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Port Jefferson

A family of deer stands, weary of strangers, at the Port Jefferson golf course. Photo by Kyle Barr

Environmental experts fear the impact of deer on local forests

Deer have made a mess out of the Long Island ecology.

It’s a sentiment shared by several federal employees working in multiple environmental departments. At a presentation held in the Port Jefferson Village Center April 11, Thomas Rawinski, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, said deer eat the saplings that would create new trees. They eat the bushes and flowers that would bring insects to the forests. And since they have no natural predators on Long Island, they multiply at an alarming rate.

“If your land is healthy, you can sit back and rest on your laurels,” Rawinski said. “If it’s not, like every damn forest on Long Island, then somebody has work to do, including me.”

Crowded into the Port Jefferson Village Center, residents of both the Village of Port Jefferson and Village of Belle Terre spoke about their own experiences with deer, but it all begs the question: What are the local villages going to do?

“I can tell you the level of deer damage on the east end is the worst I’ve seen in New York.”

— Thomas Desisto

The villages of Belle Terre and Port Jefferson have been working out the details on some sort of organized deer hunt, either a coordinated hunt or deer culling, one that could likely happen at the Port Jefferson golf course.

“It’s either going to be a controlled hunt or it’s going to be a cull,” Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant said. “I don’t know which way we’re going to go but we’re going to figure it out.”

Talks have been ongoing since January, where both Garant and Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak have expressed their intent to split the cost of a deer culling, which would likely be performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This would involve a specialized team of hunters using thermal imaging and silenced rifles to kill deer from elevated positions at night. The cost could be expensive, with some estimates as high as $1,000 per deer.

Thomas DeSisto, a wildlife specialist with the USDA said the operation is mandated to charge for their services, as they get all their funding through cooperative service agreements. While the cost hasn’t deterred the mayors from finding a solution, DeSisto said there are issues with performing a culling on Long Island due to regulation by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. 

In 2017, new legislation has restricted hunting to the point that DeSisto said fundamentally restricts the culling process. In Suffolk County, hunting is restricted to bows, or to muzzle-loaded rifles during the January hunting season. In addition, hunters are not allowed to keep loaded firearms within vehicles, use of bait is not allowed within 300 feet of a roadway, and hunters are not allowed to discharge firearms from the road.

“We’ve seen about 50 percent decrease in efficiency in our upstate program, and on Long Island we’ve seen a 75 percent decrease in efficiency,” he said. “I can tell you the level of deer damage on the east end is the worst I’ve seen in New York.”

In January, Belle Terre changed its village code to allow hunting within the premises, saying they had received an opinion by the state attorney general who said that no municipality other than New York State could regulate hunting.

While some village members shared fears of hunting going on so close to their homes, and shared a general distaste for killing animals, Sandak said so far, the change in code, and the facilitating of hunters, has been a success. He estimates since the village allowed hunting approximately 100 deer have been killed.

“Five years ago, if you were in your car and you saw a deer, you took out your phone and took a picture of it, because it was an oddity,” Sandak said. “Now, it’s unbelievable.” 

The New York State DEC allows residents to apply for Deer Damage Permits, which allow property owners to hunt or allow hunters outside of the normal season. The Belle Terre mayor said to his knowledge there are three residents in Belle Terre with DDPs. 

“Five years ago, if you were in your car and you saw a deer, you took out your phone and took a picture of it, because it was an oddity.”

— Bob Sandak

Port Jefferson currently has code on the books that says discharging any kind of firearm, bow or crossbow is strictly prohibited. Garant said village officials are still looking at changing the code so it will allow hunting, conforming to what the state attorney general has said. However, she added the village could not and would not go after residents who break the code and allow hunting on their own property.

Sue Booth Binczik, wildlife biologist with the New York Department of Wildlife Conservation, spoke to those who attended the meeting, echoing Rawinski by saying deer lead to reduced diversity, more invasive plants and fewer canopy and trees.

Deer are perhaps the most efficient devastators of the local ecology. For one, they have prolific breeding patterns. Binczik said does can start to breed at 1 year old and can give birth to two fawns per year in May and June. While deer are naturally prey animals, Long Island shows a distinct lack of natural predators to cull their numbers. An average deer can live to be 20, and while vehicles and hunters may start to pick off the occasional deer, stags can mate with any number of females, ever increasing the population. The only things left to kill the deer are recreational hunters, starvation, but especially moving vehicles.

“Under ideal conditions the deer populations can double every two to three years,” she said. “The reason they have this high reproductive rate is because they’re a prey species.” 

State DEC regulations require that hunters only use a bow and arrow and only during the hunting season, barring a DDP permit. Hunters must also shoot 150 feet away from any structures with a bow, and of course they are not allowed to trespass onto other residents’ property without permission.

Binczik said there are means to get a community involved by completing a “controlled hunt,” which would require each individual homeowner to give permission for the village to hunt on their property. Those participating community members would come together to decide on a set of rules for any hunters participating, including the qualifications of the hunters and the times the hunters would be allowed out.

“There have been communities in upstate New York that have been running for controlled hunts for decades, and they have been very happy with it,” she said.

Despite all these efforts, Rawinski remains skeptical. He said it comes from years of seeing the damage that deer have caused to the local wildlife. People, he said, have to wake up to it. While by the roadside it may seem the forests are blooming with green, but it’s a symptom of what he called the “great green lie,” that while it may seem the forests are lush, on the ground, there’s not much left. 

“It’s hard to come by solutions, especially in this suburban situation,” he said. “Humans have a can-do attitude, but I have to tell you, we’re up against our match. I don’t hate deer. I hate what people have let them do to the ecosystem.”

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John and Mark Cronin, center, came to speak in front of village residents and PJ SEPTA. Photo by David Luces

Village to call March 21 Crazy Sock Day

While a nice pair of socks draws the eyes down to the feet, John and Mark Cronin of John’s Crazy Socks ask that one look up, at the whole person and see what an individual can do, no matter the limits

As part of their ongoing speaking tour, John and Mark Cronin of the Huntington-based John’s Crazy Socks, spoke to members of the Port Jefferson School District Special Education PTA and students April 8 about their inspiring story and the continuing strength of individuals with differing disabilities. 

The Huntington father-son duo’s story began back in 2016 when John Cronin, a 22-year-old entrepreneur with Down syndrome, was trying to figure what he wanted to do after he graduated from Huntington High School. 

Mark Cronin, John’s father, said together they looked at job programs and a college, but the younger Cronin didn’t see a lot of choices he liked. 

“[He’s] a natural entrepreneur — I don’t see something I want to do, so I’ll create it.”

— Mark Cronin

Around that same time, the business the father worked for shut down overnight, leaving him suddenly unemployed. 

That’s when the son came up with the idea of going into business with this dad.

“[He’s] a natural entrepreneur — I don’t see something I want to do, so I’ll create it,” the father said. 

The 22-year-old entrepreneur went through a few ideas for a business until he ultimately went with crazy socks, stating that he didn’t like the selection he found at stores. 

The duo opened John’s Crazy Socks Dec. 9, 2017, and initially were only expecting a few orders. Instead, they were flooded with requests, and people enjoyed the in-person deliveries and the personal card they received with their orders.  

“We learned people wanted to buy socks, and buy them from John,” the elder Cronin said. 

From there, the company has grown to offering more than 2,300 different styles of socks, and the duo now sells internationally. Last year, they shipped over 144,000 orders, accumulated over $5.5 million in revenue and have raised $280,000 for the company’s charity partners.  

The father said their goal is to inspire, show the strengths of people with differing disabilities and their abilities.

“We are showing the brighter side of what people can do,” he said. 

Currently the business has 23 employees who have some type of disability, and according to Mark Cronin, every person working for them earns their place through hard work.

“There is no charity here, everyone earns a job,” he added. 

Over the years, the pair have advocated for jobs for individuals with disabilities. They have gone to Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill with a special message. “People are ready and willing to work, let’s make that possible.”

The father and son were in Detroit speaking to the National Down Syndrome Society recently, and earlier last month they went on a tour of Canada with the state department. 

Karen Sullivan, president of the Port Jeff SEPTA, was glad the duo was able to come after planning this event for about a year. 

“They are employing people with disabilities. It is important for Port Jeff SEPTA, these men and women need jobs after high school and what are they going to do.”

— Karen Sullivan

“We really wanted to bring him into the village and show our students what is possible,” she said. “They are employing people with disabilities. It is important for Port Jeff SEPTA, these men and women need jobs after high school and what are they going to do.”

The duo was also presented with a proclamation from the Village of Port Jeff. 

Village trustee Stan Louks presented the Cronins with the proclamation stating that every March 21 in the village will be known as Crazy Sock Day. While he added they did not have anything specific planned for the date, they are working out some kind of celebration that could help bring the community together.

“A great deal has to go to Karen Sullivan,” the trustee said. “SEPTA was not in the village and [it was] inactive — Karen really brought it back to life.”

Sullivan said this is the organization’s one-year anniversary, and for close to 17 years Port Jeff didn’t have a special education PTA. 

“It’s very exciting to collaborate with the school district and the village,” she said “Mayor [Margot] Garant has been with us every step of the way.”

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Golf holes at the Port Jeff golf course were vandalized with what’s believed to be gasoline. Photos from Brian Macmillan

The morning of April 9, Brian Macmillan, the golf course superintendent at the Port Jefferson Country Club, walked out onto the green of the village golf course and smelled something like gasoline. Five of the greens at the course had been hit with the substance.

Dead grass after the substance had seeped into the ground. Photo from SCPD

The five holes, namely numbers 8,12,13,14 and 17, had been vandalized between the hours of between April 8 at 7 p.m. and April 9 at 7 a.m. with a substance suspected to be gasoline of some type. The unknown perpetrators had released the substance in random patterns at each of the greens near the holes. Macmillan said he suspected the perpetrators did not do it by accident since each site of vandalism was specifically the greens instead of the grasses between. He added he had no notion why a person would commit the act, but suspected it was an intentional act to hurt the country club.

“This was pretty intentional and aggressive,” the golf club superintendent said. “Ninety-eight percent of the people in the club wouldn’t have anything to do with their motive.”

Suffolk County police was contacted that morning, and Macmillan said they arrived very soon after they had been called. While police have been in contact with the country club asking questions, the superintendent said they have not received any updates on the ongoing investigation. 

While the holes were sectioned off for the day when the club learned of the vandalism, they have since become playable again.

Port Jefferson village trustee Stan Loucks, the liaison to the country club, said each hole had taken excessive damage. The village has since contacted seven different golf course renovation and construction companies to find a person to schedule repairs. Currently the cost to the village is unknown, and they hope it will be covered under insurance for the course.

Suffolk County Police said the damage is estimated to cost $10,000.

Loucks said April 15 the village had contracted out to East Northport-based Delea Sod Farms to handle the repairs, which would start April 22 and should take two to three days.

“This was pretty intentional and aggressive.”

— Brian Macmilla

Macmillan said the substance permeated through the ground a foot and a half down. Repairs will require removing the damaged grass as well as the impacted soil below it. He added the country club has a nursery green used to replace portions of the holes that are damaged through heat stress and disease, though he said he had not expected to use it for a situation such as this. 

Loucks added the village will likely use extra sod from holes 14 and 17. The impacted holes will be unusable during repair but will become playable again afterward, with the affected areas sectioned off during play. 

The country club has been running with a new owner for just over a year. After a 15-year partnership with Port Jefferson village, Lombardi’s on the Sound handed ownership of the club over to Danfords in March 2018.

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Site projections for Conifer Realty LLC apartment building. Photo provided by Port Jeff planning department

The eponymous Uptown Funk project in the upper portion of Port Jefferson village may soon be coming to a head.

Plans are under review at the Port Jefferson planning department for a new affordable apartment complex in the property known locally as Bada Bing for the now decrepit cafe that once occupied the site. 

“This is 100 percent attainable housing,” said Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant.

Site details include it as a four-story project with 60 one-bedroom apartments. The site will also include 4,500 square feet of retail located directly adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road train station. Project notes said the site will be located in the Comsewogue School District.

Photo provided by Port Jeff planning department

The $4 million property development is being led by Upper Port Jefferson Village LLC, owned by Parviz Farahzad of East Setauket-based Little Rock Construction, which was in charge of building the retail complex across from the train station in Stony Brook. The developer is partnered with Conifer Realty LLC, a real estate development firm with projects across New York State and south into Maryland. Recently Conifer was at the head of the Peconic Crossing development in Riverhead, a development of 45 apartments giving preference to artists.

“We think Conifer is such a well-known name — they’ve done so many projects on Long Island and New York State that they’re a real credible partner at the table,” Garant said.

This project also includes plans for an underground parking garage incorporating 60 spaces, and the developer will need to pay a Payment in Lieu of Parking fee for all the spaces that would be required for retail, according to Port Jeff planning department documents.

Alison LaPointe, the special village attorney for building and planning, said Conifer has already submitted a formal site plan application for the development, and the planning board awaits amended plans from the applicant before continuing the environmental review process and to schedule public hearings.

All future plans for uptown port now depend on when the developers starts to put shovels in the ground. Uptown Funk was meant to be completed in three stages: the first being the Texaco Avenue parking lot, the next being the Metropolitan Transportation Authority parking lot, and the last being the creation of Station Street running just north of that train station lot.

This year the MTA has finished construction of the new parking lot at the Port Jefferson train station as part of a growing effort to modernize the more than century-old terminal.

In an update to its website, the MTA said the parking lot has been repaved and was officially open for use as of Jan. 9. The new parking lot includes new repainted lines that Port Jefferson village officials said were widened from before. Garant had said those old lines were too narrow for some vehicles. The end product means there are less spaces than there were previously.

“This is 100 percent attainable housing.”

— Margot Garant

This work was all part of the ongoing Uptown Funk project aiming to revitalize the upper port area. In 2017 the village was awarded $250,000 in jumpstart money to start plans on the project, and the village also applied for a grant from the Empire State Development Corporation, a state entity, for $500,000. Texaco Avenue parking lot, at 85 spaces, was planned to cost $850,000 when it started in May 2018. The village needed to wait until construction was finished on the LIRR parking lot, phase two of the project, before working on Station Street. The village has to wait until Conifer demolishes the Bada Bing site before starting construction on that new road.

The site construction includes a 10-foot setback on the property for the village to come in and develop Station Street, which will pass by the LIRR parking lot on the north end and connect to Oakland Avenue. 

Conifer is currently seeking approval for attainable housing partnership funding from New York State, according to Garant. She added the process for getting uptown revitalized has been long, from getting the state grant funding to finding developers willing to craft new spaces acceptable to the vision village officials have for the uptown area.

“I really have good feelings about what’s going to start happening up there, but it’s like pushing a boulder up a hill,” the villagemayor said.

A ship Orsted plans to use to transport the wind turbines. Photo from SKDKnickerbocker

The wind was whipping along the shores of Port Jefferson Harbor April 3, ironically as local and state officials, along with representatives from energy corporations, advocated in support of a proposal to build an offshore wind “hub” in Port Jefferson to use wind for renewable energy. 

Danish energy company Ørsted, the largest energy company of its home country, teamed up with Eversource, a Massachusetts-based energy company, in submitting a joint bid to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Their project, a wind farm called Sunrise Wind, would be located over 30 miles east of Montauk Point, but using Port Jeff as its base of operations. 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) at a press conference hosted in Port Jeff. Photo by David Luces

Fred Zalcman, head of government affairs for Ørsted, said once the wind farm is operational the hub in Port Jeff would create up to 100 permanent full-time jobs as well as temporary construction jobs while the hub and its facilities are being built. 

“When completed in full scope [the project] will provide up to 500,000 households with clean and renewable electricity,” Zalcman said. “All without any visual impacts to Long Island beach goers and residents.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) praised the proposal for promoting the transition to clean energy on Long Island. 

“This is about jobs and economic development,” he said. “We have talked about the importance for Long Island transitioning to clean energy — and that transition needs to happen quicker than a lot of people thought.”

The operations and maintenance hub in Port Jeff will provide dockage for a 250-foot service operation vessel. The ship would come to port every two to four weeks for approximately one to two days at a time to exchange crew and materials for the wind farm. The vessel will be able to accommodate about 60 technicians and 40 crew members.  

The county executive mentioned the proposed project is an opportunity to create a “21st century industry of high paying jobs.”

“These are the jobs of the future, and these are the jobs we want to see on Long Island and in Suffolk County,” he said. 

Zalcman said if they are awarded the bid by the state, they would need to break ground and begin construction in Port Jeff within 18 months to meet deadlines. Development could last through the mid-2020s.  

Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association has been promoting offshore wind for the past 10 years, and he said it works. 

“We now have multi-billion-dollar international companies looking to invest in our region,” Law said. “I’ve always said our energy challenges are economic development opportunities.”

Ørsted is also the owner and operator of the Block Island Wind Farm, the first and only operating wind farm in the U.S. currently. Last year, they acquired Deepwater Wind, the company originally handling the Block Island project, and now are responsible for New York’s first offshore wind project, the South Fork Farm under contract with the Long Island Power Authority. 

“I’ve always said our energy challenges are economic development opportunities.”

— Kevin Law

Maria Hoffman, chief of staff for Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), said the bid amounts are not made public until after the awards are announced. Each of the four major developers seeking the NYSERDA funds submitted several proposals with varying megawatt capacities.

In conjunction to the project, Ørsted announced in February it will invest $10 million to create a National Workforce Training Center at Suffolk County Community College to train students in offshore wind and renewable energy technology. The creation of the hub in Port Jeff and the training center are contingent on NYSERDA selecting Sunrise Wind in its pending offshore wind request for proposal. 

NYSERDA has said it plans on announcing the winner of the award within the month, according to Ørsted officials.

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New upcoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan speaks to school board. Photo by Kyle Barr

Board approves 2019-20 district budget

The Port Jefferson School District named the first female superintendent to the post Tuesday, and to top it off, she’s a nine-year Port Jeff resident.

At the board of education meeting April 9, the board named current Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jessica Schmettan, 42, as the new superintendent effective Nov. 1 this year.

“I’m a resident, a taxpayer, and I have two kids in school,” Schmettan said of her connection to the village. “I’m just so excited to be chosen.”

The Port Jefferson School District welcomed new upcoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan, center with black coat, April 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

The upcoming superintendent beat out a field of over 20 candidates, many of whom Kathleen Brennan, the board president, said were highly qualified for the position.

“Just because she was an inside candidate, she was not tossed any softballs,” said Brennan. 

Schmettan holds a bachelor of science in special education from Long Island University, a master’s degree in instructional technology from the New York Institute of Technology, and School District Leader certification from the College of
New Rochelle.

Before coming to Port Jeff in 2016, she began her career as an educator in the Three Village Central School District. She also has experience with special education from the Roosevelt Union Free School District and United Cerebral Palsy of Long Island. She went on to work for seven years in the Sachem Central School District as administrative assistant for instructional support and programming and later assistant superintendent for elementary curriculum and instruction.

Though there was one other female interim superintendent in the past, Schmettan is the first full-time woman appointed to the position

“It’s exciting for my daughter so she can see what she’s capable of,” the upcoming superintendent said.

In August 2018, current Port Jeff superintendent Paul Casciano declared his intention to step down from his position. In the following months, continuing into the new year, the district worked with Suffolk County BOCES in the process of finding a new superintendent. Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said most of the costs to the district were from advertising in newspapers, including The New York Times. While he is still waiting for the bills to come back with precise amounts, he estimated the cost to be about $15,000 to $17,000 to the district. 

While Casciano originally intended to stay until July, he extended that until Oct. 31 to aid in the transition.

“I’m so proud of Jessica as the first woman to be appointed to the head of schools in Port Jeff,” the current superintendent said. “She’s proved she has a deep knowledge of our core mission, teaching and learning.”

During the meeting, Brennan spoke directly to Schmettan. “One of the things you said in response to one of the questions you asked was you’re going to have to have courageous conversations. And that phrase struck me, and that kind of describes Port Jeff going forward, we are going to have to have a lot of courageous conversations.”

“I’m a resident, a taxpayer, and I have two kids in school.”

—  Jessica Schmetta

Many of those conversations will revolve around the impact of the settlement with Brookhaven town and the Long Island Power Authority over the taxes levied on the Port Jefferson Power Station. The settlement agreement cuts LIPA’s taxes on the power station in half incrementally for the next eight years. 

Schmettan said she plans to resurrect the budget advisory committee, so the public can get involved in the process of crafting future budgets. She expects the district will continue to see cuts and will have to make some difficult decisions, but she is optimistic about the future of the district, saying “we’re up to the challenge.”

Board adopts 2019-20 budget

The Port Jefferson school board has approved a budget that, while consolidating programs, will still see a small increase. Along with the budget, the board is asking residents to approve the use of capital reserves to fix sections of the high school and elementary school roofs.

The board approved a $43,936,166 budget April 9, a $46,354 and 0.11 percent increase from last year’s budget. The tax levy, the amount of funds the district raises from taxes has also gone up to $36,898,824, a $464,354 and 1.27 percent increase from last year, staying directly at the 1.27 percent tax cap. Officials said they had a lower tax cap this year due to a reduction in capital projects funded by general appropriations. If the district pierced the tax cap, it would need 60 percent of residents to approve the budget come the May vote, rather than the normal 50 percent.

Leister said the district has slashed and consolidated a number of items, including professional development for staff, private transportation allocation, and a $142,000 reduction through scheduling and enrollment efficiencies for staff. The district has also cut the teacher’s retirement system by $25,000 and staff retirement system by $60,000. The biggest increases in budget came from health insurance for staff, increasing by approximately $555,580, and benefits, which increased by $408,480.

The district also plans to use $400,000 in the general fund budget to relocate the middle school office into an existing upstairs science classroom for what district officials said was security reasons.

Leister said the district should be creating a tax calculator for district residents to roughly calculate their school taxes. The program should be available up on the district website in about a week.

The board is also asking residents to vote on allowing the board to allocate funds from capital reserves, the funds built up over time from money unused by the end of each school year, to fix portions of the elementary school and high school roof, equaling $3,600,000.

The board will have its budget presentation May 14 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium before asking residents to vote on the budget May 21. Residents can vote from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.

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Andy Fortier dressed as Willy Wonka during the 2015 Port Jefferson prom. File photo by Elana Glowatz

For more than 50 years, parents of students, along with volunteers, in Port Jefferson have made magic out of the stone edifice of the Port Jefferson high school.

While other area school districts host their proms in outside venues, every year, the Senior Prom Committee in Port Jeff works for months on end creating an elaborate design for the annual senior prom, tailoring the high school’s gymnasium, cafeteria and bathrooms to fit a theme, one that often takes a magical or fantasy bent. Andy Fortier, who is in charge of the prom’s construction, said he sees the prom as magical — one last time for youth to be youth before it heads into adulthood.

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School is decorated in a Peter Pan, Neverland theme for the 2018 senior prom in Port Jefferson June 25. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Prom is the most beautiful thing, you put into it what you get out of it,” he said. “When you see your kid walk down that red carpet, it’s something magical. This lets the kids be kids again for one more time.”

While the outpouring of funds from the community changes year to year, Fortier said some costs have increased close to 30 percent since he started helping with the Port Jeff prom eight years ago. It’s not so much construction material that has gone up in price, but insurance, catering and lighting, things Fortier said the committee has little control over.

Fortier, a musician and artist in the village, said work goes on all year from whatever time its volunteers are willing to give. He’s thankful for whatever people can offer, whether its work from volunteers or support from the community.

Port Jeff resident Angela Crugnale, who runs the overall operation and financing of the prom, said prices for construction materials will fluctuate from year to year, and while she said the committee does not release the total cost for the prom, this year the prices of materials were much higher than in previous years.

“It seems that this year, everything we’re purchasing has really gone up,” Crugnale said. “Everything across the board it seems has gone up from last year.”

The committee gets most of its funding from parents of the students graduating from the school, which often graduates less than 100 students per class. The 2018 graduating class numbered 89. This year’s graduating class is expected to be at 98.

The prom committee looks to the families of these graduating students to sell raffle tickets to other locals at $100 per ticket to make up much of the prom’s funding, the winner of which can win $20,000 as first prize and $300 for second. Each family of a graduating senior is asked to sell 10 tickets, though there’s nothing to force them to do so.

“It’s kind of the gift from the senior parents to the senior class,” Crugnale said. “The prom has happened since [the 1950s] either way, whether we have $100 or $900, just to say, the prom will be the prom.” 

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School is decorated in a Peter Pan, Neverland theme for the 2018 senior prom in Port Jefferson June 25. Photo by Alex Petroski

Starting in October and working through the end of June, Crugnale and Fortier said the work is nonstop, and it depends entirely on volunteers, from painting scenes and thinking of creative scenes that are also interactive. Crugnale, who started working with the prom committee in 2012, even before her first child graduated in 2012, said the school district has become more involved in the prom over time.

“I loved it from the first moment I saw it, I knew it was special,” she said. “It’s super nice kids get to be involved in something like this. I wanted this to continue to be something for all the kids in Port Jeff.”

The prom committee is hosting its annual golf outing May 6 to finance the prom. Tickets are at $150 a person for a full day of 18 holes of golf and afterward will attend a separate dinner at Harbor Grill at 6 p.m. Tickets for dinner are separate and are priced at $50 a head. Tickets are open to village residents and others alike. To reserve a foursome or for more information, residents are asked to contact Mike Ambrozy at 917-270-7436, mike@cyhrealty.com or Jim Desmond at 631-331-6946,
desmondpj@optonline.net.

If residents wish to purchase raffle tickets, they can contact the prom committee at portjeffprom2019@gmail.com.

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Denise Mordente during a budget presentation at Port Jefferson Village Hall April 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

The LIPA settlement has weighed heavily on this year’s Village of Port Jefferson budget, leading to a budget that pierces the 2 percent tax cap while at the same time cutting several thousand in expenditures.

The new total budget is $10,310,869, $331,277 less than 2018-19. The budget will leave $6,451,427 needed to be raised in taxes, a 3.33 percent increase from last year, piercing the tax cap.

For homeowners, this change could mean a $21 annual increase to property taxes on the low end, and up to $130 on the high end for more modern homes. For businesses, older buildings might see a $130 annual increase, while modern structures could see an increase of $256, according to the village board.

The village board voted unanimously to adopt the budget at its April 1 board meeting. 

This includes a loss of $208,622 in annual revenues from taxes on the Long Island Power Authority-owned power plant. 

In the agreement signed by Brookhaven Town and the Long Island Power Authority, the $32.6 million tax assessment on the power plant is going to be reduced by around 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years to $16.8 million, starting with the 2017-18 tax year. Denise Mordente, the village treasurer, said since the date of that agreement overlapped with the existing budget, they had to make up for two years of LIPA’s glide path, rather than one.

“Next year we can budget for [a single year of the glide path] … this is double the amount,” Mordente said. “That’s why we have to cut this year.”

Personal services increased among multiple departments due to collective bargaining agreements and an increase in minimum wage, the treasurer said, though the treasury department’s total expenses decreased by $29,287 due to letting go of a staff member.

Village officials have cut $331,280 in total from the expenses of numerous departments, including $41,326 from code enforcement through cut salaries, though Mordente said code enforcement often doesn’t use the total of its budget. Other cuts included $18,117 from the Village Center, mostly from materials expenses. Meanwhile, the parks department saw a near 10 percent increase from both employee services and contractual expenses. 

The village is also looking at a $271,019 decrease in expenditures due to the ambulance services now being handled fully by Brookhaven Town in what was formerly the Mount Sinai Ambulance District as of January 1.

The village continues to pay down on several bonds, including the 2013 $2 million public improvement bond, the 2011 $5.5 million public improvement bond and the 2016 $1.48 million bond anticipation note. As of Feb. 28, the village has $5.74 million left to pay off.

The village board is still considering what it will do with the Port Jefferson Power Station in the future. Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe said he has been in talks with LIPA, and the quasi-governmental agency has responded positively to suggestions that it be turned into a battery storage facility or a site for renewable energy, but talks are still ongoing.

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The beach over in Harborfront Park near where Robert Finke expects to launch their boats. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new rowing club is racing its way into Port Jefferson Harbor, and its coach is hoping to give high schoolers the first opportunity to get their hands on the oars.

Northport resident Robert Finke has been hard at work setting up a rowing club for residents and outside neighbors alike. The new coach of the rowing club sees the sport as wholly different than any other usual ball-based sport.

“It’s the ultimate team sport, but it’s hard to describe it without first doing it,” Finke said. “It’s you with eight people or four people or whatever boat you’re in, truly having to work together.” 

Starting out, the club will be hosting learn-to-row classes, which will take place at the beach in front of Harborfront Park starting April 15, with the first session going through April 19. Starting out, Finke and his two fellow coaches, the latter two working part time, will focus on young people in grades 9 through 12. Cost is $65 per person to row per session or $15 per child for an individual day, and he has a capacity of 65 to 80 kids per session. The second session is set for April 22 through 26, after which he plans to open up the club for rowers of all ages. Times are Monday through Friday 4 to 6 p.m.

Finke said he had been searching for a location all over the island, from the north to south shores. He settled on Port Jeff due to the harbor, it being shielded from most but the northerly winds, and because out of those he contacted, the town’s recreation department was very open to the idea.

“This is a great addition to Port Jefferson,” said Renée Lemmerman, the village recreation director. 

“It’s the ultimate team sport, but it’s hard to describe it without first doing it.”

— Robert Finke

Lemmerman was also excited by Finke’s past performance, him being an ex-coach of the Harvard University crew team, where he said he took several students who did not know about rowing and got them racing at a competitive level. While he raced crew at Rutgers University, he has also coached in schools in the Manhasset school district, and most recently, was a coach in the youth program in the Sagamore Rowing Association in Oyster Bay.

The new club is not the first crew to use the harbor as its training ground. The Stony Brook University Crew, the school’s rowing club, has used the harbor for training its members in the past as well, though Lemmerman said this is the first instance of having an official club for the Village of Port Jefferson.

The head rowing coach said plans for after the learn-to-row sessions are to start a 6-week spring youth season from May 1 through June 12 with day slots, one for Monday, Wednesday, Friday and another for Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Each will have two time slots, one for 3 to 4:30 p.m. and another for 5 to 6:30 p.m. He said once the groups have set a good rhythm, he plans to set it up to compete against other local clubs and schools.

The master’s program, for those above high school age, starts April 1 and goes until April 1, 2020. A yearly membership is $750 per person, and the deadline to register is April 20.

“In rowing, it’s the boat, everyone’s very dedicated to the boat,” Finke said. “Kids get exposed to me, me, me, Lebron James every day. Rowing is the exact opposite of that, the exact yang for ying. The more fun and culture you have in a rowing club, the faster you go.”

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New plans for stairs near Toast Coffeehouse. Left photo by Kyle Barr; right image from Deck and Patio Company

The stairs leading up from the parking lot in front of Portside Bar & Grill is full of dried grass and aging streetlights with extension cords reaching out the top like lifelines on ancient scuba gear.

Now, a Smithtown-based metal fabrication company is proposing a complete remodel of the path leading up to the stairs, even including a waterfall and pond.

Sean Hanley, left, and Mayor Margot Garant discuss new staircase and park. Photo by Kyle Barr

“That water feature would bring the whole thing to a whole other level,” Port Jefferson village Mayor Margot Garant said. “It would be just so calming.”

Sean Hanley, whose wife, Melissa Hanley, owns Salon Blonde hairstylists across the street from the staircase, has known the area for a long while, and approached Garant at the start of the year about transforming the aging staircase and pathway.

“My mother lives in the village — we’re really local, and I always felt that space needed some work there,” he said. Hanley is the owner of LB Fabrication & Automation, a metal fabricator and mason based in Smithtown. 

The designs were created in part by Hanley and by Huntington Station–based Deck and Patio Company, which he hopes will be used when it comes time to start the landscaping portion of the project.

“The space is not totally flat in there, so it doesn’t allow for seating areas everywhere, and we just had to come up with something nice,” the metal fabricator said. “Really want to dress up that sign and walkway so people feel comfortable walking up those stairs.”

Last year in the winter of 2017 and 2018, the village closed the stairs for what it said was necessary renovations due to safety concerns. Garant said she would like lighting that maintains a rustic aesthetic of nearby signage on storefronts.

While the plans don’t include them, Hanley has discussed putting in a waterfall feature on the left-hand wall, which can be seen from the parking lot. They are also considering putting in a stream that would go from the waterfall over to a planned pond. The metal fabricator said the pond can be built so it can be drained down below ground far enough so it won’t freeze during the winter months.

“Everybody was really on board with this,” Garant said.

Plans for pocket park near Toast Coffeehouse. Image by Deck and Patio Company

The concrete pathway would be replaced by herringbone brick that continues up the stairs to the top level. Hanley also said he wants to create a decorative latticing underneath the stairs to cut off access for pedestrians, and that he would want to clean up the stairs themselves of rust.

Along with plans for the stairs, Hanley is also in talks with the village to replace some of the signage in parks, such as Founders Park, with those made from powdered aluminum, so it won’t rust.

Garant said she needs to show the plans to the Business Improvement District. She also intends to speak to the owners of Portside Bar & Grill about adding additional fencing along their building to shield from view when employees use the bottom side entrance. She also said she intends to look into opening up the alleyway between The Kate & Hale and The Secret Garden.

The mayor and metal fabrication owner said there are still details to be worked out over how many companies the village will put out to bid for, what will be the total costs and what is the phasing plan for the project. Overall, they hope to have the project done by the end of spring.

While the details need to still be worked out on which companies will complete the project, Garant said she is looking to see if they can do parts of the project with in-house staff.

“It’s still a public project,” she said.

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