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Whew, that was close. We feared that a good ole game of Suffolk County partisan tug-of-war almost left us high and dry again.

Suffolk County legislators voted down 14 bond-seeking bills for various projects that have impact on the day-to-day life of residents June 5 and 19 on a party-line basis. The reasoning given was the 14 items were lumped together in three resolutions, which Republicans argued didn’t allow them to individually vote against projects that they didn’t agree with or may regret funding later.

For nearly a month, both Democrats led by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Republicans headed by Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) publicly bickered back and forth on how to approach county bonds. Each group held press conferences and made inflammatory statements as time kept ticking in the race against the clock to get federally matching funds for both the Wading River-to-Mount Sinai Rails to Trails project and repaving of Commack Road, among others.

It’s said all’s well that ends well, right? Luckily for North Shore residents, both the Rails to Trails and Commack Road bills received the bipartisan support — a supermajority 12 out of 18 votes — necessary to move forward at the July 17 legislative meeting. Most of the 14 bills were voted on individually this time around, the majority of which were approved.

Unfortunately, a few projects failed or were not voted on. Cries for funding repairs and upgrades to Suffolk County Police Department’s K-9 Unit facility in Yaphank failed despite the roof leaking, the floor having holes and the air conditioner and heating not working properly, according to Bellone. Republicans argued the planning should be done in-house rather than borrowing to pay for the project.

We couldn’t help but notice that a bill to fund $4.68 million for upgrades for the Suffolk County Police Department and county Medical Examiner’s office also failed. Another bill, one that would have given the Republican Suffolk County Board of Elections Commissioner Nick LaLota another term, as his time in office ends Dec. 31, also failed. The outcome of these votes seems to indicate that political partisanship is still afoot, alive and well, as all Long Islanders are aware that politics, too, affects our law enforcement offices.

A word of warning to our Suffolk County elected officials: While President Donald Trump (R) and our U.S. Congress play on sharp political divides to gain power and momentum, that’s not an acceptable way to act here. We beg, don’t take your political cues from Washington, D.C.

We — your residents, constituents and voters — expect you to rise above party politics and do what’s best for Suffolk. You must reach out across the aisle, discuss charged issues calmly and reach a compromise that best benefits all. It’s in the job description.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone details plans to present un-lumped bonds at the July 17 legislature meeting during a press conference July 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though the fight over lump bonding in the Suffolk County Legislature is not over yet, both parties are looking to find common ground.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the county would be offering un-lumped bond resolutions for the next legislative session July 17, after a series of bond-seeking bills for various projects were voted down on a party-line vote last month.

“Unfortunately we have seen the creeping into Suffolk County of national style politics that has delivered abuse in Washington – which is a shame because we haven’t had that in Suffolk, particularly when it comes to funding of critically important and even routine capital projects,” Bellone said. “I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

Bellone mentioned several bond resolutions that will be up for vote come July 17. One includes funding for repaving on Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. Two other major projects include $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees, and $8.82 million in funds for the Rails to Trails project that will establish a trail from Wading River to Mount Sinai on grounds that used to host train tracks.

Ninety-four percent of Rails to Trails is funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the driving force behind the project, said if the bond doesn’t pass the county could miss the August deadline to get access to those federal grants.

“We have already invested $1 million with a design and engineering plan that we will have to reimburse if this bond does not pass,” Anker said. “We are ready to put a shovel in the ground, even at the end of this year.”

“I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

— Steve Bellone

The legislature needs to vote “yes” on both an appropriations bill as well as one to approve bond funding to support capital projects, and for weeks the two parties in the legislature have battled over bundled bonds. Bellone has said the Republican minority was hypocritical if it voted for the project’s appropriations but voted against the funding. Republicans were against any lump bonds because they did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, lumped with items they were comfortable supporting now.

Because the legislature requires 12 of the 18 members to pass a bond vote, the seven-member Republican minority have joined together during the past two legislative meetings to shoot down any lump bonds.

Bellone said he would be going forward with legislation that would require both appropriations and bonding be included in one single vote, but Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the Legislative Counsel has questioned the legality of that idea, with appropriations requiring 10 votes and bonds needing 12.

Instead, Gregory said he instructed the county clerk to write up the next week’s meeting agenda to have bonds be voted on before appropriations.

“If the bond resolution fails then the appropriation doesn’t come up for a vote,” Gregory said. “It limits the opportunity for somebody to vote for it before voting against it … Hopefully it takes the politics a little bit out of it.”

Republicans in the legislature see the move away from lump bonding as a victory.

“We’re happy that the County Executive has agreed to go back to individual bond resolution for several bonds,” Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said. “We’re looking forward to working forward with the County Executive over the coming months to find some common ground.”

Though Cilmi said he and other Republican legislators are happy the bonds will not be lumped together, he still has misgivings about a few of the projects, especially when it comes to county finances.

“There are certain proposals where we agree with the project, but we believe the funding for the project should come out of operating funds rather than going out and borrowing money to do it,” Cilmi said. “The county is $2 billion in debt, and we have to exercise restraint in how we go out and borrow money.”

File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town officials will seek to borrow $7.3 million to tackle a wide variety of projects in the upcoming year.

The board approved bonding out $4.95 million for town projects and $2.55 million for water district improvements at its June 5 meeting. Councilman Gene Cook (R) voted against taking on debt, as he traditionally does each year, arguing the necessary funding should have been incorporated into the town’s 2018 budget.

“We have to be cautious with our money,” Cook said.

“We need to look for alternative sources of revenue in order to make the town move forward.”

– Chad Lupinacci

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said seeking bonds for large capital projects and improvements is better for the town’s long-term growth than tapping into its capital reserves.

“There’s certain things you can budget for, but at times there are larger capital projects that will take a longer time and need more money,” Lupinacci said, citing the restricting of the state’s 2 percent property tax levy increase cap. “We need to look for alternative sources of revenue in order to make the town move forward.”

One project that garnered the entire board’s support – including Cook – was bonding for $2.4 million to make roadway improvements throughout the town. These funds will supplement the more than $4.2 million set aside in the town’s 2018 budget for the Highway Department’s contractual services, materials and supplies.

“It has to do with paving the roads and we get a lot of complaints about potholes,” the supervisor said.

The approved funding also includes $1 million for the Greenlawn Water District to purchase and replace old water meters, in addition to $1.55 million for the Dix Hills Water District to make infrastructure improvements at a plant and replace water meters.

The $7.2 million approved for improvements is substantially less than the town had borrowed the last two years. Huntington took on $13.34 million in 2017 and $13.95 million in 2016, under the prior administration.


Projects approved in the $7.3M Bond:
-$75,000 to resurface parking lots
-$100,000 for fencing
-$130,000 for tank and sump improvements
-$175,000 for roof replacement at ice rink
-$175,000 for town building improvements
-$390,000 for drainage equipment
-$750,000 for drainage improvements
-$2.4 million for road improvements
-$560,000 for Huntington Sewer District
– $1 million for Greenlawn Water District
– $1.55 million for Dix Hills Water District

The funding sought by the town could drastically increase if Lupinacci reintroduces a resolution permitting the town to take out $13.5 million in bonds for construction of the James D. Conte Community Center off East 5th Avenue in Huntington Station. The supervisor pulled the measure June 5 before a vote, saying the overall cost of the project had increased and town council members asked for additional time to review the proposed changes.

“I would rather everyone have their questions addressed before it is voted on,” he said.

When plans for the community center were unveiled in November 2017, town officials had estimated renovating the 2,500-square-foot former New York State Armory would come in at approximately $10 million. The town’s 2018 budget already set aside $3.75 million for the project, in addition to a $1.5 million state grant.

Lupinacci said he plans to address funds for the James. D. Conte center at the June 19 town board meeting.

Two resolutions seeking funds for purchase of vehicles and equipment were defeated by a 3-2 vote, with Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Cook against. This included a new trackless vehicle at an estimated cost of $130,000, which Lupinacci said he believed would have been used for maintenance of town-owned parks and fields.

The Mount Sinai Harbor, above, will undergo jetty reconstruction to make navigation easier and bring back winter shellfishing. File photo by Erika Karp

The Town of Brookhaven stands stronger than ever in the midst of a major economic lag in Suffolk County as it enters the new year.

During the final Brookhaven town board meeting of last year, on Dec. 15, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced several large bond resolutions, including one for $4.5 million to pay for the dredging and restoration of Lily Lake in Yaphank and another for $12.3 million to pay for the resurfacing of various town-owned roads. These bonds will help move forward the long-term capital projects within his approved budget for 2017 — to the concern of some residents in attendance unsure as to why so much money was being proposed all at once.

The projects will be made possible with the help of bonds secured by the Town of Brookhaven, which Supervisor Ed Romaine helped secure. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

But the supervisor insists that taxpayers in Brookhaven have nothing to worry about in terms of fiscal spending.

“This is no different than what we’ve done every other year,” Romaine explained in a phone interview. “Each year, we have to authorize bond resolutions, have to go to bond counsel, and then float the bond [into the bond market] because long-term assets are what you borrow for. We need the money in 2017 and we want to get a head start on that.”

In fact, he said, Brookhaven’s borrowing in terms of bonding out is down and the township pays off its bonds well before their maturity dates in most cases.

“We don’t spend money we don’t have,” Romaine said. “When we go to bond, we go to bond very cautiously, we try to pay off our bonds very quickly, and we don’t believe in taking on too much debt.”

For instance, Romaine said, Brookhaven is the only town in all of Long Island that has paid off all of its pension debt.

“We have reserve funds for when the town landfill is closed, [as well as] a snow reserve fund of up to $2 million on top of the $6 million budgeted for snow in case we get a really heavy year,” he said.

While most every municipality in Suffolk County struggles with tremendous debt, Brookhaven has been prosperous. Standard and Poor’s Financial Services assigned its AAA credit rating to the town, the highest designation issued by the New York City-based agency. The AAA rating means Brookhaven has been recognized as having strong capacity to meet financial commitments.

It was its top-tier credit rating that allowed Brookhaven to acquire so much money for capital projects and low interest rates.

“When we go to bond, we go to bond very cautiously, we try to pay off our bonds very quickly, and we don’t believe in taking on too much debt.”

—Ed Romaine

“Where a lot of Suffolk County has been downgraded, we’re the largest town in Suffolk County and we’re getting upgraded to the highest level possible, and I think that speaks to the supervisor’s leadership and fiscal discipline,” Department of Waste Management Commissioner Matt Miner said. “We’re close to reducing [more than] $30 million in pipeline debt … and on the operating budget, he’s been very disciplined in how to spend taxpayer money, and we’re complying with the New York State property tax cap. We’re one of the few municipalities to do so.”

As for the planned projects described in the bond resolutions, Romaine said the ones most important and expensive for the North Shore will be revitalizing Lily Lake to get rid of invasive weeds and restore it back as a recreational haven, reconstructing the jetties in Mount Sinai Harbor to make boat navigation easier and help bring back shellfishing in the winter and continuing to work with the highway department to improve and pave roads.

Other resolutions included the issuance of $2.5 million to pay the cost of various original improvements to the town landfill, including, but not limited to, gas management, odor control and leachate control improvements and $600,000 to pay the cost of acquisition and installation of various equipment for use at town facilities.

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