Town of Brookhaven

A sign in front of The Gift Corner on North Country Road at Mount Sinai invites those passing by to shop Nov. 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

A sign on North Country Road in front of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai during the Black Friday weekend could be easy to miss. Cars passing by had only seconds to read the words “Small Store Saturday — If you haven’t been here, today is the day!” as they drove on the winding road.

Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner, was busy on Small Business Saturday and the entire Black Friday weekend, marked on the calendar by shop owners and customers alike as the unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season. The small space, packed with small decorations and knickknacks, had customers squeezing past each other as they picked out their holiday gifts. Despite the bump in business Bernholz saw over the weekend, she wondered why relatively few people have even heard of Small Business Saturday.

“How long has this been going on, eight to 10 years?” the gift shop owner said. “It still cracks me up we have people coming in on Saturday and, holy Christmas, they say, ‘What is small store Saturday?’”

Small Business Saturday originally started in 2010, sponsored by American Express, as a way to incentivize people to shop local during the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

American Express reported the weekend after Thanksgiving was quite a busy time for small businesses across the nation. Consumers spent approximately $17.8 billion nationally while shopping local, according to data released Nov. 26 from the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey from American Express and the nonprofit National Federation of Independent Business. The survey noted 42 percent of those surveyed reported shopping at local retailers and restaurants, just 1 percent down from last year. Still, 41 percent reported also shopping online that same day.

Those small business owners surveyed in the report said they expect an average of 29 percent of their total yearly sales to come through the holiday season, yet the owners of local small stores on the North Shore know they have a disadvantage compared to big box stores and the online retail giant Amazon and the like.

“People should understand how hard it is to run a small business,” Maria Williams, the owner of Sweets N Scoops in Shoreham said. “A small business’ costs are necessarily greater because we can’t buy in bulk like [large businesses] can.”

Business owners across the North Shore reported a range of outcomes from the busy shopping weekend.

Port Jefferson

Outside Ecolin Jewlers in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ecolin Jewelers, 14 E. Broadway, Port Jefferson

Linda Baker, co-owner of Ecolin Jewelers, said while most of her sales come in the last two weeks before Christmas, and not the Black Friday weekend, the year overall has been very good for her business.

“This whole year has been better,” Baker said. “This is probably the best in maybe eight years.”

She said she she’s experienced more people coming in toward the end of the year, with the phones constantly ringing off the hook with people’s orders, adding she’s feeling good about her numbers for the season.

“I’m glad to see that people are happy, walking around and coming into stores,” she said.

Outside East End Shirt Co. in Port Jefferson. Photo Courtesy of Google Maps

The East End Shirt Company, 3 Mill Creek Road, Port Jefferson

Owner of The East End Shirt Company, Mary Joy Pipe, said her business participated in the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce annual Holiday Shopping Crawl, offering a free hoodie valued at $20 for those spending $50 in store. She added turnout on Small Business Saturday was comparable to last year, and that has always had to do with the foot traffic and the weather.

“Our Santa Parade brings a lot of people down into the village, and more folks are around for the extended holiday after Thanksgiving,” she said. “We need feet on the ground and nice weather, and we got that on Saturday.”

Pipe’s business has changed with the times. East End Shirt has both a website and brick-and-mortar storefront, but her online component is a comparatively small percentage of her sales compared to her shop, which has existed in Port Jeff for close to four decades, she said.

“Is Cyber Monday or Cyber Week having an effect? — yeah it is,” she said. “People are not coming out, but anything that has a shipping component I know the potential for retail is still there if they can’t get it shipped in time.”

Outside Red Shirt Comics in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Red Shirt Comics, 322 Main St., Port Jefferson

Joshua Darbee, the owner of Red Shirt Comics, said he had multiple sales going on, including buy-one-get-one-free on new comics, 25 percent off back issue comics, and 20 percent off on most of the toys and graphic novels in the shop. As a store that only opened in 2017, Darbee has been working to build a loyal customer base.

“If people are going to buy on Amazon, they’re going to buy on Amazon,” he said. “There’s really no competing with them.”

The comic industry relies on periodicals, driving customers back monthly for the next issue in an ongoing series, and Darbee said without return customers there is no way his business can thrive. He saw a steady stream of traffic come into his shop during Black Friday weekend — a better turnout than last year — and he hopes those sales, along with his card game and tabletop role-playing events hosted at the shop, will bring in return customers.

“The hope is that people will see the long-term damage [Amazon and other online retailers] can do to the local economy,” he said. “You just have to try to engage with people, be friendly and be part of that community. It’s been awesome to see people go out on weekends like this and support small businesses.”

Shoreham to Mount Sinai

Game On, 465 Route 25A, Miller Place

Tristan Whitworth, the owner of video game shop Game On in Miller Place said his business did well the days after Thanksgiving, this year seeing a 30 percent increase in customers compared to last year. He attracted customers with select sales of up to 60 percent off specific products, which incentivized people to come in and spend time on the few video game consoles he set up around the shop.

“It’s making sure the customer knows that we’re there to give them a good shopping experience,” Whitworth said. “I always try to keep it so that it’s not about customers rushing in to make a sale. People were there for an hour or two even though it was Black Friday.”

Whitworth said he knows there is a huge market for used video games online, but he always tries to make his business about the customer service.

“You can get every single thing we sell online, so it’s really about having the experience of going to the shop and buying stuff, talk to the guy who owns it about what game you should buy or try out,” he said. “That’s what you need.”

Sweets & Scoops in Shoreham. Photo courtesy of Sweets & Scoops Facebook page

Sweets & Scoops, 99 Route 25A, Shoreham

While Maria Williams, owner of dessert haven Sweets & Scoops, said most of her business occurs just before holidays, rather than afterward, but she was pleased with the sales she had for people ordering custom chocolate arrangements and other party favors.

She said she sees the importance of local business as a means of giving vitality to an area.

“People need to stop shopping on Amazon,” Williams said. “If they stay local and shop local in small business we do well, and we can hire more people.”

The sweets shop owner said the best product she and other small businesses can offer people is something unique. She said she tries her best to make items customized for the individual, products that one cannot get anywhere else.

“It’s eight years now that I’ve been in business and thank god it became a success because of its uniqueness,” Williams said. “[Large corporations] don’t have that extra touch, and everything is so commercial with them. Here no two things are ever alike.”

Outside The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Gift Corner, 157 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai

Bernholz said last year’s Black Friday weekend was one of the busiest in years, with lines going out the door of her small North Country Road gift shop. This year was also good for her business.

“We did well on Friday, but Saturday was awesome,” Bernholz said. “It was very packed all day, and so many people came in that are my regulars — really showing their loyalty.”

Bernholz business has been around for close to 30 years, but she said she is not very active on the internet, nor is she proficient with technology in general. She still relies on her dedicated customers, some of whom bought holiday gifts from her as kids and continue to buy them as adults.

Her dedicated customers even advertise for her. The Gift Corner has signs along Route 25A promoting her shop, but it was one put up for free, without even originally letting Bernholz know they were there.

“I don’t advertise, I have never advertised,” she said. “A customer does that on their own … It’s unbelievable.”

Erase Racism is holding events across Long Island. Photo from Erase Racism website

A Syosset nonprofit and a Stony Brook University department are teaming up to open up a public dialogue pertaining to one of Long Island and America’s oldest societal problems.

ERASE Racism, a regional organization founded in 2001 that advocates for public policy to promote racial equality in housing, education and more, and SBU’s Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, a department founded in 2017 that provides a forum for the promotion of various forms of student and faculty engagement on the same issues, will co-host the first of a series of forums meant to jump start a community conversation on racial inequality.

The series of forums, entitled How Do We Build a Just Long Island? will kick off at the Hilton Garden Inn on the SBU campus Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.

“This whole thing is premised on the fact that everybody can educate themselves,” ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross said in an interview. “It’s not about anyone calling anyone a racist. It’s not a blame and shame kind of thing. Let’s make sure we have all the facts, let’s make sure we understand the context.”

Gross said so far about 400 people have registered to attend the event. She said from the organization’s inception its goal has been to identify institutional and structural racism and seek to educate the public about the history that has led to places like Long Island being so racially segregated today.

“It is embedded — it doesn’t require that all of the players be racist people, or bad people, it only requires that people go along with the business as usual,” she said.

Christopher Sellers, SBU history professor and director of the center, said part of the thinking behind the forums is to frame the conversation in a way for people not exposed to racial inequality or injustice on a daily basis to see barriers and exclusions they may not have viewed as such. He said the goal is to ultimately expand the discussion from the confines of the campus and into the community. He called Long Island the perfect place to begin this dialogue.

“Demographic change causes people to get more defensive and fall back on these racializing tool kits they may have picked up from their own past,” he said, adding that data suggests Long Island has become more racially diverse during recent decades, specifically seeing an increase in those of Hispanic descent.

Sellers said he feels a sense of urgency to begin a wide discussion on racial intolerance despite the perception from many that in the decades since the civil rights movement society has made sufficient progress in creating a just America for all. In “Hate Crime Statistics, 2017” released Nov. 13, the FBI reported a 17 percent increase in incidents identified as hate crimes from 2016 to 2017, with nearly 60 percent of those incidents being motivated by racial or ethnic bias. From 2015 to 2016 there was a roughly 5 percent increase in these incidents. From 2014 to 2015, hate crimes went up by about 7 percent.

“We need as a university to do something, we as academics can no longer sit on our hands,” Sellers said. “This is maybe a more urgent matter than we’ve considered before.”

Gross said the aim of the events is education.

“We didn’t plan to be doing this at a time when the country is so divided and there’s so much overtly biased comments, racist comments being said at the highest levels,” Gross said. “We planned this because we felt that even though with all of the work that we’ve done, we felt that was really needed was a regional public discussion and understanding of how things are connected.”

To register for the event and to get more information on the remainder of the forums — slated for Riverhead, Hempstead, Melville and Hauppauge — visit www.eraseracismny.org.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini announces charges related to illegal dumping scheme. Photo from DA's office

Long Island homeowners who thought they were getting free, clean fill for their properties off Craigslist may have learned if the offer seems too good to be true, that’s because it was.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a 130-charge indictment Nov. 26 against 22 individuals and nine corporations who allegedly cooperated in a massive conspiracy to illegally dispose of solid waste in 24 locations spanning Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“What we’re dealing with here is an epidemic of illegal dumping in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “It’s gone on far too long, and our message is very clear: We will not tolerate this criminal conduct in our county. We will do whatever it takes to uncover illegal dumping.”

Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio acted as “dirt broker” in the island-wide dumping scheme. Photo from DA’s office

The conspiracy was allegedly led by Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio, 53, also known as “Rock,” who acted as a dirt broker by arranging for locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of their solid waste and construction debris, according to Suffolk prosecutors.

An investigation dubbed Operation Pay Dirt, which involved the district attorney’s office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Police Department, launched in February 2018 revealed Grazio was allegedly posting ads on Craigslist and other websites offering “free, clean fill — free delivery,” in addition to stating it was “certified and approved for residential and commercial use.” Grazio allegedly worked with Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, to also post a sign on a tree outside a home on Wilson Boulevard in Central Islip to advertise “free clean fill,” in February 2018, according to court documents.

When a Long Island homeowner or business expressed interest in fill for landscaping projects, Grazio and owners or operators of nine different trucking companies would discuss the potential of the site and the amount of material that could be dumped there from New York City construction and demolition sites, according to the district attorney.

“The bigger the property, the better for the defendants as this scam was all about making money,” Sini said. “When an ideal property was found, Grazio could often be heard directing his co-conspirators to ‘hit it hard.’ Grazio approved material being dumped at residential locations even when notified that the material smelled like diesel fuel or had pieces of wood, asphalt, concrete, large boulders or even glass contained in the material.”

Investigators claimed after dumping contaminated fill on a property, Grazio and his co-conspirators allegedly went as far as to provide the homeowners with false laboratory reports stating the material was clean or cover it with a layer of topsoil to ensure grass could grow. In other cases, the truck owners and operators were allegedly caught having phone discussions on how to cover up the hazardous materials being moved about to prevent detection of the illegal dumping.

Out of the 24 locations identified to be impacted by the scheme, the district attorney’s office said 19 were residential properties, four commercial and one school in Roslyn Heights.

“They did this to make money, they did this to save on operating costs, and they did it at the expense of the health of our residents,” Sini said.

Testing performed by the DEC found fill at six locations was positive for acutely hazardous substances, mainly pesticides, with 17 sites containing hazardous substances under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law. These hazardous substances included arsenic, lead, copper, nickel, mercury and other metals.

Map of all illegal dumping sites. Photo from DA’s office

“Illegal solid waste dumping poses a serious threat to New York’s environment and burdens communities across Long Island,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Among North Shore individuals charged alongside Grazio and Fragola for being involved in this alleged scheme were: Alix Aparaicio Gomez, 50, of Huntington; Anthony Grazio Jr., 19, of Smithtown; Michael Heinrichs, 48, of Port Jefferson Station; Robert Hirsch, 43, of Commack; Joseph Lamberta, 68, of Hauppauge; Steven Nunez Genao, 24, of Port Jefferson Station; Milan Parik, 46, of Centereach; James Perruzza, 18, of Northport; Frank Rotondo Jr., 47, of Miller Place; Thomas St. Clair, 51, of St. James; and Robert Walter, 31, of Nesconset.

The top count on the indictment is second-degree criminal mischief, which is a Class D felony, and, if found guilty, carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.

Thousands packed Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for the Town of Brookhaven’s ninth Polar Plunge, an annual event in which brave souls dive into icy waters to raise money for the Special Olympics. All funds raised by the event go toward sports training and competition, health and inclusion programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities looking to compete.

Voters heading to the polls Nov. 6 who live in the Town of Brookhaven will find this proposition on the back of their ballots.

Brookhaven Town residents will have to flip over their ballots Nov. 6 to respond to a referendum pertaining to councilmembers’ terms in office, but they’d have to do backflips in the voting booth to be able to respond to the two-part question which allows for a single “yes” or “no” answer.

After a public hearing featuring speakers mostly in opposition in August, Brookhaven’s board unanimously moved to proceed with establishing a referendum on the back of this year’s ballot, an off year for Brookhaven’s representatives.

“Should the town code of the Town of Brookhaven be amended to establish term limits of three (3) four-year terms for elected officials, and amend the length of term of office from two (2) years to four (4) years for all elected officials commencing January 1, 2020?” the referendum will read verbatim.

Despite there being two components to the question, voters can only respond “yes” or “no.” The wording of the referendum was written by the town’s Law Department, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto.

When asked why they wanted to expand terms from two to four years councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) in interviews and during the hearing offered similar, admittedly understandable explanations for the change. Having to campaign and fundraise for elections every two years is laborious, and makes getting things done difficult once in office, they said — both the Republicans and the board’s lone Democrat. While we can see how this would be a problem, we’d prefer to see adjustments to campaign finance law, requiring less fundraising and allowing more time for actual legislative work, before going with a solution that results in voters having less frequent opportunities to express their opinions.

Issues could be raised and conspiracy theories crafted for the motivation of the Town Board to advance a referendum like this during an otherwise ordinary August meeting based on the fact more than one member of the current board is nearing 12 years in office. If passed, based on the wording, term limits would begin to be instituted on councilmembers beginning in 2020, meaning years already served will not have started their clocks. Fair or unfair, the process did nothing to squash those theories. And even without those issues, there is still no way to reconcile that putting a referendum with perplexing verbiage before town voters will somehow yield the will of the people.

This is not to mention an additional element — that in 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three, four-year terms on elected officials in Brookhaven thanks to a referendum, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts, as state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the August hearing. That interpretation has been questioned by many and could conceivably lead to a lawsuit if the referendum passes.

Add it all up and the answer became clear to our editorial staff: We’ll be voting “no” on Proposal One.

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

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Recyclable materials have been building up at the Brookhaven Town recycling plant in Yaphank ever since China stopped accepting imports from American facilities in January, but the future of the facility is even more up in the air now.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said contractor Green Stream Recycling terminated its 25-year contract to operate the Yaphank facility effective Oct. 29 citing financial woes due to market changes. The company signed the agreement with the town in 2013.

“We’re a regional facility — for them to do that it certainly isn’t going to speak well of the future of their waste management business on Long Island,” Romaine said.

The town plans to pursue legal action against the contractor for breach of contract, according to the supervisor.

Green Stream Recycling, owned by principals Joe Winters and Anthony Core, also of Hudson Baylor Brookhaven LLC, did not return a phone call requesting comment.

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Romaine said the town will be putting the contract out for an emergency bid Nov. 1 for a new facility operator, and the town board will select a replacement at a Nov. 2 special meeting.

“They had three years of very good profits, and then as you know more recently there have been changes obviously in the recycling market where most of our recycling goods went,” Romaine said. 

The terms of contract with Green Stream Recycling yielded $20 per ton of processed recyclables, a quarter of which went back to Brookhaven with the remaining 75 percent
redistributed to neighboring municipalities that had agreements with Brookhaven to send their recyclables to the Yaphank facility, Romaine said. The supervisor said the town hadn’t received any money from Green Stream since May, though Brookhaven has continued making payments to other municipalities.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington,” Romaine wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to Huntington Supervisor Chad
Lupinacci (R).

Similar letters were also sent to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and the other municipalities that have single-stream recycling agreements with Brookhaven.

John Clark, director of Environmental Waste Management for the Town of Huntington, said the town was previously informed Aug. 23 Brookhaven would not renew the intermunicipal agreement to accept Huntington’s collected recyclables set to expire at the end of this year. Under the terms of the agreement, Huntington received up to $15 per ton of recyclable material delivered to the Yaphank facility.

In 2017, Huntington collected and delivered more than 14,000 tons of material to the single-stream recycling plant that was processed through the intermunicipal agreement. This resulted in more than $152,000 in net revenue, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

The town had already issued a request for proposals Oct. 18 in an attempt to find an alternative solution to start Jan. 1, 2019, which may include converting back to dual-stream recycling where residents may be held responsible for sorting their trash again.

The news of Green Stream Recycling ending its contract with Brookhaven will pose only a temporary issue for Huntington, Lembo noted.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington.”

— Ed Romaine

“We are already in the process of reaching out to potential recycling vendors and other municipalities to execute a two-month agreement that would get us through the end of the year under our single-stream recycling mode,” Lembo said.

Russ Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental protection director, said the town had received a telephone call from Brookhaven Oct. 19 to immediately cease sending recyclables to Brookhaven’s Yaphank facility. Smithtown’s town board plans to issue an emergency request for proposals at its Oct. 25 meeting seeking a new contractor to cart and process its residents’ recyclables, according to spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. It’s unclear what if any impact this may have on Smithtown’s tentative 2019 budget.

“Residents should continue doing what they are doing right now,” Barnett said. “We’re not asking residents to make any changes.”

Smithtown Town plans to temporarily store all collected materials at its Municipal Services Facility on Old Northport Road in Kings Park until a new carter is found. A new recyclable operator could mean a move back to dual-stream recycling.

“We’ve got a broad solicitation out there to identify what our options might be,” Barnett said. “Whether we will be offered services as an unsorted single-stream recyclables for sorting and purification elsewhere, or whether or not people might propose that prior sorting [by residents] needs to be done.”

A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement the agency is working with Brookhaven and the other towns impacted to develop solutions that will allow for processing of existing materials at the site and long-term solutions to continue recycling in the region, as well as working with industry stakeholders to solve the problem of drying up markets for the recycled material.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella along with leaders from dozens of other districts attend the first meeting of Brookhaven’s Council of Governments Committee, a group aiming to reduce taxes through sharing services across taxing districts. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The committee’s title sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but Brookhaven Town’s plan to streamline government services is nonfiction and slated for the nearer future than a galaxy far, far away.

Brookhaven Town hall was the setting for the inaugural Council of Governments Committee meeting, a congregation of representatives from across the town’s villages, ambulance and fire, school and library districts Oct. 10. The leaders came together to begin brainstorming strategies to make government more efficient by sharing services with the goal of reducing costs for their mutual taxpayers. The meeting was hosted by Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and was attended by representatives from the Villages of Belle Terre, Shoreham and Port Jefferson; Setauket Fire District; Port Jefferson EMS; Comsewogue, Port Jefferson, Emma S. Clark, and Middle Country libraries; and Shoreham-Wading River, Comsewogue, Port Jefferson and Rocky Point school districts among many others.

Brookhaven was recently awarded a $20 million Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition grant by New York State, which will go toward modernizing and reinventing the delivery of services while reducing the burden on taxpayers by reducing redundancy in local governments, pursuing opportunities for increasing shared services, and implementing modernizations and best practices, according to a town press release. The committee will be charged with implementing the changes and identifying additional areas for efficiency and fiscal savings, as well as providing oversight of the 16 MCEC projects.

“We’re interested today in talking about what we can do jointly for our mutual constituents to improve the delivery of services, to reduce costs, to share services whenever possible — to do the things that are going to move this town, your school district, your village, your taxing district forward so that our mutual constituents benefit from this,” Romaine said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to redesign how we do things. This is one opportunity where we can reach across jurisdictional lines and say we’re all in this together.”

Engineering firm Laberge Group has served as a consultant for the town’s municipal consolidation plans, and representatives Ben Syden and Nicole Allen were on hand at the committee meeting to update the attendees on the status of some of the projects already underway.

“A year and a half ago, we asked for your hope, we asked for you to say, ‘yup, I may be interested in doing this,’” Syden said during the meeting. “Now, we have pilots, we have examples and now we want to deploy this townwide.”

The projects will be implemented over a span of two to three years, according to Syden, and the full implementation of the projects is expected to save more than $60 million collectively amongst the taxing districts over five years.

The dissolution of the Village of Mastic Beach and reincorporation into the town, the consolidation of 24 of the town’s 112 special districts including four water districts into the Suffolk County Water Authority and six erosion control districts consolidated into one are among the already completed projects undertaken as part of the MCEC project. Upcoming projects include the consolidation of property tax collection and processing systems with several villages including Port Jefferson and Shoreham, construction of a regional salt storage facility, purchase of regional specialized fleet equipment, expansion of single-stream recycling waste management services to six special districts throughout the town and many more.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town residents will see a small increase in their 2019 town tax bill, and minimal use of surplus to balance the proposed operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine’s (R) roughly $302 million tentative spending plan, presented during a media briefing at Town Hall Sept. 28, maintains all constituent services and full-time staffing from the current operating budget, increases funding for road maintenance and keeps the garbage district rate flat at $350 annually.

The 2019 tentative budget represents an approximately $8 million increase compared to the current year. The primary cost drivers of the budget cited by Romaine are a collective bargaining agreement mandated cost-of-living raise for town employees; an extra pay day for all employees in 2019; and a more than 6 percent increase in cost of employee benefits. Still, the proposed budget complies with the state-mandated 2 percent property tax increase cap.

Romaine discussed the lack of a need to use fund balance reserve dollars to balance the budget as a point of pride in presenting the ’19 tentative budget.

“One of my key strategic financial goals since taking office in November 2012 has been to bring the town’s finances to structural balance,” he said. “The three-point plan I implemented six years ago has put an end to deficit spending, has rebuilt the town’s surpluses and has improved the town’s credit rating to a AAA with Standard & Poor’s.”

Matt Miner, town chief of operations, said it’s been more than a decade since the town had a balanced budget requiring no fund balance.

“This is really the highlight of the supervisor’s budget,” he said. “You can see that the town, prior to Supervisor Romaine’s arrival, relied heavily on the use of fund balance surplus to balance its budget and the supervisor has been very aggressive and instructed both [Tamara Wright, town commissioner of finance] and myself and all of the department heads to craft budgets to bring that application of surplus down. Each year, we’ve been doing that and to the supervisor’s credit, it is now at zero in all six major funds, something that really hasn’t been achieved.”

The supervisor touted a rededication to growing non-property tax sources of revenue, including a “huge rally” in mortgage tax receipts in recent years. The 2017 operating budget was boosted by an increase in mortgage tax revenue also not seen in nearly a decade, though 2018 estimates are falling slightly short of that performance, according to Romaine. Still, he indicated there are positive signs for the town’s housing market. In 2013, more than 62 percent of the operating budget was funded by property taxes, according to him, compared to an estimated 58.7 percent in the tentative ’19 budget.

“We have 41 grants that we have been successful in receiving, and we have another 25 in the hopper,” Romaine said, of other revenue streams for the town. “So by attracting and aggressively going after grant money, we’ve been able to cut down on our dependence on property tax.”

The town’s proposed budget includes about $87 million in capital projects for 2019. About $58 million of those funds will be set aside for new capital projects with the remainder going to projects started in prior years. Brookhaven also received a $20 million grant as the winner of New York State’s Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition.  

A public hearing on the budget is slated for Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall with expected adoption to take place Nov. 20.

Brookhaven’s current pump-out boats are showing signs of wear and will be replaced. Photo by Kyle Barr

If you’ve ever seen a boat with a built-in toilet, the next question is inevitable: Where does that waste inevitably go?

Either the waste goes straight into the Long Island Sound or surrounding harbors or boaters call the Town of Brookhaven’s pump-out boats, a service provided by the town for free, to suck out the waste, according to Karl Guyer, a senior bay constable for Brookhaven.

At Brookhaven town’s Sept. 13 meeting the board voted unanimously to purchase two new pump-out boats — one for Mount Sinai Harbor and one for Port Jefferson Harbor. The total cost for both boats is $92,500 with $60,000 of that amount coming from state aid in grant funding from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. The town is supplying $32,500 in matching funds from serial bonds, according to town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

The town operates four pump-out boats, including two on the South Shore and two on the North Shore, which are located in Port Jeff and Mount Sinai harbors. All these boats were purchased in 2006, and Guyer said it was time all of them were replaced. The two on the South Shore were replaced this year, and the North Shore boats will be replaced early in 2019, according to Guyer.

“They’ve been in service for quite a number of years and they’re at the end of their life span,” Guyer said.

The pump-out boat in Port Jeff Harbor is showing signs of long use. The paint on the boat’s deck has been worn down by years of work, and there are cracks showing in some of the plastic hatches around the boat. William Demorest, the bay constable for Port Jeff Harbor, said the new boats will be made from aluminum, which should give them a longer life span.

The pump-out boat service is widely used by the boaters in both harbors, and on a busy day town employees operating the boats can service hundreds of boats in a single day. People can call for a pump out by radioing the constable’s office on channel 73.

There is a manual boat waste pump in a barge inside Port Jeff Harbor, though the constable said 75 percent of the over 700 boats that come to port on summer weekends use the pump-out boat service. After the pump-out boats are docked for the winter, all North Shore boaters are required to manually pump out their own waste.

Bonner said these boats do a major service in cleaning out the tanks of many boaters, because dumping the waste into the coastal waters only adds to the islands growing water pollution problem.

“Not only would there be waste in the water but the nitrogen load would be crazy,” Bonner said. “It would take several tides to flush that out.”

All the water from Conscience Bay through Port Jefferson Harbor as well as the entire Long Island Sound is within mandated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency No-Discharge Zones, meaning it is illegal to dump any boat waste into the surrounding waters.

While Demorest said he hasn’t seen people dumping their waste into the water himself, he has heard reports of it being done. He said he believed the vast majority use the free pump-out service.

“If we don’t see it, there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

Many areas of the North Shore are experiencing waves of hypoxia, an increase of nitrogen in the water that deprives sea life, both plants and animals, of oxygen. During a press conference Sept. 25, co-director of the Center for Clean Water Technology Christopher Gobler and other researchers from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership concluded there were cases of harmful algae blooms in harbors from Mount Sinai all the way to Huntington, another symptom of excess nitrogen in the water. Most of that nitrogen has come from cesspools and septic tanks from people’s homes slowly leaking into the surrounding waters.

The boats usually operate Friday, Saturday and Sunday mostly by high school and college-aged summer employees, according to Guyer. The pump-out boat service ends on Columbus Day, Oct. 8.

Port Jefferson's stop on the Long Island Rail Road. File photo by Erika Karp

An idea decades in the making could take a major step forward by the end of 2018.

It still may be years before electrification happens, if it ever happens at all, but momentum is building toward funding being secured for a study determining the feasibility of electrifying the Long Island Rail Road on the Port Jefferson line from Huntington to the stations east by the end of this year.

Mitchell Pally, the Suffolk County representative on the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board of trustees, said the LIRR has already appropriated funds to support the study, adding state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has also succeeded in appropriating state funds toward the plan.

“The support of the communities involved is essential to making this work,” Pally said in an interview. “The railroad is very supportive.”

Community support for exploring the possibility of electrifying the line, which currently allows trains to run on diesel fuel east of Huntington, has been building in recent years, although the idea has been on the radar for North Shore residents at least as far back as the 1980s.

Anthony Figliola, an East Setauket resident, former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor and vice president of Empire Government Strategies, a company that provides strategic counsel on governmental relations and practices to municipalities, has been leading a community coalition advocating for a feasibility study for about the last year, he said. The group, which Figliola said has been informally calling itself the North Shore Business Alliance, has been lobbying elected officials and community organizations like civic associations and chambers of commerce throughout the relevant territories in an effort to build public support for and attention on the idea. Figliola said he hopes the funding for a study will be in place by the end of the year. The study is expected to cost approximately $12 million, he said.

“It’s ripe, the community wants it,” Figliola said. “We’re very grateful for all that Mitch is doing to advocate on behalf of this.”

Figliola identified Charlie Lefkowitz, vice president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and real estate developer, as one of the other community members leading the charge for electrification.

“It’s a long time coming,” Lefkowitz said of progress on the feasibility study. “It was a collaborative effort on many fronts. The direct beneficiaries of it will be the communities.”

The study would examine how much faster trains on the North Shore line would reach Penn Station in Manhattan with electrification from Port Jeff, select a new rail yard to house the electric trains among other logistical particulars. Currently, the LIRR rail yard is off Hallock Avenue in Port Jefferson, though several officials have indicated electrification would require the relocation of that yard and the Port Jeff train station. The former site of Lawrence Aviation Industries has been suggested as a possible new rail yard and train station.

On April 4 Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) sent a joint letter to the New York State Legislature’s Long Island delegation to express their support for the feasibility study due to potential economic and environmental benefits. They cited that the Port Jefferson and Huntington branch lines have the highest ridership, about 18.7 million annually, of any line in the LIRR service territory, according to the most recent LIRR Annual Ridership Report released in 2015. Figliola said his coalition had lobbied for the support of the three supervisors.

“I think it has legs,” state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said of electrification. “It’s such a good idea that I think it should happen.”

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