Southampton Priorities Differ in Lively Supe Race

Jay Schneiderman brushes off criticism from Ray Overton on infrastructure
Ray Overton, left, and Jay Schneiderman Taylor K. Vecsey

Jay Schneiderman is hoping for a second term as Southampton Town supervisor, saying there is a long list of his accomplishments, while Ray Overton, who was tapped by the Southampton Town Republican Committee to run for the top spot, is pointing to infrastructure quality and spending. 

Mr. Overton, a former town trustee, is not closely related to Fred Overton, an East Hampton Town Board member. “I think there are a lot of people who are disappointed in the supervisor,” he said in a recent interview. “I think there are a lot of people who feel he is nothing but a politician.” 

Mr. Schneiderman, who lives in Southampton Village, is endorsed by the Democratic and Independence Parties. He has been a member of the Independence Party, but recently announced that he had filed paperwork to switch to the Democratic Party although that will not be effective until after the election. He is a former county legislator, former East Hampton Town supervisor, and a former member of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals. He had been a longtime resident of Montauk, where he is the co-owner of a motel.

Summarizing changes during his tenure as supervisor, Mr. Schneiderman said Town Hall is in better shape than when he took office and that the town has a AAA rating from Moody’s, in addition to Standard & Poor’s, which it had before he became supervisor. The town has lowered its outstanding debt by $12 million and cut the tax rate by 3 percent — both over two years — as well as proposing a 1 percent decrease in the 2018 budget, he said. He also said the town was investing in infrastructure, from police to paving roads.

Mr. Overton said he was unhappy about the current administration’s priorities. “There’s been an awful lot of town facilities I have seen in poor condition,” he said, naming a few in Westhampton, like the old American Legion Hall, which the town owns, and the town dock, which was damaged in Sandy. 

“As I look more and more through the town, what got me is that we have these town facilities, continue to accumulate them, and not provide for them,” he said. “If a private citizen was doing this type of thing and leaving it as is, they would be fined.”

Mr. Schneiderman said he had inherited a crumbling infrastructure, and the town was doing its best to fix it within its means. “I’m not going to raise tax rates. I’ve got to work with what I’ve got.” The town has put $1 million into Dune Road, to raise it 2.65 feet above sea level and money has been set aside for a new heating and ventilation system for Town Hall and the Ponquogue Pavilion in Hampton Bays. 

  Mr. Overton also is concerned about the supervisor’s proposed 2018 budget despite the decrease in the tax rate. Spending is increasing, he said, and the tax rate is decreasing only because of the increase in assessed property values. 

“The spending we’re doing is repairing our infrastructure that was neglected for a long time,” Mr. Schneiderman said. He called it “wise spending.” He noted the addition of five police officers over the last three years, which was funded with $1 million in additional sales tax revenue for the town, which he said he had secured as a county legislator. 

Mr. Overton took exception to the supervisor’s proposal to increase his own salary by 8 percent, to $117,000, while town board members are to have a 2 percent increase. “It’s not my budget to pass. If it’s mine to pass, my own salary will go back down,” he said. 

Mr. Schneiderman said the supervisor’s salary had been lowered during the economy’s downturn and had never been readjusted. “I don’t think it’s a ridiculous salary,” he said, and then added, “The town board can change it. I’m not going to object to them changing it.” 

Mr. Overton is a Westhampton Village resident and grew up there. He has a degree in economics and returned to Westhampton after college, where he developed management experience in construction and financial services. From 1990 to 2005, he lived in Vermont, before returning to the area. He also is the former director of operations for the Ross School, where he oversaw maintenance, security, boarding houses, and capital improvements from 2012 to 2014. He is the general manager of Mulco Plumbing and Heating. 

While he agrees that improving water quality is imperative and thinks the town’s decision to mandate new septic systems for new construction and major remodeling is a good first step, he wants the town to be more aggressive. He said the town should home in on particularly sensitive properties. “If we wait for them to come to us, they will still have an archaic septic system.”

Mr. Overton also said he would offer a different style of leadership. He believes there have been mixed messages from the supervisor’s office, particularly when it has come to the controversial issue of planned development districts, like the Hills in East Quogue, and whether to get rid of such districts altogether. “They are a tool in the shed. It is up to the town board to have a spine.”

Another idea, he said, was to make town departments that interact a lot with the public more efficient. “It kills me to see people standing in line at the Building Department,” he said. He would like property owners and contractors to make appointments online. “If you can get the Department of Motor Vehicles to be efficient, you can get the Building Department to be efficient,” he said.

When asked about this, Mr. Schneiderman said it was not a bad idea and agreed the process needed to be streamlined. He pointed to other improvements in the way people interact with various town departments, citing a new portal where people can log on and get permit information for specific properties with a few clicks, instead of filing a Freedom of Information request. He also noted the creation of Southampton Online Solutions, a new platform where complaints and requests can be filed and tracked. 

Looking toward a second term, Mr. Schneiderman said he wants to do more on affordable housing. He considers the approval of the Speonk Commons complex an accomplishment, in that it started as a strongly opposed 51-unit complex but with his help was changed to 38 units. “At the final public hearing the same people who were vociferously opposed to it spoke out in favor of it. It was a real transformation.”

Mr. Schneiderman also created a Housing and Community Development Department in his first term. He said the town was working on a new model for affordable housing — getting away from high-density construction to put it in the least affordable areas where labor is at highest demand, for the most part east of the Shinnecock Canal. Another answer is allowing accessory apartments in such buildings as garages, or converting sections of existing houses. 

Both candidates agree that a focus in 2018 needs to be on improving pedestrian and traffic safety in Bridgehampton — using $700,000 in grant money is being planned — and to work with railroad and state officials for shuttle trains to help ease traffic on County Road 39.