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May 17, 2019 3:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Thiele Withdraws Bill To Create Southampton Trustees Tax Line

May 21, 2019 1:20 PM

The Southampton Town Trustees have failed to garner enough support from Town Board members for a state measure that would grant the Trustees a separate tax line, allowing them to levy taxes and manage their own finances—and state legislators have decided to yank the legislation because of the lack of resolve.

Nearly two years ago, similar legislation had gained unanimous support from the Trustees and Town Board members, and was approved by the State Assembly—but time ran out for the bill to be approved in the State Senate, so the legislation was dropped.

The bill was picked back up again this year by Mr. Thiele and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, and when it was requested that the Town Board pass a home rule message—a local resolution that shows support for pending state legislation—they hit a snag.

Town Trustee Bill Pell approached the Town Board during a meeting on March 12 and told the board members that he wouldn’t support the idea of a separate tax line unless the specifics of the proposed annual budget were made clear.

In 2016, Mr. Pell and the other four Trustees had voted unanimously to ask Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle to draft the legislation.

Like Trustee President Ed Warner Jr., and Trustees Scott Horowitz, Bruce Stafford and Ann Welker, Mr. Pell ran for reelection in 2017 on a platform maintaining that the Trustees needed a separate tax line that they could control—the alternative being the Town Board designating how much of a budget the Trustees are granted each year.

Currently, the town provides the Trustees with office space in Town Hall, employees, benefits for employees, electric, water and use of the bay constables’ services, among other expenses.

Mr. Pell expressed concern that if the Trustees had their own tax line, they would subsequently be charged for all of those services—and Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman confirmed that would, in fact, be the case.

Ms. Welker and Mr. Warner also said they had concerns and also wanted to know how much the Trustees would be responsible for.

Other concerns, which were expressed during a joint session in April this year, were whether the Trustees could raise their budget by more than 2 percent each year, and whether they had the power to borrow money without Town Board approval.

A committee made up of members of the Board of Trustees, the Town Board, the comptroller’s office, the Human Resources Department and attorneys representing both sides was formed in April to look into all of the concerns.

At that point, though, Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle said they’d had enough.

“An issue that the senator and I thought had unanimous support for turned into political football,” Mr. Thiele said on Thursday, May 16. “None of us in Albany was interested in getting involved in a political squabble.

“If, at some point in the future, there is unanimous support … we would be glad to move forward,” he added.

Mr. Pell said on Thursday that he could not support something without knowing exactly what the cost would be to the people.

Mr. Horowitz, who helped organize recent efforts to get the tax line in place, said he was only trying to provide stability to the Trustees for future generations.

Attempts had been made in the past to get the Trustees their own tax line, but none was ever approved.

Having a tax line, according to Mr. Horowitz, would help fund projects to fix dilapidated facilities like the Bay Crest boat ramp. Without the money, the Trustees are forced to borrow money through the Town Board.

Seeking a tax line was the most transparent way to let the taxpayers know where their money was going, Mr. Horowitz said. “I’m really hoping it can happen sometime,” he said. “I worked my heart out on it.”

He added that the legislation was intended only to grant the Trustees the authority to create the tax line, and that the details could have been hammered out afterward.

But that is a sticking point to some, especially Mr. Pell, who kept referring to the recent Rose Hill dispute.

In 2018, the Trustees voted unanimously to enter into an agreement that would allow a Water Mill property owner with a house at the end of Rose Hill Road to take over the maintenance of Trustee-owned property in exchange for moving part of his driveway onto the parcel.

The property had recently changed ownership from the Town Board to the Trustees, and documents show it was used as a park. The property also has a boat ramp that commercial fishermen and others use regularly.

After voting on Rose Hill, members of the community expressed outrage that the Trustees could give away public land held in trust. Mr. Pell and Ms. Welker both publicly said they regretted their votes.

But Mr. Thiele said he agreed with Mr. Horowitz’s stance.

“The legislation gives them the authority,” he said. “When they have that, they can get the details. It’s not wrong for them to do that.

“It’s a shame that this became a political football,” he added.

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While the tax line is vital for the Trustees , the current incarnation of the Board caused it to be shot down , this time.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on May 18, 19 8:33 AM
1 member liked this comment
It’s funny that all five trustees said during the last cycle of of campaigning that all five trustees would support getting a tax line and only three lived up to there word,and Fried Thiele Agreed with a republican and not two people from his own party who caused it to be shot down.
By taxpayer1 (72), Southampton on May 19, 19 9:47 AM
Blindly supporting the tax line without knowing the casts associated is just a poor fiscal move.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on May 20, 19 6:04 AM
You must be listening to bill who is controlled by jay and how many meetings did you attend and ask those important questions.
By taxpayer1 (72), Southampton on May 20, 19 8:40 AM
Worst Trustee Board Ever.
By themarlinspike (542), Northern Hemisphere on May 21, 19 9:29 AM
I'm just glad that these horrible Trustees like Horowitz and Warner won't have tax line and will need budget oversight from our progressive town board. I am tired of them giving away our lands, like at Rose Hill, to their wealthy friends.
By CleanWaters (80), Southampton on May 21, 19 2:44 PM
Trustees are like fish, flip flopping as things change. Do your homework...
By knitter (1941), Southampton on May 21, 19 6:49 PM