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Joan Cergol

Huntington Town Clerk JoAnn Raia hands out copies of the 2019 Tentative Budget to the town council. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The first draft of the Town of Huntington’s 2019 budget prepared by Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) was immediately met by sharp criticism and divided the town council.

Lupinacci presented a draft of the town’s 2019 budget calling for a $122.8 million tax levy, or an increase of 2.53 percent from the current year, at the Sept. 20 town board meeting. The proposed 2019 budget falls under New York State’s mandated tax levy increase cap by approximately $80,000, includes $371,000 in rollover savings from 2018, and accounts for growth in the town’s tax base valued at roughly $400,000.

I have taken a conservative approach to expenditure allocations, using previous actuals as a baseline for these costs.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“I have taken a conservative approach to expenditure allocations, using previous actuals as a baseline for these costs,” the supervisor wrote in an open letter presenting the budget. “Particular focus was given to employee salaries, overtime and benefits.”

Lupinacci said some of the challenges faced in drafting the 2019 budget included accounting for contractually mandated collective bargaining increases for all town union employees and a 9 percent increase in employee medical costs. He has suggested appropriating $750,000 from the town’s fund balance to help cover costs in three areas: the consolidated refuse fund, street lighting and the Huntington sewer district.

“I have incorporated realistic revenue budgeting, and have not relied upon one-shot revenues as a means of balancing the 2019 Tentative Budget,” the supervisor wrote.

The budget draft immediately received sharp criticism by Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) who took issue with the supervisor’s suggestion of eliminating one staff member each from each of the four board members’ personnel. Cuthbertson dubbed Lupinacci’s proposal “the height of hypocrisy” pointing to eight individuals who serve the supervisor’s office, in addition to the town board reinstating nine employees and creating 14 new staff positions in August.

In all the time I have been here, council people have had a staff of one secretary, one legislative aide, much like what is afforded our county legislators and members of the state Assembly. “

— Mark Cuthbertson

“In all the time I have been here, council people have had a staff of one secretary, one legislative aide, much like what is afforded our county legislators and members of the state Assembly,” Cuthbertson said. “Now that we have a bloated budget with these positions created in a naked power grab, he seeks to eliminate the people that help council members do their job and, in many respects, holds the administration accountable to the people of this town.”

Lupinacci said he had personally pulled all town board members aside prior to the formal release of the 2019 Tentative Budget to inform them of his proposed staffing changes. He explained his vision is that each councilperson would keep their legislative aide, who assists in policy research and handling calls from residents, and would share one combined office manager or secretary.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) also spoke out against the proposed 2019 staffing changes.

I am not okay with the tentative budget decision regarding town council personnel which were made without consultation of fellow town board colleagues,” she said. “We, like our supervisor, must serve our constituents and this budget decision diminishes that ability.”

We, like our supervisor, must serve our constituents and this budget decision diminishes that ability.”

— Joan Cergol

In response to the proposed 2019 budget, Cuthbertson was the sole vote against reinstating four town employee positions. These staff openings include a Spanish-speaking office assistant for Town Clerk JoAnn Raia (R) at $9,260 and a dispatcher requested by Superintendent of Highways Kevin Orelli (D).

“I requested and have complete justification for a Spanish-speaking typist,” Raia said. “I have couples coming in all day long for marriage licenses, divorce documents and other documents that are in Spanish and need translation. That is a critical need in my office.”

Lupinacci said the elimination of the four positions is due to employees being replaced over time, largely due to resignations or promotions. Raia confirmed the Spanish-speaking typist submitted a resignation two weeks ago after serving with the town for four years after receiving another job offer.

“I didn’t single out any position,” Cuthbertson said. “I think we were in a better position to budget and pay for it, if we had not gone on a spending spree with patronage jobs in August.

An aerial map overview of Huntington Station revitalization projects shows the state-owned NY Avenue property highlighted in yellow. Image from Source the Station

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington Town officials are looking to state representatives in Albany to push for the transfer of ownership of a state property on New York Avenue to the town by June 20.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) introduced a late resolution at the June 5 town board meeting to send a home rule message urging New York state legislators to approve the transferring of ownership of about 4 acres of land in Huntington Station to the town in order for revitalization efforts to move forward.

“The Town of Huntington, in partnership with Renaissance Downtowns at Huntington Station LLC and the entire Huntington Station community, is engaged in a multi-year community planning and revitalization process to help realize the community’s aspiration for a more walkable, vibrant and transit-friendly environment,” Cergol’s resolution reads.

“As you may know, from day one when I started with the town I was assigned to Huntington Station and I’ve been chipping away at it ever since.”
– Joan Cergol

The land sought is a narrow strip of property adjacent to the western side of New York Avenue/Route 110, bordered to the north by Church Street running along the roadway south to the Long Island Rail Road right of way. It is currently owned by New York State Department of Transportation.

Ryan Porter, president and co-CEO of Renaissance Downtowns, said obtaining ownership of the land is critical for moving forward in the planning and construction of the artist lofts and hotel envisioned as part of the Huntington Station revitalization master plans. In February 2014, the town board approved a special use permit for the hotel along New York Avenue under a C-6 overlay zoning. Since then, the plans have not advanced any further.

Town board members approved the home rule message by a 3-2 vote urging the passage of the land transfer bills that have been sponsored by state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and state Assemblyman Steve Stern (R-Dix Hills) before the end of state legislature’s session.

“As you may know, from day one when I started with the town I was assigned to Huntington Station and I’ve been chipping away at it ever since,” Cergol said, noting she also recently sponsored a resolution that allowed the area to be federally designated an Opportunity Zone which provides tax incentives to business owners. “To be in the position I am now to advance progress is very rewarding and to see things happening makes me feel like a rock star.”

Councilmen Gene Cook (R) and Ed Smythe (R) voted against seeking a transfer of the New York Avenue property. Cook said he was originally in favor of the resolution but admitted to having issues with some of the actions taken by Renaissance Downtowns in recent months, including requesting permission to construct two-bedroom apartments in the Gateway Plaza after initial plans were already approved and seeking approval of $2.6 million in tax breaks from Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency on the project.

“It was a good way to set [Renaissance Downtowns] up and say we’re all playing good or you aren’t playing.”
– Gene Cook

“I wasn’t happy with what happened with Renaissance the past couple of weeks, the nonsense, the changes, going for IDA money,” the councilman said. “It was a good way to set them up and say we’re all playing good or you aren’t playing.”

Porter said he hasn’t had the opportunity to speak personally with Cook since the developer’s request to add two-bedroom units to Gateway Plaza was withdrawn in mid-May.

“We made an adjustment to alleviate the concerns of the community,” Porter said. “But the truth of the matter is that there was a good portion of the population that was disappointed we removed the two-bedrooms units.”

Renaissance Downtowns is hopeful it will receive the necessary permits to begin demolition of the existing buildings located at 1000 to 1026 New York Avenue this summer to make way for construction of Gateway Plaza, according to Porter. The proposed plans for the plaza call for the construction of a mixed-used building consisting of 16,000-square-feet of retail space and a total of 66 apartments. The existing Brother’s Barber Shop will remain in place.

The master developer said there is a June 14 meeting scheduled to hammer out more details and set a more definitive schedule for demolition and construction.

Event will be held April 29 at 8:30 a.m. at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn

Hunter Cuthbertson, center, with his siblings while hospitalized for his bone marrow transplant in 2017. Photo from Cuthbertson family

Huntington residents are being asked to lace-up their sneakers for a 5K race aimed at raising awareness that April is National Donate Life Month.

Town of Huntington council members Joan Cergol (D) and Mark Cuthbertson (D) are co-sponsoring the first 5K Run to Save Lives April 29 at Harborfields High School along with Simply Fit Health and Wellness gym, which has locations in Centerport and Huntington. The event aims to raise awareness for the importance of organ and tissue donation, an issue that hits close to home for Cuthbertson.

The councilman’s son Hunter said he was surprised when blood tests came back  abnormal during his routine precollege physical in 2016. The younger Cuthbertson said further testing led him to be diagnosed with aplastic anemia, or bone marrow failure, an affliction causing his body to not produce enough blood cells.

“They said I could try to go back to school, but I would need a bone marrow transplant at some point,” he said.

“Nationally, 23 people die every day because they don’t receive an organ.”

– Christian Siems

Luckily for the councilman’s son, his younger brother was tested and wound up being a perfect match, despite just one-in-four odds. He underwent a week of chemotherapy before receiving his bone marrow transplant March 21, 2017.

“My treatment went really well,” the younger Cuthbertson said. “But it was really a perspective changing experience.”

He has since become a strong supporter of bone marrow donor drives, encouraging others to get tested to see if their tissue could be a potential match. Representatives from LiveOnNY, a nonprofit association dedicated to recovering organs and tissues for transplants in the New York metropolitan region, and Be the Match, a 501(c)(3) organization that matches patients with marrow donors, will both be at the April 29 event to encourage people to sign up.

“I think everyone who has the time to get their cheek swabbed, which takes 15 seconds, should do it,” he said. “Even if you are not the match or don’t have the time to do it today, a couple years down the road you might be the match to save someone’s life.”

Cuthbertson is one of the two individuals who will be recognized at the 5K race alongside Christian Siems, a 2012 Harborfields High School graduate. Siems said he considers himself one of the lucky ones. It was during one of the school’s annual blood drives that a nurse detected an issue with his heart.

“When she listened to my chest, she said, ‘You have a heart murmur,” but I hadn’t been diagnosed with a heart murmur; I got it checked out,” Siems said, indicating he later went for testing to St. Francis Hospital. “It was probably one of the scariest days of my life.”

Christian Siems. Photo from Michele Martines

Siems learned that his heart was starting to fail before age 21. He underwent surgery to have an internal defibrillator implanted and attempted to move forward with his plans to attend college.

But when Siems started feeling constantly tired, was pale, struggling to walk and even having difficulty talking, he was rushed to Huntington Hospital. Doctors had him airlifted via helicopter to cardiac specialists at Westchester Medical Center who informed him he would need a heart transplant.

“I was told I had to sit in the hospital and wait for a heart,” Siems said. “It could have been six months; it could have been a year.”

Doctors decided to risk performing an open-heart surgery to install an assistive device that would allow Siems to wait for his much-need transplant at home. He received a phone call after only six months that a donor was found. Siems celebrated the third anniversary of his successful heart transplant April 25.

“Nationally, 23 people die every day because they don’t receive an organ,” he said. “In New York, if you get too far out [on the list] a lot of times a doctor will tell you to move to another state to get an organ faster.”

New York state also has the third-lowest donor registration rate in the country, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, a section of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“There’s no general knowledge about organ donation out there,” Siems said. “A lot of people don’t know what it is, there’s a lot of myths and misconceptions.”

He encouraged local residents to come to the event and learn more about signing up to become an organ donor. Race registration costs $25 for adults and $10 for students. All proceeds will go to LiveOnNY. Register online at www.LivingSimplyFit.com/5k.

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