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New York State

Ken LaValle officially announced he would not be running for reelection Jan 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

State. Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), 80, has been a fixture in New York’s 1st District for more than four decades. At an event held for him at the Village Center in Port Jefferson Jan. 10, the crowd of gathered officials and friends said goodbye to the elder statesman the only way they knew how — in a standing ovation that lasted well over a minute.

Sen. Ken LaValle joined with his wife and daughter Jan. 10 in announcing he would not be seeking reelection. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The best part of the job is the people, those who come into your office looking for help,” the 44-year statesman said in a speech that saw him choked up at several points. “What a thing — to be able to
help people.”

The news broke Wednesday, Jan. 8, that LaValle would not be seeking reelection.

A common refrain of “1st District first,” was shared continuously throughout the Friday gathering, joined by a real “who’s who” of public officials on the East End, including reps from town, county and state, as well as local community and party leaders.

Jesse Garcia, the Suffolk County Republican chairman, said LaValle represented his district so well he will be a hard man to replace. Garcia knew of the senator from the age of 14, he said, and had knocked on doors for the senator along with his father.

“Nobody can really fill LaValle’s shoes,” he said.

Some begged the senator, half-jokingly, to reconsider.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the senior senate member had been one of the hardest workers for his district. LaValle was at the forefront of preserving over 100,000 acres of land in the Pine Barrens, and Englebright has worked with the senator on many projects since then. At that time, Democratic Assembly member Tom DiNapoli, who is now state comptroller, worked with LaValle in establishing the Pine Barrens Protection Act back in 1993.

“Most of his work has been achieved,” DiNapoli said. “Your example we will all continue to point to, which was beyond partisanship.”

Englebright stressed his colleague’s term is not yet over, and he hopes he can work with LaValle on preserving several hundred acres of woodland currently surrounding the defunct Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, land, he said, that is so pristine and ancient it “has never been touched by a steel plow.”

For his past and present role in preservation, the senior assemblyman said it went beyond a partnership.

“I would use the word ‘indispensable,’ but it’s not adequate,” Englebright said.

When speaking on his legacy, local officials mainly pointed to two things: His support of the environment and preservation efforts, and his support of schools, including growing the SUNY system and particularly noting Stony Brook University has been built up over the past several decades under his watch and support. His name adorns the sports stadium.

State Sen. John Flanagan and Ken LaValle Jan. 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

Englebright shared the sentiment that LaValle’s support went down to the most unsuspected, including the building of the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center. Other members of the SBU community said they were both congratulatory and sad that the senior senator was set to retire within a year.

“He has been a tireless champion for Stony Brook University and a staunch advocate for higher education support,” said SBU Interim President Michael Bernstein in a statement. “Stony Brook has advanced significantly thanks to his leadership and deep commitment to our students, our patients and our region.”

Port Jefferson Village mayor, Margot Garant, said LaValle has been in office since she was young, and was a consistent aid to Port Jeff. She added that it was with LaValle’s eventual support that the Village Center, which was built under then-mayor and Garant’s mother, Jeanne Garant. The center was also where the senator hosted his official retirement announcement.

“He listened to everyone,” she said. “He shows that things get accomplished with time.”

Other local legislators knew him for his general support of their districts. Brookhaven Town supervisor, Ed Romaine (R), said the senator had gone out of his way to bridge divides and work for the people of the district. He said he hopes the next person to secure the district will “be one who will advocates for the people of [state Senate District 1].”   

“It’s not the barbs or criticism, it’s not the tweets, it’s reaching out to both parties to get things done,” he said.

Laura Aheran. Photo from campaign

Laura Ahearn, longtime crime victims advocate, is ready to take on a new challenge, running for state senate. For 43 years the state District 1 seat has been held by Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), but she said it’s time for change. 

“Many members of the community are grateful for his [LaValle’s] service as I am, but it is time now for a new voice and an advocate like me to fight furiously for our community,” Ahearn said. 

For 25 years, the attorney said she has worked to keep the community safe from sexual predators. Ahearn also founded the Crime Victims Center “from a room in her home” and over the years established it into a nonprofit organization that has worked with local, state and federal law enforcement. 

“There are some serious flaws in the criminal justice reform that took place Jan. 1 that makes our communities very vulnerable.”

— Laura Ahearn

The center’s educational programs have been shown in numerous school districts, along with local colleges and universities throughout Suffolk County. 

“I want to take my advocacy experiences, my legal skills and use it to help our community, children and families up in Albany,” the executive director said. “I know my experience over the past 20 plus years positions me to take on other issues as well.”

Some issues Ahearn hopes to tackle is the recent bail reform issues and MS-13’s infiltration into Long Island schools. 

“There are some serious flaws in the criminal justice reform that took place Jan. 1 that makes our communities very vulnerable,” she said. “Bail reform was absolutely needed, because people who couldn’t afford cash bail were incarcerated, that’s not fair. But we haven’t looked at what the implications are for the community and for victims.”

Ahearn said the recent reform needs to be amended to add some discretion for judges who may need to hold certain offenders who may be eligible for automatic release. In addition, she said law enforcement and probation officers need to be given more resources to further monitor offenders of violent crimes. 

On the MS-13 front, Ahearn stressed we need to make sure we are giving schools the resources and funding they need to ramp up their security to protect students.  

Cost of living and keeping young professionals in Suffolk County have been vexing issues for elected officials. Ahearn knows this firsthand. 

“I have two grown children and they can’t afford to live on Long Island — high taxes are driving our kids out off the island,” she said. “We have to ensure that they have fair wages, educational opportunities, safe work environments and affordable housing.” 

The Port Jefferson resident said in terms of job opportunities she thought Amazon would’ve been a great opportunity for the county and if elected will strive to continue to bring businesses into the district. 

Other issues on the challenger’s radar are the ongoing opioid epidemic, curbing nitrogen pollution in local waterways, marine/wildlife conservation, phone scams targeting the elderly, tick-borne illness, among others. 

Ahearn, who graduated from Dowling College, Stony Brook University and Touro Law School, recently had a campaign kick-off event Dec. 10 and said she is looking forward to meeting and learning from movers and shakers in the area. The senate district stretches from eastern end of Suffolk County to the eastern end of Town of Brookhaven.  

“As time moves forward, I’m going to learn a lot from the advocates in the community — I’m not an expert on some issues and I want to learn from those advocates who are those experts. They have to educate me, so I can represent them,” she said. 

The attorney said the position requires one to work with everyone, something she has done for two decades, helping develop, implement and manage crime prevention programs and assist in drafting a number of state, local and federal laws. 

“I really love what I’ve been doing,” she said. “Voters have a decision to make and I have a demonstrated history of fighting for our community and if that’s what they want — someone who will fight furiously for them — then they should vote for me.”

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‘Red’ marks the estimated depth where the water table is less than 11 feet. Image from Campani and Schwarting

A state agency has granted Port Jeff over $80k in funds to help plan for future storms and floods.

The New York State Regional Economic Council awarded Port Jefferson village $82,500 Dec. 19 to create a Climate Resilience Plan. This comes in response to hurricanes over the past decade, including Irene and SuperStorm Sandy, as well as other storm surge events. The promised plan will integrate sea-level rise predictions to propose solutions to mitigate flooding and storm surges, along with the impacts of rising tides due to climate change.

Michael Schwarting presents the study’s findings to village officials back in August. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nicole Christian, Port Jefferson’s grant writer, said the village would have to put conducting the plan out to bid sometime early in the new year, and should cost a total of around $165,000. The $82,500 from New York State was the fully awarded amount requested.

With the funds, she said, Port Jefferson will be one of the few North Shore communities whose waterfront revitalization reports will be “on the leading edge” of current technologies and data from storms.

The funds go back to June this year, when the village presented its Waterfront Revitalization Plan to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, describing its intention to perform immediately needed maintenance of the storm drainage system and provide emergency equipment to deploy in a rain event to protect properties in the village in catastrophic flooding.

At its July 15 meeting, the village voted unanimously to apply for grant funds from the state Division of Planning’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, Empire State Development and any other applicable state agencies.

In September of last year, Port Jefferson was bowled over with water, with nearly 4 inches of rain collected in a short span of time. Buildings like the Port Jefferson firehouse and the venerable Theatre Three were drowned in 3 to 4 feet of water, causing thousands of dollars in damages in the case of the theater. In July this year, the village was hit with yet another flooding event, and while this year’s was not nearly as severe as 2018, it still left many villagers wondering what could be in the future.

Christian said when submitting the grant, the village included images of that 2018 flood, giving an example of what could happen in the future if issues are not addressed.

The area outside Theatre Three was under 2 feet of water July 22. Photo from Brian Hoerger

Back in August, architects from the Port Jefferson-based firm Campani and Schwarting displayed a draft report about trouble spots for Port Jeff flooding. Michael Schwarting, one of the architects, pointed out Port Jeff has a lack of permeable surfaces, a significant amount of hardscape, and a water table that lies as close as 11 feet to the surface.

The Long Island Explorium is planning to create rain gardens at several points in the village, which may have the added benefit of creating permeable land for water to seep into during heavy rains. The gardens originally had a deadline of the end of this year, but the explorium’s Executive Director Angeline Judex said their grant was given an extension to June 1, 2020.

In a release, the village thanked Cara Longworth, chair and director of the LI Regional Economic Development Council and Denise Zani, deputy of the LIREDC, along with other state, county and town officials for continued support.

File photo

The Comsewogue School District has added its name to the list of districts that are standing up to New York State on a proposal that would mandate the HPV vaccine in state schools. 

The proposed amendment to Section 2164 of the public health law would require that all students born after 2009 receive the human papillomavirus vaccine as part of the state’s mandated school immunization program.

In a letter sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Dec. 6, the district detailed its stance on the matter. 

“While the vaccination may be helpful in preventing certain forms of cancer, the choice as to whether to have children vaccinated should be made by parents in consultation with their physician,” John Swenning, board president, said in the letter. 

The HPV vaccine is designed to prevent cancer-causing infections, but several school districts including Shoreham-Wading River and Three Village have written letters similar to Comsewogue’s saying it is unnecessary.

In a letter signed by the school board and superintendent, SWR said they did not believe it was necessary for a vaccine for something not usually transmitted in schools.

“The HPV vaccination has historically been a parental decision, is not transmitted in schools, lacks the full support of the medical community and would require schools to enforce a widely unpopular mandate by excluding children,” the letter stated. “It should not be adopted.”

The Comsewogue School district went on to say the activities that cause this spread of HPV should not be occurring on school grounds, and HPV is not a public health risk in the school setting. They also said that if this bill passes, it will preclude children from being able to access a public school education.

In addition to the letter, Comsewogue district board held a workshop Dec. 5 to discussed the proposed mandate.

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said the feeling she got from speaking with local officials is that the proposed mandate will not likely pass, but is still concerned about what it could potentially mean for students and parents in the district. 

“They told me that it is not happening,” she said. “I’m concerned that the other immunization changes happened so fast … that this might pass at the 11th hour, which could happen. It has been a little hard to predict lately.”

Quinn and other board members urged parents to reach out to local lawmakers. 

“It’s our kids, I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do but they’re telling you what they can put in their bodies,” Swenning said. 

Parents in attendance also brought up how the mandate could harm immunocompromised children, who can’t take certain vaccines and how the state may take away exemptions for the HPV vaccine. Current vaccine mandates exempt people who are immunocompromised.

Others were concerned the mandate would take away a parent’s prerogative and choice whether or not their child would get the vaccine. 

School officials also brought up the possibility of setting up a legislative committee session between elected officials and residents.

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.”