Poquott trustees address village issues before election

Poquott trustees address village issues before election

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. File photo

On June 18, Poquott residents will head to the polls to choose between four candidates vying for two trustee spots. This year’s incumbents Jeff Koppelson and John Richardson will go up against newcomers Felicia Chillak and Tina Cioffi. Paul Edelson is running unopposed for a four-year term as village justice.

All four board members recently answered questions via email and phone.

Incumbents

Jeff Koppelson

Koppelson, 71, has served two two-year terms as trustee and since 2017 has been deputy mayor. A Poquott resident for 47 years, he is a retired director of a psychiatric treatment program. He and Cioffi are running on the Bright Side ticket.

“I decided to run because there are a number of projects that I’ve been working on that are still in progress, such as developing a plan to stabilize Walnut Beach and continuing to rewrite our outdated village codes,” Koppelson said.

The trustee said the language for many of the codes had to be updated to bring them into compliance and to make them consistent with each other. Codes often overlap, he said, and “a number of times one code said one thing and another code contradicted it.”

Municipalities are now required to follow the International Building Code, which covers multiple construction and zoning issues. Koppelson said while a village can make a code stricter, it cannot make a code more lenient.

“So, it is important that we have our codes not only comply but be distilled down to what we as a small village need to know,” he said, adding the village posts the codes on its website for easy accessibility for residents.

After a code is rewritten, it is circulated among the board members for comments, and then a public hearing is held to give residents the opportunity to point out errors or inconsistencies before it is given to the village attorney.

Richardson, 44, is completing his first term as trustee and last year ran for mayor against Dee Parrish. The New York City firefighter has lived in the village for nearly 18 years, and he is running in the We the People Party with Chillak.

“I would like to keep some form of checks and balances on the board to prevent unfair laws and issues from being rubber stamped and pushed through and allow village residents more say on how their village is governed,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he opposes the board’s plan to classifying a zoning violation as a misdemeanor and to request a search warrant to enter someone’s home for inspection as the village deems necessary. He added he feels the moves would be an overreach of the government.

“I would like to curb the intrusive hostile government laws trying to be passed,” Richardson said.

Koppelson said Richardson’s objection is an example of codes needing to be updated, and a process was recently needed for emergency situations as one didn’t exist. For example, if it is believed there is a dangerous situation in a house and the owners don’t agree to an inspection, a search warrant is needed to evaluate the situation. It was a suggestion that came from village attorney Joseph Prokop, Koppelson said, who told the trustee that similar situations have occurred in other villages that he does legal work for.

Challengers

Chillak, 61, is vying for trustee for the second time after an unsuccessful run in 2018 for a seat. A realtor with HR Realty since 1990, she has lived in Poquott for 29 years and has been a member of the Poquott Civic Association board since 2014.

Felicia Chillak

“I am running again because I feel there should be a balance on the board,” she said. “I will continue to review and analyze all changes made in our village. As always, I will seek residents’ input because this village belongs to them. I will be the voice of the voiceless.”

She feels that many residents are hesitant to approach the board but feel comfortable talking to her, and she feels she can be a conduit between the village government and residents.

“The Village of Poquott was formed because residents did not want outside influence controlling their everyday lives,” she said. “This current board seems to be bed rocked in government control. I will strive for a balance, so we can once again enjoy all the pleasures of residing in our little corner of heaven.”

Cioffi, 50, is running for trustee for the first time. A former creative director in a Long Island-based advertising agency for 15 years, she has owned a marketing and communications consulting business since 2003. She has lived in Poquott since 2008, and her husband has owned their home since 1986.

Cioffi said maintaining the village’s website and attending board meetings inspired her to get involved.

“I saw a lot of good happening in our village as well a lot of controversy,” she said. “I saw both sides of most of the arguments and felt that my background in communications might lend a hand in resolving some of the issues, so I volunteered to redesign the website as it was an area that all the candidates agreed needed to be addressed.”

Community dock

Poquott’s dock will officially open June 13, but for years it was a hot button topic in the village. The dock, located in California Park at the end of Washington Street, had been discussed by residents for nearly a decade, and while several protested the idea, the village board began the process of building one a few years ago.

Tina Cioffi

Richardson and Chillak feel the issue is behind the village now, but in the past, both called for a referendum for residents to vote on it as both candidates didn’t feel prior questionnaires that were mailed to residents about the dock were adequate.

“The current board spoke, ignored the request of the people and for now, we have to move on,” Chillak said. “I will work toward that unity.”

All the candidates feel there may be unforeseeable issues with the dock, and it will take a season of use to formalize guidelines.

“We will need a season of using it to learn how to manage hours of usage, loitering and noise issues, and deployment of our code enforcement officers,” Koppelson said. “We also expect that there will be new, evolving issues that inevitably arise.”

Richardson said he believes all aspects “of the dock should have been discussed and decided before the dock was built.”

Other issues

All four trustees agreed that there are issues outside of the dock to resolve in the village.

Koppelson said the board has to address drainage issues in the village, and he would also like to work toward an affordable, short-term solution to stabilizing what is left of Walnut Beach. He said the village also needs to develop a way to speed up the seasonal road repair process, which starts after the winter and involves the advertising of bids and then waiting for the next board meeting to open the bids and award the contract. This leads to work not being completed until well into spring.

Cioffi agreed that the village faces the degrading of Walnut Beach and infrastructure changes including repaving and drainage and lighting systems needing to be modified “but few of the residents want to incur the tax increase that would be required to fully accommodate those requests.”

The candidate said she would like to work on feasibility studies that compare Poquott to other incorporated villages in order to find out where the village falls short and form committees with interested residents to work together with the board to obtain grants.

“I think it’s going to be a multiphase endeavor similar to how the current board addresses issues now but on a larger scale and with more people involved to expedite the process,” she said, adding the new village website includes a community section to foster participation for resident-based clubs and organizations.

Richardson and Chillak also agreed that there are issues regarding roads, lighting and drainage that need to be addressed with long-term plans. 

“There are residents that have spoken of their willingness to help,” Chillak said. “I will engage them to the best of my ability.”

Chillak said the auditor’s last report was also troubling to her, and she feels finances are another major issue. She said even though the budget looks as if the village is on target, she feels the auditor’s comments at a recent village meeting point to the fund balance being dangerously close to low.

Unity

Many feel the community dock has caused divisiveness in the village over the years, but the candidates feel that can end.

Cioffi said she ran a charity drive in December where she felt all the residents contributed generously, and if she’s elected, she plans on more community-based initiatives for children and teenagers to bring residents together.

“The residents of Poquott share a lot of common ground and we need to build on it, not break it down,” she said. “Collaboration is key. If there is an issue, a black or white solution is not going to satisfy every resident. If I’m elected, I’m going to look for the solutions that strike compromises and land somewhere in between.”

Richardson said nothing would make him happier than to see residents come together.

“The polarization of neighbors has gone on too long,” he said. “It’s a shame, because it takes away from what makes Poquott such a great place. How do you facilitate that? I think it could start with neighbors sharing more hellos and handshakes, and less rumors, lies and insults.”

The Village of Poquott will hold its annual election Tuesday, June 18, at Village Hall located at 45 Birchwood Ave. Polling will be open from 12 to 9 p.m. for voting.