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Alex Petroski

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Teachers and students observe the new monitors installed in district buildings to depict the effect a newly installed solar energy system is having on Miller Place’s energy consumption. Photo from MPSD

Miller Place school district is trying to do its part to reduce its carbon footprint by embracing renewable energy sources.

The district announced Sept. 17 it had completed the installation of solar panels in each of its four school buildings, which are capable of supplying the district with 1.3 megawatts of solar energy, according to a district press release. The initiative was part of the district’s ongoing energy conservation plan, which was announced in 2014 as part of an energy performance contract approved by the board of education. The system was fully operational as of the start of the 2018-19 school year earlier this month. The system is expected to save the district about $240,000 annually in energy costs, which the district plans to reallocate to other expenses and capital improvements, according to the release.

“This investment is a testament to the district’s forward-thinking financial philosophy and will help reduce the community’s carbon footprint,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in a statement. “This is something to be celebrated and we are incredibly excited that this initiative has now come to fruition.”

To quantify the energy and cost savings and to add an educational component to the system, the district has installed monitors in the front lobby of each building that will show the amount of energy the solar panels are producing at any given time, the release said. In addition to depicting the number of kilowatt-hours the system has generated, the monitors will also display the system’s environmental benefits — including the amount of electricity no longer needed to power the building and the amount of carbon monoxide no longer emitted into the environment.

“Implementing solar panels was part of the board of education’s long-term strategy to reduce costs, make the district’s facilities more eco-friendly and do our part to enhance the Miller Place community,” board President Johanna Testa said in a statement. “The board of education is committed to facilitating and organizing opportunities that will improve our district’s facilities and our students’ educational experiences. The solar energy system is one that we are thrilled to announce, and we look forward to experiencing the many benefits that this energy program will provide our district and our community.”

The project will cost about $5.4 million including interest over the 18-year span of the lease agreement with Johnson Controls.

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The Port Jefferson Power Station may soon be repurposed. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Village of Port Jefferson is soon putting a lengthy legal battle with Long Island Power Authority in its rearview mirror, though the future of the property that houses Port Jefferson Power Station is still on the road ahead.

Bob Foxen, chief executive officer of Global Common LLC, a company dedicated to establishing energy partnerships and projects beneficial to its clients, was contracted by the village to study alternative future uses for the site. He presented options to the village board of trustees during a brainstorming session at a public meeting Sept. 17.

“I guess the goal is to try, to the degree possible, to make the people of Port Jefferson whole, or close to whole, assuming they lose some tax revenue,” Foxen said during his presentation.

Village Mayor Margot Garant expressed an interest for the village to formulate a plan of action for the site.

“Once we have our tax grievance settlement behind us, or we know that we’re at kind of a pause, the next question is ‘Now what?’” she said. “We want to advocate for a repurposing of the site to keep us viable on the grid.”

The village is among the municipalities preparing to imminently announce settlement terms with LIPA to resolve near-decade-long litigation regarding the property tax assessment of the plant, which the utility has argued is too high based on decreasing energy demand. Port Jeff has advocated for the refurbishment and repowering of its baseload plant to update its decades-old technology and to justify the property’s tax assessment.

By 2027, the power purchase agreement between LIPA and National Grid expires, and to resolve the tax certiorari challenges, LIPA negotiated with the village a nine-year “glide path” for tax revenue reductions to coincide with the agreement expiration, according to village attorney Brian Egan. The glide path includes gradual percentage reductions in assessed valuation on the property, deeming baseload repowering an unlikely future outcome. In addition, Caithness Energy LLC’s 2014 plans to construct a new 600-megawatt plant in Yaphank were revived temporarily by Town of Brookhaven’s town board this past summer, though the expiration of the company’s special-use permit for the site has put the plans back in doubt. If constructed, the Yaphank plant would further cloud the future of the Port Jeff plant.

Foxen admitted the options he brought ready to present during the meeting were dependent on Caithness II never getting off the ground, an outcome that is very much in doubt. The options also consider New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) stated goal from 2016 that 50 percent of the state’s power come from renewable sources by 2030.

The consultant suggested turning the site into a 200- to 300-megawatt plant powered by peaking units or smaller energy generation systems capable of firing up only in times of high demand, as its best option. The units operate using gas or liquid fuel, though they are viewed as efficient supplements to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which can’t handle demand on their own.

“I think it does help support renewables,” Foxen said of peaking unit plants, adding that financing the work needed to repurpose the site in this way would be hard to establish without a new power purchasing agreement with LIPA. Village officials are set to meet Sept. 20 with representatives from private Finnish company Wartsila to discuss the feasibility of installing peaking unit technology at the Port Jeff plant.

Foxen’s other brainstormed options included establishing the village as a municipal electrical utility, meaning it would assume control of energy distribution from the plant to customers to power homes, though he called the option costly and time consuming; and taking over energy distribution and limiting it to private customers at a reduced rate for businesses in specific industries that have high-energy demand, like data storage centers, for example, which could even be housed on the vacant site.

“It would be kind of an interesting magnet for a data center or somebody like that — saving money on energy might be a draw,” Foxen said.

Juvenile clams maturing in Brookhaven’s hatchery. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Restoring Long Island’s coastal waters as a haven for shellfish to thrive has been a multidecade battle for the Town of Brookhaven. This year, it has added some artillery to the fight in the form of a public-private-nonprofit partnership born in the spirit of sustainability and recycling.

In the 1800s, Long Island was considered the oyster capital of the world, according to Maureen Dunn, water quality scientist at Seatuck Environmental Association, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Long Island’s wildlife and environment.

“So, to think that there’s virtually no wild oysters in the South Shore is incredible, but it’s really something that we can fix,” Dunn said Sept. 7 at Brookhaven’s shellfish hatchery located on the shores of Mount Sinai Harbor.

For more than 30 years, Brookhaven has been buying juvenile clams and oysters when they are just a millimeter in size, partially maturing them at the town’s hatchery and strategically returning them to North and South Shore waters in an effort to boost the population. Tom Carrano, the town’s assistant waterways management supervisor who has overseen this process since taking the position in the early ’80s, is set to retire imminently.

“Realistically, clams and oysters are the only natural resource the town actually owns because we own the bay bottom,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that there is sufficient quantities of these animals.”

To aid in fulfilling that responsibility, beginning this year the town has partnered with Seatuck and so far five restaurants to spearhead a program called Half Shells for Habitat. The program entails the restaurants setting aside shells from eaten clams and oysters; collecting them; delivering them to the town’s composting facility in Manorville where they are aged in the sun for six months to a year to ensure viruses and bacteria are not inhabiting the discarded shells; bringing the shells to the hatchery to allow the tiny shellfish to adhere to the larger shells, building what essentially amount to shellfish reefs; and then returning them to the water in the hopes of growing new shellfish. 

The town has the capability to grow more than 3 million shellfish in its hatchery per year, and officials believe the use of mature shells will give them a better chance at maturation and warding off predators. Creating the shellfish reefs has several other benefits. The juvenile shellfish require a hard bottom to survive, which the reefs can provide. They also can work as erosion control if placed properly, can counteract the effects of water acidification spurred by climate change and also help to filter algae from the water.

“As CO2 levels in the atmosphere go up, ocean and coastal acidification become more of a concern,” said Anthony Graves, Brookhaven’s chief environmental analyst. 

He said taking the shells out of the town’s solid waste stream and using them to improve water quality by staving off erosion and stimulating shellfish growth is a “win-win-win” for the environment.

“It’s tremendous how far we’ve come,” Carrano said, reflecting on the evolution of the operation of shellfish seeding in the town from when he started in his role. “When I started we were growing 100,000 clams. Now we’re growing a million and a half, close to 2 million clams this year and 2 million oysters. The town has been very generous and forthcoming in pushing this program and allowing it to move forward.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he would like to see New York adopt a similar law to the state of Maryland’s, which prohibits discarding shells in landfills.

“We’ve made a major commitment to restocking our bays, our harbor ways, our Sound, doing what we can do to restore the balance of nature,” he said. “It’s a cumulative battle, but it’s a battle that we’ve joined, it’s a battle that we intend to continue to fight because we think it’s important not only for the health of the bay, but also to ensure that the bay or harbor can support clams and oysters.”

Currently five restaurants have signed on to participate in the program — Catch Oyster Bar in Patchogue, Prime in Huntington, H2O Seafood & Sushi in East Islip and Tellers: An American Chophouse in Islip — though the town is looking for more. Prior to placing shellfish reefs back in the water, Graves said the town will need permission in the form of a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Girl Scout Devin Rotunno helps kids plant seeds using her Gold Award project Aug. 10 at the Long Island Explorium on East Broadway in Port Jefferson

Port Jefferson’s most inquisitive young explorers will have a new, sustainably minded activity to learn from thanks to the efforts of one of their own.

Girl Scouts looking to achieve their Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can earn, are tasked with identifying an issue in their community, conducting research, pitching a project and shepherding it to completion in a leadership role in the hopes of achieving some greater good for the community.

Girl Scout Devin Rotunno, a Port Jeff resident heading into her senior year at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, decided to achieve her Gold Award by building a station where kids can plant locally native vegetation at the Long Island Explorium, a Port Jeff museum located at 101 E. Broadway dedicated to fostering an environment of learning and discovery for visitors of all ages, where Rotunno has volunteered for years. She dropped off and set up the project with help from her parents Aug. 10.

“When I started here early last year in 2017, we felt the programing here has always been about STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], and we wanted children, guests and visitors not only to know STEM for the knowledge of STEM, but really the civic component of it, like, ‘What’s the big deal about learning about science, technology, engineering and math?’” said Angeline Judex, executive director of the Explorium. “The civic component is obviously our interaction and our relationship with the world and our environment surrounding us. I’ve been trying to infuse some sort of sustainability type programing and I think this was something that we thought was perfect.”

Rotunno’s project was built from common cedar wood and includes a laddered portion where kids can keep and monitor their plants as they grow, as well as a station to plant seeds, equipped with soil and gardening tools. She credited a family friend and contractor for helping with the design and lending his shop and tools for the cause. 

“I love it here so much, and as my Gold Award project was approaching I thought it would be the perfect place to dedicate my Gold project to,” Rotunno said of the Explorium. She reflected on providing a new program for kids now in the position she used to be in, visiting the museum to enjoy activities it had to offer. “It’s awesome, just the feeling — since I’m going off to college in a year, the fact I can leave something they can use forever — it’s just a good feeling I can give back.”

Carol Van Duyn, the museum’s manager who has been there for 13 years, reflected on the full-
circle nature of Rotunno’s time at the Explorium.

“Many of the children that came to join and participate in the interactive exhibits continued and then they became volunteers, and then came to us to ask us if they could do something to leave their mark, and we were thrilled,” she said. “She [Rotunno] kept redesigning and reconfiguring, coming back to remeasure before she made her final cut. So, this was a work in progress for a number of months.”

Rotunno’s mom, Jennifer, who also served as Girl Scout Troop 2988 leader since her daughter was in kindergarten, shared her feelings about witnessing the culmination of the long process for her Scout daughter.

“It’s awesome, I’m very proud,” she said. “I’m proud that she’s been a Girl Scout all these years. It’s not common for a girl to make it to this age and to this award. It’s a really special thing. She’s loved coming down here and volunteering.”

All photos by Alex Petroski

Port Jeff and Belle Terre would like to be absorbed by the Mount Sinai Ambulance District, which is overseen by Brookhaven.

The villages of Port Jefferson and Belle Terre are proposing a change to its ambulance service contracts with the goal of increased efficiency on the mind.

Currently emergency ambulance services are provided to homes in Mount Sinai Ambulance District, and the two incorporated villages by the Port Jefferson Ambulance Company, a not-for-profit corporation located on Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai. 

The ambulance company provides services to the three entities through individual contracts, with a projected 2018 total budget of $1.4 million. Port Jeff and Belle Terre villages contracted KPC Planning Services Inc. to examine the possibility of proposing to expand the Mount Sinai Ambulance District to encompass the two villages, thus simplifying the process and requiring a single contract with the company for its existing coverage area.

Port Jeff Village Attorney Brian Egan called the current set up, “not even close to efficient,” noting the three entities do not even operate on the same fiscal year, making budgeting for ambulance services more complicated than village officials say it needs to be.

“It creates a problem for us because the 51 percent majority can pass a budget without our say,” Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant said during a May board meeting. The Mount Sinai Ambulance District makes up more than 50 percent of the ambulance company’s territory and is overseen by the Town of Brookhaven.

KPC Planning Services’ report summed up the goal behind the proposed change: “Operationally, the district managers must answer to three municipalities to make a capital, equipment or operational decision. The goal of the expanded district is to remove the village[s] from operational responsibility and vest the power exclusively in the Town [of Brookhaven].”

In actuality, Port Jefferson Village’s contract with the ambulance company expired in 2011, meaning the entities have continued a relationship without an official contract for seven years.

“It means no change in area, no change in service, no change in population — everything remains exactly the same,” Egan said in an interview. “The only structure that we’re changing is that we would no longer be a contracting party. It would be 100 percent exclusively in control of the Town of Brookhaven.”

Egan said residents should not expect to see any changes in their taxes, services or even the name on the side of an ambulance in the case of an emergency. Both villages have passed resolutions proposing the change, which will need to be acted on by Brookhaven before it can go into effect. Egan said he’s not sure of the timeline from the town’s perspective but hopes it is soon.

Consolidating services has been on the mind of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), as the town was named the winner of a $20 million grant for its proposals as part of a New York State competition earlier this year.

“Elimination of this three-ring tangle is consistent with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine’s goal to eliminate duplication in districts, streamline decision making and consolidate services,” the KPC report said.

John Cerato stands next to an overgrown median on Route 25A in Miller Place. Photo by Alex Petroski

Growth is usually a positive thing, but growth in Miller Place has become a stick in the eye to a longtime resident and elected official alike.

John Cerato, a 20-year Miller Place resident who previously lived in Rocky Point, told TBR News Media this week he has progressively seen the condition of vegetation on many of the medians on Route 25A — a New York State highway — falling into a state of disrepair as it becomes overgrown and unkempt. He said he sees it predominantly as an aesthetic issue, but also has some safety concerns related to the increasingly out-of-control shrubbery. 

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) echoed much of Cerato’s observations about the medians in a June 18 letter to the editor in which she proposed removing the shrubs and weeds taking over the road dividers and replacing them with flower beds.

A median near where North Country Road and Route 25A merge in Rocky Point, which includes a sidewalk and crosswalk, is almost too overgrown to walk on.

“This will not only save money by reducing maintenance (which obviously is not being done as often as needed), but it will also provide a visually pleasing appearance as we travel along Route 25A in the 6th Legislative District,” she said. 

In the letter, Anker said she has facilitated a partnership between the New York State Department of Transportation and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office through the Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program to provide some maintenance on the medians recently, but even that hasn’t quite been enough.

“We recently heard back from the [NYSDOT] regional director, Joe Brown, that later this month they will begin to start replacing the 12 overgrown medians on Route 25A with a blue lyme grass similar to what has been successfully installed on Route 112,” said Anker’s Legislative Aide Robyn Fellrath-Maresca in an email July 19. “The grass is easier to maintain and minimizes weed growth. Legislator Anker appreciates the response and hopes that the change will improve the visual landscape of the community.”

Fellrath-Maresca added that Anker’s office had received numerous complaints about the medians in recent months from constituents.

Stephen Canzoneri, public information officer for the regional DOT office that covers Suffolk County, shared an update on the matter via email July 25.

“NYSDOT is improving the medians along Route 25A,” he said. “The current landscaping will be removed in the coming weeks and replaced with blue lyme grass, the same grass which is already in place along the renovated portions of Route 112. DOT will continue to work with residents and local elected officials to beautify our roadways.”

Cerato pointed to a particularly troublesome area on Route 25A in Rocky Point, where it merges with North Country Road on its north side. A walkway between the two roads is overgrown to the point that those looking to cross over Route 25A from north to south would have to step onto North Country Road or fight through the shoulder-high vegetation. Cerato said he has seen cases when parking at North Shore Little League baseball fields south of Route 25A is full, so people who park across North Country Road and walk to the fields are forced into unsafe situations.

“To have to sort of put up with this is ridiculous I think,” he said.

The Miller Place resident said he is also concerned that if an accident occurs on one side of the road and causes the cars to jump the median into oncoming traffic, those motorists would have no time to react.

“There should be some visibility,” he said. “You’re not going to have any idea they’re coming.”

Dr. Jason Kronberg during a meet the candidates event at Port Jefferson High School April 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson School District board of education candidate has agreed to pay a settlement to resolve a legal issue pertaining to his day job.

A pediatrics practice with several Long Island locations, including one in Port Jefferson, and its current and former partner physicians agreed to pay $750,000 to settle claims of improper Medicaid billing practices, according to an April 25 announcement by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. One of the partners of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the practice named in the press release, is Dr. Jason Kronberg, a Port Jefferson resident running for one of the school district’s three board of education seats up for election May 15. The practice operates as a limited liability partnership under the name Freed, Kleinberg, Nussbaum, Festa & Kronberg M.D. The legal action was brought about by a whistleblower, and the case was pursued under the federal False Claims Act and the New York State False Claims Act jointly by federal and state investigators.

“The practice corrected the problem on our own in 2011, and we have had no issues since that point.”

— Jason Kronberg

According to the release, the practice billed the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to millions of Americans including eligible low-income adults, children, people with disabilities and others and is jointly funded by state and federal governments, for services provided by physicians who were not enrolled in the program. Between July 2004 and December 2010, the practice and its partners employed a number of physicians who were not enrolled in the Medicaid program yet still provided care to Medicaid patients, the government’s investigation revealed. The defendants sought reimbursement from Medicaid for services provided by non-Medicaid enrolled physicians and did so by misrepresenting the identities of the individuals actually providing the treatment, the release said.

“The settlement related to billing practices from over eight years ago, a period when, for the most part, I was just an employee of the practice,” Kronberg said in an email, adding that the settlement shouldn’t interfere with his school board candidacy. “The practice corrected the problem on our own in 2011, and we have had no issues since that point. Given the extraordinarily complex nature of Medicaid billing rules, settlements like this are quite common – the government enters into thousands of them every year. We cooperated fully with the government investigation of this matter and we resolved the case with the government amicably.”

According to the complaint by the whistleblower’s attorneys accessed after Kronberg’s initial statement, he was a partner “at all relevant times herein.”

“I was a partner starting July 2009,” Kronberg said. “The complaint was 2005 to 2010. The statement said ‘for the most part’ — which is accurate.”

A request for comment sent to Kronberg’s defense attorney Christopher Fenlon was not returned, nor was a request sent to district Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“Today’s settlement reflects this office’s commitment to safeguarding taxpayer programs like Medicaid by vigorously investigating allegations of fraud in False Claims Act cases.”

— Richard Donoghue

According to Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel of the New York State School Board’s Association, an organization that provides support for school boards in the state, the settlement will have no impact on Kronberg’s bid for Port Jeff’s board. Worona said anyone qualified to vote is eligible to run for a board of education position in New York, with a felony conviction being the only disqualifier, adding that it will be up to the voters to decide.

“Providers serving Medicaid beneficiaries must be properly credentialed and thoroughly vetted to ensure that proper care is provided and to preserve the integrity of the Medicaid Program, which serves our neediest citizens,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement. “Today’s settlement reflects this office’s commitment to safeguarding taxpayer programs like Medicaid by vigorously investigating allegations of fraud in False Claims Act cases.”

As part of the settlement, New York’s Medicaid program will receive $450,000 of the $750,000 payment, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office’s press release on the matter.

Kronberg said during a meet the candidates event at the high school April 24 he was seeking a seat on the board to lend his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate and weigh in impartially. He is one of six candidates running to fill three seats.

“I was asked to become a member of the school board to serve as a rational and non-biased voice in what has become a contentious environment,” he said in a personal statement. “I believe I will bring to the board a fiscally conservative yet socially liberal viewpoint.”

This post was updated May 1 with information from the complaint filed by the whistleblower and a second comment from Jason Kronberg.

Mothers embrace one another during a Hope Walk for Addiction rally at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai last year. Photo by Kevin Redding

TBR News Media raked in 11 New York Press Association awards last weekend.

The company won prizes across the gamut of categories, from news and feature stories to photos and advertisements.

“I am so proud of the staff at TBR News Media that works hard to deliver the news each week,” Publisher Leah Dunaief said. “We are delighted to be among the top winners in the contest, as we are every year.”

“Comprehensive, sustained coverage of a life-or-death infrastructure issue. Lede with compelling citizens rather than reports from bureaucrats or written statements.”

— NYPA judges

In the feature story category, TBR News Media had two winners for its division amongst publications with similar circulation. Port Times Record Editor Alex Petroski won first place for his story on how a local political party boss helped President Donald Trump (R) win Long Island votes.

“Following the election, many wondered, ‘How did Trump win?” judges wrote about Petroski’s piece titled “One on one with the man who helped Donald Trump win Suffolk County,” which profiles Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle and details his relationship with the president. “This story answers that on a micro level with an in-depth interview of the man who helped Trump in Suffolk County. I think more papers would have been well served to seek out similar stories.”

Reporter Kevin Redding took third in the same category for his story for The Village Times Herald on a spooky local bar in Smithtown.

“A perfect pre-Halloween story about the haunted local watering hole,” NYPA judges said. “Plenty of examples of what some have seen, heard and felt, which is just what you’d want from a story about a haunted building.”

Petroski also won second place in Division 3 for his ongoing coverage on a boat ramp in Port Jefferson Village where two people had died and at least one other was severely injured, in the news series cateogry. Times of Huntington Editor Sara-Megan Walsh took third place in the same category.

“Comprehensive, sustained coverage of a life-or-death infrastructure issue,” the judges wrote of Petroski’s five-piece submission that included three stories, a front page and editorial on the topic. “Lede with compelling citizens rather than reports from bureaucrats or written statements. Narrative scene-setting ledes can make stories like this more important and compelling.”

Alex Petroski’s story on how Donald Trump won Suffolk County won a first-place feature story prize.

Redding also roped in a second award, getting a third-place nod in feature photo Division 2 for a picture he took for The Village Beacon Record at Hope Walk for Addiction at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai.

“There was tight competition for third place, but the emotion on the faces of the people in this photo put it a step above the rest,” the judges said of the women hugging and crying in the photo, who’d lost loved ones to battles with addiction.

Arts and Lifestyles Editor Heidi Sutton won first place in the Division 2 picture story category for her layout of local Setauket resident Donna Crinnian’s photos of birds in Stony Brook Harbor. The picture essay was titled “Winged Wonders of Stony Brook.”

“Elegant way to showcase nature of our feathered friends,” NYPA judges wrote.

Director of Media Productions Michael Tessler received an honorable mention in Division 2 coverage of the arts for his review of Theatre Three in Port Jefferson’s rendition of “A Christmas Carol.”

“Nice photos and an insightful story on the characters portraying a beloved classic,” judges said.

The Village Times Herald won first place for its classified advertising, as judges said it was “clean, precise, well-spaces and not crowded,” and Wendy Mercier claimed a first-place prize for best small space ad. TBR News Media’s Sharon Nicholson won second place for her design of a best large space ad. The Village Times Herald ranked in the Top 5 in total advertising contest points with 50, good for fourth place. The first-place winner, Dan’s Papers, received 90.

Zeldin celebrates his 2016 election night victory in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

The race for the right to challenge New York’s 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in November will be a five-way battle.

The candidates got enough signatures from voters to qualify to be placed on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary ahead of the April 12 deadline. June’s winner will face the two-time incumbent congressman and fervent supporter of President Donald Trump (R) in the general election Nov. 6. New York’s primaries are only open to registered members of the applicable political party.

Kate Browning

Kate Browning. Photo from SCDC

Browning is the former 3rd District Suffolk County legislator, a position she held beginning in 2005 before
being term limited out of office. She was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before moving to Germany at 19 years old and eventually landing in Shirley with her husband Steve in 1989. The mother of three was a bus driver in the William Floyd School District prior to taking office.

“Our district deserves a representative that is going to fight for working families in Suffolk County,” Browning says in a section of her website entitled “Why I’m running,” while also touting her ability to work across the
political aisle. “I’ve focused on quality of life issues, rehabilitating foreclosed zombie homes and selling them to first-time home buyers, keeping them away from speculators and absentee landlords. And I’ve secured funding for clean water infrastructure to protect our drinking water and our shorelines.”

Elaine DiMasi

Elaine DiMasi. Photo from SCDC

DiMasi, a political newcomer, was a federal contractor for more than 20 years in addition to more than two decades of experience as a project manager and physicist at Brookhaven National Lab. She describes herself as a lifelong environmentalist with firsthand knowledge about the potential to jump-start the local economy while safeguarding the environment through the establishment of clean energy jobs.

“I dare to believe in a government that cares for all its people equally, is responsive to them and their concerns,” she says on her campaign website. “An American future that values equality for its people that opens doors of opportunity for all. An America that leads by example through its laws and practices to ensure the dignity, well-being, and freedom of all people.”

Perry Gershon

Perry Gershon. Photo from SCDC

Gershon wastes no time in his personal bio on his campaign website declaring he is a businessman, and not a career politician, having spent more than 25 years in commercial real estate finance. The first-time runner for office says his decision to leave the private sector and seek political office is a byproduct of outrage at the state of politics in Washington, D.C. He points to his entrepreneurial spirit and ability to build consensus among diverse parties as evidence of his qualifications to represent NY1.

“I’m fed up,” he says on his campaign website as to why he’s running. “It’s time Long Island had a strong voice to fight for high-paying jobs, affordable health care, high-quality education and clean air and water. Rather than stand by as Donald Trump and Washington politicians try to divide us, we can rebuild the middle class.”

Gershon and his wife Lisa have two sons and live on the South Fork.

David Pechefsky

David Pechefsky. Photo from SCDC

Pechefsky has extensive experience in government despite never holding elected office. The 1986 valedictorian at Patchogue-Medford High School has held various positions in government and politics during the last 20 years, including as a longtime staffer for the New York City Council, as well as a consultant for the National Democratic Institute from 2010-13. There, he worked to establish a legislative budget office to serve the Congress of Liberia. He also managed a U.S. government-funded program to strengthen the parliament of Somalia. He’s on leave from his current job as a senior adviser with Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit with the goal of fostering civic engagement.

“I am running for Congress because we need to put in place policies that make our economy work for everyone, not just the wealthy,” he says on his website. “I’ve spent my career working in government here in America and as an adviser to governments around the world and know how government can and should work to make things better for all us.”

Vivian Viloria-Fisher

Vivian Viloria Fisher. Photo from SCDC

Viloria-Fisher was also a Suffolk County legislator, serving the 5th District 13 years beginning in 1999. She was born in the Dominican Republic before moving to New York with her family as a child. She also worked as a Spanish teacher in Three Village school district for 12 years.

“As your representative, I will: fight for a national living wage; support job growth in sustainable energy and medical research industries; reinstate tax deductions for workers and students,” she says on her website, among other legislative priorities.

She touts her work on expanding public transportation services, creating a Welfare-to-Work commission in the county and her support for marriage equality prior to its legalization in New York among her proudest accomplishments.

Check TBR News Media in print and online for coverage of both the primary and general election in the coming weeks and months. All information about the candidates is from the Suffolk County Democratic Committee website or the candidates’ campaign sites.

May vote will also feature $32M bond proposition for district wide capital projects

Comsewogue school board President John Swenning and Superintendent Joe Rella, along with the rest of the board and administration, have begun 2018-19 budget preparations. File photo by Alex Petroski

Taxpayers in Comsewogue School District have two important choices to make at the polls May 15.

The board of education unanimously adopted its proposed $91,947,730 budget for the 2018-19 school year during an April 12 meeting. The board also voted back in March to add a second proposition to the ballot to seek permission from the community to borrow $32 million over a 15-year span, with about $3 million in interest, to execute more than 100 repairs and upgrade projects across the district’s six buildings.

If passed, next year’s budget would be about $2 million more than the current year, with contractual, retirement and health insurance increases for faculty and staff being the primary driver of the increase. The higher costs will be covered in large part by a 2.2 percent tax levy increase, a 3.2 percent increase in state aid, and a slight reduction in full-time employees due to several retirements.

Bond

$32 million

$3 million in interest

15-year life

Would fund upgrades at all six district buildings

The district has also placed an emphasis on security, budgeting for additional security guards and mental health support services. The budget for buildings and grounds staff, comprised of custodial workers, security guards and maintenance workers, was increased by 7.5 percent for 2018-19.

The district’s stated budgeting goal based on its public presentation provided by Assistant Superintendent for Business Susan Casali is to “develop a school district budget that is taxpayer sensitive and aligns with the district student learning objectives.”

Casali will be publicly presenting the adopted budget a total of six times, with Saturday, April 21, at JFK Middle School at 9 a.m. being the next opportunity for district residents to catch it.

The bond proposal and list of projects came at the recommendation of the district’s Facilities Committee, a group of 21 professionals from across the Comsewogue community including members of the board, administrators, architects, engineers, former teachers and civic association members assembled in early January and tasked with presenting recommendations to the board. It will need to be approved as a separate proposition from the standard 2018-19 operating budget.

“The proposed facility improvements preserve the integrity of the school buildings, address repairs, improve instructional resources for all and upgrade athletic facilities,” district administration said in a statement.

Budget

2018-19 total: $91,947,730

2.2% tax levy increase

3.2% more in state aid

School board President John Swenning said during a March meeting the bond proposal was the result of hard work and community input.

“I just want to say thank you to the Facilities Committee that spent a lot of time going through our buildings,” he said. “This bond was brought to us from the community members. They found what they felt needs to be addressed and they came and presented it to the board. We’re going to accept it just as the committee has submitted it to us.”

The district has made a concerted effort to inform voters about the contents of the bond, filming and disseminating an informational YouTube video featuring Superintendent Joe Rella, mailing brochures to residents, and hosting several public presentations at district buildings as well as before the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.

Some of the projects include required upgrades to achieve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; repairing parking lots and sidewalks; adding security vestibules at all of the district buildings; fixes to exterior and interior building infrastructure; improving athletic fields and facilities; and kitchen upgrades. Some of the higher-priced projects included in the committee’s recommendation are: a new roof with solar panels at Terryville Road Elementary School; interior work at John F. Kennedy Middle School, including some classroom and hallway renovations; and upgrades to the high school concession stand building. If passed, the average taxpayer would see an increase of about $120 annually to their school tax bill, according to the district.

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