Round 1: Meet the candidates for Port Jeff Village office
The Port Jefferson Civic Association hosted a Meet the Candidates forum on Wednesday, May 10, offering residents an opportunity to question the four candidates currently declared for the upcoming village election on June 20.
Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden and trustee Lauren Sheprow have both announced bids for village mayor as seven-term Mayor Margot Garant will not seek reelection, instead pursuing the office of Town of Brookhaven supervisor. Incumbent trustee Stan Loucks and former village clerk Bob Juliano are both running for trustee.
Questions were fielded from current members of the civic as well as from the audience. For nearly an hour and a half, the candidates touched upon a wide range of subjects, from declining public revenue to resident participation to development and redevelopment.
Due to the landmark tax settlement between the Village of Port Jefferson and the Long Island Power Authority, the village and local school district are experiencing a gradual decline in public revenue from the Port Jefferson Power Station. The candidates were asked how they intend to address this issue.
Snaden maintained that there are viable pathways toward alleviating budgetary pressures on taxpayers. “One of the things to increase revenue is to have responsible — very responsible — balanced development,” she said. “Increasing that tax base without tax abatements” represents a way to help taxpayers while “additionally making fiscally responsible decisions.”
Sheprow proposed a close review of the current budget, exploring ways to save money. “I think we’re looking right now at spending a lot of money on contractors that we didn’t spend in the past,” she said. “We really need to look at this budget, get disciplined and get strategically creative about how we use the money that currently comes in.”
To make up for the loss of public revenue, Juliano proposed reforming how the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency offers tax abatements to developers.
“As developers come in and want to build things in the village — apartments or whatever kind it may be — the village will be made whole,” he said. “It won’t lose any money in that way.”
Loucks acknowledged the difficulties of managing the existing village budget. Like Juliano, he suggested closer oversight of the development that takes place, looking at ways to avert tax relief incentives for developers.
“Going forward, I think we have to take a close look at the development we do in this village so that we get our full tax base rather than tax breaks,” he said.
Asked about their preferred approach to bolstering resident involvement in village decision making, the candidates offered slightly different answers.
Sheprow proposed overhauling the village’s current website to disseminate information more effectively for residents.
“We need a whole revamp of our website,” she said, adding, “We need to be more comprehensive in how we communicate on our website. We need to have a more user-friendly website.”
Snaden touched upon her background on the village board and some of the initiatives she headed to promote resident engagement.
“I found out that if you want to get involved, the information is there,” she said. “One of the first things I did was to ask that the meetings upstairs be live streamed,” adding, “The other thing I started was the [Port] eReport, the newsletter that goes out to anybody who wants to have it.”
Juliano proposed making himself available one Saturday out of the month, holding informal face-to-face meetings with constituents at the Village Center.
“I would also like to see on the village website a portal for people who would like to volunteer for different committees and boards to list what they would like to do to be active,” he said.
Loucks advocated for meet-and-greet opportunities for village residents to make contact with their local officials.
“I would like to, maybe once a month, be at the Village Center at a specific hour,” he said. “I’ll be there. You come and talk to me and ask me questions.”
The village is currently working through several unresolved development proposals, most notably at the Maryhaven Center of Hope property on Myrtle Avenue. Asked for the tools at residents’ disposal to oversee these projects, the candidates advanced differing perspectives.
“The best tool residents have is their voice,” Sheprow said. “It is to let the representatives who make decisions on code and development proposals know how they feel.”
Snaden stressed the importance of residents being proactive in major decisions over development. “Get involved, but get involved before it happens,” she said.
Loucks suggested the village hire new staff to oversee development. “Our village does not have an engineer to oversee these developments, and I think we need one in the worst way,” he said.
Juliano said residents must be vigilant about bringing their concerns to the board: “If you see something, say something,” he said. “If you don’t say something, we wouldn’t know about it.”
The declared candidates will be back in front of the public on Tuesday, June 13, for a second Meet the Candidates forum hosted by the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. The event will take place at the Port Jefferson Village Center from 6 to 9 p.m.