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Sep 2, 2019 2:30 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Maintaining Roads Vexes Southampton Town Trustees

Some of the roads managed by the Southampton Town Trustees are simple dirt roads, and at one time acted as access roads for people to get to the water. GREG WEHNER
Sep 4, 2019 12:53 PM

Established in 1686 under the Dongan Patent, the Southampton Town Trustees were given the authority to protect the bay bottoms and local waterways for the people of the town.

Access to the 25,000 acres of bay bottoms has long been part of the Trustees’ role, and a number of roads were established to help get people down to the water, whether on foot, by bicycle, in a car or on a horse.

But over time, many of the roads were broken up, run down and never rolled into the town highway system. Instead, the roads remained under the control of the Trustees.

When Town Trustee Bruce Stafford was elected to his position in 2016, the Trustees were aware of approximately 42 roads that they owned and were obligated to maintain. Since then, the board has been made aware of many more — bringing the total to close to 70, he said.

One of Mr. Stafford’s responsibilities as a Trustee is to oversee the marine maintenance department, which is in charge of installing buoys and moorings, fixing boat engines and various other tasks involving the maintenance of the bay bottoms. But also included in their duties is the plowing and upkeep of all of the Trustee-owned roads.

“The roads have changed drastically,” Mr. Stafford said. “I’ve done the research myself on a couple of them, and a couple of them are just private driveways.”

And that is a concern of Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who has said he refuses to allow the Trustees to hire a new full-time maintenance crew member until they can show how they will pay for the employee and explain why they are maintaining private driveways.

The roads are a sticking point for Mr. Schneiderman, but they are also a financial drain on the Trustees at a time when they are taking on projects to upgrade docks and continue to face costly litigation regarding issues surrounding beach access and parks.

After years of struggling to maintain the roads with limited full-time staff, the Trustees are now at a crossroads, and are looking into ways to fund keeping up the roads — even if it means taxing those who live on them.

In fact, Joseph Lombardo, an attorney for the Trustees, is beginning to research the roads to come up with some sort of fee that homeowners living on the roads could be charged, that would work for everyone.

Mr. Lombardo said the fee may or may not act like a tax district, where those who live on the Trustee roads would be taxed for their maintenance, while everyone else in the town would be omitted from the tax. He said his gut reaction is to say it would not function as a taxing district, but anything is possible.

Under the current conditions, when a new home is built on any of the Trustee roads, a $19,000 fee is charged to the homeowner by the town. That fee is then transferred to the Trustees to maintain the roads. Mr. Stafford said the one-time fee is activated whenever an application is submitted to the Building Department to construct a home on one of the Trustee roads.

When a house on one of their roads sells, the next owner is not required to pay the $19,000.

There are times when the homeowners are not charged the $19,000, Mr. Stafford said, and instead enter into an agreement with the Trustees to pay for some other type of upgrade, such as installing a nitrogen-reducing septic system, drywells, extra paving or even widening the roads — but those things do not help maintain the roads.

“It doesn’t work,” he said. “It hasn’t worked since I got here, and it’s not going to work after I leave.”

Mr. Stafford is not up for reelection this year, and has four months left on his term to serve as a Trustee.

Another solution for funding, he said, would be to charge a one-time lease fee per year, to anyone who has a dock attached to a bay bottom.

Even though the Trustees are an independent body from the Town Board, the latter designates how much money to give the Trustees each year in the budget.

The approved 2019 budget for the Trustees was $1,169,341, and is being used to pay salaries of those who work in the office at Town Hall and those who work as marine maintenance mechanics. Benefits for full-time employees are budgeted, along with things like the cost of stocking fish, mileage reimbursements, cellphones, uniforms, printing and stationary, gasoline, and repair equipment.

Additional revenues come to the Trustees through the sales of various permits — dock permits, beach driving permits, boat ramp permits, and duck blind permits, to name a few.

Using the money, the Trustees are responsible for keeping up with their roads, with what Mr. Stafford described as a 3.5-man maintenance crew.

Three of the men work for the town full-time as marine maintenance crew members. A part-time employee also helps out, but is limited to 20 hours per week, according to Civil Service Law.

On a typical day, the crew may be given a list of tasks that need to be performed. For instance, fencing may need to be installed at the beaches by Mecox Bay and Sagg Pond, then potholes may need to be filled on one of the Canoe Place Roads in Hampton Bays. But as the crew is working at Mecox Bay putting up fencing, they may be called away to pick up a dead deer that was struck by a vehicle on one of their roads, such as Arbutus Road in Shinnecock Hills, delaying the other tasks that the crew was originally set to do.

Mr. Stafford’s argument is that they do not have enough people on staff to take care of the everyday tasks, and he would like to bring the part-timer on full-time.

“With a full four guys, it may not be a fix, but it may be better,” he said.

But the roads alone are a full-time gig, he said.

The Trustee roads are scattered throughout the Town of Southampton, in places like Hampton Bays, Shinnecock Hills, Water Mill, Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor. While many of the roads are paved, others are dirt roads.

Near the Shinnecock Canal are streets like Hildreth Road, Old Squires Road, Canoe Place Road and Inlet Road, which are all Trustee roads. Along the barrier island in Hampton Bays, the Trustees maintain beach access roads like Dolphin Lane, Triton Lane and Mermaid Lane, and in the eastern portion of the town they maintain Old Sag Harbor Road, Noyac Path, Widow Gavits Road and Sprig Tree Path, just to name a few.

During the winter, the maintenance crew plows the roads using pickup trucks with plow blades on the front, not the heavy-duty snowplows that the Town Highway Department uses under Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor’s authority.

Mr. Stafford said that by November, the Trustees should be getting a Ford F-550 with a 9-foot blade on the front, just in time for the snow season.

The crew also has one sander to lay down salt or sand, two skid steers, or mini bulldozers, and a couple of other trucks.

Each time the marine maintenance crew gets a load of salt from Mr. Gregor’s department, approximately $200 is charged to the Trustees and paid back to the town — last year, the Trustees were charged nearly $2,000 for 10 loads of salt from the Highway Department, according to Mr. Stafford.

“I don’t begrudge Alex,” he said. “He has a budget to figure out, and I’m sure he’s on a very tight budget, too. But you don’t realize the cost of salt … it’s not cheap.”

And a single pass of a road may not get the job done the first time.

Mr. Stafford said roads with hills get additional treatment, and if a blacktop street is plowed and salted during the morning and melts during the day, it is possible the road will freeze over again during the night time, forcing crews to head back to the road the next day. Dirt roads, he added, are easier to maintain because once you get the snow up, it typically does not refreeze unless more snow dumps afterward.

Along with plowing the roads free of snow, the Trustees facilitate the filling of potholes along the roads, whether their own staff does the work using a patch and a torch, or through an outsourced company.

Widow Gavits Road in Sag Harbor was in bad shape — so bad, the Trustees outsourced the filling of potholes to a company that charged nearly $30,000, according to Mr. Stafford.

The Trustees are also responsible for adding drainage along their roads, which Mr. Stafford said costs $7,000 for the installation of each drywell.

While Southampton Village is able to apply for Community Preservation Fund money to improve drainage into Lake Agawam to improve the water quality of the lake, the Trustees may not have the same ability to do so.

Mr. Lombardo said the Trustees are not a stormwater agency, and the roads do not hook into the town’s drainage system — both things that would make applying for CPF or grants much easier for the Trustees.

Mr. Lombardo was recently appointed as special counsel for the Trustees, and only just began looking into the roads under their authority.

Although the Trustees have not applied for grants in the past to help maintain the roads, it is not out of the question.

“If there is grant money available, it would be up to them to apply,” he said. “Grants don’t find you.”

These are just some of the responsibilities that go with maintaining the roads. Additionally, the Trustees have the drywells pumped when they fill with silt, leaves and mud — all while working on actual marine maintenance duties.

Mr. Stafford said there are hundreds of homes along the Trustee roads, and the owners expect the same service the highway department provides — but that takes money.

“When I first got here, we discussed a surcharge on the roads, but that didn’t happen because everybody was putting apples in the same basket for a tax line, which failed miserably,” Mr. Stafford said, referring to efforts that took place earlier this year for the Trustees to be able to collect and raise taxes on their own.

The efforts were abandoned by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. — who had legislation in Albany to give the Trustees their own tax line — when, the assemblyman said, everything turned into a game of “political football.”

The tax line could be introduced again in the future, but until then, the Trustees will need to figure out how to manage the money they do get from the town and through permits or other means — whether that means cutting back on some things to hire additional staff or putting more money into the road fund.

Mr. Schneiderman said the town is not interested in taking over the roads. Even if the town did take them over, getting them up to spec by making the roads wider, grading them, and installing drainage would cost the Trustees even more money.

The alternative of stopping the maintenance on the roads altogether is out of the question, Mr. Stafford said, because emergency crews should be able to reach the homes in times of need.

“We owe it to the people to try, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

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Every administration, including the present have ignored this issue for years.
By A Great American (103), East Quogue on Sep 7, 19 10:55 PM
What do the Trustees ACTUALLY accomplish besides issue permits and rope off plover sites? A lot of collecting money but the DO? Not so much.
By lirider (288), Hampton Bays on Sep 8, 19 6:49 AM
1 member liked this comment
Simple Solution : deed the Trustee Roads over to the lot owners on those roads, just like all the normal unimproved private roads in Town. The Town itself won't accept unimproved roads but the lot owners would likely welcome it. Life on a private road is great, no trespassers, solicitors, Jehovah's Witnesses or politicians knocking at your door !
By themarlinspike (542), Northern Hemisphere on Sep 8, 19 8:30 AM
1 member liked this comment
Is Corwin Lane a Trustees Rd ? The end of that road is being slowly washed into the bay,oil asphelt and every other contaminant that the Town leaders say are polluting our lovely bays.I have contacted members of the Trustee Board,Town Board and Highway Department.I never received a satisfactory answer,may I suggest a member of The Press take a picture when the tide is in and document what i am saying is correct.
By watchdog1 (543), Southampton on Sep 8, 19 8:55 AM
There are plenty of workers available to fill potholes on dirt roads. Just go to any 7-11 at 6 in the morning and offer $30/hour, no benefits.
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Sep 8, 19 11:43 AM
What a stupid situation. A duplication of government at the tax payers
expense. Aren’t the trustee roads part of the Town of Southampton? I ask our Supervisor this question. Too much government, too many regulations, a permit
for everything. Do away with the trustees, and just have the Town Board
running the Town. Please, stop bleeding the taxpayers with the permit for everything. It seems a resident can’t do anything without obtaining a permit.
Enough all ready!
By Jimion (129), Hampton Bays on Sep 8, 19 3:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
And while you are at it, do away with the Highway Department. Zero reason for it to be an independent bureaucracy. Fold it under the town board as a DPW and save millions and make everything more efficient and effective. Duh.
By CPalmer (122), Southampton on Sep 8, 19 6:07 PM
1 member liked this comment
Lets get a DPW done. Alex Gregor is a widely known absolute horror show. Let the Town Board improve everyone's lives. Make Southampton Great Again !!!
By themarlinspike (542), Northern Hemisphere on Sep 8, 19 6:29 PM
1 member liked this comment