Huntington councilwoman Susan Berland (D) races against Republican Hector Gavilla to represent Suffolk’s 16th Legislative District. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Two candidates are vying to represent Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District as term limits force incumbent Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) to step down after 12 years of service.

Democratic candidate Susan Berland, of Dix Hills, has served Huntington residents as a councilwoman for more than 16 years. She has drafted the town’s blight legislation for abandoned or unsafe buildings and structures, placed restrictions on bamboo growth, and had free sunscreen dispensers installed at town beaches.

Republican hopeful Hector Gavilla, also of Dix Hills, is seeking political office for the first time. Gavilla has been a licensed real estate broker since 2003, and has run Commack-based Long Island Professional Realty since 2010.

The candidates are concerned with the county’s financial future, affordable housing and public safety. Both nominees said with Suffolk expecting a budgetary deficit of more than $150 million this year, there is a need for the incoming legislator to help bring finances under control by consolidating
services wherever possible.

“We spent over $600 million for social services and we never ask these people if they are illegal aliens.”

— Hector Gavilla

Berland also proposes that the county’s sale tax be increased by 0.25 percent, from 8.625 to 8.875 percent, and that all county employees be asked to chip in and help contribute to their health insurance.

“That really spreads it among everybody equally and that would help raise money,” she said during a recent candidate debate at TBR News Media’s Setauket office.

Gavilla said if elected he would look to save money in two of the largest areas of the county’s budget: police department salaries, as their contract ends 2018, and social services.

“We spent over $600 million for social services and we never ask these people if they are illegal aliens,” he said. “I want to make sure these people are American citizens.”

While residents continue to struggle with the cost of living in Huntington township, the two candidates disagreed on what measures would improve quality of life.

Gavilla said his platform puts taxpayers first by looking to reduce backdoor fees, like the mortgage fee and false alarm fee, and stop wasteful government spending in attempt to build transit-oriented or affordable housing.

“We have an obligation to provide different types of housing for different people,” Berland countered.

“We have an obligation to provide different types of housing for different people.”

— Susan Berland

The councilwoman said if elected to the legislature she would support high-density, mixed-use retail and apartment space as a way of helping to preserve existing open space, like parks and golf courses.

Gavilla said he would rather see 20-year tax abatements offered to large businesses in an effort to attract more job opportunities.

For current residents, public safety in combating gang-related violence and the heroin/opioid crisis is a top priority.

Berland said she would suggest bringing back the county’s DARE program to educate elementary school children on the dangers of gangs and drug use. She also recommended closer cooperation among law enforcement officials and drug courts, which offer addicts a choice of treatment or jail time for drug-related offenses.

“We need to have cooperation between the police department, FBI, town and code enforcement to draw together and combat these issues,” she said.

Gavilla said he’d propose much stricter prosecution and enforcement on drug dealers, increase police patrols, and arrest and deport any illegal immigrant.

“I want to make sure every single illegal alien who commits a crime has to be deported,” he said. “Today, we have many illegal aliens coming in and they have become a burden on society.”

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