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Town Hall Notes: New truck is No. 1 priority; ZBA fee hike mulled

Plans to purchase a new vacuum truck, estimated to cost around $425,000, were also discussed during last week’s work session. 

The purchase should be a “number one priority, above all else,” Supervisor Scott Russell said at the meeting. The town operates two vacuum trucks, one of which is around 25 years old and needs about $42,000 worth of repairs. 

Town engineer Michael Collins said the purchase is “something we’ve needed to do for a while” and emphasized that the town’s current trucks are “really old.” The second truck is about 15 years old, with similar hours and mileage to the older vehicle. 

“They keep breaking down on us. We basically use them [to] within an inch of their service life,” Mr. Collins said. “We need a new truck, and one of these two, the newer one, will become the back-up truck.” 

He said the town has started to tackle areas with poor drainage, so “instead of sending a truck out during or after every rainstorm to evacuate these failing drainage systems, what we do now is anytime something gets cleaned more than once in a year, it gets flagged as a problem.” 

A manufacturer said a truck built to order would take about four months to come in, according to Mr. Collins. He added that the town hopes to find a way to reuse parts from its oldest truck. 

The 15-year-old truck would be used as a backup to address problems that don’t require “deep evacuation.” To minimize wear and tear, he said, the new one would be used only on “structures that were critical.” 

The town looked into a grant to cover the cost of a new truck earlier this summer, but Mr. Collins said Southold wasn’t eligible. 

“When they asked for metrics on the number of drains that would be cleaned by that truck under the stormwater program, it wasn’t a number that could justify the application,” Mr. Collins said, adding that the town fell “victim to [its] own success.” 

Mr. Russell suggested a few bond options rather than paying for the truck outright, to make the cost easier to absorb. Town comptroller Kristie Hansen-Hightower said a bond resolution could be authorized at the next board meeting, and then Mr. Collins could immediately start the purchasing process. 

“We’re actually selling debt this week so it’s too late to get the money in place now, but we can lend it to ourselves for a year or borrow it next year,” she said. 

Mr. Collins emphasized the urgency of a new truck. 

“If we don’t get a new vacuum truck and have one that we can reliably use, there’s almost no point in continuing the drainage program. Because if you can’t maintain it, there’s almost no point in installing it,” he said. 

ZBA CONSIDERS FEE HIKE

The Zoning Board of Appeals has requested a hike in fees to discourage “as-built” buildings, Mr. Russell said at a work session last Tuesday. 

“As-built is exactly what it means. People have built something that required ZBA approval, never got it, so now they’re coming in after the fact,” he said. “It’s — —what’s the term? — go ahead and do it, and ask for forgiveness?” 

The ZBA initially asked to double its fees, approaching the Town Board pre-COVID. Mr. Russell said he supports the fee hike for commercial uses but expressed hesitation about raising costs so dramatically on residential properties, which sometimes face more complex situations. 

“My position on that is, I don‘t know why we would increase the code interpretation for residential-sensitive code if there’s lack of clarity in the code. That’s perhaps for us to square away and clarify for the applicant. But for commercial uses, it’s a little bit different,” he said. 

VIRTUAL MEETING ACCESS EXTENDED

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation extending virtual access to public meetings last week, meaning that Southold Town Board meetings will continue to stream over Zoom. 

Board members agreed to continue meetings in-person as well, with open access to the public. All individuals must wear masks in Southold Town buildings. Public meetings are currently streamed via Zoom links posted on the Town of Southold website. 

Former governor Andrew Cuomo had signed an executive order requiring that public meetings be accessible online during last year’s state of emergency. 

“Let’s be clear — the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and I’ve heard from government officials across the state who are concerned about the inability of their constituents to access public meetings virtually,” Gov. Hochul said in a press release. “This common-sense legislation extends a privilege that not only helps New Yorkers participate safely in the political process, but also increases New Yorkers’ access to their government by allowing for more options to view public meetings.”