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Oct 27, 2008 3:04 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board candidates spar over finances during debate

Oct 27, 2008 3:04 PM

The town’s fiscal health was the key issue in the debate between Republican Southampton Town Councilman Dan Russo and Democratic challenger Sally Pope at Bridgehampton High School Thursday night.

The Southampton Press and the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons co-sponsored the debate, which was moderated by Joseph Shaw, executive editor of the Press Newspaper Group.

Mr. Russo, who was appointed to the Town Board in February to fill out the uncompleted term of new Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, said he would not vote for the 2009 budget in its current form. “This is the single most important issue facing the town,” Mr. Russo said. “We are in an economic slump that’s likely to get worse before it improves.”

Ms. Kabot’s 2009 $82.5 million budget proposes a 5-percent tax rate hike, the maximum allowed under town law. Mr. Russo, who ran for a seat on the Town Board in 2007 on a platform of tax relief, said he supports a hiring freeze and is challenging various town department heads to cut their budgets by 15 percent.

“They are going to have to make some tough decisions,” he said. “And if they don’t then we will, even if it means getting rid of department heads.”

Ms. Pope, a mediation attorney and 25-year resident of Remsenburg, said she also would not vote for the budget as is, but disagreed with Mr. Russo on his proposal to cut 15 percent out of every department’s budget. “That might cut out needed programs,” she said.

But Mr. Russo said scaling back 15 percent is possible. “If it was your own private business, you’d make those cuts in a minute,” he said.

Ms. Pope blamed the GOP’s “one-party rule” for the town’s fiscal crisis and criticized the mismanagement of the town’s finances for creating $4.5 million and $2 million deficits in the Police and Waste Management funds, respectively.

Mr. Russo, who pointed out that those deficits accrued before he became a member of the Town Board, said he supported the ongoing forensic audit of the shortfall in the police fund and said the proposed budget incorporated a deficit reduction program.

Mr. Russo also said the tax cap law, which does not allow for more than a 5-percent increase in the tax rate, is a good law, but before the final budget is adopted more needs to be done to see if the tax rate can be lowered. “I pledge that I will try to find ways to reduce the tax rate,” he said. “And we shouldn’t be paying an extra $50,000 on slate shingles for a prettier roof, which I voted against. Most taxpayers can’t afford to put a new roof on their house, and we shouldn’t be spending that kind of money on the roof at Town Hall either.”

While levying the majority of her criticism at the Republican Party’s domination of Town Hall, Ms. Pope did not specifically target Mr. Russo’s record. Instead, she focused primarily on the “lack of strategic planning” that, she said, resulted in the town’s current financial condition. “We need to run the town more like a business,” she said.

The two candidates sparred over the question of illegal immigration, with Mr. Russo voicing absolute opposition to using public money to construct a hiring hall for day laborers, arguing that such a project should be funded through private interests. While not calling for taxpayers to shell out money for a hiring site, Ms. Pope said the town should take the lead in finding a solution and suggested enlisting the help of not-for-profits and other community groups. Since taking the oath of office in February, Mr. Russo said the Town Board is “working harder than ever” and pointed to increased code enforcements and efforts to reduce runaway development, namely the moratoriums in Hampton Bays and along the County Road 39 corridor, as well as the ban on condominium conversions. “We’re getting things done,” he said.

In Ms. Pope’s view, however, a five-member Town Board comprised of only one non-Republican is not truly representative of the town. “We need to end Republican misrule,” she said.

Mr. Russo countered that the town’s best interest took priority over his party loyalty and highlighted his vote to adopt the “green” energy codes. “I took a lot of heat for that vote from the GOP,” Mr. Russo said, “but I voted the way I did because I believed it was the right thing to do.”

Town Justices

Before the debate between Mr. Russo and Ms. Pope, Town Justice candidates Andrea Schiavoni, the Democratic challenger, and incumbent Town Justice Thomas DeMayo, a Republican, each had the opportunity to make a five-minute statement.

Justice DeMayo began by highlighting his 16 years on the Town Bench and his 54 years as a resident of Southampton Town. “I’m uniquely qualified to serve the people of Southampton,” he said.

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Mr. Russo speaks in a language understandable to the average citizen. I understand that if I cannot afford my household costs I cut and continue to cut until I reach a level that ensures my survival. Ms. Pope is afraid to cut out necessary programs,which are? When does no enter her vocabulary. The sad thing is politicians can"t say no. Supervisor Kabot raised taxes at a time when people are really hurting, typical, Ms Pope would be an ally in the never ending cycle of upward spending. Mr. ...more
By tom (53), Hampton Bays on Oct 28, 08 11:22 PM
The Republican's answer to everything is to let the developers put up more houses so the Town can collect more tax revenue. Witness Oakland Farms and Woodfield Gables.

This is short sighted because open space will run out very soon. The Town will be left with no open space, over crowded schools, too much traffic, but still no balanced budget because the extra tax revenue will have to be put toward more municipal services for the ever increasing population brought on by the never ending ...more
By CommonSense (71), Southampton on Oct 29, 08 1:08 PM
Maybe Ms. Kabot would be willing to give up the 30,000 SUV provided by the Town plus free gasoline, which must equal thousands annually. If she is serious about saving taxpayers, she can driver her own car and pay for her own gas. She earns a six-figure salary, why should the working taxpayer pay for her gas and car?
By Hampton (50), Westhampton on Oct 29, 08 1:17 PM
Again it is amazing how the Republicans are able to pull off the illusion that they are not "Tax & Spend" advocates. Just how do you think we've gotten into this fiscal mess over the last few decades of a Republican dominated Southampton Town Council? Sure, blame the little guy - AGAIN! Cut the social service programs that have no powerful builder/developer advocates to go to bat for them. Being at the bottom of the barrel means you never get a chance to climb out because they keep making the top ...more
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Oct 30, 08 3:45 PM
Tom DeMayo does not have the PBA endorsement. Below is an E-mail which came from thePBA leadership.


By SHNative (554), Southampton on Nov 4, 08 12:10 PM