07/16/15 6:00am
07/16/2015 6:00 AM

Over the past several years, these editorial pages have called for plenty of funding, resources and advocacy to improve the Riverside area.

But now that the price tag is in and consultants have been paid for renderings, Southampton Town officials are being wise to hold off on moving forward with a bridge that would connect the downtrodden hamlet with downtown Riverhead.

READ

07/11/15 5:59am
07/11/2015 5:59 AM

In the four years since New York State adopted the 2 percent property tax cap, we’ve weighed in on its success from time to time.

Mostly, it was to say it wouldn’t be — or hasn’t been — at all successful.

Since the cap was enacted, it’s been the position of this editorial board that it’s little more than a political gimmick — a way for Albany lawmakers to say they’re doing their part to keep the cost of living down for the general public that elects them.

Our biggest issue with the legislation remains that it tells schools and other local municipalities to limit their spending an arbitrary amount while doing nothing to provide relief from the mandates the state imposes on them.

The bill also fails to consider existing contracts. It appeared to us, we wrote in a Sept. 22, 2011, editorial, that Albany was patting itself on the back for a law that tells local municipalities what to do but offers no guidance about how to get there.

“How do we meet that requirement?” we opined on behalf of local governments. “Hey, that’s your problem.”

In May 2013, we took a look at school district spending to see if it had, in fact, decreased in the first two budgets since the tax cap was enacted. We found it had not. Overall spending increased $19.2 million in those two years in the seven North Fork school districts — nearly double the $10.2 million combined spending hike in the two years prior.

At the time, Albany lawmakers defended the cap, saying school spending would have gone up even more in those two years if the law was not in place.

So when we learned late last month that state legislators had extended the cap another four years, we decided to once again take a look at how effective the cap has been. This time around, the results were different.

As you’ll see here, reporter Tim Gannon learned that the tax warrants — the total amount of money collected in property taxes — in both North Fork towns have increased at a much slower rate in the past four years than they did in the four years before the cap was approved. The same can be said for the tax levies in most local school districts.

The need for mandate relief in Albany still exists, but perhaps these numbers demonstrate that the tax cap has had a positive impact. And although we’re constantly reminded of how it causes constraints that will lead to cuts in our schools, that threat existed long before the cap <\h>— and our schools are, for the most part, still offering many of the same programs to our students.

A 2 percent tax cap will never solve our property tax issues, but the intention behind it was never that ambitious. If it forces local governments to live a little more within their means — like the rest of us — it should remain in place.

It may be a political gimmick, but it’s one that seems to be saving us a little coin.

07/02/15 6:00am
07/02/2015 6:00 AM

As we celebrate Independence Day this weekend, we should recall those words near the beginning of the Declaration of Independence that changed the world: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

America witnessed a living example of those words, taught to every school child, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision that people of the same sex are free to marry in all 50 states.

The ruling moves the United States forward toward a more just society, which the brave men in Philadelphia in July 1776 were willing to enact with the shadow of a British gallows hanging over them.

But our society has even further to go.

(more…)

06/26/15 5:59am
06/26/2015 5:59 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Peconic River boardwalk that runs along the East Main Street parking lot.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Peconic River boardwalk that runs along the East Main Street parking lot.Could

The state of “progress” in downtown Riverhead is often discussed but hard to pin down: crime rears its head now and again, vacant storefronts still dot Main Street and a short drive to the railroad station area — or even the Main Street area — at any time of year can reveal a homeless population living in the shadows.

On the other hand, it would be disingenuous to discount some of the anchor projects that have come to Main Street in recent years and subsequently drawn other businesses and investments to town. (more…)

06/13/15 5:59am
06/13/2015 5:59 AM
Bunker fish at Nassau Point Sunday morning. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Bunker fish at Nassau Point Sunday morning. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

We’ve been reminded a lot in recent weeks that fish kills are a regular occurrence in these parts, and aren’t anything new.

These comments are being made mostly to cast doubt on assertions by scientists and other researchers that high nitrogen levels and the resulting algal blooms are to blame for depleted oxygen levels in area waters — hence all the dead fish. Yes, local environmental organizations have used recent fish kills to push their agendas — albeit noble ones — and figure out how to prevent such high levels of nitrogen from reaching our waters moving forward. But they’re doing so for good reason.

There were bunker kills in 2008 and 2009 as well — and there’s no denying that massive kills have been happening for as long as anyone around here can remember. But it’s also a fact that for generations, Long Islanders from Brooklyn to Montauk have been polluting our waters with chemicals, fertilizers and, if you go back far enough, even raw sewage.

Just because people weren’t talking about nitrogen in the 1960s or 1970s doesn’t mean it didn’t play a part in fish kills back then, or even just a few years ago. It’s only relatively recently that researchers have been able to identify nitrogen — most of it coming from our wastewater — as the culprit responsible for the unhealthy state of our local estuaries and shellfish.

The passage and funding of the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the funding that came with it, along with fertilizer restrictions and more efficient sewer treatment plants, have improved the state of our bays and Long Island Sound. But it’s all been a zero-sum game in the face of nonstop residential and commercial development.

With development came people, and their outdated septic systems — all sending more waste into groundwater and surrounding surface waters. Deny that or not, but wouldn’t common sense dictate we shouldn’t go to the bathroom where we drink? People in Southold and more rural areas of Riverhead are right to be wary of installing more public sewers, because that does often lead to more housing, but they can’t have it both ways. The movement now is toward figuring out more efficient methods of filtering our residential waste, and doing so in a way that’s financially feasible.

Even if people are skeptical of the researchers, keeping our most precious resource as clean as possible is a goal worthy of time, attention and, most of all, government funding — because it’s clear that developing, installing and maintaining newer technologies is going to be expensive.