Editorial: Asking the question, ‘What do we want?’

We posed that question in last week’s editorial. It referred to a comment overheard at a classical music concert, on the very day of another murderous shooting spree, this one in Jacksonville, Fla. 

This question is powerful in these times — and we will ask it again in future editorials that speak to other issues America confronts in 2023. What do we — as Americans, as citizens of New York State, as residents of the North Fork — want?

As Labor Day has passed, the political season begins on the North Fork. In November, both Riverhead and Southold will elect new supervisors and Town Board members. Two months before Election Day, we ask ourselves what pressing issues the new people in these leadership positions will have to tackle.

A dominant issue in both towns is affordable housing. All North Fork hamlets have seen a sharp rise in real estate prices. What can small-town government do about this? Probably very little. 

For the past two generations, the main thrust of county and town efforts on the East End has been to preserve open space — particularly farmland, with which we are blessed in abundance. 

Does preservation of this remarkable place, by doing everything we can to save what’s left, trump other issues, such as creating clusters of affordable housing?

If you read our editorials, you know we have preached preservation often. The North Fork is different from the rest of suburban Long Island because land has been saved. Our creeks are clean, our bays are a wonder, our farms are both historic and bountiful. Without them, what would we be?

Southold Town leaders have also pushed preservation consistently. Riverhead officials — gifted 2,900 acres of former Grumman property by the U.S. Navy — have followed a different script. Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, who is not seeking reelection, has been a strong advocate for the town and what makes it special. His has been a consistent voice for what we cherish. We thank him for that.

Controversial development proposals will, of course, continue to arise, whether it is an affordable housing complex, a hotel or anything on a larger scale. With each of them, the towns must also consider water supply issues. A recent New York Times story highlighted places around the country where groundwater quantity and quality are endangered; Long Island was among them.

Then there’s climate change. A story on the impact of Hurricane Idalia said rising Gulf water temperatures likely upped the tidal surge by several inches. And it’s been reported that in some places off Florida, ocean water temperatures topped 100 degrees this summer. Warmer oceans will empower hurricanes and draw them farther north.

Affordable housing, preservation of land and the impact of climate change on this narrow peninsula are surely areas our next group of elected officials must address.

We also think this is the time to talk about a townwide property reassessment. In Southold, this was last done in 1967 — and a lot has changed since then. When waterfront property owners, albeit through no fault of their own, pay less than their fair share, many other homeowners pay more to make up the difference.

A reassessment would not by definition change the town budget; that amount is set by the Town Board. But it would shift the tax burden to reflect the enormous change in property values. That makes sense now. This conversation needs to take place.

We’d like to hear from you, our readers, about the issues you want addressed. You can email us at [email protected]. Keep your comments to about 350 words. We’d love to print them as the political season gets underway, so those who aspire to lead us in the near future understand what’s on your minds. What do we want?