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Councilwoman Lynne Nowick is the town board liaison to the Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo

Their calls for change helped spark the formation of an expert-led animal shelter advisory board, but Smithtown residents still said they felt excluded from the process.

Several residents have flanked each town board meeting over the last several months with aggressive calls for change at the Smithtown Animal Shelter. In response, Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) announced a new advisory board back in February, soon after taking on the shelter liaison role from Councilman Bob Creighton (R), which included the shelter’s 30-year Director George Beatty, animal welfare experts Lucille DeFina and Diane Madden, and animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein. But residents still confronted Nowick at last Thursday’s town board meeting demanding answers as to why there was no Smithtown-based spokesperson involved.

Angela Cano, a Smithtown resident, was only one of several residents to call on Nowick to give Smithtown natives a seat at the advisory table to help shape the shelter’s future. She thanked Nowick for assembling the board, but spoke as a member of a Smithtown mothers’ Facebook group in saying she and her neighbors felt shut out of the process.

“They feel very strongly that while we are thankful for the women on the advisory board, we feel at least one resident should be more involved in what is going on in the shelter,” she said. “There are thousands of people backing that up.”

Nowick defended the advisory board and said they were already making great strides toward addressing accusations and concerns over animal neglect and institutional failure under Beatty’s watch.

“There is a Smithtown resident on the board,” Nowick said, causing a brief moment of confusion throughout the room. “I am a lifetime resident of Smithtown. I believe I have an advisory board that is working.”

Nowick said the board was looking to meet every two weeks until tangible changes are enacted, and each step of the decision-making process would be done publicly.

Liz Downey, a volunteer Humane Society district leader in the state’s 1st Congressional District, defended the advisory group as proof that Smithtown and its elected leaders were serious about shelter reform. She asked the residents of the community to embrace the board and stand behind Nowick rather than challenge her.

“The Smithtown Animal Shelter has already taken the unprecedented step of appointing an advisory council comprised of known animal advocates,” she said. “This is a step that other shelters do not take, proving that the Smithtown Animal Shelter is serious about making changes. Now is the time for advocates who brought the issue to light to roll up their sleeves and work with the council as it reviews, recommends and institutes a plan that better serves the animal[s] moving forward.”

Town Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) also stood behind his colleague and said the town was doing whatever it needed to do to make sure the shelter stepped up its game to the satisfaction of its own animal advocates.
“Everyone on this board is committed to make it a state-of-the-art, best animal shelter on Long Island,” he said.

Currently, Nowick said the town’s Parks Department was working with the town board and Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) to help shelter volunteers keep the space clean. She also said any residents who felt they were being disenfranchised from the process could give her office a call at any time to brainstorm potential ideas, or check in on the progress of her advisory board.

“When the board was formed, I didn’t say, ‘Where do you live?’” Nowick said. “I said, ‘What is your background?’ I have faith in the board. They’re doing the job.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright is putting pressure on the knocking down of Pine Barrens forrest in favor of a solar farm. File photo

A new bill protecting children from toxic chemicals is making its way through the state Assembly as elected officials work to keep chemicals out of children’s products.

The bill — commonly known as the Child Safe Products Act — would empower New York State to identify and phase out dangerous chemicals in products marketed to kids, lawmakers said. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) helped craft the legislation and has been pushing it forward with hopes of keeping young people safe from what they cannot see.

If the legislation is passed, the state would compile a list of high-concern chemicals made up of those known to cause health problems such as cancer, learning and developmental disorders, asthma and more, officials said.

Then, a list of priority chemicals used in children’s products will be drafted for disclosure, lawmakers said.

“This bill addresses issues of poisonous products for children,” Englebright said. “It’s very important to protect the children. And that’s what I intend to do.”

The makers of children’s products would also be required to report their use of priority chemicals in their merchandise after a year, and phase out their use of such chemicals three years later.

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said legislation like this is important because there is always a need to prevent innocent children from being exposed to such harmful chemicals like arsenic, mercury, cadmium, formaldehyde and more.

“Kids are more vulnerable and more likely to put things in their mouth,” Spencer said. “Almost any toy could potentially have toxic chemicals.”

Spencer also said toxic chemicals are found in many children’s products such as clothes, dolls, toys and more. He said they can be in found things such as paint on a button or a bracelet a child wears.

According to Englebright, there are some 84,000 chemicals on the market today. The federal law that was supposed to protect against them — the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 —  “is a very weak law and has never been updated,” the lawmaker said.

The assemblyman also said he feels a bill like this is important for everyone in the state as it sets the standards manufacturers would be held to.

“We all benefit when children are protected from poorly regulated toxic chemicals that have the potential to harm development, cause illness and impair learning,” Englebright said. “I think it’s very important to get this bill to the governor’s desk.”

Spencer also said while he does support the bill, there should be guidelines and parameters set as there is the ability to detect parts per million, billion and even trillion. He said it is unnecessary to be overly restrictive as something at a certain parts per billion or trillion, may not be harmful.

Late last year, a press conference was held in Hauppauge to show parents the toxins present in certain items geared toward kids. While many of the toys at the conference had toxic chemicals in them, such a Hot Wheels cars or dresses bought in Long Island stores, there are toys on the market that are manufactured without them.

“A lot of times the effects of these toxic substances aren’t seen right away. But the impact lasts for a lifetime,” Spencer said at the December conference.

When asked why certain toys have chemicals and others don’t, Spencer said some manufacturers may be unaware of the chemicals present and others could possibly use the chemicals to maximize profit.

Miller Place property could be developed

The property is adjacent to Cordwood Landing County Park off of Landing Road in Miller Place. Photo by Erika Karp

A parcel of wooded land next to Cordwood Landing County Park in Miller Place is up for grabs, and the community isn’t letting the land be developed without a fight.

The 5.4-acre parcel, which backs up to the more than 64-acre county park off of Landing Road, has value to the residents of Miller Place, and according to Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), constituents have been making it clear that the land needs to be preserved.

A website and Facebook group, operating under the name Friends of Cordwood Landing, was launched a few months ago, and the group has been advocating for the land’s preservation. A representative from the group could not be reached for comment.

Back in December 2014, Anker began the process of acquiring the land from its owner, Rocky Point developer Mark Baisch, of Landmark Properties. The legislature unanimously voted to start the acquisition process so that the county could protect the area, which Anker described in a phone interview on March 17 as “residential,” from possible commercialization or industrialization. The county has hired appraisers to determine the land’s worth. According to law, the county can’t pay any more than the appraised value.

Anker said she would like to see the land become a part of the waterfront property of Cordwood Landing.

“I am a true environmentalist,” Anker said. “I will do everything I can to advocate and move this parcel forward through the acquisition process.”

According to Town of Brookhaven planning documents, Baisch submitted a request for a subdivision back in January. In a recent phone interview, Baisch said he would like to build homes on the land. However, if the county’s offer is sufficient, he said he would sell the land.

Anker said the proposal to acquire the land is currently in its early stages and is awaiting approval from the Environmental Trust Fund Review Board. If approved, the proposal will head to the Environmental, Planning, and Agriculture Committee, of which Anker is a member. She expects the proposal to get there by April.

In 2013, the county tried to purchase the land from its original owner, but the owner refused to sell.

Smorgasboard of suggestions at annual meeting

Tom McNally speaks at a town ethics board meeting last week. Photo by Susan Risoli

Huntington Town residents brought an assortment of suggestions to the annual public meeting of the town’s ethics board last week, where board members gathered input on improving the town’s ethics code.

The meeting room on Wednesday, March 18, was about half-full with attendees. Members of the town’s Board of Ethics & Financial Disclosure included Howard Glickstein, Louis England, Ralph Crafa and board counsel Steven Leventhal. Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) and Councilman Gene Cook (I) also attended the meeting.

Cook told board members that citizens have asked him “why the ethics board does not get back to them” when they make a complaint. He said he will send a letter to the board asking for an explanation, and he asked how long it would take the board to respond. Leventhal told Cook that “in all fairness,” ethics board members needed to see the letter before they could commit to a time frame for response. Cook pressed for details — “six months?” — and Leventhal said he “will undertake to help the board to respond to you in a reasonable amount of time.”

Many in the audience asked the board to hold public meetings quarterly, rather than once a year.

Robert Rockelein said he wanted to address “some noise in the streets” about the need for greater oversight of the ethics board. “Who’s watching the watchers?” he asked, and he called for increased scrutiny of the ethics board because “the current perception is that things are being swept under the table.”

Rather than relying on town employees to disclose their own finances, James Leonick said the ethics code should require employees submit supporting documents to back up their financial disclosure. He called for the information to be compared with documentation of previous years’ finances to show “any changes in assets, liabilities or income.” Leonick also said financial disclosure data should be kept on file for seven years. His request drew scattered applause and one listener murmured, “Excellent.”

Tom McNally said he spoke on behalf of the Huntington Republican Committee when he asked for mandatory training in ethics code for all town officials and employees. Such training “is done as standard operating procedure for most corporations,” he said.

He also said all ethics complaints filed with the town clerk should be made public, as well as all decisions of the ethics board, how they voted and whether any ethics board members recused themselves from a vote.

“Just looking for a little bit more transparency,” McNally said.

McNally asked the board to raise the penalty for ethics code violations, saying it should be much more than $5,000.

“We are now in the process of reviewing the code … we appreciate the thoroughness of your presentation,” Glickstein responded.

Marie Rendely took issue with Glickstein, calling him “good sir” and then pointing out that she used the term with sarcasm. “Our board of ethics is appointed by the town board,” she said. “Right there is a conflict of interest.”

Jim McGoldrick agreed, and said that when the ethics board is appointed by the town board, “it’s like the fox watching the chicken coop … it’s just not right.” Ethics board members should have no connection to the town, McGoldrick said.

Referring to recent Newsday reports of accusations of ethics violations by Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), Gerard Seitz said, “Why is Mark Cuthbertson still sitting on the town board? Why is he still voting on the downzoning of Oheka Castle for their luxury townhomes, when we already know about his questionable receiverships from [Oheka owner] Gary Melius along with Melius’ large Political donations?” Seitz said. “This isn’t an appearance of a conflict of interest, it is a conflict of interest.”

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Melville) is calling on Albany to increase the amount of financial aid it awards college students through the New York State Tuition Assistance Program.

The hike is needed, Lupinacci said, because there’s been no significant increase to the maximum TAP award in more than 10 years. Lupinacci is calling for a 25 percent increase in the maximum grant amount.

TAP funding is a grant that is intended to help cover tuition costs at New York State universities and colleges. The minimum TAP grant awarded per school year is $500 and the maximum is $5,165, according to the program’s website. Lupinacci wants to raise the maximum TAP award to $6,470 and increase the maximum household income for TAP eligibility from $80,000 to $100,000.

“As a college professor, I see every day how important TAP is for thousands of students,” he said in a recent statement. “An increase in funding would give students the relief they need to hit the ground running after graduation.”

TAP is awarded annually to New York State residents who study at full-time colleges within the state. Students who receive the grant must stay in good academic standing and meet the income requirement. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) website, nearly 400,000 students across the state received a TAP grant in 2013.

Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport) has signed on as a co-sponsor to Lupinacci’s bill and said an increase in the funding and eligibility is definitely needed for students across the state.

“The price of public education has gone up tremendously in 10 years,” Raia said in a phone interview.

Raia said while $80,000 seems like a lot of money, given the cost of living it is not as much for a family of four living on Long Island when compared to the same family of four living upstate. He said the cost of living is higher here and the increase in a maximum award is greatly needed.

Lupinacci, who currently teaches at Farmingdale State College, said it is important to have this increase in an effort to ease the financial burden on students. He said it would help cover significant portions of tuitions at State University of New York and City University of New York schools, and whatever it could for private schools’ tuitions.

Currently, the bill that was introduced on March 5 is being referred to the Assembly’s Higher Education committee, where Lupinacci is a ranking member. If this bill is approved, Lupinacci hopes the increase kicks in beginning April 1, 2016.

The most recent TAP increase was for $165 back in 2014. Cuomo announced the increase, nearly 15 years after the last one. The bill also has a state Senate sponsor, State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who has not seen the bill, said he favors a TAP increase.

“I think it’s a great investment in young people, who are the future of our state,” he said in a phone interview.

Poquott Civic Association President Carol Pesek says her group is still pursuing $23,000 they allege former President Eddie Schmidt mishandled when he was at the helm. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Missing money has the Poquott Civic Association approaching a boiling point.

An ongoing mystery regarding the $23,000 civic members alleged former President Eddie Schmidt mishandled two years ago reached a new milestone Thursday when the 21-year-old fired off a mass email to the civic. In the email, Schmidt outlined his tenure as president, explaining his silence since the accusations arose late last year and how they have affected him.

“The silence was a courtesy as I thought the present Board was genuinely working towards a mutual agreement between us to benefit the community. Unfortunately, the board was not genuine in its dealings, and has acted contrary to resolution,” Schmidt said in the letter. “I am writing this letter now to explain the situation, as I have genuine concerns regarding the presentation of the information by the Board, and by the climate of rumor that has spread throughout our village.”

Schmidt went on to detail the events he helped push as president despite a hefty workload while attending college at 19 years old. He said accusations, which he referred to as rumors, deeply hurt him.

“I did my best to work towards common ground while rumors became widespread, and incorrect information and damaging assumptions were presented.”

Schmidt, who resigned as president of the Poquott Civic Association in September, was accused of stealing more than $23,000 from the organization during his time at the helm. Civic leaders allege that while president, the 21-year-old used money raised at civic events to purchase things unrelated to civic expenses, like gasoline, Vineyard Vines clothing and dining at gourmet restaurants.

Members of the civic spoke up on the matter at Thursday’s monthly meeting for the first time in months as legal matters were ongoing. Civic President Carol Pesek brought new details on a potential settlement between her group and Schmidt as the parties try to reconcile the thousands of dollars that allegedly went missing.

“The letter opened the door for the civic board to bring more information to the community,” Pesek said in an interview the day after the meeting.

The board read a response back to the letter and then finally spoke about what members have been enduring the last few months. Peter Lavrenchik, a legal advisor who spoke on Schmidt’s behalf, said the former president and the board were exploring a potential settlement.

Pesek said the settlement offer was for $15,000 — $5,000 less than the money originally demanded late last year — and also included a controversial confidentiality clause that would forbid the board from speaking of the matter. There was also a nondisclosure clause that would forbid it from letting the community know where the money came from, and an agreement that Schmidt would not be prosecuted, the civic board said.

“It was an offer, but we couldn’t get past the confidentiality agreement,” Treasurer Felicia Chillak said.

Calling on legal advice, members of the board said they would not sign onto any settlement agreements for the time being. The response elicited a rousing response from members of the Poquott community.

“We never presented [the offer to the public] because in the beginning, we couldn’t get the confidentiality clause off the table,” Pesek said. “If we could have gotten rid of the confidentiality clause, we would have brought it to the table.”

Pesek said the board repeatedly told Lavrenchik that it would not sign a confidentiality clause, and he said there would be no offer without it.

Calls to Schmidt and Lavrenchik were not returned. Both parties were invited to the civic’s meeting, Pesek said, but did not attend.

Any future offers or potential settlements would be brought before the civic, Pesek said.

As community members went back and fourth discussing the $15,000 settlement Thursday night, Schmidt’s mom, Beth Schmidt, spoke emotionally in defense of her son, whom she said was waiting outside in her car. The legal trouble has weighed heavily on her son, who has been losing weight as a result of the emotional stress, the mother said.

“My kid did not steal $20,000 or $23,000,” his mother shouted at the meeting last week. “You practically destroyed him. I’m watching my kid suffer. He is a nice kid and feels terrible.”

Also in attendance at the meeting was Schmidt’s girlfriend, Kaitlin Sisti, who came to Schmidt’s defense and said there was no way he could have stolen the money, as it was all used for community events.

As the meeting drew closer to its conclusion, some members of the civic argued that regardless of which party was at fault, it was in the community’s best interests to move beyond this legal trouble.

“It’s tearing the village to pieces,” resident Harry Berry said after last week’s contentious meeting. “In 34 years, I have never seen anything split the village like this.”

The 2015 Women's Recognition Awards honorees. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Brookhaven Town celebrated some of its most dedicated women at the town’s 29th Annual Women’s Recognition Night on March 19. Twelve women were honored at the reception for their commitment and excellence in their respective endeavors.

Every year, Brookhaven residents nominate women who either live or work in the town to receive the award. Members of the town’s Women’s Advisory Board then select the honorees based on resumes and letters of recommendation. Winners are selected in a variety of areas and professional fields including business, community service and health care. Below are the 2015 honorees.

Business: Lorice Belmonte, Patchogue, The Colony Shop owner
Community Service Professional: Linda Bily, Selden, Stony Brook Cancer Center director of patient advocacy
Community Service Volunteer: Michelle L. Benincasa, Patchogue, South Country Ambulance Co. emergency medical technician
Education: Deborah A. Lang, Middle Island, Longwood Central School District educator
Government: Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, Stony Brook, Middle Country Public Library director
Health Care Provider: Pamela Koch, Yaphank, Stony Brook University Hospital certified nurse midwife and clinical instructor
Law: Karen M. Wilutis, Miller Place, Suffolk County District Court judge
Law Enforcement: Gail P. D’Ambrosio, Port Jefferson Station, Suffolk County senior probation officer
Medicine: Dr. Alice J. Kolasa, Mount Sinai, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital director of palliative medicine
Religion: Grace G. LoGrande, Selden, St. Margaret of Scotland Roman Catholic Church volunteer
Science: Dr. Nancy C. Marshall, Port Jefferson, Stony Brook University professor
Visual and Performing Arts: Judith Levy, Stony Brook, Gallery North director

Town takes lead on latest Suffolk County initiative saving money by reducing fossil fuel consumption

Smithtown has already shown its commitment to environmentally friendly projects since expanding its solar initiative over the last several years. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown has flipped the switch on energy savings.

The town board voted unanimously last Thursday to make Smithtown the first town in Suffolk County to adopt a new county-developed alternative energy geothermal code for residential and commercial properties, paving the way for more energy-efficient construction practices. The motion was brought before a public hearing at last week’s town board meeting and met with praise from those close to the model code.

“There is an energy crisis on Long Island. We have some of the highest electric rates in the entire nation,” said Smithtown resident Mike Kaufman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, who helped draft the model code. “Fossil fuel energy has high costs and we have severe environmental costs when fossil fuels are used. Town of Smithtown residents need to think globally and act locally by going green as much as possible.”

Smithtown Building Director William White said the code was drafted with help from several state and local agencies with hopes of capitalizing on geothermal technology, which draws energy from the earth to provide heating, cooling and hot water for homes. The benefits, he said, include a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, the lowering of heat consumption and costs, and nearly quadrupling the efficiency of fossil fuel systems.

“The installation of geothermal systems has been increasing statewide,” he said. “And best of all, there are no changes in building permit fees necessary.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stood beside the Planning Commission as well as PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization back in November to unveil the new energy code and urged for all towns to consider its adoption. When the code was made public PSEG also announced it would provide implementation assistance of $10,000 to each township and $5,000 to the first 10 villages with a population greater than 5,000 residents across Long Island that adopted the code by March 31.

Smithtown was also one of the first of 10 towns to sign onto another model code crafted at the county Planning Commission for solar energy, which helps municipalities evaluate proposed solar energy systems for residential and commercial properties. Since its adoption, an estimated 6,000 solar installations have been finished throughout Long Island.

Kaufman praised the board for taking the lead as the first Suffolk town to sign onto the code after it was introduced back in November, with his help. Under the new code, he said the town will reduce greenhouse gases and use less electricity while expanding clean technology and making sure it is installed correctly.

“We wrote a model code, and a number of towns have begun the efforts to adopt them. But Smithtown is the first to actually get up to the plate and adopt it,” he said. “This town is one of the leaders in Suffolk with going green efforts and it is a pleasure to see my hometown leading the way and stepping up.”

Port Jefferson Village Treasurer Don Pearce, above, worked with the board of trustees on Monday night at Village Hall to reduce the budget for 2015-16. File photo

Port Jefferson officials are whittling down the village’s budget proposal for 2015-16.

During a budget workshop at Village Hall on Monday afternoon, the board of trustees slashed almost $300,000 from department funding requests, to get the preliminary spending plan down to about $10.34 million.

One of the pricier items the trustees removed was a generator for the Department of Public Works — something that had also been an issue during last year’s budget process. On Monday, the trustees agreed that the generator, being a one-time capital expense, would better belong in the capital budget, rather than the operating budget. The board was also looking at the generator as part of a larger capital project: its proposed emergency operations center.

Due to safety concerns and power complications during storms like Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Winter Storm Nemo in 2013, officials have set up shop at the Mount Sinai headquarters of the Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance Company during weather emergencies. But the village is seeking to build an emergency operations center, which would include a generator, at the village government building on North Country Road that houses both the public works and building and planning departments. That operations center could receive state aid to be built.

The draft $10.34 million budget for next year — as compared to the current $10 million budget — would increase the tax rate by a little more than $1.50 for every $100 of assessed value.

However, the trustees are still reviewing both the revenue and spending sides of the budget, including items like trustee salaries and the number of code enforcement work hours.

The board will hold a public hearing on possibly piercing through the state-imposed cap on tax levy increases in Village Hall on April 6, and then will hold a public hearing on a finalized budget proposal on April 15.

Bellone signs Anker's legislation into law

Sarah Anker introduced the legislation to require the warning signs last year. File photo by Erika Karp
Suffolk County retailers who sell liquid nicotine will now have to display a sign warning customers of the possible dangers associated with the product.

On Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed the legislation into law, which officials say is the first of its kind in the nation. The bill was sponsored by Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and seeks to educate consumers about liquid nicotine — an ultra-concentrated nicotine substance used in e-cigarettes. The product could be poisonous if swallowed, inhaled or if it comes in contact with skin. Anker pitched the legislation in December following the death of a Fort Plain, N.Y., one-year-old who ingested the product.

“This potent and possibly toxic product requires regulation, and without leadership from the federal Food and Drug Administration, Suffolk County must move forward to protect our residents with the required warning sign,” Anker said in a press release.

Calls to poison control centers regarding liquid nicotine poisoning have increased throughout the last few years, according to the press release. In 2012, there were fewer than 100 cases of nonlethal liquid nicotine poisoning; in 2013, the number rose to 1,300; and in 2014, the number jumped to 4,000.

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services will enforce the law and provide the downloadable warning signs. The law will take effect 90 days from filling with the Office of the Secretary of State.

Businesses in violation of the law could receive an up to $250 fine for a first offense. Fines increase to $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a violation thereafter.

Last year, the county prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to anyone younger than 21 years old.

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