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Greenport Village debate hot topics: PSEG-LI deal, parking and rentals

The three candidates running in this year’s Greenport Village Board election have different ideas about how $1.3 million from the tentative PSEG-Long Island cable project agreement should be spent.

During a debate Monday night at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport, Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, who was first elected in 2009, said she believes one of the first expenditures should be hiring a planner to advise the board, staff and community on what needs to be done to improve the village’s quality of life.

Incumbent Trustee Julia Robins, a Village Board member since 2013, said the first expenditure will be earmarked for a stormwater mitigation project for Fifth and Sixth streets.

Challenger Paul Kreiling, a 25-year Greenport resident and owner of Easterly Sailing School, agreed that stormwater runoff mitigation is important and said he also supports using the funds to hire a planner because he believes that will help the village “form a vision.”

However, Mr. Kreiling stressed at various points during the debate that Greenport’s first investment should be hiring a full-time grant writer in order to move forward with capital improvement projects sorely needed throughout the village.

“That would be the best way to invest that money — it wouldn’t be much,” he said. “It would allow us to alleviate all of the runoff by creating a program that could include the community, school, Boy Scouts, baykeepers — everyone — in creating an environmentally-forward program to mitigate runoff.”

Village officials are currently gathering as much feedback from the public as possible before signing a contract that would allow PSEG-Long Island to run an electric cable under Fifth Street and across the bay to Shelter Island. The tentative agreement also includes road paving work and free installation of an electrical switch that could shorten village power outages.

That deal was one of several topics discussed at the nearly 90-minute debate, moderated by The Suffolk Times executive editor Grant Parpan and SoutholdLOCAL publisher Denise Civiletti.

The debate’s format included opening remarks and a Q&A session, ending with an opportunity for audience members to meet with the candidates. The election for Village Board is Tuesday, March 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Third Street firehouse. Two seats are up for grabs and each one carries a four-year term.

Candidate Lucy Clark, whose legal name is Mary Louise Given, told Ms. Civiletti on Sunday she’s opted to drop out of the race and did not attend the debate.

Topics discussed Monday night included parking, short-term rentals and affordable housing, as well as health insurance benefits for trustees, energy needs and improving communication between the village and its residents.

A lack of parking during the summer has been a long-debated issue in the village.

In a split vote in 2012, the Village Board rejected a parking meter proposal after business owners petitioned against it, believing meters would deter shoppers from visiting their stores.

Last summer, the village hired Greg Morris as its new parking and traffic code enforcement officer. The tickets he issued had generated $52,165 in fines as of November, according to a previous report.

Ms. Robins, the Village Board’s liaison to the Greenport Business Improvement District, said she believes progress has been made to improve parking and that the majority of the tickets issued dealt with illegal parking.

She said there has also been discussion of chalking the tires of vehicles parked in two-hour limit spots in the future.

The BID is open to ideas on how to fix the parking issue and desires “consistency” with regard to parking restrictions, Ms. Robins said, adding that she believes the village should take “incremental steps” with any parking meter plan.

Mr. Kreiling said he believes metered parking is the best way to keep traffic moving through the village. Ms. Phillips said she’s researched how other municipalities deal with parking and plans to discuss Port Jefferson Village’s approach — which allows residents to park for free in metered spaces — at Thursday’s work session.

Health benefits for village trustees were also debated Monday night.

When candidates were asked if they would take advantage of village health benefits, Ms. Phillips, owner of Alice’s Fish Market in Greenport, said the village currently pays her coverage and she pays the balance for a family plan.

“It is an opportunity that is afforded to anyone who runs for trustee,” she said. “There was a resolution that was passed last year that approved that process.”

Ms. Robins, a salesperson at Albertson Realty in Greenport, announced that she’s no longer receiving village health insurance. However, she believes the village should still offer trustees the chance to obtain health coverage.

“I still feel the plan that is in place now — where the opportunity for any individual trustee to obtain coverage for themselves — should be maintained so that people who are self-employed and don’t have other options for health insurance would not feel that they could not afford the time to properly serve as an elected official for the village,” she said.

Mr. Kreiling said he has private health insurance and has no desire to obtain a public plan through the village.

“I do believe it’s a good idea — it’s a nice perk and an excellent plan,” he said. “It can be motivating, but I do not need it and will not take it.”

As for energy needs, Mr. Kreiling called on village officials to test all of its generators at the same time since he believes there’s been controversy over whether they have been functioning properly.

Village officials have previously said that a design flaw in the $5.8 million upgrade of the village’s power plant had prevented it from being able to switch from one transformer to another without first shutting down the system.

Repeated power losses have caused some residents to question the condition of the plant. A three-hour power outage occurred in the village in July 2015. An earlier outage, in August 2014, lasted 11 hours.

Ms. Robins, who said she’s attended several New York Power Authority meetings in Albany with village administrator Paul Pallas, said all three generators have been worked on, tested separately and function well.

“All the necessary work has been completed,” she said. “We’re meeting our capacity.”

As the Village Board continues to update and finalize its rental law, all three candidates agreed that creating a registry for all rental properties is a good first step toward addressing safety, overcrowding and quality of life concerns.

“If they want to rent, they have to be inspected,” Ms. Robins said, describing the need for a registry system as “critical.”

When asked if short-term rentals have reduced the supply of affordable housing in Greenport, Ms. Robins said she feels “a tremendous amount of empathy for the people who look for housing here in the village.”

“Working in real estate, I encounter people coming in looking for rentals all the time and I have nothing to offer them,” she said. “It’s disturbing.”

Mr. Kreiling said he believes spaces renovated as short-term rentals aren’t designed for long-term living arrangements. And if a house isn’t used as a short-term rental, he added, it’s going on the market and sold to a second-home buyer.

Ms. Robins and Ms. Phillips said they believe the village should work with Southold Town to come up with a solution with creating affordable housing.

“They have the land — we have the sewer system,” Ms. Phillips said.

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Top photo: From right, Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, challenger Paul Kreiling and Trustee Julia Robins. (Credit: Krysten Massa)