Five years ago, I would have opposed incorporation of East Quogue as a village, contending that we were doing just fine. I would have been wrong.
Rethinking many issues, especially the support we expect from the town, I support incorporation — not to escape the town, but to gain the benefits and cooperation provided to the successful villages that enrich Southampton as a place to raise a family.
I wondered why the inexplicable annual increase in town spending from $68 million to $105 million in only 10 years is not reflected by improvements in my hamlet. A simple Main Street stroll is greeted with scores of dead and dying pear trees — a perfect metaphor for a decade of benign neglect by town officials causing residents to view incorporation as the only way to make things better.
At the end of Bay Avenue, the acquisition of waterfront property once held the promise of a park, public marina and small meeting hall for residents — a space to discuss local affairs where culture and works by artists, writers and poets who quietly call East Quogue home might be celebrated.
The park was never built. The marina is third rate. The potential meeting hall was gutted by the town, and when coastal regulations altered construction elevations, town officials simply abandoned the project rather than engage us in dialogue and assistance with a different plan. Today, the building is slated for demolition, while the Village of Sag Harbor got $2 million in CPF funds for a movie theater facade.
Illustrating further, our small retail shops barely survive, but action items in a once heralded Master Plan for East Quogue gather dust mites in Town Hall. The promise of municipal parking, enhanced street lighting and essential streetscape improvements common elsewhere goes ignored.
With about 4,500 residents, a sizable population of seniors and growing numbers of young families, East Quogue remains a place without a facility to address nutrition for the active elderly or programs for youth.
Some residents might be grateful that Hotdog Beach now has a walkway connecting the beach to a bank of port-a-potties. Elsewhere, bathers find bathrooms and a pavilion, perhaps with food.
We are taxed $1.3 million annually for a police sector car assigned to East Quogue. We live in a low crime area, so ours is the first car pulled away to serve Hampton Bays or Flanders. We pay over $1 million to benefit other communities, while we rely on Quogue Village police for over 20 percent of our 911 emergency calls.
We have also done our share of open space and farmland preservation, but preservation is never free. Today, over $255 million in formerly taxable land in East Quogue is tax exempt, subsidized mostly with higher property taxes from homeowners.
After years of planning and public hearings, the East Quogue Study was adopted into the Comprehensive Plan. Shocking many, two councilpersons ignored scientific testimony, claimed to be concerned about nitrogen, and derailed a seasonal resort — a study recommendation to spare the school district from a spike in student population and to provide new revenue, lowering our tax burden. These same officials then voted YES to buy development rights on hundreds of acres of adjacent farmland, ensuring pollution of a public well and Weesuck Creek with tons of nitrogen-based fertilizer and pesticides for generations to come. Ugh!
Fourteen months ago, town officials were asked for a feasibility study to consider how 264 Shinnecock Shores waterfront property owners and 100 others in Pine Neck Landing might reduce nitrogen waste into Shinnecock Bay. A funding source was suggested by the town supervisor, but after more than a year of inaction, we were told that rules have changed, but “we could always submit a competitive grant application next year.” As this happened, the town entertained a pilot program in Hampton Bays, and committed over $5 million in CPF funds for water quality projects to the villages of Westhampton Beach, Southampton, and Sag Harbor.
There is more, but the point is made. A decade of neglect and frustration over inaction provided the fertile ground for the emergence of the East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee and its desire for home rule to make things better again.
Drawn from different backgrounds, we agree in our love for East Quogue, concern about future density, impacts on the environment, property values, taxes, and the inability to successfully engage town officials on quality of life issues.
Now that the sufficiency of our petition was upheld by the town supervisor, a special election to decide up or down on the question of establishing East Quogue as a village is set for October 17, 2019 at the East Quogue School.
Many folks express sincere concern that a village means higher and higher taxes. Advocates take the concern seriously. A two-year balanced budget projects a modest $40 to $50 increase per household. It was prepared with input from Westhampton Beach, West Hampton Dunes and Sagaponack officials. Advice was received from the Southampton Comptroller’s Office, and the document was reviewed by a former Southampton Town comptroller, a CPA who prepares financial statements for three nearby villages. It can work.
Over time, successful villages statewide have demonstrated that government close to the people can be successful by controlling density, negotiating lower costs, and planning for development that contributes to lower taxes and higher property values. Its a formula that can work for us as well.
Someone not me once said “… better to have tried but failed than failed to try.” I urge my neighbors to turn out for this historic vote. Please let your voice be heard.
Mr. Heaney is a former Southampton Town supervisor who lives in East Quogue.
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