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Addison Azmoun leaps a fence. Photo by David Luces

Horseback riding is a sport that requires full commitment, courage and a particular skill set, one based on mental fortitude and bravery to even get up on the horse. 

For members of the Old Towne Equestrian’s middle school team, they can’t picture their lives without their horses. Now their collective passion, as well as their recent successes in tournaments throughout the season, has propelled them to the Interscholastic Equestrian Association National Finals taking place April 26-28 in Pennsylvania.   

From left, Addison Azmoun, coach Lauren Sobel, Graney, Ali Treuting and Hairston show off the awards they’ve received this season. Photo by David Luces

Myrna Treuting, head coach of the team, couldn’t be prouder of the girls. 

“We’ve had a pretty strong team this year,” she said. 

To get to nationals, individual and team performances throughout the season are crucial in getting the points necessary to qualify. First, if the team has enough points, it qualifies for regionals, and the top two teams then go to zone finals. The Old Towne team won the IEA Zone 2 Final March 16, securing a spot in nationals and bringing home a trophy back to the Old Towne Equestrian Center barn. Two members of the team: seventh-grader Maggie Graney of Garden City and eighth-grader Ali Treuting, Myrna’s daughter, also qualified individually to compete at nationals.   

“This is the first time that the middle school team has [collectively] qualified for nationals,” the head coach said. 

According to Treuting, the team is the top ranked middle school team in all of New York State. 

Fellow coach Lauren Sobel said the journey has not been easy. 

“They are very dedicated, hardworking and they show great sportsmanship,” she said. “Going to nationals is very exciting for us.”

Sobel said most of the girls have been riding at the barn their whole careers, and started at a very young age, some before they could
even walk. 

In preparation for nationals, the coaches have made sure the riders are securing extra practice and are getting used to riding without stirrups. 

In many of the competitions, riders draw the name of the horse they will ride out of a hat the morning of the event. It is a way of evening the playing field as many riders become comfortable riding with their own horses. 

Treuting said it’s the luck of the draw sometimes, and it doesn’t come down to the horse but to the skill of the rider. She mentioned her team has experience riding many different horses and can easily adapt to a new steed. 

“I think going to nationals is a great opportunity to advance and learn to ride different horses  outside of your comfort zone,” seventh-grader Tess Hairston of Selden said. 

Graney added the season has been pretty good, and it’s really cool to go back to nationals this year. The young girl had qualified individually for nationals last year as well. 

The members of the team are close with one another, and though they don’t go to school together, they relish the time they spend with each other at the barn. 

“It is exciting, you get to learn together and get to grow as friends,” Hairston said.  It’s nice because we get to see each other more often and do things that we love.”

Tess Hairston practices drills. Photo by David Luces

Treuting has owned the Old Towne Equestrian Center for close to 30 years and started a horseback riding team about 15 years ago, just around the time IEA was created. The organization’s mission is to introduce equestrian sports to students grades four through 12. 

In addition to the middle school team, Treuting coaches a high school team and the Stony Brook University Equestrian Team as well.   

“I think we can do quite well at nationals, we have a very good team,” she said. “We are so proud of them, they work hard and they deserve it.”

The Old Towne Equestrian Center is located at 471 Boyle Road in Selden.

Northport inn and restaurant is planned. Rendering from Kevin O’Neill

After a nearly two-year site-plan process, the Northport Village Board of Trustees unanimously approved March 26 the proposed Northport Hotel at 225 Main St. 

The hotel project, once complete, will include a 24-room hotel, a 124-seat restaurant with 50 additional seats in the lobby and bar area.

“This is probably the largest investment on Main Street since the [John W. Engeman] theater,” the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Tony Catapano said.

His agency approved in February a $1.3 million payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for the hotel. The 15-year agreement offers the hotel savings on mortgage recording and sales and property taxes.  

Catapano said the agency determined the tax incentives would save the hotel developers about 29 percent over the span of the 15 years. By 2035, the hotel would be paying full taxes estimated at $174,268 a year. Once the hotel is built, the owners will pay about $87,000 in taxes the first year with 3 percent tax increases each following year, according to the agency. 

Catapano said the agency projects approximately 66 jobs will be created during the construction period. Once in full operation, the agency expects the hotel would also create about 40 jobs with an average salary of $34,000. Construction is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

The executive director noted that while the tax agreement will save the developers money, developers are also spending $1.3 million on the hotel’s parking structure.  

“This will be a positive for Main Street,” Catapano said. “The hotel is going to be a tourist destination for people outside the region and for residents in Northport.” 

“The hotel is going to be a tourist destination for people outside the region and for residents in Northport.”

— Tony Catapano

Despite being a substantial investment for Main Street, many Northport residents have expressed concern about accessibility and how the hotel could exacerbate parking issues in the village. Hotel co-owner Kevin O’Neill — with Richard Dolce — did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Both men own the Engeman theater.

But O’Neill responded to residents concerns at a Jan. 29 village public hearing saying the hotel’s parking lot would be able to facilitate about 150 cars. 

Similarly, a study released in December 2018 determined there are plenty of parking spots if people are willing to walk.

The Village of Northport hired Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates LLC to perform a paid-parking study of Northport. Their survey, which took place from August to October 2018, concluded the village’s 615 parking spaces are sufficient, with a slight exception of summer evenings.

On a typical weekday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Level G Associates found 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and Main Street lots were full as well. However, the study cited roughly 100 available spaces in the waterside lots and Lot 7, located off Woodside Avenue by the American Legion hall.

“These are normal/healthy parking patterns for an active [central business district],” the report stated.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, Level G Associates found most metered parking spots and lots on Main Street were full. However, the study found “ample available parking” in the free waterside and Woodside Avenue lots that are within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.

The only time traffic experts found an issue with the village’s parking was on summer nights, from 5 to 9 p.m. The study found the village’s parking is 95 percent full, often due to concerts and special event attendance, and could be improved through the addition of 72 spaces.

Map of 1,4 Dioxane across Long Island by highest level detected within each water district. Photo from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

Many have attributed New York state of having “the champagne of drinking water,” though in recent years concerns over water quality have grown, especially on Long Island.

After toxic chemicals have been found in Long Island’s drinking water, 1,4-dioxane, has been found to be the chief concern on the Island, and currently it is not regulated by the state.  

The chemical has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen associated with liver and kidney damage after a lifetime of exposure to contaminated drinking water. 

Images: The Citizens Campaign for the Environment shares the test results of common products for 1,4-dioxane. From Citizens Campaign for the Environment

In March, 1,4-dioxane was found in private drinking wells of two homes on Oakside Drive in Smithtown where results showed concentrations higher than 1 part per billion, which is the proposed recommendation by the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council in December 2018. It is not a definitive standard, and the state Health Department is expected to propose a water standard for 1,4-dioxane in the near future. 

As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the Island’s drinking water, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, beginning on March 25, sent informational letters and planned on visiting the 29 homes served by the wells along Smithtown’s Landing Avenue, Oakside Drive and Valley Avenue. From there, each homeowner would set up an appointment with the SCDHS and its staff will come and secure water samples from the wells.  

Grace Kelly-McGovern, public relations director at SCDHS said as of April 10 every homeowner received a letter regarding the surveys and 15 of the wells at these homes have already been sampled. Three more homeowners have requested samplings, but the department has yet to receive a response from the other 11 homeowners.

According to Kelly-McGovern, once the samples are collected, they will be sent to the Hauppauge SCDHS lab, along with the New York State lab in Wadsworth, and will be tested for 1,4-dioxane and other contaminants.  The process should take one to two months. She added it could take several months until homeowners are notified of the results of the samples. 

A concern of 1,4-dioxane is that it can’t be removed through conventional treatment methods and involves a complex process of mixing the contaminated water with hydrogen peroxide, treated with ultraviolet light and then gets sent to tanks filled with carbon where the rest of contaminants are filtered out. The Suffolk County Water Authority’s Central Islip treatment system currently has the sole advanced oxidation process system capable of removing 1,4-dioxane on Long Island, though it required state approval to get it. 

At a forum in early February, the Long Island Water Conference estimated the cost of treatment systems for close to 200 water wells contaminated by 1,4-dioxane to be at $840 million. Implementing these treatment systems, they said, could lead to higher water rates for homeowners. 

The conference coalition asked for additional state aid and for a delay in when they would have to meet the standard. 

As the issue for Long Island’s water providers continues, the SCWA board voted to create the first tiered-rate structure in the agency’s history April 1. 

The new rate structure took effect the same day and the base drinking water charge for all customers will increase from $1.95 per thousand gallons to $2.028 per thousand gallons.

Images: The Citizens Campaign for the Environment shares the test results of common products for 1,4-dioxane. From Citizens Campaign for the Environment

The new tiered rate will be $2.34 per thousand gallons for all consumption over 78,540 gallons per quarter. Customers will only pay the tiered rate on water above 78,540 gallons per quarter, and the standard rate up until that point.

According to the authority, the action is in accordance with an initiative undertaken by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which established a goal for suppliers of reducing peak season water use by 15 percent by 2021 in order to ensure the sustainability of water resources.

“Conservation rate structures have been adopted all across the country to encourage Americans to adjust their water-use habits for the long-term preservation of available water resources,” Jeffrey Szabo, the SCWA chief executive officer said in a press release. “We expect the new rate structure to help protect ratepayers who are careful in their water use and help provide the continued viability of our aquifer system.”

The 1,4-dioxane chemical has also been found in industrial solvents. A March study released by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment indicates the chemical is present in 65 of 80 household products tested, including baby products, shampoos, detergents and body washes. According to Adrienne Esposito, CCE executive director, the products were tested by the ALS environmental laboratory in Rochester which is certified by the state Department of Health. 

The CCE argues that the chemical could end up down the drain and seep into drinking water through septic systems or wells. 

Similarly, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has introduced a bill that would ban household products containing 1,4-dioxane in the state except in trace amounts. The bill is currently in committee. 

This post has been changed to reflect the accurate location of the SCDHS lab and other lab to be doing the water testing. 

A ship Orsted plans to use to transport the wind turbines. Photo from SKDKnickerbocker

The wind was whipping along the shores of Port Jefferson Harbor April 3, ironically as local and state officials, along with representatives from energy corporations, advocated in support of a proposal to build an offshore wind “hub” in Port Jefferson to use wind for renewable energy. 

Danish energy company Ørsted, the largest energy company of its home country, teamed up with Eversource, a Massachusetts-based energy company, in submitting a joint bid to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Their project, a wind farm called Sunrise Wind, would be located over 30 miles east of Montauk Point, but using Port Jeff as its base of operations. 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) at a press conference hosted in Port Jeff. Photo by David Luces

Fred Zalcman, head of government affairs for Ørsted, said once the wind farm is operational the hub in Port Jeff would create up to 100 permanent full-time jobs as well as temporary construction jobs while the hub and its facilities are being built. 

“When completed in full scope [the project] will provide up to 500,000 households with clean and renewable electricity,” Zalcman said. “All without any visual impacts to Long Island beach goers and residents.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) praised the proposal for promoting the transition to clean energy on Long Island. 

“This is about jobs and economic development,” he said. “We have talked about the importance for Long Island transitioning to clean energy — and that transition needs to happen quicker than a lot of people thought.”

The operations and maintenance hub in Port Jeff will provide dockage for a 250-foot service operation vessel. The ship would come to port every two to four weeks for approximately one to two days at a time to exchange crew and materials for the wind farm. The vessel will be able to accommodate about 60 technicians and 40 crew members.  

The county executive mentioned the proposed project is an opportunity to create a “21st century industry of high paying jobs.”

“These are the jobs of the future, and these are the jobs we want to see on Long Island and in Suffolk County,” he said. 

Zalcman said if they are awarded the bid by the state, they would need to break ground and begin construction in Port Jeff within 18 months to meet deadlines. Development could last through the mid-2020s.  

Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association has been promoting offshore wind for the past 10 years, and he said it works. 

“We now have multi-billion-dollar international companies looking to invest in our region,” Law said. “I’ve always said our energy challenges are economic development opportunities.”

Ørsted is also the owner and operator of the Block Island Wind Farm, the first and only operating wind farm in the U.S. currently. Last year, they acquired Deepwater Wind, the company originally handling the Block Island project, and now are responsible for New York’s first offshore wind project, the South Fork Farm under contract with the Long Island Power Authority. 

“I’ve always said our energy challenges are economic development opportunities.”

— Kevin Law

Maria Hoffman, chief of staff for Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), said the bid amounts are not made public until after the awards are announced. Each of the four major developers seeking the NYSERDA funds submitted several proposals with varying megawatt capacities.

In conjunction to the project, Ørsted announced in February it will invest $10 million to create a National Workforce Training Center at Suffolk County Community College to train students in offshore wind and renewable energy technology. The creation of the hub in Port Jeff and the training center are contingent on NYSERDA selecting Sunrise Wind in its pending offshore wind request for proposal. 

NYSERDA has said it plans on announcing the winner of the award within the month, according to Ørsted officials.

The Selden Fire Department remembered the life of a fallen hero by dedicating a new memorial park April 6.

Fifty years ago, Chief Arnold Seaman was killed in the line of duty while responding to a fire at Newfield High School. On the way to the high school April 10, 1969, Seaman was involved in a car crash. He was taken to the hospital but did not survive his injuries.

The park named in his honor was built on the corner of Hawkins Avenue and North Bicycle Path near the site of the fatal crash. Friends and family paid tribute to the late Seaman, hailed as a true American hero.

Jack Emr was the assistant fire chief of the department at the time of the crash and took over as chief after Seaman’s death. He said burying his close friend took a big chunk of his heart.

“Every April 10, I have a beer and I say, ‘Chief, save me a seat for me on the fire truck, I’ll be there soon,’” he said.

In the center of the park is a memorial honoring the late chief with a bronze helmet, an exact replica of the one he wore 50 years ago. The area around the park was designated as Chief Arnold Seaman Way.

Jim Seaman, Arnold’s son, thanked the crowd for coming to the dedication and said since the day of the crash 50 years ago, the Selden Fire Department has had the family’s back. “It is a debt we can never repay, and I thank them,” he said.

Jim Seaman reminisced about being named an honorary fireman back in 1969, displaying to the crowd the badge he was given all those years ago. He also mentioned an experience about ten years ago, when at an installation dinner he was called up and handed a fire chief’s jacket, calling it the greatest honor of his life.

“I know my father is looking down and is beaming ear to ear right now,” he said.

Later in his speech he added, “This [park] is something as a family we can be proud of. It’s something 10 years from now my father’s great-grandchildren can come and visit.”

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Rocky Point residents were able to get a full picture of its school district budget for the 2019-20 school year after two workshops on Jan. 14 and March 18 that covered all aspects of the budget.  

The total proposed budget amount for the upcoming school year will be $86,743,446, a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount. The district will also see a projected tax levy cap of 2.59 percent and the tax levy amount would increase by more than $1.3 million. 

Rocky Point Union Free School District Superintendent Michael Ring speaks to the class of 2018 June 22. Photo by Bill Landon

At the Jan. 14 workshop, district officials expressed concerns over the delay in implementation of foundation aid to its schools and how it could affect state aid funds they receive. On April 1, the state passed its budget and the district will receive a preliminary figure of $19,044,293 in foundation aid, an increase of more than $140,000 from last year. 

“The district is appreciative of the efforts of our elected representatives in Albany for all they have done to provide additional foundation aid for the 2019-20 school year,” Superintendent Michael Ring said. “Although the increase for the school year represents a smaller rate of growth than in recent years, we are aware of the fiscal challenges being addressed in Albany.”

Another highlight from the January workshop was debt services which will decrease in the 2019-20 school year as a result of a completion of payments of two bonds that date back to 1995 and 2000. The bond payments will expire on June 30 and will save the district $451,751. 

The Rocky Point superintendent said the bonds expiring were approved by voters for various construction projects, including the construction of the Rocky Point Middle School. As debt service decreases, so does building aid from New York State, which is provided to offset part of the cost of bond interest and principal payments over the life of debt. 

Employees Retirement System rates will decrease to 13.1 percent, which will most likely save the district more than $159,000. Teachers Retirement System rates are expected to decrease as well to 9 percent and would save the district close to $582,000. 

Ring mentioned over the past decade the district experienced large increases in required contributions to both ERS and TRS.

“Those increases were challenging to fund and necessarily constrained funding for instructional programs and maintenance of buildings and grounds,” he said. “As these rates have settled back down, the result has been opportunities to better support our core instructional programs and enhance maintenance of our facilities.”

In the March presentation, the district showcased recent enrollment numbers of its students. For the upcoming school year, they are projecting a decrease of 56 students in total, the middle school and high school look to be the most affected as they will have 26 and 23 fewer students respectively.  

“We are aware of the fiscal challenges being addressed in Albany.”

— Michael Ring

Ring said declining enrollment is a factor impacting most Long Island school districts, adding the district has effectively managed the impact of this trend through appropriate allocation of resources, redeployment of staff when ordinary attrition occurs and anticipating future needs based on an understanding of the population trend.

The proposed budget is tax cap compliant, according to the superintendent. However, the final tax levy proposal that will go before the voters in May will not be final until acted upon by the board at its April 16 meeting.

For the budget to pass, the district will need a majority of voters support. If the district doesn’t get enough initial votes, the district would call for a second vote with the same or a revised budget. If the second vote does get enough support expenditures could be cut by more than $1.3 million. That could mean potential cuts to instructional and administrative staff as well as instructional support and athletics. 

The district budget hearing will be held May 7 at the Rocky Point High School auditorium and the budget vote will be held May 21.

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

People enrolled in county septic program say it’s political

Suffolk homeowners, who received county grants to install nitrogen-reducing septic systems as part of the county’s septic program, are facing the reality of additional tax burdens and payments after they received IRS 1099 tax forms in the mail.

Participants in the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program, which helped install prototype home septic systems that filter out nitrogen in participants homes, were told since the program’s inception in 2017 that only the contractors who did the installation of the systems would need to declare the grant money as taxable income because they received disbursement of funds from the county. 

This year, the office of Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) sent tax forms to the program participants, and in many cases both homeowners and contractors received 1099s for the same job, despite a legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel that advised that the tax forms go to the companies that received the funds, not homeowners. 

SBU’s Christopher Gobler, with Dick Amper, discusses alarming trends for LI’s water bodies at a Sept. 25 press conference. Photo by Kyle Barr

In response, Deputy County Executive Peter Scully sent a letter to the comptroller’s office on March 14 requesting that Kennedy rescinds the 1099 forms issued to homeowners. After getting no response, Scully sent a second letter on March 26 asking Kennedy again to rescind the 1099s and mentioned since the first letter there had been new information that had come to light in the issue. 

Scully stated that the county’s Department of Health Services has confirmed that some of the homeowners who received 1099s have declared the grants as income and like the contractors will be paying taxes on the same grants. 

“It boggles the mind that anyone can believe that having both homeowners and installers declaring the same grants as income and having taxes paid by both parties on the same disbursement of funding is an acceptable outcome,” the deputy county executive said in a statement. 

In a Newsday article earlier this month, Kennedy said he planned to ask the Internal Revenue Service for a private letter ruling on the matter. Scully said that would be unnecessary, citing again the county’s legal counsel advice and other municipalities who have similar programs and are structured the same way. The letter ruling would cost close to $30,000 and could take more than a year, Scully added. 

Some residents who are enrolled in the program have claimed Kennedy, who recently announced he is running against County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in the next election, is politicizing the issue and potentially sabotaging the program. 

“I have no doubt in my mind,” Tim Sheehan of Shelter Island. “I don’t understand the rationale behind double taxing participants besides politicizing water safety and punishing homeowners for doing the right thing.” 

The Shelter Island resident was one of the early applicants of the program and had an advanced septic system installed in his home August 2018. He said without the help of county and town grants he and his wife would’ve not been able to afford the upgrade. 

The deadline to file taxes is April 15.

While Sheehan expected to pay taxes on the town grant, he didn’t anticipate the county liability. He said he is facing close to a $3,000 higher tax bill on the $10,000 grant and as a result has put him into a higher tax bracket and is required to pay a higher percentage on his income.

“Nowhere in the grant contract is there a mention of a tax liability to homeowners,” the Shelter Island resident said. “From the get-go we were told there would be no tax burden.”

Coastal Steward of Long Island volunteer Bill Negra checks the health of oysters in Mount Sinai Harbor. Oysters are one way in which Brookhaven Town hopes to clear up nitrogen in coastal waters. File photo by Kyle Barr

The Shelter Island resident was surprised when he received a 1099 form for the system and reached out to county officials for help. When they said they couldn’t help, Sheehan called the comptroller’s office hoping to speak to Kennedy directly. After numerous calls without getting a response, Kennedy finally called him. 

When questioned Kennedy blamed the current administration for mishandling the issue and told Sheehan that he never agreed with the county’s legal counsel decision. 

Kennedy has not responded to requests for comment.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the tax form issue couldn’t have come at a worse time for a program that not only helps homeowners but improves water quality and waterways on Long Island. 

Hoffman said excess nitrogen, from homes with outdated septic systems or cesspools, seeps through the ground causing harmful algae blooms and can negatively affect harbors and marshes that make areas more susceptible to storm surges as well. 

“These people are pioneers, we should be applauding them for doing the right thing,” the task force co-founder said. 

Hoffman added he supports any effort to reduce excess nitrogen in our waterways and said many homes on Long Island have septic system that are in need of replacement. He is also concerned that the comptroller’s decision could stunt the progress the program has already made. 

Bellone has said there are about 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county, and with the issue of being taxed, dozens of applicants have dropped out of the program after learning of Kennedy’s decision to issue forms 1099 to homeowners, according to Scully. 

Officials in the county executive’s office are concerned it could endanger the future of the program and impact funding from the state. In early 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) awarded Suffolk County $10 million from the Statewide Septic Program to expand the county’s denitrifying systems. 

State officials in Albany are aware of the ongoing situation and are similarly concerned, according to Scully. If the IRS were to side with Kennedy, he said they would turn to representatives in Congress for assistance, arguing that those funds shouldn’t be going to Washington but back into taxpayers pockets. 

Stock photo

For close to two months, more than 65 Middle Country Central School District bus drivers have expressed concerns over the district’s initial proposal to outsource bus drivers’ jobs to private bus companies.

At a recent board of education meeting March 27, district officials said they would be willing to work with the bus drivers and transportation department on the issue.

“We know you are concerned about the members of your department in light of the district’s request for proposal for vendor service options,” Karen Lessler, BOE president, said reading from a statement at the meeting. “We fully appreciate those concerns, and for that reason, we are willing to explore with the transportation department leadership whether we can make some meaningful changes in our operations that would enable us to continue to work together for the children of the district, and we hope to discuss that with you and the leadership in the coming days.”

The bus drivers, who are members of the Civil Service Employees Association, attended previous BOE meetings arguing that the proposal would be a mistake.

John Meyer, CSEA Middle Country school district transportation unit president, said that outside contractors don’t know the kids the way they do.

“We are not just bus drivers, we are like a parent, a friend and even a nurse to our kids,” he said at a BOE meeting March 13.

Angela McHale, a Middle Country school bus driver, argued outsourcing could lead to contracts with hidden costs.

“Extra expenses for field trips, special needs students and rising fuel costs could cost district the 10 to 20 percent more than what is budgetarily anticipated,” she said at the meeting.

Lessler said it is the board’s intent to reach out to leadership and begin to have some discussion regarding the inefficiencies of the department. The board president stated that it is not a targeting of the transportation department as the board looks at how every department can be more efficient and leaner due to the pressure of the tax cap.

“We certainly value the people that work in our district,” Lessler said. “At this time, we are opening that dialogue with the leadership of the department, with bus drivers, and hopefully, that will happen over the coming days, as time is of the essence for the both of us.”

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal. File Photo by Kyle Barr

Mount Sinai residents finally have the full view of their school district budget, coming up on the annual vote in May.

The Mount Sinai School District continued its presentation of its proposed 2019-20 school budget at a district board meeting March 20. The March presentation gave residents the remaining 78 percent of the total budget. 

The total proposed budget figure for the 2019-20 school year will be $60,926,615, which is a slight increase of 1.2 percent from last year’s amount. This year will also see a tax cap increase of 2.17 percent and the district’s tax levy amount would increase close to $900,000. 

At the meeting, Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said the fund balance would decrease this year. For the 2017-18 school year, $5 million was transferred to capital projects to which the public approved to cover a new turf field, bleachers, press box, field events fencing and one-third of a new roof for the high school. 

“The board wants to set a capital reserve of $850,000,” Brosdal said. 

Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects. Brosdal proposed to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. 

“This room here, if you recall, last spring we had to move out of this room to the high school because the HVAC system died last year,” the superintendent said. It caused a lot of hot surrounding classrooms, and [it’s something] you can’t fix, it has to be replaced.” 

The district’s $25 million bond failed to pass in December, 2018 with a vote of 664-428. The district said it had intended to use the bond to fix the high school roof, along with providing new classrooms to some aging parts of the school buildings.

Residents will be able to vote on the potential capital projects in May. 

Another issue discussed was student enrollment. According to Brosdal, the district will see a steady decrease in the number of students it has in its schools.  

The current student population is 2,240, and by 2022-23 the district enrollment could drop to 1,909.

“The numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate,” Brosdal said. 

The superintendent said the problem can already be seen in the kindergarten level. The current kindergarten class has a total of 142 students and next school year they are only projecting 89 students. 

“Should these numbers bear fruit, it will have ramifications all over the schools,” he said. “We have to look at everything and be fiscally sound. It’s going to affect a lot of decisions that have to be made.” 

Other highlights of the meeting were that the Teacher Retirement System rate decreased to 8.86 percent, and district officials said they will likely save over $376,000. 

“We are lucky that the teachers retirement system didn’t hammer us this year,” Brosdal said. “It went down significantly from last year.”

The district will look to improve outside lights at schools and parking lots, citing visibility issues and will be bidding again for a security company for the high school. The district is looking for four armed and two armed guards. 

Brosdal said they are not certain on the exact amount they will receive in state aid. In Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) initial executive budget the district would receive $18,251,235. But with Cuomo considering proposing a new budget, the district won’t have an exact number until April. 

The next budget meeting will be on April 17, and the district must adopt a budget in time for a community vote on May 14. 

Tint meter used to detect the level of colored tint on car windows. Photo from SCPD video on illegal tints

Driving around Long Island, it’s most likely you have seen vehicles with a dark sheen of having their windows tinted. 

Suffolk County police have said some may have been illegally darkened, but still managed to pass inspection. A 2017 New York State law requires window tint testing during annual motor vehicle inspections, though Suffolk County police had seen an increase in window tint violation summons issued in the two years since the new law took effect. 

In response, police conducted a three-month sting operation from November 2018 to January of this year on 11 state inspection stations that were suspected of passing vehicles with illegally tinted windows. One turned out to be an automotive place in Selden.

Police used a decoy vehicle that had tinted windows that blocked 95 percent of light at these inspection stations. Operation Black Glass, as police called the sting operation, found that two of the 11 stations passed the decoy car and issued inspection stickers. 

Staria Auto of Selden and Baldwin Automotive of East Patchogue were the two inspection stations that illegally passed the decoy vehicle. The other nine stations correctly did not issue an inspection sticker to the decoy, police said. 

Suffolk Police Chief Stuart Cameron provided an explanation of the origins of the operation.

“If a car has illegally tinted windows, it should be failed and taken off the road until the tint is removed and the car is made legal.”

— Stuart Cameron

“Late last year I was driving on the expressway and I was still noticing a significant number of vehicles on the roadways with tinted windows, far more than I would expect to see after this law was in effect for two years,” Cameron said. “I wanted to see what the issue was — why wasn’t this law working like it was anticipated to.”

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stressed the issue of officer safety when it comes to illegally tinted windows and traffic stops. 

“It’s one of the most dangerous situations a police officer can be involved in because there is extreme unknown,” Bellone said. “The danger associated with traffic stops gets heightened by the fact that there are vehicles on the road that have [these] tinted windows.” 

The state requires tinted windows to block only up to 30 percent of light, barring medical exceptions for the driver, officials said. 

The offending stations were referred to the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles, which could impose penalties on their inspection licenses. 

Police issued close to 6,000 summonses last year, far more than before the new law took effect. 

Cameron enlisted the help of the criminal intelligence section and asked them to do a comparison against the window tints summons officers have written, to the inspection stations that had issued an inspection certificate to those cars, to see if there was a pattern. 

Eleven inspection stations stood out and were targeted in the sting. 

Cameron reiterated officer safety, saying anything could be happening when you can’t see what’s behind these windows.  

“[These inspection stations] have an obligation to uphold a New York State law when cars are being brought in to be inspected,” the county police chief said. “If a car has illegally tinted windows, it should be failed and taken off the road until the tint is removed and the car is made legal.” 

Bellone said Suffolk residents should not  put officers’ safety at risk, for essentially a cosmetic addition to a vehicle.

“It’s not something we are going to tolerate, we are going to do everything to protect officers who are out there protecting us each and every day,” he said.

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