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Law

New law closes loophole to permanently ban replacement of old, primitive cesspool technology to reduce nitrogen levels in water

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, displays the new county law banning the updating or instillation of primitive cesspools and the technology associated with them, as he’s surrounded by local leaders and environmental group organizers during a press conference. Photo from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office

Repairing old cesspools is now a thing of the past in Suffolk County.

As part of an ongoing effort to improve water quality on Long Island, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed into law a ban on installing new cesspools, ending the practice of grandfathering inadequate
sanitary system fixes with the now-primitive technology.

“It marks another historic step forward in our ongoing effort to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution that has degraded water quality in our lakes, bays and harbors, and it is a step that is long overdue,” Bellone said. “It is fairly unusual for the local governments, environmental groups and the region’s largest builders group to agree on the importance of tightening up outdated regulations to protect water quality, but that is exactly what happened in this instance. This inclusive, collaborative approach is making a huge difference in our efforts to reduce decades of nitrogen pollution.”

Cesspools have been identified as primary sources of nitrogen pollution that have degraded water quality throughout Suffolk County, contributing to harmful algae blooms, beach closures and fish kills. The use of cesspools in new construction has been banned in the county since 1973, when a requirement for the addition of a septic tank was added, but the county sanitary code did not require that homeowners add a septic tank when replacing an existing cesspool, making it legal to install a new cesspool to replace an existing one. By now closing this loophole, it will advance the water quality efforts undertaken by the county and set the stage for the evolution away from the use of nonperforming cesspools and septic systems to the use of new, state-of-the-art technologies that reduce nitrogen in residential wastewater by up to 70 percent, according to Bellone.

“With this action, I would like to say that we, as a county, have adopted the policies necessary to adequately address our region’s nitrogen pollution problems, but in reality, this gets us closer to where we should have been in the decades following 1973,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), a co-sponsor of the Article 6 revisions and chairwoman of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “I look forward to continuing the process of finally bringing Suffolk County’s sanitary code into the 21st century.”

In addition to banning the installation of new cesspools, the law approved by the Suffolk County Legislature Dec. 5 requires the wastewater industry to provide data regarding system replacement and pumping activities to the Department of Health Services beginning July 1, 2018. It also mandates permits for replacement of existing systems effective July 1, 2019, and requires business properties with grandfathered nonconforming wastewater flows to install nitrogen-reducing advanced systems if making significant changes to the use of the property.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, joined forces with other environmental group leaders in thanking the county for what was a necessary step in eliminating nitrogen from groundwater.

“We can no longer allow inadequately treated sewage to mix with our sole source of drinking water,” she said. “Modernizing our health codes is a commonsense action that is critically needed for water protection.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said he was overjoyed by the “huge step,” ending pollution by what he called Suffolk’s No. 1 threat to clean water.

“Now, we’re not just complaining,” he said. “We’re doing something about it.”

For the past three years, Suffolk’s Legislature has instituted a pilot program to test the new technologies, using a lottery system to select homeowners willing to have a donated system installed to demonstrate system performance. Under the pilot program, a total of 14 different technologies have been installed at 39 homes throughout the county. Four have been provisionally approved for use after demonstrating six months of acceptable operating data. As part of continued efforts, a voluntary Septic Improvement Program, the first of its kind in the state, was launched in July 2017 to provide grants and low-interest financing to make the replacement of cesspools and septic systems with new innovative/alternative technologies affordable for homeowners who choose to upgrade their systems. Over the first five months, nearly 850 homeowners have registered for the program, 228 have completed applications and 160 have been awarded grants and are moving toward installation of the new systems.

Suffolk County was the first in the state to apply for funding from New York State’s newly created $75 million Septic System Replacement Fund and will use the funding to expand its efforts to see the new technologies installed throughout the county.

The changes are the first in what is expected to be a series of updates to the county sanitary code over the next several years as county officials consider whether to put in place policies that require new nitrogen-
reducing systems in new construction projects, require installation of the new systems when a cesspool or septic system fails and needs to be replaced, or upon sale of a property. For now, all parties involved are on the same page moving forward, including both a working group comprised of county legislators, town planners and engineers with members of environmental organizations, as well as the Long Island Builders Institute.

“There is more work to do,” said Kevin McDonald, conservation finance and policy director for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “But passage of this bill means less nitrogen pollution in our water, and more resilient, healthy bays and people for generations to come.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, on right, gets signatures from residents in support of the Community Protection Act outside Stop & Shop in Miller Place. Photo from County Executive Bellone's office

By Kevin Redding

In light of recent court rulings and pending lawsuits in favor of sex offenders, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is urging the New York State Legislature to follow in the county’s footsteps and get tough on sex criminals by passing legislation that gives the county authorization to uphold its strict laws against them.

On Feb. 11, Bellone and Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) spoke with parents and residents in Miller Place about supporting and protecting the rules within the Suffolk County Community Protection Act — a private-public partnership law developed by Bellone, victims’ rights advocates like Parents for Megan’s Law and law enforcement agencies. It ensures sex offender registration and compliance, and protects residents and their children against sexual violence — much to the dismay of local sex offenders, who have been suing the county to try to put a stop to the act.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legislator Sarah Anker talk to residents about the Community Protection Act. Photo from County Executive Bellone’s office

“We’re encouraging people to go on to our Facebook page and sign the online petition,” Bellone said. “We want to get as many signatures as we can to communicate to our partners in the state that this is a priority that we pass legislation that makes it clear Suffolk County has the right to continue doing what it’s doing to protect our community against sex offenders.”

While the county executive said Suffolk representative have been supportive of the law, which was put in place four years ago, he wanted to make sure they’re armed with grassroots support to convince state colleagues they have a substantial evidence to prove it’s popularity and show it’s the right thing to do.

Since it was enacted in 2013, the Community Protection Act has been the nation’s strictest sex offender enforcement, monitoring and verification program, cracking down on all three levels of offenders when it comes to their proximity to a school facility or child-friendly area, and reducing sex offender recidivism in Suffolk County by 81 percent. Ninety-eight percent of Level 2 and more than 94 percent of Level 3 registrants are in compliance with photograph requirements, what Bellone said is a significant increase from before the law took effect.

Through its partnership with Parents for Megan’s Law, the county has conducted more than 10,000 in-person home verification visits for all levels of sex offenders, by sending retired law enforcement to verify sex offenders’ work and home addresses and make sure their registry is accurate and up to date. More than 300 sex offenders have also been removed from social media under the law.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the act is a critical piece of legislation.

“The program has been incredibly successful, which is why sex offenders don’t like it.”

—Steve Bellone

“The numbers don’t lie, there’s a lot of hard evidence and data that shows this act has done precisely what it was designed to do: monitor sex offenders and make sure they’re not doing anything they’re not supposed to be doing,” Deputy Commissioner Justin Meyers said. “To date, I have never met a single resident in this county who didn’t support [it].”

Besides the sex offenders themselves, that is.

The act has made Suffolk County one of the more difficult places for registered sex offenders to live and, since its inception, Suffolk sex offenders have deemed its strict level of monitoring unconstitutional, arguing, and overall winning their cases in court that local law is not allowed to be stricter than the state law.

In 2015, the state Court of Appeals decided to repeal local residency restriction laws for sex offenders, claiming local governments “could not impose their own rules on where sex offenders live.”

In the prospective state legislation, Bellone hopes to close the sex offender loophole that would allow high-level sex offenders to be able to legally move into a home at close proximity to a school.

“The program has been incredibly successful, which is why sex offenders don’t like it,” Bellone said. “This is what we need to do to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect kids and families in our community. As a father of three young kids, this is very personal to me and I think that while we’ve tried to make government more efficient and reduce costs here, this is an example of the kind of thing government should absolutely be spending resources on.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, on right, with a community member who signed his petition urging state lawmakers to uphold the Community Protection Act. Photo from County Executive Bellone’s office

To conduct all the monitoring and fund educational resources offered to the community by Parents for Megan’s Law — teaching parents what to look out for and how to prevent their children from becoming victims — costs roughly $1 million a year, according to Bellone.

In addition to the residential restriction, Bellone is calling on the state to authorize the county to verify the residency and job sites of registered sex offenders, authorize local municipalities to keep a surveillance on homeless sex offenders, who represent less than 4 percent of the offender population in Suffolk County, and require them to call their local police department each night to confirm where they’re staying, and require an affirmative obligation of all sex offenders to cooperate and confirm information required as part of their sex offender designation.

“If people really knew this issue, I couldn’t see how they would oppose the Community Protection Act, because sex offenders are not a common criminal; there’s something fundamentally and psychologically wrong with somebody who commits sexual crime and we as a society have to understand that,” said St. James resident Peter , who held a “Protect Children” rally in the area last years. “Residents should know that the sexual abuse of children is out of control.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four girls are abused and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

“It is imperative that we, not only as a community, but as a state, make efforts to further ensure the safety of our children from sexual predators,” Anker said. “We must do everything in our power to ensure that this law is upheld and that’s why I’ve joined [Bellone] in calling on the New York State Legislature to consider an amendment to grant the county the ability to uphold it.”

To sign the petition, visit https://www.change.org/p/new-york-state-protect-our-children-support-the-community-protection-act.

Huntington town officials hope federal funding will help crack down on drug use and gang violence. File photo

State legislation

In the 2016 legislative session, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a comprehensive package of bills, aimed at increasing access to treatment, expanding community prevention strategies and limiting the overprescription of opioids in the state. Some of the most important parts of the bills are highlighted below:

• Legislation now ensures insurers must cover “necessary” inpatient services for substance use disorder treatments for as long as an individual needs them. Review from the company can only begin 14 days after treatment to ensure each patient has two weeks of uninterrupted and covered care.

• Insurers are prohibited from requiring prior approval for emergency supplies of these medications.

• Insurers must use objective state-approved criteria to determine the level of care for individuals suffering from substance abuse.

• Insurers must cover the costs of Narcan to families with individuals suffering from substance abuse.

• Families now offered 72 hours of emergency treatment, instead of 48 hours, for family members so they can be stabilized and connected to longer-term addiction treatment options while also balancing individual rights of the incapacitated individuals.

• Requires hospitals to provide follow-up service options to individuals upon hospital discharge to connect patients with nearby treatment options to provide continuous medical care.

• Reducing opioid prescription limits from 30 days to seven days, with exceptions of chronic pain and other conditions.

• Health care professionals must complete three hours of education every three years on addiction, pain management and palliative care.

State budget

The 2016-17 state government has allotted funding to help curb the growing substance abuse problem. A breakdown of the budget below:

• Nearly $200 million through the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services will be used to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic, an 82 percent increase in state spending since 2011.

• This investment includes $66 million for residential treatment beds, including counseling and support services for roughly 8,000 individuals.

• $38 million to fund medication-assisted treatment programs that serve about 12,000 clients in residential or outpatient settings.

• $25 million in funding for state-operated addiction treatment centers.

• $24 million for outpatient services that provide group and individual counseling.

• $8 million for crisis/detox programs to manage and treat withdrawal from heroin and opioids.

NYS Heroin and Opioid Task Force

Comprised of health care providers, policy advocates, educators, parents and New Yorkers in recovery, the task force will build on the state’s previous efforts and use its expertise and first-hand experience to develop a comprehensive action plan to combat the state’s opioid epidemic. The task force will focus immediately on expanding awareness of heroin and opioid addiction; enhance statewide prevention efforts; increase access to treatment; improve support for those in recovery; and concentrate on law enforcement recommendations to reduce the supply of opioids. Members plan to hold public sessions across the state.

Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, 2016

• Signed into law by President Barack Obama (D) in July.

• $8.3 billion in addiction funding.

• $160 million for the expansion of medication-assisted treatment options, including grants that will be awarded to state, local and tribal governments to provide opioid abuse services.

• $80 million in funding to help prevent and treat addiction on a local level through community-based education, prevention, treatment and recovery programs.

• $103 million to establish a community-based competitive grant program to address and treat the problems of heroin and opioid addiction and abuse.

• Grants will help fund programs that could expand treatment alternatives to incarcerations — with consent of attorneys and participants — for individuals who meet the program’s criteria.

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

What does “look-back” mean? What is spousal refusal? Will Medicaid take my house if my husband has to go into a nursing home? All too often these are the questions we hear from our clients who are faced with navigating the Medicaid landscape once a crisis occurs. 

In New York State, the Medicaid program can provide a source of payment for those who are financially eligible and require care, either in a nursing facility or in their own home. In order to be eligible for Chronic Care Medicaid (payment for nursing home care), an individual must meet certain income and asset requirements.

To start, the applicant may have no more than $14,850 in liquid nonqualified (nonretirement) assets in their name. They may have qualified (retirement) assets in an unlimited amount provided they are taking a monthly distribution. 

When applying, the Department of Social Services will require a full financial accounting from both the applicant and his spouse for the five years immediately prior.  This is what is often referred to as the look-back. The purpose of this investigation is to determine among other things whether any transfers were made during this time period that would affect eligibility. The rule is that for every $12,390 that was transferred, a one-month penalty will be imposed.

For example, if in the financial review it is discovered that the applicant gifted $40,000 to his children during the look-back period, a determination will be made that imposes a penalty for roughly three months. This means that Medicaid will not pay for the first three months of nursing care, and the family will be responsible to pay privately. The aggregate result of this type of penalty is roughly a dollar-for-dollar penalty, meaning that for each dollar that you transfer you will have to pay a like amount in nursing home care should the need arise. This rule applies unless the transfer is considered an exempt transfer.  Transfers that are exempt do not create a penalty and therefore do not affect Medicaid eligibility. In New York State, transfers to spouses are exempt under the provisions of spousal refusal.

We use the term “spousal refusal” when the community spouse (the spouse who is not institutionalized) chooses not to contribute to the cost of care for an institutionalized spouse. This means that the institutionalized spouse cannot be denied Medicaid because the community spouse refuses to contribute. Moreover, the above penalties cannot be assessed due to the fact that the signing of a spousal refusal makes it such that the transfer is an exempt transfer.  The refusing spouse must still provide any and all financial information and cooperate fully with the Medicaid application. It is important to note that once Medicaid is approved, the county does have the right to seek recovery against the community spouse. Other exempt transfers include transfers to disabled children, transfers of the primary residence to a caretaker child and finally transfers of a primary residence to a sibling with an equity interest. 

With respect to income, an applicant for Chronic Care Medicaid may only keep $50.00 of his income monthly. His spouse may retain the greater of (1) all of his or her own income or (2) all of his or her income and enough of the institutionalized spouse’s income to bring them to $2,980.50. 

Community Medicaid is the program that covers care at home.  This program will cover the cost of a personal care aide to assist with activities of daily living such as bathing, cooking, dressing, etc. The program may also cover day programs, transportation to medical appointments, assisted living programs and some durable medical equipment and supplies. For 2015, an individual applying for Community Medicaid can have no more than $14,850, not including their home, in nonqualified (nonretirement) liquid assets. They may have qualified (retirement) assets in an unlimited amount, provided they are taking a monthly distribution. 

It is important to realize that the home is an exempt resource while the Community Medicaid recipient is alive; however, additional estate planning should be considered to avoid a Medicaid lien after the recipient’s death. While these limitations may seem daunting, the good news is that there is no look-back period. That means someone looking to get care at home can transfer assets in one month and be eligible for Community Medicaid the following month with no penalty assessed for the transfer of assets. 

With respect to income, an applicant for Community Medicaid may have no more than $845 per month.  An individual with an income over the $845 can opt to use a Pooled Income Trust. The excess income would be paid to a pooled trust company, and the trustees of the trust would pay expenses for the benefit of the applicant.

As you can see from this brief overview of Medicaid, there are many options available for care when the need arises. Make sure you are seeking advice from those knowledgeable in the area to make sure that you are getting the care that you require without sacrificing all that you have worked for.

Nancy Burner, Esq. has practiced elder law and estate planning for more than 25 years.

Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass

Bill Glass has big robes to fill.

The local lawyer was appointed Port Jefferson village justice on Monday afternoon to hold the seat of Peter Graham, a judge who served more than 30 years on the village bench before he died last week.

Glass, a 60-year-old former village prosecutor, attorney and trustee who has lived in Port Jefferson his entire life, was previously an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where he worked under village Trustee Larry LaPointe in the Rackets Bureau.

“He’s a person of the highest character and I think he’ll do this village proud,” LaPointe said at the village board of trustees meeting Monday.

A graduate of Fordham Law School and a longtime fire department volunteer, Glass currently runs his own practice out of Port Jefferson, representing fire and emergency medical service groups throughout Suffolk County.

“I’ve never been behind the bench so this should be interesting,” he told the board at the meeting.

Glass signed his oath of office the same day he was appointed, and will wield the gavel until at least June, when there will be a village election to fill the justice seat for the three years remaining on Graham’s term.

Graham had been most recently re-elected to a four-year term this past June.

The coming election is one in which Glass plans to run, he said in a phone interview Tuesday. He added that he brings “a lifelong commitment to living in this village to the job.”

The new justice previously tried to win Graham’s seat in a 2011 election, but voters overwhelmingly supported the incumbent.

“It’s my home, it’s my community and I like to see things done right here,” Glass said about his interest in serving as a justice, adding he hopes he can “begin to live up to the reputation that [Graham] left behind.”

Graham was known for his vibrant personality, particularly his sense of humor. His life was full of color, between being born on Independence Day, abandoning the seminary after four years of study in favor of practicing law, and his service in the U.S. Army. After he died last week, those who knew him called him irreplaceable.

“I’m certainly not in a very real sense replacing Pete, because you can’t really replace Pete,” Glass said at the board meeting. “What a huge character and a valued part of the village. But I’m certainly going to do my best to do so.”

According to the new justice, he is concerned about villagers’ quality of life, which is why he wants to tackle issues from the bench.

As she appointed him to the bench on Monday afternoon, Mayor Margot Garant said, “I don’t know another attorney and resident of the village who is more up to the task.”

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By Linda M. Toga, Esq.

The Facts: I recently divorced my spouse. I was told that once the divorce was finalized, it won’t matter that my spouse is named as the primary beneficiary of my estate in my will since that designation will essentially be ignored.

The Questions: Is it true that my estate will not pass to my ex-spouse regardless of the fact that he is named as a beneficiary in my will? If so, is there any reason for me to update my will? What other documents, if any, should I revise now that I am divorced?

The Answer:  It is true that under New York law, if you are divorced from your spouse at the time of your death, the bequests made to him in your will will be revoked and your estate will pass as if your ex-spouse predeceased you.

In addition, if you named your ex-spouse as executor, that designation will also be revoked. However, the fact that the bequest to your ex-spouse and his appointment as executor are automatically revoked as a result of your divorce, it is important that you review not only your will but also your power of attorney, health care proxy, life insurance and account beneficiary designations and the title to your real property to ensure that your wishes with respect to your assets and end-of-life care are properly memorialized and honored.

If, for example, your ex-spouse was named in your will as your executor and his sister was named as your successor executor, you may want to revise your will so that no one in your ex-spouse’s family is in charge of your estate. Similarly, if you created a trust in which you named your ex-spouse or someone in his family as a trustee or beneficiary, now that you are divorced you may want to name other people to serve as trustee and to enjoy the benefits of the trust.

As for your power of attorney and health care proxy, if you do not want your ex-spouse to be your agent, you should have new advanced directives prepared. Otherwise the person you named as your successor agent will become your primary agent, leaving no successor agent in the event the primary agent predeceases you. If that were to happen, and you got to the point where you could not make medical decisions and handle your own affairs, a court may be asked to name a guardian to act on your behalf. Clearly the better course of action is for you to update your power of attorney and health care proxy in light of your divorce.

While you are at it, you should also review and, if necessary, update the beneficiary designation on your life insurance policy and retirement plans and remove your spouse as a co-owner on joint accounts and jointly held property. Since some retirement and pension plans are governed by a federal law that preempts the New York law revoking beneficiary designations from taking effect, you may need to obtain your ex-spouse’s consent to change some of your accounts and designations.

While you are making the necessary changes to your accounts, estate planning documents and beneficiary designation forms, you should consider asking your relatives to review their estate planning documents to ensure that their estate plans take into consideration the fact that you are divorced. It is likely that your parents, for example, would want to revise their estate planning documents if they left their estates to you and your ex-spouse, or if they named your ex-spouse as their agent under their powers of attorney.

Although I urge you to review with an experienced estate planning attorney your estate plan, your beneficiary designations and the manner in which your assets are titled in light of your divorce, I generally recommend that clients revise their estate planning documents as soon as a divorce action is commenced. That way if they die before their divorce is finalized, they can be assured that their soon to be ex-spouse will not inherit everything, be in charge of their estate or be in a position to make financial and medical decisions on their behalf in the event of their incapacity.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of litigation, estate planning and real estate from her East Setauket office.

Port Jefferson shops such as Hookah City on Main Street, above, sell hookahs. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Taking a stand against what some see as troubling business activity and the undesirable type of people it attracts, the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees approved a law Monday night that effectively bans new hookah-selling shops and tattoo parlors.

Residents and village officials have been vocal lately about the abundance of shops on Main Street selling hookahs and products related to the smoking apparatuses, with some saying the stores attract a criminal element and sell unhealthy products. More than a year after a similar yet simpler proposal was abandoned, the board has amended its zoning code to restrict those businesses, as well as tattoo parlors and adult establishments like topless bars, to the Light Industrial I-2 District.

The village’s four current hookah shops will not be shuttered under the new law because they represent preexisting uses, but the measure all but bans future hookah shops, hookah parlors, tattoo parlors and adult businesses, as there are only two properties in the entire village in the I-2 zoning district — on Columbia Street — and both are already occupied.

Board members approved the law at their Monday meeting with a 3-2 vote, with Trustees Bruce Miller and Bruce D’Abramo in opposition.

D’Abramo was the most vocal opponent of the proposal’s previous iteration, which would have simply banned hookah parlors — lounges where people can smoke tobacco products using a hookah. He repeated a stance at the meeting that he held through that last proposal as well as through discussion about the new law: that the government should let the free market regulate legally operating businesses.

“I believe that the marketplace cannot support four of these places in the village,” he said. “I think it will serve only to make our code book thicker and therefore dilute its effectiveness. … I believe the marketplace will do the same thing that it did when we had a yogurt place across the street from another yogurt place. … And it closed.”

Although there were more calls from residents opposed to the village interfering with the market the first time around — with some even comparing hookah establishments to the village’s numerous bars that are allowed to operate — D’Abramo did not receive as much resident support recently.

Over the last few board meetings, concerned parents and neighbors have called upon the village to take action against hookah-selling shops, citing fears that they will sell paraphernalia and dangerous substances to underage patrons and attract loiterers and drug dealers. Resident Nancy Cerullo said Monday she is concerned about “the culture that it is bringing.”

When residents asked about banning the shops outright, officials pointed out that would be unconstitutional, but said they could restrict the locations where they operate.

“As long as you allow it to be somewhere,” Mayor Margot Garant said.

With the discussion of the law dominated by comments about hookah shops, Barbara Sabatino, a resident, business owner and planning board member, questioned whether tattoo parlors should be lumped in with those establishments in the new restrictions. She noted that tattoos are becoming more mainstream, particularly among young adults.

The Board of Trustees narrowly voted to approve the law moments after closing the public hearing.

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People protest a proposed deer hunting law in front of the Belle Terre Village Hall. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Belle Terre officials got an earful at Village Hall on Tuesday night, as residents and visitors debated a proposal to allow deer hunting in the village over the sounds of jeers and the din of snide remarks.

At a public hearing over the proposed law, which the board of trustees developed in response to complaints about experiences with an increased deer population, more people spoke against hunting than in favor, shifting at least one trustee’s opinion.

Comments touched upon issues of public safety and health as well as quality of life. Yuri Farber was part of the minority speaking in support of hunting, saying the deer are destroying his property and he wants the village to offer him protection or allow him to do something “to get rid of this nuisance.”

“This is just not fair,” he said, noting that he would have recourse if it were a human destroying his plants.

But many speakers favored leaving nature alone.

Chris Nelson said, “It was their foliage before it was ours,” and he likes the environment in his village. Dr. Mike Fracchia, to applause from the audience, said falling trees — such as the ones sent flying during a powerful and unexpected storm in early August — were a larger threat to villagers than deer and the animals were “a nuisance that I’m willing to tolerate.”

Other arguments in opposition to deer hunting in Belle Terre included perceived flaws in the proposed law that would define hunting too broadly or make a new set of regulations impossible to enforce.

One woman, who identified herself as a pediatrician, warned the village board that with every law there are people who abuse it.

According to the proposal, residents and their guests would be allowed to use weapons such as crossbows, BB guns or similar devices other than firearms to hunt on their own properties at least 150 feet away from any home, as long as they have state hunting licenses and a permit from the village.

But many worried a child would get caught in the crosshairs.

Dr. Ken Rosenthal held up a broadhead arrow he found at his front door one day, to gasps and murmurs from the audience. The concern about the welfare of playing kids was repeated throughout the night.

Residents also debated whether hunting deer would produce the result desired.

While some said they were worried about contracting illnesses such as Lyme disease from the ticks deer carry, others said many smaller creatures, such as raccoons, carry those ticks as well. And the pediatrician, a Seaside Drive resident, noted that there are diseases everywhere and “unless we’re going to live in a bubble” we take risks in everything we do.

There were calls for compromises and for the board to do more research into sterilization methods, related costs and the actual size of the deer herd in Belle Terre, as some speakers acknowledged deer as a problem, but the sentiment in the room leaned heavily against allowing hunting.

Jaime Ivory produced a petition of 209 signatures against the proposed village law, representing more than 100 households. Her husband Brendan told the board to “go back to the drawing board.”

“This code needs to be thrown out,” he said about the proposal. “You know it.”

The debate had Trustee Bob Sandak changing his public stance on deer hunting in the village.

In a previous interview, Sandak said he had been leaning toward voting in favor of the hunting law because he wanted to do what the majority of the community wanted. But at Tuesday night’s meeting, Sandak got up to the podium and explained that the proposed regulations would only allow about four or five properties in Belle Terre to legally hunt, and the deer would leave those properties if hunting began.

Gasps and applause erupted in the audience when he said, “So as far as I’m concerned, a hunt at this point is ridiculous to consider.”

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By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

For most of us, if a time comes when we need assistance, the preferred option would be to remain at home and receive whatever care services we needed in our familiar setting surrounded by family. For many, the Community-Based Long-Term Care Program, commonly referred to as Community Medicaid, makes that an affordable and therefore viable option.

Oftentimes we meet with families who are under the impression that they will not qualify for these services through the Medicaid program due to their income and assets. In most cases, that is not the case. Although an applicant for Community Medicaid must meet the necessary income and assets levels, oftentimes with planning we are able to assist in making an individual eligible with little wait.

An individual who is applying for homecare Medicaid may have no more than $14,850 in nonretirement liquid assets. Retirement assets will not be counted as a resource as long as the applicant is receiving monthly distributions from the account. An irrevocable prepaid burial fund is also permitted as an exempt resource. The primary residence is an exempt asset during the lifetime of the Medicaid recipient. However, when the applicant owns a home, it is advisable to consider additional estate planning to ensure that the home will be protected once the Medicaid recipient passes away. 

Although the home is considered an exempt resource as long as the Medicaid recipient is living in it, once the applicant passes, Medicaid can assert a lien on the home if it passes through the probate estate. One way to avoid this is to ensure that at the time of the death of the applicant no assets pass through the probate estate; this can be achieved by transferring the home to a trust. Once this is done, the home will pass to the intended beneficiaries without a probate proceeding and without an opportunity for Medicaid to seek recovery against the home. 

With respect to income, an applicant for Medicaid is permitted to keep $825 per month in income plus a $20 disregard. However, where the applicant has income that exceeds that $845 threshold, a Pooled Income Trust can be established to preserve the applicant’s excess income and direct it to a fund where it can be used to pay his or her household bills.  It is important to note that there is no “look back” for Community Medicaid. This means that for most people, with minimal planning, both the income and asset requirements can be met with a minimal waiting period allowing families to mitigate the cost of caring for their loved ones at home, in many cases making aging in place an option.   

Individuals looking for coverage for the cost of a home health aide must be able to show that they require assistance with their activities of daily living. Some examples of activities of daily living include dressing, bathing, toileting, ambulating and feeding.

Community Medicaid will not provide care services where the only need is supervisory; therefore, it is important to establish an assistive need with the tasks listed above. Once this need is established, the amount of hours awarded will depend upon the frequency with which assistance with the tasks are necessary. 

For example, an individual who only needs help dressing and bathing may receive minimal coverage during the scheduled times, maybe two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. Contrast that with an individual who requires assistance with ambulating and toileting. Because these tasks are considered “unscheduled,” the hours awarded will be maximized.

In fact, where the need is established, the Medicaid program can provide care for up to 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Once approved, the individual may be enrolled in a managed long-term care company. The MLTC may also cover adult day health care programs, transportation to and from nonemergency medical appointments and medical supplies such as diapers, pull-ups, chux and durable medical equipment.

The Community-Based Medicaid Program is invaluable for many seniors who wish to age in place but are unable to do so without some level of assistance.

Nancy Burner, Esq. has practiced elder law and estate planning for 25 years.

Man on village bench has worn many hats over the years

Justice Peter Graham has served Port Jefferson for more than 30 years. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

When he entered a seminary at age 14, Port Jefferson Village Justice Peter Graham had no idea he would eventually study law, let alone hold a gavel or ever be referred to as “your honor.”

But after four years of training to become a priest, instead of the voice of God it was the voice of singer Hoagy Carmichael through his bedroom window, delivering a message about “a gal who’s mighty sweet, with big blue eyes and tiny feet,” that resonated with him. It was then that Graham decided to abandon this path in favor of one that did not necessarily encompass what he referred to as “the two Cs”: chastity and celibacy.
He traded in his cassock for textbooks, studying biology and chemistry in college and completing law school.

But instead of heading straight for the courtroom, Graham enlisted in the U.S. Army.

“When I finished law school, I felt that I owed my country two years of my life,” Graham said.

He enlisted as a private and refused to receive a commission.

“For 16 weeks they gave me infantry basic training,” he said. “I ran all day. … On the last day [of basic training], I walked 26 miles alone. I was frustrated.”

Just when things seemed low, an unexpected opportunity arrived in the form of a long plane ride to Germany and a short conversation.

“You went to law school, right?” asked a colonel, according to Graham. Before he knew it, he was declared the district attorney of his battalion. Riding on the reassuring words of the colonel — “Don’t make a mistake” — Graham worked on murder, assault and rape cases and gained real experience in the field he had previously only studied.

A particularly interesting case, the justice said, involved a woman who Graham believes murdered her husband, an Army major. Graham had jurisdiction over the case and tried to get her convicted. However, the Supreme Court eventually ruled it could not convict because the defendant was not enlisted. To this day, Graham does not know what became of her.

Despite that situation, “I learned so much [about law] from being in the Army.”

All these years later, and after spending more than 25 years on Port Jefferson Village’s bench, Graham still practices law and specializes in criminal and civil law. As a village justice, a role to which he was recently re-elected for another term of service, he remains diligent about informing himself of the latest policies and practices.

He also keeps an eye on changes in his community — he emphasized the importance of maintaining an awareness of what’s going on in the area and said doing his job helps to keep him alert to the needs of the people. But he stayed away from patting himself on the back.

“All I do is try to be fair to the people,” he said. “I want to make sure they understand what the charge is and what their alternative is.”

Graham’s ability to make people feel comfortable in the courtroom may have something to do with the friendly treatment he gets in out-of-work environments. He said what is most rewarding about being a village justice is “the respect you see on the street. … I’ve been around so long that people are saying hello to me and I don’t even know who they are.”

In addition to praising his community, Graham spoke highly of his colleagues.

About fellow Justice Jack Riley, Graham said he is on the same page about how to handle people in the courtroom. Of Village Court Clerk Christine Wood, with whom he has worked for almost 11 years, he said,

“She does phenomenal work. … I don’t think she’s ever made a mistake.”

Wood was just as complimentary in return.

“He’s awesome. I’ve actually worked for eight judges and he is one of my top,” she said. “He’s the most caring gentleman, and I don’t say that about many people. He’s got a heart of gold.”

Wood said Graham “goes above and beyond” for his village justice role.

When Graham isn’t working, he enjoys being active around Port Jefferson. Although he won’t play golf “because golf is for old men,” he defined himself as a once-avid tennis player.

“They used to call me the deli man because my shots were always slices.”

He plans to start playing more again in the future, when his elbow feels better.

In addition to the “beautiful tennis courts,” Graham appreciates Port Jefferson’s proximity to the water and its abundance of outdoor activities.

He described his experience living in Port Jefferson and serving as a village justice as “a pleasure.”

“I never ask for an increase [in pay]. Whatever it is, it is, and it’s great.”

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