Tags Posts tagged with "Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant"

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant

Village Mayor Margot Garant said residents of Port Jefferson Village would get “whacked” by the elimination of the SALT deduction in the federal tax reform bill. File photo by Alex Petroski

Governmental leaders from virtually all levels in New York have come out in opposition to the federal tax reform bill, and now the Port Jefferson Village board can be added to the list.

The village passed a resolution at its Nov. 20 board meeting “expressing its strong opposition to any federal tax reform legislation that would eliminate or limit access to the state and local tax deduction.” The SALT deduction, which was enacted about 100 years ago, is a provision that in the past, through federal tax returns, gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income and property tax states like New York, New Jersey and California to avoid “double taxation.” The deduction was eliminated in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the body passed Nov. 16, for individuals’ income taxes, and limited property tax deductions to $10,000. The Senate’s version of the bill, which has not been voted on yet, completely eliminates all SALT deductions. Both the House and Senate versions double the (married filing jointly) standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. The bill has been touted by President Donald Trump (R) and other members of Republican leadership as a massive tax cut for middle class families.

“We’re going to get whacked,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said of the bill during the board meeting.

New York’s income tax rate is among the highest in America, with members of the top tax bracket paying 8.82 percent in 2017. On average, the SALT deduction returned between $1,301 and $1,953 for New Yorkers making between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual income for the tax year of 2015, the latest year with available data according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, an organization that provides independent analysis of tax policy. The same group of earners deducted on average between $5,869 and $8,158 over the same time period in state and local real estate taxes.

“New York residents already send $41 billion more to the federal treasury than the federal government returns to New York,” the village resolution reads. “The state and local tax deduction is a fundamental principle of federalism and without it our residents would be faced with double taxation, as they would be forced to pay federal income taxes on the taxes they must pay to state and local governments.”

Garant joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), New York’s U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D), U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), and U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) in opposing the bill. Zeldin and King were among 13 Republicans in the House to vote “no” on the bill, with 227 voting to pass it.

“I view the elimination of the SALT deduction as a geographic redistribution of wealth, picking winners and losers,” Zeldin said in a statement. “The proposal taxes additional funds from a state like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere. For anyone who incorrectly argues that the rest of the country subsidizes our state, I would point out that New York is a net contributor to the federal coffers with regards to both tax policy and spending policy and that is even with the SALT deduction.”

According to www.censusreporter.org, about 62 percent of Port Jefferson Village residents earn between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual salary.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill shortly after Thanksgiving.

Nearly 250 Port Jeff residents support a pool somewhere in the village. Stock photo

By Alex Petroski

A group of nearly 250 Port Jefferson residents have a dream, but it is unlikely they will have any help from the village in trying to make it come to fruition.

Todd Pittinsky, a four-year village resident and Stony Brook University professor, has spearheaded and galvanized a movement that has nearly doubled in size since the beginning of 2017. The professor created a Facebook group more than a year ago to gauge community interest in constructing a pool for village residents.

In meetings that have taken place both online and in person, Pittinsky has organized a group that now has 243 supporters behind the idea of building a pool somewhere in the village and has even gotten one modest bite from a potential partner who might be able to supply a location: the Port Jefferson Yacht Club. Pittinsky formally presented some of the findings and brainstorming that have emerged from the meetings to the Port Jeff village board during a public meeting Nov. 6 in the hopes of gaining its support.

“We just realized we’ve been meeting and talking but at some point there’s only so far we can go as an outside group,” he said. “One of the issues that we talked about is this looming specter of the power plant closing and what that might mean for the tax base. One of the things that emerged from our group is we would just encourage the board and the mayor, as you think about that prospect and you think about that scenario, we can be pretty much guaranteed that property values will go down if there’s nothing to replace it. So you could imagine a race to the bottom where the village stops investing in education, stops investing in recreation and then the question becomes ‘Why should I move to Port Jefferson?’ Unfortunately being on the water is just not enough.”

Pittinsky’s pitch concluded with a request to the village to commission a study to determine the feasibility of a village pool and to examine the landscape of state grants available to municipalities constructing new recreational facilities.

“The village has no plans to actively pursue a pool at this time,” Mayor Margot Garant said in a statement since the meeting. “However, we are agreeable to working with the committee to assess the need and community support. We agree the country club would be the most suitable location, but under the current circumstances cannot foresee this as a village priority.”

Joe Yorizzo, commodore of the Port Jefferson Yacht Club, confirmed in a phone interview Pittinsky’s group has approached the club and although the conversations thus far have been preliminary, he said the club is interested in further discussing the possibility of building a pool. The group has also floated Danfords Hotel & Marina and the Port Jefferson Country Club as possible locations.

During the presentation, Pittinsky cited the health benefits of swimming, the safe and supervised environment for recreational activity that a public pool would create, revenue generated through memberships, a boost to property value and community cohesion across a wide array of age groups as some of the possible benefits. He said the cost of construction and finding a suitable location are the obvious hurdles that will need to be cleared in order for the proposal to truly get off the ground.

“At the end of the day, we ran a bunch of revenue models and the memberships do have to be expensive for at least the first 10 years to cover the construction, but we think that even if it is expensive we could balance it with access through something like once-a-week open community days where someone could buy one-day passes,” he said. “Then you’re kind of achieving the best of both worlds, where the people are particularly passionate about it and are willing and have the resources to contribute, but you also allow others to have access.”

In February Pittinsky said a place for his 3-year-old son to learn to swim was one of the few elements the village is currently lacking, though creating a place where the community can gather and enjoy together has also long been one of his goals. Part of the group’s work has included an informal study to try to determine how many people in the village have their own private pools. Using Google Maps, they concluded only about one in 17 homes currently have pools in Port Jeff. Pittinsky also stressed during the presentation that a wide range of demographics are represented in the group, and even those with their own pools see the value in a public pool.

He concluded his pitch with what he called the group’s tagline: “Let’s make a splash together.”

For more information about the group visit www.facebook.com/portpluspool/.

New policy sets cap on accrual of daily fees while seized boats are in storage

'Kayaks at Bay' by Holly Gordon

By Alex Petroski

In a seemingly ongoing effort to solidify policies regarding the storage of kayaks in Port Jefferson Village, the board of trustees voted to approve additional code changes during an Oct. 16 meeting.

The latest code change will set a minimum opening bid for kayaks and other small vessels previously seized by the village for being left on racks at village beaches past the posted required date for removal to be auctioned off. Each year, residents interested in storage space for their boats enter a lottery, and those selected are permitted to use village racks for the season. Signage near the racks warns owners they need to be removed by Nov. 1, though the village typically allows a several week grace period before it starts seizing abandoned vessels and moving them into storage.

The village still has several unclaimed boats left on racks from the 2016 season, which will be auctioned off Nov. 9. Adherent to the new policy, the minimum bid for any vessel will be $75, or $1 per day in storage plus a $25 fee — whichever total is less. So for example, a vessel in village storage for 10 days would have a minimum opening bid of $35 at auction. Any vessel kept for more than 50 days would have a minimum opening bid of $75.

Signs detailing the Village’s kayak policy are visible year round. File photo by Alex Petroski

“The whole goal is to get this thing rolling,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said during the meeting. The goal behind the connected village policies is to incentivize owners of seized boats to retrieve them from storage while also deincentivizing rack users from leaving them through the winter.

The $1 per day in storage policy makes it less expensive for owners to retrieve abandoned boats then if they were to pay the fines, though they assume the risk of competing with other bidders. The new policy would eliminate the current $10 fee per day for storing abandoned vessels.

Art Worthington, a village resident for more than a decade, is a boat owner who stands to benefit financially from the policy change, though on principal, he said he’s not satisfied with the new rules.

Worthington said during a phone interview, and a village spokesperson confirmed by email, that he stored a 14-foot Sunfish sailboat on village property at the Crystal Brook Hollow Road beach during the 2016 season without a permit, and went to retrieve it for the winter in December 2016, about a month after the posted date warning of possible removal. He said at the time he asked the village by phone if they had seized his boat, and based on his description the spokesperson said it was not in storage. In Sept. 2017, Worthington was granted permission to inspect the storage area, and found that his boat was in fact in the village’s possession. Worthington has since been instructed to bid on his vessel to get it back at auction.

“I’d pay $75 for it, sure, but the bottom line is they’re dead wrong,” he said. “They deprived me of the use of it for a season. They should be giving the people their boats back.”

Worthington said he believes his boat should be returned to him free of charge, and hasn’t decided yet if he will bid on it.

Members of the public can view the vessels up for auction Oct. 27 from 10 to 11 a.m. at East Beach to consider participating in the Nov. 9 auction.

Last year's presidential election motivated Shoshana Hershkowitz to become more politically active and encourage others to do the same. Photo from Shoshana Hershkowitz

The 2016 presidential election campaign motivated a South Setauket mother of two young children to become more politically active and teach others how to do the same.

Shoshana Hershkowitz, a registered Democrat who considers herself a Progressive, has become a familiar face at local political rallies while balancing motherhood and teaching. In January she founded the Facebook group Suffolk Progressives — a page with nearly 1,000 followers — in order to engage others in political conversations and educate them on how to become more active in government. The page includes discussions and videos viewable to those interested in learning what they can do to become more civically engaged, even if they’re busy. 

Hershkowitz, a lecturer at Stony Brook University and conductor of the Stony Brook Chorale, said she credits her Israeli parents for her passion. She said her family was able to discuss politics, even with those who disagreed with them, without the discussions leading to arguments.

“I grew up at the dinner table talking about [politics] so that is something I always felt comfortable with and something we’re supposed to do,” she said.

Hershkowitz at a recent political rally. Photo from Shoshana Hershkowitz

Before her children were born, she volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and knocked on doors, including in Pennsylvania, encouraging others to vote for him. After she gave birth to her oldest child, she said she didn’t have as much time to be as entrenched in politics as she would have liked. With the little time she had, she campaigned for local candidates and occasionally wrote a political blog, called Jew Kids on the Block.

“This election kind of re-galvanized me, I think which is true of so many people, and then it just kind of took off from there,” Hershkowitz said. “It started as a coping mechanism for me, and then it just sort of turned into what I thought would be an interesting opportunity to teach other people how to engage in political activism in a way that fits their lifestyle.”

She said when she was first trying to figure out how to make her voice heard, she started making calls to local members of congress including U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Zeldin has referred to the people who stake out his Patchogue office as “liberal obstructionists” in the past.

“I can make a difference at home in my pajamas,” she said.

Hershkowitz said she is also a big believer in writing letters to newspapers, something she had been doing before President Donald Trump (R) ran for office. She even helped to conduct a workshop about writing letters at U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-Glen Cove) office.

“Now I realize that it’s a really important vehicle,” she said. “It changes the narrative in your community in a way that I think social media doesn’t. You can certainly talk to people you agree or disagree with on social media, but I still think that the newspaper has an outreach that social media does not at this point.”

More than a few of Hershkowitz’s letters have appeared in this newspaper.

She said she began taking her children to rallies during the last year, which has enabled her to become even more active on the local political scene. Her children have joined her at the January Women’s March on Washington in Port Jefferson Station, the March for Science at Stony Brook University and protests in front of Zeldin’s office.

Hershkowitz said she makes sure a rally will be a peaceful and safe one before bringing her children. She said she didn’t take them to a vigil in Port Jefferson the day after the Charlottesville protests, because she said she didn’t have the words to explain to them what happened in Virginia. She said she also limits their exposure to broadcast news.

“They see me call congress, they see me do all these things, and I will explain why I’m doing it, but I try to make sure their consumption of media is really limited in this time,” she said. “It’s hard to contextualize that for such young kids.”

The South Setauket resident balances political activism with motherhood and work as an instructor and chorale director. Photo from Shoshana Hershkowitz

Hershkowitz said the Suffolk Progressives Facebook page began as like-minded friends sharing thoughts on various topics. Among those friends is Stefanie Werner, who she met last year at a child’s birthday party.

“As someone who is also a strong supporter of progressivism and democratic values, it was amazing to form an instant kinship with a person who held the same beliefs and desires for change,” Werner said. “Shoshana is a powerhouse of energy and exuberance, resolving to revolutionize our political process and those who represent us.”

Cindy Morris, the Democratic candidate for Brookhaven Town Clerk, met Hershkowitz at a Democratic committee event for activists. Morris said Hershkowitz has made the grassroots efforts available to people with all levels of experience with her work that  goes beyond marches and rallies. One example is Hershkowitz posting a video on Facebook explaining how to call local legislators and strategies once they’re on the phone.

“She has made politics less intimidating and more inspiring, galvanizing and easier to participate in than ever before,” Morris said.

Hershkowitz also has met many local lawmakers in her travels, including Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. The mayor described Hershkowitz as a spitfire “who is finding her voice during a time when others are afraid to speak up.” Garant said the activist is persistent, yet never demeaning, when she speaks with others, even if their opinions differ.

“She’s exemplary on how we all need to be with one another, “ Garant said.

Hershkowitz said her mission is to continue encouraging others to speak up.

“I hope that people realize that this isn’t someone else’s work, this is all of our work, and it can be just a couple of phone calls every day and making that a ritual like brushing your teeth is enough,” she said. “Don’t wait for someone else to do that work right now.”

Port Jefferson high school could look very different in the coming years if a $30M bond proposal is approved by the community. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Port Jefferson School District has been asking the community to weigh in on a $30 million bond proposal to complete a litany of districtwide projects, and Monday night village leadership spoke out.

The Port Jefferson Village Board, which includes several members who previously served on the Port Jeff board of education, collectively took the position during a meeting Sept. 18 that now is not the time for the district to be asking taxpayers for permission to borrow millions for upgrades and repairs. Village Mayor Margot Garant and other board trustees cited the unclear financial future of the village and district due to pending litigation against the Long Island Power Authority.

Proposal Highlights

•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS

•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS

•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space

•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS

•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school

•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS

•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields

•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS

•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new administration headquarters

•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building

“I’m going to strongly encourage the board of education, respectfully, to postpone this until a resolution is reached with LIPA,” Garant said in a phone interview after the meeting. “I want to commend them for looking at investing in the school system to improve the quality of education. We really want to resolve this issue so this community can stop putting off the plans to invest in our facilities and education.”

The village has no official jurisdiction over the district, though a vast majority of the village’s taxpayers also pay school taxes to the Port Jefferson School District. Both entities stand to potentially lose substantial tax revenue in the coming years should a settlement or decision in the LIPA case be reached, as LIPA has contended it pays too much in property taxes to operate the Port Jefferson Power Station, now that sweeping energy-efficiency upgrades have drastically reduced the regular need for the plant.

“We have deep respect for our mayor’s viewpoints as well as the various opinions of our residents,” district Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan said in a joint statement via email in response to the village’s position. “Our board of education and district administration have been conducting public meetings and seeking feedback through multiple venues. Our goal is to develop a final proposal for our residents’ consideration that meets our responsibility to educate our community’s children in a safe, secure and welcoming learning environment.”

Garant suggested the village board is in a uniquely qualified position to comment on the district’s proposal given each of the individual members backgrounds prior to serving the village. Trustees Bruce Miller and Larry LaPointe were previously on the board of education, Trustee Stan Loucks is a former school district athletic director and Trustee Bruce D’Abramo is a former school district facilities manager.

Village Mayor Margot Garant agreed Sept. 18 they’d like to see the school district wait on a $30M bond project. File photo by Elana Glowatz

“I think if they’re going to ask for these things they ought to ask the public to vote on them in discrete segments so that the public has the chance to say, ‘Yes, we want this but we don’t want that,’” LaPointe said during the meeting. “I hesitate to criticize another board, I know they’re trying to do what’s best for everybody. It’s just an awfully big nut.”

LaPointe’s position was similar to several community members, who during a Sept. 12 board of education meeting suggested voting on the bond proposal as an all-or-nothing referendum, rather than in smaller pieces, would make it less palatable for many taxpayers.

“I haven’t made a decision, but one of the things that will probably sway me is if this is an all-or-nothing,” resident Drew Biondo said during the board of education meeting. “If it’s all or nothing, I don’t know which way I’ll go.”

District administration presented the $30 million capital bond proposal to the board of education and the public during the Sept. 12 meeting, featuring a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school, lights for the elementary school field and many more improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million. If approved by the community with a vote tentatively scheduled for Dec. 5, construction would begin in 2019 and payments would be made annually beginning at about $1.5 million and concluding with a final $2.5 million installment in the 2033-34 fiscal year. The district would accrue nearly $10 million in interest over the life of the 15-year payment plan.

“Regardless of what happens with LIPA, we need to take care of the schools,” Casciano said during the last board of education meeting.

The village has reached out to set up a meeting to discuss the proposal with the district in the coming weeks. A survey soliciting public input on the proposal will remain accessible on the district website until Oct. 9.

A barge used by Northville Industries in Port Jefferson Harbor. File photo

A 2010 “legislative oversight” caused a stir between Port Jefferson Village and an oil company with decades-old roots in the community, though the village announced Aug. 7 during a public meeting the case has been settled.

As part of the settlement, with Northville Industries, a petroleum storage, distribution and wholesale company with property on the shores of Port Jefferson Harbor, the village agreed to amend a previously deleted section of its code. The village held a public hearing to discuss changes to permitted uses of marina waterfront-zoned parcels during the Aug. 7 meeting.

In 1976, the zone where Northville’s dock facility on Beach Street in Port Jeff was housed, and continues to be, was changed from an industrial to a marina waterfront. The change made Northville’s Port Jeff facility, which is used to take in petroleum deliveries by ship or barge that are then transported around Long Island, nonconforming to the village code. During the hearing, Village Attorney Brian Egan explained that the change was fought up to the New York State Supreme Court in 1976, and the site was granted conditional uses within the MW district, which allowed their decades-old operation to continue functioning.

In 2010 the village, to create multiple marina waterfront districts identified as MW-1, MW-2 and MW-3 drafted new legislation. The Northville property is located within MW-1. That legislation identified several permitted uses within marina waterfront districts, including recreational marinas, boat launching facilities, boat storage facilities, charter fishing boat operations, yacht clubs, restaurants and several others. However, it eliminated permitted conditional use of the space for “petroleum products and biofuels, marine terminal and pipeline facilities,” rendering the Northville facility noncompliant with the village code. Northville filed a lawsuit against the village in 2011. Egan said during the hearing the village had reached a settlement with Northville, and a stipulation of the suit was the code amendment.

“What this is really trying to do is, because we settled it I can say this, I would probably say it was a legislative mistake in 2010 to have eliminated a use that was already there and probably will continue forever,” he said. During a phone interview after the meeting Egan walked back “mistake” and instead classified it as a “legislative oversight.” “It’s been there forever, it will continue forever. What Northville said was, ‘Hey guys, we’re here. We were here even before this code was drafted. We’ve had it since 1976, just at least restore to us what you originally had in there before you took it out in 2010.’”

Northville’s is not the only property within the MW-1 district, which is the only one of the marina waterfront districts being granted conditional use pertaining to petroleum or biofuel related uses. So several village residents spoke out during the hearing with concerns that other companies might try to use property within the zone for similar purposes. Egan said the conditional-use status would leave any future proposals of that nature up to the village planning board to approve.

“Our history of this village is, it’s very difficult to do that,” village resident of Beach Street Michael Mart said during the hearing regarding a planning board denying conditional use on a property. “I’ve only heard of one time that they’ve prohibited a request for a conditional use, so I fear that by passing this, I guess we have to if it’s a settlement, because there’s only one street accessing those properties. For the most part that’s Beach Street. It’s shared by residents and to allow all of these uses to go there in the future, not immediately — I’m thinking far into the future when I’m not even here — that raises a significant zoning issue and a safety issue.”

Other members of the public were concerned by the phrase “marine terminal,” which does not have a definition within the village code. Village Mayor Margot Garant asked that a definition of marine terminal be added to the code to avoid unwanted uses from being permitted within the zone.

Egan also said an aspect of the amendment would be to create a “residential buffer” on Beach Street to separate Northville’s property and homes on the street.

He added the settlement was reached at no additional monetary cost to the village.

No vote was held on the amendment.

Port Jefferson Village is considering changing its code to make jaywalking illegal. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Crossing the street in Port Jefferson Village may soon be a ticket-able offense.

During a village board meeting Aug. 7, a public hearing was held to discuss amending the village code to include language prohibiting jaywalking on Port Jeff streets.

“No person shall, at street intersections where traffic is controlled by traffic control signals or by police or public safety officers, cross the street against a red, ‘stop’ or ‘don’t walk’ sign or signal, nor cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk, nor disobey the lawful command of a police or public safety officer,” the proposed addition to the code said.

Offenders would be written a summons to appear in village court, and penalties for violating the code would be assessed at the discretion of the court based on circumstances. Repeat offenders or offenders whose violation results in a car crash would be given harsher fines, with a maximum possible fine of $2,000.

Initially the code change was slated to be for the entirety of Port Jeff Village, but the proposed language in the code inspired questions from members of the public and the board about crossing streets like East Broadway and Highlands Boulevard, which have devices that qualify as “traffic control signals” but no crosswalks for miles. The proposed code change was amended during the hearing to limit the jaywalking restriction to commercial districts encompassing Main Street and East Main Street, and near John T. Mather Memorial Hospital where crosswalks already exist. Jaywalking restrictions will not be enforced on residential streets if the code change is passed by the board.

“Throughout the village there’s a 30-mile-per-hour speed limit,” village Code Enforcement Chief Wally Tomaszewski said during the hearing. “On Main Street there are hundreds of people a day that cross outside of the crosswalks. We have so many accidents. We have so many people that are hit by cars, people pushing off of cars, and people actually jump out in front of cars. We have children in cars that the people jam on the brakes and the kids go flying up against the dashboard and the windshield.”

Trustee and Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe was among those in favor of the law applying to only commercial areas. Trustee Bruce Miller was against the change altogether.

“I guess I’m just a bit of a libertarian, more free range than chasing people because they didn’t cross at a crosswalk or they didn’t wait for a signal, or maybe there’s nothing to wait for,” he said. “I’m not too enthusiastic about jaywalking enforcement.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant spoke in favor of the proposal.

“I see people darting across the street all of the time,” she said. “At night they’re darting from Schaffer’s to run across the street — it’s so dangerous.”

Garant added she had previously asked the New York State Department of Transportation for a crosswalk to be added in front of Village Hall, and she planned to speak to State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) about the matter again. She also assured concerned residents that proper signage would be installed warning pedestrians about the crackdown on jaywalking.

Neil DeVine and Scott Declue are honored in front of family and attendees of a Port Jeff Village board meeting for saving a motorist who drove into the harbor in April. Photos by Alex Petroski

The decisive actions of four good Samaritans likely saved the life of a motorist who drove his car into Port Jefferson Harbor via the Brookhaven Town boat ramp at the end of Barnum Avenue in Port Jeff Village in April, and for their efforts the heroic men were honored by the board of trustees during a meeting July 17.

Scott Declue was on the phone with his wife Jeyce, with whom he had plans to meet later in the evening April 6. The 40-year-old Mount Sinai resident said in a phone interview he was driving on Route 25A in a severe rainstorm, and was sitting at the light at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and Route 25A, yards south of the boat ramp which leads straight into the harbor. When the light turned green, he said miraculously it stopped raining, and near the edge of the dock he could see a car almost fully submerged in the water. Declue said he told his wife he was going to pull over to take a picture. Soon after stepping out of the car he said he saw a person’s head peeking out of the sunroof of the car.

Good Samaritans and SCPD Marine Bureau divers help a driver submerged in
Port Jefferson Harbor April 6. Photo by Andrew Tetreault/Fully Involved Media Group

“If I don’t do something this guy is going to die in front of me,” Declue said was the thought crossing his mind as he began running to the end of the dock, shedding clothing as he went. Declue dove into the water and swam to the car.

Port Jefferson Village resident Neil DeVine, 38, was also driving when he said he realized something was out of the ordinary. He said he was making a right onto Barnum Avenue from Route 25A when he caught a glimpse of the car, and turned around to enter the marina parking lot. He said he repeatedly tried to call 911 but got a busy signal several times.

“I didn’t expect the water to be as cold as it was,” DeVine said during a phone interview. Village Mayor Margot Garant said during the presentation of a proclamation to honor the heroism of the four men that the water was about 38 degrees at the time of the incident, which occurred around 5:30 p.m. DeVine said he and Declue jumped in the water, but he soon realized his heart rate and breathing were slowing.

Declue reached the car and got on the roof attempting to pull the driver out of the car. DeVine said he went back to the dock and tried to find a way to help pull both men to safety. The two men described DeVine luckily finding a line from a crane on a nearby barge that was tied to a ring, and both line and ring were thrown to Declue and the victim. DeVine, with other-witnesses-turned-heroes Tony Barton and Wayne Rampone Jr., pulled the two men to the dock and lifted them out of the water. Barton and Rampone could not attend the meeting.

Declue, who is an Eagle Scout, said he thought the victim was dead while he tried to get him to safety.

“His eyes were rolled back a little bit and yellowish,” DeVine said of the victim. He added during the rescue he heard the driver say he couldn’t swim.

“If I don’t do something this guy is going to die in front of me.”

— Scott Declue

Since the incident Declue said he spoke briefly with the victim and family members, but no in-person meeting has taken place. DeVine said the victim’s mother wrote a letter to DeVine’s children, thanking him for his bravery and explaining the actions the men took on the night of the incident.

Declue said he had a hard time articulating to his wife what exactly happened after he tossed his phone and sprinted to the end of the dock.

“I think I saved someone’s life,” he said he told her. “She asked, ‘How big was this puddle?’”

Declue called it divine intervention that his plans changed.

“I wasn’t even supposed to be there,” he said, adding that the incident kept him up at night for weeks.

DeVine said he was appreciative of the village recognizing their actions.

“We want to thank you for, really, saving a life in the Village of Port Jefferson,” Garant said. “That’s what this community stands for — citizens like yourselves seeing a person in harm’s way or an accident situation — so I really want to commend you on behalf of the board of trustees.”

The victim was treated for severe injuries in the aftermath of the incident according to the Suffolk County Police Department, and his current condition is not known.

The pier at Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson needs repairs, according to a report by an engineering firm. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Kevin Redding

The pier in Harborfront Park will remain open, with restrictions, through the summer.

The Port Jefferson Village board of trustees decided during a public board meeting July 17 to hold off on several significant repairs to the pier until after Sept. 16. On that day, the annual Dragon Boat Race Festival sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce is set to take place. The 2016 version of the event prompted a field assessment of the pier last fall following reports of the 337-foot-long by 12-feet-wide timber structure “shifting” and “swaying” while packed with people waiting to board boats and compete in the event.

Mayor Margot Garant said during the July 17 village board meeting that while Port Jefferson’s Seven Seas Construction, Co., could potentially begin work on the pier in two weeks, she could not “in good conscience” allow the pier to be closed to the public during its prime season for use.

“I’d hate to have my pier closed for two months in the summertime,” Garant said, estimating the repairs will now take place during the fall or winter.     

According to the evaluation reports of the Bohemia-based engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting Inc., the group commissioned by the village in Oct. 2016 to assess the pier, there was “severe section loss” to pilings or columns driven into the sediment that serve as a foundation for the platform; a missing nut and washer for one beam-to-piling connection; rusted connections between pieces of wood; and a split in at least one cross-bracing beam.

The pier, which was originally built in 1996, was last modified in 2004, according to the firm’s report.

All findings were referred to as “significant structural deficiencies” and it was advised they be addressed immediately. During an Oct. 20, 2016, meeting, Village Trustee Bruce D’Abramo said he was in favor of doing just that.

“They’ve called the village’s attention to a couple of issues [with the pier], I think that if we ignored it, it would not be good,” D’Abramo said.

P.W. Grosser at that time also recommended the enforcement of a maximum occupancy of 180 people for the pier, which was estimated to hold up to 200 during last year’s festival.

At the recent meeting, Garant said the occupancy restriction will be implemented for this year’s event.

“During the Dragon Boat Race there would be absolutely no more than 150 people at a time on that pier,” Garant said. She added that the pier would no longer be open to spectators, only race participants.

When asked how members of P.W. Grosser felt about the delay in repairs, Senior Vice President Paul Boyce said he was unable to speak on the matter until getting the village’s consent. The village board did not respond to requests to interview Boyce nor inquiries as to how it plans to fund the eventual repairs.

The October report stated the “overall structural condition of the pier was considered good to fair.

Alex Petroski contributed reporting

Supervisor Ed Romaine is taking a leadership role in trying to streamline town government services. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town is looking to get by with a little help from its friends.

The town is among six other New York State municipalities vying to be selected as the recipient of a $20 million grant that will be awarded in the fall to the applicant that demonstrates the most innovative ways to reduce property taxes through the consolidation of shared government services and increased efficiency. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition in November as a way to inspire local governments to reduce the cost of living for residents in the state. Each of the nine incorporated villages within Brookhaven passed resolutions identifying the areas in which a consolidation of services makes sense, and officially pledged partnership with the town in pursuing the projects, which would be funded by the $20 million grant.  In addition to the nine villages, leadership from ambulance, school, fire and library districts, as well as special districts like sewer and erosion, were consulted and will remain involved in brainstorming ways to make shared services more efficient and cost effective going forward.

“The big winner in this at the end of the day, should we be successful, will be the taxpayers of the various taxing jurisdictions, because this should reduce costs and hopefully either reduce or stabilize taxes.”

— Ed Romaine

“Property taxes remain the most burdensome tax in New York and with this competition, we are incentivizing local governments to band together to think outside the box, streamline their bureaucracies, cut costs and deliver real relief to their taxpayers,” Cuomo said in November. “New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world and by encouraging innovation, we are taking one more step toward a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) explained his interest in applying for the grant for the town during an interview at Town Hall July 7.

“The big winner in this at the end of the day, should we be successful, will be the taxpayers of the various taxing jurisdictions, because this should reduce costs and hopefully either reduce or stabilize taxes,” Romaine said.

Brookhaven’s application included 16 proposed projects that would accomplish the stated goal of the competition, according to Town Chief of Operations Matt Miner, who played a vital leadership role in applying for the grant.

“We’re doing duplicated services — why can’t one municipality do ‘that,’” Miner said. He said some of the projects would include the consolidation of tax collection and tax assessor services; utilizing Brookhaven’s staffed maintenance workers rather than putting out bids for contracts; creating a regional salt facility to be used during snow removal; using town contracts for things like asphalt replacement, which yield a better price due to Brookhaven’s size compared to the smaller villages; and creating digital record keeping and storage.

The supervisor said in total, the projects would result in a savings of about $66 million for taxpayers, or a return of more than three times the investment made by the state in disseminating the grant dollars.

Romaine and Minor both stressed the importance of allowing the towns to maintain their autonomy despite the consolidation of services. The projects will emphasize ways to eliminate unnecessary redundancies in the administration of government services while allowing incorporated villages to continue overseeing themselves. Romaine also dispelled possible concerns about loss of jobs as a result of the consolidation of services. He said he expects the phase out of antiquated departments through retirements, stating no layoffs will be required to make the consolidation projects happen.

“New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world and by encouraging innovation, we are taking one more step toward a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”

— Andrew Cuomo

Port Jefferson Village approved a resolution to partner with Brookhaven in pursuit of the grant during a June 26 board meeting. The resolution stated the village’s interest in pursuing projects related to enhanced services in the highway department and department of public works; the purchasing portal; electronic records management and storage; and several others.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a phone interview she was on board for any initiatives that would result in savings for taxpayers, though maintaining Port Jeff’s autonomy and independence is of the utmost importance to her.

“The reason why you incorporate is so you have home rule,” Garant said, adding she has concerns about the management of a government that would in effect be growing, should the town win the competition. “The proof will be in the pudding. It’s all about who is going to manage these programs and what level of competence they have.”

The winner of the $20 million grant is expected to be announced this fall. Representatives from the town will head to Albany next week to present their case to a panel, but for reaching Phase II of the competition, Brookhaven has already received a $50,000 grant, which was used to develop project proposals for the application.

As another aspect of the application, the town passed a resolution in June that formed the Council of Governments, a committee that will be led by the town and comprised of leaders of the various villages and districts that will meet quarterly to discuss common issues. The first meeting of its kind is slated for September.

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