hamptons local events, express news group

Story - News

Jun 12, 2012 7:00 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Birk Seeks Fourth Term In Westhampton Beach Village

Jun 13, 2012 12:58 PM

Westhampton Beach Deputy Mayor Toni-Jo Birk is seeking her fourth two-year term on the Village Board on Friday, June 15, because she said she is dedicated to maintaining the quality of life in her hometown.

A native of Boston, Ms. Birk, 52, and her husband, Bart, have lived in Westhampton Beach for 20 years and her family owns Bike ‘n Kite on Potunk Lane. Appointed as deputy mayor two years ago by Mayor Conrad Teller, Ms. Birk said one of her proudest accomplishments during the past year was keeping village taxes stable while, at the same time, addressing the new state-mandated 2 percent tax cap that limits the amount a village can raise in property taxes. Though the cap made things more difficult—the village had to fire three employees—she said she favors such restrictions because it holds government more accountable in terms of spending.

“We were insulated here in the Hamptons for many years, but we are feeling it out here now,” said Ms. Birk, who is running as a member of the Beach Party. “Part of being an elected official is being fiscally responsible in managing and running our village. We need to keep the tax cap in check.”

Ms. Birk added that she is proud that the board did not have to pierce the cap when adopting its $9.52 million budget for 2012-13, though that move did come with a price. The village had to eliminate one full-time position in the Information Technology department, and two part-time positions, including one in the clerk’s office. The second part-timer split time between the building department and village court.

“We kept it under 2 percent,” Ms. Birk said. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but we wanted to keep taxes down while still allowing our residents to have the amenities they have come to know. It wasn’t without a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

She is also proud of being part of the board majority that, after months of delays, scheduled a pair of disciplinary hearings for two of Westhampton Beach Village Police officers who were accused of lying to outside investigators after a fellow officer’s handgun went missing at police headquarters. One of the officers was suspended and has since returned to work while the other has parted ways with the village.

“We got the police hearings going and moved them all forward,” Ms. Birk said.

Even if she wins reelection on Friday, Ms. Birk realizes that because her former running mate, current Village Trustee Leola “Sue” Farrell, decided not to seek another term, that she will be part of the board’s minority starting in July. Regardless, Ms. Birk said she is hopeful that the new majority will keep the best interests of village residents in mind and not push their agendas or those who might try to influence them.

If reelected, Ms. Birk intends to continue preserving village amenities, which include well-maintained streets, planted flower beds and clean beaches. She said preserving those things inspired her to make her first run for office in 2006. She explained that those who live in and visit the village do so because they want to enjoy everything it has to offer.

“I got involved because years ago, before I had kids, I went to a lot of village meetings and officials would say, ‘We are going to keep our character, we are not going to have big franchise stores in the village that will change the character,” Ms. Birk said. “I got involved to help preserve the character of the village.”

She served on the board in 2007 when it adopted the village’s new master plan that, among other things, prevented the opening of large chain stores. “It is a blueprint for how the village wants to look in the future,” Ms. Birk said. “By being a part of that, I believe I have been a part of maintaining the character of the village, which is what most people want.”

A mother of two—she declined to name her children for this story—Ms. Birk said she is ready to take on another two-year term and is looking forward to tackling new projects. Though she declined to discuss specific capital projects that she hopes to pursue, explaining that she wants to make sure the village has money to complete them first, Ms. Birk said residents will be happy with them, assuming that the economy rebounds.

“With the way the economy is, we don’t want to have to tax our residents,” she said. “I would like to go on and see how these things come through and continue with what I think residents want of their elected officials.”

In regards to the proposed eruv, the controversial Jewish religious boundary that would encompass all of Westhampton Beach, Ms. Birk declined to offer her opinion, explaining that the village is being sued by the East End Eruv Association. She added that the courts could rule on the litigation as early as next month.

1  |  2  >>  

You've read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Already a subscriber? Sign in