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County Executive Steve Bellone

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

People enrolled in county septic program say it’s political

Suffolk homeowners, who received county grants to install nitrogen-reducing septic systems as part of the county’s septic program, are facing the reality of additional tax burdens and payments after they received IRS 1099 tax forms in the mail.

Participants in the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program, which helped install prototype home septic systems that filter out nitrogen in participants homes, were told since the program’s inception in 2017 that only the contractors who did the installation of the systems would need to declare the grant money as taxable income because they received disbursement of funds from the county. 

This year, the office of Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) sent tax forms to the program participants, and in many cases both homeowners and contractors received 1099s for the same job, despite a legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel that advised that the tax forms go to the companies that received the funds, not homeowners. 

SBU’s Christopher Gobler, with Dick Amper, discusses alarming trends for LI’s water bodies at a Sept. 25 press conference. Photo by Kyle Barr

In response, Deputy County Executive Peter Scully sent a letter to the comptroller’s office on March 14 requesting that Kennedy rescinds the 1099 forms issued to homeowners. After getting no response, Scully sent a second letter on March 26 asking Kennedy again to rescind the 1099s and mentioned since the first letter there had been new information that had come to light in the issue. 

Scully stated that the county’s Department of Health Services has confirmed that some of the homeowners who received 1099s have declared the grants as income and like the contractors will be paying taxes on the same grants. 

“It boggles the mind that anyone can believe that having both homeowners and installers declaring the same grants as income and having taxes paid by both parties on the same disbursement of funding is an acceptable outcome,” the deputy county executive said in a statement. 

In a Newsday article earlier this month, Kennedy said he planned to ask the Internal Revenue Service for a private letter ruling on the matter. Scully said that would be unnecessary, citing again the county’s legal counsel advice and other municipalities who have similar programs and are structured the same way. The letter ruling would cost close to $30,000 and could take more than a year, Scully added. 

Some residents who are enrolled in the program have claimed Kennedy, who recently announced he is running against County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in the next election, is politicizing the issue and potentially sabotaging the program. 

“I have no doubt in my mind,” Tim Sheehan of Shelter Island. “I don’t understand the rationale behind double taxing participants besides politicizing water safety and punishing homeowners for doing the right thing.” 

The Shelter Island resident was one of the early applicants of the program and had an advanced septic system installed in his home August 2018. He said without the help of county and town grants he and his wife would’ve not been able to afford the upgrade. 

The deadline to file taxes is April 15.

While Sheehan expected to pay taxes on the town grant, he didn’t anticipate the county liability. He said he is facing close to a $3,000 higher tax bill on the $10,000 grant and as a result has put him into a higher tax bracket and is required to pay a higher percentage on his income.

“Nowhere in the grant contract is there a mention of a tax liability to homeowners,” the Shelter Island resident said. “From the get-go we were told there would be no tax burden.”

Coastal Steward of Long Island volunteer Bill Negra checks the health of oysters in Mount Sinai Harbor. Oysters are one way in which Brookhaven Town hopes to clear up nitrogen in coastal waters. File photo by Kyle Barr

The Shelter Island resident was surprised when he received a 1099 form for the system and reached out to county officials for help. When they said they couldn’t help, Sheehan called the comptroller’s office hoping to speak to Kennedy directly. After numerous calls without getting a response, Kennedy finally called him. 

When questioned Kennedy blamed the current administration for mishandling the issue and told Sheehan that he never agreed with the county’s legal counsel decision. 

Kennedy has not responded to requests for comment.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the tax form issue couldn’t have come at a worse time for a program that not only helps homeowners but improves water quality and waterways on Long Island. 

Hoffman said excess nitrogen, from homes with outdated septic systems or cesspools, seeps through the ground causing harmful algae blooms and can negatively affect harbors and marshes that make areas more susceptible to storm surges as well. 

“These people are pioneers, we should be applauding them for doing the right thing,” the task force co-founder said. 

Hoffman added he supports any effort to reduce excess nitrogen in our waterways and said many homes on Long Island have septic system that are in need of replacement. He is also concerned that the comptroller’s decision could stunt the progress the program has already made. 

Bellone has said there are about 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county, and with the issue of being taxed, dozens of applicants have dropped out of the program after learning of Kennedy’s decision to issue forms 1099 to homeowners, according to Scully. 

Officials in the county executive’s office are concerned it could endanger the future of the program and impact funding from the state. In early 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) awarded Suffolk County $10 million from the Statewide Septic Program to expand the county’s denitrifying systems. 

State officials in Albany are aware of the ongoing situation and are similarly concerned, according to Scully. If the IRS were to side with Kennedy, he said they would turn to representatives in Congress for assistance, arguing that those funds shouldn’t be going to Washington but back into taxpayers pockets. 

A deer tick is a common type of tick on Long Island. Stock photo

North Shore communities have found a partner in the battle against ticks and the diseases they carry.

“This new partnership is another example of local governments working together to save taxpayer dollars and protect the public health of our residents.” 

— Steve Bellone

On March 6, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the SuffolkSHARE Public Health Partnership. A part of the county’s shared services initiative, the new partnership will leverage the efforts of 10 local governments and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to research and combat ticks and tick-borne illness, according to a press release from the county.

“This new partnership is another example of local governments working together to save taxpayer dollars and protect the public health of our residents,” Bellone said in the statement. “By taking collective action, we are expanding education, collection, and analysis to ensure that we have the information and resources at our disposal to deal with these illnesses head on.”

With the new partnership, towns and villages will be able to strengthen their efforts to combat ticks in ways that were previously prohibitive due to high cost and limited resources, according to the release.

The new partnership draws on efforts that include collecting data and procuring materials at lower costs while tracking progress over time. These processes are already underway by the Suffolk County Tick Control Advisory Committee, which researches and combats ticks and associated illnesses. According to the county, each year approximately 650 Suffolk residents contract a tick-borne illness, including Lyme disease.

Eight villages and two towns will work in conjunction with the county, including Asharoken, Northport, Head of the Harbor, Old Field and Belle Terre, according to the press release.

“Having the ability to work with other local governments and Suffolk County on this issue will give us the opportunity to address it effectively and affordably.”

— Bob Sandak

“Protecting public health is a priority for the Village of Belle Terre, and mitigating the risk of ticks and tick-borne illness is an important mission,” Bob Sandak, the Village of Belle Terre mayor, said in a statement. “Having the ability to work with other local governments and Suffolk County on this issue will give us the opportunity to address it effectively and affordably.”

Recently, Belle Terre moved to allow deer hunting within the village, citing that New York State is the only governing body that can restrict hunting. Sandak said at a Jan. 15 village meeting, where the possibility of deer culling in part with Port Jefferson Village was discussed, that in the near-mile radius of the village boundaries, there could be as many as 300 deer. It was expected that culling could bring the number of deer down to approximately 50.

The Department of Health Services will provide resources and guidance when it comes to ticks, while the county will facilitate testing of samples, collection of data and additional analysis. The cooperative procurement of corn, tickicide and other materials, as well as municipalities working together to collect samples to have them analyzed will happen at a cheaper rate due to consolidation, according to county officials.

The county health department and Suffolk County Department of Public Works Vector Control Unit will consult with villages launching their initial efforts at tick mitigation, tick-borne illness mitigation and deer mitigation, which may include municipalities sustaining a four-poster (also known as a deer feeder); using environmental controls, such as landscaping; and utilizing birth control. The participating local governments will assist the Department of Health Services with community education regarding the risk of ticks and how to avoid bites, tick collection for testing and health monitoring of residents.

According to the press release, North Haven, Saltaire and Shelter Island already operate four-posters. The deer feeders brush tickicide onto the animals to keep them free of ticks.

“While tick-borne illnesses remain a major concern amongst our community, we continue to look for new and innovative ways to protect the public’s health,” said Michael Levine, Village of Old Field mayor, in a statement. “Thanks to the work of County Executive Bellone and the creation of this new partnership, we will now be able to asses tick conditions, develop a comprehensive plan to combat this public health issues, and educate our residents on ways to stay safe.”

John Kennedy Jr. (R) formally announces his campaign to run for County Executive on Feb. 12. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County’s newest elected officials have taken their oaths of office in recent weeks, and some are still learning the ropes of their new office. But now, voters need to shrug off any remaining 2018 election season fatigue. 

County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) formally announced his campaign to take on incumbent County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for the county’s top office. Kennedy already faces a challenge from county Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) who’s made it no secret he wants to take charge, while his fellow Republican party member Larry Zacarese is watching and waiting in the wings. 

The state’s Jan. 18 voting reform bills have already brought out a wealth of contenders for the 2019 county executive race, as the legislation pushed the state’s primary elections from September up to June. This effectively lengthens the campaign season by three months. For the sake of voters, we hope all candidates will use these additional months to talk about critical issues — not make it an extended political slugfest. 

This year’s county executive race is critical. Our next leader faces a never-ending series of challenges to ensure this part of Long Island remains a safe, affordable place we’re still proud to call home. 

The county’s financial status is delicate. One party cries we face fiscal ruin if spending patterns continue while the other claims despite sinking bond ratings, the future will be brighter. Everyone knows taxes are high, wages haven’t kept up with inflation and Suffolk’s cost of living already ranks among the highest in the nation. Our future county executive needs to be ready to tighten down, cut costs and keep life affordable. 

Key to that will be a successful negotiation of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association’s contract that pays the salary of our police officers. It is one of the biggest pieces of the county’s annual budget and it’s on the table — how much taxpayers dig into their pockets will depend on a successful contract. Not to mention many of the county’s other employee unions need new contracts at reasonable and fair rates as well. 

Both parties agree that a focus on infrastructure and securing economic growth will help to ensure the area’s future success and stem the “brain drain,” or the droves of the 20- and 30-year-olds leaving Long Island to keep their hopes of the American Dream alive. How to best do it is a matter for debate that should be addressed by all candidates. 

We’d also like to see promises kept to existing projects, some of which have been decades in the making, such as Wading River-Port Jefferson Rails to Trails and its commitment to help push forward with sewers in Kings Park. 

A lot of important tasks will fall to whoever wins the 2019 county executive race, so we encourage Suffolk residents to extensively question all candidates and demand concrete answers. Don’t settle for vague promises without a plan for execution.

To the candidates, don’t let this dissolve into negative campaigning, name calling and bullying. We expect you to have an open-door policy and intelligent discourse of your future plans, if elected. You are expected to rise to the challenge before you, not mire Suffolk in a cesspool of negativity.

Line shows the route of new sidewalks in Stony Brook village, which will travel west off of Shore Road, north of the traffic circle and curl around to connect to the edge of Stony Brook Yacht Club’s pier. Image from The Ward Melville Heritage Organization

St. James and Stony Brook will be giving their downtowns a small face-lift thanks to a recent Suffolk County grant.

The two projects, one for the St. James business district along Lake Avenue and the other near the harbor front of Stony Brook village, were part of 11 recipients of a $500,000 county pool to partially fund downtown capital projects. Seven other municipalities who applied did not receive any grant funds.

“As we move full steam ahead with our economic development agenda, we will continue to make quality investments to create the robust, vibrant downtowns that make Suffolk County the ideal place to work, live and raise a family.”

— Steve Bellone

“Our downtowns are essential to keeping our region competitive and attracting the high skill, high knowledge workers we need to grow our local economy,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “As we move full steam ahead with our economic development agenda, we will continue to make quality investments to create the robust, vibrant downtowns that make Suffolk County the ideal place to work, live and raise a family.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization secured a $20,400 grant that should facilitate new sidewalks in Stony Brook village, which look to travel west off of Shore Road, north of the traffic circle and curl around to connect to the edge of the pier of the Stony Brook Yacht Club.

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said the funds will help complete the “harbor walk” project started several years ago. The original plans were to create sidewalks and streetlights with decorative plaques starting at The Long Island Museum continuing down to the harbor. She added that this new sidewalk, which travels down to the water’s edge, should go a long way toward making the area a more walkable destination.

“This is a highly used area for walkers and runners and people watching the sunsets,” Rocchio said. “Now the path is worn. This concrete sidewalk will make it a defined area for all to walk or run on by the harbor.”

The Community Association of Greater St. James received by far the largest amount of revitalization funds equaling more than $60,000. The funds will be used for the installation of crosswalks along Lake Avenue between Moriches Road and Woodlawn Avenue. This will also include 22 new pedestrian-activated LED crossing beacons at 10 separate crosswalks. Locals have long complained about speeding along oft-congested Lake Avenue and the safety of pedestrian trying to cross the road.

“As much as it will be pleasing to the eye, it will be safe for our kids and people to be using these crosswalks.”

— Kerry Maher-Weisse

“Even though this is going to be great for the look of the area, we still need everyone’s cooperation to take control and know what’s around them,” association president Kerry Maher-Weisse said. “As much as it will be pleasing to the eye, it will be safe for our kids and people to be using these crosswalks.”

The grant funds will also go toward new gateway signage at the entrance to Lake Avenue along Moriches Road along more discernable and stylized street signage, which Maher-Weisse said should have a homely, rustic “Nantucket” kind of feel.

The association president said she expects the funds to cover the construction, but if it doesn’t, she said her association could work with the town to help find additional funds. Both Maher-Weisse and Rocchio expect construction to begin shortly after they receive the grant funds.

Plans for the revitalization of Lake Avenue have continued for more than a year, which includes road reconstruction and new amenities like new sidewalks and $2.9 million in bond funds to replace water mains. The Town of Smithtown has recently had an appraisal done of the Irish Viking pub along Lake Avenue to hopefully turn it into more municipal parking. Also, in the pipeline are plans for dry sewer mains and pump station around the Lake Avenue business district, which could cost the town approximately $7 to $10 million. Revitalization plans were originally slated for May 2018 but were pushed back a year to coincide with these sewer projects.

By Nancy Marr

In 1978 Suffolk County Planner Lee Koppelman suggested a trail along Long Island’s North Shore for hikers and bikers. Forty years later, as a result of the efforts of elected officials, community groups and individual citizens, funding for a trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River was approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, with plans to start construction in 2019. How do such ideas become reality in our communities?  

By the time the Setauket to Port Jefferson Greenway Trail (on 3½ miles of New York state land) was completed in 2014, its supporters had been trained in advocacy. With the Three Village Community Trust as overseer, local residents and organizations supported the trail, raised funds to supplement the state and federal grants and contributed labor to complete the trail. As the trail was being built, the civic associations, the Long Island Mountain Bicyclists and other nonprofits played a role. When they needed Department of Environmental Conservation approval to pass through the Lawrence Aviation property, they pushed to get it. 

Thus when the new Rails to Trails group needed “persons of interest” to attend official government meetings, or informed residents to speak at community meetings, skilled home-grown activists were well-established and ready to work together on this ambitious goal. But advocates also knew that they needed an engaged local elected official who could help navigate the system and secure government support. When Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) became a Suffolk County legislator in 2011, this trail became a legislative goal.

Anker got past her first roadblock when County Executive Steve Bellone (D) enthusiastically endorsed the idea of creating the trail along Route 25A. The second roadblock, property owner LIPA’s concern about liability, was removed when the county executive worked out an agreement to lease and maintain the property, creating a “linear park” that would be cared for by the Parks Department and the county police. Community opposition, however, mounted at the idea of losing privacy with strangers passing near homes along the trail. With the experienced help of Friends of the Greenway Chair Charles McAteer, county legislators organized public meetings to discuss residents’ concerns.  

When the Legislature voted on the request to bond the federal money (that will be paid back in grants) on July 17, so many supporters spoke positively that it passed with only one abstention. The federal funding that had been obtained in prior years by congressmen Felix Grucci and Tim Bishop was delayed until 2016 when Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) secured final approval of almost $10 million.  

The groundswell of support from the community and Anker’s continuing commitment will make the trail’s future secure. Working together, the legislator and the community overcame many obstacles to the establishment and funding of the trail in the past 7 years. This project serves as a strong case study for Suffolk County citizens in advocating, building community support for a grand idea, finding a legislative champion and working together to make it a reality.

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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Legislator Sarah Anker played a key role in securing funding for Rails to Trails, a wooded path for bikers and hikers from Port Jefferson to Wading River. File photo by Erika Kara

Though some Suffolk County lawmakers are champing at the bit to see certain local renovations and projects get underway, finding funding has been a tall task with partisan gridlock in the Legislature.

Several items passed during the July 17 legislative session, including funding for Rails to Trails, a two-lane wooded trail that will run from Port Jefferson to Wading River; and repaving and roadwork on a portion of Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. The road borders the towns of Smithtown and Huntington.

The county allocated $1.5 million for the Commack Road repaving, while another $6 million will come from federal aid. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Huntington) said that if the vote did not pass they would have lost access to those matching federal funds.

“Some of it wasn’t done correctly in my opinion, it does need to be widened, it needs to be repaved,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “Some parts of that road have had potholes there for years.”

Commack Road has been a point of contention between the towns of Smithtown and Huntington and Suffolk County for close to eight years, according to Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). The dispute comes down to which side is responsible for cleaning and repairing the roads.

“We are looking to do everything to protect our taxpayers to make sure we get the appropriate county resources and the road gets paved,” Cuthbertson said.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been promoting the Rails to Trails project for years. Funding the project through bonds came up for vote July 17 and it passed nearly unanimously with Kennedy abstaining.

“This is a long time coming, and in the seven years I’ve been in office I have not stopped facilitating this project,” Anker said.

The plan is to establish the trail from Port Jefferson to Wading River along rights-of-way and old train tracks able to facilitate both bikers and joggers. During the public speaking portion of the July 17 meeting, the room was filled with supporters for the trail.

“Long Island is filled with too many cars on clogged roads,” said Constance Iervolino, a board member of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “This would be a remarkable way to reduce that public safety threat.”

However, some residents still have large reservations about the project.

“The idea is good, the placement is bad,” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said at the meeting. “I have had many concerns that have not been dealt with. The depth of the asphalt is one of them — only three inches. The only answer I’ve gotten as to why that thin was because they wouldn’t be able to do the whole path.”

Of the $8.82 million for the Rails to Trails project, 94 percent of the project will be funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Half a million dollars of that bond were matching funds from just one of several federal grants, which had a looming August expiration deadline.

Other projects that were re-voted on included $150,000 to finance the planning costs for a new police K-9 unit headquarters and kennel, which was voted down.

Another vote for $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees was passed near unanimously with Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) giving the one dissenting vote.

Both the Commack Road repaving and Rails to Trails were voted down at the June 5 legislative meeting as the seven members of the Republican minority in the Legislature voted “no,” citing the projects’ inclusion in a series of lumped bonds. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought forward a proposal at the June 5 and 19 legislative meetings that included several bundled together bond requests for a wide array of projects to be voted on as a single package, but the seven Republicans in the Legislature did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, they said.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim has approached Gryodyne LLC about a shared sewer plant on Flowerfield property in St. James. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Suffolk lawmakers have taken the first step toward preservation of nearly 41 acres in St. James as open space.

The county legislature voted at its Nov. 21 meeting to approve a bill introduced by Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) for an appraisal of part of the Gyrodyne LLC property in St. James, also known as Flowerfield, that runs along Route 25A. The property contains freshwater wetlands and adjacent wetlands that feed into the Long Island Sound, Mill Pond in Stony Brook and Stony Brook Harbor.

“I am greatly appreciative of my legislative colleagues’ support for our effort to preserve 41 undeveloped acres of the former Gyrodyne property,” Hahn said. “With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County. I am hopeful that the owner will understand the property’s overall environmental significance and its potential to negatively impact surrounding ground and surface waters, traffic safety and overall quality of life should it be developed.”

The bill, which now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his approval, allows for the county’s planning division to assess the owner’s interest in selling the tract to the county for open space purposes. An interest by Gyrodyne would mean the county could follow its initial outreach by obtaining a real estate appraisal and additional legal and environmental reviews that are required for a potential sale from the company to the county. According to county law, if sale of the land parcel can be negotiated, funding will come from the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program.

“With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County.”

— Kara Hahn

While preservation of the land is being considered, a conceptual development plan from Gyrodyne was approved by the Suffolk County Planning Committee Aug. 2 and was met with resistance from Stony Brook and St. James residents.

Over the summer, the property’s owner submitted an application to the Town of Smithtown to construct a 150-room hotel with restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings totaling 128,400 feet and two long-term care buildings that would have a total 220 assisted living units on the property. Many in the area raised concerns about the amount of traffic that would empty out onto Route 25A and Stony Brook Road if an exit to the Brookhaven street was made accessible on the east side.

Trotta said he’s not completely against development as he realizes the community needs businesses such as the proposed assisted living facility. However, Trotta said he understands the community’s concerns about traffic and would like to see a good amount of the property preserved. 

“It’s always about balance,” he said.

Trotta said he believes Gyrodyne will be willing to work with the community.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have it appraised and get into discussions with what the community wants, what can we put up with traffic-wise and meet somewhere in the middle,” Trotta said.

At a Nov. 15 Smithtown Planning Board meeting, Gyrodyne representatives said their own traffic studies proved residents had sound reason to be concerned about increased traffic and pointed to six local intersections that needed improvement. The results were submitted to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Transportation in October 2017 but have yet to be reviewed. Conrad Chayes Sr., chairman of the Smithtown Planning Board, concluded the board would hold off on a decision until an environmental impact study is completed by the town, which he said may take up to a year.

Hahn said the commercial development of the land would “fundamentally change the character of the Stony Brook and St. James communities.”

“Each of us, regardless of which side of the Brookhaven-Smithtown border you reside on, is threatened by this project moving forward,” Hahn said. “For that reason, Legislator Robert Trotta and I put forward legislation to preserve these environmentally and historically important parcels from being destroyed.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is searching for ways to improve the county's financial outlook. File photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County’s current and future financial outlook has been a topic of conversation for months, and a nonprofit founded to ensure government transparency is taking notice, following County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D-West Babylon) presentation to the state Senate and Assembly representatives in Albany Feb. 14.

Bellone visited the capital last week to discuss Suffolk’s “daunting” fiscal challenges going forward. Among his eight points addressed during the presentation was a request for authority from New York State to obtain bonds for separation pay of law enforcement officers for 2017 and 2018, a point of contention raised repeatedly by Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). Reclaim New York, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established to “educate New Yorkers on issues like affordability, transparency and education,” echoed a similar sentiment to Trotta’s following the presentation.

“Suffolk County has a problem: it spends too much on its police department,” a Feb. 15 post on the organization’s blog said in part. “Its 2,397 officers were paid an average of $161,463 last year, far more than any other county, or town police officers, or Nassau County’s police, for that matter. Spending reached this level after years of political action by the police, who spent in 2015 more than $600,000 influencing local elections–from one PAC alone. Now, having fallen behind on those expenses … Bellone is proposing borrowing $60 million because the county doesn’t have enough cash for payouts on unused sick and vacation time, that Suffolk cops were promised years ago.”

Doug Kellogg, the organization’s communications director, said in a phone interview Reclaim New York doesn’t currently have plans to begin a project or campaign pertaining specifically to the police contract, which the county and the Police Benevolent Association agreed on and which runs from 2011 to 2018, but they do plan on monitoring Suffolk’s budget and financial outlook going forward.

“It’s really starting to get out of control,” Kellogg said. “The path can get worse.”

Trotta has said in past interviews he feels like he’s alone in calling out the county’s financial situation relating to the police department contract.

“The county finances are in total shambles,” Trotta said during an interview in his Smithtown office Nov. 15. “[The other legislators are] sticking their head in the sand. They’re not addressing the real problems. No one wants to address the problems. You need colossal change.”

Following the meeting, Trotta said it was “typical” of Bellone to ask to borrow to pay for the retirement pay for police officers. He added he’s been in contact with Reclaim New York and plans to work with them to inform the public about the county’s finances.

“I’m going to work with them because together we could get the word out to the public on how bad it really is,” Trotta said in a phone interview. “The title says it all — we need to take back New York.”

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a spokeswoman for Bellone, said in a phone interview the request regarding bonds for separation pay was just a small part of his presentation, but if obtained the funds would improve public safety.

“In the future we’ll be able to hire more police officers to ensure our county is safe,” she said.

Bellone’s presentation also included a justification for borrowing to close the budget gap.

“Allowing for this five-year bonding will allow Suffolk County to protect taxpayers and public safety by smoothing out the expense associated with an anticipated increase in retirements,” he said. “Bonding will allow Suffolk County to retain the resources and fiscal flexibility to continue to hire new officers, which is critical to maintain public safety and save taxpayer dollars over several years.”

A look at the county budget by the legislature’s budget review office in October resulted in a warning.

“The county’s structural deficit is increasingly driving our decisions,” the office’s director Robert Lipp said in the review. “The county sets a bad precedent when paying for operating expenses with borrowing.”

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presents a $250,000 check to officials from Port Jefferson Village for a revitilization project at the railroad station. Photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stopped by Port Jefferson Station Jan. 19 to drop off a very generous gift. As part of the county’s Jumpstart program, an initiative established to fund infrastructure improvements for transit-oriented areas, Bellone presented a check for $250,000 to Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant for renovations slated for the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.

“We have to make our region more attractive [to young people],” Bellone said in an interview. “If we’re going to bring young people back to this region, we have to deliver the things that they need and want.”

The plan for the Jumpstart money is to redevelop parking lots around the train station to increase spots and improve safety in the area. To receive the actual grant money the village must first spend $250,000 on the project before receiving a full reimbursement, according to Nicole Christian who is responsible for writing and obtaining grants for the village. Port Jefferson Village is also in the process of an urban renewal project that would address vacant and blighted buildings on Main Street in Port Jefferson Station. Both projects are part of Garant and the village’s master plan to revitalize upper Port Jefferson and turn it into a more appealing “gateway” for the harborfront village.

Bellone and Mayor Margot Garant look over the area set for improvements. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We’re working with all of these different agencies — largely state agencies — but to have the county executive and the county behind us giving us this kind of money, they’re investing in what we’re doing here,” Garant said in an interview. “They see the big picture and I think that’s one of the things that made Steve a little unique in his role as county executive. He’s done this before in other areas and he knows what needs to be done. This isn’t a lot of money coming from the county level, but it’s a lot. Every little bit helps us. Just getting this is extremely important.”

Bellone commended Garant for her leadership and vision in Port Jefferson Station.

“I think, clearly this is a model and every time you see a project like this it is [the] local leadership driving it forward that is indispensible to making it happen and making it a success,” he said. “Local leadership is indispensible and partnerships between different levels of government, the private sector, universities — coming together and working together to do something that’s important for the local community and for the region.”

Fifth District Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) also praised Garant’s dedication to the revitalization of Port Jefferson Station.

“She’s been working a long time to make this happen,” Hahn said. “To have the dedication and commitment to work on a project for the amount of time and to keep at it, to see it through to now at a point where things are going up, things are getting built, we’re breaking ground on the whole vision and it takes someone special to see something through to the end.”

Hahn said she is also excited for the progress being made within her district.

“I think it’s critically important the county is investing in these types of projects, especially a transit-oriented development where we are focusing our redevelopment in an area that has access to public transportation, that makes much needed housing available for the university one stop away, that supports economic development on a number of levels,” she said.

Garant said the plan is to put the project out for bid and to begin work in the coming months.

Discharging homes’ wastewater into sewer systems could keep harmful substances out of our water supply. File photo

By Colm Ashe

The message from Stony Brook University’s center for clean water technology was clear — it’s time to cut the poop.

Suffolk County’s waters are inundated with nitrogen pollution and the main culprit is wastewater coming from our homes, officials said this week. There are more than 360,000 homes in the county using a 5,000-year-old system for waste management — septic tanks and cesspools. The waste from these systems is leaching into the groundwater, causing high amounts of nitrogen pollution. On June 20, the NYS Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University proposed the new technologies they aim to implement in order to restore our polluted waters to a healthy state.

The design is simple, officials said: utilizing locally sourced, natural materials to provide a system that is both efficient and economically feasible.

This is not just an environmental issue. Suffolk County’s waters underlie the foundation of the state’s greater economy, from real estate to tourism. If nothing is done to counteract continuous contamination, officials argued, the very identity of Long Island could be compromised.

The center is taking action, and its members shared that action with the public on Thursday, June 23.

“These simple systems, comprised of sand and finely ground wood, are demonstrating an ability to treat household wastewater as well or better than the most advanced wastewater treatment plants,” said Christopher Gobler, the center’s co-director and professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. “Similar in footprint and basic functionality to a drain field, the most common form of onsite wastewater dispersal around the country, we call them nitrogen-removing biofilters, and the next step is to pilot them at residences to see if they can consistently perform in more dynamic situations.”

To accompany the high nitrogen-removal rates, these nitrogen-removing biofilters are proving effective in removing other unwanted contaminants from the water, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products, Gobler said.

Harold Walker, center co-director, professor and chair of the Department of Civil Engineering at Stony Brook University, reinforced the new system’s viability, adding, “they are passive systems by design, which means they are low maintenance and require little energy to operate.”

Biofilters are not the only technology the center is working on. Ever since they were funded by the state environmental protection fund in 2015, their collaborative efforts with leading experts from the public and private sectors have produced several treatment options all in the name of providing cost-effective, high-performance waste-management systems suitable for widespread implementation on Long Island. However, the biofilters end up receiving most of the praise.

According to Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, the technology “is among the most promising we’ve seen in Long Island’s effort to restore water quality.”

Regardless of the obvious potential, it is still up to Suffolk County to approve the systems for commercial use. In an exclusive interview with TBR News Media, Gobler said, “some systems will be approved this year.”

As part of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services demonstration program, the center should see local testing as early as this fall. Pilot installations are already underway at a test center, Gobler said.