The comprehensive plan, farmland preservation, the environment, traffic, tourism and small businesses were among the key issues discussed during a meet the candidates event hosted by the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association Monday night.
Retired Mattituck-Cutchogue teacher Pat Arslanian moderated the forum, which was the first opportunity for this slate of candidates to address the public, a standing-room only crowd at the Mattituck American Legion Hall.
The two candidates for town supervisor spoke first. Here is an edited version of their comments:
Why are you running — and what’s your leadership style?
Scott Russell, Republican incumbent
“I still believe there’s some unfinished business that needs to be done. I want to see some projects finished through,” he said, such as the town’s comprehensive plan. “…I’m non-partisan. I include people from all parties in the decision-making and appointed them to key roles.”
Greg Doroski, Democratic candidate
“This current administration is consistently behind the curve. Far too often we see them dragging their feet,” he said, referencing the comprehensive plan.
“Vision, planning and consistent leadership are necessary. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work my heart out serving our community.”
What’s the purpose of the comprehensive plan, and how would you implement its recommendations?
“It provides a guide for the future of Southold Town. We didn’t sit around and wait for it to be done,” he said, noting that aspects of the plan are already being implemented. “You’re seeing that with the renovations of the [Ray Dean] parking lot, the purchase of Pike Street parking lot,” Mr. Russell continued, adding that his proposed 2020 budget calls for $500,000 in sidewalk repairs to improve downtown walkability.
“We’ve seen the importance of having a master plan by the lack of a master plan. [The comprehensive plan] should chart our course going into the future.
“Bringing the community in is absolutely vital. This is something we should be doing now as we’re finalizing the plan, because we’ve waited so long to get the plan that we can’t waste any time.”
Should breweries and distilleries be permitted to open on farmland?
“I’m actually against breweries and distilleries on farmland. Under state law, it only requires the brewer or distiller to buy 20% of their agricultural products from another grower anywhere in New York State … I don’t care about the agricultural health of Herkimer County. I care about the agricultural health of Southold Town.”
“New York State devised a sliding scale that jumps from 20 to 60 to 90%. For farmers to scale up to do these sorts of things, it takes some time. I would support breweries and distilleries on farmland if we could mandate that they get their ingredients from Southold Town.”
How can the town address the need for affordable housing?
“One of the historic stumbling blocks has always been the lack of infrastructure,” like sewers. “Developers need the density to be able to keep these units affordable. How many do I think we need? As much as we can get. That’s the reality.”
“If people can’t afford to live here, the character of our community erodes. There are clearly problems as it relates to the county, but that’s not enough. We need to do more to facilitate the creation of [accessory] apartments.”
How can the town utilize renewable energy?
“We put a solar array on top of the animal shelter that’s going to save taxpayers $30,000 a year in electric rates,” Mr. Russell said. He also addressed an expired lease with SunEdison, who once planned to install solar panels at the Cut-ch-ogue landfill. “We’ve already been reaching out and think that we are very close to having another successor lessee in place.”
“Other towns have recently brought on large solar farms and [the town landfill] still sits there covered with weeds,” he said, adding that he fears it could be a “missed opportunity.” He continued, “We need to look around the community and find other opportunities on other town-owned buildings and property to figure out how to support the use of this new technology.”
TOWN BOARD CANDIDATES
Why you’re running?
Jill Doherty, Republican
“I’ve been here all my life. I have a passion for this place. The community is ingrained in me. I want to continue to move forward but at the same time, keep Southold, Southold.”
Bob Hanlon, Democrat
“Some of us were born here and stayed, some of us left and came back, some of us found Southold and decided this is where we wanted to live forever. My wife and I did that. We face challenges and changes. It’s inevitable. But we have to find ways to deal with these changes and manage them.”
Sarah Nappa, Democrat
“I’m a mom of two boys, a wife, a small business owner, a chef and a farmer ready to make a difference. The issues affecting Southold Town are not partisan issues, these are community issues. The current climate isn’t working for our community.”
Bill Ruland, Republican
“I’m a lifelong Mattituck resident. This is my 36th year of public service. I intimately know municipal government, I know municipal finance. I have a passion for the community I live in and I involve everyone. In government, I don’t care what anyone says, if you use the pronoun ‘I,’ you’re not going to get far. It’s ‘we.’ ”
How can committees and commissions help achieve your vision for the town?
“[The committees] are all volunteers who bring a vast amount of knowledge to the Town Board. We will continue to establish new committees as challenges come up,” she said, noting that committees such as the stormwater runoff committee she oversees have helped the town implement innovative ideas. “When we redo a road ending, we pull it back and establish gravel and native plantings” to reduce nitrogen. “It’s vital to this town to continue those committees.”
“The ideas don’t come out from Town Hall — they come from the committees. We’re going to revitalize the committees to help structure the prioritization and implementation of the comprehensive plan so we do it right and smart.”
“We need to reinstate all of the committees that have been disbanded recently. We also need to look into creating new committees. If we have a direct communication with our community from the town government in an environment where the community feels like they’re heard and the solutions they come up with are going to be implemented, we’re going to achieve so much more.”
“The value of committees is in the people themselves and the insight they offer to the Town Board,” Mr. Ruland said, adding that he oversees the energy and fleet management committees. “We have reduced our carbon footprint by over 20,000 gallons a year in motor fuel,” adding that there is room for additional committees in the future. “There are challenges that we don’t see.”
What can the town do to ensure businesses are economically viable year round?
“Improving parking areas so it’s easier to park and get to these establishments is an important small town thing that we look at. It takes a lot of communication and different entities to work through the regulations and laws. It’s difficult and we continue to work on it.”
“Businesses that are here want to stay here, they want to grow. We need to reach out and be proactive,” he said, noting that giving business owners a clear idea of steps they need to take at Town Hall will lead to a more business-friendly environment. “It doesn’t cost anything to foster a business, it earns something when we foster a business.”
“There needs to be a clear understanding of what [business owners] need to do to open that business, where they can put it, if they have a parcel in mind, they need to know … We need to be working as a town government with tourism boards” to address transportation and “plan our infrastructure for the future.”
“People have to be able to get here year round. We have to encourage people to travel to our area in different ways. Making our hamlets more walkable is a step in the right direction.”
What does the future hold for farmers in Southold Town?
“Farming is vital to all of us — and everybody in the country. I’m proud to say I live in a place where we’re known for the best potatoes, best corn and now grapes. We’ve got award winning wines … The town has committees made up of active farmers of all different types of farming and we constantly work on code changes. It’s not as simple as ‘This is a great idea, let’s make this happen.’ We have to develop direction and think 10 years out.”
“We need them. I live across the street from a big farm and I love it — I don’t mind the dust, I don’t mind the noise and I don’t mind the bird guns because this is what this town is about. But we are facing tremendous challenges,” notably due to climate change and the threat of saltwater intrusion to the aquifer, Mr. Hanlon said. “We have to make sure that the water we have is prioritized. Food and farms come before grass. Homeowners have to understand that.”
“We’ve done an excellent job in this town of preserving farmland, but if we don’t preserve the farmers along with farmland, it’s just going to be overgrown deer habitat,” she said, calling for the town to work alongside organizations such as the Peconic Land Trust to encourage young farmers to use land that’s been preserved already. She also said the town should promote different farming industries. “Shellfishing is the only farming industry in this town that’s growing right now,” she said. “This is a really critical point. We are currently seeing an influx in corporate farming in this town, we need to keep small farmers here.”
“Farmers are businesspeople but also stewards of the soil.”
Mr. Ruland, a farmer for over 50 years whose family roots in Southold go back to the 18th century, agreed with Ms. Nappa that the industry is undergoing rapid change.
“Our town has supported farming, and continues to support farming. We have to be flexible. There are going to be farming uses that some people are going to raise an eyebrow and say ‘We really don’t want that here,’ but that doesn’t mean it’s not viable and we can’t find a place for it to operate. As time goes on, we’re going to see more change. Some of it we’re going to like some of it we’re not, and farmers that are 53 years plus are going to go away and it will be up to the young’uns.”