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Jan 15, 2019 3:33 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Village Mayor Sets Agenda For The Coming Year

East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. in his office at Village Hall. ELIZABETH VESPE
Jan 15, 2019 3:53 PM

Along with the new year comes a new agenda for Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. and the East Hampton Village Board.

Mr. Rickenbach’s term will expire in June 2020—and he said this may be his last term as mayor. As of now, in fact, he doesn’t plan to run again.

“I’ve been honored to serve primarily as the mayor,” he said on a recent Friday. “It has been a rewarding experience, and I’ve enjoyed the residents being a part of the issues.”

However, for 2019, he has quite the “bucket list.”

Water quality issues are of the utmost concern for the new year, Mr. Rickenbach said. “We’re working closely with the Friends of Georgica Pond,” he said. “We have two bodies of water, Town and Hook ponds, which are primary in terms of our water quality issues.”

The village is waiting for a report from the U.S. Geological Survey, which provides scientific data concerning the quality of the nation’s water resources. The scientists work with local, state and federal agencies to identify the key environmental issues and collect, analyze and interpret water quality data.

Mr. Rickenbach said he also plans to focus on the shortage of affordable housing in the village.

“The village has attempted to visit the idea of making the second story of buildings in the village affordable apartments,” he said. However, creating affordable apartments over retail shops doesn’t mesh with Suffolk County Department of Health regulations requiring wastewater and sewage treatment facilities to serve living spaces.

“It’s a long-term project,” the mayor said of the creation of a sewer district and municipal sewers, which has been the topic of discussion among many municipalities on the South Fork, including Westhampton Beach Village, as well. “And it’ll be very costly. But we feel that we have to be proactive,” he added. “It all comes down to the environment.”

“Everybody says, ‘Why can’t we be more like Sag Harbor?’ It’s because we can’t add restaurants,” board member Barbara Borsack said at the January 3 Village Board work session.

The reason Sag Harbor Village can have more restaurants and second-story apartments is because Sag Harbor has a sewage treatment plant and sewers serving the village, which East Hampton Village does not. “Everything ties in together,” Ms. Borsack added.

The mayor and his board plan to issue requests for proposals to seek consultants to develop sewage treatment and affordable housing plans.

“The board has a good idea of what they want to do, but more professional guidance is needed to create those plans,” Rebecca Hansen, the village administrator, explained at the January 3 work session,

The future development of Main Street was up for discussion as well. “We have to think down the road what’s going to happen as people do more and more online shopping,” Ms. Borsack said, noting that even the high-priced retail stores are in danger of losing business to the internet.

The board and police department also plan to add Wi-Fi to all of the village beaches in the upcoming year, as well as security cameras. Board members said the addition of extra Wi-Fi would aid in communication, and the public’s ability to call 911 in case of emergency.

Ms. Borsack pointed out the safety importance of Wi-Fi. At Main Beach, phones are available in case of emergency near the pavilion and at the food concession, The Chowder Bowl. “When you go to Wiborg or Eqypt beach, there is nothing around, they even took out the pay phones,” she said.

According to Village Police Chief Michael Tracey, there may be an additional antenna needed at Georgica beach to support Wi-Fi. “Our suggestion would be to trench power to a pole and install small antennas,” he added. He said the antenna would be the size of a small book and it wouldn’t raise concerns by taking up too much space or being an eyesore.

He said he’d plan to have Main and Georgica beaches finished by summer. “Main Beach and Georgica seem to be the most populated and visited beaches during the summer,” board member Rose Brown added.

According to Mr. Rickenbach, there were acts of vandalism at Main Beach over the summer. “Big Brother is not trying to watch, but it’s an extra set of eyes and ears for law enforcement,” he said.

The addition of cameras would be for public safety and the exact location for the cameras is to be determined once the discussion among the Board of Trustees and the police department has been made more final, he said.

This year, the Village Board plans to create a Facebook page to keep residents up to date on potential laws, events, and public hearings.

Ms. Hansen, the village administrator, said that the police department already maintains a Twitter page and a Facebook page.

There will be an established social media policy as far as use, who will be monitoring the site, and parameters as far as what is permitted, Ms. Hansen stated.

“It’s a great idea to improve communication and let the public know what we’re up to,” chimed in Ms. Brown.

As has been the case for the past few years, street fairs and various events will continue in the village. “The Artists vs. Writers softball game, the historical society’s Mulford Farm events, the annual Guild Hall Clothesline art show—we encourage those kinds of activities,” Mr. Rickenbach added. “These make the village the wonderful place that it is.”

Mr. Rickenbach was first elected to the Village Board as a trustee in 1988, and elected mayor in 1992 after the death of Kenneth Wessberg. “Mayor Ken Wessberg is responsible for getting me involved in government,” he said.

The mayor grew up in Jackson Heights, and attended school in Great Neck. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. His parents moved to East Hampton in 1954. After serving with the U.S. Signal Corps in the Panama Canal Zone, he was awaiting appointment to the New York State Police, when a full-time position became available as an East Hampton Village Police officer. He struck up a relationship with Fritz Leddy, former chief of the East Hampton Village force, who offered him the job.

Mr. Rickenbach left the police force in 1982, with the rank of detective sergeant. Soon after, he became involved in corporate security.

Mr. Rickenbach has served the longest of anyone in the mayor position.

“It’s been a humbling experience,” he said.

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