Authors Posts by Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr
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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

New York State has issued a glowing report on the state of a local school district’s finances.

The Port Jefferson School District received a “spotless” report from the New York State Comptroller following an audit meant to examine if the school board properly managed its voucher payment system.

Audit vouchers are made on all school expenditures, where either the school board or a designated auditor looks at each claim to determine if each item complies with district policies and whether the amounts are necessary district expenditures before the cost is paid. The comptroller’s audit, which spanned from July 2016 to September 2017, stated Port Jeff’s claims audit process was “adequately designed and that it had been properly implemented.”

“This report reflects proper oversight by the board of education and the stringent controls put in place and carried out by our business office personnel,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a statement. “The carefully conducted examination and positive results are a testament to the district’s comprehensive policies and procedures for claims payments.”

The comptroller’s office reviewed one percent of all claims paid by the district during the span, which amounted to 60 general fund claims. These claims totaled close to $300,000, including $2,705 from 10 “extra-classroom activity” claims. The office determined Port Jeff’s system was working as intended, and that the school could support all of its expenditures.

Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, said while they don’t have specific numbers on how many schools have problems with their audit voucher systems, Port Jefferson has been more responsible than others.

“These types of audit results are not that common and, as noted in the final report, the district should be commended for their well-designed claims system,” Butry said.

The report said district officials created well working procedures to analyze extra-classroom activities such as clubs, where each has a treasurer and faculty advisor, and that payment orders were supported with fully signed invoices.

“Given that there were no negative findings indicates the district’s claims process has an overall well-designed system,” Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said in a statement. “As our district places a strong emphasis on ensuring tax dollars are spent effectively and efficiently, we are pleased with the outcome of this auditing process, as it reinforces from an external perspective.”

Republican candidate Dan DeBono, far right, with this family. Photo from DeBono campaign

First-time political candidate Dan DeBono said there are two different kinds of Republicans. One supports the little guy, and the other only helps the rich get richer.

There are corporate Republicans and then there’s, like me, middle-class Republicans,” he said. “Corporate Republicans will seek to apply all government power to help conglomerate corporations… enrich the big guy and hope that trickles down to the small guy. Middle-class Republican’s vision of leadership is creating an environment where the middle class can thrive.”

There are corporate Republicans and then there’s, like me, middle-class Republicans.”

— Dan DeBono

DeBono hopes to bring his vision to the U.S. House of Representatives for the 3rd District,  challenging incumbent Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) on the Republican party line for the seat this November.

His campaign focuses on middle-class issues due to his upbringing. Born in 1968, he grew up in Northport and graduated from Northport High School. DeBono then attended Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts on a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship that allowed him to join the U.S. Navy SEALs after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. The candidate spent four years as an officer in the Navy serving overseas during the Gulf War and U.S. and NATO’s intervention in Bosnia.

After serving, DeBono went to The Booth School of Business at The University of Chicago where he obtained a master’s degree in business administration. He spent the next 20 years in the finance industry. DeBono became involved in the local politics as a committeeman for the Town of Huntington’s Republican Committee and provided financial advice to the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney (R) and Rudy Giuliani (R).

The Republican candidate said he sees a host of challenges facing Long Island stemming from regulation, taxes and infrastructure problems. It’s hit a breaking point where he says businesses and people do not want to stay here. Given the high cost of living, he sees more and more young people deciding not to stay on the island.

It’s too expensive to live here and raise a family.”

— Dan DeBono

“It’s too expensive to live here and raise a family,” DeBono said. “The balance between income and cost of living has gotten so out of whack that generally young people are not returning after college.”

He wants to put pressure on both the federal and state government to supply funds to ensure the Long Island Rail Road is overhauled. DeBono also supports plans to cut small-business regulations and reduced state income taxes to help alleviate Long Island’s high cost of living.

While he largely agrees with cutting taxes, the challenger said he would not have voted for the 2018 federal tax cuts simply because the amount of allocated for individuals in lower tax brackets was too small and the duration was too short, only going until 2025. He also said the loss of state and local tax deductions will have a negative impact.

In his campaign, DeBono points to corporate Republicans as those who think of large businesses first and top-down economics whereas he wants to strengthen Long Island’s economy by building up the middle class. DeBono is campaigning on a platform of specifically targeting corporate mergers and consolidations, which he said creates anti-competitive monopolies and oligopolies, as well as targeting regulations that hinder new businesses rising up to compete.

Industry after industry have concentrated down into three to four players. This is a huge contributor to the destruction of the middle class.” 

— Dan DeBono

“The same pattern of consolidation has occurred in nearly every industry in the United States,” DeBono said. “Industry after industry have concentrated down into three to four players. This is a huge contributor to the destruction of the middle class.”

On other national issues, DeBono said he believes in strong borders and supports efforts to build a wall, or barrier, along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Republican candidate also said he believes health care prices are crippling America’s middle class and he would prefer a market-based solution — but did not rule out a national single-payer system.

DeBono strongly believes in a free and competitive market, but he also supports unions.

“A robust free market will always form the most reasonable and durable form of job protection,” DeBono said. “We have structural issues that must be addressed first before those protections can kick in. At this point in the cycle unions are more important than they’ve ever been.”

DeBono is holding an open house at the Huntington American Legion Post 360, located at 1 Mill Dam Road, Sept. 17 at 6:30 p.m.

A left-turn arrow will be installed at the intersection of Route 25A and County Road 21 in Rocky Point for safety reasons. Photo by Kyle Barr

The accident-prone intersection of Route 25A and County Road 21 in Rocky Point could be getting a new traffic light that local officials hope will curb injuries and fatalities.

“In response to community interest, the New York State Department of Transportation will update the traffic signal at Route 25A and County Road 21 with a protected left turn indicated by a green arrow phase for vehicles turning left from eastbound Route 25A onto northbound [Hallock Landing Road],” said Stephen Canzoneri, public information officer for the regional DOT office that covers Suffolk County. “This is being done following an extensive review of the intersection and will reflect the traffic pattern for westbound Route 25A.”

Canzoneri said that a new left-turn signal will be installed by the state DOT in September. A protected turning light allows drivers in the turning lane to strictly take a left while other drivers going straight are stopped at a red light. Westbound Route 25A already has a protected turning light.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the intersection has a long history of vehicular incidents over the years. The best way to avoid problems there, she said, was to avoid making left turns onto Route 25A or Hallock Landing Road.

“That’s a very busy intersection, and there’s a lot going on there,” Bonner said. “People need to drive defensively and plan their routes so they don’t have to make a left.”

Bonner has been in contact with state DOT officials and they have sent surveyors out since 2017 to analyze the dangers of the intersection, she said.

The intersection at the corner of Route 25A and Rocky Point Yaphank Road, as Route 21 is also known, is a notoriously dangerous intersection with new accidents reported every year, some of which have caused fatalities, such as the death of Rocky Point resident Carol Sardegna in September 2016. One recent crash occurred Aug. 15 at the intersection, according to the Rocky Point Watch Facebook page.

The state DOT said it would not install a left-turn arrow northbound and southbound on County Road 21 because it would reduce time for vehicles on both roads, according to a state DOT letter received by Bonner. The letter also said the state department plans to relocate the east and southbound STOP bar pavement markings and upgrade the County Road 21 crosswalks to be more visible.

Bonner said she believes the turn signal should help reduce accidents at the intersection.

“People by law will only be able to make a left when you can,” Bonner said. “It doesn’t mean people still won’t try to do it, but I feel confident more people obey turning signals than not.”

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A Chicane, or S-shaped traffic calming measure, installed on Montclair Avenue in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

While new car owners in St. James are excitedly revving their engines, local residents are closing their windows and shaking their heads.

Several residents in the area of Montclair Avenue and Rutherford Street said they are tired of traffic by people test driving cars from the considerable number of dealerships on Middle Country Road. Some are asking Town of Smithtown officials to close off Montclair Avenue before the residential end of the road or create speed bumps on Rutherford Street.

he regular amount of traffic is just crazy for a residential section. When we first moved here it was nothing like this.”

— Patti McGovern

“There are more dealerships now that are taking their people and directing them to use Montclair [Avenue],” Patti McGovern, a 30-year resident on St. James Avenue South said. “The regular amount of traffic is just crazy for a residential section. When we first moved here it was nothing like this.”

The area is home to a number of dead-end residential roads north of Route 25/Middle Country Road along Rutherford Street, which is connected to Middle Country Road through Montclair Avenue and Arlington Avenue. McGovern said that many people use these roads as a shortcut due to Smithtown High School East being located to the north. Other people test driving from local dealerships push their new cars close to 50 mph on the residential road, well above the local speed limit.

The Town of Smithtown’s Traffic Safety Department conducted a traffic study through the month of May that determined average weekday traffic was approximately 500 vehicles traveling westbound and 630 eastbound between Montclair Avenue and Jackson Avenue. The study showed 85 percent of cars had an average speed between 31 and 35 mph. The survey concluded that the number of cars was normal for a road like Rutherford, and there wasn’t a speeding issue on roads north of Montclair Avenue.

A sign posted on Montclair Avenue in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

Despite the study results, McGovern said even a few speeding cars could be a real hazard.

“That 15 percent, stipulated with 1,200 vehicles, means there are [approximately] 180 vehicle trips coming here in speeds excess of 40 and above,” McGovern said. “That’s more than any neighborhood should bear.”

Residents have been making noise about these traffic issues for close to four years, according to McGovern. In 2015, the town agreed to build a chicane, a S-shaped traffic-slowing and road-narrowing measure, on Montclair. McGovern said that even with the road being narrowed to hinder large trucks, the chicane has not done enough to slow traffic.

“The chicane had to be built so that it had access for emergency vehicles, so any kind of truck can get through, even if they get up on the curbs of the chicane,” McGovern said.

Rutherford Street resident David Friedman said it has become a huge problem to see people test driving their cars down local residential streets — and in their haste, often running the stop sign at the intersection at Rutherford Street and Montclair Avenue. Friedman said there is a school bus stop near that same corner, and he often fears for children’s safety.

“It’s customer preference whether they want to be on the main road or the back road, but I think a lot of the traffic in this area has to do with there being multiple dealerships.”

— David Toomey

“It’s constant, and some of them are just very discourteous,” he said. “Some of them are using it to test their engine — making a lot of noise.”

Middle Country Road is home to more than 10 car dealerships all within a few miles radius of each other. Friedman said that he has seen cars from the Smithtown Nissan and Competition BMW of Smithtown driving on their roads, but the worst, he said, has come from the Competition Subaru of Smithtown located at the corner of MontclairAvenue and Middle Country Road.

David Toomey, the general manager for the Subaru dealership, said he does not specifically emphasize people test drive on Montclair; but, if they do, he said he advises them to maintain the speed limit.

“We’re trying to minimize traffic in the back [residential] areas,” Toomey said. “It’s customer preference whether they want to be on the main road or the back road, but I think a lot of the traffic in this area has to do with there being multiple dealerships.”

In terms of the number of Subaru test vehicles driving on the residential neighborhoods, he said most of the traffic is from dealership employees driving to their new dealership located at 601 Middle Country Road. He said there should be little to no Subaru cars on local roadways once the company finishes relocating in early September.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini speaks at an event in Huntington Station. File photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Suffolk County now has a new drug program that judges and prosecutors hope will offer nonviolent offenders a means to get clean before they repeat offenses.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) along with several drug court judges announced Aug. 13 the creation of the new Comprehensive Addiction Recovery and Education Program that will allow people charged with low-level drug crimes to instead be sent into a drug treatment program rather than being matriculated through the standard legal system. If the participants finish the program clean, they are promised the charges will be dismissed.

“We consistently heard that in some cases requiring defendants to take a plea prior to accepting treatment is a disincentive [to seek court treatment options],” Sini said at the press conference. “By connecting these individuals to treatment, we will not only be helping to tackle the disease of addiction … we will also be improving public safety by addressing the underlying motivation to commit crimes fueled by drug abuse.”

Those charged with misdemeanor drug crimes can participate in the program without having to enter a guilty plea. Those who sign up for the program work with members of court staff to develop a treatment plan and determine what services will be available. The program lasts for 90 days, but the person involved in the program can ask for a longer term.

“It should result in increased numbers who receive the benefit of treatment given the crisis that we’re facing both locally and nationally,” Suffolk County District Administrative Judge Randall Hinrichs said.

What makes the program remarkable, according to Karen Kerr, the supervising judge of Suffolk County District Court, is that without having to plead guilty more people will be more willing to participate.

“For many people, particularly those people with minimal to no record, it was just too much of a risk for them to take [the plea],” Kerr said. “I felt there was a group of people who really could use the help but who just didn’t want to take the chance.”

The timing for this program comes as the numbers of opioid-related deaths have peaked in the past two years. Suffolk Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said in June the office has data on approximately 360 county deaths from opioid overdoses in 2017. The office is expecting a decline in the number of deaths this year by more than 100, but officials won’t know the results until they compile all data at the end of the year.

The program is open to defendants who have minimal or no criminal record and who have no history of violence or gang involvement. Those charged with misdemeanors of petit larceny, criminal possession of marijuana, criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal trespass, criminal possession of hypodermic instrument, criminal use of drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct or loitering are eligible for the program as long as the drug court determines they are addicted to any kind of hard drug.

Kerr said that the district attorney determines whether a person should be screened for a drug problem and then the person is referred to the CARE court date, always held on Tuesdays, and then the court treatment team will ask a number of questions to determine if there is an issue.

Officials said they expect many people to be eligible for the CARE program. District attorney spokeswoman Sheila Kelly said the office noted from April to June of this year approximately 600 people would have fit the criteria to be allowed to enter into the program.

Violations of the program include being arrested on new charges, not participating in the treatment program as recommended or not reporting to scheduled court appearances. Participants are drug tested prior to finishing the program.

Hinrichs said the court and the DA’s office will be monitoring the program to see results and identify its efficacy and inclusiveness.

A Stony Brook University student has alleged that a professor sexually harassed her. File photo

A 2018 Stony Brook University graduate has filed a lawsuit against a Stony Brook history professor claiming he verbally and sexually harassed her while giving preferential treatment to the male students over female students.

Erin Mosier, 24, filed a $3 million suit under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 in Manhattan federal court Aug. 9 saying that Stony Brook associate professor Larry Frohman sexually harassed her and degraded her for her looks and gender, sometimes together during his office hours and other times in front of her peers during class.

Mosier enrolled at Stony Brook for the Fall 2015 semester desiring to become a teacher. She entered in the social studies education program in spring 2016 where Frohman was the sole undergraduate adviser, according to the court filings.

The lawsuit claims that during Mosier’s first semester at Stony Brook she took a class with Frohman and within weeks he started to privately and publicly make demeaning comments at Mosier based on her looks. The comments continued on into 2017 during her time in the social studies program. At one point during office hours Frohman told Mosier she “talks too much,” and that “all women should use their mouth for men’s pleasure.”

The lawsuit also alleges on another occasion April 2017 that after applying oil to her hands to calm herself, Frohman stated to her in front of her class, “What would calm me down is taking you through a ride on the beaver car wash with me,” alluding to a sexual act with Mosier.

Mosier’s legal representative, Brian Heller, an attorney from Manhattan-based Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP that focuses on employment harassment and discrimination law, said with this case he hopes more people will speak out about sexual harassment in education.

“These are the kind of painful experience that can destroy a young person’s confidence and impact them for the rest of their lives,” Heller said. “I hope that by coming forward [Mosier] is able to reclaim part of her self-worth and her confidence.”

The suit further claims Frohman gave preferential treatment to male students, giving higher grades to male students on average rather than female students. The lawsuit also claims the professor partnered women together on projects and not men as a sign of Frohman’s belief in their capabilities.

Frohman has not responded to requests for comment by press time.

The lawsuit continues that Mosier brought her complaints to Paul Gootenberg, the history department chair of the social studies program, but that he first asked Mosier “What is your appearance and how are you acting to be treated like this?” and that he further commented about how she was not the first to bring complaints to him about Frohman.

Gootenberg declined to comment saying the university does not comment on pending personnel questions.

The suit claims Mosier’s Title IX complaints were mishandled by the university, that the investigation took six months instead of a promised 60 days to finish the investigation and that the office did not adequately give information as to the status of her complaint. On Oct. 30, 2017, Mosier received a letter from the Title IX office saying the case was “closed” and her complaints were “substantiated” but she did not receive any details on what actions the university would take against the professor.

Stony Brook spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said that the university does not comment upon ongoing litigation.

“The university does have policies and procedures in place to fully investigate claims that are brought to our attention,” Sheprow said.

Heller said he is still waiting for Stony Brook to be formally served and initial hearings won’t begin until December.

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Elsie Fisher in a scene from ‘Eighth Grade’. Photo courtesy of A24

By Kyle Barr

There’s something inherently unrealistic in movies about young kids. Everyone remembers “Stand By Me,” where young but intelligent kids with hard home lives take an important step in becoming an adult, or the recent Netflix hit show “Stranger Things,” which plays more as a standing ovation to the media of the ’80s through children who use their pop culture knowledge as a weapon against evil. 

Perhaps what’s so unrealistic about them is that they’re made by adults far and away from their youth, looking back on it all with at least some form of fond nostalgia. Those movies centered around kids in the grade school age always seem to say life swings around a single turning point, where kids, who often speak much more eloquently for a person their age, at some point switch from the naiveté of childhood to the outlook of adulthood. It’s a nice thought, if unrealistic. 

Elsie Fisher in a scene from ‘Eighth Grade’

“Eighth Grade,” written and directed by Bo Burnham, remembers school like most of us do. It was an awkward age where young people are not only trying to learn how to exist as a teenager, but also start becoming an adult. Unlike your usual stock of movies centered around kids, nobody is really learning how to keep it all together, nobody talks like an adult, and everything is in transition.

Thirteen-year-old Kayla Day (played with such exactitude by Elsie Fisher) is just about to finish up her last week of eighth grade, which means soon she will enter the strange and complicated world of high school. Kayla is shy and quiet, but she doesn’t want to be. The teenager makes YouTube videos giving advice in often uncertain terms on how to be brave and outgoing while she herself was voted “the most quiet” of her grade.

Kayla spends time scrolling through social media liking or commenting on other people’s Instagram posts. When she makes YouTube videos, she rarely gets any views. At the dinner table she stares down at her phone, mindlessly shuffling through social media despite her dad, Mark Day (sincerely played by Josh Hamilton), attempting to interact with her. At school, she is just one of hundreds of students with their nose in their phones as she stares longingly at her crush Aiden (Luke Prael.) One day, after being invited to the popular Kennedy’s (Catherine Oliviere) birthday party, Kayla tries to transform herself into the girl she portrays on her YouTube videos, often with results that are both sincere, cringe-worthy and glorious all at once.

A scene from ‘Eighth Grade’

What makes the film so compelling and so realistic is the way it portrays Kayla. There is no “Mean Girls” level of commentary. Nobody is looking down on her; instead the audience looks straight at her. She talks like many young girls do, with constant breaks for “umms,” and “likes.” As she stares out the door to Kennedy’s party, the audience is bombarded with kids being kids, of them turning their eyelids inside out, of a girl walking backward on a bridge, all the while the music plays something like out of a dark carnival. Scenes like that strike a very real cord with anybody who grew up around the time of burgeoning social media. Nothing really feels real.

Burnham’s comedy always includes a musical element, and that sense of musical timing is used to full effect in his breakout movie. Every time Kayla sees Aiden, the ambient sound is drowned out by a heavy bass. The musical choices, often listened to by Kayla diegetically through her omnipresent earbuds, are very appropriate for each scene.

Burnham’s final stand-up comedy special “Make Happy” slowly became a commentary about comedy itself. The now-former comedian asked questions of the point of comedy, whether it’s right to make people laugh to forget their problems, even if he himself might not be happy. He baited the audience, often making them laugh before directly insulting them. Really, the show was an expression of how Burnham did not see the performance as “real.” It was his criticism of the entire entertainment industry that goes for glitz and easily digestible media rather than substance. 

“Eighth Grade” is Burnham’s answer to those criticisms. I’m glad to say it is a pretty good response, and it will be exciting to see just where all those involved will take their careers in the future. 

Rated R for language and some sexual material, “Eighth Grade” is now playing in local theaters.

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Screenshot of the Town of Smithtown's mobile app. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Smithtown is bringing its municipal services to the mobile generation.

Town officials launched an app Aug. 14 that allows residents to more easily access government functions such as town department websites and even emergency alerts from public safety. The app, designed by members of the Department of Public Safety, has been available for download since July through iPhone App Store for Apple devices or through Google Play Store on Android phones.

The more people that are on it the better. It has all this town information right at your fingertips.” 

— John Gonzalez

“We’re in a mobile generation, everyone is on the go,” said John Gonzalez, 43, a communications technician in the Department of Public Safety who developed the app. “They can go to Facebook and look it up there, but to have it all at your fingertips is where everybody’s going now.”

The Town of Smithtown Mobile App contains a menu of options that include a mobile-friendly version of the town’s website, links to all town departments in addition to the villages of Head of the Harbor, Village of the Branch and Nissequogue. Other tabs include social media posts from both the town itself and the Smithtown Animal Shelter relating to animal adoptions. It is designed to automatically update if any changes occur to town websites.

The app also contains links to an up-to-date weather forecast in Smithtown, by-the-minute information on power outages from PSEG Long Island’s website and announcements regarding road closures and delays through the Notices tab.

This is a tremendous step in the transparency process …”

— Ed Wehrheim

“This is a tremendous step in the transparency process and we’re so lucky to have the talent in house to develop an app that would normally be a very costly process to design,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “I am extremely grateful for our public safety communications department for taking the initiative and I am excited to hear from the residents after using this app.”

Gonzalez said the original idea had been kicked around the public safety office, but department Chief John Valentine finally set him to the task of sitting down to work on it in March. Gonzalez thought it would take five to six months to develop, but he finished the project in only three.

“I am so impressed with the finished product and I just hope the community feels the same way,” Valentine said.

It did not cost the town money to release the app on Google Play Store. Town spokesperson
Nicole Garguilo said that the town did not have to pay the usual fees for uploading an app because it was done as a government entity. Apple also made uploading an app free for government entities and nonprofits earlier this year.

I am so impressed with the finished product and I just hope the community feels the same way.”

— John Valentine

Gonzalez said he started coding at a young age and created his first program by age 9. After working at the video game company Acclaim Entertainment, which became defunct in 2004, he has kept up to date on current programming languages. He said that this type of app is great for residents who wish to stay updated while moving about the town.

“If there are any emergency announcements, it is another tool for residents to use,” he said. “The more people that are on it the better. It has all this town information right at your fingertips.”

Gonzalez said the public safety department has plans to continue updating the app. First on the list is allowing users to click on public safety notifications to bring them straight to the original location. Gonzalez expects to add more features in the future based on community feedback.

Brookhaven is looking to increase it's cyber security through a state grant, but the town is not saying how. Stock photo

The Town of Brookhaven is looking to beef up its cyber security.

At the Aug. 2 Brookhaven Town board meeting councilmembers voted unanimously to apply for a $50,000 grant under the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Cyber Security Grant Program. If the town attains the grant, Brookhaven will use town funds under specified cyber security initiatives and seek reimbursement through the grant.

The grant will make $500,000 available for any county, town or village in the state at a maximum of $50,000 per entity. Other municipalities in Suffolk County such as the Town of Smithtown are applying for the grant.

According to the state grant application, the money can be used for a number of items, including hiring a cyber security consultant, software packages for items such as firewalls and encryption, new equipment such as servers or hardware used against cyber threats, and for staff training involving cyber security awareness.

Jack Krieger, communications director for Brookhaven Town, said the town does not comment on current or future cyber security measures when asked what the money might be used for.

In June 2017, the Town of Brookhaven’s website, among 76 other municipalities, was successfully hacked by what was described as a “pro-ISIS group.” ISIS is referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group that took over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and is now being pushed back by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and the Syrian army.

The group, Team System DZ, created a static webpage using the Town of Brookhaven servers, but it did not affect the official Brookhaven website. A link was set up through town servers to a static, look-alike webpage.

Deputy Town Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said at the time they did not see any information extracted from the servers. The town’s website was taken down temporarily but was restored within a few days.

Much emphasis has been put on cyber security by government officials of late, as it was revealed that Russia had made efforts to hack into Democratic National Convention servers during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, taking information which was later released via several outlets including WikiLeaks, an international whistleblower organization. U.S. intelligence officials have warned that Russia is already attempting to influence the 2018 midterm elections through multiple electronic means including phishing scams that target people’s passwords and by setting up fake accounts on social media, according to Bloomberg News recently.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Board of Elections is also keeping tight-lipped about cyber security measures as Long Island and the rest of the country heads toward a heated midterm election taking place Nov. 6.

“The board generally doesn’t comment on its security measures because we understand that doing so could aid nefarious individuals in their attempts to exploit our voting processes,” said Republican board of elections commissioner, Nick LaLota, when asked about the board’s preparedness to ward off security threats.

A feral cat in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

Along a right-of-way in Mount Sinai, the exact location volunteers preferred not to publicize, a number of cats stalk through the cover of tall grass on silent paws. Upon hearing human sounds, they scatter deeper into the weeds.

“Babies, babies, momma’s here,” Miller Place resident Rita Miszuk called to the wild felines as she refilled water and food trays. She said she didn’t want to give away too many specifics of the location out of fear more cats will be dropped there and left in need of care.

Miszuk is the president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc., a nonprofit that aids feral cat colonies across Long Island. Her group tries to infiltrate cat communities, taking the animals to places where they can be vaccinated, spayed and neutered, often on the organization’s own dime. Miszuk said she sometimes spends thousands of dollars to humanely control the number of wild cats roaming free.

Rita Muszik, a Miller Place resident and president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc. cares for feral cat communities. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There were 50 here, but we’ve gotten them down to 11 — they’re all healthy and they’re all taken care of,” Miszuk said. “This is what typical rescuers do.”

They’re not her cats, in fact they’re nobody’s cats. They’re considered “feral,” but that word belies the terrorized nature of these animals left in the wild. They’re shy, they’re alone, and there are more and more every year.

Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Chief Roy Gross estimated, using the organization’s own metrics, approximately 322,000 cats live in Suffolk County, including both feral and domesticated cats. For every four people in the county, there is approximately one cat.

The number of rescue groups, along with the amount of trap, neuter and release programs that attempt to capture these animals, care for them and sterilize them before releasing them back into their original environment, has gone up of late. Still, Gross said the problem only continues to grow as cats continue to breed and people leave unneutered cats in homes as they move away.

“The population is out of control,” Gross said. “[Rescue groups] put a dent in them, but there are just so many cats out there.”

One female cat can give birth to three litters in a year with an average litter of five. Multiply that by their offspring and one cat can become 225 in a year. Erica Kutzing, vice president of Sound Beach-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, suggested the problem is exacerbated by the warming climate. Where cats used to become pregnant only in the summer months, she said she is now seeing pregnant cats give birth as early as March or February as they get pregnant later in the year.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat,’” Kutzing said. “It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

A number of animal shelters exist across the North Shore, and many of them host TNR programs. Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton provides spaying and neutering for $50 per cat. Sometimes if the shelter is able to secure a grant, the price can drop to $20.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat. It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

— Erica Kutzing

Some shelters are expanding their TNR capabilities. In June, the Town of Smithtown accepted a grant to build a new TNR building at the Smithtown Animal Shelter that will expand the town’s capturing capacity, as representatives of the shelter said they estimated Smithtown hosts around 30 to 40 different cat colonies. The town plans to start construction after it receives the funds in 2019, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

David Ceely, the executive director of Little Shelter Animal Adoption Center, which is also the managing organization for the Town of Huntington Cat Shelter, said it offers residents free TNR services to deal with feral cat communities. Still, the problem is so large Little Shelter often relies on volunteers and community members to manage cat populations.

“We’re one shelter, so to go out there and take care of all of them physically we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Ceely said. “But thankfully there are people in the community who want to do the right thing, and we want to support that.”

Otherwise getting a cat spayed and neutered could cost up to hundreds of dollars per cat, depending on the animal shelter or veterinarian. It means doing TNR on an entire colony could create an incredibly restrictive cost barrier.

“We just did 24 cats in Stony Brook and the final price was about $1,400,” Kutzing said. “That came from our own funds.”

Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said small rescue groups are not large enough to combat the problem, and there is a need for community members to get involved with their own local feral cat communities.

“We get at least 20 calls a month, such as about kittens under a deck or cats with an upper respiratory infection,” Floridia said. “We handle what we can but we’re a small organization.”

Worse still is the proliferation of cats has made the population start to seem like an infestation or a blight. This mindset has fostered an environment in which some commit horrendous crimes against cats, including maiming and torturing the animals. All cats, not just domestic cats, are considered a “companion animal” by the state.

Harming them is a Class E felony punishable with a $5,000 fine and up to two years in jail. Taking a cat to another location is considered abandonment and is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000.

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There are people out there who are sadistic criminals who go out and find easy prey, generally the kittens,” Gross said. “We have had people in the past drive spikes through them, behead them, impale them, poison them — just horrible acts of animal cruelty. Some of those people are just sadistic, but in cases like poison some people just don’t like these cats roaming around on their property.”

Beyond acts of violence, many residents either don’t know what to do or don’t feel it’s their concern. If people do not interact with these community cats by either taking them to a TNR program or by feeding them, then either the cats numbers grow exponentially or they will start to die.

“Without these people who take care of the cat colonies, we would have cats starving to death,” Kutzing said. “There would just be cat bodies littered everywhere.”

Many groups and shelters like Strong Island or Little Shelter offer local residents opportunities to use their cages to trap the animals so they can later be spayed and neutered. Kutzing said if the cost prohibits a resident from acting on a cat population, they should try and get their neighbors involved and make it a community fund. After all, the community cat problem is a community issue.

“If everyone gets involved, this problem will be drastically cut,” she said.

Miszuk said while her group does what it can, she needs local businesses, residents and especially local government to step in and help, otherwise the problem will only get worse.

“This problem has been swept under the carpet,” Miszuk said. “We need support to say that we are legitimate first responders.”

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