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Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant

Port Jefferson code Chief Wally Tomaszewski. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson Village fixture for more than 35 years is saying goodbye to his role in the community.

Code Enforcement Chief Wally Tomaszewski is retiring, according to an announcement by Mayor Margot Garant during a public Village Board meeting June 4.

“Chief Tomaszewski came in and he signed a retirement letter today with us,” Garant said. “He is going to be retiring, receiving his compensation for the month of June, and we will be searching for a new chief of the bureau. There’s a lot of change in the department in terms of technology, things that have to happen, and chief, we wish him well. We want to recognize him and retire him in this community for the public service he has provided for us for 35 years. And we mean that sincerely.”

Garant made the announcement when asked by a resident what was going on, as rumors had begun swirling on social media over the weekend about Tomaszewski’s job status and the story behind the departure.

Tomaszewski did not respond to a request for comment.

Community members packed Village Hall for the June meeting to discuss a host of issues, but the larger than normal turnout was likely largely a reflection on rumors about the chief.

“We spoke about this Friday, we shook hands, he came in today and signed his letter,” Garant said.

Several attendees spoke in support of Tomaszewski and asked the board to reconsider accepting the letter.

“I moved here about 50 years ago, and the reason we did was because this was a personal village,” resident Naomi Solo said. “It was a special village, and I think the person that really epitomizes this, besides yourself, was Wally. The loss of Wally is devastating.”

The chief was known for being on call for residents, be it to address noise complaints in the middle of the night or assist the Suffolk County Police Department in certain cases.

“I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a replacement that’s equivalent to him,” resident Marge McCuen said.

Deputy Code Chief Fred Leute will serve as the acting chief, according to Garant.

Port Jeff includes $107K in 2018-19 budget for anticipated “glide path”

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. File Photo

The potential ramifications of the looming LIPA lawsuit specter may finally be coming into focus.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant announced during a public hearing April 2 on the 2018-19 budget the village is “on the cusp of a settlement” with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. LIPA has argued the estimate is too high based on decreased energy demand, and the village accused LIPA of breaching its contract, which was supposed to run until 2028. The village and Port Jefferson School District receive substantial revenue from LIPA’s tax dollars and have had the prospect of lost revenue hanging over future financial planning. Port Jefferson is among other municipalities, like Northport, which host plants that have lawsuits against LIPA and believe the contract has been breached.

Garant said the board came to the decision to write $107,000 into the upcoming budget to create a reserve fund to prepare in anticipation for a “glide path” agreement, in which the village’s LIPA revenue will be scaled down gradually over time. The figure was chosen to bring the total budget’s tax levy increase to exactly 2 percent, thus avoiding asking residents to pierce the cap. The 2018-19 adopted budget is $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from to the current year, with the largest driver of the increase being the money set aside to deal with LIPA.

“The appropriations of reserves that we have accumulated over the last six to seven years aside, once we know what the glide path looks like, we will be putting our fund balance, monies that we’ve built, into that reserve account, which kind of locks it away so that future boards, if there should be future boards, can’t take that money and do something else with it,” Garant said. “It’ll preserve that money and entrust it to contributing toward the glide path.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced during his State of the Town address April 3 it had reached a settlement with LIPA on its version of the assessment suit. Village Attorney Brian Egan said Brookhaven’s settlement would have no impact on Port Jeff’s discussions, and that negotiations were ongoing.

“This year it’s basically another rollover budget like we’ve had in the past with very minimal changes,” village treasurer, Denise Mordente, said during the presentation. Other factors contributing to the budget increase included contractual raises for village employees, the increasing minimum wage, increased costs for medical benefits, and some additional funds for code enforcement that were used for installing security cameras and maintenance throughout the village, among a few others.

The board also passed a resolution that would give it the option to pierce the tax levy increase cap — as it does every year — should it need to do so, though that is not in the village’s plans for the upcoming year.

Port Jefferson School District offered a scathing statement in response to the news about Brookhaven’s settlement, saying it is “deeply troubled,” to hear of the settlement.

“This decision will imminently place the School District in harm’s way,” the statement said.

This story was updated April 4 to remove information mistakenly included about a public budget vote, and to include a statement from Port Jefferson School District.

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

They say in life communication is key.

Those in the vicinity of Port Jefferson Village Hall and the Port Jefferson Country Club should soon expect to see improved cellphone signal reception thanks to an action taken by the village board Feb. 5. The board unanimously passed a resolution approving the design of the two Verizon antennae.

According to village Mayor Margot Garant, the antennae will not resemble the controversial cellphone towers being debated in places like the Village of Old Field. The mayor described Port Jeff’s new signal boosters in an email as “completely non-invasive and hidden.” She said they are small boards that will be placed behind wood in the cupolas, or small domes typically adorning the roof of a building. She said the devices will strengthen cellular reception in the vicinity of the two locations and would net the village about $13,000 annually in revenue per unit.

She added that the installation was desired in part as a way to alleviate an ongoing issue of inefficient cell service at and around the country club and village beaches, each located in the northeastern corner of Port Jefferson.

“We need cell service at the country club and beaches desperately for emergency related services,” she said.

Board Trustee Stanley Loucks, who also serves as the board’s liaison to the recreation department, expressed similar concerns about signal strength at the club.

“There are many areas on the country club property where there is absolutely no service,” Loucks said. “You can actually move a few feet and lose service. This has been a problem for many years and presents a dangerous situation. Golfers, tennis players, maintenance workers and club guests can and have experienced situations where assistance was needed, and they could not make contact with anyone. This becomes more of a problem when you are on or near our beaches.”

Residents’ concerns about the safety of stronger cellphone signals in close proximity to communities have abounded during the Village of Old Field’s public discourse about a proposed tower at a public park, known by many as Kaltenborn Commons, located at the intersection of Old Field Road and Quaker Path.

Oleg Gang, who works at Brookhaven National Laboratory, said during a hearing on the proposed Old Field cellphone tower he lives in close proximity to the proposed location and was among those who voiced opposition due to health risks.

According to the website of the American Cancer Society, there is currently very little evidence to support the idea of cellphone towers increasing the risk of cancers or other health problems.

Others in Old Field have also balked at the proposal because of the look of the tower. The proposed tower is similar to one installed in Belle Terre Village in recent years, according to Tanya Negron, founder of Elite Towers, a Long Island-based company that develops wireless telecommunications tower sites and is working on the Old Field project.

In August 2016, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) revealed a list of areas on Long Island deemed to be “dead zones” for cellphone service. The list was compiled through a crowdsourcing campaign and included Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Port Jefferson Station, North Country Road in Port Jefferson and Norton Avenue in Terryville.

“A heavily populated region like Long Island shouldn’t be home to over 200 dead zones,” Schumer said at the time, adding shoddy cell service could be a deterrent for individuals or businesses looking to move to the area.

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Kids play on the equipment at Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson Village during its grand reopening event in June, following a renovation headed up by L.K. McLean Associates, which received an award for engineering excellence last week. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Residents of Port Jefferson Village have known for decades Rocketship Park is a special place, but now the engineering firm that handled its renovation has the hardware to prove it.

L.K. McLean Associates announced Jan. 3 it received the Diamond Award in the special projects category from the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York for its renovation of Clinton H. Lee Memorial Park in Port Jeff Village, or Rocketship Park as it’s commonly known. LKMA is a firm with licensed engineers, land surveyors and architects that has been serving the New York Metropolitan area since 1950, according to its website.

The ACEC of New York has hosted annually for more than 50 years its Engineering Excellence Gala — or the Academy Awards of the consulting engineering industry, as the organization’s website indicates. The event is the culmination of a selection process in which more than 60 firms submit projects to be judged on a rigorous set of criteria, including complexity, innovation and value to society. A panel of industry experts, including military and government officials, leadership from ACEC, educators from college and university engineering departments and others, judges the projects. Winners are selected based on the highest average scores in the various categories.

The Diamond Award is the highest level handed out by ACEC.

“As a parent, it was a rewarding experience to work with the village to renovate the park I grew up playing in,” said Chris Dwyer, an associate at LKMA and the project manager for the Rocketship Park renovations. “The park now gives kids of all ages and abilities the opportunity to play and enjoy such an iconic landmark. We are thrilled at such an honor by ACEC.”

The 4,000-square-foot playground was originally built in the 1970s. The idea to overhaul the footprint can be traced as far back as 2013, after vandals destroyed some of the previous equipment. In addition to extra security features, this prompted the village to look into repairs, according to a previous interview with former village trustee Adrienne Kessel. She is chair of the Treasure Your Parks campaign, a group which spearheaded the upgrade project.

“It began with a conversation about adding better lighting, but that wasn’t the answer,” she said. “When we went to fix the damaged pieces, we weren’t able to find them. The equipment was obsolete.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she was glad to hear the park would be recognized for its design.

“The recognition for Rocketship is really meaningful because not only is the park beautiful, it was done to allow inclusion for all children to have access,” she said. “So we made it bigger and more beautiful than even we could have imagined it. I am so pleased that everyday residents and visitors can continue to revisit and build their strong family memories at this beautiful family park.”

LKMA served as the sole engineering consultant and site surveyor, and proposed schematic site plans that were eventually developed and used.

“Equipment selection emphasized a meaningful play design, allowing children the opportunity to choose how they play, while seeing connections with play and choice,” LKMA’s announcement of the award said. “A ‘choose your own adventure’ engages children in the five elements essential to meaningful play: physical, cognitive, social, sensory and communicative. The site plan was arranged to maximize parental supervision with clean lines of sight from dispersed seating areas.”

The park has been under video surveillance since it reopened in June and Garant asked that all those who visit the park help ensure it remains clean, free of graffiti, vandalism and litter.

The total cost of the project was almost $900,000, with $500,000 coming from taxpayer dollars, $265,000 from a New York State parks grant and about $120,000 from donations, according to Barbara Sakovich, assistant to the mayor.

A look at Port Jefferson Harbor from the Village Center during Winter Storm Grayson as blizzard-force winds and more than a foot of snow pound the coast Jan. 4. Photo from Margot Garant

Winter Storm Grayson arrived early Jan. 4 and pounded Port Jefferson, and the surrounding areas to the tune of more than 16 inches of snow.

The storm was officially categorized as a blizzard by the New York office of the National Weather Service, with sustained winds or frequent gusts greater than 35 mph, “considerable” falling and blowing snow, visibility of less than a quarter of a mile and more than three hours of duration. Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Luppinacci (R), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) declared states of emergency for each of their respective jurisdictions.

“This storm was actually worse than predicted for us,” Bellone said during a briefing Jan. 5. “We saw up to 16 inches of snow in certain parts of the county. This was, as we discussed, a very difficult and challenging storm because of all the conditions — high rate of snowfall, very rapid rate and high winds. It made it very difficult. I want to thank all of those who heeded our calls to stay off the roads yesterday. There were far too many people on the roads. The result was hundreds of motorists ended up stranded.”

Based on unofficial observations taken Jan. 4 and 5, the highest snowfall total reported by the New York NWS office was in Terryville, where 16.4 inches of snow fell during the storm. Suffolk County appeared to take the brunt of Grayson’s wrath according to the NWS data, not only in actual snowfall, but also as the home to the highest wind gusts in the state during the storm, with gusts exceeding 60 mph.

Despite the substantial snowfall totals, Main Street in Port Jeff Village was up and running and open for business Friday morning, according to Garant, who said the village’s Department of Public Works did an “A++” job in an email.

“We have a good system and a great team in place,” she said, adding she was thrilled with how quickly village streets were passable. “The community really makes this possible for us by staying home and avoiding parking on the snow emergency streets.”

Steve Gallagher, the village’s DPW superintendent, said 22 village DPW employees worked using nine trucks equipped with plows and nine trucks with both plows and sanders to clear the streets. He estimated the village used between 150 and 200 tons of salt and sand mix to mitigate the impact of road and sidewalk icing. He reiterated Garant’s point that cooperation from the public is critical in returning the village back to business as usual following a storm.

“Village roads were passable at all times thanks to the dedication and commitment of the men in the DPW,” he said. “People staying off the roads and not parking in the streets would help expedite the clearing of the roads and allow a better job.”

PSEG Long Island reported 97 percent of the 21,700 of its customers who lost power as a result of the storm had their service restored by 9 p.m. Jan. 5.

“Our goal, always, is to restore power as quickly and safely as possible,” a spokesperson for the utility said in a press release. “We ask our customers for a fair amount of patience and to know we will be there just as soon as it is safe.”

The storm came in the midst of a record-setting stretch of below freezing temperatures, according to the NWS. A streak of 13 straight days with a maximum temperature below 32 degrees Fahrenheit measured at Long Island McArthur Airport in Islip was snapped Jan. 9. The 13-day duration was the second longest period of below freezing temperatures reported at the airport since 1963.

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

They say the best defense is a good offense.

Port Jefferson Village officials believe it will be better equipped to enforce elements of its housing and building code thanks to its newly approved village special prosecutor. The village board voted unanimously to approve the appointment of attorney Paul Feuer to serve as special prosecutor during a Dec. 18 public meeting. He will serve in the position at a rate of $225 per hour, with a 15-hour monthly cap not to be exceeded without board approval.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said Feuer will be used to pursue cases including, but not limited to, illegal rentals, illegal signage and site clearing. Prior to Feuer’s appointment, Dara Martin Orlando prosecuted all cases on behalf of the village.

“What we’re doing here is we’re splitting out the prosecution of these cases from basically parking violation cases,” Larry LaPointe, deputy mayor and trustee, said, adding he’s known Feuer for about 30 years, calling him highly competent. “These are far more complex than parking cases. They’re not an area in which our present prosecutor is very well versed. I think it’s a good idea to split out the tough cases and to give them to a specialist who can start winning cases in court.”

Feuer’s selection came following the recommendation of Village Attorney Brian Egan and Alison LaPointe, special village attorney for building and planning, according to Garant. The new appointee’s law practice, Feuer & Feuer, is located in Patchogue and specializes in personal injury, real estate and criminal cases. According to his attorney profile on the website, he has been practicing law since 1987 and opened his own practice in Patchogue in 2000.

“There’s some serious cases that involve these illegal rentals,” Garant said, adding the typical slow pace of state supreme court cases, where cases on the local level can sometimes end up, were a motivating factor to establish a better system for handling and ultimately resolving more cases in-house. “Paul is a specialist in this … we are hoping that the people who continue to violate the code will now take us extremely seriously.”

Garant said the village is also considering separating building and housing code violators making court appearances in front of the village justice from parking-related cases, Currently all code violation cases are heard on Tuesday nights.

“If you’re ever up there on a Tuesday…everyone moves through that courtroom very quickly except for these,” Bruce D’Abramo, village trustee, said. “And then everyone with a parking ticket is sitting and waiting.”

The board expects Feuer’s hours to be heavily front-loaded, as it will take him time to get up to speed on existing cases. Garant said the expectation is that Feuer’s handling of the cases should allow the village to divert other dollars from its legal budget to the new special prosecutor, while also reducing the amount of hours spent on the cases by others. D’Abramo suggested Feuer’s appointment could also result in more revenue brought in by the village court, which could assist in paying his hourly rate.

“It could make a real difference, especially when these are serious cases that may go up to the next level, to the state supreme court,” he said.

Chris Bianco, an attorney who sat in on the meeting for Egan, also made the case for Feuer’s appointment.

“They’re the type of cases that invite legal challenges,” he said. “People actually get attorneys for these types of cases and they’re going to nitpick the information, subpoenas if they’re used, and it makes it difficult.”

Nicole Christian, grant writer for PJV, helps fund projects by finding hidden dollars. Photo from HB Solutions website

Though the hills might not be saturated with valuable nuggets like the gold rush days of old, hidden money exists for municipalities in the form of state and federal grants for countless types of projects.

For the last eight years, Nicole Christian, a grant writer for HB Solutions consulting services, has been finding hidden dollars for Port Jefferson Village and, as a result, has helped to progress projects that might otherwise not have gone forward. Since 2014, Christian, a 2015 “Forty Under 40” honoree by Long Island Business News, has found more than $3 million to put toward a wide range of projects that have or will positively affect the lives of members of the community.

Her work has been instrumental to advancing the village’s upper Port Jeff revitalization plan. Dubbed “Uptown Funk,” the multiphased project has been building momentum since 2014 and aims to transform blighted properties, better connect residents to work, make the streets more walkable and vibrant, and provide an overall better place to live in the area of the village on Main Street between North Country Road and the Long Island Rail Road train tracks, according to Village Mayor Margot Garant,

At the beginning of 2017, Christian secured $500,000 from Empire State Development through its Restore New York Communities Initiative, and a grant of $250,000 from Suffolk County as part of its Jumpstart program, for transit-based improvements around the Long Island Rail Road Port Jeff train station. In December, the village learned it had received another $350,000 Restore New York grant from the state to go towards the upper Port plan, bringing the total Uptown Funk grant money up to $850,000.

“I think Uptown Funk is going to skyrocket this village through its stratosphere,” Christian said in a previous interview. “It’s a destination for young people, families, tourists. I think it’s a fantastic investment for the community, and I think the state knows that too.”

Garant said Christian has been an asset for Port Jeff Village because she is highly personable and understands the community and its needs.

“When it comes to trying to find money, you’ve got to squeeze every ounce of water out and turn over every stone, and that’s what Nicole does,” Garant said. “When you don’t have it in your budget it’s so important to have that lifeline to have someone help you find the money.”

Christian’s impact on the village in 2017 was certainly not limited to development projects. The village closed the iconic Rocketship Park for renovations and began a months-long refurbishment, partly funded by a $265,000 grant from New York State’s parks department. Garant said the village applied for the money multiple times, and prior to the third trip to present their qualifications for the grant, the mayor admitted her hopes were not high.

“We went three times to get money for Rocketship Park and the third time I was like, ‘Guys, I’m not going, why would I go, they never gave us any money the first time,’” she said. “Nicole said, ‘No, you’ve got to go.’”

The village still didn’t get the award, but finished close enough that when the applicant who came in first returned the money, Port Jeff’s application had been next in line.

“I think when you’re a grant writer you have to be persistent,” Garant said.

This vacant parcel located at 1527 Main St. in Port Jefferson may soon be acquired by Port Jeff Village using eminent domain. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has repeatedly called the use of eminent domain “a tool in the village’s toolbox” in relation to its vision for upper Port Jeff revitalization, and as of last week, it appears the toolbox has been opened.

The village is set to acquire a parcel of land in upper Port using eminent domain, as it is looking to purchase vacant property at 1527 Main St. between Safe Harbor Title Agency and Tara Inn on the east side of Main Street, to then sell it to a developer. A diner used to occupy the space, though it has since been torn down. A public hearing was held on the matter Dec. 4, another requirement prior to proceeding with the acquisition of the land.

The parcel is currently owned by Jose Ramos, who purchased the premises for $260,000 in July 2013 with the hopes of building and operating a bakery, according to his attorney Steven Askinas of a Bay Shore-based law firm. Both men were present for the hearing before the village board. Askinas said Ramos was initially asked by the village to clear the property and start over, and he complied with the request. He was also asked for plans to include a second story with space for apartments, which he also complied with in his plans, so that the building would be adherent to the village’s greater revitalization plans.

In early 2016, Port Jefferson Village began taking tangible steps to improve the look and spur economic development of upper Port, the area of the village on Main Street between North Country Road and the Long Island Rail Road train tracks. A blight study was commissioned in May 2016, a requirement to qualify an area for an urban renewal plan by New York State general municipal law. Because the study concluded the cluster of parcels was indeed a blighted area, an urban renewal plan was adopted in October 2016, clearing the way for the village to impose eminent domain over property owners should an agreement not be reached for the village to purchase the property, or if owners do not comply with the village’s revitalization plans.

Askinas said his client has complied with everything the village asked, and still wants to build his bakery and remains willing to include apartments in his plans. During the hearing, trustee Bruce D’Abramo, who serves as the board’s liaison to the building and planning department, said Ramos never submitted a complete application regarding the property. Ramos has rejected offers to sell the property on the open market and from the village, following the commission of an appraisal of the property by the village, according to Village Attorney Brian Egan.

“The total amount to date that he has invested in this property is $380,000, approximately,” Askinas said. “He wants to put his bakery in. He’ll put apartments up top. If there’s a special design plan that is in keeping with the neighborhood or the neighborhood plan for development, he’s willing to do that. To take the property from somebody who’s willing to put into this area makes very little sense. I’m sure whatever the village is offering my client would not be fair recompense for what he has put in. It’s four years already he’s been trying to get this done. He has been doing whatever the village asked, and now to come back and say ‘see-yah,’ that’s not fair.”

Public comments can be submitted regarding the matter until Jan. 3, and the village concluded the hearing by asking Ramos to submit a completed application for the site within the 30-day period.

The village was awarded a $500,000 grant in February to be used on the area from Empire State Development, the state’s economic development arm, as part of the Restore New York Communities Initiative, which was created to support municipalities in rehabilitating blighted commercial properties. Garant also announced the state selected Port Jeff Village as a recipient for another $350,000 in grant money earmarked for improving the southern gateway to the village near the train tracks. She added the village is in the process of selecting master developers to begin working on the area of upper Port, which she said she expects to begin in early 2018.

Many of Port Jefferson’s buildings have a Victorian-era architectural style, but one trustee wants to establish the style as a standard for future construction. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson Village trustee wants to look to the past for inspiration while visualizing future construction.

Village board member Bruce Miller publicly introduced a draft of a resolution Dec. 4 born out of a meeting of the Architectural Review Committee, which if passed would require new buildings in the village’s commercial districts both uptown and downtown to adhere to designs consistent with Port Jeff’s “Victorian, maritime heritage.”

“We have a village for which there are a lot of reasons for people to come to Port Jefferson, either to visit, to live or to establish a business, and we believe that the charm of the community is part of that,” Miller said during the meeting. “We feel that we would want to emphasize our strong points. Development has been somewhat haphazard in the past, and we have a number of architectural styles. The core architectural style is a Victorian style.”

Miller, one of three members of the architecture committee, was outspoken about the look of various construction projects already underway in the village in February.

“We have a village for which there are a lot of reasons for people to come to Port Jefferson, either to visit, to live or to establish a business, and we believe that the charm of the community is part of that.”

— Bruce Miller

“This is a Victorian village but we’re turning it into hodgepodge lodge here,” he said during a meeting. “There’s just no cohesion here.”

Miller admitted after reading the drafted resolution during the meeting he didn’t expect immediate action from the board on the matter, but rather to begin a conversation with the hope of a resolution similar to the one proposed eventually reaching the point of a board vote.

“We have a number of mixed styles that have been constructed over the years in the village, and we, the committee, feel that establishing a brand — establishing Port Jefferson as a Victorian, maritime village as far as image is concerned and architecture — is important and helpful,” he said. “Sometimes developers want to build things that are maybe in the style that they prefer. Maybe they want to build things that are just cheaper to construct. We feel that this resolution highlights some direction for the future in terms of what will be more attractive to bring people to Port Jefferson in terms of visiting, tourism and property values.”

The committee’s other two members also attended the meeting and voiced support for Miller’s resolution.

“Because of the recognized history of the Victorian architecture in Port Jefferson Village, and because I believe that upper Port and lower Port should be coordinated in that effort, I feel that trustee Miller’s suggestion has merit and I would appreciate some thoughtful consideration be given to that,” said Kathy Schiavone, a six-year member of the committee.

Jackie Mooney also spoke during the meeting, calling her committee member’s suggestion “a very good one.”

Heritage Open Days, England’s largest festival of history and culture established in the mid-1990s to increase appreciation for the country’s cultural assets according to its website, points out several architectural characteristics considered to be of Victorian style, including patterned bricks, terraces, stained glass, front porches and high towers with pointed roofs. Many homes in the village share the characteristics associated with Victorian-era architecture. Certain village events, like the Charles Dickens Festival, are even billed as odes to Victorian-era culture..

None of the other Port Jeff Village board members commented on Miller’s proposal during the meeting.

An electronic sign in front of Port Jefferson High School alerting residents about the referendum. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

After months of passionate and at times heated debate, the Port Jefferson School District community has spoken.

Residents voted overwhelmingly against a $30 million capital bond proposal that carried an additional $10 million in interest over its 15-year life and included over 20 districtwide repair and upgrade projects. The issue garnered feverish local attention at numerous school board meetings and on social media forums since it was presented to the public by the district and board of education in September, driving more than 1,700 voters to the polls on referendum day Dec. 5. After all was said and done, 1,355 residents voted against the bond, with just 374 voting in favor of it. By comparison, just 412 people voted on the 2018 budget and school board vacancies back in May.

A lawn sign on Barnum Avenue encouraging residents to vote ‘No’ on a $30M PJSD bond proposal. Photo by Alex Petroski

The proposal featured 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 and lights for the Scraggy Hill Road athletic fields, among many more improvements. Some of the fixes — like additional girls locker room space and handicapped parking spaces at the high school track — were included to get the district in compliance with Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act and will likely need to be addressed either using the district’s capital reserves or a reworked bond proposal.

“While I am disappointed in the result, I am encouraged that so many residents took the time to vote,” district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an email. “The district and our board of education will discuss the matter further at subsequent meetings. The safety, security and compliance concerns that we were attempting to address through the projects in the capital bond still exist and need attention.”

Many of those opposed to the bond pointed to the uncertainty surrounding an ongoing district and Port Jefferson Village lawsuit against Long Island Power Authority, as both entities stand to potentially lose substantial tax revenue in the coming years should a settlement or decision in the LIPA case be reached. 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. The district and village’s annual operating budgets are funded in large part due to that revenue. Others were also opposed to the “all or nothing” proposal, which included upgrades that were seen as imminently necessary alongside projects that were viewed as extravagant, like the stadium lights at the Scraggy Hill fields and a new synthetic playing surface for the varsity football field.

“I think the result demonstrates that the community is seeking more transparency and fiscal responsibility from the board and the administration,” said Rene Tidwell, a district resident who was vocal in her opposition to the proposal. “We as a community are eager to roll up our sleeves and help identify urgent projects to fix compliance issues and to help prioritize long-term projects.”

Tidwell said she was not previously as engaged in the goings on of the board of education prior to the emergence of the debate over the bond.

“There had been talk in the community about it and when I started looking closely at the information the board provided I ended up having more questions,” she said. “Many in the community felt there wasn’t a consistent resource or outreach to the entire community with respect to contributing input for what went into the bond proposal.”

Depending on the assessed value of a district resident’s home, the bond would have resulted in an increase of between $289 and $1,185 annually in property taxes, according to the district.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant publicly requested that the district hold off on bringing the proposal forward in September until a resolution was reached on the LIPA issue.

“Tonight’s heavy turnout and result reflects the engagement and passion of our community,” Garant said Dec. 5 via email. “They spoke to the board of education with resounding voices of concern over this bond proposal and while doing so, expressed their deep concern for the children in our school district, clearly stating their support for the ‘needs,’ and not the ‘wants’ in the proposal.”

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