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New York State

Map of 1,4 Dioxane across Long Island by highest level detected within each water district. Photo from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

Suffolk County residents are being asked to reach into their wallets to help the water authority deal with the ongoing presence of 1,4-dioxane in local groundwater, which is the sole source of drinking water on Long Island. 

The Suffolk County Water Authority announced Nov. 22 that the board approved a $20 quarterly fee added onto customers bills starting Jan. 1, 2020. The bill will go toward the cost of developing and operating treatment systems for filtering 1,4-dioxane and other perfluorinated compounds PFOS and PFOA in anticipation of New York State mandating such regulations.

“As we’ve said since state officials first began considering the regulation of 1,4-dioxane and perfluorinated compounds, we fully support taking whatever measures are necessary to ensure our customers continue to have a drinking water supply that is among the best in the country,” said SCWA CEO Jeffrey Szabo. “But, as we’ve also said, these regulations come at a high cost. We need the funds that will be raised by the quarterly fee to develop the treatment systems to meet the new standards.”

In an October presentation to Suffolk County legislators, SCWA proposed installing 31 new advanced treatment systems at a number of sites where the levels of 1,4-dioxane are higher than the state proposed limit, which is 1 part per billion.

Water officials and environmental activists have made 1,4-dioxane a topic of concern this year, pointing out that it is a likely carcinogen with links to liver and kidney damage after a lifetime of exposure.

If the state limits 1,4-dioxane to 1 part per billion and PFOS and PFOA at 10 parts per trillion, the water authority will have to put into service 56 new advanced oxidation process treatments, and 20 new granular activated carbon systems. The total cost for all these systems is expected to exceed $177 million over the next five to six years. 

The $80 yearly charge is expected to cover those costs over time. The water authority services approximately 1.2 million Suffolk residents, including most parts of the North Shore. 

 

Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) co-hosts a forum on water quality Nov. 19. Photo by David Luces

The New York State Assembly Minority Task Force on Water Quality hosted an informational forum at the Mount Sinai Rose Caracappa Senior Center Nov. 19 to discuss the condition of the state’s water sources, address emerging contaminants and prioritize and fix aging infrastructure, but some environmental activists disagree with the officials positions. 

State assemblymen Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), Joe DeStefano (R-Medford) and Dan Stec (R-Queensbury), took feedback from community members, stakeholders, environmental experts, among others to assist the group in its efforts to develop long-term solutions to those issues. 

“If we had a different model that said that the use of the water should be returned to nature as clean as we got it [then] we wouldn’t have this problem — and present model.”

— Kevin McDonald

“We all know how important water is — we are here to listen and learn,” DeStefano said. “Hopefully we can have a spirited conversation on the things that are important to you and what we need to do to make those things come to fruition.”

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said Long Island and the state is in a better place than it was five years ago but acknowledges there’s still work to be done. 

“Let’s go to some facts here. We need to treat our sewage in 2019, as you’ve heard we don’t necessarily do that on Long Island,” she said. “Close to 400,000 are still on outdated septic systems which is virtually untreated sewage.”

Esposito brought up harmful algal blooms that are being found throughout Long Island’s coastal waters. She said due to increased nitrogen concerns, which leaks into the local waterways through outdated septic systems and from fertilizer, as just two examples, these algae blooms are spreading to other parts of the state. 

“It is killing off the shellfish industry — people are calling us asking why their water looks like coffee,” she said. 

Palumbo agreed the main issue was excess nitrogen.

“What would you attribute for all the increase in algal blooms and water quality issues?” Palumbo asked. “You could say it is a direct result of excess nitrogen because it’s ‘Miracle-Gro’ essentially that makes this grow at such an alarming rate. It’s a concern for me because clearly nitrogen has been the boogeyman.”

Esposito also mentioned blue green algae being found in all parts of the state, including the Albany drinking reserve, which attacks the liver and could potentially cause liver failure.

The executive director praised Suffolk County’s septic improvement program, saying residents need to replace their old septic systems with new technology, though at the same time current sewage treatment plants don’t treat volatile organic chemicals, 1,4 dioxane, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides or chemicals found in hair products. 

“It’s going to take time and money, but what plan does not take time and money?” she asked. 

A number of local residents disagreed with scientists’ findings, with a few  skeptical of the recent nitrogen findings on Long Island, one calling it “a naturally functioning
occurrence.”

One resident criticized a map from the Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University showing the impacts of sewage pollution and blue green algae.  

“It has been overstated and overexaggerated. We have looked at the data over the last five years and there is no trend of increase in nitrogen,” he said. 

Kevin McDonald, conservation project director of The Nature Conservancy, on the other hand said we have to reduce nitrogen use. 

“Close to 400,000 are still on outdated septic systems which is virtually untreated sewage.”

— Adrienne Esposito

“It’s a global problem, it’s a national problem, it’s a regional problem. Any rational person would say in a place as populated as Long Island, it is probably a problem as well,” he said. 

Similarly to Esposito, McDonald criticized how the county treats water.  

“If we had a different model that said that the use of the water should be returned to nature as clean as we got it [then] we wouldn’t have this problem — and present model,” he said. “Instead we can use how you want, pollute and dump it back into the environment.”  

In 2014, Suffolk County asked IBM to look at how it could treat water better and manage a water system for the 21st century. McDonald said the corporation told the county to treat water delivery and treatment as a single concept. 

He said the current model is based on selling as much water as it can.  

“That’s how we have the problem we have now, part of the mess is from us and we have to fix it,” McDonald said.

Port Jeff currently looking at more than 10 zombie homes

The Town of Brookhaven and Port Jefferson village have launched numerous intermincipal agreements over the past year. File Photos

A new intermunicipal agreement between the village and town could mean more zombie homes in Port Jeff may have a larger target on their heads. 

The boarded-up house at 49 Sheep Pasture Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

At its Oct. 3 meeting, the Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously to enter into an intermunicipal agreement to let town workers assist, if requested, with demolition projects and then dispose of the waste at the town’s landfill in Brookhaven hamlet.

Under the agreement, Port Jefferson would pay the expenses of inspecting the property, demolition and carting away the debris.

In previous meetings, the village identified little more than 10 zombie homes in the village boundaries. These colloquially named “zombie homes” are derelict houses that have slowly started to degrade where the owner is absent. The village’s Zombie Task Force, run by the constabulary, goes weekly to these houses to check in, looking to see if there are vagrants or squatters at the premises and checking for other illicit activity.

Mayor Margot Garant said this will mean shearing costs for the village.

“Tremendous savings for us, because we can just call it in and schedule it, instead of going out to bid and doing everything like that,” she said. “If it works out, it will be great.” 

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the agreement will mean the town’s engineers that usually inspect these derelict houses, Hauppauge-based Cashin Spinelli & Ferretti, will inspect homes in Port Jefferson upon request and report to the village. Then, depending on the decision by the board after a public hearing, a vote to demolish will mean either Brookhaven employees will demolish the home, or a private company will be contracted in the case where asbestos is on the premises. The area will be cleared, and debris taken to the town landfill. The village will then have to put a lien on the property for any unpaid taxes and for the cost of demolition.

Costs range on average from $25,000 to $40,000, depending on the size and type of home being demolished, according to the supervisor.

“It helps reduce the overall cost of government.”

— Ed Romaine

Romaine said this is just one deal in a long line of 35 intermunicipal agreements between the Brookhaven and smaller municipalities such as Port Jefferson Village for close to a year. The town has made these deals as part of a $20M Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency grant from New York State. Other agreements have included plowing snow in the Village of Shoreham and completing road repairs in the Village of Patchogue.

“We have contracts and things of that nature that they can benefit from, and we’re happy to help with that,” he said. “It helps reduce the overall cost of government.”

Recently the village announced it would be working on two zombie homes, one on Sheep Pasture Road and another at Nadia Court. The former was soon found to be a nearly 300-year-old historic structure, and the village has promised not to touch the property while local historians and New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) work to find ways to preserve it, though the difficulty comes from the owner, Jericho-based Tab Suffolk Acquisitions, not responding to any calls or having a set location. 

While the village has not made any move on the property, other than to continue to board it up and monitor for vagrancy, Garant said the village is not willing to pick up the tab for any restoration, citing the costs associated with fixing up the Drowned Meadow House.

“Until you find a full-time [caretaker] for [the house], it’s going to be a big challenge,” she said. 

This is just one in a line of intermunicipal agreements between the village and town. Earlier this year the town and village announced a new intermunicipal agreement to consolidate property tax collections. The village has also worked out an agreement over salt and sand between the two municipalities.

The article that appeared in the Oct. 24 edition of the Port Times Record inaccurately reported the number of zombie homes in Port Jeff. We regret the error.

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.