Times of Huntington-Northport

Norhtport village residents packed the Jan. 29 public hearing regarding The Northport Hotel. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

Northport residents came out in support of the business a local hotel could bring but raised concerns about the traffic that may come with it.  

Northport village held a hearing Jan. 29 on business owners Kevin O’Neill and Richard Dolce’s, of the John W. Engeman Theater,  proposal to construct a hotel-restaurant, The Northport Hotel, at 225 Main St. The much-anticipated project drew a large crowd to the American Legion Hall, which was packed to standing room only. 

Christopher Modelewski, an attorney representing O’Neill and Dolce, presented an updated site rendering of the hotel at the village public hearing Jan. 29. The rendering included changes they made to the site as a result of concerns raised by the planning board and area professionals. 

Study:  Northport has parking spots, if you walk

Northport residents voiced their concerns about a lack of parking along Main Street at a Jan. 29 public hearing on a proposed hotel and restaurant. Yet, a study released in December 2018 determined there are plenty of spots if people are willing to walk.

The Village of Northport hired Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates LLC to perform a paid parking study of Northport. Their survey, which took place from August to October 2018, concluded the village’s 615 parking spaces are sufficient, with a slight exception of summer evenings.

Northport’s central business district has a total 195 metered slots and 420 free spaces between Main Street and its side municipal lots, according to the study.  Nearly half of these spots are divided between streetside metered parking on Main Street, and the two free lots adjacent to the village’s waterfront parks.

On a typical weekday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Level G Associates found 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and Main Street lots were full as well. However, the study cited roughly 100 available spaces in the waterside lots and Lot 7, located off Woodside Avenue by the American Legion hall.

“These are normal/healthy parking patterns for an active [central business district],” the report reads.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, Level G Associates found most metered parking spots and lots on Main Street were full. However, the study found “ample available parking” in the free waterside and Woodside Avenue lots that “are within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.”

The only time traffic experts found an issue with the village’s parking was on summer nights, from 5 to 9 p.m. The study found the village’s parking is 95 percent full, often due to concerts and special event attendance, and could be improved through the addition of 72 spaces.

Tom Kehoe, deputy mayor of Northport, said the village board is being proactive in trying to address parking demands and congestion concerns.

“The evaluation provided us with some suggestions that we may consider,” he said.

Some suggestions include re-striping of  waterfront municipal lots could add 30 spaces, expanding the free lot by the American Legion to add 35 spots and development of a parking management plan. Other ideas given by Level G Associates are just not feasible, according to Kehoe such as leasing the parking lot used by the St. Philip Neri Church and Parish Center on Prospect Avenue.

Kehoe also said he has suggested moving the village’s Highway Department out of the Woodside Avenue lot to provide more spaces.

“It is a public safety issue,” the deputy mayor said. “You have the theater close by, snow plows are in there — that lot can get very busy.”

Kehoe said Northport residents are fortunate to live in a place where people want to visit and spend money, but in turn that causes more of a demand for parking. The village’s town board plans to continue the process of making these changes between now and the upcoming summer.

When the building plans were first presented to the village’s planning board in May 2017, O’Neill sought to construct a 24-room hotel and a 200-seat restaurant. Recent changes have  reduced the size of the restaurant to 124 seats with an additional 50 seats in the lobby and
bar area. 

Despite these changes, Northport residents continued to express concern about accessibility and how it could exacerbate parking issues in the village.

Tom Mele, of Northport, said he is for the creation of the hotel but argues it is off base to think that there isn’t an accessibility and parking problem in the village.

“If you [O’Neill] love this town as much as you say you do, you would find a way to work with the village board,” Mele said. “Work with them to decrease the traffic on Main Street and if that means downsizing the venue downstairs to accommodate the people, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for.”

Northport property owner Frank Cavagnaro expressed similar sentiments saying that the planning board shouldn’t accept the site plans as is. He viewed the parking issue as his main concern.

“You’re gonna come in and try to stuff five pounds of bologna in a 1-pound bag — it’s not going to fit,” Cavagnaro said. “Parking in the village is terrible, it’s going to kill the village.”

The  Village of Northport commissioned a parking study by Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates, released in December 2018, that found that during a typical weekday the downtown area “exhibited normal and healthy parking patterns.” While approximately 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and the free Main Street lots were full, the study found 100 free spaces available during peak times in the in the municipal lots. 

Still, Cavagnaro presented a possible compromise to the village board. 

“Consider a smaller restaurant, to get him started with the option if we find more parking, for him [O’Neill] to come back to the board,” Cavagnaro said. 

Modelewski also cited a traffic impact study performed by Walter Dunn, a professional engineer and founder of Dunn Engineering Associates, and Tom Mazzola, former traffic and safety director for the Town of Huntington. The study found that the hotel would have a benign impact on the traffic in the area.  

O’Neill said under the proposed plans there would be no parking on Woodside Avenue and no right turn out of the two parking lots so traffic does not go into residential areas. 

“We will have the ability to take, between the theater and the hotel-restaurant operation,  roughly 150 cars off [the] street,” O’Neill said. “The village has 609 [parking] spots, for anybody in the industry that’s a seismic shift in the dynamics in how much parking is being provided.”

Residents were also concerned about the possibility of delivery trucks unloading on Main Street, which is not permitted under Northport village law according to Modelewski. 

“Tractor trailers and box cars double park behind cars — that’s unlawful,” the hotel’s attorney said. “There’s a reason why the law isn’t being enforced — it’s because it’s the only way businesses can function.”

Modelewski said O’Neill will work with the suppliers to use only box cars. 

Northport resident Alex Edwards-Bourdrez said the proposed hotel would fit the town beautifully. 

“I understand that there can be all these of glitches [in the process] but I would ask for all of us to rise up together in support of this,” Edwards-Bourdrez said. “We have all the brains in here to put the pieces together in a way that they won’t fall apart, it won’t choke the village — I don’t believe it will.”

Edwards-Bourdrez also touched on the issue of parking. 

“Nobody that goes into New York City or a bigger town worries about walking 5 to 10 minutes to where they are going,” he said. “There is parking, you just sometimes can’t park right next to where you want to go. We have to make these concessions for us to grow as a village.” 

The village’s parking study found that on a typical weekend, defined as Friday and Saturday evenings, there is ample available parking “within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.”

Lenny Olijnyk, of Northport, said everybody was against the theater until O’Neill took over and renovated it in 2007. He argued that the hotel would increase the village’s commercial tax base. 

“Maybe we can clean up the streets a little bit, the sidewalks will get fixed,” Olijnyk said. “You have to think about that. The village wants to grow, my grandkids are going to live here. There has to be revenue for the village.”

O’Neill felt strongly in order for his theater business and others to strive they must work together in a positive way. 

“It’s just not sitting up here trying to make money, there’s more to it,” he said. “I don’t believe in sucking the community dry where we do business.” 

 

 

Third-place winners from Commack High School from left, Luke Maciejewski, Nathan Cheung, Riley Bode, Louis Vigliette and Kevin Chen. Photo from BNL
Commack and Walt Whitman high schools take home honors
Fourth-place winners from Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, from left, Rena Shapiro, Eliot Yoon, Matthew Kerner and Aiden Luebker. Photo from BNL

Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton held its annual Long Island Regional High School Science Bowl on Jan. 26. Out of 20 teams from across Long Island, Levittown’s Island Trees High School took the top spot and was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Finals in Washington, D.C., scheduled for Apr. 25 to 29. 

Old Westbury’s Wheatley School took home second place; Commack High School placed third; and Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station placed fourth.

The event was just one of the nation’s regional competitions of the 29th Annual DOE National Science Bowl (NSB). 

A series of 111 regional high school and middle school tournaments are held across the country from January through March. Teams from diverse backgrounds are each made up of four students, one alternate, and a teacher who serves as an adviser and coach. These teams face off in a fast-paced question-and-answer format where they are tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy and math. The NSB draws more than 14,000 middle- and high-school competitors.

“The National Science Bowl has grown into one of the most prestigious and competitive science academic competitions in the country, challenging students to excel in the STEM fields so vital to America’s future,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “I am proud to oversee a Department that provides such a unique and empowering opportunity for our nation’s students, and I am honored to congratulate Island Trees High School for advancing to the National Finals, where they will be competing against some of the brightest science, technology and engineering students across the country.”

The top 16 high school teams and the top 16 middle school teams in the National Finals will win $1,000 for their schools’ science departments. Prizes for the top two high school teams for the 2019 NSB will be announced on a later date.

In the competition at Brookhaven Lab, participating students received a Science Bowl T-shirt and winning teams also received trophies, medals and cash awards. Prizes were courtesy of BNL’s event sponsor, Brookhaven Science Associates, the company that manages and operates the lab for DOE.

For more information, visit www.science.energy.gov

Stormwater runoff coming from Route 25A headed toward Mill Pond after a heavy rainfall. Photo by Rob Schwartz

Two Centerport civic groups will join together this weekend to protest against proposed developments they fear could negatively impact the environment if left unchecked. 

Centerport Harbor Civic Association will join with members of the Bald Eagles of Centerport, NY Facebook group to rally at the intersection of Route 25A and Little Neck Road Saturday, Feb. 9, from 10 to 11 a.m., to draw attention to the potential environmental and traffic impacts of several developments in progress. 

“No one is looking at the overall picture of the area,” Rob Schwartz, of Centerport, said. “There’s a large amount of construction and it’s a concern for the community.” 

Schwartz, founder of the Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook group, said he’s seen firsthand stormwater runoff from Route 25A making its way into Mill Pond. He voiced concerns over whether the property owners of Water’s Edge, formerly The Thatched Cottage, are following all necessary precautions to ensure materials from the construction do not wind up in water. He fears if pollutants make their way into the harbor, it could cause extensive harm or death to native fish and wildlife. 

A gap in the silt fencing by the site of the former Thatched Cottage in January. Photo by Rob Schwartz

“They are not doing what they should be doing to protect the wetlands,” Schwartz said. “The pictures show that.” 

As a photographer, he’s posted numerous photos and videos via social media of rainbow-hued pools of water along Mill Pond’s banks alleging it’s a clear indicator of contamination. 

Enrico Scarda, managing partner of The Crest Group constructing Water’s Edge, said Centerport residents’ outcries of contamination are unfounded. 

“We have taken every safety precaution possible to not only safeguard the pond, but any impact our construction would have on the environment and its surrounding area,” he said. 

Scarda said his company, in full cooperation with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines, has sealed all manhole covers on the property and installed silt fencing with hay bales in an effort to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the pond.  

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe,” he said.

The concerns of Centerport’s residents of the harbor’s contamination have not fallen on deaf ears. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office received a complaint Jan. 30 regarding Centerport Harbor, complaining of issues with ongoing construction at the former Thatched Cottage site, EPA spokesman David Kluesner said. Those complaints were forward to the Town of Huntington for further investigation. 

Lauren Lembo, spokeswoman for the Town of Huntington, said DEC staff and the harbormaster checked the site Jan. 24, shortly after a day-long downpour and found no signs of a spill. She said town employees later investigated the matter to find the silt curtain required along the bulkhead, while present, was improperly installed and immediate corrective action was taken. 

“Our building department has been made aware, and maritime services will continue to make routine inspections regarding stormwater control measures and any improper discharges into Mill Pond,” Lembo said. 

Suffolk County’s Division of Environmental Quality routinely tests the water quality of the pond, as part of the Huntington-Northport Harbor complex, on a bimonthly basis, according to spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern. 

Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he’s had several constituents reach out to him with concerns over the former Thatched Cottage property and runoff into Mill Pond, and has requested that the county takes additional water samples. 

“I want to make sure we are addressing true concerns and not getting into rumors,” Spencer said. “It’s near the water and there’s construction going on. Are there pollution concerns? It’s reasonable.” 

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe.”

— Enrico Scarda

Employees of Suffolk’s Division of Environmental Quality visited the site Feb. 1, Kelly-McGovern said, to collect water samples from Mill Pond directly behind the former Thatched Cottage. The water will be analyzed by the county’s Public & Environmental Health Laboratory for a number of chemicals and contaminants including pesticides, metals including lead, fecal coliform bacteria, inorganic compounds, nitrogen and phosphorus. The results may take up to six weeks. 

Kelly-McGovern said the “rainbow opalescence” seen by Centerport residents in the photos can be produced by microbes as a result of breaking down organic matter such as fish, leaves and plants. 

“It’s a relatively common wetland phenomenon,” she said. 

Schwartz said he and others would still like to see additional environmental protection measures, such as a floating boom to limit the spread of any possible debris or floating contaminates. 

In addition to the environmental concerns, Tom Knight of Centerport Harbor Civic Association said the rally will voice opposition to the proposed 7-Eleven he fears will create significantly more traffic on the corner of Route 25A and Little Neck Road. The intersection is a steep angle and prone to causing accidents, Knight said. 

The proposed 7-Eleven is currently in the process of a drafting an environmental impact statement, which has yet to be completed and submitted to the Town of Huntington. 

“I can’t stop progress, but I can ask them to make it safe,” Schwartz said. “I’ve lived here for 30 years, I love this town, and I don’t want to see it ruined.” 

From left: Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and former Congressman Steve Israel. Photo from Bellone’s office

Counties on Long Island are preparing for the worst should another government shutdown occur.

In response to the most recent federal government shutdown, Nassau and Suffolk county officials announced the creation of a bi-county working group Jan. 25 to help coordinate resources for federal workers on Long Island who were affected by the 35-day shutdown and any future shutdowns that may arise. 

Former congressman Steve Israel, a Democrat who served 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, will lead the bi-county working group. 

“This federal shutdown is a man-made disaster that is hurting Long Islanders and our regional economy,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. “We can no longer wait on Washington to get its act together, which is why we are appointing Congressman Israel to lead this bi-county working group to coordinate an effective response with all stakeholders and help those affected. 

“This federal shutdown is a man-made disaster that is hurting Long Islanders and our regional economy.”

— Steve Bellone

The group’s focus would be to bring together government officials, nonprofit organizations, social-service agencies and others to collaborate on helping workers affected. Together they plan on creating a resource guide that federal workers can access during shutdowns, bypassing red tape that may normally hinder their efforts. 

“There’s a lot of finger pointing over the federal government shutdown,” said Israel. “County Executives Bellone and [Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D)], on the other hand, have decided to roll up their sleeves and protect their constituents. I’m honored to volunteer to assist them.” 

The latest shutdown, also the longest closure in U.S. history, had approximately 800,000 federal employees furloughed or had them forced to work without pay. TBR News Media reported several businesses stepped up to help during the shutdown, but many were inundated with people seeking aid. Some businesses received 200 or 300 people over a single weekend.

The shutdown has also had a major impact on the economy, reportedly cost Long Island as much as $28 million per week in lost wages to federal employees, according to data from the nonprofit Long Island Association. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported the latest shutdown cost the U.S. economy approximately $11 billion.

Despite the news that President Trump (R) and congressional leaders reached an agreement to reopen the government for the next three weeks, Derek Poppe, Bellone spokesperson, said it doesn’t change anything for the working group. 

“It is almost more important now than ever since we know there is another possible shutdown looming in three weeks when the temporary agreement runs out,” Poppe said in an email. “This deal confirms County Executive Bellone’s point that we need to prepare for the possibility of future federal shutdowns that have a devastating impact on workers and taxpayers.”

Rich Shaffer at his office in North Babylon. File Photo by Alex Petroski

In the lexicon of tarot, cards used by soothsayers for divination, there are many cards used to describe a person’s lot in life. 

If Rich Schaffer, the Suffolk County Democratic Committee chairman, could be represented by any card, it would be the chariot. Schaffer is at the head of the race, with the Democrats taking majority positions in the New York State Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, but he’s holding onto the reins of two horses, the moderate and far-left elements of his party, and he said his task is to keep both heading in the same direction.

“My job’s been described as the therapist in chief,” said Schaffer, who is also Town of Babylon supervisor. “I’m always either talking somebody off the ledge or helping them through an issue.”

“My job’s been described as the therapist in chief.”

— Rich Schaffer

In last year’s elections, the Democratic Party won big both in New York state and nationally, securing the state Senate as well as the Assembly, and gaining a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was a change of pace for the party, which was beleaguered after its loss during the 2016 elections that saw Donald Trump (R) sent to the White House.

In Suffolk County, many GOP members retained their seats despite hard campaigns from the Dems. Longtime Republican representatives such as state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) kept their seats in Albany, while U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) won out at 51.5 percent against his Democratic challenger Perry Gershon. Still, Schaffer said they have made strides in the county, pointing to the election of state Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) who won out over her GOP rival Dean Murray by 2,996 votes.

Schaffer added that he thinks the next time District 1 is up for grabs, it could swing blue.

Suffolk County “has been blue in the past,” the Democratic committee chairman said. 

Specifically, he points to the 35-day government shutdown that was put on hold for three weeks Jan. 25. Schaffer laid the blame for the shutdown at the president’s feet and said his Republican supporters in Congress would take the brunt of the blame.

“What they are doing to people’s livelihoods and their survival is unconscionable,” he said. “A political debate has now turned into almost scorched earth, where people’s lives are at stake.”

On the state level Schaffer said there are, all in all, six Democratic members elected to the state Senate who will represent Long Island, including new members Martinez and James Gaughran (D-Northport). 

This is important to the party commissioner, as in other years when the Democrats had majorities in both state houses, his experience was many of those focused on New York City rather than Long Island’s more suburban elements.

The differences between those two subsets of Democrats is something Schaffer said he’s particularly aware of. Nationally, much has been said about the rise of much more left-leaning Democrats, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx). She has been open about progressive ideas such as universal health care, establishing tuition-free colleges and trade schools, and creating a marginal tax system as high as 70 percent, which would mostly affect those in the wealthiest tax brackets. A bill for single-payer health care is currently being circulated in the state Assembly.

“You can’t have Cortez running in East Northport.”

— Rich Schaffer

Schaffer said he was not against policies such as universal health care, but he wanted the discussion to be had up in Albany about how the state was planning to pay for that program. 

Schaffer also questioned the viability of a Cortez-like candidate in Suffolk County. 

“I mean it’s easy for [Cortez] to speak like she does with the district she comes from, when your main election battle is the primary,” Schaffer said. “When you’re running Suffolk County North Shore and your district is not as friendly registration wise, this gets to if you elect Democrats who support basic Democratic ideas.”

Overall, Schaffer was adamant the best way to win Democratic seats in Suffolk County was to form coalitions, work off core democratic principles and promise to work toward local issues.

“You can’t have Cortez running in East Northport,” he said. “Some people will argue with me that ‘Yes, you can,’ but it has not been my experience out here. That’s not to say we can’t have things on the progressive agenda, but they have to be spoken about in a way that’s going to get you 50 percent plus one.”

A customer paying 5 cents to purchase a plastic bag from IGA Fort Salonga. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By David Luces

It has been more than a year since the 5-cent tax for plastic bags at retail stores took effect in Suffolk County. The main goal of the legislation was to reduce bag waste by encouraging shoppers to bring their own reusable bags and avoid the fee.

Some residents were reluctant to support the 5-cent  per plastic bag fee citing that the money would be going back to the store. Instead, they thought it should be given to charity or used for environmental causes.

Charlie Reichert, owner of IGA Fort Salonga Market, did just that when he announced in late January 2018 that he would be donating all proceeds from the county’s 5-cent fee to benefit local nonprofit institutions.

““It came to me when people were really complaining about the plastic bag, ‘Why are you charging a nickel? Why are you getting the money? That gave me the idea, why don’t we give the money to charity.”

— Charlie Reichert

“It came to me when people were really complaining about the plastic bag, ‘Why are you charging a nickel? Why are you getting the money?’” Reichert said to TBR News Media in January 2018. “That gave me the idea, why don’t we give the money to charity.”

The business owner estimated the nickel surcharge to generate approximately $6,000 to $7,000 a month for charity. Fast forward a year, and Reichert said his five IGA supermarket locations in Bayville, Fort Salonga, Greenport, East Northport and Southold have generated more than $40,000, which has been donated to Huntington Hospital and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.

Reichert was hopeful he would be able to get other businesses to support his cause and donate as well, but the effort has not seen the same success. 

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta  (R-Fort Salonga) expressed similar hope in January 2018 that the initiative could potentially result in millions of dollars being donated to local charities.

Trotta said he reached out to ShopRite locations in Hauppauge and Patchogue, which allegedly planned on donating proceeds of the fee to Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares, a food bank and pantry, specifically to benefit veterans in need last January.

Susan Eckert, legislative aide for Trotta, said his office also reached out to 14 other stores. Many said they would contact their corporate offices and, if interested, would call back — not one did. Two national corporations, Walmart and Target, said if they chose to donate the plastic bag fee to charity, it would go to their corporate foundations.

Robin Amato, chief development officer and communications director at Long Island Cares, said her nonprofit organization did not receive any donations as a result of the new tax.

“Although everyone’s intentions were good I am sure we did not receive any of the bag fees as donations,” Amato said. “All the ShopRite stores and families are very supportive of Long Island Cares and if the fees did come through they were not noted as such.”

In April 2018, the nonprofit advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment conducted a survey of 6,000 people in 20 grocery stores throughout Suffolk. The study found 30 percent of respondents bought plastic bags and 43 percent were carrying reusable ones. This showed a drastic change from late 2017, when a similar survey found only 6 percent of customers used a reusable bag.

Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment announced intentions to conduct another study at the end of 2018 to gather a much larger sample size and determine the legislation’s impact. Phone calls to the CCE were not returned.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has called for a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in his 2019 Executive Budget proposal. The governor put a measure before the state Legislature in 2018, but it was not voted on.

John Kennedy Jr. (R) and Steve Bellone (D). File Photos

Executive Steve Bellone, Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. offer differing view of what financial future holds

When asked to critically examine Suffolk County’s finances and what lies ahead for residents, our executive branch and accounting officials couldn’t be further divided on their vision of the future. 

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said out of the $410 million operating note the county sought to sell for 2019 operating funds only half, or $207 million, could be competitively sold in December. Instead, he had to rely on a negotiated agreement with Bank of America to give the funds needed to run the county’s government at an interest rate of 2.35 percent. 

“This has been one of the toughest times we’d had in the market since I’ve taken office,” Kennedy said. 

“We are in some very strenuous times.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

The county comptroller, since 2015, said it was a combination of factors that negatively impacted Suffolk: seeking funding later than normal, stock market uncertainty and, perhaps most importantly, that Moody’s downgrading the county’s bond rating from A3 to Baa1. 

“We are barred from being purchased by many major investment funds,” Kennedy said, citing Fidelity and T. Rowe Price Group won’t invest. “We are in some very strenuous times.” 

Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director, said while the county’s bond rating was dropped the comptroller was “overstating” its impact and meaning. 

“[Moody’s investors] are looking at the past,” he said. “They are not looking at what is happening in the future.” 

Naughton cited how Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) has implemented many structural changes since taking office in 2012 including reducing the county’s workforce by approximately 1,200 employees, closed John J. Foley nursing home in Yaphank that was losing money and creating the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency to bring in additional funds. 

Kennedy countered that from March 2012 to September 2018 Moody’s has downgraded the county’s bond rating by five ranks. 

“We need to change how county government operates,” the comptroller said. 

Suffolk is not likely to see the state takeover of the county’s government like Nassau according to Kennedy, in good part because the county has about half the outstanding debt of neighboring Nassau — a sentiment with which Naughton agreed. 

The comptroller suggested that in order to avoid dire straits, Suffolk officials should move to consolidate by merging county offices with similar functions, encourage shared services among municipalities, reduce its workforce, evaluate and sell off surplus property where possible, like the former Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct building in Coram. 

“Structural changes were needed and these structural changes were adopted.”

— Jason Elan

Jason Elan, a spokesman for Bellone, said the county executive has done just that. Under Bellone, the county treasurer and comptroller positions were merged, as were four departments made into two:  Labor and Consumer Affairs and Economic Development and Planning. Bellone made county employees contribute 15 percent to their health insurance premiums while taking a pay freeze himself, at an estimated savings of more than $300,000. Further, Suffolk’s workforce has been reduced and, according to Naughton, county-operated land and property is being evaluated to see if it can be deemed surplus. 

“Structural changes were needed and these structural changes were adopted,” Bellone’s spokesman said, noting Kennedy voted against or opposed many of the measures. 

What looms ahead for Suffolk is negotiation of a new contract with the Police Benevolent Association. Kennedy said at a current cost of $573 million per year, the police contract is the largest item in the county’s $3.11 billion 2019 budget followed by roughly $451 million for county employee’s health insurance. 

“If we are not focused on actively managing those expenditures in both categories, we might as well shut off the lights and go home,” he said.

In fact, it’s not just the police but all of the county’s employee contracts have expired. Elan said Bellone would not comment on the status of PBA negotiations. 

Rather he said the county’s greatest opportunity lies in furthering its economic development, like the proposed Ronkonkoma Hub and other projects that will bring businesses to the area.

These issues are some that are expected to be addressed by Bellone when he gives his annual State of the County per tradition in May. 

Graphic by TBR News Media

By Sara-Megan Walsh and Kyle Barr

The three North Shore towns of Brookhaven, Huntington and Smithtown are grappling with how to best recycle in 2019 after Brookhaven’s facility ground to a halt in October 2018. 

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August 2018. Brookhaven has since returned to dual stream recycling. Photo from Town of Smithtown

In that month, Brookhaven’s recycling contractor Green Stream Recycling prematurely terminated its 25-year agreement to operate the town’s recycling plant in Yaphank. The announcement came as collected recyclables piled up like mountains outside the Yaphank facility as China’s new National Sword policy took effect, implemented in January 2018, which set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials it would accept. Up until then, China had been the world’s largest importer of recycled materials, and now local towns had to scramble to find a new market to sell to.

All three towns solicited bids from recycling companies in the hopes of finding the most efficient and green solution for its residents. 

The result is Brookhaven, Huntington and Smithtown have all taken slightly different approaches based on what services they’ve been offered. Residents have been puzzled by new recycling schedules, as the townships are still attempting to explain what has changed with their recycling and how it will impact the future.

Brookhaven

Once the bottom of the recycling market fell out from China’s decision, Brookhaven was caught directly in the storm that followed, with the Green Stream facility being the center of multiple towns’ recycling efforts.

“It’s not the system that so much changed, as much as what was allowable,” said Christopher Andrade, the town’s recycling commissioner. “[China] went down from 5 percent contamination to 0.5 percent. It wasn’t the equipment that caused the problem, it was the standard that caused the problem.”

At the Jan. 17 Brookhaven Town Board meeting, council members unanimously voted to sign a $760,000 contract with West Babylon-based Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island to take their materials to Smithtown’s Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. 

The new standards mean Brookhaven residents can only put out the most common No. 1 and 2 plastics, which are collected together with aluminum such as food cans. Paper products are collected separately. The town asked that any unclean paper products such as used pizza boxes be thrown out with regular trash instead. Glass is no longer being picked curbside by the town, and instead can be placed at one of seven drop-off points located around the town.

“It’s not the system that so much changed, as much as what was allowable.”

— Chris Andrade

To advertise these changes, Brookhaven took out newspapers ads and broadcasted the changes on radio, television and social media at the tail end of 2018. The town is planning another media blitz for 2019, including another mailer to all residents along with additional newspaper and radio ads. The annual mailer sent to Brookhaven residents, which includes information about the new recycling system, costs $30,000. Otherwise the town has spent approximately $12,000 on newspaper ads and roughly $10,000 on radio ads so far. Andrade said the town is continuing to advertise the changes.

Further changes to Brookhaven’s recycling system could again appear on the horizon. Matt Miner, chief of operations, said the town is looking for means of getting its recycling facility restarted, though this would require a new contractor to partner with Brookhaven. 

Andrade said he hopes to have the facility running again before the six-month contract with Smithtown is up. In addition, the recycling commissioner said he is awaiting news of the current litigation between the town and Green Stream over the voided contract.

For now, Brookhaven is sticking with dual stream, as officials said single-stream recycling resulted in a worse quality product that at this point was near impossible to sell.

For more information on recycling, visit Brookhaven’s video on recycling.

Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown opted to take a unique approach to dual-stream recycling by taking on two different contracts in hopes of getting their best payout for recycled materials. 

In December, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) signed a six-month contract with Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island to pick up all collected paper and cardboard recycling in exchange for paying the town $30 per ton. These collections are expected to net Smithtown approximately $177,000 per year, if they choose to extend the contract. 

Since Oct. 29 the Town of Smithtown has been piling up residents’ recyclables at its Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. File Photo by Kyle Barr

The town entered a separate contract with Islandia-based Trinity Transportation, which will take unprocessed curbside metals and plastics, limited to plastics Nos. 1 and 2, with $68 per ton being paid by the town, at a total cost of approximately $104,000 per year. 

Overall, the combination of two contracts along with money received from Brookhaven for shipping their recyclables for pickup, will net the town approximately $178,500 per year in total, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. 

Residents who wish to recycle their glass bottles and containers can drop off materials at three locations throughout town: Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park, Town Hall and the Highway Department building on Route 347 in Nesconset.  

Smithtown Town Board has budgeted $16,000 for its public campaign regarding the return to dual-stream, the least of any township but also with the smallest population to reach. Garguilo said many of the graphics and printed materials have been designed in-house, which has helped save money. She added that the supervisor and town officials will be speaking with senior citizen groups and community associations throughout early 2019 to help re-educate residents who may not be technologically savvy. 

For more information on recycling, go to Smithtown’s video on the subject.

Huntington 

After the Yaphank plant’s closure, the Town of Huntington signed a two-year contract with Omni Recycling of Babylon returning to a dual-stream process with papers and cardboard being collected on alternate weeks from plastics, aluminum and glass. The town’s total recycling costs will depend on how well the town can re-educate residents and their compliance, according to Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R).

“The only vendors continuing single-stream recycling would have trucked it off Long Island at a cost of $120 to $135 a ton,” he said. “It’s a matter of re-educating the public and getting them used to the old system again.” 

“It’s a matter of re-educating the public and getting them used to the old system again.”

— Chad Lupinacci

Lupinacci said to stick with a single-stream process would have cost the town approximately $1.7 million to $2 million a year based on bids received from contractors. As such, the town decided to move to a dual-stream process where its costs will be determined by how much of the collected material is clean enough to be repurposed. The town will receive $15 per ton of recyclable papers and cardboard delivered to Omni Recycling, and be billed $78 per contaminated ton as determined by the facility. 

“We require lids and covers on the recycling bins to reduce contamination from dirt and moisture,” the supervisor said. “Soiled and moldy paper are not recyclable.” 

The Town of Huntington expects to collect 900,000 tons of paper and cardboard from its residents. Assuming that 80 percent will be clean enough to recycle, Lupinacci said the town will wind up paying out approximately $32,000 for its paper goods. 

Unlike Brookhaven and Smithtown, Huntington town residents can continue to put all plastics, Nos. 1 through 7, and glass bottles out for curbside pickup. Based on an average of 550,000 tons collected annually, the town will pay $75 a ton, at a cost of $412,500 a year, to recycle these materials. 

“I think people are adjusting, but it will take a few weeks.”

— Chad Lupinacci

The Town of Huntington has set aside nearly $86,000 in 2019 — more than Brookhaven and Smithtown combined — to educate its residents about the return to dual stream. According to Huntington’s website, dual-stream recycling is the collection of bottles, cans and plastics one week, with paper and corrugated cardboard the following week. Half that budget will be paid by a grant obtained from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, according to Lupinacci. To date, the town has spent $1,000 on social media ads and roughly $43,000 on printed materials including direct mailers and calendars. 

The supervisor said it seems to be paying off. 

“Omni-Westbury, [which] does our collection, said the quality of our first week’s recyclables was better than expected,” Lupinacci said. 

The first collection of papers and cardboard in January yielded 104 tons, only 10 percent of which was considered contaminated, according to the supervisor. 

“I think people are adjusting, but it will take a few weeks,” he said. 

For more information on recycling, watch Huntington’s video on recycling.

Glass: Is it worth collecting? 

Glass is a product many town officials have found difficult to sell, as there’s not much market for it.

Brookhaven and Smithtown are no longer accepting it as part of curbside pickup, but rather asking their residents to bring glass bottles to various drop-off locations. Collections at these locations has increased, according to Miner, and Brookhaven Town has installed larger containers to meet that demand.

To date, Brookhaven has sent two pilot shipments with Jersey City-based Pace Glass Recycling, and Miner said the town is looking to set up some sort of long-term contract.  Andrade said the town is not currently making money from sending the glass to Pace, but the only costs incurred are from the town employees hauling the product up to New Jersey.

“This is actually a recycling of the glass, which most of the towns on Long Island have not been able to achieve,” Miner said.

Andrade added there is a chance Brookhaven could land a deal with the New
Jersey-based company.

“You have to establish relationships, so we’re still in the beginning of the dance there,” the recycling commissioner said. “They’re taking a look at the quality of our material … they’re liking the material so I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Smithtown elected officials renewed a prior inter-municipal agreement with Brookhaven at their Jan. 24 meeting, agreeing to ship the town’s collected glass to their neighbor for processing. 

By Bill Landon

The Northport Tigers stood alone atop the League II leaderboard at 9-2 when they hit the road against Half Hollow Hills East, 8-2, who looked to displace the Tigers for the top spot. Displace them they did when the Thunderbirds defeated Northport,  64-50, Jan. 25 on their own home court.

Northport’s defense struggled to contain Hills East’s Shamar Moore-Hough who led the Thunderbirds in scoring with 19 points.

Northport sophomore guard Pat Healy led the Tigers in scoring with 15 points, senior forward Ian Melamerson followed adding 13 and junior guard Sean Walsh banked 11.

The loss bumps Northport from their perch to second place in league with four games remaining before the postseason begins. The Tigers will retake the court Jan. 31 hosting Lindenhurst at 6 p.m.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By David Luces

Northport school administrators gave taxpayers their first glimpse at what potential issues the district will face as it starts to draft its 2019-20 budget.

Superintendent Robert Banzer gave his first overview of the Northport-East Northport school district’s preliminary budget for 2019-20 at the Jan. 24 board of education meeting. The highlights includes two large expenses to the district are expected to decrease based on his initial calculations, but the schools have a different challenge to contend with.

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less. Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge,”

— Robert Banzer

The superintendent said the district’s state-mandated employer contribution to the Teacher Retirement System is anticipated to drop from 10.62 down to somewhere between 9.5 and 8.5 percent, and health care insurance premiums are projected to decrease. 

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less,” he said. “Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge.”

For 2019-20, Banzer explained the district will be permitted to raise taxes by up to 3.22 percent and remain with the state-mandated tax cap. The number can raise above the often cited 2 percent for numerous reasons including tax-base growth and rollover from prior years.

The superintendent said the district’s officials will be mindful of trying to draft a budget that comes in at or below the cap.

“Potentially it will be 3.22 percent, but I hope that it is less and we save taxpayers some money,” trustee David Badanes said.

The district’s budget for the current year is $166,810,381. According to the superintendent, the budget amount has increased by around 1.5 percent each year since the 2013-14 school year. Over half the budget is attributed to personnel’s salaries, about a quarter of it is attributed to employee benefits, according to Banzer. 

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000. About 10 percent of the district’s revenue comes in the form of state aid, the district is currently projected to receive more than $16 million based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) 2019 Executive Budget. Banzer noted that it is only a projected number, and one he hopes could be higher once the actual budget is passed.

There’s work to be done in between. There’s going to be opportunities for input.”

— Robert Banzer

One challenge the school district must face is how to deal with the continued declining enrollment. The superintendent projected the schools have lost nearly 1,165 students since the 2011-12 school year. 

“That’s pretty significant, a lot of it has been in the elementary level,” Banzer said. “Things are starting to level off there but now it seems like it is coming to the secondary level.”

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000.

The next Northport school board meeting dedicated to the 2019-20 budget overview will be March 7 at 7 p.m. in the William J. Brosnan School Building, located at 158 Laurel Ave. The district has approximately four months to refine the budget before the vote slated for May 21.

“There’s work to be done in between,” the superintendent said. “There’s going to be opportunities for input.”

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