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New York State

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

Port Jefferson officials have made explicit their antipathy for the vape and smoke shop in the village, especially after news broke an employee had been cited for selling to children underage.

Hookah City, located at 202 Main St. in Port Jefferson was recently charged with unlawfully dealing with a child in a countywide police sting labeled Operation Vape Out. It was amongst 32 establishments that Suffolk County police said were cited for illicit behavior, most concerning selling tobacco products to children under the legal age limit of 21.

“All eyes are on that place,” said Trustee Kathianne Snaden during a conversation after the Sept. 23 village board meeting.

“It’s immoral to addict a human being to something they can’t get away from.”

— Paul Casciano

Mayor Margot Garant said they had asked Village Attorney Brian Egan about the shop but were told there is nothing in village code that allows the village to affect a business in such a way, adding there was nothing that violated their lease. 

Fred Leute, the acting chief of code enforcement, said constables take reports and inform Suffolk County police regarding businesses selling to people underage. Leute added they had originally sent notice to police about the shop.

“Kids would come in and put their knapsack down — they would have money on the knapsack, and a note stapled to it what they wanted,” the acting chief said. “The guy who they caught would take that note, fill their order, so to speak, and put the stuff in the bag, then the kid would come by and take their bag.”

A manager or owner of Hookah City could not be reached for comment before press time.

New York State was originally set to ban the creation and sale of flavored e-cigarette products Oct. 4, but a day before the deadline the state appellate court put that order on hold until the court reconvenes Oct. 18. The proposed ban came after a wave of health cases the U.S. Centers for Disease Control attributed to vaping, among them were several deaths. As at Oct. 8, there have been 1,080 cases of injury nationwide with 23 deaths. There have been 110 cases attributed to New York, according to the state’s health department. On the same day, the death of a Bronx teen was announced as the first confirmed fatality in New York related to vape products.

Under the 1992 state Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act, each time a vendor is caught selling tobacco products to a person under the age of 21, that vendor will acquire two points on their license. If the vendor acquires three points within a three-year period of time, the vendor will lose its tobacco and lottery ticket licenses.

Though as of recently this is the first infraction in a number of years. Suffolk police’s research section found Hookah City has had no other infractions of selling to minors since the beginning of 2016. 

Nearly 40 percent of 12th grade students and 27 percent of high school students in New York State are now using e-cigarettes, according to New York State health officials.

Parents and school officials in Port Jefferson said not only are kids using vape products excessively in school but are doing so sometimes in the middle of classrooms and clandestinely in bathrooms.

Soon-to-be-outgoing Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a sit-down interview that districts all across the county have been dealing with the same thing. While the district has added vape detectors, students will either blow the smoke into backpacks or lockers to avoid smoke detectors or find areas of the school without the detectors. Incoming Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said at the last school board meeting the district takes away vape products from students, who are then disciplined.

“The kids aren’t producing this stuff, and that for me and among my colleagues is one of the most disturbing parts — adults are creating these things,” Casciano said. “It’s immoral to addict a human being to something they can’t get away from.”

The district recently played host to the countywide peer education pilot program about the dangers of vaping. 

But for the one last vape shop in Port Jeff, the focus has come down hard on its shoulders for the number of students who have continued to vape. Casciano said there is little the district can do to affect the businesses in and around Port Jeff, many of whom sell vape and e-cig products. The most they can do is applaud current activities from New York State and continue to educate young people about vape products.

“The local efforts, whether its local or state officials, those have all helped, because if you can’t get your hands on the flavors … it will be even more difficult for them,” Schmettan said.

The mayor mentioned limiting vaping in village parks, but she later said that, unlike cigarettes which offer physical discomfort and negative health effects to pedestrians, it would be hard to enforce with citations.

“I think it goes back to the household.”

— Margot Garant

Snaden said the issue of vaping needs an effort on all ends. She suggested the school district should include harsher penalties to students who use vape products in schools, including potentially kicking them off sport teams. 

“If everywhere these kids turn, everywhere they turn they’re being shown this is not accepted in this village, they’re either going to take it somewhere else — we’re not going to alleviate the problem altogether — we have to hit them everywhere they turn,” she said. “They have to get turned away everywhere, that’s how we can get the message across.”

Village code currently disallows new smoke shops in Port Jefferson, but Hookah City was grandfathered in when the code was changed in 2016. Garant said during the Oct. 7 village board meeting that with the current code, they are looking to enforce other businesses within the village to limit the sale of vape products. 

“They would all have to become vape dispensaries, so we’re cracking down on them ourselves,” she said. 

She added that vaping, just like any other drug use, often requires work from those closest to the youth.

“I think it goes back to the household,” the mayor said.

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Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah Chiappino

A state audit has left the Mount Sinai Fire District to review their finances after concluding they had too large a surplus of funds.

“These funds are used to improve and maintain Fire district property, purchase life saving equipment and fire apparatus.”

—Joseph Tacopina

A state comptroller report released Aug. 23 found officials at the Mount Sinai Fire District raised taxes unnecessarily at a rate of $64,000, or 4 percent, over a four-year period. Due to the district overestimating their spending needs by $312,554 between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2018, and underestimating revenue, the district has operated on a surplus of $383,664 over four years.

The report found the board transferred almost all of the operating surplus to its reserve funds, leaving the districts unrestricted fund balance virtually empty.

The report states taxes needed to be increased, which resulted in the hike. The district did not adopt a fund balance policy, a reserve policy, a multi-year financial plan or include an estimate of fund balance when they adopted the budget.

The comptroller’s office says multiyear planning “can be a vital tool to set long-term priorities and work toward goals.” They added the district “should adopt a fund balance policy that addresses the appropriate levels of fund balance to be maintained from year-to-year and provides the board with guidelines during the budget process.”

The district is a public entity run through the state, separate from Brookhaven town. It is governed by a five-seat elected Board of Fire Commissioners, who are responsible for managing the district’s finances, as while as “safeguarding” its resources. The district is separate from the fire department.

In a response letter dated Aug. 9 included in the report, Board Chairman Joseph Tacopina said the board will adopt an amendment to the reserve policy that will set funding balances for reserve accounts and be “more diligent in the documentation of the specific intentions for any year-end appropriations transferred into those established reserve accounts.”

Spokesperson for the comptroller’s office Tania Lopez declined to comment on the audit, stating in an email that it “pretty much speaks for itself.”

The district totaled $27,203 in spending with cases where they didn’t seek the required number of quotes in 2017 for goods and services. The comptroller’s office said they found multiple services for cheaper than the district purchased.

For instance, a car reparir shop was paid $3,125 in June, 2017 for body repairs and truck painting before the district got the two verbal quotes required. In the report, the comptroller’s office said district manager Larry Archer stated there were “limited vendors who could do this work locally,” and the shop was a “sole source vendor.” The comptroller’s office replied it would not be a sole source vendor if there were limited vendors.

In another case, the district purchased lighting fixtures for $2,030. In doing an online search, the comptroller’s office found the same fixtures for $1,628.

In an email, Tacopina reaffirmed claims that the board is doing all they can to be fiscally responsible and added the state restrictions hinder their scope.

“The Mount Sinai Fire District has consistently submitted budgets at or below the instituted New York State mandated 2 percent tax cap,” he said. “The Mount Sinai Fire District works each year successfully to cut costs and conserve the community’s tax dollars. This is despite all the mandates imposed by New York State and the federal government. Those cost savings are transferred each year to reserve funds. These funds are used to improve and maintain Fire district property, purchase life saving equipment and fire apparatus.”

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The director of the Echo Arms Adult Home in PJS said they are lacking funds to help support their residents. Photo by David Luces

As census data suggests the number of Americans ages 65 and over is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, some argue there has been an increased need for more assisted/senior living facilities. 

In New York State, licensed assisted living facilities receive government funding known as SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, which helps pay for services for seniors, including room, board, 24-hour supervision, medication assistance, case management and personal care assistance. New York State also supplements the federal SSI with additional payments through its Supplemental Security Program (SSP). 

“For lower-income and disabled individuals there are no other choices for them.”

— Harry Katz

Some local assisted care directors say the money is too little to care for an increasing demographic.

Harry Katz, administrator of Echo Arms Adult Home in Port Jefferson Station, said he runs one of the largest facilities in Suffolk County that exclusively accepts SSI/SSP individuals. 

“If SSI doesn’t change it will jeopardize a number of facilities on Long Island like mine,” he said. “For lower-income and disabled individuals there are no other choices for them.”

Though facilities in the state have said it has become increasingly difficult to pay for care of lower-income elderly, as the state has not increased its supplemental payment income for facilities in 12 years. 

Empire State Association of Assisted Living, a nonprofit organization whose stated goal is to strengthen New York State’s assisted living network, said due to the state not increasing the amount it will restrict senior’s access to this type of care. Currently, there are over 12,000 seniors living in SSI adult care facilities across the state. 

ESAAL serves more than 280 licensed assisted living residences, adult homes and enriched housing programs throughout the state. Some other locations in Suffolk County include Fairlawn Adult Home in Northport, Atria South Setauket and Maryville Assisted Living in Smithtown.  

According to ESAAL and Katz, the current SSI rate is less than $45 per day, which barely covers one half of a shift of one aide employed by an assisted living facility. 

Katz, who oversees 13 other employees at his facility, said he believes the state should increase funding so he and others can continue to provide these valuable services to seniors. 

“These are their homes, I’ve had residents who have lived here [Echo Home] for close to 20 years,” he said. 

Katz and others have reached out to elected officials to help their cause, but he said Albany remains stagnant in trying to increase funding.   

Back in 2018, current Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, while then a state assemblyman, introduced a bill (A6715B) that would increase the SSP that adult care facilities receive. In order to ensure that these services continue to be available to low-income SSI recipients. The bill passed both the Assembly and Senate but was ultimately vetoed by Gov.Andrew Cuomo (D). ESAAL is requesting that NYS increase the current SSI rate to $61 in the 2020-21 state budget. 

The administrator said it is also about educating people on what their organization does every day, as well as what kind of services these facilities provide. 

“These are a vulnerable group of people, these homes are providing a very good function,” he said. 

Katz said for many facilities like his, the increase of operation costs, wages and other factors in addition to the current SSI funding has made it difficult for some operators to continue to run its services. 

“Many facilities unfortunately are moving in that direction, he said. “The edge is coming closer for us, if nothing happens.”                                              

Stock photo

The state health department said 10 mosquito samples tested positive for West Nile virus in Suffolk County at the end of August, with three samples being found in Rocky Point.

In a release Aug. 30, Suffolk County Department of Health said that the mosquito samples, collected Aug. 20 and 21, had examples of West Nile virus in Lindenhurst, North Babylon, Farmingville, West Babylon, North Patchogue, Huntington Station, Commack and Rocky Point. All but Rocky Point had only one such sample collected.

Suffolk County has reported 53 mosquito samples to date that have tested positive for West Nile and six for Easter equine encephalitis, a virus that can cause brain infections, though no new samples have been collected at this point.

Dr. James Tomarken, the county commissioner of health, said there is a presence, but there is no reason to panic.

“The confirmation of West Nile virus in mosquito samples or birds indicates the presence of West Nile virus in the area,” said Tomarken. “While there is no cause for alarm, we advise residents to cooperate with us in our efforts to reduce their exposure to the virus, which can be debilitating to humans.”

West Nile virus may cause a range of symptoms, from mild to severe, including fever, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, joint pain and fatigue. There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus. Patients are treated with supportive therapy as needed.

The best way to handle local mosquito populations is for residents to eliminate standing or stagnant water pools in their areas. Tomarken said it’s important for residents to stay vigilant especially if they enter the Manorville area.

People are also encouraged to use long sleeves and socks and use mosquito repellent.

Dead birds may indicate the presence of West Nile virus in the area. To report dead birds, call the Public Health Information Line in Suffolk County at 631-787-2200 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Residents are encouraged to take a photograph of any bird in question.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 631-852-4270.

Sen. Gaughran, Assemblyman Stern and Highway Supervisor Orelli stand in front of debris cleared from June 30 storm that ravaged the town.

Following passage of two major bills to support local roadways, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) joined the Town of Huntington Highway Superintendent Kevin Orelli at the Huntington Highway Department to emphasize the importance of improving conditions for Huntington’s highways and drivers. 

The first set of bills, S.4363 and A.6547, raises the limits on capital expenditures used for the repair and improvement of highways in the town from $400,000 to $1,000,000, bringing it in line with neighboring municipalities. The second set, S.5422 and A.1235, protects drivers by expanding the state’s liability for damages suffered by individuals due to defects in state highways.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but I have no money.”

— Kevin Orelli

Orelli stressed the fact that the capital expenditure bill is not about getting more money from the state, adding it instead addresses an archaic rule that prevents the Highway Department from spending more than $400,000 in one year on equipment spending. The town, he said in a telephone interview, has fallen behind and is badly in need of new equipment, which is funded by the town and taxpayers. 

“I thank the legislators for their work,” Orelli said. “It’s a step in the right direction, but I have no money.” The town allocated no monies for equipment in this year’s budget, he said.

“We don’t have the money we need to do the job properly. We can’t do what we need to do,” he said.

The department recently retired around five snowplows and has been using antiquated equipment to repair potholes, It lacks basic machinery such as a chip truck, pay loader and a brine truck. A new super sucker, which the town needs to clean out storm drains, the highway superintendent said, costs $408,000.  

The Highway Department, he said, has been the department that gets budget cuts. Over time, it’s gradually fallen behind. The department once employed 300 people, but now operates with a staff of 150, Orelli said. The highway building itself, he said, is old and has too low of a clearance for some trucks to park inside for repair work.

State lawmakers said that they understand the situation has been decades in the making. 

“These bills are important protections to allow safe and swift repair of our local roadways and to our motorists,” Gaughran said. “S.4363 modernizes an arcane statute and allows the town to respond quickly and appropriately during an emergency.” 

Stern agrees.

“The bill helps ensure that the Huntington highway superintendent has the resources necessary to maintain the quality and safety of our roadways by updating an arcane section of the law that had not been changed in more than 40 years,” Stern said in an email response.

The proposed budget increase brings Huntington in line with neighboring towns including Smithtown, which has a $800,000 limit and a sizably smaller population. Huntington’s population as of the 2010 census was 203,264 population. Smithtown’s as of 2010 was 117,801.

Once the governor signs the capital expenditure bill, the town will need to decide how to pay for upgrades. 

“It is encouraging to hear that the state passed the legislation, which the Town Board urged them to pass earlier this year, to support increased funding for highway equipment.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“It is my intention to meet with each town board member and ask for a substantial increase in the highway tax,” Orelli said. “As you are probably aware, it is difficult from a political perspective to raise taxes. Keeping this in mind, I am asking the Town Board to put this issue up for a voter referendum and let the taxpayers decide whether or not they want to increase their investment in our infrastructure.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said that he supports improvements. 

“It is encouraging to hear that the state passed the legislation, which the Town Board urged them to pass earlier this year, to support increased funding for highway equipment,” he said in an email request for comment. “I have always supported measures funding road rehabilitation and equipment funding for highway and road maintenance. The Town Board failed to approve equipment funding at our March meeting, but I sponsored the resolution funding the purchase of up to $400,000 in new highway equipment, and I sponsored and voted for up to $4,750,000 in road and traffic safety rehabilitation measures for 2019, which passed at the same meeting.”

Of those funds $3 million were used for paving, $1 million for drainage with the rest going toward sidewalks, pavement markings and traffic signal and traffic calming improvements.

State liability 

State roads are maintained separately and unrelated to the Town of Huntington’s roadway situation. The second set of legislator’s bills address the state-imposed liability limits for damages caused by poor state road conditions. 

Currently, motorists who suffer damages due to defects on local roads may pursue damages against the locality at any time during the year if the municipality had advance notice of the defect, according to Gaughran’s office. Yet, motorists who suffered damages due to defects in state roads can pursue damages against the state only if the incident occurred between May 1 and Nov. 15. If the incident occurs between Nov. 16 and April 30, motorists are out of luck. 

“S.5422 protects local motorists on state roadways, because drivers should not be stuck paying out-of-pocket for damages caused by a defect in a state highway that should have been repaired.”

The state has developed several systems to combat pothole problems. Motorists are encouraged to call 1-800-POTHOLE to report a pothole on Long Island’s state roads. The state reports that it receives hundreds of pothole reports through these phone calls, and through letters, emails and social media. New York uses 5,000 tons of asphalt for road repair on Long Island, according to New York DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri.

“The NY State Department of Transportation aggressively fills potholes throughout the year on more than 4,000 lane miles of state highways on Long Island,” Canzoneri said. “In the winter, we enlist additional crews, who work days, nights, and weekends.” 

But, the current arrangement lets the state off the hook during crucial months.

“The bill [A.1235] would provide a more effective way to hold New York State accountable to motorists with claims for unsafe road conditions that cause damage or injury,” Stern said. “It will help provide efficiency, responsiveness and accountability. These measures together will certainly help to protect our suburban quality of life.”

The governor’s office did not respond to repeated request for comment on the two bills. 

Officials train residents on how to avoid being taken

Phone scams are on the rise, and officials say these and other scams are targeting the senior population.

Local government representatives emphasize that the elderly need to be better informed about what to look out for and how to avoid them.

On Aug. 20, at the Huntington Senior Center, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport),Town of Huntington Receiver of Taxes Jillian Guthman and state attorney general representative T.J. Hatter held a Smart Seniors event. Together they cautioned seniors against handing over large sums of money through phone, email, letter and internet scams. 

“These scammers will use fear if they think that will work, they will use kindness and they will use intimidation,” Hatter said. “The important thing is to please do not send these people your money. It is very hard to get it back once it is gone.” 

One of the most common scams targeting the senior population includes the sweepstakes scam, which requests the “winner” to send a check or wire money to cover taxes for their prize. Another one is where the scammer will act as a relative, such as a grandchild, and claim to be in danger. Sometimes, the scammer acts as a lawyer or police officer. In each case, they ask for money immediately. 

“There are two approaches to dealing with these types of scams,” Hatter said. “Ask for the person’s name and a call-back number.” He also recommends answering the phone only if you recognize the number as a friend or a loved one. “Let everyone else leave you a message,” he said. 

“The important thing is to please do not send these people your money. It is very hard to get it back once it is gone.”

— T.J Hatter

Hatter said the scammers are often out-of-the country and can’t be traced. 

“These scammers are using something called routing technology,” he said. “The idea is to make the number they are calling from have a ‘631’ or ‘516’ area code to make it look more local and make it more likely someone will answer.”

According to Suffolk County officials, in 2018, there were 68 phone scam incidents reported, targeting the elderly and non-English speakers. Of the 68 victims, 40 were elderly, as reported in a January 2019 TBR News Media article. Between 2017 and 2018, the largest amount of money taken in once incident was $800,000, according to Suffolk County police. 

In 2019, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be scammers looking to fraudulently gain access to financial information, according to a report from telecommunications firm First Orion. 

One of the latest scams to target seniors urges them to purchase gift cards to help a relative in trouble. 

“We are finding that [scammers] are asking for those prepaid gift cards and then they will ask you to scratch off the back and read them the numbers,” he said. “That’s the most common one we are finding right now.” 

Home improvement scams are also common and often offer “free inspections.” The inspections will almost always find a problem that requires an expensive solution.

“Someone will knock on your door and say they are a repair person and ask if something is wrong with your home,” Hatter said. “They will say they can fix it and even offer you a discounted rate. Do not pay this person.” 

Hatter said ultimately you hold the power so if you are not sure that you recognize the caller, you are not forced to answer the phone. 

The Office of the Attorney General urges people to use strong passwords and avoid using birth dates, Social Security numbers and mother’s maiden names in them.

If you shop online, be sure the sites you use are secure. A secure site will start with https:// and most use a padlock icon, which will tell you the name of the owner. Also, use only credit card rather than debit or check cards.

“Debit cards, even those with a credit card name and logo, do not carry the same protections,” the Smart Seniors program states. If credit card information is stolen, you are only liable for $50 in fraudulent charges. If your debit card information is stolen and the thief wipes out your bank account, the money is gone. 

It’s also important to remember that email scammers often masquerade as a familiar and trustworthy company, such as your bank, online store or credit card company. Sometimes they pretend to be a government agency. These scammers are “phishing” for personal data and often claim that there’s a problem with your account. Do not click on a link no matter who they claim to be. You may be directed to a bogus, look-alike website that spoofs a real company. 

“The key to the phishing scams is that they ask you to provide personal information, such as your Social Security number or password, so they can “confirm your identity,” the program warns. 

“If you get a call, text or email from a company claiming there’s a problem do not respond,” the Attorney General’s Office states. Instead delete the message or hang up, and contact the company yourself. It’s important to protect your personal information. Papers should be shredded before you throw them away. 

New Yorkers donate more than $10 billion to charitable organizations each year, with older New Yorkers being the most generous, the Attorney General’s Office states. It is suggested that you confirm that a charity is registered with the Attorney General’s Office, as required by law and find out if the funds will be used for programs, administrative costs and fundraising. Avoid charities that will not answer questions about its programs and finances. 

Residents can greatly reduce the number of unsolicited calls, mailings and internet offerings they receive. The National Do Not Call Registry can be reached at 800-382-1222. You can place your landline and your mobile number on the Do Not Call List. Registration never expires. Political organizations, charities and telephone surveyors are still permitted. 

Patricia Wagner, a Huntington resident who attended the session, said she was grateful. 

“This was really informative and I’m going to share this information with my friends [who are not here],” she said. “We are getting older … we need an event like this every year.” 

Stock Photo

With the start of the school year less than a month away, school officials and parents are in the midst of adjusting to stricter state immunization requirements for children that will eliminate exemption from vaccines due to religious beliefs.  

The new measure, which took effect immediately after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed it into law June 13, comes in the wake of numerous measles cases throughout the country including cases in Brooklyn and Rockland County. This year, over 1,000 new measles cases have been reported — the highest in 27 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

“We are responsible for implementing the new state immunization regulations exactly as they are written.”

— Marianne Cartisano

New York joins four other states — California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia — in eliminating the religious exemption.

While school districts have been notifying parents and guardians about the new requirements through posts on their websites and letters sent in the mail, the new law remains to be a divisive topic. 

Advocates of the religious exemption say that eliminating it violates their freedom of religion rights. 

South Setauket and Setauket parents Dayna Whaley and Trisha Vasquez, respectively, both ardent anti-vaccine advocates, both said they had a religious exemption for their children but they and others are now considering home-schooling or even moving out of the state. 

“God made us in his image and didn’t make us with an incomplete immune system that needed to be injected with toxic chemicals in order to keep us healthy,” said Vasquez, 50. She added she does not subscribe to any one religion but still believes in God. She has a 9-year-old child in the Three Village Central School District. 

Whaley, 41, of the Jewish faith, said the options are very limited for her daughter, Grayson, who will be entering kindergarten. 

“With religious exemption eliminated, what other things can I look at that maybe could get my child [back] into school,” she said. 

In mid-June, the Three Village school district sent out a letter to parents/guardians alerting them of the new legislation signed by the governor. It advised them that every student entering or attending public school must be immunized against poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcal disease and meningococcal disease. 

Other school districts have also had to quickly deal with the law over the summer. Marianne Cartisano, superintendent of the Miller Place School District, said the number of exemptions in the district was estimated at 60 students, but the number has been reduced over the past several weeks. 

“Miller Place School District remains committed to ensuring a safe school environment for all of our students, while understanding parents have the right to choose if and when they immunize their children,” the superintendent said in an email. “We are responsible for implementing the new state immunization regulations exactly as they are written.”

“You look at the plastic bag ban — you have until 2020 to adjust to that, but our children are thrown out of school immediately and we are scrambling to figure out what to do here.”

— Dayna Whaley

The Miller Place super added the district has no option but to comply.

“We have no authority to deviate from these regulations and must adhere to the guidance provided to our district from the Department of Health and or Office of Children and Family Services,” she said. “During this time of potential transition, we look forward to supporting students and families throughout the vaccination and enrollment processes.”

The New York law requires that parents and guardians provide proof of their child’s immunization within 14 days after the first day of school. Also, within 30 days of the first day of school, parents or guardians must show that they scheduled appointments for follow-up doses for their children. 

Some required immunizations include those against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chicken pox).

Until June 30, 2020, a child can attend school if they receive the first age-appropriate dose in each immunization series within 14 days from the first day of school attendance and can show within 30 days that they have scheduled age-appropriate appointments for required follow-up doses, according to NYS Department of Health officials. By June 30, 2020, all students attending school should be fully up-to-date with their required immunizations. 

One option Whaley and others have looked at is seeking a medical exemption from state, but she said it is extremely difficult to obtain one as an individual has to fit a certain medical profile. 

“Even if we wanted a medical exemption, try finding a doctor that will write one for you or even allow you in their practice,” the South Setauket resident said.

Anti-vaccine proponents are a small but growing group of advocates who argue against vaccination. The group often relies on scientifically disputed pieces of information. The vast majority of the scientific and medical communities have rejected their arguments. 

Beyond the scientific arguments, the Setauket parents took issue with the law going into effect immediately. 

“You look at the plastic bag ban — you have until 2020 to adjust to that, but our children are thrown out of school immediately and we are scrambling to figure out what to do here,” Whaley said. 

Both parents say they are weighing potential co-op and home-schooling options for their children. They said moving would introduce its own host of difficulties.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said she is glad to have this level of protection for all children in Suffolk County. 

“Just as seat belts protect all kids, even those that don’t like them or feel they are too confining, vaccines will now protect all of our children,” the division chief said. “There is abundant data that shows that when we vaccinate all kids, we not only protect them, but also their parents and grandparents. The vaccine law is not specific to measles and includes all vaccines appropriate for school-aged children.”

“Just as seat belts protect all kids, even those that don’t like them or feel they are too confining, vaccines will now protect all of our children.”

— Sharon Nachman

According to a report by the New York Health Foundation, 26,217 students statewide, had religious exemptions from vaccinations during the 2017-18 school year. 

Nachman said with the implementation of the new requirements, she and her colleagues have seen an increase in both questions about vaccinations, about the numbers of children who are getting their initial vaccines as well as those who are getting up to date with their vaccines. 

“Community protection is a real event,” Nachman said. “As we have seen with the recent measles outbreaks, the only way to combat these outbreaks is by protecting all the children in our community.”

Nachman said the Pediatric Infectious Diseases division at Stony Brook often discusses the scientific data with families who have questions, but those who come in with their minds made up about the risks and benefits of vaccines, especially those who are against them, will rarely agree with the need to vaccinate.

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Mayor: No money for state road paving projects in Port Jeff until 2025

Vanessa Taranto looks at letters she’s sent to officials over the years. Photo by Kyle Barr

For nearly six years, village resident Vanessa Taranto has sounded the drum to the New York State Department of Transportation for a sidewalk running along the north side of West Broadway from Setauket into Port Jefferson Village. 

DOT plans to build a sidewalk on the north side of West Broadway up toward Setauket. Photo by Kyle Barr

In letter after letter, she asked for a chance to take her children down the road without the anxiety of walking in the opposite direction of cars. In 2013, she received a letter from state DOT saying there were no accidents involving pedestrians on the road, and it would have been cost prohibitive. This, especially, had her laughing to herself.

“People are driving up the hill during the day sometimes with the sun in their eyes, and it’s dangerous,” Taranto said. “I wrote back to everyone, ‘Does the Village of Port Jefferson have to wait for someone to die before they build a sidewalk five blocks long?’”

To people like the Port Jefferson mayor and the DOT, she became known as the “sidewalk lady.” 

Now her wish could soon become a reality, and those looking to climb the hill of West Broadway into Setauket may soon find their path aided with a new sidewalk.

DOT confirmed the plans to construct a new sidewalk by late next year along the north side of West Broadway, a quarter-mile stretch compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act connecting existing sidewalk sections between Hoyt Lane and Bayview Terrace.

While this is good news for those along the state-owned stretch of road, of course, there is a catch — and it’s a big one.

While bids have already gone out for a sidewalk along the north side of West Broadway, otherwise known as Route 25A, a true repaving of the steep road from the village into Setauket is missing funds on the part of the state. Mayor Margot Garant told the public at the last board meeting Aug. 5 the state DOT does not have any more funds for road repaving in all of New York until 2025.

Though this does not preclude the village going in to patch holes, complete repaving — usually an expensive endeavor — might not be in the pipe for another six years.

“It means I could not put in a request to have West Broadway repaved,” Garant said, “[DOT] said the best they could do was to have the maintenance crew go out and patch on the south side of West Broadway going down the hill.”

The DOT did not confirm or deny the lack of funds for projects until 2025, and instead said they were looking for other options for dealing with Route 25A.

“Route 25A (Main Street) was resurfaced three years ago between the ferry terminal and NYS Route 112 and we are exploring options for additional paving on Route 25A in the near future,” DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri said in an email. “We are in the process of scheduling a follow-up meeting with the mayor’s team to discuss these projects.”

Garant said she learned this in a meeting with DOT officials several weeks ago along with other village officials including Steve Gallagher, superintendent of the village Department of Public Works.

West Broadway is a steep hill climbing up toward Setauket, and several parts of that street are pockmarked with wide and deep potholes. Route 25A, which is otherwise known as Main Street before turning into West Broadway, travels all the way from Calverton into Queens at Long Island City. Taranto called the state of the road “a nightmare.”

Garant said while the village could ask the state for permission to go in and patch the worst parts of the road, the village Department of Public Works would not be keen on spending time and money on a road that should be handled by the state.

“If we’re going to do this, we should do it right and make it one continuous walkable community.”

— Margot Garant

Though repaving on West Broadway has been stymied, the north facing sidewalk is still in the pipe. One plan for the new sidewalk goes all the way down the north side of West Broadway until Beach Street, but the other would be pushed back to start after Bayview Terrace. Garant was adamant it should start by the bottom of the hill.

“If we’re going to do this, we should do it right and make it one continuous walkable community,” the mayor said. 

The mayor said the village will be having a follow-up meeting Aug. 27 with the DOT. 

The final decision comes down to DOT officials. Meg Danielson, a transportation analyst for the state DOT who will be meeting with village officials later this month, did not respond to requests for comment. 

Meanwhile, Port Jeff is gathering funds to repave several village-owned roads, including: Pine Tree Court, Nadia Court, Contessa Court, Roslyn Court, Peninsula Drive and Landing Lane at a total cost $349,404. Paving is being done by Rosemar Contracting Inc. of East Moriches. Previous quotes for repaving had come in at just under $500,000, according to village officials.

“Their quote was so wonderful that we added another street,” Garant said at the Aug. 5 board meeting. “That’s not to say there’s other streets in the village that need to be done.”

And despite the state of West Broadway, Taranto is looking forward to a chance to bring her children down into Port. For one of her daughters, Roxanne, who is on the autism spectrum, it’s an important opportunity to allow her some degree of independence as she grows toward high school.

It wasn’t just for her, Taranto said, nor her other daughter Maggie, but for the other 12 children — 11 girls and one boy — living on her block along Longacre Court, who she said have developed into a close-knit community. 

“If I can do this for all of those kids to keep them safe, that’s really my goal,” Taranto said.

A breakdown of current legislation on the gun debate

Stock Photo

Mass shootings and gun violence have rocked the nation, leaving people to ask the question:  What can be done to stop the violence?

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. File photo

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called on Democratic presidential candidates to support strong gun safety laws. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY2), in a show of bipartisanship, called for a vote on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 at a press conference Aug. 6.

Improved background checks, banning high-powered automatic and semi-automatic weapons and ammunition, and better mental health screenings have been among the top ideas suggested, some of the legislation relating to which is still pending.  Some are stalled at various levels of Congress.

Here’s a recap of what measures have been recently implemented or proposed. 

Bump stocks

In March 2019 President Donald Trump (R) signed into law a ban on bump stocks, devices which turn weapons into automatic guns that fire rapidly through the recoil of the gun itself.

Red flag laws

New York State passed a “red flag” law in February 2019, which takes effect on Aug. 24. A new report, entitled “Mass Violence in America: Causes, Impacts and Solutions,” which was released Aug. 6 by the National Council for Behavioral Health, suggests that red flag laws may be among the best tools so far suggested for reducing gun violence. Red flag laws enable people, concerned about the well-being of individuals who display violent tendencies or show signs that they may be at risk to engage in gun violence, to contact law enforcement to institute gun control measures through a court process. Under New York’s statute, three categories of people can submit a red flag on someone: law enforcement, school officials and family.

Background checks

H.R.8 Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 

H.R.1112 Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019

Both bills have passed the House and are stalled in the Senate, with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refusing to bring H.R.8 in particular to the floor for vote.

H.R.8 establishes background checks for guns transferred between private parties (unlicensed individuals.) Specifically, it prohibits transfer of firearms unless a gun dealer or importer first takes possession of the weapon and does a background check. The prohibition does not apply to gifts that transfer weapons between spouses.

U.S. Rep Tom Suozzi, who co-sponsored the event, takes the podium. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

H.R.1112 revises the background checks to applicable firearm transfers from federal licensed firearms licensee (or a gun dealer) to unlicensed person. 

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) is co-sponsor of both bills. Suozzi represents Queens and the North Shore of Long Island to parts of Kings Park and runs an office in Huntington. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) voted “no” on both bills.  

Zeldin defends his “no” vote record on these bills. When asked why, here is his response:

“In the case of Parkland, for example, Nikolas Cruz passed a background check, but clearly should not have had any access to firearms. The current system is flawed. Unfortunately, instead of addressing these shortcomings, H.R.8 and H.R.1112 zeroed in on law-abiding citizens. We need to improve our nation’s background check system by ensuring state reporting and the compilation of all relevant information. We cannot determine if certain people are unfit to own a firearm if we don’t have the necessary available information.”

H.R.4477 Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Act of 2017 

Passed as part of Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

H.R.4477 amends the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to require each federal agency and department to supply disqualifying records of a person prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Zeldin supported the Fix NICS bill, and had this to say:

“We need to ensure lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none. That’s why I supported the Fix NICS bill, which could have saved 26 lives at the First Baptist Church [of Sutherland Springs] in Texas, and why I called for a congressional hearing and action in the wake of the tragedy in Parkland. I support the Mass Violence Prevention [Reform] Act, which would improve information sharing to prevent and deter violence caused by criminal use of firearms, reduce the flow of firearms onto the black market and provide law enforcement with increased resources to keep our communities safe. I also supported the STOP School Violence Act that helps school personnel and law enforcement identify and prevent violence in schools.”

Concealed carry reciprocity 

H.R.38 Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2019 

The bill allows individuals to carry concealed weapons to other states that allow concealed weapons. The bill was introduced in January and referred to committee with no recent action. 

Suozzi voted “no” on similar legislation proposed in 2017. Zeldin is a co-sponsor of the 2019 legislation. 

A representative for Zeldin had this to say on the bill:

“The congressman supports the rights of law- abiding Americans to own firearms to protect themselves, their family and other loved ones. He believes lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the swearing-in of state Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport). Photo by Sara Meghan Walsh

As part of New York State’s commitment to reach zero-carbon emissions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced July 3 a $55 million investment for energy storage projects that promotes commercial and residential clean energy use on Long Island. 

“With our nation-leading clean energy goals and aggressive strategy to combat climate change, New York continues to set the example of climate leadership for other states across the country,” Cuomo said. “These incentives for energy storage will help Long Islanders grow their clean energy economy and create jobs while also improving the resiliency of the grid in the face of more frequent extreme weather events.”

The initial roll out includes nearly $15 million in incentives available immediately from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for both residential and commercial installations. Additional compensation is also available from PSEG-LI’s Dynamic Load Management tariff, which pays customers to reduce the amount of grid electricity used when demand is highest. The energy storage system paired with solar can enable this to be accomplished. 

 The current NYSERDA incentive is $250 for each kilowatt hour of energy storage installed up to 25 kilowatt hours for a residential system and 15 megawatt hours for a commercial system.  

NYSERDA’s NY-Sun program also offers financing for the installation of solar panels.

 “As more renewable resources are brought online throughout the state, energy storage will improve the efficiency of the grid to better integrate resources like solar while providing residents and businesses with a cleaner, more reliable energy system,” Alicia Barton, president and CEO, NYSERDA, said. “This announcement reinforces Long Island’s position as one of the leading clean energy markets in New York and moves the state closer to reaching Governor Cuomo’s aggressive 3,000 megawatts by 2030 energy storage target.”

The state estimates that the 2030 target equates to powering 40 percent of New York homes with carbon-free technology.

The remaining funds will be allocated over the next three to five years and will be used to drive down costs and scale up the market for these clean energy technologies. The incentives support energy storage installed at customer sites for standalone systems or systems paired with solar.

“Incentivizing energy storage projects on Long Island is a necessary step in order to develop our renewable resource capacity,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, said. “This will help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, stabilize energy bills for ratepayers, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I applaud Governor Cuomo for this initiative and look forward to more proposals that will ensure New York State takes the lead in addressing climate change.”