The three candidates running for Southampton Town supervisor this year are quick to recognize the need for affordable housing on the East End, but their approaches to obtaining housing differs, as do their solutions for addressing big issues like traffic and the rising tax assessments.
The three candidates include incumbent Jay Schneiderman, a member of the Democratic Party who also received endorsements from the Conservative and Working Families parties; Greg Robins, the Republican Party-endorsed candidate; and Alex Gregor, a member of the Independence Party who won a primary to take the party’s endorsement away from Mr. Schneiderman. Mr. Gregor is also running with the Libertarian Party’s endorsement.
The supervisor position comes with a two-year term and an anticipated salary of $121,879, according to the 2020 proposed budget.
Mr. Schneiderman was first elected to his seat in 2015 and is now seeking a third term.
One of the biggest issues facing the town during his tenure has been the lack of affordable housing, and one of his solutions was to loosen the accessory apartment law and make it easier for homeowners to set up apartment rentals at their homes.
“We need a lot more affordable apartments,” Mr. Schneiderman said this week. “Apartments that people can rent … people living and working in the area. The biggest shortage is apartments.”
He said not everyone working in the area is ready to purchase a home, yet businesses in the area need employees, which is where affordable apartments could be helpful.
Since implementing the looser restrictions, Mr. Schneiderman said, only a handful of residents have taken advantage of them. He said streamlining the process to make it easier for people to sign up to offer affordable apartments could attract more to the program, and the town needs to take on efforts to recruit people into the program.
Mr. Schneiderman also said a proposed 0.5 percent transfer tax on real estate transactions, similar to the 2 percent that goes toward the Community Preservation Fund, could allow the town to offer assistance in building out an apartment at the homeowner’s property. As long as the apartment remains in the system and at an affordable rate, he said, they would not have to worry about paying back the money.
Mr. Robins, who served as the town Republican chairman from 1985 to 1987 and worked as both a teacher and dean in the William Floyd School District, agrees with Mr. Schneiderman that affordable housing is needed, but he stressed that it should be spread out throughout the town.
“They can’t just put it in the same neighborhoods,” he said. “They can’t put it in Speonk constantly, or Flanders or Riverside or Hampton Bays. It has to be equally distributed. East of the canal is going to be a bigger problem, because the property is more expensive.”
Mr. Robins also said it is important to work with local builders because it would result in bigger success, because the builders could work as a team instead of constructing them one at a time.
Mr. Gregor, the current town highway superintendent, also said there is a need for affordable housing, but there is a bigger need for skilled, high-paying jobs so that people can earn a living wage and live in Southampton. “That is part of the problem,” he said. “A lot of construction jobs don’t pay a lot of money, and it’s hard for people to find a place to live.”
Mr. Gregor said he would look to have two- or three-bedroom affordable apartments created in hamlet centers, near public transportation.
He is in favor of Mr. Schneiderman’s plan for accessory apartments but said a critical piece of that legislation is to require those properties to be landlord occupied.
If a project is proposed in an area where the community is hesitant or has a big presence of the “Not In My Backyard” mentality — or NIMBYism — he said he would find a way to use the 0.5 percent tax to pay down the school tax in the area to lessen the impact on neighbors and their taxes.
Another topic the candidates do not see eye to eye on is the issue of rising tax assessments, which have resulted in higher taxes for some.
Mr. Robins said the entire assessment process should be completely redone so that Southampton is assessed the same way the rest of the state is assessed, and do away with the rolling reassessments.
“Assess people based on changes in the house,” he said, adding that it should be done when a house is sold, dramatically improved on or a pool is put in. “You shouldn’t constantly assess people every year … because, in reality, you’re assessing people out of their houses.”
Mr. Robins said it is easy to say the taxes rates have not increased, but taxes are based on assessments, and assessments have gone sky high.
His house in North Sea was built in 1964 and is 1,500 square feet, but it is taxed like the mansions that surround it, he said. “My house would fit in some of the garages,” he said. “I am treated like my house is worth millions of dollars — and it might be, but only if I want to sell it.”
Mr. Gregor has made the same argument about tax assessments, noting that the assessment on his home located on a corner half-acre lot went up $80,000 after painting and re-shingling it.
Mr. Schneiderman and the sitting Town Board put a freeze on assessments that goes into effect next year. He acknowledged that the assessments of some homes are going up faster than others in working-class neighborhoods like North Sea, where mansions are being erected in place of summer cottages.
His solution is to work with the state to put a cap in place similar to the 2 percent tax levy cap that the state imposes on municipalities, preventing them from raising taxes by more than 2 percent.
One other issue that the candidates do not completely agree on is a solution for how to fix traffic along County Road 39.
Mr. Schneiderman said he would work to redesign intersections to increase traffic flow while also setting traffic lights to blink yellow between 6 and 8 a.m., to help get the trade parade into town quicker.
Mr. Robins’s solution to County Road 39 traffic is to convert the turning lane down the middle of the road into a traffic lane for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, alternating in the direction of heavy traffic.
He also said during the U.S. Open in 2018, a traffic plan was in place that moved traffic in and out of the town with minimal problems. Mr. Robins would like to see the same plan used on a smaller scale, to see if it would lessen traffic from the daily commute.
Early voting is already underway, and the official Election Day is Tuesday, November 5, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Check with the Suffolk County Board of Elections to find out where to vote.