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Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh
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Centerport residents held a rally Feb. 9 seeking protection of the area's environment and speaking out on proposed developments. Photo from Facebook

Town of Huntington officials have decided to calm the fears of Centerport residents over potential water contamination that could harm and scare off local wildlife, particularly their beloved American bald eagles.

Dom Spada, deputy director of the town’s Maritime Services, said a 300-foot-long soft boom was installed Feb. 13 along the waterfront near the former Thatched Cottage site on Route 25A, which is currently under construction to become Water’s Edge.

“We did this at the request of the people from Centerport,” he said. “We’ll take a proactive approach and put the boom out to protect the water. We do not feel there’s contamination coming from the construction site.”

We’ll take a proactive approach and put the boom out to protect the water. We do not feel there’s contamination coming from the construction site.” 

— Dom Spada

The barrier is an oil-absorbent sock made of cellular fiber, approximately 8-inches in diameter, and is usually used for containing and absorbing oil-based spills, according to Spada. It will float along the top of the water and soak in lubricants and fuels without absorbing any water. It cost the town approximately $2,000 plus labor for five men needed to install it.

Over the last three weeks, Centerport residents have filed a series of complaints with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the town expressing concerns that construction debris and stormwater runoff after heavy rains could be contaminating the harbor.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) sat down Feb. 8 with Centerport residents including Tom Knight, co-president of Centerport Harbor Civic Association, and Rob Schwartz, founder of Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook group, to discuss and address these concerns and other proposed developments including a 7-Eleven.

“I am really happy, happily surprised,” Schwartz said. “I appreciate how much they took our concerns to heart.”

On Feb. 1, Huntington’s building division received a new complaint forwarded from Suffolk County’s Department of Health Services alleging that asbestos runoff was entering the pond, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. The town told residents in the Feb. 8 meeting the county had tested the water then informed Steve Kiewra, the town’s building permits coordinator, in a phone conversation there was no evidence of asbestos runoff.

I appreciate how much they took our concerns to heart.

— Rob Schwartz

Grace Kelly-McGovern, spokeswoman for Suffolk’s DHS, said Division of Environmental Quality employees did visit the site Feb. 1 to collect water samples from Mill Pond directly behind the former Thatched Cottage. The water will be analyzed by the county’s Public & Environmental Health Laboratory for a number of chemicals and contaminants including pesticides, metals including lead, fecal coliform bacteria, inorganic compounds, nitrogen and phosphorus. The results may take up to six weeks.

While county employees have been frequent contact with town staff in recent weeks, according to Kelly-McGovern, the results are still out as to whether or not Mill Pond has been contaminated from any source.

“Yes, our staff has been in touch with the town staff, but did not claim any testing results,” she said.

New York State DEC visited the site Feb. 5 and found the Water’s Edge in full compliance with state regulations.

Enrico Scarda, managing partner of The Crest Group constructing Water’s Edge, said his company, in full cooperation with state DEC guidelines, has sealed all manhole covers on the property and installed silt fencing with hay bales in an effort to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the pond. 

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington school administrators are cautiously aware of the district’s 2.57 percent tax cap in approaching their strategy to drafting the 2019-20 budget.

Superintendent James Polansky gave his first presentation on the district’s 2019-20 budget with a carefully thought out exposition of the district’s state-mandated tax cap allowing a 2.57 percent tax levy, or an increase of approximately $2.77 million over the current year’s budget.

“That number does not dictate the board will raise taxes by 2.57 percent, they could go above — I wouldn’t advise it — or they could go below,” Polansky said. “2.57 percent is the highest we could go without needing to secure a 60 percent supermajority.”

Huntington taxpayers approved a $129.8 million budget for the current 2018-19 school year, of which 84 percent is paid for by the tax levy on district homeowners and commercial businesses.

My request of having a librarian in each elementary school is of increasing importance.” 

—James Graber

For the upcoming 2019-20 year, the superintendent said the district’s overall tax levy number is higher than 2 percent primarily due to two factors: an assessed growth in the school district’s tax base, which increased the tax levy cap, and $475,611 carried over from last year.

“In basic terms, the carryover means we didn’t levy all we could have to the limit last year,” Polansky said.

In preparing the draft 2019-20 budget, the superintendent said initial estimates show two of the district’s major costs will decrease. The district’s state-mandated contribution rates to the NYS Teachers’ Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System are anticipated to drop.

The proposed 2019 Executive Budget of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)contains funding for a number of educational initiatives, but also calls for increasing foundation aid by 1.9 percent statewide. If approved by the state Legislature, Huntington stands to receive $49,615, or a 0.52 percent increase over the current year, which it will have the discretion on how to spend.

James Graber, president of Huntington’s teachers association, called balancing the budget an “unenviable task” but requested the board make several considerations.

“My request of having a librarian in each elementary school is of increasing importance,” he said. “As we are seeking to develop lifelong learners and a love of reading, these resuscitations are critical.”

Graber said currently elementary students only are scheduled for library time once every other week. He also requested more resources be made available to help meet the needs of English language learners and additional classes at secondary school level, where some classes have more than 30 students enrolled.

Polansky encouraged residents or groups with interests in the budget, or a particular interest in the 2019-20 budget, to reach out to his office as soon as possible.

“As the presentations go on into April and we get closer to adopting a budget, that’s sometimes when people start to offer ideas and give food for thought to the administration or the board,” he said. “That’s late in the process, it starts now.”

The district’s next budget presentation will be 7 p.m. Feb. 25 in the auditorium of Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. The official budget hearing is slated for May 13, prior to the May 21 budget and school board trustee vote.

Northport power plant. File photo

New York State and town officials are renewing their calls for changes to be made to Long Island Power Authority’s operations as the trial over the tax-assessed value of Northport Power Station is slated to begin Feb. 25.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) reintroduced legislation Jan. 31 that called for LIPA to be restructured so that eight of the utility company’s nine board members would be elected by public vote, among other changes.

“I don’t believe LIPA’s board as it exists offers any protection to the citizens of Long Island,” he said. “I think it needs to be scrapped and replaced.”

““I don’t believe LIPA’s board as it exists offers any protection to the citizens of Long Island.”

— Jim Gaughran

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) has partnered with Gaughran to sponsor the bill in the state Assembly. The concept of the ratepayers protection act was first introduced in February 2017 by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Thiele, co-sponsored by a coalition that included state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport). Those early bills failed to ever make it the Legislature’s floor for a vote.

Currently, LIPA’s nine-member board of trustees consists of five individuals appointed by the governor, two selected by the president or majority leader of the state Senate, and two chosen by the speaker of the Assembly.

The proposed ratepayers protection act calls for the state Legislature to create eight districts roughly equal in population size based on the last U.S. Census by May 1, 2021. A resident of each district would be elected to LIPA’s board to serve a two-year term as trustee, with the first elections to be held in December 2021. Candidates on the ballot would not be chosen by the political parties, and those elected would not be paid but could be reimbursed from the state for their related expenses, according to the draft.

In addition, the proposed legislation would require LIPA to hold public hearings before making future rate changes, give residents 30 days advance notice of the hearing and hold the event in the county it affects — Suffolk or Nassau. It would prohibit the utility company from increasing its rates to offset any losses from energy conservation efforts.

“I promised the residents of his district once elected, I was going to hold one of my first town halls on this — a town hall in Northport to drill down and deal with the issues of LIPA,” Gaughran said.

He will hold a town hall-style forum 10 a.m. March 16 in Northport High School’s auditorium with town and school district officials present to answer questions and review various options moving forward with LIPA, including the ratepayers protection act.

“We are encouraged to hear this legislation is being reintroduced, as it will provide the oversight and transparency needed to restore residents’ confidence in LIPA — ensuring that the best interests of the ratepayers are served,” Huntington spokeswoman Lauren Lembo said.

Huntington’s town board also voted unanimously Jan. 29 to petition its elected officials to amend state law to allow the Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport school district access to the state’s Electric Generating Facility Cessation Mitigation Program funding in case LIPA is successful in getting the Northport power plant’s annual taxes reduced, as well as to put more money into that state fund. This bill also failed to find sufficient support to pass the state Legislature last year.

We’ve reviewed the Brookhaven settlement and found it to be irrelevant to our case.”

— Nick Ciappetta

The tax certiorari case is slated to begin trial Feb. 25. While the town and Northport school district have entered nonbinding mediation with five sessions being held to date, according to Lembo, an agreement has not been struck.

In contrast, the Town of Brookhaven formally settled its lawsuit with LIPA over the Port Jefferson power plant Dec. 14 agreeing to decrease taxes on the plant 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years.

“We’ve reviewed the Brookhaven settlement and found it to be irrelevant to our case,” Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta said. “The Brookhaven agreement has nothing to do with the Northport power plant.”

Ciappetta cited what he believes are several key differences between the Northport and Port Jeff stations: Northport’s output capacity is four times larger, it is a dual-fuel plant that is capable of operating on both natural gas and oil, and that its operation is vital to helping maintain the state’s power capacity requirements.

Gaughran said he is willing to review and support any state legislation which may aid Huntington and Northport in their ongoing legal battle with LIPA and National Grid.

“It’s clear that everyone has to continue to fight this,” he said. “We can’t be preparing to lose. Everyone must continue to fight — it’s too important.”

The site of the proposed community residence on Twixt Hills Road in St. James. Photo from Google Maps

A new property owner in St. James is already making waves with neighbors over plans to convert a single-family residence into an adult group home.

Life’s WORC, a private nonprofit organization that supports people who are developmentally disabled or have autism, notified the Town of Smithtown Jan. 15 it purchased a home on Twixt Hills Road with the intent of creating a community residence for six adults. Several members of the St. James community have raised concerns and are asking for a public information session about the home slated for Feb. 14 be pushed back as it falls on Valentine’s Day. 

“One of our major service goals is to establish homes that will enable persons with disabilities to reside in the community close to their families and friends while allowing them opportunities for normal life-enriching experiences,” reads the organization’s letter. 

Life’s WORC purchased a two-story colonial home that currently provides four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms on a 0.56-acre lot on Twixt Hills Road. The nonprofit closed on the home Jan. 9 at a price tag of $575,000, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island’s website. The residence offers 2,857 square feet of living space and has a two-car garage. 

“The town can accept it or reject it based on saturation, but you have to define saturation legally.”

— Nicole Garguilo

“The residence is located in a pleasant, safe, neighborhood of single-family homes and is accessible to desirable community amenities, which include shopping, public transportation, medical, recreational faculties, parks and houses of worship,” reads Life’s WORC’s Jan. 15 letter to the town. 

The organization’s notice states the home will be used to house six adults under a residential manager with on-site staffing 24 hours a day. The nonprofit organization, started in 1971, currently oversees residences for more than 140 individuals in Suffolk and Nassau counties. It also operates homes in Queens. Life’s WORC could not be reached for comment. 

Nicole Garguilo, spokeswoman for Town of Smithtown, said while the town is not obligated to host an information session slated for the Feb. 14 town board meeting, it has reached out to the organization on behalf of residents. Life’s WORC has offered to host a second meeting, after the initial session slated for Valentine’s Day, to discuss the St. James home with concerned community members, according to Garguilo. 

Under New York State Law, Smithtown town officials have 40 days to respond to Life’s WORC, or until approximately Feb. 24, and raise any objections to the planned Twixt Hills Road community residence. Its primary basis for objection would be citing a saturation of group homes in the area, according to Garguilo, which can be tricky. 

“The town can accept it or reject it based on saturation, but you have to define saturation legally,” she said. “It’s almost like a trick question, you can accept with conditions. Usually, it’s accepted with conditions.”  

The public informational session on the Twixt Hills home will be held 7 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Eugene Cannataro Senior Citizens Center, located at 420 Middle Country Road in Smithtown. 

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim. Photo from Nicole Garguilo

More than a year into his first term in office, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) believes his administration has brought a renewed sense of energy and purpose to Town Hall. 

Wehrheim took over the reins from former Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) — a man who once held the title of New York’s longest active serving town supervisor after 40 years in office — in January 2018. The move came after Wehrheim narrowly beat Vecchio in a party primary that deeply divided Republicans in the township, before securing the office with 57 percent of the vote over two challengers. 

TBR News Media sat down with Wehrheim in an exclusive interview to review his performance on 2017 campaign promises and the status of the township.

“I came in, kept the same people here, and made them understand what my initiatives were and how I operate.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“I would give myself an A,” Wehrheim said. “I’ve gotten out to the Smithtown community and business community on what we are  doing and the feedback that I’ve gotten has been consistently positive.” 

One of the first challenges the new supervisor faced was how to unite a Republican town board and administration that had been split into opposing camps during the 2017 election process. 

“I did not come in and make a lot of changes, which I could have done,” Wehrheim said. “I came in, kept the same people here, and made them understand what my initiatives were and how I operate.” 

One of his pledges had been to create town government for Smithtown that was more transparent to its residents. Wehrheim appointed Nicole Garguilo as the town’s first spokeswoman within days of his swearing-in and has ensured live streaming of town board meetings. A mobile phone app was launched in August 2018 to keep residents up to the minute with the latest public safety notices, but a complex town meeting agenda
he once criticized as “75 items, labeled A to ZZ, and nobody understands that” he admits has changed little. 

“People have to remember we inherited a government that had zero transparency,” Wehrheim said. “Not many people outside it, and sometimes not even town council people, would know what was happening. We couldn’t fix it immediately.”

For 2019, the supervisor is focused on restructuring the town’s website and said an updated town agenda was available Jan. 24, with more to come in once the website revisions are made. 

Wehrheim made promises during the 2017 elections to revive “long dormant downtown
revitalization” projects including sewers for Kings Park and to bring apartments to Smithtown. He said the town’s Nov. 30, 2018, report found there have been 2.1 million square feet of commercial development that’s begun or is permitted and ready to begin construction. The supervisor has worked with Suffolk County to complete an engineering study for sewering downtown Kings Park, which has been stymied by the state Legislature’s unwillingness to vote on a home rule bill that would isolate a necessary piece of land needed to construct a pump station. 

“People have to remember we inherited a government that had zero transparency.”

— Ed Wehrheim

He said received assurances from state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) will be taking up the legislation, hopefully for a vote shortly.

Wehrheim had led the town in approving construction of Lofts at Maple & Main, which has all approvals needed to bring a mixed-used building containing 9,500 square feet of retail space and 72 apartments to Smithtown’s Main Street. He hopes this will help address “brain drain” on Long Island and be a move toward creating a walkable downtown environment. 

In St. James, the town has more than $8 million set aside for revitalization with sewers, water mains and improved streetscaping. He’s also brokered a promise with Gyrodyne LLC to expand the sewer treatment plant for proposed Flowerfield property development to accommodate the Lake Avenue business district. 

Large-scale commercial developments approved under Wehrheim’s tenure include CarMax taking over the Smithtown Concrete Plant on Route 25 and Tesla renovating the former 6th Avenue Electronics on Route 247 in Nesconset.

One thing Smithtown’s supervisor has yet to get around to is creating the business advisory council. Wehrheim has promised interviews for an executive board are underway as of January.

“There’s always room for improvement, there’s not a question about that,” he said. “At this particular time, it’s going well, and I’m sure down the road we will improve more.” 

Stormwater runoff coming from Route 25A headed toward Mill Pond after a heavy rainfall. Photo by Rob Schwartz

Two Centerport civic groups will join together this weekend to protest against proposed developments they fear could negatively impact the environment if left unchecked. 

Centerport Harbor Civic Association will join with members of the Bald Eagles of Centerport, NY Facebook group to rally at the intersection of Route 25A and Little Neck Road Saturday, Feb. 9, from 10 to 11 a.m., to draw attention to the potential environmental and traffic impacts of several developments in progress. 

“No one is looking at the overall picture of the area,” Rob Schwartz, of Centerport, said. “There’s a large amount of construction and it’s a concern for the community.” 

Schwartz, founder of the Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook group, said he’s seen firsthand stormwater runoff from Route 25A making its way into Mill Pond. He voiced concerns over whether the property owners of Water’s Edge, formerly The Thatched Cottage, are following all necessary precautions to ensure materials from the construction do not wind up in water. He fears if pollutants make their way into the harbor, it could cause extensive harm or death to native fish and wildlife. 

A gap in the silt fencing by the site of the former Thatched Cottage in January. Photo by Rob Schwartz

“They are not doing what they should be doing to protect the wetlands,” Schwartz said. “The pictures show that.” 

As a photographer, he’s posted numerous photos and videos via social media of rainbow-hued pools of water along Mill Pond’s banks alleging it’s a clear indicator of contamination. 

Enrico Scarda, managing partner of The Crest Group constructing Water’s Edge, said Centerport residents’ outcries of contamination are unfounded. 

“We have taken every safety precaution possible to not only safeguard the pond, but any impact our construction would have on the environment and its surrounding area,” he said. 

Scarda said his company, in full cooperation with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines, has sealed all manhole covers on the property and installed silt fencing with hay bales in an effort to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the pond.  

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe,” he said.

The concerns of Centerport’s residents of the harbor’s contamination have not fallen on deaf ears. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office received a complaint Jan. 30 regarding Centerport Harbor, complaining of issues with ongoing construction at the former Thatched Cottage site, EPA spokesman David Kluesner said. Those complaints were forward to the Town of Huntington for further investigation. 

Lauren Lembo, spokeswoman for the Town of Huntington, said DEC staff and the harbormaster checked the site Jan. 24, shortly after a day-long downpour and found no signs of a spill. She said town employees later investigated the matter to find the silt curtain required along the bulkhead, while present, was improperly installed and immediate corrective action was taken. 

“Our building department has been made aware, and maritime services will continue to make routine inspections regarding stormwater control measures and any improper discharges into Mill Pond,” Lembo said. 

Suffolk County’s Division of Environmental Quality routinely tests the water quality of the pond, as part of the Huntington-Northport Harbor complex, on a bimonthly basis, according to spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern. 

Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he’s had several constituents reach out to him with concerns over the former Thatched Cottage property and runoff into Mill Pond, and has requested that the county takes additional water samples. 

“I want to make sure we are addressing true concerns and not getting into rumors,” Spencer said. “It’s near the water and there’s construction going on. Are there pollution concerns? It’s reasonable.” 

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe.”

— Enrico Scarda

Employees of Suffolk’s Division of Environmental Quality visited the site Feb. 1, Kelly-McGovern said, to collect water samples from Mill Pond directly behind the former Thatched Cottage. The water will be analyzed by the county’s Public & Environmental Health Laboratory for a number of chemicals and contaminants including pesticides, metals including lead, fecal coliform bacteria, inorganic compounds, nitrogen and phosphorus. The results may take up to six weeks. 

Kelly-McGovern said the “rainbow opalescence” seen by Centerport residents in the photos can be produced by microbes as a result of breaking down organic matter such as fish, leaves and plants. 

“It’s a relatively common wetland phenomenon,” she said. 

Schwartz said he and others would still like to see additional environmental protection measures, such as a floating boom to limit the spread of any possible debris or floating contaminates. 

In addition to the environmental concerns, Tom Knight of Centerport Harbor Civic Association said the rally will voice opposition to the proposed 7-Eleven he fears will create significantly more traffic on the corner of Route 25A and Little Neck Road. The intersection is a steep angle and prone to causing accidents, Knight said. 

The proposed 7-Eleven is currently in the process of a drafting an environmental impact statement, which has yet to be completed and submitted to the Town of Huntington. 

“I can’t stop progress, but I can ask them to make it safe,” Schwartz said. “I’ve lived here for 30 years, I love this town, and I don’t want to see it ruined.” 

John Kennedy Jr. (R) and Steve Bellone (D). File Photos

Executive Steve Bellone, Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. offer differing view of what financial future holds

When asked to critically examine Suffolk County’s finances and what lies ahead for residents, our executive branch and accounting officials couldn’t be further divided on their vision of the future. 

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said out of the $410 million operating note the county sought to sell for 2019 operating funds only half, or $207 million, could be competitively sold in December. Instead, he had to rely on a negotiated agreement with Bank of America to give the funds needed to run the county’s government at an interest rate of 2.35 percent. 

“This has been one of the toughest times we’d had in the market since I’ve taken office,” Kennedy said. 

“We are in some very strenuous times.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

The county comptroller, since 2015, said it was a combination of factors that negatively impacted Suffolk: seeking funding later than normal, stock market uncertainty and, perhaps most importantly, that Moody’s downgrading the county’s bond rating from A3 to Baa1. 

“We are barred from being purchased by many major investment funds,” Kennedy said, citing Fidelity and T. Rowe Price Group won’t invest. “We are in some very strenuous times.” 

Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director, said while the county’s bond rating was dropped the comptroller was “overstating” its impact and meaning. 

“[Moody’s investors] are looking at the past,” he said. “They are not looking at what is happening in the future.” 

Naughton cited how Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) has implemented many structural changes since taking office in 2012 including reducing the county’s workforce by approximately 1,200 employees, closed John J. Foley nursing home in Yaphank that was losing money and creating the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency to bring in additional funds. 

Kennedy countered that from March 2012 to September 2018 Moody’s has downgraded the county’s bond rating by five ranks. 

“We need to change how county government operates,” the comptroller said. 

Suffolk is not likely to see the state takeover of the county’s government like Nassau according to Kennedy, in good part because the county has about half the outstanding debt of neighboring Nassau — a sentiment with which Naughton agreed. 

The comptroller suggested that in order to avoid dire straits, Suffolk officials should move to consolidate by merging county offices with similar functions, encourage shared services among municipalities, reduce its workforce, evaluate and sell off surplus property where possible, like the former Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct building in Coram. 

“Structural changes were needed and these structural changes were adopted.”

— Jason Elan

Jason Elan, a spokesman for Bellone, said the county executive has done just that. Under Bellone, the county treasurer and comptroller positions were merged, as were four departments made into two:  Labor and Consumer Affairs and Economic Development and Planning. Bellone made county employees contribute 15 percent to their health insurance premiums while taking a pay freeze himself, at an estimated savings of more than $300,000. Further, Suffolk’s workforce has been reduced and, according to Naughton, county-operated land and property is being evaluated to see if it can be deemed surplus. 

“Structural changes were needed and these structural changes were adopted,” Bellone’s spokesman said, noting Kennedy voted against or opposed many of the measures. 

What looms ahead for Suffolk is negotiation of a new contract with the Police Benevolent Association. Kennedy said at a current cost of $573 million per year, the police contract is the largest item in the county’s $3.11 billion 2019 budget followed by roughly $451 million for county employee’s health insurance. 

“If we are not focused on actively managing those expenditures in both categories, we might as well shut off the lights and go home,” he said.

In fact, it’s not just the police but all of the county’s employee contracts have expired. Elan said Bellone would not comment on the status of PBA negotiations. 

Rather he said the county’s greatest opportunity lies in furthering its economic development, like the proposed Ronkonkoma Hub and other projects that will bring businesses to the area.

These issues are some that are expected to be addressed by Bellone when he gives his annual State of the County per tradition in May. 

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A look inside the St. James General Store. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Residents’ outcry over Suffolk County’s shortchanging of St. James General Store was met with an immediate reaction.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) made an internal budget transfer Jan. 23 to reallocate $100,000 from the Parks Department’s line for staffing to the funds for operation of St. James General Store, making good on his office’s promise to make the historic landmark whole.

“The hotel/motel tax came in better than we expected,” Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director said. “We felt we could move $100,000 without impacting our operations.”

Alarm swept through the St. James community, residents and the store’s supporters last week after it was brought to light that the iconic store had its funding reduced by nearly 80 percent under the county’s adopted 2019 operating budget. Backers of the shop were concerned about its ability to keep its shelves stocked and continue operations.

“This is something that is near and dear to all of our hearts,” said Kerry Maher-Weisse, president of the Community Association of Greater St. James. “It’s a landmark that was the original post office of St. James. It’s such a huge part of our town that people come from all over to come to this place.”

Bellone only set aside $29,129 for the general store to purchase items for resale in 2019, down from a 2018 budget of $125,000. These funds were expected to stock the shelves of both the store and the Big Duck gift shop in Flanders, which is overseen by the same county staff. Naughton admitted the lowered funds would have only been sufficient through mid- to late spring.

Funding for the St. James General Store is taken from the proceeds of Suffolk’s hotel/motel tax, according to Naughton, which places a 3 percent occupancy tax on individuals renting rooms or lodging within the county that took effect in 2014.

Naughton said part of the reason the internal transfer was done is that the county executive did not want to delay funding to St. James General Store, which generally turns a profit for the county. Suffolk Legislature is expected to review and vote on allocation of the 2018 hotel/motel at its Feb. 13 general meeting for various organizations. To wait till then would have left St. James community wondering about the future fate of the landmark for an additional three weeks.

By Bill Landon

The Northport Tigers stood alone atop the League II leaderboard at 9-2 when they hit the road against Half Hollow Hills East, 8-2, who looked to displace the Tigers for the top spot. Displace them they did when the Thunderbirds defeated Northport,  64-50, Jan. 25 on their own home court.

Northport’s defense struggled to contain Hills East’s Shamar Moore-Hough who led the Thunderbirds in scoring with 19 points.

Northport sophomore guard Pat Healy led the Tigers in scoring with 15 points, senior forward Ian Melamerson followed adding 13 and junior guard Sean Walsh banked 11.

The loss bumps Northport from their perch to second place in league with four games remaining before the postseason begins. The Tigers will retake the court Jan. 31 hosting Lindenhurst at 6 p.m.

From left, John Clark, Scott Schneider, and Huntington Councilman Ed Smyth kick off Pick Six Jan. 24. Photo by Karina Gerry

By Karina Gerry

A Town of Huntington official is asking Huntington’s residents to try to see the small actions can add up.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) unveiled Jan. 24 a new non-litter initiative he calls Pick Six that asks  residents to pick up six pieces of trash every day and throw it in the trash at Huntington Town Hall.

“Together, we can make our town cleaner,” Smyth said.  “And a more environmentally friendly place to live work and do business.”

The program was inspired by Huntington resident Scott Schneider, an artist who for years has been collecting trash on his daily walks and turning them into art.

‘Well what difference can I make,’ but now that it’s being rolled out to the whole town, you really see that small acts can turn into bigger ones.”

— Scott Schneider

“I always picked up trash,” he said. “I started taking pictures of trash and then when Instagram and Facebook came on, I started posting it and people seemed to really enjoy my trash pictures or my trashy pictures.”

The councilman saw Schneider’s art as the two have known each other prior to Smyth being elected to office  through their children. It sparked a conversation  about Schneider’s daily habit.  A few weeks later, the Smyth contacted the artist to let him know that he would be rolling out a new initiative for the whole town inspired by Schneider’s work.

“As somebody who was kind of always working on my own, it was extremely exciting,” the artist said. “Because you always think, ‘Well what difference can I make,’ but now that it’s being rolled out to the whole town, you really see that small acts can turn into bigger ones.”

Smyth and his colleagues hope the initiative of Pick Six will become habitual for residents.

“What I see with my own eyes, and I think everybody does, is that there’s a lot of litter around,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten to the point now that we’re so accustomed to seeing it that we stop seeing it, stop noticing it, so it’s easy to ignore it and walk past it.”

While downtown Huntington area sees the most pedestrian foot traffic, the councilman wants to encourage people to not only pick up trash when they are in the village but at the town’s beaches and parks as well. Greg Wagner, Huntington’s director of Parks and Recreation,  believes the program could make a huge difference.

“Typically, every morning at all of our beaches there are single-use plastics constantly, consistently washing up on our shores,” Wagner said.

There seems to be unnecessary finger pointing going on where people say, ‘Oh well they should go clean it up.”

— Councilman Ed Smyth

Jack Palladino, president of the Huntington Village Business Improvement District and owner of Christopher’s Pub & Eatery, said the issue of trash has been something him and the BID have been dealing with for a while.

“The problem you have with some businesses is that you have absentee business owners, a lot of corporate places that you go in to speak to the management as soon as they clock out they are done for the day,” Palladino said. “But you have businesses that people have owned they live in town, they are the ones that are concerned.”

While restaurants, bars and places offering takeout food tend to produce more trash, the councilman refused to point fingers.

“There seems to be unnecessary finger pointing going on where people say, ‘Oh well they should go clean it up,’” Smyth said. “There’s always a pronoun in there that’s not I, always they or he or she.”

The councilman hopes that people will stop blaming the businesses for the trash.

“For the downtown areas, it has to be a collective effort,” he said. “Or it’s just not going to work, because very frankly the town, the BID and the businesses don’t have the resources individually to have someone on litter control.