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Southold Town may pull plug on $32.5 million plan for Town Hall, Justice Court

Some Southold Town board members want to pull the plug on a $32.5 million plan for a new town hall and renovated Justice Court.

The plan, which originally came in at $37 million, was to demolish the current Town Hall and build a new one. The town hall annex, a former bank, would be converted to a Justice Court.

The town had narrowed the project scope to renovate only the first floor of the annex, remediating the basement and second floor, but even still the $32.5 million price tag could mean hiking property taxes nearly 6% over the next few years, according to projections from the town comptroller.

Town Board member Jill Doherty brought up the proposal at the end of a town work session Tuesday. “Where are we going with this?” she asked. “We can’t keep just kicking it down the road every two weeks.”

Board member James Dinizio said he’s in favor of selling the annex, adding that the board needs to develop a long-term plan for town buildings. “I’m talking 25 years, not two years, not five years. Then you get a better plan as to what you’re going to do,” he said.

Board member Sarah Nappa also seemed to favor selling the building, saying the current plan “would be a huge mistake” — especially since it doesn’t include the police department.

“I don’t think that we can spend our money into this capital project and not even consider the police department,” she said.

Ms. Nappa suggested selling the annex and using the funds to cover some of the building costs the town is facing right now. “I wish [the annex] could stay in the town’s possession, but it doesn’t work for what we need,” she added.

Supervisor Scott Russell agreed that the town needs a new plan but argued against selling the building.

“I agree with Sarah, in terms of I don’t think you can evaluate this without factoring the police department into the question,” he said, adding that there was a tentative plan years ago that needs to be revisited. But he said he’s unwilling to give up the annex.

“It wasn’t about the cost of buying it, it was the cost of not buying it,” he said. “If it’s not suitable for some of the proposals, primarily the Justice Court, then give up on that … but I wouldn’t give up on other aspects of it. It cost more to perhaps fix than other buildings — that’s the nature when you take on the responsibility of buying old historic buildings.”

He emphasized that the town needs to hold itself to the same standards to which it holds private property owners who purchase historic buildings.

Mr. Dinizio argued that the building just isn’t efficient as a government building. “It’s good for a bank. It’s not good for government,” he said.

Board members seemed to favor looking into other properties to suit the town’s needs but postponed those discussions for executive session. Ms. Doherty also said she had an idea the town hasn’t explored yet but said she would explain it during executive session.