Town of Brookhaven

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the swearing-in of state Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport). Photo by Sara Meghan Walsh

By David Luces 

More than a week after New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) released his proposed budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, many municipalities both big and small in Suffolk County may have to face the reality of losing state funding. 

This comes as a result of the governor’s decision to end state funding to Suffolk County towns and villages as part of a program called Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, which was originally established in the state’s 2005-06 fiscal year. 

If the budget passes, 41 towns and villages in Suffolk County stand to lose AIM funding. Those local governments that rely on AIM funding for more than 2 percent of their budgets would keep this aid.

“It’s as if the governor has decided to aim a dagger at the heart of every municipality on Long Island,” Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said. 

“It’s as if the governor has decided to aim a dagger at the heart of every municipality on Long Island.”

— Ed Romaine

The Town of Brookhaven stands to lose $1.8 million, which is the second highest loss in funding behind the Town of Hempstead which is set to lose $3.8 million. 

Romaine said the decision to cut aid for Brookhaven taxpayers is unconscionable and that it will have an immediate and serious impact on town services and could result in a tax increase. 

Other townships along the North Shore are also standing on the cliff’s edge of funding loss. Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said in a statement that he is disappointed to learn of what he called an unprecedented $59 million in total cuts Cuomo has proposed in his 2020 NYS budget, including little more than $1 million in AIM funds for Huntington. 

“[This is] effectively gutting the unrestricted state revenue sharing program and significantly affecting the Long Island region,” the town supervisor said. “I urge our state Legislature to reject the governor’s dangerous proposal, which could translate into service and program cuts and layoffs.”

The Huntington supervisor added the town should not be punished because of what he described as its conservative fiscal practices, which have resulted in a state funding stream that represents less than 2 percent of the town’s budget. 

“When you take over $1 million away from us, the money has to come from somewhere,” he said. 

Over in the Town of Smithtown, which stands to lose more than $650,000 in AIM funds, officials are staying wary of the timetables, especially considering that many municipalities calculate the AIM funds into their regular yearly budgets. 

“We’ve heard about it, though it’s not official yet — there’s a distinct possible that it could happen,” said Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R). 

“When you take over $1 million away from us, the money has to come from somewhere.”

—Chad Lupinacci

Town officials expressed that the governor should give them and other municipalities more time to prepare for the proposed budget cuts. 

Werheim said the town already has completed its budget and if the money is lost it would put a hole in their operating budget, forcing them to allocate funds from somewhere else. 

If the governor’s plan goes into effect, programs like Horizons Counseling & Education could lose funding, officials said. The program is funded to provide adolescent and adult treatment, prevention and education services for drug- and alcohol-related problems. 

“I’d ask [the governor] to reconsider other avenues,” Werheim said. “Many municipalities on Long Island depend and rely on federal funding.” 

Many incorporated villages along the North Shore are also looking at a funding loss, such as the Village of Northport which is expected to lose $50,000. Others villages like Poquott would lose $2,500, Belle Terre $4,100 and Old Field $3,500.

“I do not yet know how this is going to impact the village,” Old Field Mayor Michael Levine said.

The Village of Port Jefferson would lose $33,000 of AIM funding. 

“If that goes through it means losing another budget revenue line,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “As this stuff starts to pile up, it really starts to hurt.”

Garant mentioned that the lobbying group New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, which represents mayors and small municipalities across New York, will be pushing back against this line in the budget come February. 

Other groups like Suffolk County Village Officials Association will also work with NYCOM and Suffolk legislators to lobby Suffolk’s representatives in Albany about the dire consequences of this aspect of the governor’s budget proposal. 

“As this stuff starts to pile up, it really starts to hurt.”

— Margot Garant

“The governor’s proposal hurts the village citizens the most in villages that have the largest budgetary needs,” said Richard Smith, president of SCVOA. “The governor continues to add to village responsibilities and costs, but simultaneously wants to force villages to increase their local property taxes to pay for the same village services as were provided last year.”

While schools are gearing up to present next year’s budgets, some districts on Long Island would also see less state aid if the governor’s proposed budget passes. Shoreham-Wading River School District would see an incremental increase in foundation aid of $16,000 but a fall in expense-driven aids resulting in a net decrease of $77,000 in state aid. Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district expects to advocate for more funds.

“Last year, as a result of our advocacy and the support of our local legislators, our final foundation aid allocation was about $100,000 higher than what the executive budget originally proposed,” Poole said. “It is also important to note that an additional aid category, building aid, which was not included in recent media reports is in fact projected to increase for our district next year due to the completion of capital projects.” 

The New York State Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees must review the proposed budget before the state Legislature acts on the appropriation bills. Town officials and others said they will continue to advocate for more aid for their districts.

A scene from Steiner's Woods. Photo from Beth Dimino

By David Luces 

A nearly 30-year fight to protect 10 acres of land known in the Sound Beach community as Steiner’s Woods has finally come to an end. 

On Dec. 20, Town of Brookhaven purchased the land for $5 million, effectively preserving the site as open space. 

“Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.”

— Beth Dimino

The stretch of land, situated near Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, had been owned by Robert Toussie for over 25 years. The Brooklyn-based developer proposed to build up the site as Villages on the Sound, a 15-home development clustered on the northern portion of the property near the bluff, with a single access road extending northward from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

For years, the proposed plans have been marred by environmental and logistical issues raised by town officials and community members. 

Local residents have voiced their concerns the development would have led to more vehicular traffic on existing narrow roads that were already overburdened in the neighborhood. The property also serves as protection for Scott’s Beach, and residents have argued development could have led to negative environmental impacts due to stormwater runoff into the Long Island Sound. 

The woods serve as a natural drainage site and water recharge basin for the surrounding communities, according to an environmental analysis conducted by the town in 1989. If development went through, the town would have spent close to $2 million to mitigate stormwater runoff from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

Sound Beach resident and retired science teacher Beth Dimino, who lives adjacent to the property, is glad the town was able to purchase the site. 

“The woods provide natural drainage in the community,” the Sound Beach resident said. “Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.” 

The 1989 environmental report also stated the trees support the environment and also protect the community from winds from hurricanes and rainstorms. 

Dimino said she has to give credit to Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). 

“She understood the problem and understood the concern of the community,” Dimino said. “I told her it would cost millions to mitigate the water drainage issue. We are indebted to her — she has helped save the environment in that area and it’s going to help preserve the wildlife.”

“The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

— Bea Ruberto

Bonner said this has been a long process, one that started before she took office. 

“This is a win for the community and the Town of Brookhaven,” Bonner said. “It’s a beautiful parcel of land and it’s great that it won’t be developed.”

Bonner said her office has received many positive phone calls from residents who are happy with the recent news. 

Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto said the community is elated about the news. 

“I’ve been involved for the past ten years,” she said. “The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

Ruberto said if development went through they would have had to instead fill the ravine, located in the vicinity of Steiner’s Woods, which serves as a drainage point. Filling that would have led to issues of water runoff that normally flows into the area.  

“They would’ve had to mitigate the stormwater and it would’ve cost millions of dollars,” she said.  “If it could be done.”

Bonner points to the advocacy done by local residents and the town as the reason the property was able to be preserved.

“This has been a total group effort,” the councilwoman said. “It’s nice to finally put this to bed.”

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

By Karina Gerry

The Town of Brookhaven returned to a dual-stream recycling model — where paper, plastic and metals are separated —at the end of November to alleviate problems in the recycling market, but the switch has left some Brookhaven residents confused and frustrated.

The Three Village Civic Association hoped to ease residents’ worries and concerns at its Jan. 7 meeting by inviting Chris Andrade, commissioner of Brookhaven Town’s Department of Recycling and Sustainable Materials Management, and Erich Weltsek, town recycling coordination aide, to speak at Emma S. Clark Library in Setauket about the new dual-stream recycling schedule and explain why the change was necessary.

“We decided to focus our monthly meeting on changes in the town’s recycling program because the changes are significant,” George Hoffman, vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, said. 

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 October 2018, Green Stream Recycling, Brookhaven’s recycling contractor, terminated its 25-year agreement to operate Brookhaven’s recycling plant in Yaphank. The recycling market was deeply affected by China’s National Sword policy, implemented in January of last year, which bans the import of 24 types of solid waste and has set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials. 

China has been the leading world importer of waste, at one point taking in more than 50 percent of the world’s plastic recyclables. As a result of National Sword, recycled material has piled up at recycling facilities across the country, like Brookhaven’s in Yaphank.

“Switching from single stream to dual stream was not something we wanted to do,” Andrade said during his presentation Monday night. “But it was a product of circumstance.”

Andrade went on to explain recent changes to the recycling marketplace were unexpected, noting that no one thought it would happen on the scale that it did and so quickly, too.

“In my opinion, the buyers need to own some of it,” Andrade said. “There were domestic mills when I started in this business. There were domestic processing plants. They started paying less money than the overseas plants and so everybody started shipping material overseas. People put all their eggs into one basket and then when China shut down there were no homes for us anymore.”

While Andrade notes the future for domestic mills seems likely to turn the market around, he doesn’t believe it will happen for at least a year.

As the markets took a downturn, cross contamination of recycling became an issue. For Old Field resident and Sierra Club Long Island Group chair Jane Fasullo, the problem isn’t surprising. Fasullo took a tour of the single-stream facility and was surprised by what she saw.

It was an “eye-opening experience,” Fasullo said. “It wasn’t as lean of a separation as I thought it would be.”

While Fasullo noted single stream did encourage more recycling overall, she said she believes dual stream produces a cleaner stream, yet she insists the problem we should be concerned about isn’t single stream versus dual stream, the real issue plaguing our country is plastic.

“The biggest industry going that prevents major changes is the plastics industry,” Fasullo said. “We’re being overrun by plastic. Even our clothing now is plastic. And all of this stuff is just building up our garbage piles.”

When Brookhaven announced its decision to move back to dual stream the town placed ads in a number of papers including TBR News Media newspapers. Later the town broadcast its new policy through radio, television, social media and newspaper ads. Still, many residents said they were not properly contacted and informed about the changes. 

“You know, there are so many forms of media now to communicate to,” Andrade said. “So, it’s a challenge.”

‘We’re being overrun by plastic. Even our clothing now is plastic. And all of this stuff is just building up our garbage piles.’

— Jane Fasullo

A popular concern that was continuously brought up at the meeting was the issue of glass, which is no longer being picked up curbside, much to the dismay of residents. Instead, satellite locations have been set up throughout the town where glass can be dropped off free of charge. So far there are seven locations, including the town’s parking lot across from the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook, the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai and Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D-Port Jefferson Station) expressed her appreciation for the commissioner coming to speak to the community and providing background information to help people understand the switch from single stream to dual stream.

“This education is key to the success of recycling with the town,” Cartright said. “This office will continue to promote further education and work with residents to address any complaints or concerns they may have during this transition.”

After the meeting was over, Andrade expressed a positive outlook on the results from the meeting and future meetings that he and his colleague Weltsek hope to hold with civic associations around the town.

“I think overall people want to do the right thing,” Andrade said. “And I think they will do the right thing. It’s just a matter of giving them enough time and enough information to do the right thing.”

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, above, sits in her office in Stony Brook Village Center.

By Donna Deedy

An old, darkened portrait of George Washington hangs on the wood-paneled wall behind her desk. Abraham Lincoln’s words are inscribed on an office vestibule plaque. She fills a seat once occupied by philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville. She’s Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization. And for the last 38 years, she’s been successful at a job that she never imagined for herself.

“It’s impossible to describe all that we do here in one sentence,” she said.

Gloria Rocchio plans cultural events with staff members Kim Hernandez, Gabrielle Lindau, Anna Macukas and Patricia Dilucca.

As a landlord, Rocchio oversees the Stony Brook Village Center and 41 other commercial and residential properties in the Three Village area. She’s on constant lookout for good tenants. Her ultimate goal, however, is community enrichment. With a background in Long Island tourism, she and her staff of 12 develop educational and cultural events related to history, science and the arts.

It’s all part of the Melvilles’ legacy. The affluent discount shoe retailer and his wife ushered in an enterprising plan in the post-Depression era to create a socially viable business district with a nearby university at the headwaters of Stony Brook Harbor. Originally called the Stony Brook Community Fund (founded in 1939 and renamed The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in 1969), its mission celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2019.

“People may not realize it, but Rocchio took on an organization that was not in the best fiscal condition and with the board turned it around to resurrect a community,” said Dr. Richard Rugen, the organization’s chairman of the board. “She’s been able to draw in big names and corporations, and our endowment has improved tremendously.”

Its net assets today are valued at $37 million, state filings show, up from a reported $2 million in 1980. Thanks to rental revenue, the company reportedly contributed $626,000 last year to the tax roll.

With an improved bottom-line, its programs now touch many lives.

The nonprofit business offers $l-a-year leases to three charitable organizations: The Long Island Museum, The Jazz Loft and Lending Aids for the Sick. Some of the region’s most celebrated chefs cook at the Three Village Inn and the Country House Restaurant, also part of the group’s holdings.

“We see familiar faces, business travelers and many new people in our dining rooms, and it’s all very rewarding,” said French chef Guy Reuge, who relocated his Mirabelle Restaurant to Stony Brook hamlet 10 years ago.

The organization’s programs on the Underground Railroad and the Culper Spy Ring have earned national acclaim. Performances at its historic sites reach virtual audiences near and far — from schools in Setauket to classrooms in Louisiana, Quebec and Panama. A new event in 2019 entitled The Courageous Women of the Revolutionary War will showcase the unsung stories of four women involved in George Washington’s spy ring.

When Rocchio sees a social concern, she said she looks for people who can take it on.

Stony Brook University is co-sponsor for an annual walk/run that has raised to date more than $1.4 million for breast cancer research. Its Youth Corp initiated last summer a farm-to-table event that fed the needy.

To promote regional tourism, Rocchio in 2017 recruited support from elected officials to designate Route 25A from Great Neck to Port Jefferson as a national historic trail. The roadway is now prominently marked Washington Spy Trail on 26 brown stagecoach signage.

Overall, an estimated 18,000 people of all ages attend each year more than 70 sponsored events in the village of Stony Brook. Activities range from summer concerts, wetland cruises and kayak rentals to luncheon theater and cultural seminars. December’s tree lighting ceremony culminated the year’s events

Rocchio lives in town with her husband of 43 years, Richard, and their shih tzu Muffin. Residents since 1977, she’s often greeted with warm hellos and suggestions as she walks through the village.

“It’s a 9 to 5 job with 24/7 responsibilities,” she said as she encountered a jammed door in need of immediate repair at the old post office.

“I suppose Lincoln’s words sum it all up,” Rocchio said, trying to explain her organization’s purpose. Ward Melville, she said, made sure Lincoln’s quote was prominently displayed throughout the village: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.”

All photos by Donna Deedy

By Daniel Dunaief

Brian Hoerger saw the doors bowing inward. A deluge of about 4 inches of rain in an hour or so in Port Jefferson on Sept. 25 sent a river of water toward Theatre Three, which was holding auditions for “A Christmas Carol” and was preparing to share “The Addams Family” a few days later.

Brian Hoerger in front of Theatre Three

The doors and nearby windows were no match for water that came flooding in, submerging a lighting board, damaging props and leaving tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

Hoerger, the facilities manager at the theater founded in 1969, sprang into action, salvaging what he could, removing what was unrecoverable and stabilizing the situation enough that he could leave around midnight and return six hours later to continue the cleanup effort.

To hear his friends tell it, Hoerger’s response, which included coordinating more than 50 volunteers and prioritizing a way to get the theater back in action just a few days later, is typical of a man committed to the community.

Hoerger has “an unparalleled devotion to helping others,” said Mollie Adler, who attended high school in Port Jefferson with him. “He’s always been extraordinarily helpful.”

In response to the devastating water in the building, Hoerger “worked nonstop,” said Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of Theatre Three. “He was physically cleaning, he was supervising the things that had to be thrown out and he was dealing with a lot of the main stage electrical stuff.”

Margot Garant, mayor of Port Jefferson, recalled how she and Hoerger were “knee deep in the water,” and that he “goes above and beyond” with his lighting expertise.

“You call him, and he’s always there for you,” she said.

Hoerger was involved in setting up the rental for the replacement of the dimmer rack, which provides the stage lighting.

“He put the theater first, and he put the needs of the staff and the cast that was running in ‘The Addams Family’ first,” Sanzel said. “He stayed positive the whole time. He was always available.”

Hoerger wasn’t involved in much theater. A friend from when the two of them were 5, Eric Cherches, who was then a board member at Theatre Three, suggested that Hoerger give the theater a chance when he returned to Long Island in 2014.

Hoerger said he was hooked, especially by the production of “Sweeney Todd.”

“It was a great show, and the talent was amazing,” recalled Hoerger, who has helped with lighting, carpentry and building sets. While the Theatre Three cast and crew appreciate all he does to support them, he has also built up a reputation as a cook.

Beyond his work with Theatre Three, Hoerger has contributed in numerous other ways.

He pitches in with prom decorations.

The downstairs of Theatre Three after the flash flood. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Little kids will accompany their parents to work on the prom for older siblings or cousins,” said Cherches, a lawyer at the Law Offices of Eric D. Cherches in Port Jefferson. “Everybody knows [Hoerger]. He has a way of making everybody a friend.”

Hoerger has been helpful to Adler, who has had three surgeries for breast cancer and is a single mom dealing with significant financial challenges.

“My house was falling apart,” Adler said. “He helped organize a group of guys we went to school with” to come repair holes in the deck, to paint her door and to repair other problems.

Adler bakes Miss Mollie’s Brownies to support herself and her family. Hoerger brought her brownies into Theatre Three, which shares in the profits for the baked goods.

In addition to the many roles Hoerger has played at Theatre Three, which also include serving as a photographer, the organization has offered him a chance to stand in front of the lights he ensures are working. Sanzel asked Hoerger if he’d be willing to play the role of Mr. Fusco, the hardware store owner in “Saturday Night Fever.”

“That’s not my thing,” Hoerger said. “I enjoy watching the shows and being behind the scenes.”

Hoerger’s colleagues at Theatre Three appreciate his preparation and contributions in the moments when torrential rains don’t hit.

“Any time there’s a chance of heavy rain, he is out there with his pump and hoses snaked around the parking lot,” said Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three. “I’m more impressed with that” in those moments “when we’re not calling on the world to come help us.”

Bringing his childhood friend to the group was “the best thing I did during my almost 10 years on the board,” Cherches said.

Miller Place Boy Scout Troop 204 attend a wake for Andrew McMorris where they stood as honor guard. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Melissa Arnold

All across Long Island, as Boy Scout troops gather for regular meetings, they reaffirm their commitment to the organization’s oath and law. Time and again, they promise to be loyal, trustworthy and brave and to “help other people at all times.”

Whether it’s running fundraisers, washing cars, visiting seniors or fixing up neighborhood points of interest, the Boy Scouts in local troops are often the driving force behind Suffolk County community service efforts.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said they believe that all Scouts, boys and girls alike, stand as a positive example to our community, and that everyone should strive to join them in living a life of respect, leadership and helpfulness.

“The town always has a ‘wish list’ of projects we’d love to take on, but simply don’t have the funding for,” Bonner said. “The Scouts really complement the work that we do, but even beyond that, they make a tremendous impact in so many different areas of our community.”

Many of the organization’s service projects are dreamed up and implemented by the most senior Scouts, boys approaching their 18th birthday who are striving to obtain the highest rank: Eagle Scout.

Troop 204 uniform

In Miller Place’s Troop 204, anywhere from six to eight boys make Eagle Scout each year. The process is rigorous, and the Scouts run every aspect from initial planning and fundraising to completing the project and writing a final report. According to Scouting Magazine, less than 10 percent of all Boy Scouts go on to become Eagle Scouts.

“It’s great watching the boys come in as novices and grow and mature and become good citizens,” said Joe Argento, scoutmaster of Troop 204. “It’s special to see kids I’ve known since they were young go on to make Eagle.”

This year, the troop’s newest Eagle Scouts from Troop 204 protected wildlife at Cedar Beach with the installation of fishing line receptacles, made massive repairs to a large storage facility at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point and spruced up the Miller Place signs and Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven, among several other projects.

While the Boy Scouts are known for serving their neighbors, they are also fiercely loyal to one another. The strength of those ties was on display this fall when Andrew McMorris, a Scout from Troop 161 in Shoreham, was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver during a day hike in Manorville Oct. 1. Several other Scouts were injured in the episode as well. In the days after Andrew’s death, Scouts from across the region banded together to hang hundreds of red ribbons from Riverhead to Wading River and beyond. 

On the day of Andrew’s wake, they came out in force to stand vigil for their brother. Troop 204 served as an honor guard.

“No matter what kind of Scout you are, it’s all one big family,” said Ann Colletta, membership coordinator for the Benjamin Tallmadge District of the Suffolk County Boy Scouts. “Troop 161 is very dear to Troop 204, and we all wanted to show them that we have their backs. It could have been any of us.”

The Scouts would go on to raise more than $20,000 for a memorial fund in Andrew’s memory that went to support Troop 161. In addition, the troop is raising funds to build a 3,200-square-foot Adirondack cabin at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp in Wading River, which will be named McMorris Lodge in honor of Andrew. 

Scoutmaster of Troop 161 Matthew Yakaboski said the troop is only just beginning to heal after the tragedy in October, but they still have a long way to go. 

“To have that life cut short like that is awful,” Yakaboski said. “We’re just trying to celebrate his life and do what we can.”

Along with the effort to build a cabin in Andrew’s honor, Troop 161’s scoutmaster said a number of their Scouts are planning several Eagle projects in the upcoming year, all of which will honor Andrew and the other Scouts injured on that day. One Scout is doing his Eagle project at the Robert S. Reid Community Center in Shoreham creating a paved brick patio and garden around a tree the troop originally planted in honor of Andrew. Yakaboski’s son, also named Matthew, is going to work on a project in conjunction with nonprofit Mothers Against Drunk Driving at the Jones Beach Theater. He will be renovating the area around a flagpole to create a brick path in the shape of a ribbon with each brick engraved with the name of people who have been killed or injured during DWI incidents. 

Anker was quick to note that troop leaders and parents are also worthy of praise for the time, effort and support they contribute to the organization.

“We have to give the scoutmasters credit, too — they’re more than just leaders or supervisors. They’re true mentors and role models that challenge the Scouts to grow not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. And when you have strong leadership in Scouts, it perpetuates strong leadership for the next generation.”

With additional reporting by Kyle Barr.

Angeline Judex stands with New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright at the 2018 Eastern Long Island Mini Maker’s Faire. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com

At a glance, the Long Island Explorium building looks like an old-school log cabin compared to the great glass facade of the neighboring Port Jefferson Village Center and the rustic townhouses or surrounding businesses.

Angeline Judex

If anything, both the building and the Long Island Explorium program, which brings in school-aged children from all across Long Island in education programs, stand out. They have stood out in no small part thanks to Angeline Judex, the executive director of the explorium.

Judex has been a part of the Port Jefferson program for close to two years. “She has a great desire to work with people, and she’s very honoring of other people’s perspectives,” said Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, the president of the Long Island Explorium. “Through that dialogue with people is how we can achieve these goals.”

Every year the explorium welcomes close to 10,000 young students through its doors. Inside is a number of puzzles and interlocking machinery, all part of a teaching philosophy called constructionism, which asks young people to use ingenuity and logic to solve problems on their own.

“She’s made her program very successful, and she’s brought in students from all over Long Island,” Port Jeff trustee Bruce D’Abramo said. “She’s one of the reasons that Port Jefferson is a place for learning and life sciences.”

The explorium has become a lightning rod for STEAM education and creativity in Port Jefferson since it was created in 2004, then bearing the name The Maritime Explorium. Since then, programs have expanded outward from Port Jeff, but the most sizable events still happen within Port Jeff Village, often spilling out from its log cabin building and onto Harborfront Park. In November the explorium received $43,626 in grant funds to install native plant rain gardens in high visibility areas such as in front of its building on East Broadway and the corner of East Broadway and Main Street.

While the Mini Maker’s Faire had its fourth year in 2018, under Judex, the event gained official status with the larger Makers Faire organization. The past two events brought thousands of people to the village who experienced many things from amateur DIY robotics to Colonial-era cooking and blacksmithing. Now expanding on the idea, the executive director has brought in past faire participants for “makers spotlights,” which show guests at the explorium their projects and explain to them how they created them.

“I have found her to be very personable, very organized and very focused,” said village administrator Robert Juliano. “She has a sunny disposition and always looking to make things better for the explorium and the community.”

Angeline Angeline Judex receives a grant from Edward Palleschi of the Long Island Community Foundation. Photo by Kyle Barr

In August 2017 the explorium hosted a watching party for the total eclipse of the sun. Even then, with so many heads turned to the sky, the explorium was pushing the scientific impact of the event by having those who attended help to accumulate scientific data to be used by researchers across the country. Children of all ages charted the temperature, percentage of the sky covered by clouds, the color of the sky and the visibility of the sun every five minutes until the conclusion of the eclipse. All the data was collected and sent to NASA.

Brooks said since Judex has become the executive director, the explorium has focused more and more on outreach outside the Port Jeff community. The explorium hosts outreach programs for public school teachers called Educate the Educators that sends explorium staff out to school districts such as William Floyd to help those teachers embrace problem-based education techniques, often on a small budget. In the past instead of simply teaching kids about earthquakes with pictures and PowerPoints, Judex used gelatin and had kids build houses that could resist the constant trembling.

“Because of economics, going out on field trips is being done much less than it has been done in the past, so what we do is we bring our program to school,” Brooks said. “This takes the explorium model to other aspects of their teaching program.”

Judex and the explorium are not slowing down either. The Mini Maker’s Faire will return next year, and the executive director already has plans to make additions to the building interior, working with a local Girl Scout to create a programmable robotic hand.

If anything, Judex and the explorium have become much less of a hidden gem, and more of a shining jewel in the Port Jefferson community.

The LIPA plant as seen from Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

A New York State Supreme Court judge approved the Town of Brookhaven’s settlement with the Long Island Power Authority over the Port Jefferson Power Station’s tax assessment. 

In the agreement signed Dec. 14, the $32.6 million tax assessment on the power plant will be reduced by around 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years to $16.8 million, starting with the 2017-18 tax year.

It’s a not-so-final finale to what has become years upon years of grinding legal battles and anxiety over what will happen to local taxes should LIPA, which claimed its power plant has been overassessed by hundreds of millions of dollars for nearly a decade. LIPA’s lawsuit wanted its assessments reduced by
approximately 90 percent.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement the settlement will benefit Brookhaven in the form of lower electric bills.

“This deal puts an end to the uncertainty of this plant over the course of nine years and gives finality to this issue,” Romaine said. “I have always believed that all property assessments should be fairly based on property value.”

Brookhaven officials said that without a settlement, taxpayers faced the potential of being liable for $225 million to LIPA, and the power authority has said LIPA customers will save a total of $662 million by 2027.

“It was a reasonable settlement, one we can justify to our 1.1 million customers,” LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone said.

While this settlement promises savings for Brookhaven residents, the agreement has made Port Jefferson residents, especially those living close to the two red-and-white smokestacks, question what their taxes will look like in the near future. In October the Port Jefferson School District released a series of slides showing they annually received a $17 million payment through LIPA’s tax payments, but this would be reduced to $13.8 million by 2027. While Superintendent Paul Casciano said he and his staff are still reviewing the impact of the settlement, he sees the outcome could be even worse. He expects school programs will have to be cut in the next few years, with tax increases for residents.

“It’s going to affect the tax base,” the superintendent said. “Even if our budget was voted down, there’s a high likelihood that residents will see a
double-digit increase in their tax rate.”

The settlement will also require the district to amend their plans for the 2019-20 budget next year.

Falcone said the school district already enjoys lower annual school taxes at $6,273 compared to neighboring districts calculated at little more than $10,000 based on 2015 tax data.

“It means they will go from a ‘great deal’ to a ‘good deal,’” Falcone said. “They’re still going to have the lowest taxes of their neighborhood.”

The CEO added that it was unfair for the rest of LIPA customers to have to subsidize the Port Jeff school district through their higher bills.

“I think at some point you have to say what’s fair for those 1.1 million other customers because they pay their school taxes, too,” he said.

The Port Jeff superintendent said the village has been conciliatory about letting a power plant operate within its boundaries, whereas other places in Brookhaven would have barred the plant from existing in the first place.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it,” Casciano said. 

In April Port Jefferson Village board passed its 2018-19 budget of $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from last year’s budget. The new budget included $107,000 in reserve funds in anticipation of the glide path agreement with LIPA resulting in reduced payments.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she agrees with the settlement, and it could lead to more use of the plant. In 2017 the facility was only powered on for 41 days, or 11 percent of the year, according to LIPA officials.

Falcone said the Port Jeff power plant operates based on the electricity needs of residents.

“This is an important step we made today to stabilize our tax base moving forward and the viability of any opportunity to repower our power plant,” Garant said in a press release.

The settlement also comes after big wins for LIPA in the courts against the towns of Huntington and Brookhaven, and Port Jeff Village, allowing LIPA to move ahead with its effort to challenge its assessments. Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has publicly asked New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to enact legislation that would protect residents taxes should LIPA get its way in court.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it.”
— Paul Casino

PSEG Long Island customers pay power plant taxes through monthly surcharges on their electric bills, but LIPA owns the electric grid and has agreements with National Grid for the power plants in both Port Jefferson and Northport. In 2009 LIPA challenged both the towns of Brookhaven and Huntington saying it had been overassessed for years, especially since the Port Jeff plant runs for so little time.

The Port Jefferson School District along with the Northport-East Northport school district and Huntington Town filed a lawsuit saying LIPA had made past promises not to challenge the taxes levied on their power plants, but they were dealt a blow in September when a state Supreme Court judge ruled LIPA “made no promises” about challenging the taxes levied. 

Garant and other Port Jeff Village officials have expressed past desires to renovate the power plant once the tax assessment issue was settled.
In September the village board advocated for the refurbishment and repowering of its base-load plant to update its decades-old technology and to justify the property’s tax assessment.

This is despite Cuomo setting a goal for 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources
by 2030.

Falcone said they do not currently have any plans to run the plant more or do any renovations to plant that has been there since the 1940s. 

Through being used so little and with the push for more green energy, residents have questioned how long LIPA will keep the plant running. The LIPA CEO said the plant will continue to operate for the next seven years, but in the future could be upgraded or transformed into some other space used by the power authority, such as a storage facility or a new, modernized facility.

EarthCam showing live footage of Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo courtesy of Earthcam

While local residents only have to drive a few minutes to see Port Jefferson Harbor’s quaint waterside sights, now people across the world can watch kids play in Harborfront Park and watch the ferries ship out from the historic dock, all in high definition.

Port Jefferson Village has joined EarthCam, a New Jersey-based company that allows locations from all over the world to showcase live 24/7 broadcasts of locations. The camera is located on the side of the Village Center facing toward the harbor and has been running since the end of November.

“Now, [Port Jefferson] residents, visitors and the world can share in the beauty of our stunning harborfront village,” Mayor Margot Garant said in a statement. “Being a four-season village, we are excited about the many changes of scenery that everyone will be able to see live from any place around the world.”

The village joins other famous sites like Montauk on the East End and Times Square in Manhattan. Kevin Wood, the village’s parking and security camera administrator, said he has been impressed with EarthCam for several years, and while there are other security cameras around the village, this one will be used specifically to promote Port Jefferson.

“It’s for the benefit of everybody worldwide to see the beauty of our harbor,” he said. “Many people, even on Long Island, don’t know what the harbor looks like.”

Wood added that the camera, which cost approximately $1,800, will have the capacity to broadcast sound as well as video starting in 2019.

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and Trustee Robert Sweeney listen to parents’ concerns at a board meeting. File photo by Erika Karp

Mount Sinai School District’s $25 million bond failed to pass Dec. 11 with a vote of 664-428.

Members of the school board walked dejectedly through the halls of the elementary school Monday night after learning of the results.

“There was so much misinformation on Facebook,” board Trustee Edward Law said immediately after the votes were tallied. “I feel like we had an open and transparent process.”

Some residents in community Facebook groups said they were concerned about rising taxes in the Mount Sinai area. Others criticized the district’s use of its finances in the past, specifically the June New York State comptroller’s audit which said the district had amassed millions of dollars in its unrestricted fund balance, higher than the legal maximum of 4 percent of the district’s overall budget. 

“I feel like we had an open and transparent process.”

— Trustee Ed Law

District officials said they have made efforts to create a rainy-day fund that could support them in the case of an emergency, but they have said they would be establishing a capital reserve of $750,000 to reduce that fund balance, which could go toward additional capital projects in the future. 

In May, residents voted 787-176 to use $5 million of the district’s capital reserve funds for a project that renovated the high school’s turf football field and track, replaced a portion of the high school’s ailing roof and created new fencing around the perimeter of the school campus.

This new bond would have borrowed $2.1 million to finish repairs for the high school’s roof, which teachers and district officials said was causing water damage in rooms throughout the building. 

“The board has to decide their next step,” said Superintendent Gordon Brosdal.

Trustees said they were unsure if they could propose another, smaller bond.

“This was a bare bones bond,” Law said. “Though this wasn’t a lesser bond, I don’t think we could go any tighter.”

Trustee Peter Van Middelem said while many of the board member’s children are in school, the actual application of the bond would have gone to supporting both the longevity of the school buildings and the children just entering elementary school.

“The irony is this wasn’t about our own kids but the kids in kindergarten,” Middelem said.

Mount Sinai’s next board meeting is Dec. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Middle School Auditorium.

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