Politics

Town of Smithtown officials and St. James veterans give their respects at the rededication of the Vietnam War memorial Nov. 21, 2018. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

After a successful statewide lobbying campaign resulting in the restoration of nearly $4 million in funding for a veterans peer support program some have called vital, and given an additional $300,000 for expansion, New York State officials introduced bipartisan legislation April 22 to expand the program nationally. 

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) introduced the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act (H.R.1749), which would expand the peer-to-peer support program nationally for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological and physical traumas. The Dwyer bill was co-sponsored by NYS Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Peter King (R-Seaford) and others. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well.”

— Joe Cognitore

“Expanding nationally the Dwyer program, which is currently operating in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, eventually to all states in the U.S., will ensure that every veteran can have access to a peer-to-peer support group,” Zeldin said in a statement. “With the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] reporting that an estimated 22 veterans a day commit suicide, this national expansion is long overdue.”

This is the second time Zeldin has introduced legislation to expand the program nationally. Two years ago, the congressman proposed a bill that would authorize the VA to support veteran support programs modeled after the Dwyer project with federal grants. 

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point, was in Albany with other veterans groups in March urging lawmakers to restore full funds for the Dwyer program, and he said the new bill is a great opportunity to expand these resources to other veterans throughout
the country. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well,” he said.

The main goal of the Dwyer project, which is currently overseen by Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and Suffolk County United Veterans, is to provide peer-to-peer support and counseling to veterans who are facing challenges transitioning back to civilian life, along with offering a safe, supportive space for veterans to interact with one another. 

The commander of the VFW Post is glad the funds were restored as part of the executive budget of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), and in April stopped by the office of state Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) to thank him for his support for the Dwyer program. The veteran group presented the senator with a framed picture of the famous photograph of Dwyer helping an ailing Iraqi child. 

“I support anyone who supports veterans, it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or Democrat,” Cognitore said. “It is gratifying that we were able to do that, and we have officials that are doing the right thing.”

The program is named after Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, a Mount Sinai resident and U.S. Army combat medic who had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning home and struggling with PTSD, Dwyer succumbed to his condition in 2008.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) spoke on the House floor April 30, ahead of a unanimous House passage of his legislation to honor former Congressman Bill Carney. The bill, H.R. 828, designates the United States Postal Service facility located at 25 Route 111 in Smithtown, New York, as the Congressman Bill Carney Post Office.

 “Congressman Carney was an incredible man who fought tirelessly for his constituents everyday. Even before his life in politics, his commitment to serving his country and community never wavered,” Zeldin said.

William Carney, formerly of Hauppauge, died May 22, 2017, at the age of 74, after a four-year battle with prostate cancer. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corp from 1961 to 1964 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He also served as a Suffolk County legislator in 1976 for a single term, before his election as U.S. congressman for New York’s 1st Congressional District, where Zeldin now serves. The district is comprised of Smithtown, Brookhaven and the East End. 

Carney served eight years in Congress and was a member of the Conservative Party. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, according to obituaries after his death, Carney sponsored a bill to reduce strategic arms and freeze nuclear weapons, which was backed by then President Ronald Reagan. Carney was also known for supporting the $4.5 billion Shoreham nuclear project. Carney left office in January 1987.

“Congressman Carney will be remembered for his strength, integrity and commitment to his district and nation, and there is no place he loved more than Long Island. Now, every time someone enters the Congressman Bill Carney Post Office, his legacy will be remembered forever,” Zeldin said. 

“Bill was a beloved husband, father and grandfather. For our community, for New York’s 1st Congressional District, for our nation and for the ideals in which he believed, he was a fighter until the very end,” the Carney family said in a prepared statement. “Bill loved the 1st Congressional District and it was his highest honor serving its people. Smithtown was our family’s home for decades, and it is particularly meaningful that this Post Office continues to serve the people about whom he cared so deeply. Thank you to Congressman Zeldin for helping preserve his memory in a place that was always very special to him. We know that he is smiling at being remembered back home.”

The bill is expected to pass the Senate.

Former Northport Mayor George Doll with Deputy Mayor Tom Kehoe. File photo from Tom Kehoe

Northport trustee Tom Kehoe has stepped down from his appointed position as deputy mayor of Northport but will remain in his elected position of trustee. Kehoe began construction on his Northport home, he said, before receiving proper permits. In consultation with the mayor, it was decided to be the best option, since the situation was too much of a distraction.

Kehoe’s home has been boarded up and vacant since it burned down in May 2017. After the town granted permission to demolish the structure, which was in December 2018, Kehoe said that he poured a new foundation in January and started framing the house in March.

“Shame on me,” Kehoe said. “I’m taking responsibility, I’m taking my medicine.” He is waiting now for the proper authorizations before continuing with the work, he said, and his paperwork has been filed with the building department.  

Kehoe attributes the delay in authorizing the demolition of his home to a conflict with the village’s architectural review and preservation board. He said that he had to prove that his home was neither historical nor architecturally significant.  

Kehoe has served as a Northport trustee since 2006 and was most recently re-elected in 2018.

“I have two years and 11 months to fulfill my term,” Kehoe said. He said that he expects to continue to serve village residents.  

Kehoe said that he will need to meet with the zoning board to address issues related to removing a side entrance and correcting an 18-inch error in footing positions.

Sarah Deonarine. Photo from campaign website

Coram woman looks to face Bonner in November election

Sarah Deonarine, who is planning to run for the Town of Brookhaven Council District 2 seat on the Democratic ticket, said she believes there’s a way to balance the environmental and economic needs of the North Shore.

“Nationwide, there’s a feeling of participating in the democracy, and I just couldn’t sit by anymore,” Deonarine said. “I realized somebody strong had to stand up, and it was either going to be me or nobody was going to do it.”

In the upcoming weeks, Deonarine is looking for the petition application to run for councilwoman to come through, and she will run for the district seat against 12-year incumbent Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point).

Deonarine said she decided to jump into the race because of Proposition One, a back-of-the-ballot proposition that extended officials’ terms in office from two years to four, and limited officeholders to three terms. A total of 58 percent voted in favor of that measure with 42 percent opposing last November.

Sarah Deonarine and her family. Photo from campaign website

The Democratic contender said the proposition was a backwards means of extending the council members’ time in office, since each elected official would no longer have to run every two years, and the term limits weren’t retroactive.

“It was like they hoodwinked the voters by not giving them the right information,” she said. 

The contender for the council seat has been a resident in Brookhaven for 11 years, and in Coram for four along with her husband and three young children. A Pennsylvania native, she holds a masters degree from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. She has worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for seven years, and has spent the past four years as the executive director of the Manhasset Bay Protection Committee, which serves to protect the water quality of North Hempstead. She is a member of the Town of Brookhaven Democratic Committee, as well as a member of the Mothers of Twins Club of Suffolk County, the Coram Civic Association, Mommy and Me and Science Advocacy of Long Island.

Deonarine already has the nod of the town Democratic Committee as well as the Working Families Party, and she said she has sent in the petitions she needs to run for town council, though she has yet to receive confirmation back as of press time.

She is running on numerous issues, including reforming the town’s meeting schedule, and focusing new developments around sustaining the environment.

“A lot of what I want to do gets back to the quality of life,” she said. “People are happier surrounded by nature.”

She said that while it’s all well and good the town has meetings at 2 p.m. for those who can’t drive at night, having the nightly meetings at 5 p.m. means most people who are out working cannot attend. She said she would like to move those meetings past 6 p.m., and potentially move the meeting location occasionally to different parts in the town, giving more people availability to attend.

She also called attention to the issues of derelict housing, otherwise known as zombie homes. The biggest barrier to people making use of this property, she said, was the liens Suffolk County puts on the property after it is razed by the town. She said she would use the strong connection she said she has with Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and other county and state lawmakers to see if there could be any program of lien forgiveness, or otherwise a program that would give developers the opportunity to revitalize the destroyed parcels.

Developments and their consequences are on the minds of many North Shore residents, and with new developments coming up in the town’s agenda, including the Mount Sinai Meadows millennial housing project and the Echo Run senior living project in Miller Place, Deonarine said there needs to be attention paid to making sure these developments do not affect the local wildlife, impact the below- ground drinking water or increase traffic.

“We need to protect all our water beneath our feet — you build more development, you have more waste running off into our local waterways,” she said. “More housing means more traffic, but we also need the tax base. The cost of living is really high, people living here, more industries, it’s a Catch-22.”

“More housing means more traffic, but we also need the tax base. The cost of living is really high, people living here, more industries, it’s a Catch-22.”

— Sarah Deonarine

She said she would take a close look at the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, especially in terms of the tax breaks it gives to developments such as the Engel Burman senior living facilities currently under construction in Mount Sinai. The development was given a 13-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement that would see the developer continue to pay $46,000 in property taxes for the first three years while the two projects are under construction.

She said there needs to be more public transparency with IDA meetings and decisions, along with a closer look at their decision- making process.

“Local politics matter a lot. This is our everyday lives,” she said. “We really need to pay attention and consider a new way, a new approach.”

From left, Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Photo from the governor’s office

Cuomo lauds LIRR reform, hints at renewable energy initiatives

By Donna Deedy

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled April 11 his Long Island agenda to a crowd of some 400 politicians, business leaders, local residents and students at Stony Brook University’s Student Activities Center. It was one of two stops statewide, where the governor personally highlighted regional spending for a local community. 

Overall, the $175 billion fiscal year 2020 budget holds spending at 2 percent.

“This year’s budget builds on our progress and our momentum on Long Island, and it includes $18 billion for Long Island — the largest amount of money the state has ever brought back to the region, and we’re proud of it,” Cuomo said. 

Nearly half of the revenue that Long Island receives goes toward school aid and Medicaid, $3.3 billion and $6.9 billion collectively, according to Freeman Klopott in New York State’s Division of the Budget. But the spending plan funds several bold initiatives, such as an overhaul of the MTA and Long Island Rail Road and the phase in of free public college tuition for qualified students. 

Long Island Association president and CEO Kevin Law, who had introduced the governor, suggests looking at the enacted budget as five distinct categories: taxes, infrastructure, economic development, environmental protection and quality of life issues, such as gun safety reform. 

On the tax front, Long Islanders, according to the governor’s report, pay some of the highest property tax bills in the United States. Over the last 20 years, Cuomo said, local property taxes rose twice as fast as the average income. 

“You can’t continue to raise taxes at an amount that is more than people are earning,” he said. His goal is to stabilize the tax base. 

On the federal level, the governor will continue to fight with other states the federal tax code, which last year limited taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes over $10,000 from their federal income tax returns. Long Island reportedly lost $2.2 billion. 

Otherwise, the governor considers his plan to be the most ambitious, aggressive and comprehensive agenda for Long Island ever. 

The budget’s regional development goals emphasize a commitment to Long Island’s research triangle: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Northwell Health, Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The governor envisions the Island as New York’s potential economic equivalent to California’s Silicon Valley. The objective is to bridge academic research with commercial opportunities.

Some of the largest investments include $75 million for a medical engineering center at Stony Brook University, $25 million to Demerec Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor, $12 million for a new college of veterinary medicine at Long Island University Post, $5 million in additional research investments at Stony Brook University and $200,000 cybersecurity center at Hofstra University.

“Governor Cuomo’s presentation was uplifting,” said state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). “It was also a preview of the future of Long Island as an indelibly important part of the state the governor and Legislature appreciate and are continuing to invest into.”

Offshore wind initiatives will be announced in the spring, with a goal of providing 9,000 megawatts of wind power by 2035. As part of Cuomo’s New Green Deal, the state target is 100 percent clean energy by 2040.

Highlights of Gov. Cuomo’s 2019-20 budget for Long Islanders

Taxes: Permanently limits local tax spending to 2 percent annually. The 2 percent property tax cap, first implemented in 2012, has reportedly saved Long Island taxpayers $8.7 billion. Now that the property tax cap has become permanent, the governor reports that the average Suffolk taxpayer will save an estimated $58,000 over the next 10 years. The budget also supports the phase in of middle-class tax cuts. By 2025, under the reforms, middle-class filers will save up to 20 percent income tax rate and impact 6 million filers. 

Internet taxation: Requires internet purchases to charge sales tax to fairly compete with brick-and-mortar retail establishments. This reform is expected to raise sales tax revenue by $33 million for Suffolk County in 2019. 

LIRR reforms: Dedicates $2.5 billion to the Long Island Rail Road. $734 million will be used to purchase 202 new trains, $47 million will fund the Ronkonkoma train storage expansion project, which adds 11 tracks to the railyard. Another $264 million is allocated to reconfiguring and rebuilding the Jamaica station. An additional 17 stations will also be upgraded. A third track will be added between Hicksville and Floral Park to address bottlenecking. Many projects are already underway and expected to be completed
by 2022.

The new LIRR Moynihan Train Hall will become an alternative to Penn Station in New York City. It will be located in the old post office building. Construction is underway with completion targeted for the end of 2020. The cost is $2.5 billion with $600,000 million allocated for 2020. A new LIRR entrance at mid-block between 33rd Street and 7th Avenue will also be built at a price tag of $425 million. 

School aid: Increases school aid to $3.3 billion, a nearly 4 percent uplift. The 2020 budget includes a $48 million increase of foundation aid.

College tuition: Funds tuition-free education in public colleges to qualified students, whose families earn less than $125,000 annually. The program annually benefits more than 26,100 full-time undergraduate residents on
Long Island.

The DREAM Act: Offers $27 million to fund higher education scholarships for undocumented children already living in New York state. 

Higher education infrastructure: Spends $34.3 million for maintenance and upgrades at SUNY higher education facilities on Long Island. 

Downtown revitalization: Awards Ronkonkoma Hub with $55 million for a downtown revitalization project. Nassau County will receive $40 million to transform a 70-acre parking lot surrounding Nassau Coliseum into a residential/commercial downtown area with parkland, shopping and entertainment, where people can live and work. Hicksville, Westbury and Central Islip will also receive $10 million each to revitalize its downtowns. 

Roads and bridges: Among the initiatives, $33.6 million will be used toward the Robert Moses Causeway bridge. Safety will be enhanced with guardrails along Sunken Meadow Parkway for $4.7 million. The Van Wyck Expressway is also under expansion for improved access to JFK air terminals. 

Health care: Adds key provisions of the Affordable Care Act to state law, so health insurance is protected if Washington repeals the law.

Plastic bag ban: Prohibits most single-use plastic bags provided by supermarkets and other retailers beginning in March 2020. Counties and cities can opt to charge 5 cents for paper bags. It is projected that 40 percent of revenue generated will fund local programs that purchase reusable bags for low- and fixed-income consumers. The other 60 percent will fund the state’s environmental protection projects.

Food waste recycling program: $1.5 million will be allocated to establish a clean energy, food waste recycling facility at Yaphank. 

Clean water initiatives: Awards Smithtown and Kings Park $40 million for installing sewer infrastructure. A shellfish hatchery at Flax Pond in Setauket will get an additional $4 million. The new budget offers $2 million to the Long Island Pine Barrens Commission and $5 million in grants to improve Suffolk County water supply. The Long Island South Shore Estuary will get $900,000, while Cornell Cooperative Extension will receive $500,000. The state will also fund another $100 million to clean up superfund sites such as the Grumman Plume in Bethpage. The state has banned offshore drilling to protect natural resources. 

Criminal justice reform: Ends cash bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. Mandates speedy trial to reduce pretrial detention. Requires that prosecutors and defendants share discoverable information in advance of trial. 

Gun safety: Includes one of the nation’s first “red flag” laws. Passed in February 2019, the law enables the courts to seize firearms from people who show signs of violent behavior or pose a threat to themselves or others. The new law, which takes effect later this year, also authorizes teachers and school professionals to request through the courts mental health evaluations for people who exhibit disturbed behavior related to gun violence. Bans bump stocks. Extends background check waiting period for gun purchases. 

Anti-gang projects: Invests more than $45 million to stop MS-13 gang recruitment and improve youth opportunities.

Opioid crisis: Allocates $25 million to fund 12 residential, 48 outpatient and five opioid treatment programs. The state also aims to remove insurance barriers for treatment.

Tourism: Promotes state agricultural products with $515,000 allocated to operate Taste NY Market at the Long Island Welcome Center with satellite locations at Penn Station and East Meadow Farm in Nassau County. The PGA Championship next month and Long Island Fair in September, both at Bethpage, will also feature New York agricultural products. 

Agriculture: Continues support for the New York State Grown & Certified program to strengthen consumer confidence and assist farmers. Since 2016, the program has certified more than 2,386 farms.

Voting: Sets aside $10 million to help counties pay for early voting. Employers must offer workers three hours of paid time off to vote on election day.

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Village Mayor Margot Garant, left, and John Jay LaValle, right. File photos

Both sets of candidates gearing up for the Port Jefferson village mayor and trustees race will be available soon for two separate “meet and greets.”

The Residents First Party, which includes John Jay LaValle, Tom Meehan and Tracy Stapleton, will be at Harbor Grill located at 111 West Broadway in Port Jefferson April 15 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Contributions are encouraged but not required. Checks can be made payable to Residents First Party.

Prospective attendees must RSVP by April 12 to John Jay LaValle at pjpresidentsfirst@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, the Unity Party, with current Mayor Margot Garant, current Trustee Stan Loucks and trustee candidate Kathianne Snaden will be available at the Waterview at the Port Jefferson Country Club April 16 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

A suggested donation is $75 per individual and $125 per couple. People must RSVP at unityparty2019@gmail.com

Check back soon for more village election coverage.

Huntington commuters board train. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Donna Deedy

The New York State Senate passed April 1 legislation that will overhaul the Metropolitan Transit Authority and transform its operations. The legislation, included in the 2019-20 New York State budget, authorizes into law key changes to increase MTA transparency and reform its operations. This includes a comprehensive, independent forensic audit of MTA, improvements to long-term capital planning, and requires public reporting on MTA performance metrics.

New York State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) said that he aggressively lobbied for passage of these reforms and committed himself to their inclusion in the final state budget.  

“I am thrilled that this year’s budget will include a core component of the MTA Rail Act: a comprehensive, independent forensic audit of the MTA,” he said. “This, coupled with a $1 billion investment into the LIRR, are critical first steps toward making Long Island’s mass transit finally work for riders.”

The reforms were also supported by railroad watchdogs and public transit commuters, fed up by years of late trains, poor communication by the MTA and rising train fares.

“The biggest complaint I hear is overcrowding as a result of cars taken out of service,” said Larry Silverman, former chair of the LIRR Commuter Council. “Monies have already been allocated for the expansion projects such as East Side Access and Third Track Main Line, so I would expect that the railroad would use the funds to keep the system in a state of good repair.”

Larry Penner, former Federal Transit Administration director in the New York region, is familiar with MTA operations, capital projects and programs. The devil, he said, is in the missing details yet to be worked out concerning passage of congestion pricing and the MTA Rail Act. The promised MTA “forensic audit” in his view is a waste of time and money. 

“Another audit will not result in significant change,” Penner said. “How many internal MTA, MTA Office of the Inspector General, state comptroller, city controller, NYC Office of Management and Budget, Federal Transit Administration OIG and other audits have come and gone.”

The best bang for the buck, he said, is for the Long Island Rail Road to further electrify rail service for five branches: Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay, Montauk, Ronkonkoma and the central branch which runs between Hicksville, Bethpage and Babylon. Investing in a one-seat-ride service to Penn Station, and eventually Grand Central, would benefit the most people. 

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Denise Mordente during a budget presentation at Port Jefferson Village Hall April 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

The LIPA settlement has weighed heavily on this year’s Village of Port Jefferson budget, leading to a budget that pierces the 2 percent tax cap while at the same time cutting several thousand in expenditures.

The new total budget is $10,310,869, $331,277 less than 2018-19. The budget will leave $6,451,427 needed to be raised in taxes, a 3.33 percent increase from last year, piercing the tax cap.

For homeowners, this change could mean a $21 annual increase to property taxes on the low end, and up to $130 on the high end for more modern homes. For businesses, older buildings might see a $130 annual increase, while modern structures could see an increase of $256, according to the village board.

The village board voted unanimously to adopt the budget at its April 1 board meeting. 

This includes a loss of $208,622 in annual revenues from taxes on the Long Island Power Authority-owned power plant. 

In the agreement signed by Brookhaven Town and the Long Island Power Authority, the $32.6 million tax assessment on the power plant is going to be reduced by around 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years to $16.8 million, starting with the 2017-18 tax year. Denise Mordente, the village treasurer, said since the date of that agreement overlapped with the existing budget, they had to make up for two years of LIPA’s glide path, rather than one.

“Next year we can budget for [a single year of the glide path] … this is double the amount,” Mordente said. “That’s why we have to cut this year.”

Personal services increased among multiple departments due to collective bargaining agreements and an increase in minimum wage, the treasurer said, though the treasury department’s total expenses decreased by $29,287 due to letting go of a staff member.

Village officials have cut $331,280 in total from the expenses of numerous departments, including $41,326 from code enforcement through cut salaries, though Mordente said code enforcement often doesn’t use the total of its budget. Other cuts included $18,117 from the Village Center, mostly from materials expenses. Meanwhile, the parks department saw a near 10 percent increase from both employee services and contractual expenses. 

The village is also looking at a $271,019 decrease in expenditures due to the ambulance services now being handled fully by Brookhaven Town in what was formerly the Mount Sinai Ambulance District as of January 1.

The village continues to pay down on several bonds, including the 2013 $2 million public improvement bond, the 2011 $5.5 million public improvement bond and the 2016 $1.48 million bond anticipation note. As of Feb. 28, the village has $5.74 million left to pay off.

The village board is still considering what it will do with the Port Jefferson Power Station in the future. Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe said he has been in talks with LIPA, and the quasi-governmental agency has responded positively to suggestions that it be turned into a battery storage facility or a site for renewable energy, but talks are still ongoing.

Suffolk legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) along with women’s groups and members of local soccer teams attend a press conference April 2 for Equal Pay Day. Photo from Kara Hahn’s office

Suffolk County and Town of Brookhaven officials celebrated Equal Pay Day April 2 by vowing to call attention to the gender pay gap between men and women, especially in the sports world.

Members of the Island-wide Gender Equality Coalition, soccer coaches and student athletes joined forces at a press conference in Hauppauge to highlight workplace gender discrimination in compensation and call on the U.S. Soccer Federation to end gender discrimination in soccer for the sake of future generations of young women athletes and the integrity of the sport. In addition, they called for women all over the country to sign their petition and help them send a message in the world of athletes and beyond. 

“As the mother of a young girl, I want my daughter to know that her mother fought for equal rights and equal pay for women when I had the opportunity.”

— Valerie Cartright

On International Women’s Day March 8, the U.S. women’s soccer team filed a gender discrimination suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, citing salary disparities and unequal support, including inferior training, promotion and playing conditions than their male counterparts. Despite consistently greater success on the field than the U.S. men’s soccer team, the three-time world champion, four-time Olympic gold medal U.S. women’s soccer team said they continue to be paid a fraction of the salary paid to men’s team members. They also allege, unequal treatment by the federation often exposes female athletes to more hazardous conditions to practice, train and compete.

“Young girls around the world idolize the U.S. women’s soccer players because they exemplify unmatched strength, skill and fearlessness,” said Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “Their lawsuit sends a message of solidarity with women worldwide who are fighting for equality in the workplace and presents an important teachable moment for our children about gender disparity and the ongoing fight for women’s equal rights.”

At the Town of Brookhaven board meeting March 27, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) sponsored a resolution to make April 2 Equal Pay Day within the town, which was passed unanimously by the board.

“Pay equity is critically important to having a fair and just workplace,” Cartright said. “Unequal pay and gender discrimination impact a woman as an individual; it impacts her family and the larger society. On a personal level, as the mother of a young girl, I want my daughter to know that her mother fought for equal rights and equal pay for women when I had the opportunity.”

“Their lawsuit sends a message of solidarity with women worldwide who are fighting for equality in the workplace.”

— Kara Hahn

In New York State, the gender pay gap, or the earnings ratio of women’s median earnings divided by men’s median earnings, is 80 percent. In 2017, women living in Suffolk County earned 78% of what men earned, according to Hahn’s office. Women who are identified within minority groups fare even worse, with black woman earning 79% and Hispanic woman earning just 58% as compared to white men.

“Today, we are wearing red to symbolize that women are ‘in the red’ in terms of pay, as compared to men performing similar work,” said Colleen Merlo, the executive director of L.I. Against Domestic Violence and chair of the Gender Equity Coalition. “This issue is not just a women’s issue, it affects children and families.”

Hahn said she created a letter writing campaign and petition about attaining gender pay equality and to help the U.S women’s soccer team. The petition can be accessed at Change.org under the title Pay and Treat Women Soccer Players the Same as Male Players at http://chng.it/k54wZZqJH6 and a sample letter can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yycb3f8v.

During the next two months leading up to the World Cup in France June 7, the group hopes to obtain 75,000 signatures for the petition, which they will then deliver to U.S. Soccer Federation officials. A 2015 petition supporting the team garnered more than 69,000 signatures, according to Hahn’s office.

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

People enrolled in county septic program say it’s political

Suffolk homeowners, who received county grants to install nitrogen-reducing septic systems as part of the county’s septic program, are facing the reality of additional tax burdens and payments after they received IRS 1099 tax forms in the mail.

Participants in the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program, which helped install prototype home septic systems that filter out nitrogen in participants homes, were told since the program’s inception in 2017 that only the contractors who did the installation of the systems would need to declare the grant money as taxable income because they received disbursement of funds from the county. 

This year, the office of Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) sent tax forms to the program participants, and in many cases both homeowners and contractors received 1099s for the same job, despite a legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel that advised that the tax forms go to the companies that received the funds, not homeowners. 

SBU’s Christopher Gobler, with Dick Amper, discusses alarming trends for LI’s water bodies at a Sept. 25 press conference. Photo by Kyle Barr

In response, Deputy County Executive Peter Scully sent a letter to the comptroller’s office on March 14 requesting that Kennedy rescinds the 1099 forms issued to homeowners. After getting no response, Scully sent a second letter on March 26 asking Kennedy again to rescind the 1099s and mentioned since the first letter there had been new information that had come to light in the issue. 

Scully stated that the county’s Department of Health Services has confirmed that some of the homeowners who received 1099s have declared the grants as income and like the contractors will be paying taxes on the same grants. 

“It boggles the mind that anyone can believe that having both homeowners and installers declaring the same grants as income and having taxes paid by both parties on the same disbursement of funding is an acceptable outcome,” the deputy county executive said in a statement. 

In a Newsday article earlier this month, Kennedy said he planned to ask the Internal Revenue Service for a private letter ruling on the matter. Scully said that would be unnecessary, citing again the county’s legal counsel advice and other municipalities who have similar programs and are structured the same way. The letter ruling would cost close to $30,000 and could take more than a year, Scully added. 

Some residents who are enrolled in the program have claimed Kennedy, who recently announced he is running against County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in the next election, is politicizing the issue and potentially sabotaging the program. 

“I have no doubt in my mind,” Tim Sheehan of Shelter Island. “I don’t understand the rationale behind double taxing participants besides politicizing water safety and punishing homeowners for doing the right thing.” 

The Shelter Island resident was one of the early applicants of the program and had an advanced septic system installed in his home August 2018. He said without the help of county and town grants he and his wife would’ve not been able to afford the upgrade. 

The deadline to file taxes is April 15.

While Sheehan expected to pay taxes on the town grant, he didn’t anticipate the county liability. He said he is facing close to a $3,000 higher tax bill on the $10,000 grant and as a result has put him into a higher tax bracket and is required to pay a higher percentage on his income.

“Nowhere in the grant contract is there a mention of a tax liability to homeowners,” the Shelter Island resident said. “From the get-go we were told there would be no tax burden.”

Coastal Steward of Long Island volunteer Bill Negra checks the health of oysters in Mount Sinai Harbor. Oysters are one way in which Brookhaven Town hopes to clear up nitrogen in coastal waters. File photo by Kyle Barr

The Shelter Island resident was surprised when he received a 1099 form for the system and reached out to county officials for help. When they said they couldn’t help, Sheehan called the comptroller’s office hoping to speak to Kennedy directly. After numerous calls without getting a response, Kennedy finally called him. 

When questioned Kennedy blamed the current administration for mishandling the issue and told Sheehan that he never agreed with the county’s legal counsel decision. 

Kennedy has not responded to requests for comment.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the tax form issue couldn’t have come at a worse time for a program that not only helps homeowners but improves water quality and waterways on Long Island. 

Hoffman said excess nitrogen, from homes with outdated septic systems or cesspools, seeps through the ground causing harmful algae blooms and can negatively affect harbors and marshes that make areas more susceptible to storm surges as well. 

“These people are pioneers, we should be applauding them for doing the right thing,” the task force co-founder said. 

Hoffman added he supports any effort to reduce excess nitrogen in our waterways and said many homes on Long Island have septic system that are in need of replacement. He is also concerned that the comptroller’s decision could stunt the progress the program has already made. 

Bellone has said there are about 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county, and with the issue of being taxed, dozens of applicants have dropped out of the program after learning of Kennedy’s decision to issue forms 1099 to homeowners, according to Scully. 

Officials in the county executive’s office are concerned it could endanger the future of the program and impact funding from the state. In early 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) awarded Suffolk County $10 million from the Statewide Septic Program to expand the county’s denitrifying systems. 

State officials in Albany are aware of the ongoing situation and are similarly concerned, according to Scully. If the IRS were to side with Kennedy, he said they would turn to representatives in Congress for assistance, arguing that those funds shouldn’t be going to Washington but back into taxpayers pockets. 

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