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Finances

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County financial reform has leaped to the tops of the minds of members of both parties in county government.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced proposals aimed at strengthening Suffolk’s financial future at a press conference in Hauppauge Feb. 27. As part of the Securing Suffolk’s Financial Future Act, Bellone proposed amending the county Tax Act to allow the county to collect tax revenue that is owed in January, instead of waiting until June. Officials said the plan is the latest in the county’s efforts to streamline operations and be more efficient. 

Bellone said the goal of the plan is to help strengthen the county’s financial condition going forward. 

“It would ensure the county would get tax revenue that it is owed at the beginning of the year instead of waiting until June and [being] forced to borrow funds.”

— Steve Bellone

“When we look at planning ahead, looking beyond where we are today and thinking about where we’ll be five, 10, 15 years down the road — it’s important that we do that,” the county executive said. 

The plan would build upon previous undertakings by the county, which include bipartisan efforts to bring the county in line with the best finance practices set forth by financial experts from the Office of the New York State Comptroller and the Government Finance Officers Association, according to Bellone. 

In doing so, the county would press to amend the Tax Act, which would require state legislation. The county executive said the 100-year-old law is seriously outdated.

“It would ensure the county would get tax revenue that it is owed at the beginning of the year instead of waiting until June and [being] forced to borrow funds,” he said. “This is an issue that crosses party lines, this is not an issue that is partisan or [one] that should be partisan.”

The county executive called for the authorization of a four-year budget plan, which would allow the county to focus on long-term projects as well as updated debt management and fund balance policies. New computer software will be purchased to enhance transparency and
accountability.

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), a known critic of Bellone, announced plans in February to run for county executive in November. His campaign has attacked Bellone on the current state of the county’s finances, placing a lot of the blame on his Democratic contender for a downgrade in Suffolk’s bond rating and for raising county fees. 

Kennedy said Bellone is just attempting to look fiscally responsible.

“Steve Bellone doesn’t know how to spend less,” Kennedy said. 

In a Jan. 31 TBR News Media article, Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director, said while the county’s bond rating has dropped, Kennedy were “overstating” the impact. He said Moody’s, which gives the bond grades to municipalities, was only looking at the past and not the future. Kennedy has said he plans to consolidate county offices in order to reduce taxes.

Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), deputy presiding officer, said fiscal responsibility is the top priority when talking about taxpayer dollars. 

“These policies that we are laying out are common-sense ways to ensure that we are transparent with the public,” he said. 

The county executive also called for re-establishing an insurance reserve fund, originally created in 1980, which would assist in paying unexpected legal expenses. There was a call as well to reorganize the county’s audit joint committee and add more members. 

“Steve Bellone doesn’t know how to spend less.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Bellone said the changes would allow for a more robust and diversified review of the fiscal condition of the county. 

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman (D), who helped piece the plan together along with a team from the county executive’s office, said its goal was to figure out how Suffolk County can be best managed and reach its fullest potential. 

“What we can do is to present reform in a manner to get the best out of what this county can offer,” Kaiman said. 

County officials indicated legislation has been filed and expect a hearing to be set at the end of March and the proposals could be up for consideration into law sometime in April. 

Graphic by TBR News Media

By Sara-Megan Walsh and Kyle Barr

The three North Shore towns of Brookhaven, Huntington and Smithtown are grappling with how to best recycle in 2019 after Brookhaven’s facility ground to a halt in October 2018. 

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August 2018. Brookhaven has since returned to dual stream recycling. Photo from Town of Smithtown

In that month, Brookhaven’s recycling contractor Green Stream Recycling prematurely terminated its 25-year agreement to operate the town’s recycling plant in Yaphank. The announcement came as collected recyclables piled up like mountains outside the Yaphank facility as China’s new National Sword policy took effect, implemented in January 2018, which set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials it would accept. Up until then, China had been the world’s largest importer of recycled materials, and now local towns had to scramble to find a new market to sell to.

All three towns solicited bids from recycling companies in the hopes of finding the most efficient and green solution for its residents. 

The result is Brookhaven, Huntington and Smithtown have all taken slightly different approaches based on what services they’ve been offered. Residents have been puzzled by new recycling schedules, as the townships are still attempting to explain what has changed with their recycling and how it will impact the future.

Brookhaven

Once the bottom of the recycling market fell out from China’s decision, Brookhaven was caught directly in the storm that followed, with the Green Stream facility being the center of multiple towns’ recycling efforts.

“It’s not the system that so much changed, as much as what was allowable,” said Christopher Andrade, the town’s recycling commissioner. “[China] went down from 5 percent contamination to 0.5 percent. It wasn’t the equipment that caused the problem, it was the standard that caused the problem.”

At the Jan. 17 Brookhaven Town Board meeting, council members unanimously voted to sign a $760,000 contract with West Babylon-based Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island to take their materials to Smithtown’s Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. 

The new standards mean Brookhaven residents can only put out the most common No. 1 and 2 plastics, which are collected together with aluminum such as food cans. Paper products are collected separately. The town asked that any unclean paper products such as used pizza boxes be thrown out with regular trash instead. Glass is no longer being picked curbside by the town, and instead can be placed at one of seven drop-off points located around the town.

“It’s not the system that so much changed, as much as what was allowable.”

— Chris Andrade

To advertise these changes, Brookhaven took out newspapers ads and broadcasted the changes on radio, television and social media at the tail end of 2018. The town is planning another media blitz for 2019, including another mailer to all residents along with additional newspaper and radio ads. The annual mailer sent to Brookhaven residents, which includes information about the new recycling system, costs $30,000. Otherwise the town has spent approximately $12,000 on newspaper ads and roughly $10,000 on radio ads so far. Andrade said the town is continuing to advertise the changes.

Further changes to Brookhaven’s recycling system could again appear on the horizon. Matt Miner, chief of operations, said the town is looking for means of getting its recycling facility restarted, though this would require a new contractor to partner with Brookhaven. 

Andrade said he hopes to have the facility running again before the six-month contract with Smithtown is up. In addition, the recycling commissioner said he is awaiting news of the current litigation between the town and Green Stream over the voided contract.

For now, Brookhaven is sticking with dual stream, as officials said single-stream recycling resulted in a worse quality product that at this point was near impossible to sell.

For more information on recycling, visit Brookhaven’s video on recycling.

Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown opted to take a unique approach to dual-stream recycling by taking on two different contracts in hopes of getting their best payout for recycled materials. 

In December, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) signed a six-month contract with Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island to pick up all collected paper and cardboard recycling in exchange for paying the town $30 per ton. These collections are expected to net Smithtown approximately $177,000 per year, if they choose to extend the contract. 

Since Oct. 29 the Town of Smithtown has been piling up residents’ recyclables at its Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. File Photo by Kyle Barr

The town entered a separate contract with Islandia-based Trinity Transportation, which will take unprocessed curbside metals and plastics, limited to plastics Nos. 1 and 2, with $68 per ton being paid by the town, at a total cost of approximately $104,000 per year. 

Overall, the combination of two contracts along with money received from Brookhaven for shipping their recyclables for pickup, will net the town approximately $178,500 per year in total, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. 

Residents who wish to recycle their glass bottles and containers can drop off materials at three locations throughout town: Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park, Town Hall and the Highway Department building on Route 347 in Nesconset.  

Smithtown Town Board has budgeted $16,000 for its public campaign regarding the return to dual-stream, the least of any township but also with the smallest population to reach. Garguilo said many of the graphics and printed materials have been designed in-house, which has helped save money. She added that the supervisor and town officials will be speaking with senior citizen groups and community associations throughout early 2019 to help re-educate residents who may not be technologically savvy. 

For more information on recycling, go to Smithtown’s video on the subject.

Huntington 

After the Yaphank plant’s closure, the Town of Huntington signed a two-year contract with Omni Recycling of Babylon returning to a dual-stream process with papers and cardboard being collected on alternate weeks from plastics, aluminum and glass. The town’s total recycling costs will depend on how well the town can re-educate residents and their compliance, according to Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R).

“The only vendors continuing single-stream recycling would have trucked it off Long Island at a cost of $120 to $135 a ton,” he said. “It’s a matter of re-educating the public and getting them used to the old system again.” 

“It’s a matter of re-educating the public and getting them used to the old system again.”

— Chad Lupinacci

Lupinacci said to stick with a single-stream process would have cost the town approximately $1.7 million to $2 million a year based on bids received from contractors. As such, the town decided to move to a dual-stream process where its costs will be determined by how much of the collected material is clean enough to be repurposed. The town will receive $15 per ton of recyclable papers and cardboard delivered to Omni Recycling, and be billed $78 per contaminated ton as determined by the facility. 

“We require lids and covers on the recycling bins to reduce contamination from dirt and moisture,” the supervisor said. “Soiled and moldy paper are not recyclable.” 

The Town of Huntington expects to collect 900,000 tons of paper and cardboard from its residents. Assuming that 80 percent will be clean enough to recycle, Lupinacci said the town will wind up paying out approximately $32,000 for its paper goods. 

Unlike Brookhaven and Smithtown, Huntington town residents can continue to put all plastics, Nos. 1 through 7, and glass bottles out for curbside pickup. Based on an average of 550,000 tons collected annually, the town will pay $75 a ton, at a cost of $412,500 a year, to recycle these materials. 

“I think people are adjusting, but it will take a few weeks.”

— Chad Lupinacci

The Town of Huntington has set aside nearly $86,000 in 2019 — more than Brookhaven and Smithtown combined — to educate its residents about the return to dual stream. According to Huntington’s website, dual-stream recycling is the collection of bottles, cans and plastics one week, with paper and corrugated cardboard the following week. Half that budget will be paid by a grant obtained from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, according to Lupinacci. To date, the town has spent $1,000 on social media ads and roughly $43,000 on printed materials including direct mailers and calendars. 

The supervisor said it seems to be paying off. 

“Omni-Westbury, [which] does our collection, said the quality of our first week’s recyclables was better than expected,” Lupinacci said. 

The first collection of papers and cardboard in January yielded 104 tons, only 10 percent of which was considered contaminated, according to the supervisor. 

“I think people are adjusting, but it will take a few weeks,” he said. 

For more information on recycling, watch Huntington’s video on recycling.

Glass: Is it worth collecting? 

Glass is a product many town officials have found difficult to sell, as there’s not much market for it.

Brookhaven and Smithtown are no longer accepting it as part of curbside pickup, but rather asking their residents to bring glass bottles to various drop-off locations. Collections at these locations has increased, according to Miner, and Brookhaven Town has installed larger containers to meet that demand.

To date, Brookhaven has sent two pilot shipments with Jersey City-based Pace Glass Recycling, and Miner said the town is looking to set up some sort of long-term contract.  Andrade said the town is not currently making money from sending the glass to Pace, but the only costs incurred are from the town employees hauling the product up to New Jersey.

“This is actually a recycling of the glass, which most of the towns on Long Island have not been able to achieve,” Miner said.

Andrade added there is a chance Brookhaven could land a deal with the New
Jersey-based company.

“You have to establish relationships, so we’re still in the beginning of the dance there,” the recycling commissioner said. “They’re taking a look at the quality of our material … they’re liking the material so I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Smithtown elected officials renewed a prior inter-municipal agreement with Brookhaven at their Jan. 24 meeting, agreeing to ship the town’s collected glass to their neighbor for processing. 

John Kennedy Jr. (R) in a 2014 debate at TBR News Media. File Photo by Erika Karp

Hot off an electoral victory from last November, Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) spoke to TBR News Media on a number of topics including a new county online tax filing system, the need for more cohesion on how towns send their tax rolls to his office and the potential of running for Suffolk County executive in 2019.

Online tax filing for delinquent taxes

Kennedy announced a new online filing service that will be available to Suffolk County residents after the tax season ends May 31.

‘With this new software component somebody is able to pay taxes on a Sunday.’

— John Kennedy Jr.

The program, called Citizen Self Service, will allow residents to plug in their bank account and routing numbers instead of sending the county a paper check to pay late or delayed property taxes. 

“With this new software component somebody is able to pay taxes on a Sunday,” Kennedy said. “[People who don’t use technology] are something we, in government, have to be mindful to accommodate.”

Each township’s receiver of taxes mails out tax bills mid-December and are payable to the tax receiver from Dec. 1 through May 31. If a resident fails to pay their taxes on time, they become delinquent and must pay their taxes to the county comptroller with an additional 5 percent interest plus 1 percent for each additional month the taxes are late. Payments received later than Aug. 31 are charged an additional tax sale advertising fee.

Kennedy said the existing pay-by-mail system will remain in place. The comptroller’s office also hosts a pay-by-phone system that allows property owners to talk to a representative and pay the bill that way, but Kennedy said that system is limited in the amount of time it takes and the business hours of the comptroller’s office. 

“We always must make an ability for someone to go ahead and transact,” he said.

Need for consistency between towns

The comptroller said there have been issues in the past with how municipalities report tax payments to his office. Suffolk County towns must give lists to the comptroller’s office on which bills were paid and those persons or businesses that are tax delinquent. The issue, Kennedy said, was no two towns currently use the same system to file these reports.

“I have 10 town tax receivers to deal with regarding their individual software systems for the record of tax collection,” he said. “We have to drive uniformity amongst the towns — one way or the other they will have to pass muster through us.”

Some towns are more accurate than others, according to Kennedy, as he named the Town of Islip as the most consistently accurate and on-time with its tax reports. Most municipalities collect approximately 90 to 95 percent of their areas property taxes. The comptroller’s office must then spend time going back and forth between the towns’ tax receiver offices to work out those discrepancies. 

Kennedy said he’s soon planning to implement, on a prototype “scrubbing system” that will find mistakes on each town’s end and flag them to be fixed before the documents reach the comptroller’s office. The system will first start on a preliminary basis with Brookhaven and Smithtown townships this year. 

Potential run for county executive

‘Do I think I could do a better job than the current county executive? Yes, my answer to that is yes.’

— John Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy is only a few months out from his Nov. 6 victory against Democratic challenger Jay Schneiderman for his second term in office. It was close as Kennedy received only 50.88 percent of the votes. 

Still, the comptroller is now weighing the pros and cons of running for the office of county executive.

“I am weighing the possibility, but I have not made any decision yet regarding it,” he said. “Do I think I could do a better job than the current county executive? Yes, my answer to that is yes.”

Part of his decision-making process is figuring if he would trust another person to take up the duties and responsibilities of Suffolk’s comptroller. 

“Do I know of anybody that comes to mind, anybody who would embrace the position that I have? I don’t know.” Kennedy said. “The thing that allows me to be aggressive, is the time I spent in the Legislature, the time I was minority leader, my experience in government and my experience as an attorney.”

Read TBR News Media next week for Kennedy’s take on Suffolk’s financial status, how it could impact residents and the upcoming police contract negotiations. 

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

New York State has issued a glowing report on the state of a local school district’s finances.

The Port Jefferson School District received a “spotless” report from the New York State Comptroller following an audit meant to examine if the school board properly managed its voucher payment system.

Audit vouchers are made on all school expenditures, where either the school board or a designated auditor looks at each claim to determine if each item complies with district policies and whether the amounts are necessary district expenditures before the cost is paid. The comptroller’s audit, which spanned from July 2016 to September 2017, stated Port Jeff’s claims audit process was “adequately designed and that it had been properly implemented.”

“This report reflects proper oversight by the board of education and the stringent controls put in place and carried out by our business office personnel,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a statement. “The carefully conducted examination and positive results are a testament to the district’s comprehensive policies and procedures for claims payments.”

The comptroller’s office reviewed one percent of all claims paid by the district during the span, which amounted to 60 general fund claims. These claims totaled close to $300,000, including $2,705 from 10 “extra-classroom activity” claims. The office determined Port Jeff’s system was working as intended, and that the school could support all of its expenditures.

Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, said while they don’t have specific numbers on how many schools have problems with their audit voucher systems, Port Jefferson has been more responsible than others.

“These types of audit results are not that common and, as noted in the final report, the district should be commended for their well-designed claims system,” Butry said.

The report said district officials created well working procedures to analyze extra-classroom activities such as clubs, where each has a treasurer and faculty advisor, and that payment orders were supported with fully signed invoices.

“Given that there were no negative findings indicates the district’s claims process has an overall well-designed system,” Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said in a statement. “As our district places a strong emphasis on ensuring tax dollars are spent effectively and efficiently, we are pleased with the outcome of this auditing process, as it reinforces from an external perspective.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File 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.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks during a press conference June 20 calling out Republicans for voting down three bond resolutions. Photo by Kyle Barr

Democrats and Republicans in the Suffolk County Legislature are at each other’s throats over funding for a series of bonds, including for public safety initiatives, that failed to pass at the June 19 legislature meeting.

“The Republican caucus put politics ahead of public safety,” county Executive Steve Bellone (D) said at a press conference June 20. “We saw a group of seven Republican legislators put their own politics over the interests of their constituents, of public safety, of teachers and students.”

At the June 19 meeting, three out of four bond resolutions failed to garner support from at least 12 legislators, which would represent the two-thirds support necessary to pass a bond resolution. The seven members of the Republican minority caucus voted against the resolutions. The three failed bonds included 14 items that would have provided funding for county parks, correctional facilities, public safety initiatives, road reconstruction and more.

Republican legislators said they voted against the 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.

“We shouldn’t be paying these things off for 30 years because it’s just not fair to young people.”

— Rob Trotta

“The blame for the failure of this bond rests squarely on the shoulders of Steve Bellone,” said Minority Leader Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore). “Last month the county executive abandoned 40 years of history and precedence in Suffolk County… in an effort to bully the legislature into every one of his proposals.”

Bonds traditionally had not been grouped together by the Suffolk Legislature.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he opposed the resolutions in part because bonding for each of the 14 projects would increase the country’s deficit.

“What we’re doing is increasing debt,” Trotta said. “We shouldn’t be paying these things off for 30 years because it’s just not fair to young people.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) sponsored a bill that would allocate funds for a Rails to Trails project from Wading River to Port Jefferson. That bill was included in a larger bond proposal at the June 6 legislative meeting, and that too was voted down by the Republican caucus.

“I hope they can get this resolved soon because it’s basically hindering government,” Anker said. “The county has to bond for these sorts of projects – that’s why we have this sort of process.”

Anker said the $8 million Rails to Trails project was to be funded by that bond and then the county would be reimbursed by the federal government, but without the bond the county is now looking for different revenue sources so it would not have to push back plans to start building the trail by spring 2019.

The most contentious item amongst the recent three defeated bonds was $2 million in funding for licensing Rave Panic Button mobile app, a downloadable application that acts as an instant call to fire and emergency services as well as police in an emergency, specifically a school shooting, for school and government employees.

The Rave app is currently active in 95 percent of county facilities with 20 percent of county employee phones now equipped with the app, according to Joel Vetter, the county Emergency Medical Services coordinator. The program is already in place in 19 school districts with 10 enabled devices per building. The funding, Vetter said, would have put the app in the hands of all current school administrative and teaching staff in all county school districts.

“This means that if the cellular system is down, you could contact emergency services through WiFi,” Vetter said.

Bellone defended the lump bonding, saying it’s a practice used in town and local governments across the state. He said the public safety initiatives would have saved district schools more than $1 million since each would not have to pay for it themselves.

“This has become the worst of our politics.”

— Duwayne Gregory

“If we back down from this outrageous conduct now, they will continue to hold hostage every important investment on the environment, on public safety, on roads, on parks — and we’re not going to allow that to happen,” the county executive said.

Cilmi contended that bundling the bonds together does not save money because the county’s bond council, New York law firm Harris Beach PLLC, does not charge for bond preparation.

The contract between Suffolk and Harris Beach, signed by the county in 2014, reads that there shall be no fee paid by the county related to the preparation of county resolutions, which includes bonds.

Cilmi and Trotta both said they could come close to guaranteeing funding for the Rave app would be approved as a stand-alone measure.

Democrats accused the Republican caucus of being hypocritical as the bond vote was all for items those legislators have already supported in the recent past.

“This has become the worst of our politics.” Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said. “Nobody gets 100 percent of what they want, and when they say, ‘we’re going to vote against a package to other bills regarding funding for our correctional facilities,’ saying ‘I don’t like one or two parts of the bill and I’m going to vote against,’ is just ridiculous.”

Bellone said he expects to put the bonds back up for vote in the next legislative meeting July 17, but he did not give specifics about whether or not the county would try and repackage the bills to be more favorable to the wishes of the Republican caucus.

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman (D) said if the bond vote fails again the app will not be available to districts until after school reconvenes in September.

“We have to regroup and think what kind of strategies we have going forward,” Kaiman said. “When you fail a vote the process takes a lot of time to come back.”

Town to send letter to New York State comptroller asking for review of town's finances

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

A request by Huntington’s new town board to have the state comptroller review the town’s finances was met with criticism.

Huntington Town Board voted 4-1 at its Jan. 3 meeting to go forward with a request to New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D) to conduct a review and audit of the town’s finances, policies and procedures. Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) was the sole vote against the measure.

“I just think this is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “I think it’s a shot at the prior administration that had healthy financials and won a number of awards each year for the records we keep and our finances.”

In December, the Town of Huntington received its 17th consecutive certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association.  The nonprofit professional association serving nearly 18,000 government financial professionals across North America, had reviewed the town’s comprehensive financial report for the year ending Dec. 31, 2016.

I just think this is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money.”
— Mark Cuthbertson

Councilman Eugene Cook (R), who sponsored the audit resolution, denied that it was a strike against former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and his practices, but rather a way to provide for a fresh start.

“Any business owner knows if they are buying a new business and going into a new business, they want to check all the records,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Cuthbertson suggested given the lengthy time and funds it would require for the state to audit the town, the new administration and town officials would be better served by studying the town’s yearly internal audits performed by an outside contractor.

Cook sponsored a similar resolution in 2012 calling for state review, but it failed to gain the board’s approval. Petrone then offered a revised resolution that was approved, and ultimately resulted in a 2013 audit conducted by the state comptroller.

The 2013 audit report, which reviewed the town’s finances from Jan. 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012, found issues with the town’s ability to track overtime hours and paid leave for town employees adequately.

“We found that the town may have higher payroll costs than necessary because town officials did not monitor and control these costs,” states the 2013 audit’s summary findings.

Any business owner knows if they are buying a new business and going into a new business, they want to check all the records.”
— Gene Cook

The state comptroller’s office also found the town was awarding contracts to attorneys without going through the standard bidding process and then paid without providing detailed invoices in some cases. Recommendations were made and discussed between state and Huntington officials on corrective actions to be made.

“While serving as an affirmation of the policies that have helped Huntington maintain its AAA bond rating, we also appreciate the audit’s insight on how to make Huntington’s government operate even more efficiently,” Petrone had said in his response to the 2013 audit. “We will consider changes to implement the recommendations we have not already put into place.”

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), who worked for the town prior to 2013 and was sworn in to sit on the town board this month, voted in favor of requesting the state comptroller’s office perform an audit, though she said the measure was not necessary.

“I welcome an audit, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” the councilwoman said. “If there is one, I think it will prove we run a tight ship.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the resolution merely sends a letter to the state comptroller’s office to review the town’s financials “if they feel it is necessary,” to indicate the town would be both willing and cooperative in the process.

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington town announced last week that they have maintained their AAA bond rating, and their outlook has been upgraded to “stable.”

Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service have upheld the town’s rating, covering both existing debt and a planned $13.925 million bond issue.

Moody’s said the rating “reflects the town’s currently satisfactory reserve position and improving financial obligations, its sizable wealthy tax base and low debt burden.” They also said the stable outlook “reflects our expectation of continued sound financial operations and modest growth and overall stability in the local economy.”

In issuing its rating, Moody’s cited Huntington’s management and good financial policies and practices, as well as adequate budgetary performance, strong budgetary flexibility, very strong liquidity and strong debt and contingent liability position.

“We believe the town has demonstrated sound monitoring, ability to adopt and adhere to formal policies, and forward-planning,” the rating firm’s report said. “Town management tends to conservatively estimate both expenditures and revenues.”

The ratings extend to both the $13.925 million in borrowing and the $109 million in outstanding debt. Of the outstanding debt, $84 million represents Huntington borrowing and $25 million is debt incurred by the water districts in the town; that debt is repaid only by district residents. The planned borrowing includes $12.4 million for town projects and $1.5 million for Greenlawn Water District.

Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said he was pleased with the town’s results.

“We are gratified that Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have once again affirmed their support of Huntington’s fiscal policies by maintaining the AAA bond rating and either upholding or upgrading their outlook,” he said in a statement. “These ratings will ensure that Huntington continues to save on borrowing costs, benefitting all Town taxpayers.”

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Town head has eyes on illegal housing, environmental issues

Supervisor Ed Romaine discusses his last term and his goals for another two years if re-elected. Photo by Desirée Keegan

After his first full term at the helm, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he thinks the Town of Brookhaven should look better than it does, and if re-elected plans to continue the town on its positive trajectory.

Romaine is running for another two years as supervisor against Democratic challenger Douglas Dittko, who declined to attend a debate at the TBR Newspapers office alongside his opponent. Dittko also did not answer a request for an interview.

According to the Suffolk County Democratic Committee’s website, Dittko, a Manorville resident, is a civic leader who has worked to preserve open space and has been involved in other community issues.

For Romaine, re-election means finishing up current environmental projects, managing the town’s budget and introducing technology to make it easier for residents to interact with the town. While he said there is still work to be done, he highlighted improvements since his special election in early 2013, which put him into office for several months before he was re-elected to a full term.

“My predecessor left in mid-term and he left with a fiscal crisis. He was firing over 100 people as he left,” Romaine said, referring to former Supervisor Mark Lesko (D). “We stopped some of those firings — I haven’t laid off [anyone] since I took office.”

While in office, Romaine has helped get the town’s debt under control, and this year the town finished paying off its pension debt. One of the ways in which Romaine brought in funding to do that was selling the former tax receiver’s office in downtown Port Jefferson as well as the old town hall in Patchogue.

“I’ve worked on finances because I’ve learned from a long life that all issues of government are issues of money,” Romaine said.

One of the incumbent’s focuses in another term would be housing. Following the recession, there were more than 200 foreclosed homes that the town is trying to maintain or tear down. And residents of neighborhoods near Stony Brook University complain of illegal boarding homes bursting with college students. To combat that issue, Romaine and town officials have already enacted some restrictions, like making it illegal to pave over front lawns to make more room for parking.

Another goal the supervisor has for a second full term is expanding his single-stream recycling program beyond Brookhaven’s single-family homes. The single-stream system, in which residents can put all of their recyclables on the curb together, has already drastically increased recycling townwide, and has made money for Brookhaven because the town sells material it brings in.

He would also like to continue his efforts to encourage renewable energy use and reduce nitrogen pollution in local bodies of water.

“It’s time for us to wake up,” Romaine said. “We’re going to lose what we cherish about living in this town if we don’t start to preserve our waterways.”

Mayor blasts state comptroller’s scoring of village

Huntington Bay Village’s mayor is contesting a fiscal rating by the state comptroller’s office. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Huntington Bay Village’s mayor strongly disagrees with a recent release by the New York State Comptroller’s office ranking the municipality as susceptible to fiscal stress.

The comptroller’s office sent out a statement about the scores last week but Herb Morrow said  the score is misleading and Huntington Bay is in sound fiscal shape.

“The report is worthless because what they do is take a snapshot of one point in the year,” Morrow said in a phone interview. “They don’t take the financial planning into consideration.”

Morrow said the comptroller’s office ranked Huntington Bay as “susceptible” to fiscal stress in February because its reserve fund decreased.

“We did some major reconstruction of the police department to save taxpayers an enormous amount of money in the long term,” Morrow said. The reorganization included incentives and retirement costs that reduced reserve funds but, Morrow said, over time would reduce village payroll for police by $400,000.

“We are in great shape, and the residents are not listening to the comptroller’s story.”

Despite what Morrow said, the state comptroller’s office confirms Huntington Bay is susceptible to fiscal stress.

According to a statement from Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s office, “susceptible to fiscal stress” is the least severe of three categories that all municipalities found to be under fiscal stress were filed into. The other two category designations are “moderate fiscal stress” and “significant fiscal stress.”

In order to be designated as “susceptible to fiscal stress,” a municipality has to reach at least 45 percent of the total points of the fiscal stress score. The scores are made using annual financial reports that are submitted by local governments to the state comptroller’s office. Fiscal stress is usually defined as a local government’s inability to generate enough revenues within its current fiscal period to meet its costs. The comptroller’s system evaluates local governments based on both financial and environmental indicators.

The indicators of a local government’s financial state are its year-end balance, operating deficits, cash position, use of short-term debt and fixed costs. Environmental indicators include population, age, poverty, employment base and more. Fund balances, like Huntington Bay’s reserve fund balance, are used to identify the amount of money available to cushion revenue shortfalls or expenditure overruns.

According to DiNapoli’s office, a negative or low-level fund balance can affect the local government’s ability to provide services at current levels. It also claims that fund balance is a strong measure of the financial condition of a local government.

In a letter Morrow posted to the Huntington Bay website when the scores were originally released in February, he criticized the message that the comptroller’s office was sending to residents.

“It makes the jobs of local leaders harder. It is a waste of New York State taxpayer dollars,” Morrow said in the letter. “With no conversation or discussion with our village, we were given a negative designation that is very misleading to our residents. By releasing reports that create inane headlines, they confuse residents.”

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