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New York State

Supervisor Ed Romaine file photo

A state assemblywoman from Ithaca is pushing to provide state aid to municipalities that host four-year, residential State University of New York colleges and universities, and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is signing onto the cause because of the potential financial relief it could bring to Long Island.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) on March 24, seeks to offset the cost of providing public safety services to state schools, which are currently tax-exempt. The move came shortly after Romaine vowed to work with the New York State Board of Regents to seek a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, for the Stony Brook and Setauket fire departments, which both serve SUNY Stony Brook University.

Lifton, who represents the cities and towns of Ithaca and Cortland — which host SUNY Cortland and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University — called the lack of aid a big issue for her municipalities.

“There is a deficit there that we need to makeup,” she said, noting that the state’s Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, or AIM funding, has decreased over the years.

The legislation earmarks $12 million in aid for the host municipalities, and establishes a formula to distribute the aid based on the cost of public safety services, how much AIM funding the community already receives and the student population.

Lifton said there are a lot of rental properties in Cortland, so the police and fire departments “provide more than the normal amount of services.” In the City of Cortland, firefighters are paid, but Cortland Town firefighters volunteer their time.

While the legislation currently doesn’t propose aid be rewarded to a fire districts like those in Stony Brook and East Setauket, Romaine still said he was supportive of the idea.

“We think this is a solution,” Romaine said.

Like in Cortland, Brookhaven officials have been dealing with off-campus rental properties, which university students often inhabit. Over the last two years, the town has tried to curtail illegal and overcrowded rentals in the Stony Brook and Setauket area by strengthening its codes, increasing fines and working with the university to educate students about illegal rentals. The town also hired additional investigators to stay on top of the issue.

While Romaine said the legislation would help Brookhaven, he continued to advocate for “some contribution to the fire districts involved so their taxpayers don’t have to bear that burden.”

Romaine also said he hopes Long Island’s state representatives would support the legislation, and that at some point along the line, a PILOT agreement is established.

State Assemblyman Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) did not return requests for comment.

Stony Brook Fire Department Commissioner Paul Degen, who works as a town investigator, said 50 percent of Stony Brook Fire District’s tax base is exempt, which has made things financially difficult at times as the department has spent money retrofitting trucks and adequately training volunteers.

“It is what it is, but it would be nice if 50 percent of our district paid their fair share,” he said.

According to records from Stony Brook University, alarms requiring a fire department unit on the scene have dropped since 2012 when single detector activations, which are investigated by university fire marshals and don’t require fire department presence, were implemented in May 2012.

In 2012, the Stony Brook and/or Setauket departments were on scene for a total of 137 alarms. In 2013, the number drastically dropped to 25.

While there has been progress, Degen said he would like to see more incentives to attract department volunteers, which aren’t easy to come by these days. The department currently has 72 members, and more than half of them are over 50 years old.

One idea, he said, would be to offer some sort of tuition break or benefit to volunteers, which could help attract students to the department.

“All of that needs to be visited,” he said.

Romaine, Lifton and Degen expressed similar sentiments about the universities, saying they play important roles in the host communities, which welcome them, but still shouldn’t burden the taxpayers.

“All I’m asking for is some kind of remuneration,” Romaine said. “The full burden should not fall on the taxpayer. That is just not fair.”

The smokestacks of the Port Jefferson power plant loom over the village and the local harbor. File photo by Erika Karp

The Long Island Power Authority must study the area’s aging power plants with an eye toward upgrading the facilities, according to a provision of the next New York State budget.

Language that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and state legislators have agreed upon requires the utility to “perform an engineering, environmental … and cost feasibility analysis and study” of upgrading — also known as repowering — the plants in Port Jefferson, Northport and Island Park. The focus will be on using more efficient and environmentally friendly technology at the plants.

Those three sites have been on shaky ground because they are old and using outdated technology. The Port Jefferson and Northport host communities have feared losing essential property taxes from the plants, which would happen if the plants were to reach the ends of their useful lives without being repowered.

“We are extremely proud that our representatives and our lobbying efforts are working toward a repowered plant in [Port Jefferson],” village Mayor Margot Garant said in an email. “We always believed this was the best repurposing of our site, and in the best interest of the ratepayers of [Long Island].”

The utility must begin studying Port Jefferson and Island Park no later than Oct. 1, and must start working on the second study in Northport by October 2018, according to the budget language. The studies must be completed and presented to the LIPA board of trustees and the department of public service no longer than 18 months after they begin.

LIPA will repower the plants if it determines, based on the studies, “that repowering any such generating facility is in the best interests of its ratepayers and will enhance the authority’s ability to provide a more efficient, reliable and economical supply of electric energy in its service territory, consistent with the goal of improving environmental quality.”

Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport) said the studies “could change the whole tax certiorari issue.”

Huntington Town and the Northport-East Northport school district have been battling LIPA over the value of that property, with the utility arguing the plant is grossly overassessed and filing to be reimbursed for taxes overpaid as a result. Town Supervisor Frank Petrone has extended an offer to LIPA to freeze its tax assessment if it repowers Northport.

“Northport and East Northport are looking down the barrel of a gun,” Raia said Tuesday, “and if they repowered Northport that whole case would go away.”

Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said in a statement that the study requirement will be included in the state budget “since LIPA did not follow through on their [previous] promises” to complete economic feasibility studies on the aging plants.

PSEG Long Island, the private utility that has taken over management of LIPA, was on board with the repowering studies this week.

“After careful study last year, we determined that there was no need for additional generation on Long Island until, at least, 2024,” PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeff Weir said in an email. “We wholeheartedly embrace this process because all we want is to implement the lowest cost and most reliable solutions for our customers on Long Island and in the Rockaways.”

Rohma Abbas contributed reporting.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright is putting pressure on the knocking down of Pine Barrens forrest in favor of a solar farm. File photo

A new bill protecting children from toxic chemicals is making its way through the state Assembly as elected officials work to keep chemicals out of children’s products.

The bill — commonly known as the Child Safe Products Act — would empower New York State to identify and phase out dangerous chemicals in products marketed to kids, lawmakers said. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) helped craft the legislation and has been pushing it forward with hopes of keeping young people safe from what they cannot see.

If the legislation is passed, the state would compile a list of high-concern chemicals made up of those known to cause health problems such as cancer, learning and developmental disorders, asthma and more, officials said.

Then, a list of priority chemicals used in children’s products will be drafted for disclosure, lawmakers said.

“This bill addresses issues of poisonous products for children,” Englebright said. “It’s very important to protect the children. And that’s what I intend to do.”

The makers of children’s products would also be required to report their use of priority chemicals in their merchandise after a year, and phase out their use of such chemicals three years later.

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said legislation like this is important because there is always a need to prevent innocent children from being exposed to such harmful chemicals like arsenic, mercury, cadmium, formaldehyde and more.

“Kids are more vulnerable and more likely to put things in their mouth,” Spencer said. “Almost any toy could potentially have toxic chemicals.”

Spencer also said toxic chemicals are found in many children’s products such as clothes, dolls, toys and more. He said they can be in found things such as paint on a button or a bracelet a child wears.

According to Englebright, there are some 84,000 chemicals on the market today. The federal law that was supposed to protect against them — the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 —  “is a very weak law and has never been updated,” the lawmaker said.

The assemblyman also said he feels a bill like this is important for everyone in the state as it sets the standards manufacturers would be held to.

“We all benefit when children are protected from poorly regulated toxic chemicals that have the potential to harm development, cause illness and impair learning,” Englebright said. “I think it’s very important to get this bill to the governor’s desk.”

Spencer also said while he does support the bill, there should be guidelines and parameters set as there is the ability to detect parts per million, billion and even trillion. He said it is unnecessary to be overly restrictive as something at a certain parts per billion or trillion, may not be harmful.

Late last year, a press conference was held in Hauppauge to show parents the toxins present in certain items geared toward kids. While many of the toys at the conference had toxic chemicals in them, such a Hot Wheels cars or dresses bought in Long Island stores, there are toys on the market that are manufactured without them.

“A lot of times the effects of these toxic substances aren’t seen right away. But the impact lasts for a lifetime,” Spencer said at the December conference.

When asked why certain toys have chemicals and others don’t, Spencer said some manufacturers may be unaware of the chemicals present and others could possibly use the chemicals to maximize profit.

Dina Stramara addresses the board. Photo by Barbara Donlon

With less than one month until the New York State testing begins in grades three to eight, parents in Kings Park are vocalizing their right to opt out and say they want the board of education to do the same.

At a meeting earlier in the month, several parents asked the board to craft a resolution on standardized testing. Then they started a petition through their group, Kings Park Advocates for Education, to establish a unified voice.

The petition highlighted three items the parents would like the board to support. It said they want support for their right to opt their child out of the high stakes testing, support for alternate activities for their child during the test, and easier options when it comes to opting out.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board opened up as a whole for the first time, as President Tom LoCascio read a statement on the board’s behalf.

“We believe the decision of whether to participate in or to refuse to take a state assessment is a personal decision and ultimately a parent’s choice and in either case a decision that should be afforded mutual respect,” LoCascio said.

The statement went on to say the board believes in public education, that every student in the district deserves an opportunity to succeed and that they believe teachers should be evaluated using multiple forms of assessment.

It also said that as a board, they recognize Gov. Andrew Cuomo and certain interests have politicized many educational issues and that they are concerned how this will impact the district.

“We will continue to work to advance our adopted board goals, prevent the erosion of local control and fight to ensure that educators and those elected by our community have the final decision in how our schools are run,” LoCascio said.

Parents said the statement still did not impress them.

“This community is asking the board of education to step up, pick a strong stand,” parent Shala Pascucci said during the meeting’s public comment forum. “That was a step in the right direction, but if you read the resolution from other neighboring districts, you will know that resolution is not as strong as it could be.”

Pascucci went on to say the board statement is not specific enough, but did acknowledge it’s a step in the right direction. Board member Pam DeFord also acknowledged the statement and said she agreed with parents.

“You’re right, it’s a small step, and we will continue to work on it,” DeFord said.

Parents also said they were upset about the process that will take place in the classroom the morning of the assessment. Parent Dina Stramara quoted from the test refusal question-and-answer section on the board’s website, visibly upset by what her child will go through.

According to the document, children will be seated in assigned seats and a proctor will pass out the documents. They will know ahead of time which students are refusing the assessment, but children must verbally confirm it.

“In the most non-judgmental, non-confrontational, and delicate manner possible, the proctor will verbally confirm with each individual child that he/she is refusing the assessment, those exam materials will be collected, and the child will be permitted to read quietly,” the document said.

Stramara said there is nothing non-judgmental and delicate about putting a child in an awkward position. She said they are not adults and parents should make the decision for them. She also asked why the district would still put the test in front of them if they know they are refusing ahead of time.

“Asking [a young child] to verbalize this is absolutely ludicrous,” Stramara said to the board. “I implore you to please reconsider this procedure. It is not our children’s fault that the state and the district are failing them by making them pawns in this ridiculousness.”

Schools Superintendent Timothy Eagen said this was not a district procedure but one from the New York State Education Department.

“According to the state education department, an activity that is acceptable for students who finish the test early or refuse to take the test is simply to read something,” Eagen said in an interview after the meeting.

Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO of GSE Dynamics, New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales and Keith Barrett, president of Huntington Station Business Improvement District, speak last week. Photo from Laz Benitez

A state plan to raise the minimum wage made its way to Hauppauge to show how higher pay could impact close to home.

Cesar Perales, secretary of state under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), spoke at GSE Dynamics on Oser Avenue March 18 outlining the governor’s proposal to capitalize on New York’s economic recovery by raising the minimum wage from $8.75 to $10.50.

Perales said the state has already created more than 500,000 new private sector jobs since the big recession — the second most in the country. But at the same time, wages have not grown fast enough and people are being left behind, he alleged.

“We had a bad few years after the recession in 2008, but we are out of it now and we are moving forward,” he said. “Unemployment is down and, in every region of the state, jobs are up.”

Cuomo’s plan calls for a $10.50 minimum wage across the state, except for New York City, where he suggests the minimum wage be increased to $11.50. In total, he said more than 1.35 million workers would see a wage increase throughout the state, bringing a direct economic impact of nearly $3.4 billion.

“The minimum wage should allow people who work full-time jobs to support themselves and their families – but that is just not possible today,” Cuomo said. “Our proposal will help hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers better sustain themselves and live with dignity and respect. The State Legislature must pass our proposal this year, because the sweetest success is shared success and we won’t rest until we are all rising together.”

During four of the five recent increases in the state’s minimum wage dating back to 1991, data indicated an employment uptick each time the wage went up, Perales said.

“Under this plan, nearly 150,000 workers here in Long Island will see a pay raise,” he said. “In a family with two earners, the increase from $8.75 to $10.50 translates to more than $7,000 in additional income per year.”

The proposal said Long Island currently sees 85,264 total minimum-wage workers earning $8.75 today. But under the new plan, 202,248 Long Island workers would earn the minimum wage, bringing a direct economic value of $382.3 million to the island, Cuomo said.

Perales spoke alongside Keith Barrett, president of the Huntington Station Business Improvement District as well as Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO of Hauppauge’s GSE Dynamics, to explain how higher minimum wages could bring better business to the North Shore.

“Raising the minimum wage is not just about money, it’s about opportunity,” Perales said. “It’s about saying that everyone who works a full-time job should have the chance to live a decent life and put food on the table for themselves and their loved ones. Because at the end of the day, we are all part of the same community and the same state, and we are at our best when we all do well together.”

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