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Port Jefferson Village

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/.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Alex Petroski

Suffolk County Police arrested a man for hosting a party in Port Jefferson after two 20-year-olds required medical attention for excessive alcohol consumption Oct. 29, according to police.

Sixth Precinct Patrol officers responded to a complaint of a loud party at a home on High Street at about 1:40 a.m. There were approximately 100 people in attendance, many of whom were underage, police said.

Police arrested and charged the host, Robert Egan, 22, of Bay Shore, with violating the Social Host Law. He was transported to the 6th Precinct where he was released on bail. Egan is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Jan. 9, 2018. Attorney information for Egan was not immediately available.

A motorist driving an SUV died after being pulled from his vehicle in Port Jefferson Harbor Oct. 30. Photo by Dennis Whittam

A man was pronounced dead at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson after he was pulled from a submerged vehicle in Port Jefferson Harbor just after 7 p.m. Oct. 30, according to Suffolk County Police Department Assistant Commissioner Justin Meyers. Police have identified the man as William Whalen, 69, of Lake Grove.

“A 911 call came in at 7:10 p.m. after witnesses observed a car drive into the water at the Port Jefferson Marina boat launch located off of West Broadway Avenue and Barnum Avenue in Port Jefferson Village,” Meyers statement said. “Sixth Precinct Officers Brian Christopher and Michael Cappelli responded and jumped into the water and extricated a male victim that was trapped in his vehicle which was completely submerged. Personnel from the Port Jefferson Village Fire Department and Setauket Fire Department also responded and also went into the water to help extricate the victim.”

A motorist driving an SUV died after being pulled from his vehicle in Port Jefferson Harbor Oct. 30. Photo by Dennis Whittam

The officers were being treated for hypothermia in the aftermath of the incident.

Members of the Port Jefferson Fire Department — Lieutenant Geoffrey Markson, Ex-Captain David Okst and First Assistant Brennan Holmes — were on the eastern end of the marina parking lot working on the department’s fire boat when they were alerted of the incident on their paging devices, according to a spokesperson from the PJFD chief’s office. The three jumped into the water, eventually breaking the window with a hammer and removing the seatbelt to pull the victim from the car. Two PJFD Heavy Rescue Squad members in diving gear also arrived on the scene to assist in the rescue effort.

“We had a brief conversation that went, ‘are we doing this? Yeah we’re doing it,'” Holmes said during a phone interview.

He said the three firefighters were focused only on action and not on what might happen to them if they jumped in the water.

“We could have saved a life,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said via email Monday night.

Garant announced during a board meeting June 5 the village had sent a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation and State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) asking for the traffic signal at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and West Broadway to be changed from having a standard green light to a green left arrow and right arrow. The call was in response to an April 6 incident in which a man in his early 60s drove into the harbor via the same boat launch. Four good Samaritans rescued that driver, and were later honored by the Port Jeff Village board in July. Garant said the DOT told her in a letter she received about five weeks ago they intended to comply with her request to change the light.

“I am thankful that the DOT was willing to entertain and adopt our suggestion, and when the light is changed, it may save a life,” Garant said Tuesday.

In December 2005 60-year-old Setauket resident Richard Levin drove into the water on the same ramp and onlookers had to pull his unconscious body from the fully submerged car. Levin died days later as a result of the incident.

According to documents obtained from Brookhaven in May, both Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village were sued by the wife and executrix of the estate of Richard Levin in 2007.

“As a result of the negligence of the defendants in failing to properly maintain the intersection of Route 25A and Barnum Ave., in failing to properly safeguard against motorists driving onto said Port Jefferson ramp into the water, in failing to properly illuminate said area, in failing to provide fencing and warning lights — as a result of the aforementioned Richard Levin died,” the lawsuit read in part. “[The] town failed to submit any evidence that it maintained its property in a reasonably safe condition by providing adequate fencing, lighting or warning of the dangerous condition on its property.”

“We had a brief conversation that went, ‘are we doing this? Yeah we’re doing it.'”

— Brennan Holmes

Judge Joseph Farneti of the New York State Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit in January 2011 because the “acts or omissions of defendants were not the proximate cause of the alleged accident.”

The April incident stirred up memories more than a decade old for one former village resident.

“People are dying here and it’s a simple fix,” Christopher Kelsch, one of the people who witnessed Levin’s death 12 years ago and tried to help, said shortly after seeing news of the April incident. “Somebody needs to shine a serious spotlight because Dr. Levin died at that location.”

Following the April incident, a Brookhaven Town spokesperson said in a statement there are clear signs and traffic measures in place to warn residents of the ramp’s location.

“The Port Jefferson boat ramp has existed at its current location for generations,” the spokesperson said. “A number of measures are in place including a multitude of ‘Do Not Enter’ signs, road arrows and other traffic control measures to clearly indicate that this is not an entrance.”

A Brookhaven Town spokesperson directed questions to the police department Monday night. Garant called on the town to take action in April, as the marina is town-owned property.

A spokesperson for Lavalle said the state senator was meeting with representatives from the DOT Nov. 1 to discuss the incident and troublesome intersection.

This post was updated Oct. 31 to include information from the PJFD Chief’s office and a quote from Brennan Holmes, and Nov. 1 to include a response from Ken Lavalle’s spokesperson.

According to medium Lisa McGarrity, Port Jefferson is a hotbed for paranormal activity. Image by TBR News Media

Along East Main Street in Port Jefferson, tucked between a plumbing company and a parking lot, sits a tiny, two-story shop where Lisa McGarrity communicates with the deceased.

A new age store stocked with spell and magic books, a variety of incense and herbs, and a private space for tarot card readings, Envision Crystal has provided a spiritual avenue for residents from Port Jeff Village and beyond since 1987 as both a place for healing and closure, as well as exploration of macabre curiosities. McGarrity, a psychic medium who first discovered her necromantical gift as a child when she witnessed spirits roaming around her house, is the shop’s third owner and said there’s a reason why there’s no shortage of customers coming to her for advice on how to handle and interact with members of the afterlife.

Lisa McGarrity is the owner of Envision Crystal magic shop, and works as a medium in Port Jefferson Village. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Port Jefferson is so filled with spirits,” said McGarrity, who recalled several encounters with former, deceased village residents over the years. “I feel that wonderful energy of sea captains, people who grew up and worked here, musicians, merchants. There are a lot of psychics in the village because the energy here is conducive. I think spirits want to be here because it’s home. They want to visit and hang out.”

In fact, the medium said, as the occupant of a historic home in town, she “has had friendly conversations” and sometimes shares her morning coffee with the gentleman who built her house long ago. While she used to be able to see these spectral visitors crystal clear as a child, McGarrity said now it’s more of an impression, a feeling, a sense. She described the sightings as  being “a little sharper and clearer than a mind-wandering daydream.”

Coming from a family of psychics and intuition-driven people, McGarrity, who studied psychology at Stony Brook University, said she’s never found this field all that unusual, but, growing up, thought it best to keep her interests in it hidden from people.

“When I was young, I learned to separate it and talk about regular world things with people and leave that other world alone,” she explained. “Things have changed now and we live in a world that’s much more open now. I was born with this curiosity and a desire to explore. I mean, I think what I do is super normal and something anyone can do if they want to pay attention to it. Some folks can sing. I’ve cultivated, developed and expanded what was a natural gift.”

St. James resident Andrea Giordano, a longtime customer of McGarrity’s shop, who developed a strong bond with the medium during a reading session, spoke highly of her friend’s gift.

“What she does is get people connected,” Giordano said. “It’s not about money here. It’s about spirit, love, compassion and open mindedness. It’s universal humanity at its best. If you have faith in anything beyond this world, she helps reinforce that faith. If you don’t have faith when you walk in here, you leave here with faith.”

‘I think spirits want to be [in Port Jeff] because it’s home. They want to visit and hang out.’

— Lisa McGarrity

McGarrity said, especially around this time of year, people often come into the shop on a mission to encounter ghosts in and around the area. For the budding paranormal investigators, the medium offers tips and advice — she stresses the importance of exploring in groups and with an experienced guide, equipping one’s self with protective stones and sage, which work to cleanse negative energy and drive away darker entities, and, most importantly, displaying respectful decorum.

“The same rules with any human interaction applies when interacting with spirits,” she said. “Start out nice, introduce yourself. That works well. Don’t go to a haunted location and shout out derogatory and inflammatory things.”

Only a few minutes away, on Barnum Avenue, is the site of McGarrity’s occasional spiritual seminars: an 1890s-built, gothic-style home full of “incredible, wonderful energy,” according to its owner, L.L. Cartin. During one particular seminar, a few Halloweens ago, McGarrity said she led a group of spiritually-minded participants with electronic voice phenomenon equipment through the house. The EVP, which picks up sounds caused by ghosts, went off when they stepped into the basement.

“I remember in that particular moment, I was a little scared to sleep here,” laughed Cartin, who identified herself as a spiritual person who met McGarrity as a customer. “She’s a very gentle soul, she’s not pushy, and she definitely has a gift. She’s one to be admired and her delivery is very gentle so you can receive her information the right way. I love Lisa and I think she’s an asset to the community.”

Indulging in a delicious, fresh specialty doughnut can be done guilt free in Port Jefferson this month.

East Main & Main, a doughnut shop in Port Jefferson Village that opened in June and is named for the intersection it overlooks, has embraced the spirit of national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In October, among the shop’s made fresh in-house daily selections has been an assortment of pink-decorated themed treats meant to honor the occasion and raise money for a worthy cause.

Port Jeff annually recognizes breast cancer awareness thanks to the Fortunato Breast Health Center Services at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, the driving force behind Paint Port Pink, a month-long community outreach effort in the village with the mission of raising awareness about breast cancer, sharing information and education and fostering solidarity in the community. Every day this month, East Main & Main owners Lisa Harris and Robert Strehle have brainstormed new pink doughnuts to offer to customers, and a portion of the sales for each of the commemorative pastries will be donated to the Fortunato center’s Fund for the Uninsured at the end of the month. The fund is comprised of money from community donations and fundraising initiatives to offer discounted or no-cost mammography screenings to qualified patients.

“Cancer in general is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart and this was something we were definitely going to jump on board with and participate in,” Harris said during a phone interview. She said she has an aunt who is a breast cancer survivor and knows many others, so the decision to participate was easy. “We just look forward to getting more and more involved in the community in any way that we can, especially for causes we believe in.”

Harris said the pink doughnuts have sold out every day so far and the customer response has been enthusiastic. Some of the flavors have included pink guava, peanut butter and jelly, pink lemonade, a “pink diva” doughnut with gold glitter and many more. None of the flavors have been or will be repeated, and Harris said it has been a little stressful coming up with new flavors, which she said they do on the fly each day, but a dedicated team of kid tasters and other customers have offered feedback and suggestions to share the creative burden.

“It’s all sorts of fun,” Harris said of the creative process.

On Oct. 4, the shop featured a strawberry pomegranate frosted doughnut, and a satisfied customer commented on a photo of the creation on East Main & Main’s Instagram account: “Yumm! The best flavor! Can’t wait for it to reappear in the spring — hopefully?”

Also featured the same day was the Pink Party, a strawberry frosted doughnut dipped in rainbow sprinkles.

“Hands down the best pink-frosted donut I’ve ever had,” another Instagram follower posted. “Thank you for that magic.”

Harris suggested the success of the October promotion has inspired the owners to seek out more month-long features aimed at raising money and awareness for worthy causes in the coming months.

The American Cancer Society reports that the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is about one in eight. Since there is still no sure way to prevent breast cancer, increased awareness, education and early detection are critical components of breast health care. The Fortunato center recommends that women apply the following the guidelines for early detection of breast cancer: first mammography by age 40 and yearly mammograms after age 40; clinical breast exams at least every three years beginning at age 20 and annually after age 40; and monthly breast self-examinations.

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.

Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson has been around for almost 30 years, though its founder said homelessness was an issue in Port Jeff long before that. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

An Aug. 28 post by a user in a private Facebook group of about 1,300 Port Jefferson Village residents featured a photo of two men sleeping at the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station. Amidst a longer message attached to the image was the phrase: “I’ve had it.”

The post inspired comments from more than a dozen users who began a lengthy discussion about homeowners’ concerns over property values as a result of activity related to homeless people in the area. Some responses included efforts to tackle the issue of homelessness after the main poster asked: “Does anyone know what is being done about this?”

Elected officials, local leaders and data from nonprofit organizations serving the state, Long Island and Suffolk County seem to agree: Efforts exist to reduce the number of undomiciled residents, but the problem is not going away and more needs to be done.

Volunteers at Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jefferson prepare a meal for guests. Photo by Alex Petroski

Homelessness has been a topic of conversation in Port Jeff for decades, and Father Frank Pizzarelli, a Port Jeff resident and founder of the nonprofit Hope House Ministries, began addressing the issue in 1980. With 10 facilities, he helps serve groups and people in need. His first endeavor was The Community House in Port Jefferson.

A 30-bed long-term facility, the home on Main Street is still in operation today for at-risk 16- to 21-year-old males in need of a place to live. Almost 28 years ago, Pizzarelli said he opened Pax Christi Hospitality Center on Oakland Avenue after a Vietnam veteran froze to death in winter while living in what he described as a cardboard box village in Port Jefferson.

At least seven people listed as undomiciled by the county police department were arrested on the morning of Oct. 4 for sleeping in tents in the woods behind the Comsewogue Public Library on Terryville Road, according to police.

According to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization established in 1985 that works with government agencies to secure funding and services for homeless people in Suffolk and Nassau counties, 3,937 people on Long Island were classified as homeless as of January 2017. The number includes people in emergency or transitional housing, as well as those who are completely unsheltered, of which there were 64, according to the group’s annual report for 2017.

In context, the number of homeless people living on Long Island hasn’t changed much over the last three LICH yearly tallies. In 2016, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) conducted an audit to examine the issue of homelessness in the state, which reached some discouraging conclusions.

Homelessness is on the decline nationwide, according to the report, though New York was one of 18 states to see an increase in the number of people without a permanent residence between 2007 and 2015. The number rose by 41 percent to more than 88,000 statewide during that span, which was the largest increase of any state in the country. Much of the increase was attributable to New York City, though DiNapoli’s audit stressed homelessness as a state problem and not simply a city problem, saying homelessness is affecting “communities in virtually every corner of the state … on a daily basis.”

‘Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community. I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity.’

— Frank Pizzarelli

“The homeless problem pre-existed Pax Christi,” Pizzarelli said. The licensed social worker said the idea that his facilities attract the homeless to Port Jeff is a common refrain he’s heard cyclically over the years from people like the Facebook poster, though he said he has found those voices are few and far between and don’t represent the majority of the community.

“Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community,” he said. “I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity. Yes, there are always people that are super critical and, because of the socioeconomic nature of our community, would prefer certain things not be here. They’re a very small minority from my experience.”

He said he receives no financial support from the government other than reimbursements from the county’s Department of Social Services to barely cover his costs for sheltering people overnight at Pax Christi. His entire budget, which he estimated to be in the ballpark of $5 million annually, is covered by donations and grants. He also said he believes homeless people who commit crimes or contribute to tensions in the Port Jeff community tend not to be the same people who are interested in getting help.

“Uptown is a complicated place,” he said. “The homeless have no fixed address and they also have no voice, so it’s easy to blame them. They’re a part of the issue, but it’s not that simplistic. I don’t think the larger community really realizes that.”

Pizzarelli pointed to insufficient funds from the county and state governments as his and other organization’s biggest obstacle in providing services for those in need. He said mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, especially to opioids, are at the root of Suffolk County’s homelessness problem. Once people are in treatment for substance addiction or any mental health affliction, he said more transitional housing needs to be made available to get people on the road to recovery.

Pizzarelli said Pax Christi does not admit any persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so they occasionally have to turn people away.

“We probably all need to take a firmer stand so [homeless people being aided by services] understand if they’re not going to take care of business — hanging out at the train station is not the answer,” he said. “I agree, people don’t need to be harassed when they’re getting off the train.”

A breakdown by race of Long Island’s nearly 4,000 homeless people, according to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. Graphic by TBR News Media

DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, in conjunction with the Welfare to Work Commission of the Legislature, arranged a public hearing Oct. 10 to discuss the impact that massive cuts in President Donald Trump’s (R) early budget proposals to funding for human services would have on local residents.

Michael Stoltz, the executive director of Ronkonkoma-based Association for Mental Health and Wellness said before the hearing he thinks the county fails to adequately invest in mental health services.

“We see a proportionate rise and increase in the number of people in our jails who have mental health conditions — untreated and under treated — and among our homeless populations,” he said.

Stoltz was representing one of the 13 agencies slated to speak during the hearing.

“The county and these agencies are facing a crisis of what could be unparalleled and unprecedented proportions,” commission chairman Richard Koubek said before the hearing. “We have watched with dismay and frustration the chronic underfunding of contract agencies that serve Suffolk County’s poor people.”

Suffolk and Nassau counties collectively are considered a Continuum of Care community, which is defined as a community with a unified plan to organize and deliver housing services to meet the needs of people who are homeless. Grants from the CoC are funded through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a federal department responsible for more than $10 million in CoC grants obtained each year to aid locals, according to its website. DiNapoli’s report found of the smaller communities with CoC programs, Long Island’s counties had the third largest homeless population in the United States.

Long Island’s relative lack of affordable housing can further complicate the issue, as housing units are priced to rent or own in Brookhaven Town according to HUD guidelines, which are dependent on the area median income of a region. In 2017, Suffolk County’s average household income was $110,800. To qualify to rent an affordable living space, household income must be less than 50 percent of this number, meaning in Suffolk, any family earning less than $55,400 annually has a right to reduced rent. Monthly rent for a three-person home for a family earning less than that, for example, by law cannot exceed $1,200.

Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson has been around for almost 30 years, though its founder said homelessness was an issue in Port Jeff long before that. Photo by Alex Petroski

Because of the relatively high average income in Suffolk, “affordable” rent is a term that most likely wouldn’t apply to someone sleeping on the street or residing in a homeless shelter. According to Pizzarelli and Brookhaven Housing and Human Services Commissioner Alison Karppi, there’s far less affordable housing available in the town and the county as a whole than demand would dictate.

“It is estimated that 42,500 renters spend half or more of their income on household costs,” Gregory said prior to the Oct. 10 hearing. “That startling figure emphasizes the need for cheaper housing our working families and young people can afford. We are here today to send a message that we simply can’t afford this budget.”

Last week Brookhaven Town announced a new initiative to acquire vacant “zombie” homes and make them available for veterans and first-time homebuyers at reduced costs as a way to expand the availability of affordable housing in the town. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) estimated there are as many as 2,000 vacant homes in the town with many in a salvageable state.

Port Jeff has another resource in its backyard to help those in need, which reiterates Pizzarelli’s sentiment that on the whole, it is a compassionate community.

Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jeff Village has been serving people in need, homeless or otherwise, in the area for 28 years. The group also has two locations in Port Jefferson Station comprised of about 200 volunteers and functions entirely on donations of money and food, oftentimes from a local Trader Joe’s. Five days a week, the soup kitchen opens its doors to serve as many as 100 guests free of charge each night. Unlike Pax Christi, Welcome Friends never turns away guests due to intoxication. The volunteers prevent entry to those who could be a danger to other guests, but even in those instances the person is sent away with a to-go meal, always well balanced and fresh. Multiple courses are available but served once a day Sunday to Wednesday and also on Friday.

Lorraine Kutzing, a longtime coordinator at the soup kitchen, said the organization’s sole focus is having as many meals as possible prepared each day, and hopes that she and others like Pizzarelli can continue to try to fix the problem highlighted by community members like those in the Facebook group.

“I think the need has always been there,” she said. “I don’t think that has changed that much.”

From left, Leg. Kara Hahn and Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant check out the selection of books in the new Little Free Library at Rocketship Park with a young reader. Photo by Kevin Redding

‘Today a reader, tomorrow a leader’ — Margaret Fuller

By Kevin Redding

Port Jefferson’s newest minilibrary has liftoff at Rocketship Park. In a partnership between the Port Jefferson Free Library and the village board, a Little Free Library was recently installed at the family-friendly park, where adults, teens and children alike can reach into the purple-painted wooden box to pick up or drop off a wide array of books. An official ribbon cutting was held last Thursday, Sept. 28.

The library, shaped like a tiny schoolhouse and currently stocked with children’s titles like “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” was built from a kit and installed by Stonegate Landscape. It stands as Port Jefferson Free Library’s second book exchange program, with the other unveiled in front of the William Miller House on North Country Road in Miller Place last month.

From left, PJFL Director Tom Donlon, Leg. Kara Hahn, Mayor Margot Garant and Chris Graf, president, Stonegate Landscape in East Setauket. Photo by Kevin Redding

Director of Port Jefferson Free Library Tom Donlon led elected officials, including Mayor Margot Garant and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for what the mayor called a fantastic addition to the town.

“I’m so happy that we can provide some reading for our young children because I think reading a book goes a long way to helping educate them and bring them into the world,” Garant said with giant scissors in hand. “[It’ll make for] a true sense of community, and that’s what makes our village great.”

Donlon said when the park reopened in June, he and the library’s board members knew it was a perfect spot for book-sharing for all ages. “We have families that come here and while the kids are running around, mom or dad or the adult with them might want something to read,” he said. “Giving back to the community is our goal. And you never know what you’re going to find in there … and what adventures await.”

Rocketship Park is located in the Village of Port Jefferson on Maple Place between Mill Creek Road and Barnum Avenue, across from the tennis courts. For more information, call 631-473-0022.

Port Jefferson High School senior Billy Scannell states his case from a student’s perspective on a proposed $30M bond for districtwide repairs and upgrades. Photo by Alex Petroski

Those who attended a meeting at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School in the Port Jefferson school district Oct. 2 seeking clarity on how the public might be leaning regarding a $30 million bond proposal went home empty handed.

About 25 community members of the 100 or so attendees voiced their opinion on the district’s proposal, which administrators presented last month, for upgrades and improvements across the district during the meeting. If the approximately two dozen speakers are a representative sampling of the community, taxpayers seem to be split down the middle two months out from a tentative referendum vote scheduled for Dec. 5.

The proposal has seemingly polarized the community, with those in favor providing student health and safety, as well as maximizing academic and athletic opportunities as evidence to support voting in favor of permitting the district to borrow the money.

“I just thought it would be interesting to get a different perspective on it, you know, like from a kid who’s actually in high school rather than someone who is not,” high school senior Billy Scannell said. “In the high school they offer over 20 [advanced placement] courses and a vast array of clubs, with an award-winning music program … the school has a lot to offer. If you really look at it, it becomes clear why Earl L. Vandermeulen was named one of the five Blue Ribbon Schools on Long Island. With AP courses and the classrooms, it’s growing because the school just gives you so many opportunities to learn new things and explore. So you say the number of kids isn’t growing, but the opportunities are and so many kids just want to be a part of that.”

Those against, including the Port Jefferson Village mayor and board of trustees, have cited uncertainty surrounding a lawsuit, which includes the village and district, against the Long Island Power Authority, that could result in substantial losses in property tax revenue for both entities, as enough evidence to support a “no” vote. No expected resolution timetable exists regarding the lawsuit, which has been pending for several years. Others have said they’re not sure they agree with the district’s assessment that each of the 21 items on the bond wish list are at a stage of requiring immediate remedy. Others have said a district-produced enrollment study projecting the number of students in the district to remain flat over the next several years is a sign that expansion of facilities doesn’t make sense at the current time either.

“How do I authorize the community to spend $30 million before I know if the school district is secure,” said Ted Lucki, a Port Jeff resident, former school board trustee and former mayor of Belle Terre Village. “How do I vote for that? It’s irresponsible. I think timing is everything. There’s a gorilla in the room. What are we, naïve? How do we justify that? It’s inappropriate for me to vote for a bond when we’re on the firing line for much bigger issues.”

District Superintendent Paul Casciano reiterated points he’s made throughout the process of presenting the bond to the public. He said it’s difficult to know when the LIPA issue will be resolved, and in the meantime the buildings still need fixing. He also said the list has been pared down from the original $100 million incarnation from when the process began about three years ago to include only the things the district views as essential.

If passed, the $30 million project would feature 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 Scraggy Hill Road athletic fields, among many more improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million. If passed, the bond would cost the average taxpayer between $400 and $1,000 annually during the 15-year life of the payment plan. Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister plans to make available a property tax calculator in the coming weeks on the district website that would allow residents to see how the bond would impact their annual bill.

Casciano pledged to schedule more walk-throughs of the buildings and areas slated for upgrades prior to the vote and even left open the possibility to conduct a virtual building tour, which those unable to physically attend a walk-through could view at their own leisure. The board of education is slated to solidify the proposal and vote on establishing Dec. 5 for the referendum during its next public meeting Oct. 10. A survey will remain accessible for members of the public to weigh in on the proposal on the district website until Oct. 9.

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