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Kara Hahn

On Aug. 23, and despite Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) being unable to attend, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) introduced Beatles cover band Strawberry Fields as the second-to-last free concert as part of a four-part series this summer at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Rocky Point. Hundreds flocked to see the band perform early and later songs in the Beatles’ career and danced the night away as band members rocked the stage. Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot, a Billy Joel tribute band with roots in Miller Place, will perform the last concert of the series on Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

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Additions address safety for students who walk to school

Workers excavate the east side of Mud Road to prepare for sidewalk installation. Photo by Donna Newman

This fall, the streets near the Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School will be safer for students who walk to school. The Brookhaven Town Highway Department is nearly finished installing sidewalks on Mud Road, a frequently used route for students who walk to school.

“I am grateful to have finally brought this project to fruition, as residents have been requesting additional sidewalks in the area for the last decade,” Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said. “In 2014, a year after I took office, school district administrators requested a traffic study, while noting 118 students walked to and from Gelinas Jr. High School. Clearly, this pedestrian safety project was warranted.”

The entire project, which will include the paving of Mud Road, will cost $300,000 according to Losquadro, add ding the undertaking will ” help to ensure the safety of students and pedestrians.” The cost includes the sidewalks, retaining walls, a drainage system, a crosswalk and electrical signal work.

A decorative pole with flashing LED lights, activated by pushing a button, will enable pedestrians to halt traffic to cross the street.

Sidewalks were added in front of the school building and to the south. On the west side of Mud Road, sidewalks extend from the school to Brandywine Drive.

Previously, sidewalks had been installed in the fall of 2008 — heading north from the school and west along Christian Avenue to the spot where it meets Friends Road — to accommodate a blind child living in the neighborhood who walked that route to school.

The groundwork for the current project predated the formation of a grass-roots advocacy group called Sidewalks for Safety, founded by Annemarie Waugh in July 2015.

“It’s really wonderful that the town is putting in the sidewalk outside Gelinas!” Waugh wrote in an email. “I hope the sidewalk will go all the way around the treacherous corner on Mud Road, so children walking to and from Gelinas will be safe. I really hope the town will put in many more sidewalks, especially around all the schools and on the busy main roads, so we can have a healthy walkable community.”

Sidewalks for Safety was established by Waugh to raise awareness for pedestrian concerns throughout the Three Village area and to lobby local politicians to affect change. The organization mounted a petition on Change.org to gather signatures from supporters for submission to Brookhaven Town. That website garnered nearly 700 signatures, and the group has obtained more than 500 others on paper.

“Annemarie has been very active in trying to get folks on board with helping improve walkability,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “I think she is certainly working hard on raising awareness. I talked to her about what I did on Nicolls [Road]. I think most people don’t understand that they drive on roadways that have different levels of government responsible for them.”

Waugh and her group have ramped up their awareness-raising efforts.

“More recently we have been engaged in educating local politicians, school officials and Three Village residents with a newsletter,” she said. “We attended Earth Day at Stony Brook University … and joined with Scout Troop 1911 to collect signatures at the shopping center on 25A.”

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Peter Gustafson, the longest-serving member of the Stony Brook Fire Department (64 years), enjoys the rededication of Stony Brook Village with Fire Commissioner and guest speaker Walter Hazlitt, who attended the original dedication on July 3, 1941. Photo by Donna Newman

On July 10, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Stony Brook Village Center with a day of festivities, music, antique cars, and special remembrances.

A gathering on the village green brought together the trustees of the WMHO, community members, and representatives of government from the state, the county, and the town.

Curious passersby also stopped to listen as each of the speakers gave his or her own perspective on the little New England village that Ward Melville first dedicated in the summer of 1941.

The longest serving member of the Stony Brook Fire Department, Peter Gustafson, sits in the department’s antique truck dating from 1939. Photo by Donna Newman
The longest serving member of the Stony Brook Fire Department, Peter Gustafson, sits in the department’s antique truck dating from 1939. Photo by Donna Newman

The first to address the assemblage was Walter Hazlitt, a longtime resident of Stony Brook who was present at the first dedication ceremony. He was a teenager then and remembers all the hoopla and watching the parade.

The WMHO has film from that dedication. It is on view as part of a special summer exhibit, “It takes a team to build a village,” at the Educational & Cultural Center.

“The project that was started by Ward Melville was the [impetus] that made Stony Brook what it is today,” said Hazlitt. “The story [of this new center] was in several New York newspapers,” he added, remembering the tourists who began to come here. He opined that Melville started something grand, and Governor Nelson Rockefeller continued Stony Brook’s growth by establishing — with Melville’s help — a state university that is “unparalleled.”

At right, (back row) Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn, trustee Jim Murdocco, trustee Mary Van Tuyl, WMHO Chairman Richard Rugen, trustee Charles Napoli, NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright, NYS Senator John Flanagan and trustee Charles Pieroth; (front row) WMHO President Gloria Rocchio, trustee Kathleen Mich, and trustee Laura Huang Ernst. Photo by Donna Newman
At right, (back row) Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn, trustee Jim Murdocco, trustee Mary Van Tuyl, WMHO Chairman Richard Rugen, trustee Charles Napoli, NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright, NYS Senator John Flanagan and trustee Charles Pieroth; (front row) WMHO President Gloria Rocchio, trustee Kathleen Mich, and trustee Laura Huang Ernst. Photo by Donna Newman

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) spoke of her idyllic childhood in Stony Brook.

“Small things have changed; so much has stayed the same,” she said. “It is the same extraordinarily beautiful view. You turn around and you look out over Hercules, you look around at the green space we have in our community — where we come together at special moments — this is the most magical, special place.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also gave his take on the village.

“Historically — and I love the fact that we have these antique vehicles here — this is the first mall in America,” he said. “That’s quite remarkable. Ward Melville and his designer Richard Haviland Smythe envisioned a coming of age of the automobile, and they designed accordingly. This is the first shopping mall designed for the automobile specifically, and for that reason, if for no other, this is a part of our national heritage.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Supervisor Edward Romaine (R) represented Brookhaven Town. Cartright spoke of reading that the Melville family came across the site by accident.

“Being a woman of God,” she said, “I don’t believe in accidents … I truly believe they were divinely guided here.”

Romaine spoke of Ward Melville’s boldness, calling him “a visionary.”

“He convinced store owners that this wasn’t going to drive them out of business, that this was the way to go,” he said. “And the results endure to this day, 75 years after [the village] was dedicated. Its lesson is what good planning — what having a decent vision for the future of a community — is all about.”

A new chemical rating system will inform people using dry cleaners in Suffolk. File photo

Customers will soon have more information about how their clothes are being cleaned.

The Suffolk County Legislature recently approved a new law that will require dry cleaners to share information with customers about the types of chemical solvents they are using and the environmental effects of those solvents.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) had proposed the law, which passed on June 2. Under the new requirements, the county health department will categorize dry cleaning solvents, ranking “each chemical grouping based on both human and environmental impacts,” according to a press release from Hahn’s office.

From there, during the existing annual inspections for dry cleaners, county officials will provide the businesses with color-coded signs that “indicate the cleaning methods and solvents used by each individual shop.”

The dry cleaners would have to post the signs in their windows and behind their counters.

On the government side, the health department will also have a website — the address of which will be on the color-coded signs — with environmental and health information about different dry cleaning solvents and processes.

“This bill empowers consumers and allows them to make more informed decisions, which in the end is good for all of us,” Hahn said in a statement. “While it is common for consumers to read food ingredient lists and nutrition labels and to search out reviews for other products, most are hard-pressed to find the time to research details related to a myriad of dry cleaning solvents, figure out the exact solvent used by their cleaner and then investigate its potential impact on his or her self, family and environment.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) still has to sign the approved bill into law.

Hahn’s bill was related to a previous one she put before the Legislature, which was also approved in mid-April, to stop garment-cleaning businesses from using the term “organic” to describe their services, because there are no set criteria for its usage in consumer goods and services and could be misleading. The legislator has given the example of dry cleaning chemicals that are harmful to the environment but might be referred to as organic because they contain naturally occurring elements such as carbon.

“Organic in this context is a technical term, and does not mean chemical-free,” Beth Fiteni, owner of Green Inside and Out Consulting, an advocacy organization committed to empowering the public to find healthier alternatives to common toxins, said in a statement at the time the bill passed the Legislature. “This legislation in Suffolk County helps address possible confusion.”

That law prohibited dry cleaners from using the term to advertise their services, with fines between $500 and $1,000 for violating the rule.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta goes over legislation to suspend the camera program. Photo by Phil Corso

The Legislature may not be behind them, but Suffolk County residents are still calling the red light camera program a money grab and a safety hazard.

People cried out in support of county Legislator Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) bill to suspend the county’s program during a Public Safety Committee meeting on May 26, but the Suffolk legislative committee stopped it from coming to fruition. The vote was 5 to 3 against a motion to move the bill to the full county Legislature for voting after nearly 20 residents spoke up against the use of the cameras.

Stephen Ruth Jr., pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on June 3 to 17 counts of criminal mischief after allegedly tampering with 16 red light cameras at intersections along Route 25 in Coram. He also spoke at the Legislature meeting late last month.

“Red light cameras are a detriment to Suffolk County,” he said. “The risks and damages to the well-being of Suffolk County residents far outweigh the benefits. We all know now that red lights cameras are a systematic form of extortion and nothing more. … Traffic signals were manipulated for revenue and it was only made possible by Suffolk County’s reckless willingness to do anything for money.”

Stephen Ruth mugshot from SCPD
Stephen Ruth mugshot from SCPD

Residents cited statistics to try to back up their issues with the program, using a 42 percent increase in rear-end collisions in 2014 as evidence of the program’s shortcomings, and said nearly half of the locations where cameras were installed showed an increase in personal injury.

“You’re not here working for the middle class people, you’re actually hurting them,” Hector Gavilla said. “The program is not working at all. We were promised that these red light cameras would stop these incidents.”

But overall, crashes have decreased by 3.1 percent, while T-bone crashes have decreased by 21.6 percent. The data also reflects an overall decrease in crashes involved injury by 4.2 percent, based upon data from the New York State Department of Transportation’s most current data available as of December 2014.

Rachel Lugo, who has worked in highway safety for over 20 years, was the only person to speak in support of the cameras. She said that although crashes have increased, she believes it’s not because of the cameras, but as a result of more new drivers on the road, and “increasingly dangerous” issues like texting and being distracted while driving, drinking while driving and being under the influence of drugs.

“You can’t say that these crashes are increasing because of red light cameras,” she said. “What about stop signs? Let’s take them away also. Why won’t we just take away traffic lights? Red light cameras are not the problem. Teaching the motorists to change their behavior behind the wheel is where we need to start. If everyone stopped at the red lights we wouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on with fines and who is making money.”

There are statistics to back her up.

Paul Margiotta, executive director of Suffolk County’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, said that between 2012 and 2013, the county saw a 34,000 increase is licensed drivers, where prior to 2012 the average was trending down. He said citations for texting and driving and distracted driving doubled since 2011, which tends to cause rear-end crashes.

Legislature William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) joined Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) in voting to pass the bill.

Spencer asked to put the program under a microscope.

“We have to do something,” he said. “It’s hard for me to discount the public outcry. There’s a lot of smoke here. I want to make sure I’m doing my oversight job to make sure I have looked at this with a very detailed eyed.”

A county report says Indian Head Road and Jericho Turnpike in Commack saw crashes increase since a red light camera was installed in 2014. Photo by Phil Corso
A county report says Indian Head Road and Jericho Turnpike in Commack saw crashes increase since a red light camera was installed in 2014. Photo by Phil Corso

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) agreed, although she stated that there was always an expectation that there would be an increase in rear-end crashes.

“Many things we deal with here are not black and white,” she said. “The policy decision was to institute an enforcement mechanism that will decrease the right-angle crashes which cause the more serious injuries and death, with the chance of and the expectation that there will be some uptick in rear-end crashes.”

She said she would like to see a report done on the intersections where there were a large number of rear-end crashes, to see if a majority of them were a result of the cameras, or other things like texting and driving.

According to William Hillman, Suffolk’s chief engineer, that investigation is ongoing. The county is in the process of reviewing crash data at the 42 intersections it controls. The state controls the other 58 intersections with cameras.

“These intersections where there’s been that high uptick, all-due haste is needed in reviewing what is going on so that we have a real answer,” Hahn said. “There’s a huge increase in crashes just in general because of distracted driving. This is happening more and more and red light cameras are not going to stop that. What red light cameras were designed to do was for the folks who were choosing to put their foot on the gas when the light turns yellow, to rethink that. They will actually stop at a red light, and that will save lives when people know that there could be consequences for running a red light. And that probably already has, because we’ve seen a decrease in T-bone crashes, which are more serious and life-threatening, and that is the purpose of the program.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is among the lawmakers hoping to use the #MeToo moment not only to change culture, but to change laws. File photo

One North Shore lawmaker is cleaning up the language of Suffolk County’s dry cleaners.

Dry cleaning businesses will no longer be allowed to advertise their services as organic when describing the solvents or methods used in production, thanks to recently approved legislation from Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). And if they get caught, business owners could face fines of $500 on the first offense to $1,000 on the second, the legislator said.

“A consumer chooses an ‘organic’ cleaning method with the belief that this option is better for his or her health and our environment,” Hahn said in a statement. “Without a universally accepted definition of what constitutes organic services, consumers go through the wringer when making their decisions based upon subjective standards that, in some cases, can be completely contrary to their intentions.”

Under Majority Leader Hahn’s bill, no professional garment cleaning establishment operating in the county will be allowed to describe its services as “organic” in advertising or signage. In a statement, Hahn said the term organic is found in many industries, including dry cleaning, and has come under increased public scrutiny as regulators have not established clear criteria governing the word’s usage in consumer goods and services.

“It is very important that customers understand terms used in dry cleaning advertisements,” said Beth Fiteni, owner of Green Inside and Out Consulting, an advocacy organization committed to empowering the public to find healthier alternatives to common toxins, also in a recent statement. “Organic in this context is a technical term, and does not mean chemical-free. This legislation in Suffolk County helps address possible confusion.”

In her legislation, Hahn said one of the most harmful chemicals used in the dry cleaning industry, perchloroethylene — also known as perc — contains carbon molecules. Carbon is a naturally occurring element and perc is sometimes advertised as being organic, despite its detriment to the environment.

“In some instances there is a significant disconnect between the term organic that has become part of the vernacular and the scientific definition used by industry,” Hahn said. “I want to ensure that Suffolk consumers are making decisions based on intention rather than semantics.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has already approved several alternatives to perc for use in non-vented, closed-loop dry cleaning machines that are equipped with a refrigerated condenser, conform to local fire codes and meet the additional specifications required by the alternative solvent manufacturer.

Suffolk’s bill would be nullified should a standard be adopted by state or federal regulatory agencies.

The only thing preventing the bill from becoming official is the absence of a signature from County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Once signed, cleaners would have approximately 60 days to come into compliance.

Kara Hahn photo by Desirée Keegan

County lawmakers are taking a proactive approach toward keeping Suffolk kids safe.

The Legislature unanimously voted last week to establish a 13-member Child Fatality Review Team panel tasked with reviewing all childhood fatalities across Suffolk County deemed to be unanticipated, suspicious or the direct result of physical trauma.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who sponsored the bill, said the team’s findings would not be used to assign criminal or civil liability in death cases involving children, nor would they be used for prosecutorial purposes. The main objective, she said, was to make it so similar incidents do not repeat themselves at Suffolk County children’s expense.

In a statement, Hahn, who serves as majority leader in the Suffolk County Legislature, said the panel would work to identify the underlying causes of a child’s death and find what resources, if any, could have prevented that outcome.

“As a culture, we strongly hold that children aren’t supposed to die,” Hahn said. “When that understanding is challenged by a child’s death, natural or otherwise, there is a reflexive and necessary motivation to uncover the reasons why and ways to prevent similar circumstances from leading to additional losses.”

The 13-member panel would be made up of medical, child welfare, social service and law enforcement professionals who would be looking at the facts and circumstances relating to the deaths of children under the age of 18. The deaths would also need to be deemed either unexplainable or the result of violence, including that which is self-inflicted.

“Suffolk County takes the public health and safety of all our residents, especially our most vulnerable, very seriously,” the county’s Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said. “By assembling this review team and collaboratively studying the recent losses of life in Suffolk County, we may be able to prevent similar tragedies in the future and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s signature is the only thing standing in the way of this bill becoming a law. In a statement, the county executive said he was in favor of the review team and planned on signing it into action promptly.

“The public safety of all of our residents, especially our most vulnerable, is of paramount concern to us,” Bellone said.  “By creating this review committee, we are creating an opportunity to analyze and review circumstances surrounding violent child deaths in an effort to prevent similar tragedies and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Hahn said the team would hold its first meeting within 90 days and quarterly thereafter.

The panel’s data would not include any identifiable information and its records would be kept confidential, Hahn said. Any reports generated by the team would also be submitted to the state’s office of children and family services when they are finished.

The North Shore is no stranger so incidents that could qualify for the kind of review Hahn’s panel would be seeking.

In October 2014, 16-year-old Thomas Cutinella of Shoreham-Wading River High School suffered a fatal head injury after colliding with another player during a football game. In July 2014, a Kings Park man was convicted of beating his 43-day-old son to death. In December 2015, an 11-year-old from Kings Park died just days after a van struck her as she crossed a road in her hometown.

The state’s office of children and family services said Suffolk County recorded an average of 12.6 child fatalities annually between 2010 and 2014. The office also found that in the year 2015, average percentage of case workers with more than 15 investigations on their caseload on the last day of each month between July and December was 33 percent.

Adrienne Esposito speaks against a plan to dump dredge spoils in the Sound as county Legislators Sarah Anker, Kara Hahn and Al Krupski look on. Photo by Giselle Barkley

It’s been about six months and North Shore leaders are still fighting against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to continue dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) stood alongside fellow county Legislators Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) on Tuesday at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge to voice their opposition to the plan and ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales to reject the proposal. George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, were also among the leaders who voiced their opposition to the plan.

The Army Corps has dumped dredge spoils into waterways leading to the Sound for decades. Its final proposal, known as the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan, was completed on Jan. 11 and suggested dumping 30 to 50 million cubic yards of dredge material cleared out from Connecticut waterways over the course of another 30 years.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has supported the Army Corps’ proposal. Stephen Perkins, a member of the EPA’s dredging team, said the spoils are tested before being dumped to ensure they meet certain safety standards.

But critics say the state can reject the plan under the federal Clean Water Act.

Dredge dumping has caused toxic chemicals to be dispersed throughout the Sound over the years, affecting the ecosystem and many water-dwelling species, including fish and lobsters.

“If this was private industry doing this, I don’t think they’d go very far,” Krupski said. “They’d probably end up in jail.”

Over the past 11 years, the local government has spent $7 million to address environmental issues in the Sound, a fragile body of water, according to Anker. Some of that went toward creating a Long Island Sound study.

According to Esposito, New York State rejected a similar plan that the Army Corps proposed in 2005, and ordered that group and the EPA to slowly reduce the amount of dredge spoils being dumped into the Sound. She called for the plan to go back to the drawing board.

“We’ve committed so much resources, money, time and energy to protecting this water body,” Hahn said. “And then to just dump potential harmful and toxic waste spoils into our waters is a darn shame.”

Anker agreed, saying that the Sound creates upward of $36 billion of economic value on the Island.

Instead of dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound, Esposito suggested using it to restore wetlands, rebuild beaches and cap landfills, among other methods of disposal.

“The Sound is dying and what they’re trying to do now is bury it in dredge spoil,” Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said at the press conference.

The local leaders also criticized the EPA for supporting the Army Corps.

“On one hand, they are advancing a nitrogen-reduction plan,” Esposito said. “And on the other, they’re turning a blind eye to the disposal of the large quantities of dredge materials which cause significant nitrogen loading into the Sound.”

A public hearing on the dredging plan will be held on Tuesday, March 1, at the Port Jefferson Free Library, at the corner of Thompson and East Main streets. That event runs from 5 to 7 p.m., with registration for public speakers starting at 4:30 p.m.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is among the lawmakers hoping to use the #MeToo moment not only to change culture, but to change laws. File photo

Suffolk County Democrats have a new majority leader in the Legislature.

The Democratic caucus voted unanimously on Saturday to name Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) the newest majority leader, replacing Legislator Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), who is expected to succeed Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) as deputy presiding officer in early 2016 after a vote scheduled for the first week in January.

Schneiderman was term limited out of the Legislature and will be succeeded in the 2nd District by Legislator-elect Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor).

Hahn, who was first elected to the Legislature in 2011, referred to her quick rise to the majority leader position as validating and empowering, as she looks ahead into the new year.

“I am truly honored that my colleagues have put their trust in me to lead our caucus,” she said in a phone interview Monday. “I feel like I have a proven record of getting things done, and I’m going to do everything I can to work with my colleagues to address the needs of Suffolk County.”

As majority leader, Hahn will lead caucus meetings and help set the Democratic agenda in the county Legislature, a spokesman from her office said. In her four years as a legislator for the North Shore’s 5th District, Hahn has been at the forefront of several legislative battles advocating for the environment, the fight against drug addiction and public safety. She said she planned on tackling the same issues with her majority leader role, with hopes of enacting change for every district in the county.

“It’s important to me that we work hard to solve people’s problems,” she said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) referred to Hahn’s legislative record as a promising attribute to his party’s newest majority leader. Bellone has signed onto several pieces of Hahn’s legislative agenda items over the past several years, including attempts at addressing domestic violence in Suffolk County and limiting the abundance of microbeads polluting county waterways.

“Kara Hahn has a proven record on critical issues like protecting our environment, tackling the opioid crisis and advocating for victims of domestic violence,” Bellone said in a statement. “I know Kara will use the platform of majority leader to be even more effective on the issues that she has spent her life fighting for, and which are critical to move Suffolk County forward.”

Calarco said he has known Hahn for a long time, dating back to when the two of them worked as aides in the county Legislature long before they were first elected. He gave his long-standing colleague encouraging words as she prepared to succeed him as majority leader.

“I think she’s going to be great,” he said. “She knows the Legislature well. She knows how to get things done. She’s a very good fighter for her district and the county as a whole.”

Among the top issues Hahn said she hoped to lead the Democratic caucus in addressing were spurring economic development throughout the county, requiring the county to test groundwater for toxins, preserving open spaces and advocating for healthy living.

File photo by Erika Karp

The Suffolk County Legislature is looking to put the brakes on its “pay now, or else” approach when it comes to fines levied to ticketed drivers.

Lawmakers have tasked the county’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency with developing a payment program for the fines it levies to motorists within 90 days. If approved by the Legislature, the plan could allow nonmoving violators to pay their fines in installments, rather than the current system which requires one lump sum, due immediately.

It all started when Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she was approached by one of her constituents who claimed to be threatened with a driver’s license suspension if he did not pay his nonmoving ticket fine in one full installment.

“The revocation of a driver’s license should be reserved for violators who endanger public safety, not for someone unable to pay a fine on the day it is imposed,” she said.

The county currently has close to $2.3 million in outstanding tickets, lawmakers said. Hahn said that unpaid fines, fees and surcharges associated with parking tickets are often not collected or prove costly to collect and can result in lost revenue for the county government and taxpayers. A payment plan option, Hahn added, is a win-win, because it helps struggling Suffolk County citizens meet their obligations to both their families and to the county.

“A deterrent should never become a detriment, nor should the sting of a ticket ever become the hunger pains of a child,” Hahn said. “While these fines are supposed to serve as a financial deterrent to behavior that puts the public at risk, when unaffordable penalties are imposed and become due immediately, our residents are forced to make decisions that are counter to our values and to the public interest.”

County Legislator Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who serves as chair of the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, said punitive measures are intended to be teaching moments, rather than a road to economic ruin. She applauded the steps the county was taking in allowing ticketed motorists more time to pay fines.

“I congratulate Legislator Hahn for bringing this issue forward,” Browning said. “As a co-sponsor of the bill, I agree that no one should have to make a choice between putting food on the table for their family or paying a fine. Failure to pay causes a person to have a suspended license and potentially lose their employment. A payment plan for middle and low income residents will benefit the resident and the agency.“

Violators cited in New York City have the option of paying fines through an installment plan which requires that a portion of the fee be paid at the time of conviction, followed by monthly payments, with a 9 percent interest charge until the debt is paid in full. Suffolk’s eventual plan may take a similar form as the SCTPVA develops its own program, Hahn said.

The directive to the SCTPVA now goes to County Executive Steve Bellone for final approval. Then, once the SCTPVA develops its plan, the Legislature will have an opportunity to evaluate the proposal and decide whether to implement it.

“Punishment without mercy does not serve this county or its residents,” Hahn said. “I encourage the county executive to sign this bill as it advances the central tenant of fairness in justice.”