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August 28, 2013

Dems "Blueprint" For Governing



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They have a good understanding of how government works and how to make it work better. That's how Larry Cantwell, the unopposed candidate for East Hampton Town Supervisor feels about his running mates on the Democratic ticket – Job Potter and Kathie Burke-Gonzalez.

Last Friday the threesome met with local media to discuss a 23-page statement that offers an overview of the hopefuls' stance on issues from budget to code enforcement to managing growth and the environment and more. Potter called the statement entitled "Where We Stand," a blueprint for any future town board.

The need for a return to civility in town hall was a recurrent theme as the candidates answered questions about their platform. (Find it in its entirety on the EHdems website.) Cantwell spoke of an "adversarial environment" created by the current administration that results in "employees feel[ing] like they're under siege."

Potter echoed the observation. "The biggest thing people mention on the street by far is the animosity on the town board and how people are treated," he said. Burke-Gonzalez noted that during hamlet "Listen-ins" the candidates host, people notice and remark on how the members of the ticket seem to like each other and how that's "refreshing."

That doesn't mean they're walking in lock step, however. Countering Republican ads warning of the danger of a one-party town board, Cantwell pointed out that the blueprint was the result of lively discussion and compromise.

He made the assertion, especially, in relation to the airport. The rumor mill has run rampant with predictions that a Democratic majority would refuse Federal Aviation Administration funding in an effort to gain total control of and eventually close East Hampton Airport. Cantwell made clear his ticket plans to conduct an in-depth analysis of the costs of operating the airport, and future capital projects needed there before making any decisions about FAA money.

Continuing with the topic of money, the three believe too much of the town's budget is reliant upon property taxes. They plan to investigate alternative non-tax sources of revenue, with an emphasis on revenues generated from non-resident sources. The blueprint notes East Hampton Village collects over $1 million in non-resident parking permits, and while the town is ten times its size, its coffers fill only to the tune of $400,000 for non-resident parking permits.

The candidates plan to look at health insurance costs, which account for $16.6 million of the town's almost $70 million annual budget. Could employees accept incentives to have spouses use insurance provided by their own employers rather than the town? That's a question the Dems will strive to answer.

Consolidated services with other municipalities and the town's capital plan are also addressed in "Where We Stand." The document points out, "While important progress has been made stabilizing Town finances, a lack of maintenance and improvements to public facilities is occurring simultaneously." The town highway department is now operating out of a trailer because the roof in the building leaks and offices flooded, Cantwell reported.

Cantwell hopes he can meet with current Supervisor Bill Wilkinson so he can make suggestions for inclusion in next year's budget before it is adopted. He'd like to figure out a way to overhaul the supervisor's office to include an administrative assistant who will operate as chief of staff, as existed during prior administrations. The assistant would function in a manner similar to the position Cantwell held as Village Administrator.

The candidates agreed enforcement of quality of life is a major issue in the community. It's not just about hiring more code enforcement officers, Cantwell said. The town board has to establish enforcing housing and the zoning code as a priority, and make it clear to town employees and department heads that it is a priority.

When it comes to unruly nightclub activity, Potter, a one-time planning board member, plans to look closely at approved site plans for certain establishments to make sure they are operating within the strictures of their approvals. There's nothing wrong with young people coming to town to enjoy The Hamptons and Montauk, Cantwell opined, but a balance must be struck that will keep nighttime activity from infringing on neighbors and the community.

The candidates' blueprint, Cantwell said, was designed to start the fall campaign off on a substantive note. The issues they outlined are, he said, "a beginning point." As the campaign progresses, the issues will be discussed in greater depth, he predicted. Of the candidates' "blueprint," Burke-Gonzalez said, "I think it's reasonable and a lot of it is common sense."

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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