Board members called for greater transparency during the April 18 Northport Village Board of Trustees meeting, noting a lack of communication in a major project to redo the Village’s “master plan.” When all four trustees were expected to vote on a professional services contract they had never seen, they asked to pull the resolution and made public remarks about needing more information to do their jobs properly.
Northport Village hasn’t developed a master plan, a layout and guide for future development and growth in commercial, marina and residential areas, in fifty years. Mayor Donna Koch stated her intention to redo the plan during her campaign, and put together a committee for this purpose shortly after the election. On the committee is Koch and her assistant Donald Tesoriero, Planning Board Chairperson Richard Boziwick, Zoning Board Chairperson Andy Cangemi, and Village Attorney Edward Gathman.
The Master Plan Committee has met frequently in the last year. Its members agreed that a dock moratorium would be necessary to begin developing a new master plan for the harbor areas, a decision that was passed unanimously by the board after Cangemi met with each trustee individually to make his case on its importance.
The committee has also viewed three presentations by engineering firms on their proposals for professional environmental and planning services in the development of the master plan. The chosen firm will prepare studies and reports regarding land use, planning and environmental matters.
Of the three firms that offered proposals to the Village – Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, VHB Engineering, and H2M Architects and Engineers – the committee recommended Nelson, Pope & Voorhis to the board and Mayor Koch included a resolution for their services on the April 18 agenda.
“This is something that will be affecting the Village for the next 50 years, so we want to make sure we have the right people doing it and we’re covering it as comprehensively as possible,” Cangemi told the board on Tuesday. Because Nelson, Pope & Voorhis have worked with the Village on related projects in the past, the committee felt that they were uniquely positioned to take on this job, he added.
The board, however, were never given any proposal paperwork or shown a scope of work that was asked of each firm before their presentations.
The proposal from Nelson, Pope & Voorhis is at a cost of $162,000. Tesoriero, assistant to the mayor, explained that the Village currently has three grants for projects like this one; one in particular is for a master plan design for $90,000 with a $10,000 mandatory match by the Village. How the Village would pay for the rest of the proposal was not shared with the board or public.
At the meeting, Trustee Dave Weber was the first to voice his concern with the lack of transparency on this project. He said that he asked for copies of the firm proposals and never received them. Weber said that he went “outside the Village” to get the proposals directly from the firms. “Will the trustees be able to hear the same presentations the committee heard in order to decide and make sure the Village funds are properly administered?” Weber asked. He said that the trustees need to be able to make an educated decision when approving the use of taxpayer dollars.
The other three trustees agreed. Trustee Meghan Dolan said, “People were aware that there was a committee for the master plan. Were we aware that presentations were made? No, not until we saw a resolution that we were expected to vote on tonight with no information.”
In light of this feedback from the board, Mayor Koch agreed to start scheduling regular workshops for all board members – and the public – in order to discuss this project before the board is expected to vote.