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Felicia Chillak

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on that are still in progress, such as developing a plan to stabilize Walnut Beach and continuing to rewrite our outdated village codes,” Koppelson said.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.

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Village of Poquott held its election June 18. File photo

Plans to build a community dock continue to cause waves in the Village of Poquott.

Approximately two dozen Poquott residents rallied Aug. 25 on Route 25A in East Setauket to protest the village trustees’ decision to rescind a resolution for a 10-year bond to pay for construction of a village dock in favor of a five-year bond.

“Hopefully, we are at a point we can actually build the dock.”

— Jeff Koppelson

The protesters have been against the dock’s construction for nearly a decade.

The mayor and trustees called an emergency meeting Aug. 23 after more than 200 residents signed a petition requesting a referendum vote on the dock plans. In July, the board voted for a 10-year bond instead of their original plan for a five-year note after tabling the decision earlier in the year when bids came in higher than predicted. The original plans were estimated to cost $150,000 but did not include Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps. The new cost of the dock will be approximately $255,000.

In an email to residents after the Aug. 23 vote, Mayor Dee Parrish explained the reasons for the change from a 10-year to a 5-year bond noting the construction of a dock had been “a known work in progress since 2010.” She said residents were first sent a survey in 2010, and the village mailed out two additional surveys in following years. The majority of village residents answered they were in favor of a community dock, according to the mayor, which will be built in California Park at the end of Washington Street and will measure 128 feet by 4 feet. The board of trustees officially began planning efforts in 2015.

“The dock plan was in forward motion since then and the decision we faced was not whether or not to put it to a vote, but rather how to pay for the construction,” Parrish wrote. “The recent petition for referendum was challenged, and the village attorney recommended that the five-year bond would ensure that project move[s] forward as originally planned by the board.”

Trustee Jeff Koppelson said the board had considered a 10-year bond to reduce the annual cost to Poquott residents, but once they became aware of the petition for a referendum, moved forward with the original five-year plan.

John Richardson, a village trustee who ran for mayor this year, said the village attorney informed him the residents would not be able to request a referendum given the five-year bond, and he voted “nay” for the new payment plan. Under New York State law, a request for a referendum would be allowed with a 10-year bond.

“Hopefully, we are at a point we can actually build the dock,” Koppelson said.

“I’m representing what people want. If they’re paying for it, they should have a say in it.”

— John Richardson

Richardson said he is concerned because the bond was not put out for a bid, and he believes residents should be able to vote on whether or not they wanted a dock and how to pay for it. He also said the feedback he has received from residents is that they are worried about maintenance and insurance costs.

“I’m representing what people want,” Richardson said. “If they’re paying for it, they should have a say in it.”

Felicia Chillak, who ran for trustee this year, went door to door with others to collect signatures for the petition requesting a referendum. She said the residents who signed were a mixture of those who wanted a community dock and those who didn’t, but all believe it should be voted on. Chillak said she had 30 days after the July 19 board meeting to turn the signatures into the village clerk, and as of Aug. 16 the petition had 196 names. She was then notified by the state Comptroller’s Office due to Aug. 18 falling on a Saturday, she could submit the paperwork by Aug. 20.

Chillak then presented the village clerk with an amended petition with 207 signatures. She said the petition needed the signatures of more than 20 percent of Poquott voters, and a recent voter registration list from the Suffolk County Board of Election that she obtained lists 802 registered voters reside in the village. However, at the Aug. 23 meeting, Village Attorney Joseph Prokop questioned the validity of some signatures.

Chillak said some people were hesitant to sign the petition or participate in the Aug. 25 rally.

“This is a serious issue in this village,” she said. “Even when we were getting petitions signed, residents were afraid of the mayor seeing their signature in fear of retribution.”

According to Parrish’s email, village officials and residents have organized multiple community events, including the Poquott Community Association’s Lobster Bake, with the intent to raise money for the dock. To date, $20,000 has been raised. The village also acquired three floating docks valued at $16,000 at no cost. Parrish said an average household will see a $123.20 a year increase in their taxes to pay off the five-year bond.

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. File photo

As residents prepare to vote in the Village of Poquott June 19, candidates still see a proposed dock and communication among the village’s biggest issues.

Dee Parrish

Incumbent Dee Parrish is running for a third term as mayor on the Future ticket along with current trustees William Poupis and Chris Schleider. Both were appointed by the mayor in 2017 after former trustees, Michael Schaefer and John Mastauskas, resigned.

Sitting board member John Richardson is challenging Parrish for mayor and is running on the We the People ticket along with trustee candidates, Felicia Chillak and Dianna Padilla.

Parrish, an accountant, said she has not raised village taxes for the last three years. When she entered office in 2014, she said there was $86,000 in the village’s account and now there is nearly $154,000, a savings the board accomplished while improving village parks, roads and drainage.

“I actually ran the village for the last three years like a business, because [my husband and I] have our own business, because that’s what really needed to be done to keep us on track on the budget, to keep spending to finally doing things cheaper,” she said, adding her family owns an environmental consulting company.

Richardson, a New York City firefighter, said his reason for running for mayor this year is the same reason he ran for trustee in 2017 — he feels residents cannot speak freely at public hearings.

John Richardson

“I feel that people should have more say in what’s going on,” he said. “I know we elect our officials to make decisions for us. But if people are griping about it … and they’re not being heard, maybe there’s more to it.”

Chillak, a realtor, and Padilla, a Stony Brook University ecology professor, want residents to feel comfortable speaking up, something they feel some villagers are hesitant to do. One issue they say needs more community input is the proposed community dock.

Parrish, who is in favor of the dock, said due to bids coming in at more than the $150,000 originally expected, the board is holding off on a vote. She said the idea of a dock developed from a simple pier, where people could fish and dock boats, to a bigger project due to the village having to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act and required lighting.

“We have to look at everything before we decide how this is going to impact residents in the future,” Parrish said, adding she will be affected by the decision too.

Richardson, Chillak and Padilla said the dock should be put to a referendum, so residents can vote on it instead of the board making the decision.

Felicia Chillak

“I believe everybody should have a voice, whether you agree with me or don’t agree with me let’s talk about it,” Chillak said.

Both Schleider, a teacher, and Poupis, vice president of operations for a nationwide drilling company, said they feel the board is open to residents’ comments on the docks and other issues. Poupis said he hopes to put a procedure in place to make it even easier for them.

“I just wish for every complaint [that] you had three potential ways to repair it,” the current trustee said he asks critics.

While Padilla said she believes residents should have more input when it comes to a dock, she is against it. The challenger said it can be environmentally damaging, including disrupting living creatures at the bottom of the water during installation and its shade negatively impacting fish and shellfish.

“There is no need for this dock,” she said. “There are nearby docks that people can use. This is not going to be a place where people can tie up their boats. It will be for loading and unloading only.”

All three challengers also have concerns as to whether or not the dock is financially responsible, especially with the board considering taking $34,000 from the village’s fund balance for the first installment of a five-year note.

“I’m not saying the dock is not an option,” Chillak said. “I’m saying let the people decide, and we will openly discuss.”

Chris Schleider

Schleider, who said he became trustee to show his kids the importance of civic responsibility, is in favor of the community dock.

“I think that the village hasn’t spent money on something like this in a long time,” he said “It’s nice to have a centerpiece for the village to utilize.”

Poupis said the dock would draw more people to the village and possibly increase real estate values.

“It’s being able to look at the village and trying to project out where it’s going to be in five or 10 years,” he said. “That’s where you really separate someone who is just sitting in the mayor’s chair versus someone who is actively looking at the growth of the village.”

The We the People ticket said many who have spoken out against the board have received code violations. While they don’t deny that violations exist in village homes, some infractions are similar to neighbors who haven’t been reported.

Parrish said the building department, code enforcement, public works and the board meet every week. The mayor said any complaints the village clerk receives from residents are given to code enforcement, which inspects the problem and decides what to do. Parrish said everyone is given an appropriate amount of time to address the issue.

Dianna Padilla

Richardson said he was targeted after running for trustee last year. When he applied to renew a permit to work on his balcony, he said he received it and then the permit was rescinded by the village attorney. He said he needed an extension because once he started working on the balcony it needed more work than anticipated. He alleged code enforcement is unfairly cracking down on people. While he believes there are issues that need to be addressed, he feels there is overregulation, and the village should reach out to residents before penalizing them to fully understand what is going on.

“There’s always a different side to every story,” he said about reaching out to potential code violators. “I think in a village with only 357 households we have the capacity to do that as a village and a community.”

Parrish said when Richardson asked for an extension to continue working on his balcony, the village court discovered he never closed out a 2003 permit for a second floor on his home and therefore he doesn’t have a current certificate of occupancy. Richardson said the building inspector approved and signed off on his CO April 20, and he is waiting for the village to approve it.

William Poupis

All the candidates are in agreement that improvements need to be made to Walnut Beach. Parrish said they are cleaning the beach up and are thinking of bringing in sand to replenish it. Padilla said replenishing the beach with sand may not be the answer as it’s environmentally unsound because dredge spoils can smother anything aliveunderneath it.

Incumbent Schleider said the beach brings back many happy memories for his in-laws, and he hopes the spot will be preserved for his children to visit one day.

“It’s one of the things I am most passionate about is maintaining that shoreline we have,” he said.

The Village of Poquott will hold its annual election Tuesday, June 19, at Village Hall, located at 45 Birchwood Ave. The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m.