There’s a hot race for a one-year term on Huntington Town Board that could tip the scale of the council’s political leaning.
Incumbent Joan Cergol (D) is a lifelong Huntington resident who was appointed in December 2017 to the seat vacated by former councilwoman Susan Berland, who was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature. She previously served as the town’s director of the Huntington Community Development Agency, executive director of the Economic Development Corp. and executive director of the Local Development Corp.
Republican challenger Jim Leonick should be familiar name with Nov. 6 voters. The East Northport attorney unsuccessfully campaigned for Town Board as a running mate with Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in 2017, coming up just short by less than 650 votes. Now he’s back, seeking to fill the remaining year of Berland’s term.
“I’ve heard more and more complaints of things wrong with the town,” Leonick said. “There are many people complaining about things that don’t have the wherewithal to do something, but I do and that’s why I’m running.”
LIPA lawsuit/Northport Power Station
The Republican challenger said he believes the most important issue in this election is Long Island Power Authority and National Grid’s lawsuit against the town over the tax-assessed value of Northport Power Station.
“It will have the greatest financial impact on town residents, and the tax bills of the Northport-East Northport school district,” he said.
Leonick said he supports levying a fossil fuel tax on the plant to recoup any lost tax money, believes the plant is not currently properly assessed for taxes given its gas and electrical transmission lines should make it more valuable, and is in favor of spending money investigating if using eminent domain to take control of the plant is feasible.
“I agree it’s an anvil hanging over the town’s head for seven years,” Cergol said. “We need to be a unified front.”
She agreed more information would be needed before considering proceeding with eminent domain, as it would require a townwide referendum. Cergol chastised the topic being used as a “political divisive tactic.” The councilwoman said she has been following the advice of the town attorney on how to proceed.
Cergol said the most common issue she hears about is Huntington’s overdevelopment and its impact on the character of the town. She wants to see changes made to C-6 zoning code that affects apartments over commercial space and wants to require all parking needs to be contained by each individual project or on private lots. The Democrat also supports construction of a parking structure or other means to alleviate the village’s parking issues.
“Residents are not happy with downzoning, the town should stick to what the master plan says,” Leonick said. “People who have lived here 30, 40 years and paid taxes don’t want their community to start looking like Nassau and Queens.”
The Republican said a simple fix to the C-6 zoning issue would be to increase the number of parking spaces needed to build apartments. Leonick also criticized the town for not constructing a parking structure for Huntington village, suggesting a modular unit could be purchased and easily constructed.
On issues like the LIPA lawsuit and parking, Leonick said he feels the town lack’s transparency on its actions. Cergol responded by saying the town’s website has an entire section dedicated to the LIPA lawsuit.
The councilwoman said she authored and co-sponsored the bill that led to live streaming of the town’s meetings and events. She also offered to host monthly forums at Town Hall to delve into topics like 5G cellular service transmitters, where residents can ask questions of town officials and discuss the issue.
Leonick said the town’s web page on LIPA doesn’t go far enough and suggested development of additional electronic communications with residents, like a blog.
2019 Tentative Budget
In review of the 2019 tentative budget and government costs, Cergol said the town has
reduced expenses by using technology to allow residents to apply for affordable housing and register for recreational programs online. She is willing to negotiate the number of full-time staff members per council member, which the tentative budget calls to cut from two to one each with a shared secretary.
Leonick said that he’s glad the proposed budget stays within the 2 percent tax cap but believes there should be an increase in personnel in the town attorney’s office to help reduce outside legal fees and that each council member should have two full-time staff.