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Retirement

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Louise Pizzuto has taught in Mount Sinai for 28 years. Photo from the Pizzuto family

Saying Louise Pizzuto was born to teach is an understatement.

Pizzuto, 62, started working as a special education teacher at Mount Sinai Middle School in September 1988. After 28 years, the mother of two is retiring to spend more time with her family. The Mount Sinai Board of Education announced Pizzuto’s retirement from her current position in the high school’s Special Education Department. Her last day is June 25.

The Smithtown resident became an integral part of the school district early on in her career.

After seeing some special needs students continuously fail and repeat classes, only to drop out of school after the government passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, Pizzuto pushed for courses to accommodate her students. No Child Left Behind set higher standards that her students couldn’t reach on their own.

“They [kept] raising the bar, but my students didn’t have their academic abilities raised,” Pizzuto said. “In order to meet [the requirements] and close the gap somewhat, we had to really start putting in place some programs.”

The addition of more leveled classes or self-contained classes allowed these students to be taught and learn at their own level. More residents started moving to the school district when these programs were established. They were also incorporated into the high school after it was established in September 1991. Pizzuto was no stranger to going above and beyond for those who needed her help.

“When given students with special needs, she would give up her lunch period to audit a class so that she could learn different methodology to teach her students,” said longtime friend Gloria Musto.

Pizzuto also dedicated whatever free time she had, before, during and after school, to help her students.

Before working in Mount Sinai school district, Pizzuto worked at Concord High School in Staten Island, and stumbled into special education because there was a shortage of special needs teachers at the time. She was able to get a second masters in special education while she worked at the high school.

Pizzuto’s daughter Amanda Pizzuto-Montemarano said her mother goes above and beyond for her students, recalling a time her mother took a student to the doctor for an examination. The student was abusing drugs at the time, and was getting sick. Pizzuto paid for the visit, and helped other students similarly, while giving them the tools they needed to succeed.

Although the high school wasn’t the only educational facility she worked for prior to Mount Sinai, Pizzuto said she fell in love with the program because of the kids she helped.

While her career at Concord differed from her experience in Mount Sinai, making a difference in people’s lives is always the priority for Pizzuto. As a special needs teacher, Pizzuto put her students before the lesson, and by learning their strengths and weaknesses, provided background information on a subject to help them learn the curriculum at their grade level.

Her daughter said going into retirement is a big step.

“She is going to miss teaching terribly,” Pizzuto-Montemarano said. “But now she has grandchildren and they’re going to have the greatest teacher, like me and my brother had.”

Pizzuto’s son Paul-Eric has dyslexia, and used to sneak books home from school. She started spending hours helping her son grasp material from school. He said growing up with a mother who was not only a teacher but a special education teacher, was a gift.

Longtime friend and co-worker Michele Gaffney, of Baiting Hollow, said Pizzuto motivated her to get her masters in teaching when Pizzuto and her family moved to the Island. The two started working in the school district on the same day.

“She really optimizes what a teacher is,” Gaffney said. “She goes the extra mile. She’s just fabulous. Mount Sinai will never have another one like her.”

But Pizzuto hopes for the best.

“I told the principal when I handed them my retirement papers that I just hope that they replace me with another teacher that remembers the students before the curriculum,” Pizzuto said.

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Evelyn Gallino poses for a photo with her retirement plaque. Photo from Gallino

The Rocky Point School District is losing one of its veterans.

On Jan. 11, the school district’s board of education announced the retirement of long-time employee Evelyn Gallino, who has been a senior clerk/typist. Her last day will be Feb. 26.

Gallino started working for the school district in 1982 as a minibus driver before taking a hiatus to raise her five children. Since she returned to the district in 1993 as a lunch monitor, she has worked her way up. After taking on a management project archiving files and establishing archives for the school, the school district offered her a position in the Building and Grounds Department in January 2001.

While Gallino has enjoyed her 34 years of service, family is still a top priority for the 61-year-old Rocky Point resident. The retirement age might be 65, but Gallino wanted to retire to be closer to her family and tend to her grandchildren.

“My daughter [and her children] moved to Omaha, Nebraska last year. I miss them terribly and I want to visit more,” Gallino said. She added that her son who lives in Mastic also welcomed a baby around three months ago.

But Gallino doesn’t just assist her family. She assists anyone in need.

“If she knows that you’re in trouble for whatever reason, she will be the first to help you problem solve or direct you where to get help,” Dorothy Tis said.

Gallino and Tis met more than 20 years ago when their children attended Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School together. Around 12 years ago, Tis was in one of the school district’s parking lots when her car wouldn’t start. Gallino came to her aide when she recommended her brother-in-law, who was a mechanic.

As a long-time employee, Gallino has also acquired a wealth of knowledge that helps other employees in the school district.

“She could tell us who did what job, how many years ago, how it was fixed, if the contractors did a good job … she just knows the [school] district,” said Greg Hilton, school business official for the district.

Gallino attributed her vast array of knowledge concerning the school district to her decades of service in the district and her simple curiosity.

“I like to know how things work and why, and if we fix something, why are we fixing it that way,” Gallino said.

Hilton added that Gallino takes pride in her work and community. Before working in the Rocky Point school district, Gallino was the president of the Rocky Point Civic Association when Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) served in the association. According to Gallino, she was also one of two people who helped bring the football program to Rocky Point several years ago. Her husband, Anthony Gallino, is also the fire commissioner for Rocky Point.

Although Gallino will remain in the Rocky Point community, fellow school district employee Melissa Mood said her caring and considerate personality will be missed. Mood added that Gallino’s retirement is “going to be a big loss” for the school district. The two met around 25 years ago.

Rocky Point School District Superintendent Michael Ring said Gallino held many positions during her years in the school district. According to Ring, she’s executed her responsibilities over the years with expertise and professionalism — qualities that made her an asset to the district.

“There was no problem too large or small that Ms. Gallino wouldn’t enthusiastically embrace,” Ring said in an email. “I will personally miss her positive and energetic style and feel fortunate to have worked alongside her during her tenure at Rocky Point.”

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Marlene Wolke ready to leave her post serving town after decades of working in Supervisor Vecchio’s office

Marlene Wolke retired this week after working alongside Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio for nearly three decades. Photo by Phil Corso

Anyone looking to get to Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) had to get through Smithtown’s Marlene Wolke first.

Wolke’s desk literally sat outside Vecchio’s office door and she spent the past three decades welcoming the town’s movers and shakers in and out of the supervisor’s headquarters. Wolke announced she would be retiring this year, and her last day on the job was pegged for Wednesday, Nov. 25.

It’s been a long road for Wolke, across two different political parties, but she remained beside the town’s longest-serving supervisor in its 350-year history.

“He’s still here because people didn’t want to lose him,” Wolke said of her boss’s successful 38-plus years at the helm of Smithtown. “I think he’s done a great job and been a wonderful steward of the town.”

Vecchio described Wolke as loyal, competent and trustworthy as she held in confidence some of the most sensitive discussions relating to the town.

“Marlene was more than a secretary,” Vecchio said. “She really was an assistant. She was invaluable on so many occasions and I don’t know how I would have done what I do without her.”

Her office was located directly outside Vecchio’s door, where she sat in front of a big window overlooking the town. Framed photos of loved ones decorated the interior alongside stacks of various Smithtown newspapers. But even in her last week as secretary, Wolke kept it professional during an interview with Times Beacon Record Newspapers, often stopping herself to act as gatekeeper to those entering the Supervisor’s room.

Wolke’s first day on the job was July 3, 1978. When she took the job, she said she thought she’d be there for only two years.

She recollected her beginnings working alongside Vecchio fondly. She met him through her husband at the time, who worked as a detective with the New York Police Department.

“I met Pat at a meet the candidates night. He was a Democrat at the time,” Wolke said. “I worked with the party and helped get out the vote. I was even there on election night when he won.”

The next thing Wolke knew, Vecchio was knocking on her front door in Smithtown.

“He asked if I was looking for a job,” she said. “I was so nervous.”

From there, it was history.

Wolke remained Vecchio’s secretary ever since, and even switched with him from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party several years into his run as supervisor.

The now-retired secretary described her role as Vecchio’s “complaint department,” handling quality-of-life issues alongside several others outside Vecchio’s office in the heart of town. She and her colleagues have been the front lines for all things Smithtown for decades, and looking back now, Wolke said she had a lot to be proud of.

Her retirement has opened up a new opportunity for Wolke, who said she looks forward to spending time with her four kids and eight grandkids. She also said she has plans to travel down to Florida, in a camper with her husband and dog, to enjoy retirement in style.

“It’s not easy to retire,” she said. “But I knew it was my time. It just felt right.”

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By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

For most of us, if a time comes when we need assistance, the preferred option would be to remain at home and receive whatever care services we needed in our familiar setting surrounded by family. For many, the Community-Based Long-Term Care Program, commonly referred to as Community Medicaid, makes that an affordable and therefore viable option.

Oftentimes we meet with families who are under the impression that they will not qualify for these services through the Medicaid program due to their income and assets. In most cases, that is not the case. Although an applicant for Community Medicaid must meet the necessary income and assets levels, oftentimes with planning we are able to assist in making an individual eligible with little wait.

An individual who is applying for homecare Medicaid may have no more than $14,850 in nonretirement liquid assets. Retirement assets will not be counted as a resource as long as the applicant is receiving monthly distributions from the account. An irrevocable prepaid burial fund is also permitted as an exempt resource. The primary residence is an exempt asset during the lifetime of the Medicaid recipient. However, when the applicant owns a home, it is advisable to consider additional estate planning to ensure that the home will be protected once the Medicaid recipient passes away. 

Although the home is considered an exempt resource as long as the Medicaid recipient is living in it, once the applicant passes, Medicaid can assert a lien on the home if it passes through the probate estate. One way to avoid this is to ensure that at the time of the death of the applicant no assets pass through the probate estate; this can be achieved by transferring the home to a trust. Once this is done, the home will pass to the intended beneficiaries without a probate proceeding and without an opportunity for Medicaid to seek recovery against the home. 

With respect to income, an applicant for Medicaid is permitted to keep $825 per month in income plus a $20 disregard. However, where the applicant has income that exceeds that $845 threshold, a Pooled Income Trust can be established to preserve the applicant’s excess income and direct it to a fund where it can be used to pay his or her household bills.  It is important to note that there is no “look back” for Community Medicaid. This means that for most people, with minimal planning, both the income and asset requirements can be met with a minimal waiting period allowing families to mitigate the cost of caring for their loved ones at home, in many cases making aging in place an option.   

Individuals looking for coverage for the cost of a home health aide must be able to show that they require assistance with their activities of daily living. Some examples of activities of daily living include dressing, bathing, toileting, ambulating and feeding.

Community Medicaid will not provide care services where the only need is supervisory; therefore, it is important to establish an assistive need with the tasks listed above. Once this need is established, the amount of hours awarded will depend upon the frequency with which assistance with the tasks are necessary. 

For example, an individual who only needs help dressing and bathing may receive minimal coverage during the scheduled times, maybe two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. Contrast that with an individual who requires assistance with ambulating and toileting. Because these tasks are considered “unscheduled,” the hours awarded will be maximized.

In fact, where the need is established, the Medicaid program can provide care for up to 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Once approved, the individual may be enrolled in a managed long-term care company. The MLTC may also cover adult day health care programs, transportation to and from nonemergency medical appointments and medical supplies such as diapers, pull-ups, chux and durable medical equipment.

The Community-Based Medicaid Program is invaluable for many seniors who wish to age in place but are unable to do so without some level of assistance.

Nancy Burner, Esq. has practiced elder law and estate planning for 25 years.

SCPD’s 2nd Precinct commanding officer, Inspector Edward Brady, with wife Lori, earns a town proclamation. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County police Inspector Edward Brady, who touts a 36-year history of service, will hang his hat in retirement on Friday.

The inspector, who has served at the helm of the 2nd Precinct for five and a half years, was honored in style at Tuesday’s town board meeting, which was attended by Brady’s wife, Lori, and many 2nd Precinct and county police officials, including Commissioner Edward Webber.

The incoming 2nd Precinct commanding officer, Inspector Christopher Hatton. Photo by Rohma Abbas
The incoming 2nd Precinct commanding officer, Inspector Christopher Hatton. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Town board members praised Brady, including Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D), who issued the inspector a town proclamation for his service — but not before ticking off the inspector’s storied resume.

Edwards said 14 of Brady’s 36 years of service were at the 2nd Precinct. He graduated from the police academy in July 1979 and first joined the 2nd Precinct in October that year. From then on, he moved between precincts and roles, eventually rising to become the 2nd Precinct’s commanding officer in 2009.

Edwards said she was “so, so proud to be honoring” Brady and called him one of a kind.

“Inspector Brady, Supervisor Petrone said it right. You are calm. You are thoughtful, responsive, accessible and very candid.”

The inspector said he’s honored to have served the Town of Huntington.

“The people here really take pride in their community,” he said.

3rd Precinct Deputy Inspector Christopher Hatton, of Miller Place, will take over for Brady post-retirement. He said he’s looking forward to the new role.

“Hopefully I do as good a job as the previous inspector did,” he said.

Asked what’s next for him, Brady said he plans to spend time with his kids, embark on house projects at his home in the Town of Islip and get some golfing in.

“[Suffolk Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon] told me I have to work on my chip shot,” Brady joked.

Joan O’Brien, clerical staff, Park View ES; Diane Nally, trustee; Janice Cassagne, third-grade teacher, Park View ES; Joe Bianco, trustee; Regina Symansky, Special Education teacher, Kings Park HS; Pam DeFord, trustee; Laura Peterson, third-grade teacher, Fort Salonga ES; Tom Locascio, president, board of education; Judith Letterman, assistant principal, Kings Park HS; Kevin Johnston, English teacher, Kings Park HS; and Timothy Eagen, superintendent, at the Kings Park school board meeting on Tuesday, June 2. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Kings Park Board of Education celebrated 12 retirees for their cumulative 261 years of service to the district of Kings Park Tuesday night at the school board meeting.

Judith Letterman, assistant principal at Kings Park High School, was one of the many to be leaving the district, as well as Regina Symansky, a special education teacher who has the longest tenure at King Park — a total of 37 years.

“I have been blessed to lead such hard working and devoted employees,” Superintendent Timothy Eagen said in a statement.

The total list of retirees includes Joan O’Brien, Janice Cassagne, Regina Symansky, Laura Peterson, Judith Letterman, Kevin Johnston, James Fernhoff, Bonnie Capaldo, Dianne Kroog, Cyndia Kopp, Esther Mathie, and Wesley Walker.

“On behalf of the Board of Education, I congratulate all of this year’s retirees for their dedication and service to the Kings Park Central School District” said Tom Locascio, president of the board of education. “These individuals have helped shape the lives of thousands of students, faculty and staff, and the collective impact of their time here truly is immeasurable. May the years ahead bring nothing but joy and relaxation.”

The board also recognized 25 science fair winners from William T. Rogers Middle School in grades six through eight.

Kings Park school district received more than $5,000 in donations, which include athletic equipment and teaching aids. Many contracts were renewed or approved for the new school year including one that adds new vendors to the district and another that established an  agreement with the Town of Smithtown for repair and maintenance of roads.

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By Nancy Burner

Retirement can be an exciting new chapter in someone’s life, but it can also be stressful. The change of lifestyle and income source can lead to anxiety for many individuals reaching retirement. There may be a fear that there is not sufficient income to meet monthly needs or sufficient resources to last the remainder of his or her life.

The reality is that people are living longer and require stable income to meet their daily expenses. A person can maximize benefits and income while preserving assets for the next generation provided that the proper planning has been put into place.

One key strategy in planning for retirement income is maximizing your benefit under the Social Security system. Social Security income will play a major role in monthly income for many retired seniors and should not be overlooked or ignored. Knowing the appropriate time to start taking the benefit will impact the amount of income a person will receive.  “Full retirement age” will depend on when the individual was born.

For those born in 1954 or before, the full retirement age is 66 years old. For those born after 1954 but prior to 1960, the full retirement age gradually rises a few months at a time. For example, someone born in 1957 has a full retirement age of 66 years and 6 months. Anyone born in 1960 and later has a full retirement age of 67 years old.

Taking Social Security prior to the “full retirement age” can result in reduction penalties that could potentially cost the individual almost half of what might have been earned if the individual had waited. Once a person reaches “full retirement age,” it may be advantageous to wait a few years longer until 70 years old to begin collecting Social Security. Unfortunately, the only way to determine if waiting until age 70 is beneficial would be to know how long you are going to live.

Social Security Administration determines your benefit based on the average life expectancy. If the person outlives the average life expectancy, then it was a better choice to wait until 70 to begin the benefit. Nevertheless, no one knows how long they will live, but the reality is that people are living longer and it is essential to make sure you have sufficient income to support your daily needs regardless of how long you live.

It may be much easier said than done to wait to take Social Security. In a perfect world, everyone could wait until the perfect age to start taking Social Security in order to maximize their benefit. The reality may be that income is needed sooner than the ideal age. In this circumstance, there are several tactics that can be used in order to get income, but preserve your Social Security income and allow it to grow until you reach 70 years old.

It is essential to understand that a person may be entitled to Social Security benefits based on a spouse, ex-spouse, deceased spouse or deceased ex-spouse’s earning record. Once a person reaches “full retirement age,” but has not reached age 70, it may be advantageous to use a restricted application and apply only to claim a spousal (or ex-spousal) benefit and wait until 70 to collect your own benefit. This would enable you to start getting Social Security income, but preserve your benefit to allow for the possibility of a higher income. It is important to consult a professional in your area regarding different tactics that can be used to maximize your retirement benefits.

Retirement should be the time in your life where you can relax. The stress of not having enough income to meet necessary daily expenses can be avoided with having the proper plan in place to meet your income needs and give you peace of mind.

Nancy Burner, Esq. has practiced elder law and estate planning for 25 years. The opinions of columnists are their own. They do not speak for the paper.

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By Jonathan S. Kuttin

As more baby boomers reach retirement age, they’re realizing the valuable role Social Security will play as a source of lifetime income. Claiming Social Security benefits can be far more complex than you may realize. Here are seven essential things about Social Security to understand as you determine how Social Security will fit into your overall retirement income strategy:

You can start claiming benefits any time between ages 62 and 70: When you’re working and paying Social Security taxes (via your paycheck), you earn credit toward your Social Security retirement benefits. To qualify for these benefits, you need to contribute at least 40 credits to the system, which is typically 10 working years (although it does vary). Alternatively, if you have never worked and you’re married to someone who qualifies, you may earn a spousal benefit. When claiming your own benefit, you can begin receiving Social Security at age 62 or delay receiving Social Security up to your 70th birthday.

Full retirement age is changing: The age to qualify for a “full” retirement benefit from Social Security used to be 65. Now it is up to 66 (for those born between 1943 and 1954). It increases by two months per year for those born between 1955 and 1959. For those born in 1960 or later, full retirement age is currently defined as 67.

The longer you wait, the larger your benefit: The amount of your benefit depends on the age you choose to first begin receiving Social Security. For example, if you collect beginning at 62 and your full retirement age is 66, your benefit will be about 25 percent lower. On the flip side, your benefit will increase by about 8 percent each year you delay taking Social Security after your full retirement age up to your 70th birthday.

Spousal benefits give married couples extra flexibility: If both spouses worked, they each can receive benefits based on their own earnings history. However, a lower earning spouse can choose to base a benefit on the higher earning spouse’s income. A spousal benefit equals 50 percent of the other spouse’s benefit. Note that if you claim a spousal benefit before full retirement age, it will be reduced. The maximum spousal benefit you can collect is by taking the benefit at your full retirement age (based on the benefit your spouse would earn at his or her full retirement age).
You also can choose to collect a spousal benefit initially and delay taking your own benefit, allowing your benefit amount to increase. Then you can claim your benefit when you turn 70.

There may be a long-term advantage if a higher earning spouse delays Social Security: If the higher earning spouse is older (or has more health concerns that could affect longevity), it may make sense to delay taking Social Security as long as possible up to age 70. When the spouse with the higher benefit dies, the surviving spouse will collect the higher benefit that was earned by the deceased spouse. The higher the deceased spouse’s benefit, the larger the monthly check for the surviving spouse.

Claiming benefits early while still working can reduce your benefit: If you begin claiming Social Security before your full retirement age but continue to earn income, your Social Security benefit could be reduced. If your earnings are above a certain level ($15,720 in 2015), your Social Security checks will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earned in income above that threshold. In the year you reach full retirement age, that threshold amount changes. $1 is deducted for every $3 earned above $41,880 up to the month you reach full retirement age. Once you reach full retirement age, you can earn as much income as you want with no reduction in your Social Security benefits.

Benefits you earn may be subject to tax: According to the Social Security Administration, about one-third of people who receive Social Security have to pay income tax on their benefits. You may want to consult a tax professional to determine what impacts this will have on your overall benefits.
These essential points are just a beginning. There’s much more to consider. Consult with your financial advisor, tax professional, your local Social Security office and/or Social Security’s website, www.ssa.gov, to find out more before you make your final decisions about when to first claim Social Security benefits.

Jonathan S. Kuttin is a  private wealth advisor with Kuttin-Metis Wealth Management, a private advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. in Melville, NY. He specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 19 years.

Huntington school district staff offer a standing ovation to administrators Carmen Kasper, left, and Carmela Leonardi at a school board meeting on Monday night. The two are retiring at the end of this year. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Two longtime Huntington school district administrators touting a combined tenure of nearly four decades are retiring at the end of this year.

The school board voted to accept the retirements of Huntington High School Principal Carmela Leonardi and Carmen Kasper, the district’s director of foreign language, ESL and bilingual programs, at a meeting on Monday night. The two are opting into an early retirement incentive offered by the district.

Leonardi has been at the district for 24 years and Kasper for 15 years. Both women, who sat next to each other in the auditorium of the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School on Monday, said while they were sad to go, it was time to move on.

“I loved every minute of it,” Leonardi said. “I really loved every minute of it.”

Leonardi and Kasper earned a standing ovation after Superintendent Jim Polansky announced the news, calling it “bittersweet.”

Kasper said she had been mulling the decision for three years, but kept putting it off. “This year I decided it’s not going to be a ‘next year,'” she said. She also recalled herself shaking as she walked into Polansky’s office to hand him her letter of resignation.

“I said, ‘If I don’t put it here, I’m not going to do it,'” Kasper said.

Before becoming principal of Huntington High School, Leonardi was the educational leader of the Woodhull Early Childhood Center and the principal at Huntington Intermediate School. She has a passion for languages, and is fluent in Italian, Spanish and English, as well as proficient in French. She also studied Latin for six years.

Leonardi led the Huntington Intermediate School to earn the New York Excellence in Education Award, according to her bio on the district’s website. She’s also supported the expansion of honors and AP offerings, which has led to an “increasing number of Huntington students” who have taken AP classes and have done well on AP tests.

During her time at the district, Kasper has secured “significant sums of grant monies” to support the district’s programs and services for ESL and bilingual students, according to her bio on the district’s website. Before coming to Huntington, she taught English, kindergarten, first, second and seventh grades in Peru, served as a bilingual resource specialist at Western Suffolk BOCES, taught Spanish at Eastern Suffolk BOCES and worked as a BOCES regional summer school coordinator.

Kasper has spearheaded after-school and weekend classes to help dual language, English Language Learner and Limited English Proficiency students and their parents. She also coordinated after-school Chinese classes for intermediate-level students “at no cost to the district as a result of her professional relationships in the educational community.”

Leonardi will be leaving the district with a retirement incentive award not to exceed $50,000, while Kasper’s award will not exceed approximately $39,472.

Leonardi and Kasper are not the only ones retiring from the Huntington school district come June 30. The school board voted to approve the retirements of three other instructional staff: guidance counselor Caterina Cain, high school foreign language teacher Carmela Mastragostino and school social worker Vilma Matos, who are all taking advantage of the retirement incentive.

Polansky estimates that a total of 10 staff members will take advantage of two early retirement incentives the district is offering — one for teachers and one for administrators. The deadline to opt into the incentives is today, Tuesday, March 24.

Board approves zone change for Heatherwood housing community

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association President Ed Garboski speaks against the housing proposal on Tuesday, as Shawn Nuzzo, Three Village’s civic leader, looks on. Photo by Erika Karp

Despite numerous objections from residents, local civic associations and the community’s own councilwoman, the Town of Brookhaven has paved the way for a 200-unit retirement community at the Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville.

Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) sponsored the resolution for a zone change from A Residence 5 to Planned Retirement Community for the property, which is located at Arrowhead Lane and Route 347 and falls in both the Comsewogue and Three Village school districts. The town board approved it in a 4-3 vote, with Councilwomen Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island) and Supervisor Ed Romaine dissenting.

The planning board still must approve the project’s site plan before the project can move forward.

According to the site plan application, about 25 acres of the property would be developed into the 55-and-over community, while about 45 acres would remain open, leaving a nine-hole golf course.

Since the property would be developed at an increased density, owner Doug Partrick in exchange would donate a 40-acre lot he owns in the Manorville Farm Protection Area — in Panico’s district — for open space.

While the zone change public hearing was held on Tuesday, the project had been discussed for months at Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meetings, and that group, along with the neighboring Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, came out strongly against it.

However, the Town of Brookhaven Planning Department supported the project — Planning Commissioner Tullio Bertoli said the proposal is compatible with existing development in the area and fits in with the town’s smart growth efforts, as it is located along a commercial corridor.

Residents and civic leaders who attended the public hearing expressed concerns about traffic and losing open space in their community. In addition, many were displeased to see the development proposed for the golf course, as the community is preparing to redevelop and revitalize the Route 112 corridor, on another side of town.

“[It’s] dismaying to see a town planning commissioner come before you and say this is a location that meets all criteria,” Bob de Zafra, of the Setaukets and Stony Brook civic, said at the public hearing. “It does not.”

He also criticized Panico for bringing forth the resolution.

De Zafra asked Panico and new Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) to recuse themselves from the vote, as the officials received campaign contributions from a company under the umbrella of Partrick’s Heatherwood Communities, the retirement community developer.

According to campaign financial disclosure records, Friends of Dan Panico received a $500 contribution from Heatherwood House at Coram LLC in September 2013, while Friends of Neil Foley received a $1,000 contribution in October 2014.

“There’s nothing illegal in that,” de Zafra said. “There’s nothing dishonest in that and I certainly don’t mean to imply that, nor am I due a lecture about it.”

Panico, who said he brought forth the zone change resolution because it was in the best interest of the whole town, interjected during de Zafra’s comments and said, “Why would you bring it up?”

Frank Gibbons, a board member of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, said he was concerned about the development’s impact on traffic.

“There are good arguments on both sides of this question, but I think that when we look at the best thing for the entire township, Mr. Panico, … how about taking care of Terryville, Port Jefferson Station and South Setauket,” Gibbons said.

The town board placed conditions on its zone change approval, including that Partrick must make the land donation, remove a billboard at the golf course, construct a sidewalk on the east side of Arrowhead Lane and complete a new traffic study for the Terryville site.

Heatherwood’s attorney, David Sloane, of Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman LLP, spoke about the positives of the project, including a decrease in the use of pesticides and more property taxes to the school districts without an influx of students.

“This proposal is the least intensive use that could be developed on this site,” he said.

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