Frequently Asked Questions on the
Southold-Fishers Island Relationship
Answered by Fishers Island’s Town Justice, Louisa Evans
We all know Fishers Island is complicated to explain. Our trusty Town Justice Louisa is here to try. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and Louisa will research and post the answers to this page.
These questions are answered to the best of our ability, but there may be some inadvertent misinformation.
What does it mean to be a hamlet in the Town of Southold? Are there others?
Fishers Island is a hamlet of Southold, which is one of 10 towns in Suffolk County. Besides its one incorporated village, Greenport Village, there are 10 unincorporated hamlets in Southold: Laurel, Mattituck, Cutchogue, New Suffolk, Peconic, Southold, East Marion, Greenport, Orient and Fishers Island.
Each hamlet is a separately defined, unincorporated, geographic area in the Town with no governmental infrastructure or power, though they do have tax districts that generally coincide with their borders. Fishers Island’s tax districts are: Ferry, Fire, Library, School, and Waste Management. Many hamlets in Southold also have their own chambers of commerce.
As Fishers Island voters, whom in Southold do we vote for?
The registered voters on Fishers Island vote for the following Southold officials:
• 1 Town Supervisor
• 5 Town Board members, which includes the Fishers Island Town Justice, who also is a Town Board member
• 2 Town Justices, besides the Fishers Island one
• 5 Trustees, who basically oversee the waters
• 3 Town Assessors
• 1 Tax Receiver
• 1 Town Clerk
• 1 Town Highway Superintendent
The elections are staggered every 2 years and held on Election Day. All terms are for 4 years.
In addition, Fishers Island voters elect commissioners to the tax districts, Suffolk County officials, and state and federal officials.
Who represents Fishers Island to Southold?
Louisa Evans is Fishers Island’s Town Justice, and represents all the taxpayers of Southold, but particularly the ones on Fishers Island, to the Town Board. The Fishers Island Justice who also has a seat on the Town Board is a unique position in New York State in that the position has both legislative and judiciary responsibilities. This position is allowed by special legislation of New York State due to the geographic isolation of Fishers Island from the rest of the Town. As a Justice, one holds court on the Island for the purpose of arraignments and holds court in Southold for other court proceedings. Town Justices deal with criminal cases that are punishable by up to a year in jail and/or $1000 fine. These include both violations and misdemeanors. They deal with felonies only at the arraignment stage. Town Justices also deal with civil cases that include small claims and landlord/tenant cases. Although Justices generally also deal with Town Code violations, the Fishers Island Justice does not generally preside over Town Code violations due to his/her position on the Town Board. Most of the cases the Fishers Island Justice presides over are cases that have nothing to do with Fishers Island but are ones with which the other two Southold Justices have conflicts.
Fishers Island is represented by Pierce Rafferty on the Planning Board and George Horning on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Each of those boards has 5 members, and Fishers Island is the only hamlet that is specifically represented on these boards. These two appointments are made by the Town Board for five-year terms. The Fishers Island representatives on the Planning and Zoning Boards can be reappointed, but unlike the FI Justice position, Island representation is not mandated or guaranteed (under one previous Supervisor and Town Board we lost the Zoning Board representative for one term). However, it has been a practice for many years.
The Fishers Island Harbor Committee, chaired by Elby Burr, plans for all island harbors and town waters adjacent to Fishers Island, including the assignment of mooring and anchorage areas. In addition, the committee’s harbor management plan may serve as an addendum of its Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. This committee was established in 1994 in recognition of the fact that Fishers Island’s surrounding waters are appreciably different from the remainder of the Town’s, and require local knowledge and management. Members are appointed by the Town Board for staggered five-year terms.
Peter Burr is the Fishers Island member on the Southold Tree Committee, which promotes and manages healthy, safe and effective trees along streets and on public grounds to preserve and enhance the beauty of the environment for the benefit of its citizens and future generations. The Committee also works within the community to increase awareness of the importance of trees and their care. The Tree Committee accepts requests for new street tree plantings as well as the removal of trees.
Dixon Harvey is the Fishers Island liaison member to the Town’s Land Preservation Committee, which makes recommendations to the Town Board on all aspects of farmland and open space preservation.
Chip duPont is the Fishers Island liaison to the Southold Architectural Review Committee. The liaison, a position with a three-year term, facilitates Fishers Island applications to the Committee as part of the Planning process for residential and commercial construction and renovation.
Do our representatives get paid? If so, how much?
• The Fishers Island Town Justice’s salary is a matter of public record and must be published with the Town budget. In 2016, it is $52,443, and is paid out of the Town’s General Fund.
• Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeal members are paid $13,728.
• Ferry and Waste Management District commissioners are paid a nominal fee for their services.
• Board of Ed members and Fire District commissioners are unpaid.
• Committee members and liaisons are volunteers.
Who works for Southold on Fishers Island?
Besides elected officials, who receive stipends and salaries of various amounts, volunteer members of Town Committees, and employees of specific tax districts, Town staff includes:
• 1 Liaison to the Highway Department
• 2 Highway workers (hopefully 3 in 2016!)
• 2 or 3 Harbor Patrolmen
• 3 Constables
• 1 part-time Senior Citizen Aide
• 1 Deputy Emergency Manager
• School Crossing Guards
Does our government in Southold ever visit the island? Are any agencies or departments present here?
The Southold Town Board holds a town meeting each August on Fishers Island, timed to maximize exposure to all residents and property owners. Building inspectors visit every other Wednesday to conduct Certificate of Occupancy and other inspections. Southold Town elected officials, representatives, and employees otherwise visit Fishers Island, but not on a regular basis.
Does the Fishers Island Town Justice have office hours, or do people usually just call or email with their concerns?
There are no longer set office hours as people rarely showed up and instead would call to set up a meeting at another time, or more often express concerns over the phone or email them. The FI Town Justice can be reached at (631) 788-7646, PO Box 546, or email@example.com
What is the process to bring things to the Town’s attention, or for the Town to bring things to Island residents’ attention?
In the past the FI Civic Association served as the organization the Justice could look to for help sorting out concerns that were supported by the FI community at large. The Island Community Board (ICB) has taken over that role.
Who designates zoning on Fishers Island? Does Fishers Island have a say?
The Town Board designates zoning on Fishers Island, and the Fishers Island Town Justice (Louisa Evans) represents the Island. In the late 1970s or so, the Town’s Planning Department created a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan, and at that time Islanders had input into FI zoning. The Town is currently working on a new updated Comprehensive Plan (“Southold 2020”) and is taking input from the Island.
The Zoning Board of Appeals, with its traditional Fishers Island representative (currently George Horning), is responsible for variances to the zoning created by the Town Board, as well as any questions of special exceptions, such as accessory apartments.
The Planning Board is creating a new Comprehensive Plan, “Southold 2020.” Can you explain a bit more about the Comprehensive Plan’s timeline and how town officials are gathering input from Fishers Island?
The best way to find out information on the Town’s Comprehensive Plan is to go on the Town’s website: http://www.southoldtownny.gov/. Click on Government (upper left) then Departments, then Planning, then Comprehensive Plan, or here: http://www.southoldtownny.gov/index.aspx?NID=123
Town Justice Louisa Evans formed the Fishers Island Land Use Committee, an unofficial body, to provide planning input to the Land Use chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. That body has coordinated extensively with Town Planner Heather Lanza and her department, including discussion of creating zoning specific to Fishers Island.
Does the Town ever publish legal notices in Island communications outlets, or are we expected to monitor the town website or Suffolk County papers for that information?
When legal notices pertain to Fishers Island the Town Clerk asks for them to be put on the FishersIsland.net website, but at this point neither notices posted on the website nor in the Fog Horn are considered “legal notices”. As of November 2015, the Town Clerk is looking into whether under NY State law they can be designated as publications able to satisfy the legal notice requirement.
How does voting for district commissioners, propositions, and referenda work?
Must you be registered to vote on Fishers Island, or is there some exception for property owners who are registered elsewhere? I.e., if you own a second house on FI but vote in local/state/federal elections at your primary residence, can you vote for ferry/school/fire/waste management? And if the second home has shared ownership (e.g., between siblings), is there a limit to how many of those owners can vote?
The Fire, School (and therefore Library), and Waste Management districts require that a voter be registered with the Suffolk County Board of Elections as a resident on Fishers Island. The School district additionally allows voters that can present a driver’s license or New York State non-driver ID with a Fishers Island address, as detailed here: FI School Election Procedures 2/6/2016
The Ferry District’s broader rules allow voting by residents in the above definition, non-residents who are sole property owners, the first non-resident owner of a property with shared ownership to vote at the polls, and a designated representative of a property-owning entity. Details can be found here: Ferry Voting Rules BOC Election
TAXES AND TAX DISTRICTS
What taxes do we pay to Southold and what are they used for? Do we have a say in how they are apportioned?
Each property tax bill breaks down where local taxes go (though not how they are spent). The tax bills sent to Fishers Island include taxes paid to Suffolk County, the Town of Southold, and our tax districts: the FI Ferry District, the FI Fire District, the FI Library District, the FI School District, and the FI Waste Management District.
To see how the taxes are used, one would have to look at each entity’s budget. Public hearings are held before the next year’s budget is adopted, where your input can be heard.
As far as the Town budget goes, Fishers Island has input from our representative on the Board (the Fishers Island Town Justice). The Harbor Committee (a committee of the Town composed exclusively of Islanders) submits its own budget. Other departments of the Town, such as Highway, Trustees, and Engineering, put items in the budget for Fishers Island-specific projects, like drainage. Hearings on the Town Budget are held at the Southold Town Hall. Written comments for the public record may be sent to the Town Clerk, if islanders are unable to attend. The Town Board adopts the annual budget by resolution; there is no requirement for the public to vote on it.
Public hearings for the tax district budgets are held on island and notices are generally published on FishersIsland.net and posted at the Post Office Bulletin Board.
What are tax districts?
Fishers Island has five tax districts that appear on a tax bill: the FI Ferry District, the FI Fire District, the FI Library District, the FI School District, and the FI Waste Management District. Each tax district is responsible for setting and managing its own budget and managing any revenues and is generally authorized to levy taxes at or slightly above the previous year’s revenues without town or county control. However, the Ferry District has additional constraints dictated by its Enabling Act, and the Library District has mixed public-private control.
The Ferry, Fire, and Waste Management districts have boards of five commissioners each, elected to staggered five-year terms. The five members of the Board of Education for the Fishers Island Union Free District act as the School District’s commissioners and are elected to staggered three-year terms. The Board of Education also acts on behalf of the Library District to collect its tax monies, so the public vote on the Board of Education budget contains two propositions: one for the School District and one for the Library District. The trustees of the Fishers Island Library Association administer the Library District’s budget.
There is also a FI Sewer District that collects fees from its users (and so is not on the tax bill); only those users pay for improvements to that district. The Sewer District is mostly in the Fort area, using Fort infrastructure. The Southold Town Board acts as the commissioners of the FI Sewer District.
How much of our money goes to Southold for services we can’t access?
This is a complicated question, and one ICB is investigating. Taxes levied for the tax districts (Ferry, Fire, Library, School, Waste Management) go directly to that district, and our tax monies do not go to tax districts that provide parallel services in the rest of Southold. Most of the rest goes in to the General Fund ($30.6 million in 2016), which funds the Town’s payroll ($6.6 million, plus $9.2 million in benefits), public safety ($10.4 million), Economic Assistance and Opportunity ($1.4 million), Debt Service ($760,000), Home and Community Services ($370,000), Culture & Recreation ($360,000), Transportation ($77,000), and Public Health ($33,000).
It is worth noting that Southold’s police budget includes full responsibility for the barracks used by the State Troopers; salaries for constables, harbor patrol, and crossing guards; and Island use of Southold police detectives when needed.
Are there any tax relief programs the Town sponsors?
Yes, veterans, volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers (over 5 years, or retired/over 20), clergy, farmers, senior citizens (65+), disabled residents, and residents with a combined annual income under $500,000 may be eligible for partial relief of their real estate tax burden, usually if their primary residence is in Southold. In addition, commercial properties that have been upgraded may also qualify for partial relief.
The Tax Assessor’s office can answer questions about tax exemptions during business hours at 631-765-1937. Application forms are available at: http://ny-southold.civicplus.com/index.aspx?nid=381 1/27/2016
Does Southold have an annual budget for Fishers Island or does it change yearly?
There is no set amount designated for Fishers Island; the Town budget always reflect the expected necessary expenditures. Line items in the Town budget for Fishers Island-specific projects change yearly. The tax district budgets also change yearly, but rely on the elected officials for those entities to adopt those budgets after public hearings. The Southold Town Board is not involved in budgeting for tax districts, unless the Town Board acts as the district’s commissioners (as in the case of the Sewer District), or is otherwise legally obligated to (as by the Ferry District’s Enabling Act).
Is it Southold’s responsibility to run the ferry? Can you explain the public/private relationship?
The Town and the Ferry District have a complicated relationship which is partially outlined in the Ferry’s Enabling Act, in Chapter 699 of NY State Laws of 1947 and since amended several times. Although the 5 Commissioners and the District Manager run the District, the Enabling Act gives the Town financial oversight over the Ferry District. The Ferry District also manages the Airport/Parade property owned by the Town. Some of this is outlined in the Enabling Act (such as the ability to rent out properties), but much needs to be clarified. The Town and the Ferry District are working on developing a management agreement.
Who pays for improvements to tax districts?
In discussing planned improvements, the Waste Management District has indicated their bond will be repaid specifically from property taxes collected from that district. Is that generally true for bonds associated with districts town-wide, i.e., would we ever be paying to improve a district that doesn’t cover the island?
One only pays to improve districts into which one pays taxes. One also pays for improvements to the Town and the County, but not the other districts within the Town and County.
Does Southold own/run land on Fishers Island? How does this relationship work?
Southold owns a lot of land on the West End, most of which was acquired when the Fort closed down and was sold. The Ferry District manages the majority of this land, including the Airport.
Will Southold help us with affordable housing?
Affordable housing is a struggle for the entire Town. Southold has enacted laws to help encourage affordable housing, but has not created its own affordable housing. The Town did pass a law in 2015 in order to make the Tiny Houses project between the Compost Station and the Community Center possible, and it has committed $10,000 of its Community Development Funds to this project. The Town and County tried to work with Walsh Park in the past, but at that time Walsh Park was not interested, as it did not want to have to work under the Town and County guidelines. Walsh Park is exploring a potential partnership again.
Does Southold provide any support for conservation efforts?
As to conservation of properties, the Town has purchased a few properties on the Island (Dock Beach Park, the spit in Silver Eel) and done a conservation easement with one property owner. However, the Town has not purchased anything recently partly due to the lack of available appropriate properties with owners that wish to sell to the Town. The Town is working with the Ferry District and the FI Land Use Committee (not an official committee of the Town) in permanently preserving a portion of the Airport/Parade Ground property.
As to conservation in general, the Town, State and Federal government have enacted legislation to try and conserve land, water, wildlife, etc., which the Town tries to enforce. The 2% property transfer tax applicable to most real estate sales on the island goes into the Town’s Community Preservation Fund, which is largely used to conserve undeveloped property.
Who handles emergency evacuation?
Town, State (both NY and CT), and Federal governments all play a role in the Island’s emergency management. On island, Mike Imbriglio is the current FI Deputy Emergency Manager, and Tim Patterson is the Asst. FI Deputy Emergency Manager (so the best people to get details from). Town Supervisor Scott Russell is the Emergency Manager. The decision to evacuate is made with input from several people, but basically the Supervisor would look to the FI Deputy Emergency Manager to make the call. Several members of the Fire Department also serve as communication officers.
If there was an incident at the Millstone Power Plant that required evacuation from Fishers Island, the ferry would pick up people (and their pets) and transport them to Stonington. There was a trial run in October 2015, reported on FishersIsland.net: FEMA Emergency Evacuation Drill 1/27/2016
Is there a Chamber of Commerce that covers us?
Fishers Island does not have its own chamber of commerce. At one point (and maybe currently?), some businesses have become members of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, partly in hopes of getting better/less expensive health insurance.