Town of Brookhaven

A scene of construction going on behind the fences along Route 25A in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

By David Luces

A long mesh fence has gone up around the corner of Echo Avenue and Route 25A in Mount Sinai. Passing cars can see heavy construction vehicles already breaking the ground on what will be an assisted living community and senior rental space.

As development and construction are underway for two projects, a 120-unit Bristal assisted living community and a 225-unit senior rental complex for individuals 55 and over on a 24-acre parcel of land in Mount Sinai, the Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency earlier last month offered a 13-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement to the developer.

“We’ve had a series of correspondence [with the town] going back two or three years about the need for this particular parcel [of land] to be generating tax income for the community.”

— Ann Becker

Lisa Mulligan, the town’s director of economic development and CEO of the town’s IDA, said the projects would be a major boon to the area, adding these two projects are a $138 million investment for the township, and construction would facilitate around 800 construction jobs, according to town officials. 

IDA documents show once the project is completed, the residential facility will provide four full time jobs with an average salary of $56,000. The assisted living facilty is listed as providing 50 full time and 20 part time jobs with an average salary $36,000 by year two of the facility.

Mulligan said that before construction began in January the developer paid around $46,000 in property taxes on the vacant land. 

The 13-year PILOT would see the developer continue to pay $46,000 in property taxes for the first three years while the two projects are under construction. Then in the fourth year the tax payments would increase to around $190,000 and would continue to rise to about $2.2 million at the end of the PILOT. From there, the developer would pay the full assessed value of the properties, which is expected to be more than the PILOT payments.  

“We are really excited for the projects and to be able facilitate 800 jobs,” Mulligan said.   

Mount Sinai Civic Association has largely been supportive of the senior housing construction plans, though civic leaders are not fond of the news that the developer has received a PILOT from the Brookhaven IDA. 

The civic association hosted a meeting March 4 to discuss the PILOT agreement.  

“The Mount Sinai Civic Association has been consulted by The Engel Burman Group and approves of their plan to construct the senior housing project currently underway on Route 25A in Mount Sinai,” the civic said in a statement provided to TBR News Media.  

According to the civic association, the development is a part of a 1999 legal stipulation which resulted from a lawsuit filed against the town by them on the 24-acre parcel of land, and the land has always been designated for that purpose of creating these senior facilities. However, civic members were disappointed in the loss of tax revenue due to the PILOT.

“Our community has gone through many proposals for this project, and is pleased that the development is finally underway,” the civic said in its statement. “However we were very disappointed to see that a PILOT was approved by the Brookhaven IDA as this parcel was always intended to provide much-needed tax relief for the Mount Sinai community.”  

At the March 4 meeting, civic president Ann Becker reiterated that stance. 

“We’ve had a series of correspondence [with the town] going back two or three years about the need for this particular parcel [of land] to be generating tax income for the community,” she said. “We’ve been concerned about that for a number of years.”

Becker said while they are supportive about the facilities coming to the area and understand there will be some tax benefits for Mount Sinai, they are just unsure if this was the best deal that could have been obtained. 

“We are really excited for the projects and to be able facilitate 800 jobs.”

— Lisa Mulligan

The developers, The Engel Burman Group of Garden City, are no strangers to the Long Island area with 13 other assisted-living locations on the Island, including facilities in Lake Grove and Holtsville. 

Census data shows the senior population will outstrip the younger generations. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2035 there will be 78 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age of 18. 

The Mount Sinai senior rental complex will include a 9,000 square foot clubhouse with a movie theater, card room, outdoor pool, living room and gym. 

Units in the complex, will range from studio up to two bedrooms. A spokesperson from Engel Burman said they have not determined the prices of rent yet.

Information added March 11 denoting number of jobs the two different projects should have by completion.

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

The Town of Brookhaven is looking to save money by consolidating property tax collections with other municipalities in the town, starting with Port Jefferson Village.

At the Brookhaven Town Board meeting Feb. 14, councilmembers voted unanimously to use approximately $478,000 of New York State grant funds to consolidate tax receiving methods with the village. 

“So, the tax collection will be on the front end and the back end.”

— Louis Maroccia

“I am grateful that some our discussions with the village have resulted in actual shared services,” Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said. “We are always happy when we are able to work collaboratively with other municipalities to streamline services to our residents and reduce costs.”

Brookhaven Town Receiver of Taxes Louis Marcoccia said the first phase of the program, which he expects to be implemented by June, will include printing out tax bills and sending them to village residents. Under the agreement, the village will reimburse the town for postage costs, which are estimated to be $2,000.

The second phase of the new program will introduce third-party software into the village, so it may integrate the entire financial system, though Marcoccia added the town still has to sign a contract with the company concerned and didn’t wish to name the software. He said the new program is expected to start being implemented in the third quarter 2019 and be finished before the end of next tax season in April 2020.

“So, the tax collection will be on the front end and the back end,” the tax receiver said.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said the village will still be doing property assessments and creating the warrants, but instead of creating bills internally will send all the info over to Brookhaven. She added the new system will also enable village residents to pay bills online, but people will still be allowed to file taxes in person at Village Hall.

“If it creates efficiency, after all they say time is money,” Garant said. “I’d say it’s different than how it was years ago, more than 50 percent of us are paying our bills online.”

“If it creates efficiency, after all they say time is money.”

— Margot Garant

The funding of the new program comes from Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition Award, which granted Brookhaven $20 million in June 2018 to use in municipal consolidation. The intent behind the award was to reduce property taxes through the consolidation of government services, and the town has outlined a total of 16 projects it hopes to tackle in the next few years. 

Brookhaven’s tax receiver said the new system is expected to save the town more than $50,000 in the first year through cutting down on labor and reducing redundancy in the tax collection system. While Port Jeff is the first village to receive this new system, Marcoccia said in upcoming years it will be expanded to encompass all eight of the town’s villages.

“You take the $50,000 and multiply it if we’re able to do all eight, that’s not chump change,” he said.

Along with the consolidation of tax services, Brookhaven Town is also looking to reduce government bloat by consolidating public works operations within the villages, consolidate billing in ambulance districts, establishing shared information technology for cloud-based services and cybersecurity, and create townwide records storage and archive management.

Satellite image of the 795-acre Brookhaven Calabro Airport. Image from Google Maps

Most couples agree there’s nothing worse than receiving a breakup message on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, that’s the message New York City received Feb. 14 when Amazon said it would no longer build its next headquarters in Queens.

Reactions from Long Island’s elected officials was swift. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said the blame rests on New York’s unfriendliness to business.

“New York’s 1st Congressional District would be happy to be Amazon’s Valentine today and take these 25,000 great-paying jobs,” Zeldin said in a statement. “New York wouldn’t even need all the subsides if we didn’t have one of the worst business climates in the United States. We must level the playing field, reduce taxes and burdensome regulations, stop picking winners.” 

“New York wouldn’t even need all the subsides if we didn’t have one of the worst business climates in the United States.”

— Lee Zeldin

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who were both heavily involved in the Amazon deal, also made public comments lamenting the loss. Meanwhile, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) reaffirmed the town would welcome the retail giant with open arms. 

Now that Amazon is no longer courting New York City, Romaine offered to sign over the 795 acres of Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Shirley if the corporation chooses Brookhaven as a site of their future headquarters. 

“We would close and give them the airport,” he said. “That’s a transfer of property. We’re interested in economic development.”

The town had offered the airport to Amazon before they had originally settled on Queens. The supervisor said the same tax deal proposed by Cuomo is still on the table should the company want to come to the East End of Long Island. The state offered a total of $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits to Amazon, in addition to providing a $505 million capital grant to aid in building its new headquarters. With New York City also pitching in, the total aid package would have been at least $2.8 billion. Romaine said the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency could make up the same amount of aid should Amazon rethink its plans and come back to Long Island.

A representative from the Brookhaven IDA did not respond to requests for comment.

The town supervisor was adamant the airport location was perfect for Amazon’s needs, boasting of its proximity to Sunrise Highway, the Long Island Expressway and William Floyd Parkway. The site is also a few miles away from Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Mastic-Shirley train station. He said the proposed location’s close proximity to the Hamptons, Shoreham and Wading River would be an extra incentive for those looking to make day trips.

“They’re looking for a campus-life situation, and this would provide that,” Romaine said. “If they wanted to they could keep one of the runways for light aircraft. That is totally negotiable.” 

“If they wanted to they could keep one of the runways for light aircraft. That is totally negotiable.”

— Ed Romaine

Despite the pushback the Queens Amazon headquarters received from residents and city politicians, Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said Brookhaven residents are much more open to the idea of a company like Amazon coming in.

“We’re looking for corporate businesses that would create good-paying jobs,” she said. 

Romaine said he knows it’s a long shot, especially with Amazon saying in a Feb. 14 blog post it would not be conducting its new headquarters search again. Instead, the corporation would be looking toward northern Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee, for its new headquarters location.  

“I think it’s worth a shot,” the supervisor said. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

By Heidi Sutton

The Town of Brookhaven held its annual Groundhog Day celebration at the Holtsville Ecology Site and Animal Preserve on Saturday, Feb. 2. Many families with young children braved the frigid weather to hear a very important prediction from Suffolk County’s most famous weatherman, Holtsville Hal, and the little guy did not disappoint.

At 7:25 a.m., before a crowd of several hundred spectators, the groundhog awoke from his slumber and did not see his shadow, joining Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, Malverne Mel, Staten Island Chuck and Dunkirk Dave in predicting that spring weather is right around the corner.

Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), who was joined by Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point), served as honorary Mayor of the Day and read Hal’s prognostication:

“Upon waking up this morning from my long winter’s nap, I heard Honey Bear yawning after this unusual cold snap, Lucy the Buffalo was up, Victoria the eagle too, wondering what everyone is planning to do. I exited my burrow and took a step out, realizing that my prognostication is what this is all about. Hundreds have gathered waiting to hear, will it be an early spring or more snow this year. I know you’re all anxious to hear what I have to say, I won’t keep you waiting at 7:25 on this cold blustery day. When I came out of my burrow and put my paws on the floor, I did not see the shadow I was looking for. According to folklore, go home and ready your lawn, spring is coming and the winter is more than half gone.”

Superintendent of Highways Daniel Losquadro (R), who was not able to attend the event this year, issued a statement on Monday.  “I’m sure we are all looking forward to an early spring and keeping our fingers crossed that our resident weatherman maintains his accuracy,” he said. “Regardless, the Brookhaven Highway Department remains ready to handle whatever Mother Nature decides to send our way.”

After the event, festivalgoers were treated to bagels and hot chocolate and were able to visit the 100 animals that call the Ecology Site home including deer, horses, goats, llamas, hawks and its newest addition, a pine martin. The center, which is open all year round, also includes jogging and exercise trails.

Greg Drossel, who has been Holtsville Hal’s handler for 22 years, said, “I remember when this ecology site was started by Harold Malkmes [Brookhaven’s longtime superintendent], 25, 30 years ago with a pair of buffalo and a pair of bald eagles and now it’s a gem in the Town of Brookhaven and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Located at 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville, the Ecology Site will next host the 2019 Home & Garden Show on March 23, 24, 30 and 31 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-758-9664.

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. 

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Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister. Photo by Kyle Barr

While the Port Jefferson School District is preparing its budget for the 2019-20 school year, the shadow of LIPA still hangs over the small school district.

Superintendent Paul Casciano said the LIPA outcome, at least in terms of drafting next year’s budget, was not as bad as it could have been. 

“It was translated by the town to be on the assessment rather than our payments,” he said. “With the glide path it gets more challenging later on, but we have time to make adjustments.”

“With the glide path it gets more challenging later on, but we have time to make adjustments.”

— Paul Casciano

In December 2018, the Town of Brookhaven settled with LIPA over the tax assessment of the Port Jefferson power station whose white and red smokestacks can be seen almost anywhere near the harbor. LIPA filed a lawsuit almost a decade ago against both Brookhaven and the Town of Huntington saying its plants in Port Jeff and Northport have been overassessed by millions of dollars and were seeking a 50 percent reduction. The settlement decision agreed to lower LIPA’s assessments by 50 percent over a nine-year period from $32.6 million to $16.8 million starting with the 2017-18 tax year.

Even after the settlement, district officials said the Port Jefferson School District would have the second lowest school tax rates compared to others in Brookhaven Town, only being beaten by Riverhead. The district, going into the ninth year of the settlement, would have a tax rate approximately 100 less than the average of non-Port Jefferson school rates, according to the district.

The school district, along with several village residents, feared what a 50 percent reduction could do to school taxes. Casciano, along with Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister, hosted a special meeting for district residents where they estimated a tax rate of 159 in the 2019-20 school year, and an estimated 243 by the 2026-27 school year.

If local revenues remain flat and with their expected tax levy cap sitting at 1.18 percent, the district expects their current $43.9 million budget will adjust to a $44.1 million rollover budget next school year, an increase of $232,930 if the district maintains all current programming and staff. The current school tax levy — the money a school makes in local area taxes — of $36,434,479 would jump to $37,075,627, more than the schools expected 1.2 percent tax cap.

Leister said this would mean reductions, but the district is currently in the process of creating the upcoming school year’s draft budget.

“We haven’t identified those reductions yet,” Leister said. “We are going to take the next few weeks to see if it can be done through efficiencies: We have to identify what our enrollment looks like, what our student interest looks like and what our scheduling looks like.”

Casciano said this difference is minimal, and it can be made up on the school’s end by tighter budgeting.

“If the community stays in support of the district, it won’t be as dramatic,” the superintendent said. “If the school has to absorb the entire cost of the tax loss, it will be.”

“A cynic would look at it and say you’re just trying to dampen any resistance in the short term and pushing it back.”

— Todd Pittinsky

Before news of the settlement, residents had proposed that the district combine with other area districts, but Leister said that combining with a district like Comsewogue or Mount Sinai would overall increase tax rates. Port Jefferson’s estimated tax rate in the 2019-20 school year is 159 compared to Comsewogue’s 262, assuming an annual levy increase of 2 percent, or under the New York State tax cap.

While the difference is minimal for this school year, the district said the glide path of LIPA’s assessment reduction ramps up over time. While the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years see a 3.5 percent reduction, later years show reductions going up to 7.5 and 8.25 percent.

Todd Pittinsky, a Port Jeff resident and professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, said it would behoove the district to think long term when it comes to the reductions over time, and not make those cuts more drastic when the reductions start to increase dramatically.

“A cynic would look at it and say you’re just trying to dampen any resistance in the short term and pushing it back,” Pittinsky said. “I would hope that the effort is one-eighth each year. The formula you are using is going to push back the pain of dislocation or relocation, and it would be very easy to think that other decision makers will be in this role.”

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

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