Southampton Town Board Candidates Face Off In Express News Group Debate

The candidates prior to the debate.

Incumbent Democratic Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni pointed to his efforts to be fiscally responsible, protect the environment, create affordable housing, and get to the root causes of tickborne illnesses, as reasons to reelect him to a second four-year term during a virtual debate hosted by the Express News Group on Monday. October 18.

Schiavoni’s running mate, Robin Long, whose law office focuses on real estate, cited her experience on the town Planning Board and pledged to be honest, do what is best for the public, and represent all the people in town if elected.

Watch video of the debate here:

Republican and Conservative candidate Cynthia McNamara repeated her mantra that Town Hall is out of touch and not listening to the concerns of the voters, while her running mate Ann Thomas pointed to her Wall Street background in finance and ability to think outside the box as reasons to elect her to one of two openings on the Town Board in the November 2 election.

McNamara said the news that members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee had resigned en masse this week did not surprise her. She said their frustration was typical of people who interact with the current Town Board. “They need to be heard,” she said of volunteers. “Nobody knows the needs of the community more than those who live there.” That frustration, she added, was the single most common issue brought to her attention by voters.

Schiavoni, on the other hand, said he was proud of the many projects the town has completed in Bridgehampton, from new sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks downtown to the completion of the Nathaniel Rogers House as a new home for the Bridgehampton Museum. He said many of the issues raised by the CAC go beyond the purview of the committee, which is limited to offering advice to the Town Board, and said he had recommended to its members that they create a civic association instead. “That way, they would be untethered from the town,” he said.

Long also weighed in, suggesting that the town revive a planning committee that would allow CAC chairs to meet on a regular basis, while Thomas said it was the Town Board’s responsibility to find out why so many people are dissatisfied. “We don’t want to have any of our hamlets seceding from the town,” she said.

Long and Schiavoni said the need for affordable housing was the main concern voters brought to them.

Schiavoni said now that Governor Kathy Hochul has signed legislation providing for a half-percent housing tax to be added to the 2 percent Community Preservation Fund tax that is collected on most real estate sales, the town would be able to hold a referendum on a housing plan next year.

He said he would like to see home ownership made a priority and pitched the idea of the town establishing a fund to help homebuyers who would then be required to reimburse the fund for the percentage of money they received from it. But he stressed any program would also include rental assistance and other programs.

Long said with an aging population, any program had to provide senior housing. Furthermore, she added, housing should be scattered throughout town. “No one community, no one area of the town is responsible for fixing and responding to the affordable housing needs” of the whole town, she said.

“It was painful this summer watching our locals try to find year-round rentals,” Thomas said. She said priority had to be given to workforce housing and said the town needs to “diversify our portfolio,” suggesting it could develop a mobile home park to provide rentals.

Thomas said the town also needed to keep housing affordable for residents and said rising property taxes were the chief worry of the voters she talked to.

She said the town was courting disaster with a plan to do a townwide reassessment that would base new home values on the current spike in home prices and said at a minimum, it should base any reassessment on a rolling average of prices over the past five to seven years.

McNamara said rather than doing partial reassessments, the town should at least do an entire school district at the same time because school taxes typically make up the largest share of the tax bill, and a districtwide reassessment would keep the tax burden fair among all homeowners.

Schiavoni said the town should explore abandoning full-value assessments and use the systems most towns use, which uses a partial value multiplied by a state equalization rate. He said he believed that might result in more state aid for town school districts.

Long said that it was important to remember that no matter how assessments are handled, the Town Board can only control that portion of the tax bill that is collected for town services.

The candidates also weighed in on whether the town should opt out of allowing the sale of legal marijuana for recreational use as has been allowed by a new state law passed last year.

Thomas said the town should not allow pot sales, saying it would not be “in the spirit” of the community. Long said she would take a cautious approach and use every minute of time the state is allowing before making a decision.

McNamara called for a referendum to let the public decide, but Schiavoni pointed out the state law does not allow a referendum and said the Town Board was working on a plan to put in place what he called “the best regulations in the state” to guide retail sales.