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Unanimous vote paves way for $17 million proposal, improving animal shelter, streetlights over four years

File photo

Smithtown’s shovels are primed for the pavement.

The Town Board green-lighted nearly $17 million in capital projects over the next four years at its last meeting, including things like an animal shelter renovation, LED streetlight retrofittings and marina bulkhead improvements.

Town Comptroller Donald Musgnug pitched the 2015-2019 capital budget proposal earlier this year, which the town approved at the June 18 meeting, setting aside $5.6 million in projects this year alone. The comptroller said now was the time to consider such projects and the board responded with a unanimous 4-0 vote.

“Interest rates are at historically low rates and the town is fiscally strong,” Musgnug said when he pitched the plan in his first capital budget discussion since taking the job in February. “Now is the time to borrow, when rates are low, and thankfully we are in a position to do so.”

Musgnug said he expects replacing aging and otherwise deteriorating town equipment would reduce the amount of money set aside in future budgets for repairs and maintenance. In reference to an upcoming $3.1 million streetlight project this year that would bring LED lighting to Smithtown’s streets, Musgnug said the town would offset the costs of future projects in the form of savings.

“Taking advantage of new technology, such as in the case of LED bulbs for streetlights and the municipal solid waste facility, will reduce utility costs [and] repair costs and improve safety,” Musgnug said in his report in May. “Because the town’s finances have been conservatively managed over the years, there is little room to cut operating budgets, making the goal of staying within the New York State tax cap increasingly difficult in light of rising compensation, health care and pension costs.”

Musgnug said the town expected to reduce utility costs and repairs by $350,000 as a result of the streetlight LED retrofit, which will offset the cost of borrowing, which is $270,000 per year. The comptroller also said the town should anticipate equipment purchases and construction in 2016, mostly because of the first phase of Smithtown Animal Shelter renovations as well as upgrades at the town marina, which collectively require about $3.1 million in financing.

“Overall, I think it’s excellent,” Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) said when the proposals were introduced in May. “In past years, we borrowed money and put up capital projects, but they never got done. Let’s make sure someone oversees these.”

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The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

The Village of Poquott is ready to move forward after a year of infighting and accusations involving an investigation of former village trustee Eddie Schmidt and a missing $23,000, its newly elected officials said in the wake of last week’s vote.

Poquott villagers elected three new trustees and a justice last week. Harold Berry and Jeff Koppelson won the two trustee positions carrying two-year terms, while Sandra Nicoletti secured a trustee position carrying a one-year term. Paul Edelson won the race for justice as a write-in candidate.

Berry and Koppelson were elected with 105 votes and 131 votes, respectively, beating out Gary Garofano, the third candidate vying for one of the spots.

Nicoletti received 113 votes over Karen Sartain, who garnered 69 votes, the village clerk said.

The village did not have any names on the ballot for the justice position, so the spot went to Edelson, who received 96 votes, over Alexander Melbartis — another write-in — who received 87 votes.

“The previous board for the past year has done nothing but fight,” Berry said in a phone interview this week. “I think very little [has] gotten done.”

Berry has lived in the village for over 30 years, he said, and has served as a trustee before. Most recently, he filled the position of maintenance commissioner. The Village of Poquott government website lists his responsibilities as “roadways, lights, signs and drains.”

He said his experiences put him in the position to do some good for the Village of Poquott. Berry said that he campaigned on the platform of “truth, fairness for all and to do good things for the village.” His election has not clouded that view, he said.

“There’s a lot that can be done for the village, and I’m already in the process of doing that,” Berry said. “The board has to come together and work as one unit.”

Koppelson was a health care administrator and has a degree in administration, so he said he is ready to start putting that knowledge to use to help Poquott, he said.

“I’m looking forward to getting started. I ran to see if we could resolve some of the bad feelings and gridlock and start to reduce that,” Koppelson said during a phone interview this week. “Once we get started I’m confident that we can make that happen.”

Koppelson moved to Poquott in 1972, he said.

“People tend to have allegiances based on how long they’ve lived in the village,” Koppelson said, and he expressed his desire to eliminate that.

Koppelson acknowledged that his new position doesn’t make him responsible for “defense of the nation, or anything serious like that,” he said with a chuckle, but he does hope to impact the village positively during his two-year term.

Nicoletti served as a trustee from 2002 to 2014, according to village clerk Joe Newfield. She lost her seat in the 2014 election, then filled in on an interim basis after Schmidt resigned while she waited for the 2015 election. Nicoletti did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Edelson is an attorney at law and a mediator according to his email signature. He declined a request for further comment for this story.

Legislator Kara Hahn, center, speaks about her domestic violence bill as officials look on. Photo by Phil Corso

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) celebrated another milestone victory this week as her most recent efforts to curb domestic violence led to the rehiring of three outreach precinct project caseworkers months after being laid off.

The Long Island Against Domestic Violence non-for-profit organization, which provides domestic violence caseworkers in Suffolk County, did not receive a federal grant to fully staff their outreach project in March, and as a result, was forced to lay off four workers. And while LIADV secured private funding, allowing the rehire of one of the four caseworkers in May, Hahn’s recently passed budget amendment will now provide the organization with $79,000 to rehire the remaining three caseworkers this year.

Although the organization received the federal grant last year, according to Colleen Merlo, executive director of LIADV, its application the following year was denied. Its advocacy department includes seven precinct advocates, two of whom are also full-time court advocates. Victims in need still had the option of calling the organization’s 24-hour hotline at (631) 666-8833 during this time period, however, in the caseworkers’ absence.

Merlo also said the organization reapplied for this same federal grant, since the applications were available under the new funding cycle. The organization will not know if it received the federal grant until October.

Meanwhile, the $79,000 will last the non-for-profit organization until December of this year, Merlo said.

Hahn, alongside Legislators Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) sponsored this bill amendment, which County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has until July 16 to sign. For Hahn, who said she is a domestic violence survivor herself, this budget amendment will not only help the non-for-profit organization, but also the individuals who benefit from its services.

“I want to help victims get themselves out of violent situations,” Hahn said during a phone interview. While she said she doubts that domestic violence will disappear completely, Hahn said she wants to help these victims know their risks and find advocacy in their times of need.

This was Hahn’s fourth piece of domestic violence legislation to see validation through the county Legislature. Although she would not disclose what is next on her domestic violence agenda, Hahn said Suffolk County is “on the cutting edge” of protecting domestic violence victims. She also said the county will continue to support organizations at the frontline of this issue.

Merlo said non-for-profit organizations like LIADV need funding from multiple levels to successfully provide their services.

“I’m appreciative of the budget amendment,” Merlo said during a phone interview. “But the truth of the matter is that we need to provide our services and we rely on not just the government but private donors as well.”

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Town Councilman Tom McCarthy, Supervisor Pat Vecchio and Comptroller Donald Musgnug discuss Smithtown’s financial standing going into the 2016 budget year. Photo by Phil Corso

Smithtown is tightening its belt, town Comptroller Donald Musgnug said at a town board meeting on Tuesday.

As per Supervisor Pat Vecchio’s (R) request, Musgnug provided the town with his overview on the town’s current financial performance through May 31, and said Smithtown needed to be selective with expenditures in order to remain sustainable going into 2016.

“The town board has done well to keep certain positions vacant or to delay appointments,” Musgnug said in his report to the board on Tuesday. “My recommendation is that we fill only essential positions, promote from within where possible and leave non-essential positions vacant. The message is that we must continue to contain what we can control — expenditures.”

The comptroller said it was still too early in the year to predict “with any kind of accuracy” the final results of town operations, but said Smithtown still needs to budget  conservatively to ensure a stable financial ground next year.

Musgnug said the town was performing better than what was expected in this year’s budget, with one exception — the highway snow fund. A brutal winter was the only hindrance on the town’s otherwise on-track year in regards to the budget.

“Most departments are spending below what was anticipated, however certain revenues are out of our control, such as the mortgage recording tax, which is coming in less than anticipated,” Musgnug said. “Because of this and other factors, we will need to continue to tighten our belts so that we can bring the town’s operating results closer to breakeven in 2015.”

The comptroller also discussed the usage of Smithtown’s leftover fund balance to help balance budgets each year. He said the option was on the table, but not preferred, which Vecchio and Councilman Bob Creighton (R) agreed to.

Creighton said the town had been criticized in the past for doing such a practice, and Vecchio warned against it.

“Fund balances are a [double-edged] sword,” Vecchio said. “When you use it to balance the budget, you get accused by bonding companies.”

According to the comptroller, it was doubly important that Smithtown eyes its finances closely in the coming months because he anticipated the town would be going out for bonding later this year to fund certain projects.

The comptroller said he was not ruling out the possibility that rating agencies might lower the town’s bond rating in the coming year, but if it does happen, it would not be a significant drop.

“The rating agencies would like to see a structurally balanced budget,” he said. “As we approach the 2016 budget cycle, the closer we are to breakeven in 2015 means less adjustments for 2016.”

Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) asked Musgnug how significantly a lowered rating in September might affect interest for the town, to which the comptroller said it was difficult to call.

“It will impact interest, but it won’t be overwhelming,” he said. “If we do, it’ll be one score. But I don’t anticipate that happening.”

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Parking spots in the Brookhaven Town Marina lot were given to Port Jeff Village as part of a 2015 agreement, but the deal alienated parkland, according to the AG's office. Screen capture

Port Jefferson Village could add 50 more spaces to its metered parking arsenal, drawing them on asphalt in the town’s marina lot.

The village is leasing the spots as part of an agreement with Brookhaven Town regarding the historic First National Bank of Port Jefferson building at the corner of Main and East Main streets.

Town officials are selling the former bank — and the attached building on East Main Street that used to house the Brookhaven tax receiver’s office — to local developer Agrino Holdings LLC, which has approval from the Port Jefferson Planning Board to put retail space on the first floors and apartments above. The developer plans to renovate the tax receiver’s office and restore the bank building, a historic landmark.

But downtown Port Jefferson has a perennial parking problem, with a constant space shortage that can make it difficult for new developments to meet requirements in the village code. To offset the lack of spaces at the site of the mixed-use project, the town has been working with the village for more than a year on a parking space swap — leasing to the village some spots at the town-owned marina lot two blocks away.

The original plan involved the roughly 30 existing spaces that wrap around the old Suffolk County Water Authority building across West Broadway from McDonald’s. But Trustee Larry LaPointe explained at Monday’s board of trustees meeting that it would have involved “a spaghetti of easements and curb cuts.”

Instead the village will get land on the western end of the marina lot, near Beach Street, that it will restripe and meter. LaPointe said the size of that section will allow the village to create 50 new parking spaces, whereas the previous arrangement would have merely transferred ownership of 30 spots.

Revenue from the village’s other parking meters will cover the costs of restriping and adding the new meter.

A scene from this month’s annual Smithtown Festival Day, where residents enjoyed the sunshine and perused the various activities across Main Street, which was shut down to make room for the event. Photo by Greg Catalano

On your mark, get set — no.

Smithtown officials are taking another look at the way the town approves festivals, parades and similar events that close major roadways in different parts of the town. Before Tuesday’s special Smithtown Town Board meeting, Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) and Town Clerk Vincent Puleo discussed complaints both of their offices have received after recent events closed portions of Smithtown, citing negative effects on business and residential life.

“It discombobulates people,” Vecchio said, citing one recent grievance to his office about a town event putting a damper on business. “This is a beautiful town, but this is not the first complaint we have received. I think we need to revisit the process.”

St. James resident Scott Flugman prompted the discussion via a letter he penned to Vecchio’s office, citing traffic issues barring his ability to get around town during an outdoor race event in his town on May 31. He said it took him nearly an hour to drive his son home from a friend’s house, who lives roughly 10 minutes away.

“This is a dangerous and grave inconvenience and should not be allowed to happen again,” the letter said. “We could not pick up our children, we were late to their sports and other activities and we were put at risk for a potentially serious traffic accident. Please have more consideration for the impact on the community when planning these races in the future.”

Currently, the town lists a parade, a run or a similar event in the correspondence section of its Town Board meeting agenda. The events are read aloud at two consecutive meetings, and the public can weigh in. But Vecchio said that process only targets residents who actually tune in to each agenda item at any given meeting.

“We have two readings. But there is no time in between for anyone to say, ‘Wait a minute,’” Vecchio said.

Puleo echoed the supervisor’s sentiments on the limited avenue for residents to become aware of a given event being approved.

“If they’re not looking at the meeting, they’re not going to know there is an event,” Puleo said. “My office gets complaints all the time. If you’re the affected person, and that’s not your thing to look at what’s going on in town, you could be blindsided.”

In the last six Town Board meetings, there have been first or second readings for 12 separate events labeled as parades, runs, walks or festivals, according to agendas from those respective meetings.

Puleo said it was suggested that his office help install signs throughout town to alert business owners and residents of upcoming events, but he said it would be difficult to figure out where to put a sign and when.

A potential solution, Puleo said, could be to more frequently utilize areas of the town typically closed on the days these events often fall, like Saturdays and Sundays. The clerk recommended to the Town Board that future events be moved to spots like the Hauppauge Industrial Park, or the Kings Park Psychiatric Center.

But Tony Tanzi, president of the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said he disagreed with such a strategy, as various events are planned with the intent to bring more people to Smithtown’s downtown areas. He acknowledged that events in his neck of the woods, like Kings Park Day, might have a negative impact on business temporarily, but the purpose was greater than that day’s cash flow.

“I can see the point with some people that sometimes events can be disruptive. As a business owner, it really does have a big impact on sales,” Tanzi said. “But if the goal is to entice people to visit your downtown, I don’t see how [relocating] helps.”

As a possible solution, Vecchio said the town might want to consider limiting the kinds of events it approves to allow solely Smithtown-based organizations or town residents as hosts. He argued there would be a lesser impact if the events excluded non-residents.

“The squeaky wheel is getting the grease,” Puleo said at the meeting. “Whether it’s Smithtown or not, the impact on the residents is still the same.”

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Trustee Bruce Miller says despite a vote in favor of the document on Monday, he opposes the village’s comprehensive plan. Photo by Elana Glowatz

After years of work and arguments, Port Jefferson’s controversial village development plan has become final.

The board of trustees unanimously adopted the comprehensive plan at a meeting on Monday, but Trustee Bruce Miller said in an interview the following morning that he plans to retroactively change his vote at the next board meeting.

Miller said he got “bogged down” during the board’s discussion about its agenda items, and didn’t mean to vote in favor of adopting the plan.

The comprehensive plan is a guideline for future development in Port Jefferson Village, largely focusing on the waterfront commercial area downtown and the short but troubled uptown corridor that runs between North Country Road and the Long Island Rail Road tracks. It aims, for instance, to revitalize upper Port by making it more pedestrian-friendly and bringing in more apartments. Downtown, the plan includes adding recreational and green space near the water and widening Main Street.

Residents and former members of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, with the support of Miller, have long sparred with the administration over the plan, citing fears that it would add too much density to what they want to be a quaint village, snarl traffic even further on busy roads and bring in more cars than there is space to park them.

Miller echoed those concerns on Tuesday, and said he also opposes adopting the plan for procedural reasons — he said he hasn’t yet seen a findings statement, which is a document certifying that the village met the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act in its study of the plan’s environmental impact.

The village board approved that findings statement at Monday’s meeting.

Still, there have been voices of support for the plan, including from the other four board members and from other residents. And recent approval from the Suffolk County Planning Commission was the final stamp the village needed before adopting it.

While the commission issued a list of recommendations relating to the plan’s impact on traffic, density, taxes and parking, the village sent a response letter in which it disagreed that more study was required on most of those items. To the Planning Commission’s suggestion, for example, that the village conduct “an analysis of the impacts of increased rental housing” in Port Jefferson, the village responded in May that “it is unclear how the type of ownership status of housing units alone would impact community character, and the suggestion that because a property is a rental property that it would then have a negative impact on the community is unfounded.”

The village’s response also noted that the apartments would likely serve single adults and couples without children, which is “the same demographic that … Long Island is seeking to retain, as the young contribute to our workforce and the [retirement-aged residents] continue to enjoy recreation and spend using their discretionary income.”

Suffolk County Planning Director Sarah Lansdale wrote in an email later last month that the village gave the issues “proper procedural review” and took “a hard look at the issues raised by the commission.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, right. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) is inviting all North Shore residents to attend a community forum looking into potential visions for the future of Route 25A in Stony Brook and Setauket.

The forum is scheduled for June 30, at 6 p.m., inside the Stony Brook School’s Kanas Commons, located at 1 Chapman Parkway, Stony Brook.

RSVPs can be sent to jlmartin@brookhaven.org, or call (631) 451-6963 by June 26.

The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

The Incorporated Village of Poquott voted in three new trustees and a write-in village justice candidate in Tuesday’s election, the village clerk confirmed Thursday.

In the trustee race for two seats carrying two-year terms, Harold Berry and Jeffrey Koppelson were elected with 105 votes and 131 votes, respectively, beating out Gary Garofano, the third candidate vying for one of the spots.

Another trustee position, but carrying a one-year term, went to Sandra Nicoletti, who received 113 votes over Karen Sartain, who garnered 69 votes, the village clerk said Thursday.

Poquott also elected a new village justice on Tuesday with a write-in candidate, the clerk said. The village did not have any names on the ballot for the position, so the spot went to Paul Edelson, who received 96 votes, over Alexander Melbartis — another write-in — who received 87 votes.

Builds upon revitalization efforts and Connect LI

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, along with regional leaders, announced a new regional plan on Tuesday. Photo from the county executive’s office

As the percentage of youth on Long Island declines, regional leaders are determined to entice young people to move in and stay, but their plan comes with a price.

On Tuesday, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and several regional leaders, including Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), announced they are seeking $350 million to fund the Long Island Innovation Zone, I-Zone, plan. I-Zone aims to connect Long Island’s transit-oriented downtown areas, like New Village in Patchogue, the Meadows at Yaphank and the planned Ronkonkoma Hub, to institutions like Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

The I-Zone plan emphasizes the use of a bus rapid transit, or BRT, system  that runs north to south and would connect Stony Brook University and Patchogue. There will also be a paralleling hiking and biking trail, and the system will serve as a connection between the Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma and Montauk Long Island Rail Road lines.

The goal is to make Long Island more appealing to the younger demographic and avoid local economic downturns.

According to the Long Island Index, from 2000 to 2009, the percentage of people aged 25-34 decreased by 15 percent. The majority of these individuals are moving to major cities or places where transportation is readily accessible.

“We must challenge ourselves because if we don’t, we have an Island at risk,” Romaine said. Government officials acknowledged that without younger people living on Long Island the population will be unable to sustain the local economy. Fewer millennials means there are less people who will purchase property and contribute to the success of businesses in the area.

The proposal comes after Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) call for regional planning.

The plan also builds upon the Ronkonkoma Hub plan, with the installation of sewers and a new parking area. The I-Zone proposal claims to improve Long Island’s water quality, as funding will help connect sewers through Islip downtown areas to the Southwest Sewer District.

Additionally, the plan calls for the construction of a new airport terminal on the north side of Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip and for the relocation of the Yaphank train station in closer proximity to Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“We have all that stuff [access to recreational activities, education center and downtown areas] here but we don’t have a connection. We don’t have any linked together,” said Justin Meyers, Suffolk’s assistant deputy county executive for communications.

Bellone and Romaine, as well as Stony Brook University President Samuel Stanley, Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R), Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Long Island Regional Planning Council Chairman John Cameron, Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, Vice President of Development and Community Relations at CSHL Charles Prizzi, Chief Planning Officer of the Long Island Rail Road Elisa Picca, Director of BNL Doon Gibbs, and founder of Suburban Millennial Institute Jeff Guillot, were involved with the I-Zone proposal.

If funding for the project is received, construction could begin in approximately two years, Meyers said, adding that constructing the BRT and the hiking and biking trial would take as few as five years.

Bellone said that without younger people moving in, the trend could lead to the Island’s economic stagnation.

“We are aging faster than any other region in our country,” he said. “The inevitable result of that will be an ever-growing population that naturally is pulling more social services infrastructure.”

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