Bridgehampton Crosswalk Dollars Hit Snag

Taylor K. Vecsey

Southampton Town is taking steps to improve pedestrian safety along Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton, but a $700,000 state grant earmarked for crosswalk improvements and lighting enhancements is not as readily available as initially thought.

Frank Zappone, the deputy supervisor, told the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday night that the town discovered last week that it would have to come up with nearly $1 million up front in order to use the money being offered through the state. This came as a surprise to the community group, which had been working with state officials to get the funding in the wake of the death of Anna Pump, a chef and restaurant owner who was killed while crossing Montauk Highway in the hamlet in October.

In June, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. obtained $500,000 and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle $200,000 through the state and municipal facilities program. As it turns out, it is a 25-percent matching grant, which means the town will have to come up with $175,000. It is also a reimbursable grant, so the town will have to come up with all of the money up front, and the state is slow to pay money back, Mr. Zappone said.

It is a “significant investment in a road that doesn’t really belong to us,” he said, referring to the fact that Montauk Highway is a state road. Still, the figure is not insurmountable, he said, adding that the town board would have to make a policy decision — borrow the money or take it from the fund balance.

In the meantime, the town board approved a resolution on Tuesday night for requests for proposals for planning and engineering of traffic safety improvements in Bridgehampton. The town has not yet seen an analysis from the State Department of Transportation on that score, though it had been promised one.

The timeline is going to be short, with proposals due back by Oct. 5, Mr. Zappone said. The engineering will not be paid for with money from the state grants, he said.

Meanwhile, following complaints over the past few months about the lack of law enforcement on Main Street in Bridgehampton, Southampton Town police ramped up efforts over the weekend and promised the citizens committee this week that enforcement will continue.

Capt. Lawrence Schurek told the group that he had sent the department’s community response unit to the hamlet for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday to focus on distracted drivers and jaywalkers.

He reported that officers wrote 35 summonses and made three arrests during that time. One of those arrests turned into a large drug bust after a driver was stopped for talking on his cellphone. (That story can be found in the police pages this week.)

Twenty-six of the violations issued were to drivers talking on cellphones without hands-free devices, the captain said. Two tickets were given to pedestrians who failed to use a crosswalk.

“I told them to take it easy on that,” the captain said, adding that he prefers to give warnings in the early stages of jaywalking enforcement. Two people, however, got “a little confrontational” with the officers.

Over all, Captain Schurek said, he was impressed with the number of tickets written.

“You see, it’s worth it,” said Pamela Harwood, the president of the C.A.C.

Captain Schurek agreed and said he hoped that word of increased enforcement would spread and that drivers and pedestrians would use caution.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “I wish I could have an officer on Main Street 24-7. It’s just not an option.”

Ms. Harwood, saying she had heard the number 145 in relation to town police, asked if that was the number of officers in the department. Captain Schurek smiled and told her that there were 94 officers in the department, which covers 145 square miles. One officer is assigned to Bridgehampton, but also covers the area from the Princess Diner in Water Mill east to Sagaponack.

A lively discussion ensued as to whether the hamlet is receiving a fair number of police services. Though a figure could not be confirmed, members discussed the amount of taxes being paid from Bridgehampton properties into the $22 million police budget.

Mr. Zappone said it was not a fair analysis. “It doesn’t serve the community well nor does it serve the Police Department well to try to say X number of dollars equals Y number of services,” he said. “To equate the number of dollars put into the budget to the kind of police service you get makes sense on paper, but in terms of delivering the service that you really need, that the community deserves to have, that’s not the analysis we should bring to the table.”

Instead, he said, the town should look at what the needs of the community are, what the resources are, and how to match them.

“That’s double talk,” Peter Wilson, a member of the C.A.C., said.

Jenice Delano, who said she doesn’t necessarily want more of a police presence, also disagreed with Mr. Zappone. “It seems to me if we’re contributing $4 million or even $10 million out of a $20 million budget that ought to count for something.”

The alternative is for Bridgehampton to become an incorporated village, like Sagaponack, which contracts with the town for police services and has one officer patrolling the area around the clock in the summer.

Mr. Zappone said policing is a townwide issue that needs to be balanced. “We have people in the Riverside community who pay much less in taxes than you do,” he said of the hamlet in the western portion of the town that has a crime problem. “Should they get less policing using the same logic?”

While the group did not agree on the method to figure out the number of police officers Bridgehampton needs, all members agreed the area is being underserved. Captain Schurek said increased enforcement will continue while the town looks at the issue further.