A crowd packed itself as tight as sardines into the Village Center June 6, all to have the six people looking to be the village’s next mayor and trustees show just what makes them worthy of residents’ votes.
Four people are looking to fill two trustee seats, while two heavy hitters are asking for residents’ vote for mayor. The Resident’s First Party includes candidate John Jay LaValle and newcomer trustee candidates Tom Meehan and Tracy Stapleton. The Unity Party includes incumbent Mayor Margot Garant, trustee Stan Loucks and newcomer candidate Kathianne Snaden.
Turn to Page 5 to read a number of highlights from the near-three-hour debate.
Impact of the LIPA settlement and glide path
With the settlement between the Town of Brookhaven, Port Jefferson Village and Long Island Power Authority into its second year, candidates disagree just how much of an impact the loss in tax revenue from the power plant will have.
Unity Party candidates said that while the Shipyard apartments still have a few years to go before their Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement is up, that, and new and incoming apartment complexes, will help offset the loss of revenue from the LIPA settlement while they look for means to repurpose the plant in the near future.
“The average home is only paying $35 per year more in taxes, and that’s in year two of the glide path,” Snaden said.
The incumbent trustee added the village has already started attempting to take over some school programs to help offset their revenue loss, including sports programs.
Meanwhile, Residents Party candidates say increased taxes will hurt some residents more than others.
“Fortunately, I can afford them, but I have a 90-year-old mother in the village, and I’m not sure she can,” Meehan said.
LaValle said the glide path will only do more harm to the village, which will need to cut spending. He added that “it’s not a glide path, it’s a free fall.”
Wages of Port Jefferson employees
Residents First candidates targeted some $10,000 raises that certain employees received in this year’s budget. Meehan said they would need to look at those employees and other programs would “need to be looked at” to help offset lost tax revenue.
Garant fired back saying those employees got raises that need to compete with wages they could receive in the private sector. “They all work hard, and as far as I’m concerned, we would pay them more if we could,” she said.
Snaden was adamant that not enough has been done to facilitate communications between the school district and village officials in case of an emergency. She cited a school shooting threat for the Port Jefferson high school that was posted to social media in February 2018.
“There was zero communication between the school district and village residents,” she said, especially in knowing where children would be located if they were evacuated.
The district had sent an email to parents that night of the scare, though Snaden said she had contacted the mayor’s office and said they were unaware the investigation was ongoing. She said the district should have some sort of information pipeline to the village in case of emergencies. She says nothing has been done since she brought this proposal to the district.
Meehan, the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School principal, took exception to this.
“I’ve been involved in many emergency situations,” he said. “We do have plans, we don’t make them public. We do not want the bad guy finding out about them.”
He added, in terms of evacuations, the district did not want to initially reveal where students would be evacuated in order to aid in their safety and the parents’ safety.
“We can’t have the parents all rushing up to the schools,” he said.
Business in Port Jeff
LaValle and his party have made empty storefronts a big part of their campaign, saying during the debate the number of businesses filing tax grievances will lead to higher taxes for residents. He specifically hit on issues of blight uptown.
“It does not take 10 years to do that project,” he said. “Like I did in the Town of Brookhaven, I will establish an architectural and historical review board that will maintain the integrity … of our heritage.”
Garant responded it has not taken 10 years, but the village had constructed a master plan that was adopted in 2016, not to mention the blight review study and other state-mandated tasks a municipality must complete before an area can be redeveloped after it is declared blighted.
“We don’t have a lot of space, and we’re trying to encourage the right developer, a careful developer, someone who is going to be in tune with the Village of Port Jefferson.”
She specifically cited The Hills complex in Upper Port.
The candidates largely agreed on the importance of these new apartment complexes for incentivizing walkability and patronizing businesses, though Stapleton in particular emphasized the need for finding ways to speed up the permitting process for new businesses coming into the village.
“It’s too difficult and it takes too long,” she said.
Garant said they have had multiple projects go up in less than two years’ time from start to finish, and pointed to places like Chandler Square, where she said a previous board had allowed buildings with a lack of parking spaces.
“When a building is put down by a board that just expedites, they have 12 parking spaces for that entire building right on a three-lane road,” she said.
LaValle said businesses are leaving because the village is not business friendly, pointing to Brewology which moved to Huntington.
“We’ve got to clean this place up first,” he said. “We have to improve our image.”
Loucks said the major issues come in the form of rents, which he said can be as high as $37,000 like it had in the case of the now-empty Gap building. Unity Party candidates said the board was working with the landlord to help in acquiring a new tenant. They also cited a new business, an Italian restaurant, coming into the old Graceful Rose property.
“Things aren’t as bad as they sound,” Loucks said.
Check back later today for a one-on-one breakdown of the mayoral candidate’s positions.