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New York State

Candidate Rona Smith debates her opponent for a New York State Assembly seat Anthony Palumbo at TBR News Media. Photo by Alex Petroski

People across the United States have been motivated to enter into politics and pursue government office for the first time in their lives during the current election cycle and the prior one in 2017. When asked, many of those candidates tend to cite the current state of things in national politics.

In the race to represent New York State’s 2nd Assembly District, candidate Rona Smith, a 73-year-old first-time candidate who serves as the Housing Advisory Commission chairwoman for the Town of Southold, is making her first run for office. We admire that someone would be inspired to make an effort at fostering greater good despite having carved out a nice living for herself and having nothing personally to gain from pursuing the seat.

This is not to say incumbent Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) doesn’t have his heart in the right place and hasn’t helped accomplish tangible things for the district, like co-sponsoring legislation for the state to acquire and preserve about 900 acres of green space in Shoreham.

Still, with a Democrat majority in the Assembly that is unlikely to go away any time soon, we would like to see Smith given a chance to bring some of her fresh ideas and tenacity to Albany to join a conference with the political clout to get tangible results locally and statewide.

Smith is educated, hard-working, has government experience in a critical area to the future prosperity of Long Island — namely affordability of housing.

We appreciate the years of dedicated service Palumbo has given the district, but we’ll be voting for Smith Nov. 6.

Rona Smith is challenging Anthony Palumbo for his New York State Assembly seat. Photos by Alex Petroski

The North Shore’s easternmost New York State Assembly District — which juts as far west as Mount Sinai and portions of Port Jefferson — has been represented by an incumbent Republican since 2013, and a first-time candidate for political office is seeking to unseat him.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) was elected in a special election to represent the 2nd District in 2013 and won subsequent races in 2014 and 2016. The 48-year-old practicing lawyer will be challenged this Election Day by 73-year-old Democrat Rona Smith, a newcomer to politics from Greenport with government experience, as she currently serves as the chairwoman of the Housing Advisory Commission for Southold Town.

The candidates sat down for a debate at the TBR News Media in Setauket in October to discuss issues impacting the district.

Health care

The future of health care is at the top of minds for candidates in federal and state races alike this cycle, likely because it’s on the minds of their common constituents. State law can be used in conjunction with federal law regarding health care, meaning the legislative houses of New York’s government will have an opportunity to stabilize health care policy for its residents as the federal Affordable Care Act waits in limbo for a bipartisan solution in Congress.

Democrats in the Assembly have passed a single-payer health care bill — meaning essentially everyone in the state would pay into a pool and everyone would be covered — which has gotten no traction in the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, and appears unlikely ever to become the law.

As the ACA suffers, Palumbo said he would suggest some simple tweaks to improve the current system, rather than implementing a single-payer bill, which he said he believes will be too expensive.

“When you think about the numbers, we’re talking about 900,000 people in New York state are uninsured — they’re between the Medicaid gap and the private insurance gap — that’s 5 percent,” he said. “Not a lot I think, generally speaking.”

He suggested bringing back the Family Health Plus option, a subsidized plan for low-income individuals, which wasn’t available under the ACA, rather than “overhauling” state tax code to afford a single-payer scheme.

“Nothing comes off the shelf perfect,” Smith said of both the ACA and the single-payer bill passed by the Assembly. “They’re not perfect, they’re attempts to try to make sure that everybody — rich, poor, old, young — has health insurance they can depend upon for any health need that comes up. We have got to figure out how to do it.”

Affordability and opportunity

The candidates agreed there are obstacles for people — but especially recent college graduates — for being able to live and prosper both in the district and in the county as a whole. The problem will only be exaggerated going forward by the capping of state and local tax deductions, a component of the new federal tax code bill that will disproportionately impact homeowners in high-tax states like New York.

Smith said she would home in on reducing student loan debt as a means to foster more affordability, in addition to investment in more affordable housing projects for low-income individuals, a plan she said Democrats in the Assembly are already working on.

She said students need access to mandated, objective advice when it comes to borrowing and affording college, rather than just input from for-profit loan collection businesses.

Palumbo said New York’s susceptibility to outward migration can be traced to out-of-control budgeting and spending.

“It’s conservative fiscal values that we need to have,” he said.

He said the Assembly has been working on a solution to mitigate the capping of the SALT deduction at $10,000, though so far the IRS has not blessed any of the fixes.

Infrastructure investment

Investing in projects that could stimulate the local economy is seen as a solution by members of both parties. Currently legislators in New York are gathering funds to study the feasibility of electrifying the Long Island Rail Road east of Huntington on the North Shore line, an idea many have suggested to increase opportunities for people to live and work in the area.

“I think investments in infrastructure always come back in salaries and benefits for people,” Smith said. “It might make housing more accessible.”

She said electrification might be the answer, but the state’s economy could be better served by using the LIRR to ship freight, an idea that would allow farmers and vineyards on the East End to ship fresh products beyond the direct vicinity.

Palumbo said he would go in another direction instead of committing major funds to electrify the LIRR line. He said he would like to see the results of a study examining LIRR ridership to the East End before going down that road and would prefer to see smarter leadership from the Metropolitan Transit Authority when it comes to train schedules and usage.

He also called on school districts to examine ways to scale down spending, which is the largest driver of increasing property taxes.

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With less than two weeks to go before New York State’s primaries, we’ve been ramping up our coverage of the 2018 elections at TBR News Media. One thing has become abundantly clear: There are a seemingly endless number of hurdles for who can run, their campaigns and how to vote.

In Shoreham, Rocky Point Fire Chief Mike Yacubich has fought to stay on the ballot after citizens in the state’s 2nd Assembly District challenged his petitions to be the Republican candidate to run for the seat. Their objections were based on the fact that he and his son share the same name — and that there was no distinguishing middle initial indicated on the forms — which they argued could have led to confusion for voters.

In Northport, Democratic hopeful Michael Marcantonio was found ineligible to run for the state’s 12th Assembly District after it was brought to the court’s attention he cast his vote in North Carolina in 2014. At the time, he was a law student at Duke University and didn’t realize judges may rule that ballot severed his five-year residency in New York, which is the time required to run for political office.

In Huntington, Republican candidates have petitioned to create a “Stop LIPA” ballot line for the Nov. 6 elections. Their opponents have filed objections. It has raised questions about when Stop LIPA became a legitimate third party and cast doubts on which elected officials are rallying against the utility’s attempt to get the taxes lowered on its Northport plant, an issue we see as local and party-less.

Throughout the summer, we’ve seen voter drives encouraging teenagers to register before heading off to college. The process of simply obtaining an absentee ballot requires completing a preliminary application that needs to be hand delivered to the Suffolk County Board of Elections Yaphank office or snail mailed at least seven days in advance, and casting an absentee ballot then requires a second trip to the post office. Also, being required to work during polling hours is not listed as a valid reason for obtaining an absentee ballot.

Our state laws regarding how to run for office and how to cast a vote need to be simplified. The process needs to be streamlined and modernized. Our failure to do so hurts both Democrats and Republicans, it knows no party lines. Rather, it collectively silences the voices of aspiring politicians looking to make a difference, employees working long hours to make ends meet and uninformed youth who find too many barriers between them and the polling booths.

First, information on how to run for office and eligibility needs to be made clear and more easily available to the public. A fundamental concept to our democracy is that anyone can run for office — but they have to know how and what to do.

In New York state, anyone with a valid driver’s license can register to vote online and change their party affiliation. Given this is possible, we fail to see any reason why a request for an absentee ballot should not also be fileable via email or an online form on Suffolk County Board of Elections’ website with an electronic confirmation given.

With the technology available today, it’s hard to believe we’re locked into pen-and-paper forms and snail mail to register political candidates for elections and to vote if temporarily out of state. It’s time we re-examine these methods. Participating in democracy should be getting easier, not more difficult.

Brookhaven is looking to increase it's cyber security through a state grant, but the town is not saying how. Stock photo

The Town of Brookhaven is looking to beef up its cyber security.

At the Aug. 2 Brookhaven Town board meeting councilmembers voted unanimously to apply for a $50,000 grant under the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Cyber Security Grant Program. If the town attains the grant, Brookhaven will use town funds under specified cyber security initiatives and seek reimbursement through the grant.

The grant will make $500,000 available for any county, town or village in the state at a maximum of $50,000 per entity. Other municipalities in Suffolk County such as the Town of Smithtown are applying for the grant.

According to the state grant application, the money can be used for a number of items, including hiring a cyber security consultant, software packages for items such as firewalls and encryption, new equipment such as servers or hardware used against cyber threats, and for staff training involving cyber security awareness.

Jack Krieger, communications director for Brookhaven Town, said the town does not comment on current or future cyber security measures when asked what the money might be used for.

In June 2017, the Town of Brookhaven’s website, among 76 other municipalities, was successfully hacked by what was described as a “pro-ISIS group.” ISIS is referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group that took over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and is now being pushed back by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and the Syrian army.

The group, Team System DZ, created a static webpage using the Town of Brookhaven servers, but it did not affect the official Brookhaven website. A link was set up through town servers to a static, look-alike webpage.

Deputy Town Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said at the time they did not see any information extracted from the servers. The town’s website was taken down temporarily but was restored within a few days.

Much emphasis has been put on cyber security by government officials of late, as it was revealed that Russia had made efforts to hack into Democratic National Convention servers during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, taking information which was later released via several outlets including WikiLeaks, an international whistleblower organization. U.S. intelligence officials have warned that Russia is already attempting to influence the 2018 midterm elections through multiple electronic means including phishing scams that target people’s passwords and by setting up fake accounts on social media, according to Bloomberg News recently.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Board of Elections is also keeping tight-lipped about cyber security measures as Long Island and the rest of the country heads toward a heated midterm election taking place Nov. 6.

“The board generally doesn’t comment on its security measures because we understand that doing so could aid nefarious individuals in their attempts to exploit our voting processes,” said Republican board of elections commissioner, Nick LaLota, when asked about the board’s preparedness to ward off security threats.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has put New York on a path to become the 10th state in the United States to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. We’re in favor of jumping on the national movement, so long as it’s done with both eyes wide open.

On Aug. 2, Cuomo announced that he was forming a group of 20 experts specializing in public health, safety and economics to draft legislation to regulate the recreational use of marijuana by adults. The bill would go before the state Legislature in January 2019.

Laws surrounding marijuana have been gradually shifting since California legalized its medical use in 1996. A number of scientific studies have shown the drug may be beneficial for those suffering from chronic pain, seizures and mental impairments. New York adopted medical marijuana laws in July 2014.

The state’s foray into opening the medical marijuana market has been closely regulated. Patients need to be formally diagnosed by a licensed medical practitioner, have it prescribed, register with the state and carry an identification card. The state has limited the number of dispensaries, making for news whenever a site opens.

Moving toward decriminalizing recreational use of pot — as its more commonly called — could provide several benefits. Colorado, one of the first states to allow smoking marijuana in 2012, saw an immediate economic boom. It saw a vast spike in tourism, something unlikely to repeat here in New York, but reports show benefits from taxing and regulating what was once an underground market.

The Gazette, a Colorado Springs newspaper, reported in July that studies show there’s been an increase in the number of adults who are indulging in marijuana, while the number of high school and middle school students who report testing it out has held steady at or below the national average. Simply put, if a teen was tempted to try it — marijuana’s legality wasn’t stopping them.

New York approving legislation allowing for the drug’s recreational use — treating it similarly to alcohol — could open up avenues for regulations of an otherwise black market turning it into a resource to provide tax revenue for the state. The funds would arguably benefit school districts and could be used to help close state budgetary shortfalls while helping offset any further tax hikes.

The drafted bill should outline restrictions on smoking up more in line with shifting socially acceptable drugs, like alcohol. We agree age restrictions, limitations on appropriate places and enforcement against drugged driving need to be on the books.

The issue becomes, can marijuana be safely, legally and responsibly used?

State legislators need to create a carefully crafted, well-thought out bill that sets parameters to allow for regulation of what’s already happening. Each week, TBR News Media reporters see countless incidents of people being arrested for possessing or smoking marijuana — without committing other criminal behavior. Regulate it, create a market and be flexible to amending the laws when — not if — loopholes emerge.

It’s time to refocus our law enforcement’s efforts on cracking down on Long Island’s illegal heroin and opioid problems, which can and do result in fatal overdoses and places stress on our health care system.

Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group, representative from the Long Island Rail Road Ryan Attard, grant writer Nicole Christian, Tony Gitto of The Gitto Group, Leg. Kara Hahn, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, village Mayor Margot Garant, village Trustee Larry LaPointe, Trustee Bruce Miller, and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright during a groundbreaking for an upper Port Jefferson revitalization project May 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

After years of planning upper Port’s redevelopment to deal with blighted buildings, traffic and a lack of parking space, Port Jefferson Village officials are finally ready to say, “Don’t believe me, just watch.”

As part of the village’s revitalization efforts — a project dubbed “Uptown Funk” — village, Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town officials held a groundbreaking ceremony May 9 for a new parking lot in the space at the corner of Texaco Avenue and Linden Place. The lot should allow for another 74 parking spaces, largely for Long Island Rail Road commuters using the Port Jefferson train station.

“The village is thrilled to partner with the county, Empire State Development and the Long Island Rail Road on improvements in upper Port to enhance pedestrian connectivity and safety, revitalize blighted commercial properties, and promote safe living and economic growth,” Mayor Margot Garant said.

The revitalization of upper Port is part of the Connect LI project of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The plan behind the initiative is to use both existing and new public transportation options to connect people to commercial centers and main streets as in Port Jefferson.

“This is a model of what we need to be doing around the region,” Bellone said. “My administration is committed to providing funding to assist our towns and villages with these revitalization projects. The project we broke ground on today is a major step in continuing our efforts to make Suffolk County a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

Phase one of the project will cost $850,000 to be funded by grants from the county’s Jumpstart program and other financial contributions. Along with the parking lot the first phase of the project will improve sidewalks that lead to the train station from The Hills at Port Jefferson apartment complex.

Phase two of the project will include a renovation of the north, east and south LIRR parking lots with new pavement, lighting and plaza entryway.

Phase three will create “Station Street,” a new one-way road that will provide access to the new renovated parking lots. Garant said the road should also reduce congestion on Main Street and allow for smoother access into the train station parking lots.

Part of the hope for the project is that students coming from Stony Brook University and other commuters will help create interest in the area, which in turn should incentivize businesses to invest in upper Port and remedy the blighted property seen on Main Street, according to Garant.

“We want feet on the street,” Garant said.

Last year Nicole Christian, a consultant at law firm HB Solutions and grant writer for the village, helped apply for several grants for the Uptown Funk project. Last year Port Jefferson Village was awarded $250,000 in Jumpstart money to start plans on the project and the village also applied for a grant from the Empire State Development Corporation, a state entity, for $500,000.

“Empire State Development is excited to support this roadway realignment that will foster this transit-oriented development and revitalize this community to create a true linkage from upper Port Jefferson to the waterfront,” Howard Zemsky, ESD president, said in an email.

Part of the purpose of the new parking lot is also to help facilitate foot traffic from The Hills at Port Jefferson to the train station across the street. “All of the apartments in two separate buildings, which were completed in 2016, have already been rented out and there is already a long wait list to get in,” said Tony Gitto of The Gitto Group, the real estate development company behind development of the apartment complex, during the event.

The Town of Brookhaven and Port Jefferson Village worked with Gitto and his company to create the two-building complex. To incentivize the creation of the apartment complex, Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, an arm of municipalities dedicated to funding projects to stimulate job creation and economic growth, gave Gitto and his company sales tax exemptions on construction items, a mortgage tax exemption and a 10-year property tax abatement.

Gitto said that they provided money toward the funding of the new parking lot.

“They hired the contractors and we made a financial contribution,” Gitto said.

This post was updated May 15.

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Mean test scores for Port Jefferson School District students in 2016 and 2017 on AP exams in 10 major subjects. Graphic by TBR News Media

The results are in, and Port Jefferson School District teachers, administrators and students have plenty to be proud of.

Jessica Schmettan, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, presented data regarding Port Jeff students scores on Advanced Placement tests taken in May 2017 during a Dec. 12 board of education meeting. AP is a program that offers college-level curriculum and exams to high school students, and college credits are available based on performance in the courses. The College Board, a nonprofit formed to expand access to higher education in North America, created the AP program. The exams are scored from 1 to 5, with scores 3 or higher considered proficient and a minimum standard to be able to earn college credit.

Participation in AP courses and performance on exams overall are trending up in Port Jeff. In 2017, Port Jeff students took 354 AP exams, compared to 280 in 2015. Schmettan said the district was proud to see the increase in the number of students taking the exams and expects that number to increase as more AP offerings are made available to students.

PJSD superintendent, board discuss future after bond fails

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson School District superintendent, Paul Casciano, and board of education president, Kathleen Brennan, each made public comments Dec. 12 regarding the future of capital improvement projects that would have been addressed by a $30 million bond, a proposal that was voted down by a wide margin by district residents Dec. 5.

Casciano: “Our capital bond proposal was defeated [Dec. 5]. Our board of education and administration are in the process of reviewing what implications there are in the results to determine which steps would be in the best interest of our students. Although we’re disappointed by the outcome, we are grateful that so many residents took the time to vote. Our discussions moving forward will be focused on how best to address the problems that we are facing, namely the health, safety and security of our students and staff; compliance with state and federal regulations; our aging infrastructure; and our overcrowded and overtaxed athletic fields. Hopefully at some point in the future we’ll actually get to plan how to transform our instructional settings into a 21st-century learning environment.”

Brennan: “This is our first board meeting since the vote, so clearly we had no time to discuss the outcome among the board members. I can assure you that we hear you, we heard the vote from the public, and we plan to study that and clearly and carefully and slowly move forward. We certainly will include the public in those plans. So I thank you for your comments and your interest in our district.”

“It is gratifying to see the number of our students [taking AP courses] continuing to grow and the offerings in AP,” board of education member Mark Doyle said during the meeting.

The mean score for Port Jeff students increased when comparing 2016 results to 2017 results on exams in 13 subject areas, including chemistry, environmental science, world history and calculus. In each of those particular subjects, more than 90 percent of students taking the test scored a 3 or better. In addition, the mean Port Jeff 2017 scores in 14 subject areas exceeded the New York State means. In environmental science and chemistry, the Port Jeff means were more than a full percentage point better than New York State means. Schmettan said she was impressed to see the 2017 chemistry scores as the district mean was 4.00, compared to 2.90 across the state and 3.13 in 2016 in Port Jeff.

Average scores in English language and composition, English literature and composition, world history, and U.S. history all went up from 2016 to 2017. However, AP calculus scores skyrocketed in 2017, jumping from 2.57 on average last year to 4.15, which represented the largest increase in any subject.

“We saw a very strong comeback in AP calculus, and we’re proud of that,” Schmettan said.

In another area of mathematics, statistics, 2017 test takers struggled compared to last year. The average 2016 score was 3.92, compared to 3.05 this past May.

“We’re hoping that is a similar event as to what happened in AP calculus last year, that perhaps it is an event not a pattern in the data,” she said.

Port Jeff came in below other New York State test takers on average in five subjects: macroeconomics, biology, Spanish language and culture, music theory and computer science. Biology scores have come down from a mean of 3.19 in 2014 to a 2.92 in 2017.

In total 29 students in Port Jeff were named AP Scholars with Distinction, which is granted to test takers who receive scores of at least 3.50 on all exams taken and scores of 3 or better on five or more exams. Six students were named National AP Scholars for earning a 4 or better on all tests taken and at least a 4 on eight or more exams.

“This is something that we should very much be proud of in Port Jefferson,” Schmettan said.

Visit www.portjeffschools.org to see the full results and click on “Curriculum & Instruction” under the “Departments” tab.

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.

Sidewalks on Main Street in Port Jefferson will be repaired in March. Photo by Kevin Redding

Starting in March, while walking on Main Street in Port Jefferson, don’t look down.

Repairs to sidewalks on both sides of Main Street will take place beginning March 1, weather permitting, and are expected to last about four weeks, according to Port Jefferson Village.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a board meeting Feb. 8 that $200,000 of the total expected cost of $235,000 was secured from the state’s capital improvement account thanks in part to efforts of state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Garant said Suffolk County contractor Deal Concrete Corporation will be doing the job along Route 25A. One side of Main Street will be done at a time, and temporary bridges will be utilized to allow shoppers to enter and exit businesses while the concrete is wet, according to Trustee Larry LaPointe.

“It just needs to be done because the sidewalk is a disaster,” Garant said during the meeting. “After we replace this sidewalk we are putting all of the building owners and merchants on notice that they really have to clean the sidewalks. They have to get out there with gum-busters, hoses.”

According to the village code, business owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks in front of their establishments. During the board meeting, a community member suggested fines be imposed on businesses that are not in compliance, and Garant agreed.

“Once we’ve got a clean slate then we can do exactly that,” LaPointe said during the meeting in response to the community member.

The sidewalks to be repaired span from the three-way intersection of Main Street, East Broadway and West Broadway near Port Jefferson Harbor, heading south and stopping at East Main Street.

The three business owners and one manager of establishments within the area who were available to be interviewed all said they hadn’t been notified by anyone of the impending project as of the afternoon of Feb. 14.

Vincenzo Chianese, owner of Vincenzo’s Pizza on the east side of Main Street, said he anticipates it might be bad for business if the sidewalk is inaccessible for an extended period of time, but said the temporary bridges would be helpful for customers.

“If they do it the right way I think it’ll be ok,” said Bill Familia, owner of Yogo Delish frozen yogurt shop. “It’ll be a little bit of a hassle for the walkers, but we can handle March in my business.”

Joseph Ciardullo, owner of C’est Cheese, an artisanal cheese, boutique wine and craft beer restaurant on the west side of Main Street, said despite his shop’s rear entrance, lengthy construction projects are rarely good for business.

“It’s definitely not going to be the most ideal situation,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a slight decline [in business], but hopefully it won’t be too inconvenient.”

Ciardullo added he’s looking forward to the project’s completion.

“I think any village improvement is
always a good idea,” he said.

Linda McLoone, manager of Thomas Kinkade art gallery on the west side of Main Street, also expressed concerns about access for patrons, but admitted repairs are probably for the best.

“It probably will affect business, but I don’t know,” she said. “I guess it needs to be done because the sidewalks out there are horrible — they’re tripping hazards.”

By Nancy Burner, Esq.

In my practice as an elder law attorney, clients often inquire about the benefits of gifting to reduce taxes or to qualify for Medicaid. As a senior with the unexpected need for long-term care in the future, the consequences of gifting may have unexpected results.

It is a common myth that everyone should be gifting monies during their life to avoid taxation later. Currently, a person can give away during life or die with $5.45 million before any federal estate tax is due. For married couples, this means that so long as your estate is less than $10.9 million, federal estate taxes are not a problem. For New York State estate tax, the current exemption is $4.1875 million and is currently slated to reach the federal estate tax exemption by 2019.

While it is true that there are gifting estate plans that can reduce estate taxes, any gift that exceeds the annual gift exclusion must be reported on a gift tax return during the decedent’s life and is deducted from their lifetime exemption. In 2016, that exclusion is $14,000. However, while gifting may be good if the goal is to reduce estate tax, it can be detrimental if the donor needs Medicaid to cover the cost of long-term care within five years of any gifts.

It is important to remember that the $14,000 only refers to the annual gift tax exclusion under the Internal Revenue Code. The Medicaid rules and regulations are different. In New York, Medicaid requires that all applicants and their spouses account for transfers made in the five years prior to applying for Institutional Medicaid. These gifts are totaled, and for each $12,633 that was gifted, one month of Medicaid ineligibility is imposed for Long Island applicants. It is also important to note that the ineligibility begins to run on the day that the applicant enters the nursing home and is “otherwise eligible for Medicaid” rather than on the day that the gift was made.

For example, if a grandfather gifted $100,000 over the course of five years to his grandchildren and then needed nursing home care, those gifts would be considered transfers and, if they cannot be returned, would create a period of ineligibility for Medicaid benefits for approximately eight months. What makes this even more difficult for some families is that an inability to give the money back or help the grandfather pay for his care is not taken into consideration, causing many families great hardship.

It would have been far better for the grandfather to have put assets into a Medicaid-qualified trust five years ago to start the period of ineligibility and allow the trustee to make the annual gifts. Another concern when gifting is considering to whom you are gifting? Once a gift is made to a person, it becomes subject to their creditors, legal status and can adversely affect their government benefits.

Accordingly, if you make a gift to a person who has creditors or who later gets a divorce, that gift could be lost to those debts. Consider creating a trust for the benefit of the debtor-beneficiary to ensure that their monies are protected. Another problem arises when making gifts to minors. Because a minor cannot hold property, if gifted substantial sums, someone would have to be appointed as the guardian of the property for that child before the funds could be used.

To avoid this problem, consider creating a trust for the minor beneficiary and designate a trustworthy trustee who will manage the money for the minor until they are old enough to manage it themselves.

Finally, if gifting to a disabled beneficiary, make sure to review what government benefits they may be receiving. If any of the benefits are “needs based,” even small gifts may disqualify them for their benefits. In order to maintain eligibility, a Supplemental Needs Trust could be created to preserve benefits for the disabled beneficiary.

A common phrase comes to mind “do not try this at home.” Before doing any kind of substantial gifting, or even if you have begun gifting, see an elder law attorney who concentrates their practice in Medicaid and estate planning to help optimize your chances of qualifying for Medicaid and/or reduce estate taxes, while still preserving the greatest amount of assets.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

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