Government

Visitor’s entrance to the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Every dog has its day, and Town of Smithtown could be handing a juicy opportunity to any private organization looking to run its animal shelter.

Town officials are looking to potentially turn partial control of the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center over to a private company. One caveat, though, is board members warn they will only go through with the plan if it doesn’t cost more than the town already spends.

“In my opinion, if this were to go through, the organization would have to be animal experts or organizations that are expert in the care of animals,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “And it has to be financially feasible. If the RFP comes back and it would be in excess of what we pay now we wouldn’t support it.”

The town board voted 4-1 July 17 to put out a request for proposal for any private organization that is interested in assuming day-to-day operations of the shelter. 

“We’ve been discussing this for more than 18 months as a board,” Wehrheim said. “Prior to choosing the director, if that happens and we keep it, the board has had conversations for professional animal
organizations who would agree to come in and operate the animal shelter in a public-private partnership. This is strictly exploratory.”

The supervisor said that some groups have already shown interest. Under the proposed plan, current animal control officers employed by the town would remain in place. The town would continue to assume the maintenance of the property and building, as well as handling any animal control or capture programs. The incoming private organization would handle the day-to-day operations, including feeding, cleaning and fostering the cats and dogs. 

The shelter has not had a director since Sue Hansen was suspended by the town from the position in February 2017 after allegations surfaced of incompetence and mismanagement. Hansen has a pending lawsuit against the town for being arrested on allegations of criminal trespassing on the town property after her suspension. She had taken over the reins from George Beatty, who resigned in 2015, after a
scandal surfaced with claims of animal neglect and abuse. 

Supervision of the shelter has since fallen to the town’s Department of Public Safety headed by Director John Valentine. Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said those public safety officers in the shelter would move back to the department office should this plan go into effect.

Wehrheim said they were looking for nonprofits already involved in animal care, but he did not rule out any for-profit organizations coming in.

Inzerillo, the liaison to the shelter, voted against the RFP, though she said she didn’t necessarily disagree with the concept. Instead, the councilwoman said she wished the town would have waited until after they finished upgrades to the shelter such as the construction of the new independent Trap, Neuter and Release building.

Smithtown has attained a $168,000 grant to build a new TNR building on the existing property. The town will pull matching funds equal to 25 percent of the grant, or approximately $56,250, from the town’s capital budget to complete the project, and it expects to begin building in early 2019. 

“I would have preferred to have some more time to make an informed decision … or to potentially discuss the idea with experts first or in a work session with the board,” Inzerillo said. “I have the utmost faith in my fellow board members that they would not commit to anything concrete that would put these projects in jeopardy.”

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Legislator Sarah Anker played a key role in securing funding for Rails to Trails, a wooded path for bikers and hikers from Port Jefferson to Wading River. File photo by Erika Kara

Though some Suffolk County lawmakers are champing at the bit to see certain local renovations and projects get underway, finding funding has been a tall task with partisan gridlock in the Legislature.

Several items passed during the July 17 legislative session, including funding for Rails to Trails, a two-lane wooded trail that will run from Port Jefferson to Wading River; and repaving and roadwork on a portion of Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. The road borders the towns of Smithtown and Huntington.

The county allocated $1.5 million for the Commack Road repaving, while another $6 million will come from federal aid. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Huntington) said that if the vote did not pass they would have lost access to those matching federal funds.

“Some of it wasn’t done correctly in my opinion, it does need to be widened, it needs to be repaved,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “Some parts of that road have had potholes there for years.”

Commack Road has been a point of contention between the towns of Smithtown and Huntington and Suffolk County for close to eight years, according to Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). The dispute comes down to which side is responsible for cleaning and repairing the roads.

“We are looking to do everything to protect our taxpayers to make sure we get the appropriate county resources and the road gets paved,” Cuthbertson said.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been promoting the Rails to Trails project for years. Funding the project through bonds came up for vote July 17 and it passed nearly unanimously with Kennedy abstaining.

“This is a long time coming, and in the seven years I’ve been in office I have not stopped facilitating this project,” Anker said.

The plan is to establish the trail from Port Jefferson to Wading River along rights-of-way and old train tracks able to facilitate both bikers and joggers. During the public speaking portion of the July 17 meeting, the room was filled with supporters for the trail.

“Long Island is filled with too many cars on clogged roads,” said Constance Iervolino, a board member of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “This would be a remarkable way to reduce that public safety threat.”

However, some residents still have large reservations about the project.

“The idea is good, the placement is bad,” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said at the meeting. “I have had many concerns that have not been dealt with. The depth of the asphalt is one of them — only three inches. The only answer I’ve gotten as to why that thin was because they wouldn’t be able to do the whole path.”

Of the $8.82 million for the Rails to Trails project, 94 percent of the project will be funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Half a million dollars of that bond were matching funds from just one of several federal grants, which had a looming August expiration deadline.

Other projects that were re-voted on included $150,000 to finance the planning costs for a new police K-9 unit headquarters and kennel, which was voted down.

Another vote for $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees was passed near unanimously with Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) giving the one dissenting vote.

Both the Commack Road repaving and Rails to Trails were voted down at the June 5 legislative meeting as the seven members of the Republican minority in the Legislature voted “no,” citing the projects’ inclusion in a series of lumped bonds. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought forward a proposal at the June 5 and 19 legislative meetings that included several bundled together bond requests for a wide array of projects to be voted on as a single package, but the seven Republicans in the Legislature did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, they said.

Hurdles remain for project, which could have environmental and economic implications

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

They’ve got the power.

Brookhaven Town voted 6-0 with one abstention in favor of lifting a restrictive covenant on an application by Caithness Energy LLC to construct a new, 600-megawatt energy generation plant in Yaphank at a July 12 meeting. When the board approved the independent power producer’s initial 2014 application, when it sought to construct a 750-megawatt facility, it imposed strict regulations aimed at preventing Caithness from making any changes to its plans, or face starting over from square one getting approvals. The power company asked town officials to lift the covenant for its present-day plans that feature newly available technology — which is what required the second vote, preceded by a June 26 public hearing.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) abstained from the July 12 vote after voting against the application in 2014, which passed 5-2. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) voted “no” in 2014, but approved the lifting of the restrictive covenant this time around.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright voted against Caithness’ application in 2014, and abstained from the vote to remove a restrictive covenant on the application July 12. File photo by Erika Karp

“In requiring such covenant proposed in 2015, the town board did not intend to require the applicant return for covenant amendments when technology changes or improves, or to construct a less impactful energy generating facility,” Brookhaven Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto read from her office’s findings on the matter. “In fact, the town board finds that in consideration of the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the town, the town shall not regulate or restrict the technology that may be used by the applicant.”

Caithness President Ross Ain said in a statement the company was pleased to hear the town had repealed the restriction.

“We now look forward to consideration and approval of the site plan filed with the Planning Board for what will be the region’s cleanest, most fuel-efficient, and most water-conserving power plant,” Ain said.

Cartright explained she was abstaining from the vote to repeal the restrictive covenant because she thought a vote to either approve or disapprove of Caithness’ entire application would be more appropriate. She also raised a concern about the special use permit issued to Caithness in 2014, which according to her interpretation of town law, expired July 15, 2018.

“That’s under consideration,” Eaderesto said of Cartright’s concern in a phone interview.
The town attorney said she expected the Planning Board to decide if Caithness will be required to reapply for the special use permit for the Yaphank site this week.

Don Miller, a spokesman for Caithness Energy, did not respond to a question raised by email regarding Cartright’s suggestion the company’s special use permit expired Sunday.

Caitness’ renewed request comes as Port Jefferson Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with Long Island Power Authority over the utility company’s contention its Port Jeff plant’s property taxes are over assessed based on the decreasing energy demand. The settlement would smooth the impact of a potential substantial loss of revenue for the village, Port Jefferson School District, Port Jefferson Free Library and Port Jefferson Fire Department based on a reduced assessment of the plant. It would also prevent the village from being held liable for years of back pay should it have chosen to play out the legal battle in court and lost rather than settling the case. The village has argued a way to make good with LIPA over its decreasingly needed plant could be to increase its output capacity. If constructed, the Caithness II plant, which would be built nearby the company’s first Yaphank plant opened in 2009, could theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plant.

However, according to Ain, as of June 26 LIPA has made no commitment to purchase power from the company should a second facility be constructed in Yaphank. It does purchase power from the first Caithness plant.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff.”

— Margot Garant

The June 26 public hearing drew comments from those in favor of the proposal, many of whom being Longwood school district residents who would likely see a reduction in property taxes, similar to what Port Jeff residents enjoy currently for housing the Port Jefferson Power Station. Environmental groups and other residents opposed the plan, as did Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who each submitted statements to be read into the record by Cartright against the proposal and urging the board to vote it down June 26.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff at the end of the proposed period of gradual reductions, while leaving us to deal with an enormous, closed, unusable industrial site which will need serious environmental remediation,” Garant said in her letter read by Cartright. The mayor said she has sent a similar inquiry to the town board as was raised by Cartright regarding the life of the applicant’s special use permit, though has yet to hear back from Brookhaven.

A representative from Sierra Club Long Island, a local chapter of the national nonprofit dedicated to environmental advocacy, spoke out against Caithness II during the June 26 hearing.

“The Sierra Club strongly opposes any attempt to construct a new gas plant on Long Island, and we oppose the Caithness II proposal regardless of the technology involved,” said Shay O’Reilly, an organizer for the nonprofit. “It is absurd to argue that building more fracked gas infrastructure will allow us to meet our clean energy and pollution reduction goals.”

This post was updated July 17 to include comment from Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant.

The failing jetties have been cited as a contributor to erosion at Port Jefferson Village's East Beach

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

Officials believe one of the few things that stands in the way of further erosion of Port Jefferson Village’s East Beach, which sits on the Long Island Sound at the end of Village Beach Road, are jetties, or rock pilings meant to protect the shoreline, at the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor, just east of the Port Jeff beach. With the two town-owned structures in need of restoration, Brookhaven is looking for some additional funding.

The Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously at a July 12 meeting to submit grant applications to the New York State Green Innovations Grant Program and Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for additional money to work on the jetty reconstruction project.

The $8.6 million jetty project has been in the works for several years, but only truly got underway in 2016. The town is seeking reimbursement of about $1.3 million through the grants. The resulting $7.3 million net cost would be financed through an existing $3 million Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally provided through New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), and $4.3 million from a previous town bond resolution.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the old east and west jetties have holes from rocks collapsing, which allows sand to stream through. Age has not been kind to either structure, and the seaward sides of both jetties remain submerged at high tide. Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy caused further damage to the jetties over subsequent years.

With the money the town already has along with these new grant bids, Bonner said she is optimistic reconstruction of the jetties will start some time in 2019.

“Those holes create a current at high tide that allows sand to get through,” Bonner said. “We are completely committed to taking all the necessary steps to make sure this gets done right.”

Brookhaven is the only Long Island municipality in charge of jetties, as the Army Corps of Engineers maintains all others, according to Bonner.

Brookhaven has also hired Melville-based Nelson & Pope Engineers & Land Surveyor, PLLC to at a cost of $151,800 for help in the Mount Sinai Harbor dredging project. The dredging will widen the inlet and relieve the pressure of the water hitting the jetties at high tide, according to Bonner. Widening the inlet will help flush out Mount Sinai Harbor, which would lead to cleaner water for both fish living in the harbor and the town’s shellfish at its mariculture facility.

The failing jetties have had an impact on the shoreline of Port Jeff Village. The bottom 15 feet of the bluff along East Beach had fallen 260 feet west of the rock revetment, according to a 2016 letter from Stony Brook-based GEI Consultants, a privately-owned consulting firm contracted by the village, to the village regarding its concerns about erosion. GEI also stated that repairs to the jetties should be the first step in alleviating erosion issues.

Bonner said some of the preliminary work already done has helped relieve the flow of water coming into the inlet and through the jetties, but until the real reconstruction starts the erosion of the local beach remains a problem.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said Mount Sinai Harbor contributes millions of dollars to community through tourism.

“It’s a very special harbor,” Anker said. “Repairing the channel should be a primary concern.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone details plans to present un-lumped bonds at the July 17 legislature meeting during a press conference July 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though the fight over lump bonding in the Suffolk County Legislature is not over yet, both parties are looking to find common ground.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the county would be offering un-lumped bond resolutions for the next legislative session July 17, after a series of bond-seeking bills for various projects were voted down on a party-line vote last month.

“Unfortunately we have seen the creeping into Suffolk County of national style politics that has delivered abuse in Washington – which is a shame because we haven’t had that in Suffolk, particularly when it comes to funding of critically important and even routine capital projects,” Bellone said. “I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

Bellone mentioned several bond resolutions that will be up for vote come July 17. One includes funding for repaving on Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. Two other major projects include $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees, and $8.82 million in funds for the Rails to Trails project that will establish a trail from Wading River to Mount Sinai on grounds that used to host train tracks.

Ninety-four percent of Rails to Trails is funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the driving force behind the project, said if the bond doesn’t pass the county could miss the August deadline to get access to those federal grants.

“We have already invested $1 million with a design and engineering plan that we will have to reimburse if this bond does not pass,” Anker said. “We are ready to put a shovel in the ground, even at the end of this year.”

“I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

— Steve Bellone

The legislature needs to vote “yes” on both an appropriations bill as well as one to approve bond funding to support capital projects, and for weeks the two parties in the legislature have battled over bundled bonds. Bellone has said the Republican minority was hypocritical if it voted for the project’s appropriations but voted against the funding. Republicans were against any lump bonds because they did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, lumped with items they were comfortable supporting now.

Because the legislature requires 12 of the 18 members to pass a bond vote, the seven-member Republican minority have joined together during the past two legislative meetings to shoot down any lump bonds.

Bellone said he would be going forward with legislation that would require both appropriations and bonding be included in one single vote, but Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the Legislative Counsel has questioned the legality of that idea, with appropriations requiring 10 votes and bonds needing 12.

Instead, Gregory said he instructed the county clerk to write up the next week’s meeting agenda to have bonds be voted on before appropriations.

“If the bond resolution fails then the appropriation doesn’t come up for a vote,” Gregory said. “It limits the opportunity for somebody to vote for it before voting against it … Hopefully it takes the politics a little bit out of it.”

Republicans in the legislature see the move away from lump bonding as a victory.

“We’re happy that the County Executive has agreed to go back to individual bond resolution for several bonds,” Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said. “We’re looking forward to working forward with the County Executive over the coming months to find some common ground.”

Though Cilmi said he and other Republican legislators are happy the bonds will not be lumped together, he still has misgivings about a few of the projects, especially when it comes to county finances.

“There are certain proposals where we agree with the project, but we believe the funding for the project should come out of operating funds rather than going out and borrowing money to do it,” Cilmi said. “The county is $2 billion in debt, and we have to exercise restraint in how we go out and borrow money.”

A view of how Gyrodyne intends to subdivide the land. Image from Suffolk County planning department

The Town of Smithtown now knows it faces an estimated price tag of $7 to $10 million to bring St. James sewage systems into the modern era.

Smithtown officials are poring over the evaluation of the St. James Sewer District prepared by Melville-based H2M Architects & Engineers where they broke down the projected costs of installing dry sewer mains and pump stations needed to build a sewer district for the Lake Avenue business district.

“[W]e’ve already proceeded with sending those to state Sen. [John] Flanagan’s office to get us grant funding to put in sewer lines along Lake Avenue and pay for the pump station.”
– Nicole Garguilo

In its report dated June 8, H2M projected that installing sewers and a force main at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A would cost approximately $1.78 million, including funds for curb-to-curb roadway restoration, if undertaken in 2020.

The engineers considered two different options for providing sewers to 18 properties along North Country Road/Route 25A from the Long Island Railroad track near Edgewood Avenue east to Clinton Avenue. The first method would cost approximately $3.8 million to install gravity sewers, a force main and pump station needed to reach a sewage treatment plant but would not provide for full road restoration. A second
design would cost the town roughly $6.2  million with road restoration costs included.

“Now that they gave us these cost estimates, we’ve already proceeded with sending those to state Sen. [John] Flanagan’s office to get us grant funding to put in sewer lines along Lake Avenue and pay for the pump station,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said.

Smithtown officials are hoping Flanagan (R-East Northport) can secure the funding through New York State’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in April 2017, which provides money for drinking water infrastructure and groundwater protection.

The estimated cost for St. James Sewer District are calculated on the premise that Gyrodyne, LLC will build a sewage treatment plan with the capacity to accommodate neighboring Lake Avenue businesses. Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) first opened conversations with Gyrodyne about considering such a move earlier this spring.

“We continue to be supportive of Supervisor Wehrheim’s vision for Smithtown, as well as the hamlet of St. James.
– Gary Fitlin

“We continue to be supportive of Supervisor Wehrheim’s vision for Smithtown, as well as the hamlet of St. James,” Gary Fitlin, CEO and president of Gyrodyne said. “Our plans include a sewage treatment plant, which is tremendously beneficial to the community versus traditional cesspools.”

Gyrodyne announced its intentions to work with the Town of Smithtown to its shareholders on June 29 calling it “an opportunity to create added value for both the company and the towns of Smithtown and Brookhaven.” It has hired Woobury-based Cameron Engineering & Associates to redesign its proposed sewage treatment plant to handle the plans it has for Flowerfield property and have excess capacity to service the business district of St. James.

Wehrheim said hearing Gyrodyne is sharing these intentions with its investors is positive news for St. James business owners and Smithtown.

“I think it’s great,” the supervisor said. “The fact they are selling it to their shareholders and having their engineers look at it means they are serious about doing it.”

Brookhaven Councilman Daniel Panico and Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Alex Petroski

Elected officials in Brookhaven Town are taking steps that could both lengthen and shorten their time in office.

The board voted to hold a public hearing Aug. 2 on the idea of instituting a three-term limit on elected positions while also extending the length of a term from two to four years at a June 26 meeting. This would limit officials to 12 years in office.

Brookhaven is currently the only town on Long Island with two-year terms for elected officials, according to Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

“I’m supporting it because when you have the entire government turn over every two years it can provide for a lack of stability,” Romaine said on changing from two-year to four-year terms. “You don’t have the constant churning in politics that can sometimes undermine the system. It allows for long-range planning and programs. It takes the politics out of local government.”

Councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) each expressed similar sentiments when asked if they intend to support the idea. They said having to prepare to run for office every two years hinders their ability to complete and implement projects, especially pertaining to land use, which they said can take time.

“I believe there’s merit in establishing term limits and four-year terms,” Cartright said, but said she intends to keep an open mind and let residents weigh in. “It lends itself to better government.”

Specifically on limiting officials to three terms, LaValle said it should encourage fresh ideas and new faces stepping up to run, which he viewed as a positive, calling it a good combination both for government and residents.

If these changes are approved by the board, the proposal would go to a referendum vote in November giving taxpayers the opportunity to ultimately decide the idea’s fate. It could impact the town supervisor position, each of the six council seats, superintendent of highways, town clerk and receiver of taxes starting as of 2020.

“I think it will be a very interesting referendum on the ballot to see what people want,” LaValle said.

Bonner said she has changed her mind on term limits, saying she was among those who view Election Day as the inherent way to limit the term of a politician failing to serve their constituents.

“What it will essentially do is create not just good government, but better government,” Bonner said.

In January, the Town of Huntington passed similar legislation limiting all elected positions, to three terms of four years each.

“The town is going to be much better off,” Councilman Gene Cook said upon passing the legislation. He proposed the idea to Huntington’s board in June 2017. “Elected officials have an upper hand and can be there forever. Now, we’ve sort of evened the field today. It took a long time, far too long, but I’m glad it’s done.”

A bee pollinates catmint in Jen Carlson’s garden. Photo by Jen Carlson
Native plants dominate the landscape this year

By Sabrina Petroski

April showers sure did bring May flowers, and those beautiful flowers just keep blooming. In celebration, the Rocky Point Civic Association will present its 6th annual Rocky Point Garden Tour on Saturday, July 14. The tour, held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine, will showcase 10 beautiful gardens in the Rocky Point area including the one at the historic Noah Hallock House.

A Ruby Falls weeping redbud at a previous garden tour. Photo by Edith Mahler

According to the creator of the event,  civic association member Kathy Weber, the gardens on the tour will be “architecturally inspiring” and will feature annuals and perennials, native and heirloom plants, shrubs and trees, several ponds, a herb garden and a sustainable meadow adopt-a-spot. The idea for the tour originally stemmed from Weber’s own love of gardening. “I always liked to garden and thought Rocky Point has so many unique landscapes,” she said.

Rory Rubino, a member of the board of the civic association and the corresponding secretary for the Rocky Point Historical Society said she enjoys going to this tour every year. “I’ve seen so many amazing gardens. I wish I knew how they got their flowers to bloom so incredibly unique and beautiful!” 

She continued, “The features that are the most interesting are those that conform to how Rocky Point is, using natural rocks for rock walls and unusual plants from the area. Our gardeners’ dedication to natural Long Island plants, not foreign ones, is incredible. They try to use local plants, and by doing so they attract the most butterflies and birds.”

Milkweed in the center, surrounded by rose campion, blooms in Jen Carlson’s garden.

One of the featured gardens is curated by Master Gardener Jen Carlson. Her garden, Pollinator Paradise, includes flowers for pollinators and creates an environment that supports beneficial insects and wildlife. “I will be providing garden tour guests with information from Cornell Cooperative Extension regarding plant varieties that benefit bees and other pollinators, information on composting, and resources available to residents from CCE,” she explained in a recent email.

The Hallock House property will highlight gardens lovingly restored by Edith Mahler, a master gardener and trustee at the historical society, based on historical research of herb and flower gardens from the 1700s to the 1900s.

In addition, one of the stops on the tour will host a book signing and sale (cash only) of “Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family” by Rocky Point resident Kathy McKeon. As of press time, Weber was hoping to add a local artist as well.

Guests will be greeted at each stop by the homeowner, and each home will have refreshments to enjoy while taking in the beautiful scenery. Because the gardens are at various locations around Rocky Point, ticket holders can go where they please without a strict schedule to follow. 

A raised bed garden at the Hallock House. Photo by Edith Mahler

Tickets for the tour ($10 each, cash only) are available now through July 14 and may be purchased at Back to Basics, 632 Route 25A; Flowers on Broadway, 43 Broadway; Heritage Paint, 637 Route 25A; and Handy Pantry, 684 Route 25A, all in Rocky Point. 

Each ticket also includes admission to the Noah Hallock House (1721) at 172 Hallock Landing Road. The oldest standing house in Rocky Point, it features vintage furniture including a rocking horse from 1750, photographs of the Hallock family, a gallery room where local artists have donated paintings and many more artifacts that will transport guests back in time. The gift shop will also be open.

The 6th annual Rocky Point Garden Tour is sponsored by the Rocky Point Civic Association, Carlson Mechanical and the Rocky Point Funeral Home and was organized by volunteers on the Beautification Committee of the Rocky Point Civic Association. Proceeds from the tour will benefit the Rocky Point Civic Association and the Hallock House. For more information, please call 631-521-5726.

By naming a trustee to decide the amount of distributions to be taken, the account holder can rest assured that the IRA savings won’t be squandered. Stock photo

By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

One of the most misunderstood planning strategies is that retirement funds, such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and Roth IRAs, should not name a trust as designated beneficiary. My clients are often advised by their financial adviser to name individuals and not trusts, even minor or disabled beneficiaries. That could be the most expensive mistake made by a retirement account holder and one I often see. The IRA retirement trust is the answer.

First, clients are concerned about protecting their beneficiaries from claims of creditors: that is, divorcing spouses, judgment creditors and Medicaid if the beneficiary needs long-term care.  

While IRA accounts are protected from creditors of the original account holder and surviving spouse, the same is not true for inherited IRAs. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that when someone other than the spouse inherits an IRA, the account is subject to beneficiary’s creditors. Thus, if parents want to protect their child, they can name a trust as the beneficiary of the account, instead of naming the child directly. Correctly written, the trust can allow the trustee to use the beneficiary’s life expectancy, commonly referred to as a “stretch IRA.” 

Under federal tax law, designating an individual as the beneficiary of a retirement account results in tax efficiencies by allowing the beneficiary to take the benefits over their life expectancy based upon the beneficiary’s age at the time of the owner’s death and the use of an IRS actuarial table. 

Each year the beneficiary of the IRA must take a minimum distribution from the inherited IRA and must pay income tax on the distribution. The balance of the IRA continues to grow tax deferred, only distributions are taxable. Therefore, a young beneficiary will be able to defer the tax longer (commonly known as “stretch”) and enjoy exponential growth. In the case of a Roth IRA, the account holder has already paid the tax, so the beneficiary can continue to have tax-free growth, not tax deferred, over his or her life expectancy.

In order to use the trust beneficiary’s life expectancy, the trust must meet the following criteria: 

The trust must be valid under state law; the trust must be irrevocable by the time of the account holder’s death; the trust beneficiaries must be identifiable within the trust document; the retirement beneficiary custodian, issuer, administrator or trustee must be provided with a copy of the trust document by Oct. 31 of the year after the year of the retirement owner’s death and there must be an agreement to that information in the event it is ever changed; and all the “counted” beneficiaries of the trust are “individuals.”

Typically, trusts that satisfy the above criteria will qualify for the stretch. The trusts are drafted as either a conduit trust or an accumulations trust. 

The simplest trust is a conduit trust, which allows the trustee to decide on the amount and timing of any and all distributions from the trust. However, any distributions taken must be paid immediately to the beneficiary — who must be an individual. The trust can be drafted to give the trustee the power to take only minimum distributions or distributions more than the minimum.  

The second type of trust is a qualified accumulation trust. This trust permits the trustee to accumulate annual minimum required distributions in the trust after the distributions are received from the inherited retirement benefit and is used for beneficiaries that have existing creditor problems to protect the annual distributions from a creditor’s reach. 

If the payment were to be paid to the beneficiary outright, the creditor would be able to take the distribution. This type of trust is also used for a supplemental needs trust for a disabled individual. Since most supplemental needs trusts are intended to protect government benefits, it is imperative that the distributions be permitted to accumulate in the trust.  

Under New York law, for example, the beneficiary (other than supplemental needs beneficiary) can be her own trustee with the power to make distributions to herself for an ascertainable standard of health, education, maintenance and support without subjecting the trust to claims of her creditors. In cases where the beneficiary is unable to act as trustee, because of lack of maturity, irresponsibility or disability, someone else can be named as trustee. Importantly, the trustee will be the “gatekeeper” and take minimum distributions and exercise discretion to take even more from the IRA if needed and permitted by the trust terms.  

By naming a trustee to decide the amount of distributions to be taken, the account holder can rest assured that the IRA savings won’t be squandered. Beneficiaries that are not financially savvy can create tax problems by taking distributions without considering the income tax consequences. Not only will the distributions be taxable, the distribution may put the beneficiary in a higher tax bracket for all their income. 

Retirement funds are often the largest assets in a decedent’s estate and usually given the least amount of consideration. Consideration should be given to naming a retirement trust as the designated beneficiary.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office. 

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By Linda M. Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: In his will my father names me as the executor of his estate. I filed a petition in Surrogate’s Court to be appointed executor and have been issued letters testamentary. In addition to his home in New York, my father owned a vacation home in Florida, which I need to sell. 

THE QUESTIONS: Do the letters testamentary issued by the New York Surrogate’s Court give me the authority to sell the property in Florida? I was told I had to get authority from a court in Florida that deals with estates. Is that true?

THE ANSWER:  The quick answers to your questions are “no” and “yes,” respectively. Letters testamentary issued by a Surrogate’s Court in New York give you the authority to handle real property in New York. They do not give you the authority to sell property outside the state. That is because New York courts do not have jurisdiction over property in other states. In order to sell the Florida property, you will have to obtain authority from a court in Florida that handles matters relating to estates.

In order to obtain authority from the Florida court, you need to file a petition with the probate division of the circuit court in the county in Florida where your father’s property is located. 

As part of the petition you will need to provide the Florida court with a copy of the petition filed with the New York Surrogate’s court and a copy of the letter testamentary issued to you by that court. You will also need to pay the court a fee based upon the value of the Florida property. Once that court reviews and approves the petition, you will be issued ancillary letters testamentary and will be appointed the personal representative of your father’s estate. Based on that appointment, you will be able to dispose of your father’s property in Florida.

The ancillary probate process can be quite costly, especially if you retain Florida counsel to handle the matter for you. Because of the extra time, effort and expense of an ancillary proceeding, some people avoid the process entirely by creating a revocable trust to hold their out-of-state property. This is especially true when people own property in more than one state in addition to New York. 

If your father had put the Florida property in a revocable trust and named you as the trustee, you would have been able to dispose of the property without the need for court intervention. An experienced estate planning attorney could have discussed this option with your father and helped him determine how best to proceed. 

Linda M. Toga provides personalized service and peace of mind to her clients in the areas of estate planning, wills and trusts, Medicaid planning, estate administration, marital agreements, small business services, real estate and litigation. Visit her website at www.lmtogalaw.com or call 631-444-5605 to schedule a free consultation.  

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