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Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh
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A Northport-East Northport Community Theater member has been arrested for allegedly masturbating in front of a 15-year-old girl.

Northport police arrested Robert Miller, 35, on charges of first-degree public lewdness and endangering the welfare of a child Oct. 5 at approximately 8:15 p.m., according to police. Miller’s arrest took place during a rehearsal of the Northport-East Northport Community Theater group at the William J. Brosnan Administrative Building of the Northport school district.

Robert Miller. Photo from Northport Police Department

Northport police said Miller, a technical director with the theater group, requested a teenage girl accompany him outside to the parking lot to check on a motor issue with his car.

Once outside, Miller instructed the teen to sit in the car and rev the engine while he looked
under the hood. The girl said she was instructed to take off her socks and shoes, so she could “feel the vibration of the gas pedal” and did so, according to police. Police said the girl said she noticed Miller standing behind her, outside the driver’s side door with his pants unzipped, hand down his pants and was allegedly masturbating. The theater director allegedly told the teenager to look forward and watch the car’s dashboard gauges. Police said the girl reported she looked at Miller again and he was still allegedly masturbating.

Robert Banzer, superintendent of the Northport-East Northport school district, sent a letter out to residents Oct. 6 regarding the incident, which occurred on school grounds.

“The Northport police department notified the district of an alleged inappropriate action that took place on school district property, Friday night after school hours,” Banzer wrote, noting the theater group is not affiliated with the school district. “The district will continue to cooperate with police in their investigation to the fullest extent possible.”

The superintendent noted the schools would also make support services available for students Tuesday, after the Columbus Day break.

Smithtown school district Superintendent James Grossane also sent a letter out to district parents to address Miller’s arrest, as he has worked in that district for 14 years.

“[D]uring the teacher’s 14 years working within the district there have been no incidents reported,” Grossane wrote. “The teacher has been placed on administrative leave, effective immediately, and we will continue to assist in the police investigation as needed.”

The Smithtown superintendent said a math teacher would immediately be placed in Miller’s classrooms Tuesday in order to ensure “no disruption to the academic process” and support services would also be made available to students.

The theater group declined to comment on Miller’s arrest.

Northport police said they have reason to believe there may be other people subjected to allegedly lewd behavior by Miller. Anyone who feels they were a victim of Miller in the Northport area is asked to contact Detective Peter Hayes or Detective Peter Howard at 631-261-7500.

Any individual who believes they are a victim of Miller in the Smithtown area is encouraged to contact Suffolk County Police Department’s 4th Precinct detective squad at 631-854-8452.

From left, Northport Village Mayor Damon McMullen; Deputy Mayor Tom Kehoe; state sennators Carl Marcellino and John Flanagan; village trustees Mercy Smith and Jerry Maline; and state Assemblyman Andrew Raia outside Northport Village Hall. Photo from Sen. John Flanagan's office

Northport village trustees and state elected officials came together to announce $3 million in state funding has been secured to extend sewer access to the village’s waterfront after a summer of record algal blooms.

New York State senators John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) visited Northport at the end of September to announce the funding would help pay to extend sewers to 140 homes and two business districts in the Steers Pit and Bluff Point communities.

This Northport project will safeguard our water and expand needed access to an updated sewer system.”

— Carl Marcellino

“It is critical that we make serious financial investments in our aging infrastructure all across Long Island,” Marcellino said. “This Northport project will safeguard our water and expand needed access to an updated sewer system.”

Northport trustee Ian Milligan, commissioner of the village’s wastewater treatment plant, said the $3 million helps cover the remaining $8 million price tag of the project, as the village previously received $5 million through the New York State Clean Water Act. This has allowed village officials to move forward with putting Phase I of the project out to contractors for bids last week.

Milligan said Phase I will consist of sewering Bluff Point Road, Duffy Court and Duffy Road in addition to upgrading the pump station that services the Steer Pits condominiums. He said the village hopes to award the bid to a contractor by the end of October, with work to be started mid-fall if the weather holds.

The second phase of extending access to the village’s wastewater treatment plant will bring sewage mains to the remainder of the Steers Pits community, according to Milligan.

“The houses are very close to the water and what they were left on is gravel, like a bed of gravel, so it drains fairly quickly,” he said. “Our septic systems are draining into the bay in a matter of months, where most systems it takes years to get into the water. It’s definitely contributing to nitrogen and possibly pathogens in the harbor.”

This summer, Northport Harbor suffered a bloom of Dinophysis, a type of algae that releases a powerful neurotoxin that can affect shellfish. Both Northport and Huntington harbors showed a rash of paralytic shellfish poisoning in other marine life from eating shellfish.

“This is the last of the waterfront in the village to be sewered,” Milligan said. “We believe it will make a big difference in the water quality in Northport and Huntington harbors.”

The village board hopes to be able to put out a request for proposals to contractors to bid on Phase II early next year.

“We believe it will make a big difference in the water quality in Northport and
Huntington harbors.”

— Ian Milligan

Northport homeowners in these areas will have to take on some of the burden to connect their houses to the sewer district, according to Milligan. The village has received estimates of approximately $10,000 per house to connect, but the trustee warned the final cost can vary greatly based on individual homeowner’s situations.

Northport village trustees are working with Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) to see if a county program that helps homeowners get funds to install upgraded, modern cesspools can be tapped to help offset costs of connecting to the new sewage mains.

“We haven’t heard an answer yet, but we feel it’s close and we are hopeful,” Milligan said. “No guarantee though.”

A public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at the American Legion Hall, located at 7 Woodside Ave., to further discuss details for home and business owners regarding anticipated road closures during upcoming construction and connection costs.

“I believe in the long run that [homeowners] will be better off,” Milligan said. “For certain, the general public will be better off with the benefit of cleaner water.”

Smithtown Town Hall. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A change of leadership at Smithtown Town Hall has resulted in a proposed 2019 budget that could increase homeowners town taxes for the first time in three years.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) presented his $109 million tentative budget for 2019 to the town council in a short meeting Oct. 5, on deadline under New York State Law. The proposed budget represents an increase of $4 million more than this year’s budget, with $1.5 million additional in the taxes levied among Smithtown’s homeowners. The supervisor promised it will be used to the benefit of its residents.

“We’ve committed in this administration to invest in Smithtown,” Wehrheim said. “We are going to do just that. I looked at the operating budget and we’ve stayed within the 2 percent mandated state tax cap.”

If approved, the 2019 tentative operating budget will be a total $66.60 annual increase for the average Smithtown homeowner, according to Wehrheim, with $28 of that increase attributable to a rise in solid waste district fees.

This graph shows the Town of Smithtown’s 2018 salaries for three positions — town supervisor, town council member and supervisor of highways — with their proposed 2019 salary increases and how that relates to similar positions’ pay in the neighboring townships of Brookhaven and Huntington. Graphic by David Ackerman

The town’s singular largest driving cost behind the proposed budget was a $1.1 million increase to health care insurance contributions for its full-time union employees, according to the supervisor. He also expects operational expenses such as fuel and utility costs to continue to grow over the year ahead.

The tentative budget sets aside $5.5 million for road, curb and sidewalk improvements, which Wehrheim said he decided in conjunction with Superintendent of Highways Robert Murphy (R).

The town supervisor has also proposed an approximately 40 percent increase to the Community Development Fund, which he said is used to help fund a list of neighborhood projects to improve local look and character of the neighborhoods. Most of the town’s funds will be used to kick-start projects, according to the supervisor, before hopefully being reimbursed through a combination of state aid or other grants.

Wehrheim is looking to increase the salary of each town council member by more than $9,000; from $65,818 up to $75,000. This represents a year-to-year increase of about 14 percent.

“I feel that it is in line with surrounding neighboring municipalities,” he said. “I feel the council position deserves that salary. It’s a different administration and they have far more responsibilities than they did previously.”

By comparison, each Town of Brookhaven council member is poised to make $72,316 in 2019 while to the west, the proposed annual salary for Huntington town council members is $76,841 next year.

In Smithtown, Wehrheim has proposed $30,000 for a new government liaison position, which if approved, will become an additional title and responsibilities for one of the town board members. The supervisor said the individual appointed will take on responsibilities similar to a deputy supervisor or chief of staff.

“It’s a more economical way as opposed to additional full-time staff in the supervisor’s office,” he said.

Murphy also stands to get an additional $20,000 a year, increasing the highway supervisor’s salary from $110,000 up to $130,000 per year, if the proposed budget is approved. Wehrheim said the 18 percent hike is warranted and has been talked about for several years.

“[Highway] is the town’s largest department,” Wehrheim said.

In perspective, Murphy’s new salary would be more than Brookhaven’s highway superintendent, poised to earn $119,132 in 2019 but less than Huntington’s $140,000 salary per year.

Wehrheim said that while he has added a few new positions to his administration in 2018, including a public information officer, he is hoping to hire two additional laborers each for the Highway Department and Parks, Buildings & Grounds Department next year. The exact salary for these positions has yet to be determined, according to the supervisor, as the town is in the midst of negotiating new contracts with both the Civil Service Employees Union, representing the municipality’s employees, and the Smithtown Administrators Guild, which represents its departmental directors. The previous contracts expired Dec. 31, 2017.

“Any increase would be result of union negotiations,” Wehrheim said.

The supervisor has also put forth a proposed $10 million capital budget for 2019, presented at the same time as the operating budget. He said $8 million of that budget will be borrowed by the town, and allocated toward large projects such as $2.3 million for new water mains along St. James Lake Avenue business district and $2 million in 2019 toward renovation of Flynn Memorial Park.

The Newfield Wolverines hosted the Huntington Blue Devils Oct. 5 and went on to a 41-14 win. Both teams are 2-3 in the league.

On Oct. 13, the Wolverines will have an away game and challenge Copiague, and the Blue Devils will travel to Northport.

Hundreds gathered in Huntington to put on a proud display of their Italian heritage at the 20th annual Long Island Columbus Day Parade Oct. 7. The event, hosted by the Town of Huntington and Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, aims to celebrate Italian heritage, culture and their contributions to society.

Hundreds of New York members of the Order of Sons and Daughters of Italy in America marched along the parade route from the Old Village Green west on Main Street to the Christopher Columbus statue, at the intersection of West Neck Road, in honor of the organization’s 113th anniversary.

This year’s parade marshals were: Robert Ferrito, president of the New York OSDIA, Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R); Antoinette Biordi, an anchorwoman for News 12; and Vito DeSimone, an Italian media personality.

 

Thousands of Long Islanders traveled to Huntington this weekend to enjoy the 25th annual LI Fall Festival at Heckscher Park. The event, presented by Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, brings together four stages featuring live entertainment with carnival rides,  games, a food courts, a wine and beer garden, petting zoos and more.

The festival runs through 5 p.m. Monday. Click through the photos above to see if TBR News Media caught you having fun. Take your own selfie or photos of the fair? Email them to sara@tbrnewsmedia.com to join our gallery. 

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Kings Park Kingsmen varsity football dominated the field against West Babylon Eagles in a 30-0 shutout homecoming victory Oct. 6.

Quarterback Kevin Decker led his team to victory by throwing for 125 yards and one touchdown.  Senior tailback Vince D’Alto also played well with 12 carries for a total of 101 yards in the shutout.

The win brings the Kingsmen up in the Division III rankings to 3-1 for the 2018 season. Kings Park  will travel to take on Hauppauge Oct. 13 at 6 p.m.

Click through the gallery above to see photos of the shutout homecoming victory. 

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The Obadiah Smith House. File photo

Two organizations in the Town of Smithtown have been selected to receive more than $13,000 in grants to plan for future preservation of two local landmarks.

The Preservation League of New York State, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve historic structures across the state, announced Oct. 3 it has awarded funds to both Commack Union Free School District and the Smithtown Historical Society.

Commack school district received a $7,620 grant to hire a consultant to perform a full building report on the Marion Carll farmhouse, which was given to the district in 1969 for historic and educational purposes.

“It’s really quite extraordinary,” said Erin Tobin, vice president for policy and preservation at the Preservation League.

This is such an incredible time capsule that has tremendous educational potential.”

— Erin Tobin

The Marion Carll Farm is a historic location of potential statewide significance, according to  Tobin, as the nine-acre property located on Jericho Turnpike consists of an 1860s farmhouse and several outlying buildings and retains many of the objects and possessions of its original owners, the Carll family of Commack.

“It’s a very intact site,” she said. “So many historic buildings on Long Island have been over restored and lost their original material and integrity of the historic building, the plaster, the wall paper and such. This is such an incredible time capsule that has tremendous educational potential.”

Huntington-based Steward Preservation Services, run by architect Joel Snodgrass, has been hired to evaluate the farmhouse and create a plan for the building’s preservation tasked with compiling a list of recommended steps. Tobin said she is aware of some issues in the farmhouse’s kitchen as well as some necessary roof repairs, but the report may uncover additional problems. The report will be done in compliance with standards set by the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“There’s a lot of opportunity out there for partnerships,” Tobin said. “It will be interesting to see what the school district moves ahead with. This report might help inform what they want to do next.”

The Smithtown Historical Society also received a $5,800 grant in order to conduct a building report on the Obadiah Smith House on St. Johnland Road in Smithtown. Priya Kapoor, executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society, said she’s thrilled to have been selected to receive the funds.

“[The Obadiah Smith House is] a treasure we want to preserve and, at this point, it needs a lot of attention and a lot of care.”

— Priya Kapoor

“It’s a treasure we want to preserve and, at this point, it needs a lot of attention and a lot of care,” Kapoor said.

The Obadiah Smith House is the first historic home the Smithtown Historical Society ever occupied, according to the executive director, but now finds itself in need of some tender loving care. The building dates back to approximately 1700 and was owned by the grandson of the town’s founder Richard Smith.

“The Obadiah Smith House is one of the earliest houses on Long Island,” Tobin said. “It’s a great example of early English and Dutch building traditions.”

Kapoor said the historical society will also have Steward Preservation Services do a full report on the building’s condition to ensure it is up to code and safe. Once the report is complete, the organization will apply for additional grants and funding to make the repairs. The long-term goal is to be able to open up the Obadiah Smith House to be toured by area students learning about local history, according to Kapoor.

The Smithtown Historical Society is in the process of fixing up and reopening the Franklin O. Arthur Farmhouse’s animal barn to the public in the spring of 2019. Kapoor said she hopes to have space to add more programs and allow people to see firsthand the historic farming techniques used.

“I’m really excited about where the society is going right now with this new direction,” she said. “We’re also excited for each member of the community who is helping us.”

Feds recommend trio of changes in staffing, hiring and overtime management to facility’s new leadership

Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

A federal investigation into Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s four community living centers has shown a troubling trend of chronic nursing staff shortages and excessive overtime, issues that could have placed patients “at a higher risk for adverse events.”

In one case, federal investigators found a nurse’s assistant worked double shifts for six straight days — more than 96 hours in a single week – while expected to diligently oversee a patient requiring one-on-one care.

As the Northport facility is the only VA Medical Center on Long Island it serves more than 31,000 patients per year and oversees several outpatient clinical sites. Its four nursing homes are located in two buildings, with an approximate capacity of 170 beds.

The Office of Inspector General, a division of U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, charged with independent oversight of Department of Veterans Affairs programs, received several anonymous complaints about the quality of care received at Northport VAMC in 2017 following the deaths of two patients.

In September 2017, the OIG launched a year-long investigation into staffing shortages after receiving two further emails: the first from an employee at Northport VAMC, the second from a liaison to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The investigation produced a Sept. 18 report (click here to read the full report) that found Northport VAMC’s leadership knew about the staff shortages, forced administrative level nurses to care for patients, and yet still continued to accept new patients despite knowing they wouldn’t have the staff needed to provide the expected level of care.

Federal investigators recognized in August 2017 there was significant turnover in the leadership at the Northport VAMC, affecting key positions such as its director, acting chief of staff and acting nurse executive, who were cited “as catalysts for this change.” Staff members’ remarks indicated it’s given them hope for a better future.

The agency recommended a series of changes for the Northport VAMC pertaining to the nursing staff currently being enacted, and the facility says is bringing immediate tangible results.

Two patient deaths

Anonymous complaints about two patient deaths at the Northport VAMC in 2017 started the series of federal investigations into the facility.

The first death was a male patient in his late 60s who died as a result of choking on his food. Federal inspectors found insufficient evidence the man’s death was due to a lack of nurse oversight, as alleged in the complaints, but did conclude Northport VAMC had ongoing challenges in maintaining basic necessary staffing levels.

“Conditions such as staffing shortages could create an environment where the increased workload assigned to each staff member was such that it became more difficult to remain vigilant,” the report reads.

A forum was held for the Northport VA nursing homes staff to voice their concerns with the facility and its operation while an investigation of the first patient’s death was ongoing.

“Many [staff members] shared a concern about staffing levels being too low,” the report reads.

A second death raised claims of poor quality of care in the Northport vets nursing homes, after a patient in his mid-60s slipped, fell and fractured his hip. He underwent surgery and six days later stopped breathing. Allegations included the VA staff failed to protect the patient from falling and failed to properly provide
one-on-one observation post surgery, neither of which was substantiated by federal investigators.

The investigation into the second death showed the nurse’s assistant caring for him was on her sixth consecutive day of double shifts — 16 hours at a stretch. Investigators again cited “concern that working extra hours with double shifts could lead to staff becoming tired and less vigilant.”

A staff member working double shifts was not common practice, according to Northport VAMC spokesman Levi Spellman, who said union workers are contractually required to have 10 to 12 hours off between nursing shifts.

Closer look at staffing numbers

Records pulled by the federal investigators showed Northport VAMC has been chronically short of nursing staff dating back to at least 2016. Allegations were made that understaffing could lead to a higher rate of “nurse-sensitive outcomes,” such as surgical wounds getting infected, urinary tract infections, ulcers and pneumonia.

Northport’s four nursing homes were found to be short approximately 6.3 full-time employees in 2016 needed to meet VA’s recommended number of nursing hours spent with patients per day. By 2017, the facility’s staffing shortage had more than doubled, with 15.3 additional full-time employees needed. Northport VAMC’s nursing homes were only staffed at 60 to 80 percent of recommended levels over the two years, according to federal investigators.

Northport VAMC’s leadership attempted to tackle the short staffing issue by using “floating” shifts and overtime — sometimes mandatory, according to the federal report. Floating shifts meant staff from other areas of the VAMC were brought in to assist with patients in the nursing homes.

In 2016, Northport VAMC’s nursing home employees put in a  total of 19,991 hours of overtime. It nearly doubled by the end of 2017 as only 107.9 of the facility’s authorized 128 full-time positions were filled, according to Spellman, causing the facility’s overtime costs to skyrocket to nearly $1.5 million.

“Nurse managers had no mechanism to alert them if one of their unit nursing personnel worked excessive OT,” the report reads.

Federal investigators found part of the nursing homes’ staffing issues were due to an inability to hire and retain the members of its nursing staff. Northport VAMC got approval to hire 10 additional registered nurses and 10 nurse assistants as intermittent staff in November 2016, though the team wasn’t assembled until August 2017.

Often the process of hiring new nursing staff was delayed. In one instance, Northport’s leadership said two applicants interviewed and hired in January 2017 were told they would not start working until July.

“This delay in hiring often resulted in the loss of selected applicants who took other jobs,” the report reads.

The leadership of Northport VAMC said the high cost of living on Long Island has also made finding and maintaining a full-time staff difficult.

“Not only does this affect our ability to retain talent, but to recruit it as well,” spokesman Spellman said.

Steps to improvement

The federal investigators made three recommendations to Northport VAMC in order to  ensure it has adequate nursing care for its patients and improve quality of care for residents.

First, that the VAMC’s acting director, Dr. Cathy Cruise, completes a review of the nursing homes to ensure staffing levels align with the needs of its current residents. More staff should be recruited and hired to fill the current vacancies “until optimal staffing is attained,” reads the report.

Spellman said leadership of Northport VAMC, including Cruise, have already started taking action, implementing changes to improve the quality of care and working conditions.

A registered nurse clinical coordination position has been added in order to streamline nursing staff’s efficiency, according to Spellman. At the beginning of 2018, the facility was given approval to hire 2.6 more full-time employees and another 10 staff members were recently approved to bring the total nursing staff to the equivalent 140.6 positions.

“A staffing methodology is in the process of being completed, with additional staff expected,” Spellman said.

The Northport VA has received approval to directly hire its nursing staff and is giving new employees immediate start dates, according to him. It also had plans to expand its nursing floating pool, and to cross train other VAMC nurses in long-term care to continue to grow the available number of staff who can provide residents with care.

Third, Northport’s leadership was also told to improve its management of staff’s overtime hours and make sure of future responsible use of financial resources, citing the $1.5 million in 2017 overtime.

“Federal employees are expected to be good stewards of government funds,” the report reads. “The OIG found a lack of accountability for managing OT expenditures.

Spellman said the nursing homes staff had a total weekly average of 437.3 hours of overtime for the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. This indicates a significant drop from last year, where the total weekly average of overtime exceeded 750 hours.

“All of this is to say that, while the OIG has helped Northport identify areas in which we can improve, we have implemented measures to make those improvements — and we are already seeing results,” Spellman said.

 

Harborfields varsity girls volleyball dug deep but fell 3-0 to the visiting Eastport-South Manor Sharks Oct. 1. The loss dropped the Tornadoes to an even 3-3 in league competition this season. Harborfields will host Islip at home Oct. 4 at 4 p.m. before holding a tournament Oct. 6.

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