As signs for both candidates are loudly displayed across the village in preparation for the June 18 vote, mayoral challenger John Jay LaValle and incumbent Mayor Margot Garant stepped into the TBR News Media offices June 10 to share real policy about the ongoing issues in Port Jeff.
LaValle has made clear his issues with some village employees. Specifically, he referenced Parking and Mobility Administrator Kevin Wood. He has compared it to Patchogue, where two parking meter officers are each paid just under $65,000 annually to write tickets and manage the meters.
Wood is paid a similar salary to the two officers, though Garant said he is in charge of repairs and IT work involving the way the meters send information to the code enforcement in regard to timed meters. She added Wood has been involved in other village programs, such as the Jitney and cameras around the village.
“He runs around the village in addition to what he oversees in our parking,” she said.
LaValle called that a false equivalency between Patchogue and Port Jeff’s parking administrations. He called Wood “your [public relations] guy” — there’s not a moment I don’t see him following you around with a camera.”
Garant said in addition to his duties as village employee, he creates video for the village with his company FPS Inc. at $12,000 a year.
“He never does that when he’s on the clock, he’s always off the clock.” Garant said.
LaValle said he does not believe Wood was qualified for the position.
LaValle said the uptown area has become intense in its illicit activity and said there has not been enough done to rectify it. He cites prostitution, drug dealing and a murder that occurred in July of last year just outside the Port Jefferson Billiards BDM.
He said in speaking to law enforcement that numerous buildings are fronts for drugs and prostitution, and they are currently collecting data.
“We literally have a slum right in front of us,” he said. “It’s literally a ghetto, and that’s the kind of thing that occurs there.”
The mayor said she talked consistently with the Suffolk County Police Department about illicit activity in Upper Port. She called her current relationship with the SCPD “the best it has been,” and added the security cameras having been hooked up to the county’s Real Time Crime Center is making strides in enforcing a police presence.
Garant said code enforcement is up at the station for every train and has helped bring in MTA police into the station, but she added they have no powers of arrest and can only create a presence and deal with immediate situations while waiting for police.
LaValle said the major issue with why crime has become so bad in Upper Port is due to the lethargic rate of the area’s revitalization.
Upper Port Jeff revitalization
Garant said part of the issue in redeveloping Upper Port comes down to the developers and owners of the uptown properties to manage their buildings. She said they had assisted in getting certain property owners government grants to demolish a particular property, but the negotiations with other developers stalled that progress and the grant funds were timed out, adding the problem is owners need to amass enough property in order to start real construction.
“We’re doing everything we can between revising the code, getting state grant money and partner to make applications to state agencies,” she said.
As a last resort, she said the village would have to use eminent domain on these particular properties.
The mayoral challenger said in speaking with developers they are upset with the village, mostly in terms of getting permits for their properties. He said the planning staff have been restrictive in getting their applications through, except for specific developers.
“It shouldn’t take 10 years to take what is clearly an eyesore and turn it into a thriving uptown,” he said. “We need to bring the project to a finish, give the individuals their permits.”
The mayor said none of the developers are currently in the application process for permits.
“The fact that people keep throwing the planning department under the rails … if he doesn’t have an application in,” she said.
She added the village is waiting for the Conifer Realty property, located in the old Bada Bing parcel, before putting in Station Street as part of her administration’s Uptown Funk project.
“You have to be careful with the density you give them, we’re only talking about four small blocks here,” Garant said.
The mayoral challenger said he does not support the Conifer development, citing an experience with them in Brookhaven Town and a need for “workforce housing, not affordable housing,” saying that affordable will eventually become Section 8 housing. He said village code should be changed to mandate affordable units in any new apartment complexes.
How the village will resist floods
With the potential for future storm surges and the threat of rising tides, Garant said the village is currently bringing a presentation to the Long Island Economic Development Council to request grant funding in terms of flood mitigation and stormwater runoff.
She added that her administration is spending money to scope out the village’s drainage system, and the village is looking to find ways to absorb the water so it does not flood onto the village’s hardscape.
“We’re in a bowl … these are low-lying marshland areas, it’s a great challenge,” she said. “There’s no magic bullet.”
LaValle said the village needs to look globally when it comes to flood mitigation.
“You got to bring in the best of the best, and I don’t know if we’re doing that,” he said.
Port Jefferson residents can vote on mayor and trustee candidates Tuesday, June 18, at the Village Center from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.