Politics

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.”

Dina Stramara addresses the board. Photo by Barbara Donlon

With less than one month until the New York State testing begins in grades three to eight, parents in Kings Park are vocalizing their right to opt out and say they want the board of education to do the same.

At a meeting earlier in the month, several parents asked the board to craft a resolution on standardized testing. Then they started a petition through their group, Kings Park Advocates for Education, to establish a unified voice.

The petition highlighted three items the parents would like the board to support. It said they want support for their right to opt their child out of the high stakes testing, support for alternate activities for their child during the test, and easier options when it comes to opting out.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board opened up as a whole for the first time, as President Tom LoCascio read a statement on the board’s behalf.

“We believe the decision of whether to participate in or to refuse to take a state assessment is a personal decision and ultimately a parent’s choice and in either case a decision that should be afforded mutual respect,” LoCascio said.

The statement went on to say the board believes in public education, that every student in the district deserves an opportunity to succeed and that they believe teachers should be evaluated using multiple forms of assessment.

It also said that as a board, they recognize Gov. Andrew Cuomo and certain interests have politicized many educational issues and that they are concerned how this will impact the district.

“We will continue to work to advance our adopted board goals, prevent the erosion of local control and fight to ensure that educators and those elected by our community have the final decision in how our schools are run,” LoCascio said.

Parents said the statement still did not impress them.

“This community is asking the board of education to step up, pick a strong stand,” parent Shala Pascucci said during the meeting’s public comment forum. “That was a step in the right direction, but if you read the resolution from other neighboring districts, you will know that resolution is not as strong as it could be.”

Pascucci went on to say the board statement is not specific enough, but did acknowledge it’s a step in the right direction. Board member Pam DeFord also acknowledged the statement and said she agreed with parents.

“You’re right, it’s a small step, and we will continue to work on it,” DeFord said.

Parents also said they were upset about the process that will take place in the classroom the morning of the assessment. Parent Dina Stramara quoted from the test refusal question-and-answer section on the board’s website, visibly upset by what her child will go through.

According to the document, children will be seated in assigned seats and a proctor will pass out the documents. They will know ahead of time which students are refusing the assessment, but children must verbally confirm it.

“In the most non-judgmental, non-confrontational, and delicate manner possible, the proctor will verbally confirm with each individual child that he/she is refusing the assessment, those exam materials will be collected, and the child will be permitted to read quietly,” the document said.

Stramara said there is nothing non-judgmental and delicate about putting a child in an awkward position. She said they are not adults and parents should make the decision for them. She also asked why the district would still put the test in front of them if they know they are refusing ahead of time.

“Asking [a young child] to verbalize this is absolutely ludicrous,” Stramara said to the board. “I implore you to please reconsider this procedure. It is not our children’s fault that the state and the district are failing them by making them pawns in this ridiculousness.”

Schools Superintendent Timothy Eagen said this was not a district procedure but one from the New York State Education Department.

“According to the state education department, an activity that is acceptable for students who finish the test early or refuse to take the test is simply to read something,” Eagen said in an interview after the meeting.

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.

Ed Maher file photo

The Smithtown Democratic Committee is gearing up for a competitive election season and setting its sights on the town board.

“It is important that we reflect on the past, but it is necessary that we plan for the future of Smithtown — 2015 will be the year that we reshape our town’s policy-making body,” said committee chairman, Ed Maher, citing the town’s recent 350th anniversary festivities. “Our screening committee will convene this spring and we are excited to hear what the potential candidates have in mind for the future of Smithtown.”

Maher also said he will consider screening potential candidates from other parties if needed, and that the Democrats will put the strongest candidates on the ballot in November.

Maher said that several notable Democrats have approached him with interest in running for town board, including former town supervisor candidate Steve Snair and Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency board member, Tony Giordano.

“I cannot deny that one of my goals is to serve our community as an elected official,” Snair said of his possible run. “The voters here in Smithtown have seen how little this all-Republican board has done for them and they will remember in November.”

Giordano also confirmed that he is considering screening for the Democratic nomination for town board positions.

“It’s something that I’m currently looking into,” he said.

Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO of GSE Dynamics, New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales and Keith Barrett, president of Huntington Station Business Improvement District, speak last week. Photo from Laz Benitez

A state plan to raise the minimum wage made its way to Hauppauge to show how higher pay could impact close to home.

Cesar Perales, secretary of state under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), spoke at GSE Dynamics on Oser Avenue March 18 outlining the governor’s proposal to capitalize on New York’s economic recovery by raising the minimum wage from $8.75 to $10.50.

Perales said the state has already created more than 500,000 new private sector jobs since the big recession — the second most in the country. But at the same time, wages have not grown fast enough and people are being left behind, he alleged.

“We had a bad few years after the recession in 2008, but we are out of it now and we are moving forward,” he said. “Unemployment is down and, in every region of the state, jobs are up.”

Cuomo’s plan calls for a $10.50 minimum wage across the state, except for New York City, where he suggests the minimum wage be increased to $11.50. In total, he said more than 1.35 million workers would see a wage increase throughout the state, bringing a direct economic impact of nearly $3.4 billion.

“The minimum wage should allow people who work full-time jobs to support themselves and their families – but that is just not possible today,” Cuomo said. “Our proposal will help hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers better sustain themselves and live with dignity and respect. The State Legislature must pass our proposal this year, because the sweetest success is shared success and we won’t rest until we are all rising together.”

During four of the five recent increases in the state’s minimum wage dating back to 1991, data indicated an employment uptick each time the wage went up, Perales said.

“Under this plan, nearly 150,000 workers here in Long Island will see a pay raise,” he said. “In a family with two earners, the increase from $8.75 to $10.50 translates to more than $7,000 in additional income per year.”

The proposal said Long Island currently sees 85,264 total minimum-wage workers earning $8.75 today. But under the new plan, 202,248 Long Island workers would earn the minimum wage, bringing a direct economic value of $382.3 million to the island, Cuomo said.

Perales spoke alongside Keith Barrett, president of the Huntington Station Business Improvement District as well as Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO of Hauppauge’s GSE Dynamics, to explain how higher minimum wages could bring better business to the North Shore.

“Raising the minimum wage is not just about money, it’s about opportunity,” Perales said. “It’s about saying that everyone who works a full-time job should have the chance to live a decent life and put food on the table for themselves and their loved ones. Because at the end of the day, we are all part of the same community and the same state, and we are at our best when we all do well together.”

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