summer of complaints over helicopter and sea plane noise has passed on the North Fork despite a number of steps taken in recent years to mitigate these concerns. Can you suggest a new alternative for handling this issue?
Ruland: I think that the volunteers that we have and the people that have come forward to say “enough is enough” have finally gotten the attention of some people in the federal govt … It’s so hard on the local level except to protest. I believe strongly that we’ll get to the point where the FAA will regulate.
de Kerillis: It’s very frustrating. I attended several helicopter noise meeting when Lee Zeldin was there … It’s pretty sad that it’s come to this point. I’m hoping and praying to God that the federal government can get their act together.
Doherty: It’s only going to get worse. We have teamed up with the other towns. The FAA they make up their own rules and they govern their own rules, so they’re very hard to fight.
O’Kane: It’s important that we’re getting a critical mass of people together in a community … Maybe [the FAA can] change up some of the routes, change up the different times the flights are taking place, perhaps lessen or eliminate flights at certain times of the weekend … I don’t know that we can totally eliminate them but we can ask for changes. I don’t think we can control it but we can certainly make a lot of noise to put changes in place.
de Kerillis: Campaigning is a very wonderful thing. I’ve been doing it since 2009 … with the same beliefs that I’ve always had: Keeping young people here, getting affordable rentals, and and taking care of deer management. I believe in Southold politics that it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. What’s the main concern is that they’re Southold residents. We really have a great team of candidates, we have some fresh ideas … I am a huge part of the community, I am all for the community, I am all for Southold Town.
Doherty: My roots are in East Marion … I grew up hearing about land preservation… It’s a balance of taking from the land but giving back to the land. You have the property rights, but yet everybody’s got to give. It’s a great community, and not just when things are bad, but when things are good, people need to keep giving. As a clerk to the Board of Trustees for 12 years, as a trustee member, as a Town Board member, I’ve really enjoyed being a voice where people can come to me and I can find the answers for them. It’s been a pleasure to be involved in town for all these years. I look forward to doing it another four years and being your voice so I ask for your vote on Nov. 3.
O’Kane: We’re all very, very fortunate to be living in this special place we call Southold Town. I’ve worked as a community leader for almost 20 years now since 1996 … I’ve done an awful amount of work as an environmental advocate. Part of my job was thinking out of the box, coming up with solutions that were different from what everyone else was thinking. Those are the critical thinking skills I bring to the table. I bring the unique combination of being an environmental advocate and understand how to work in a small community and support a small business community.
Ruland: I’ve dealt with the environment my whole life, whether it was with farm animals or growing crops and everything in between. I’ve served my community for the last 32 years. It has taught me so much about the people, their lives and what affects them. Everyday I talk to people and I listen to people and they tell me about themselves and their plight and what is right and what is wrong. It is really heartwarming when people open up to you and tell you what’s on their mind about their community. It is also an awesome responsibility to make decisions that affect everyone’s life. I serve and live in the community I was born in and I love. I am humbled to be your councilman and I ask for your support Nov. 3.