The contentious issue of incorporating Wainscott as a village has sadly if predictably pitted neighbor against neighbor around me. I understand many of the motivations of those in the pro-village camp, and some of them are my friends — or at least have been until now and I hope they will continue to be when I come out as someone who is solidly against incorporating a village for a number of reasons. I share one of the most potent ones here.
Our taxes in Wainscott could easily go through our lovely skylit roofs if there is incorporation. I know that you, my Wainscott neighbor, like me, just paid your East Hampton Town property taxes, which are relatively low here in our hamlet. Imagine that you just had to pay 400 percent more and what that would do to your finances and, more important, to the value of your home. “Yes,” you could say to potential buyers, “my taxes did go up 400 percent last year but we do have our very own village.”
Before anyone accuses me of hyperbole, I base that number on historical fact. The proponents of incorporation have hired lots of experts, and we all know how consultants are, especially those of us who have worked in that industry. These authorities tell my neighbors and me in Wainscott, in cheery, self-assured voices, accompanied by lots of colorful charts and graphs, that they are pretty darn sure we should expect an increase of no more than about $400 per household if there is incorporation.
That rosy sales pitch (After all, what are the consultants at Accenture or McKinsey, really, but salespeople?) made to my neighbors and me is contradicted by real-life experience. Among many other examples, you can easily read about the recent trauma that Mastic Beach Village underwent, not too far away and not too long ago. When the voters there decided to dissolve their corporation, they were looking at, by many reports, a potential property-tax increase of 400 percent.
That’s right, not an increase of $400 but 400 percent. That’s a reality the village proponents there didn’t prepare their constituents for and one the advocates for incorporation here haven’t told us about. I don’t know why. It’s a fact and not an estimate for the sake of convincing people.
I remember back in 2013 when the newly “woke” politicians of Mastic Beach Village smugly paraded to Hampton Bays to sell the residents there on the unlimited joys of incorporation. Incorporation was a paradise of more local control, there were reduced or relatively painless increases in taxes, one could indulge in the undeniable bliss of more rigorous code enforcement in the hands of watchful locals, throughout the land there would be greater neighborliness… In short order, by the end of 2017, Mastic Beach Village was dissolved by about the same number of voters who had enthusiastically supported it just a few years before.
Why? People were exhausted after years of political infighting, neighbor hating neighbor, overspending by a nonprofessional group of possibly self-interested volunteers, gently dissenting voices dismissed by vociferous ones, power clustered in the hands of a few who passionately believed they knew better than their neighbors. Doesn’t all that sound too similar to the stressful anguish that we just went through on a national level? Do we really want to risk undergoing a more concentrated version of it in our peaceful hamlet?
In addition to the potential 400-percent increase in property taxes reported in the press, there were other financial issues in Mastic Beach Village. For instance, in 2016 Moody’s Investors Service had rated the village’s bonds as at the “noninvestment” level, making it difficult to manage the finances and borrow money and simply move forward. By the way, East Hampton Town has a bond rating of Aaa. We in the hamlet do not have to borrow money or pay taxes alone without the help of the other residents in the town to come up with the expenses for the attorneys’ fees for issues at the airport or the sandpit or paying the county for putting in water mains or defending against suits brought by an unhappy few with deep pockets and a taste for litigation as a form of neighborly antagonism and bemused entertainment (we’ve certainly seen that out here)!
Imagine what will happen to our property taxes in Wainscott if we as a small population village have to raise and pay all the millions of dollars those issues alone would cost (I could think of many more, by the way). We don’t just have to imagine, though: We can simply look at a neighboring place that showed us exactly what happens.
I haven’t heard any of these counterpoints given any platform during the debates on the issues. It’s all just one collective of heads nodding in agreement with no patience for listening to those who, with as much good will and sense as anyone, do not agree with the financially well-backed pro-incorporation supporters. That doesn’t give me a sense of confidence in the fairness of how things would be run should Wainscott incorporate.
Want to give up the community contributions of all of East Hampton’s residents, along with your present tax rate, and find that a select few run your new village without listening to you, after selling you promises similar to those that were sold to the voters of Mastic Beach Village, and here could drive down the value of your home and cost you financially in other ways?
I’m not ready for that. I’ve listened to the proponents of incorporation, at first with no prejudice for or against. But since that time, I’ve thought and read a lot about the topic. I encourage my neighbors to remain part of East Hampton Town, which is run by many people we have known for many years, and not trade down to an uncertain future in the hands of a fervent few who would concentrate power to themselves for whatever reasons they verbalize and perhaps for others they do not articulate.