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Steve Bellone

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A check is presented to Rebecca Briggs, second from left, the widow of Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, during a July 24 press conference in Hauppauge. Photo from Bellone's office

By Anthony Petriello

A Port Jefferson Station family received some comfort in the form of a fully paid off mortgage following the tragic death of their Air Force husband and father.

The family of Port Jefferson Station Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, 30, who was killed March 15 in a helicopter crash near the Syrian border in western Iraq, had the remaining balance on their mortgage paid off thanks to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation July 24.

Briggs’ wife, Rebecca, and two young children, Jayden and Ava, received a miracle in the form of an undisclosed payment in addition to $33,000 already donated by Caliber Home Loans toward the payoff.

“I just wanted to say thank you to Tunnel to Towers and Caliber Home Loans for doing this mortgage pay off, because it’s very comforting to know there’s people out there helping all the military families, Gold Star families, and it’s just nice to know that we can stay in our home,” the widow said to the media at the press conference.

Briggs’ family also received close to $46,000 as of Aug. 7, raised through a GoFundMe campaign launched by Andre Galarza, a close friend, former roommate and Riverhead High School classmate of Briggs’.

“I looked up to him very much, just because of the type of man he was — one of the realest people you’ll ever meet,” Galarza said in an interview in March. “As a person, he was one of the strongest people I know.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) recognized Briggs for his sacrifice in serving the country during the July 24 press conference in Hauppauge.

“Today we honored the family of a man, a husband, a father, a soldier and a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice to his country,” he said. “Technical Sergeant Briggs served us all and now it is we who must honor his service.”

Tunnel to Towers was established to honor the service and sacrifice of Brooklyn firefighter and Staten Island resident Stephen Siller, who died Sept. 11, 2001. The foundation “also honors our military and first responders who continue to make the supreme sacrifice of life and limb for our country,” according to its website.

All seven airmen on board were carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the  U.S. Department of Defense. All seven military personnel onboard died in the crash of the Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter.

Briggs and three others aboard the aircraft — Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack were members of the 106th Air National Guard Rescue Wing out of Westhampton Beach’s Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base.

“Fireworks are a great way to celebrate the July 4th holiday and our independence, but be smart and stay safe.”

That’s what Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said when he joined with officials from the Suffolk County Police Department, Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, and local fire chiefs to provide safety tips for residents ahead of the Fourth of July, as well as demonstrate the dangers of possessing and using fireworks. During the event, police officials showcased the dangers of fireworks by igniting a collection of pyrotechnics in a residential shed, a typical storage place for illegal fireworks.

The United State Consumer Protection Agency indicates that an average of 230 people in the United States visit the emergency room with fireworks-related injuries around the 4th of July holiday every year. In 2017, fireworks accounted for approximately 1,200 emergency department treated injuries associated with sparklers nationwide.

“We are here today to talk about the 4th of July and how we all love to get together and celebrate,” Bellone said. “We always hear about these incidents happening and they are unnecessary, preventable injuries.”

He urged parents to disallow children to use or ignite fireworks or sparklers. Suffolk County Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) put forward legislation to ban sparklers to ensure they are out of the hands of children.

“This is something I know was very important to the fire services here,” Bellone said of the legislation. “They did a tremendous job and I want to say kudos to them and thank them for their leadership on this issue. In addition to the great work of our fire departments, and fire rescue and emergency services personnel, Suffolk County will be exercising zero tolerance when it comes to the possession, use and sale of illegal fireworks.”

He urged residents to instead get out and see professional fireworks displays throughout the weekend.

“Celebrate our country’s independence and gather together with our families and our loved ones and our friends and have a great time as a country,” he said. “It’s a unifying day for our country. Sometimes we have these heated battles in our country and it’s easy to forget that we are one great country. The 4th of July is always a great time to celebrate that we are Americans and we’re proud of that.”

Some of the fireworks displays throughout Suffolk County:

  • Grucci fireworks at Bald Hill July 4 at 9:15 p.m.
  • Peconic Riverfront in Riverhead July 5 at 9:30 p.m.
  • Peconic Bay Medical Center festival July 6 at 6164 Route 25A in Wading River at 10 p.m.
  • Crescent Beach in Shelter Island July 7 at 9 p.m.
  • Post-game fireworks display at the Long island Ducks stadium July 7

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks during a press conference June 20 calling out Republicans for voting down three bond resolutions. Photo by Kyle Barr

Democrats and Republicans in the Suffolk County Legislature are at each other’s throats over funding for a series of bonds, including for public safety initiatives, that failed to pass at the June 19 legislature meeting.

“The Republican caucus put politics ahead of public safety,” county Executive Steve Bellone (D) said at a press conference June 20. “We saw a group of seven Republican legislators put their own politics over the interests of their constituents, of public safety, of teachers and students.”

At the June 19 meeting, three out of four bond resolutions failed to garner support from at least 12 legislators, which would represent the two-thirds support necessary to pass a bond resolution. The seven members of the Republican minority caucus voted against the resolutions. The three failed bonds included 14 items that would have provided funding for county parks, correctional facilities, public safety initiatives, road reconstruction and more.

Republican legislators said they voted against the bonds because they did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, lumped with items they were comfortable supporting now.

“We shouldn’t be paying these things off for 30 years because it’s just not fair to young people.”

— Rob Trotta

“The blame for the failure of this bond rests squarely on the shoulders of Steve Bellone,” said Minority Leader Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore). “Last month the county executive abandoned 40 years of history and precedence in Suffolk County… in an effort to bully the legislature into every one of his proposals.”

Bonds traditionally had not been grouped together by the Suffolk Legislature.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he opposed the resolutions in part because bonding for each of the 14 projects would increase the country’s deficit.

“What we’re doing is increasing debt,” Trotta said. “We shouldn’t be paying these things off for 30 years because it’s just not fair to young people.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) sponsored a bill that would allocate funds for a Rails to Trails project from Wading River to Port Jefferson. That bill was included in a larger bond proposal at the June 6 legislative meeting, and that too was voted down by the Republican caucus.

“I hope they can get this resolved soon because it’s basically hindering government,” Anker said. “The county has to bond for these sorts of projects – that’s why we have this sort of process.”

Anker said the $8 million Rails to Trails project was to be funded by that bond and then the county would be reimbursed by the federal government, but without the bond the county is now looking for different revenue sources so it would not have to push back plans to start building the trail by spring 2019.

The most contentious item amongst the recent three defeated bonds was $2 million in funding for licensing Rave Panic Button mobile app, a downloadable application that acts as an instant call to fire and emergency services as well as police in an emergency, specifically a school shooting, for school and government employees.

The Rave app is currently active in 95 percent of county facilities with 20 percent of county employee phones now equipped with the app, according to Joel Vetter, the county Emergency Medical Services coordinator. The program is already in place in 19 school districts with 10 enabled devices per building. The funding, Vetter said, would have put the app in the hands of all current school administrative and teaching staff in all county school districts.

“This means that if the cellular system is down, you could contact emergency services through WiFi,” Vetter said.

Bellone defended the lump bonding, saying it’s a practice used in town and local governments across the state. He said the public safety initiatives would have saved district schools more than $1 million since each would not have to pay for it themselves.

“This has become the worst of our politics.”

— Duwayne Gregory

“If we back down from this outrageous conduct now, they will continue to hold hostage every important investment on the environment, on public safety, on roads, on parks — and we’re not going to allow that to happen,” the county executive said.

Cilmi contended that bundling the bonds together does not save money because the county’s bond council, New York law firm Harris Beach PLLC, does not charge for bond preparation.

The contract between Suffolk and Harris Beach, signed by the county in 2014, reads that there shall be no fee paid by the county related to the preparation of county resolutions, which includes bonds.

Cilmi and Trotta both said they could come close to guaranteeing funding for the Rave app would be approved as a stand-alone measure.

Democrats accused the Republican caucus of being hypocritical as the bond vote was all for items those legislators have already supported in the recent past.

“This has become the worst of our politics.” Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said. “Nobody gets 100 percent of what they want, and when they say, ‘we’re going to vote against a package to other bills regarding funding for our correctional facilities,’ saying ‘I don’t like one or two parts of the bill and I’m going to vote against,’ is just ridiculous.”

Bellone said he expects to put the bonds back up for vote in the next legislative meeting July 17, but he did not give specifics about whether or not the county would try and repackage the bills to be more favorable to the wishes of the Republican caucus.

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman (D) said if the bond vote fails again the app will not be available to districts until after school reconvenes in September.

“We have to regroup and think what kind of strategies we have going forward,” Kaiman said. “When you fail a vote the process takes a lot of time to come back.”

Dispatcher Gerard Boucher used a computer-aided Q&A program at his workstation to help a Stony Brook couple deliver their baby. Photo from the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services

By Kyle Barr

A new resident arrived in Stony Brook with a little help from a fire and rescue dispatcher.

A couple were surprised May 30 when the wife went into labor while still over the phone with emergency dispatch, but the man behind the phone helped the family complete the birth with little to no complications.

“You could hear her going through contractions. She definitely sounded like she was in discomfort.”

— Gerard Boucher

Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services dispatcher Gerard Boucher heard about other dispatchers in the office having to help deliver a baby over the phone, but he had never had to do it himself. Just an hour into his shift at 7:54 a.m. May 30, Boucher found he didn’t have a choice but to keep calm and go through the steps he learned both with his experience as a volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician and his 10 years working for dispatch.

“I went through the usual spiel, the name, information, call-back number and the nature of the call, but then he stated his wife was 39 weeks pregnant and her water had broken,” said Boucher, a Bayshore resident. “I’ve had some close deliveries, but I’ve never actually delivered over the phone.”

In addition to his experience, Boucher relied on the dispatchers’ computer-aided Q&A program to understand what was happening and what to do.

“It involved prepping the mother, getting her the necessary tools — a dry blanket to wrap the baby in, a shoelace or a piece of string to tie off and cut the umbilical cord,” Boucher said. “We’re also instructed to have them get a safety pin if the amniotic sack is still intact. Another part of it is properly positioning the mother and talking her through the contractions. Just trying to have the person on the other end of the phone tell me what’s happening, asking him is she crowning, is she out, partially out, and most importantly if the babies coming out head first.”

The birth procedure went smoothly, and Boucher said that everyone involved kept level heads.

“You go from having one patient to two patients very quickly. Just to have the baby cry immediately was a big sigh of relief.”

— Gerard Boucher

“You could hear her going through contractions,” he said. “She definitely sounded like she was in discomfort. I do have to commend the two of them. I was surprised how calm they were throughout the entire experience. I was shocked at that, but it definitely lowered the stress level on our end.”

Finally, at 8:07 a.m., a little baby girl was born. She was breathing, and seconds after that, Boucher heard the baby start to cry.

“I was relieved, he said. “You go from having one patient to two patients very quickly. Just to have the baby cry immediately was a big sigh of relief.”

Setauket Fire Department emergency services arrived shortly afterwards and brought the family to Stony Brook Hospital, according to a press release.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) commended Boucher in a statement.

“The highly trained professionals that make up our Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services are exceptional public servants and dispatcher Boucher is a perfect example of that,” Bellone (D) said. “These everyday heroes continuously face some of the most stressful and difficult situations imaginable, and I applaud them for their continued work and service to the residents of Suffolk County.”

The Stony Brook couple declined to be interview and did not wish for their names to be disclosed, according to a representative of the county emergency services department.

In November, state Sen. Ken LaValle gave his blessing to a feasibility study for the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line east of Huntington. File photo

A Smithtown resident will take the lead in determining the future of the Long Island Rail Road.
Phillip Eng was appointed the next president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR April 12 by MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and MTA Managing Director Ronnie Hakim.

“Phil has shown exceptional leadership and dedication during his time at the MTA, and I know he will bring his enthusiasm for developing a world-class transportation system to the LIRR,” Lhota said.

“As a Smithtown resident and Suffolk County native, Phil Eng understands the importance of transportation on Long Island.”

— Steve Bellone

Eng will take over for Patrick Nowakowski, who served as LIRR president for nearly four years. He submitted his resignation less than a month after the LIRR had its worst on-time performance in the last 18 years, according to a March 15 report released by the Office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in March. The report had found that nearly 21,400 trains were delayed, cancelled or terminated in 2017; a 20 percent increase from 2016.

“As millions of commuters can attest, the performance of the Long Island Rail Road has become unacceptable,” DiNapoli said in a March statement. “On-time performance has fallen to the lowest level in nearly two decades, hurting riders. While Amtrak was a big factor behind the deterioration in service last year, the LIRR was responsible for more than twice as many delays.”

Eng first joined the MTA in March 2017 when he was appointed its chief operating officer. His role as chief operating officer was leading major initiatives across all of the MTA’s agencies, particularly with a focus on using innovation and technology to modernize the transportation systems and improve customer reliability, according to the MTA. From October 2017 to January 2018, he held the position of acting president at New York City Transit.

“The LIRR couldn’t have a found a more qualified person for this role,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. “As a Smithtown resident and Suffolk County native, Phil Eng understands the importance of transportation on Long Island.”

“My life’s work has centered on conceptualizing the best possible options to make transportation options more reliable.”

— Phil Eng

He is now expected to use his 35 years of experience in the New York State’s transportation sector to get the LIRR’s performance back on track. Prior to joining the MTA, Eng started his career with New York State Department of Transportation in 1983 as a junior engineer. He worked his way up, rising through the ranks to become the state DOT’s executive deputy commissioner. While there, Eng was responsible for delivering on the $2.5 billion annual capital construction program and was involved in the environmental impact study on the LIRR Mainline Expansion Project.

“My life’s work has centered on conceptualizing the best possible options to make transportation options more reliable, allowing commuters to get where they need to go safely and quickly,” Eng said in a statement. “I am honored to be chosen to lead the LIRR and its team of talented women and men as we work together to make the daily experience on the trains a better one.”

In his new position, Eng will be expected to manage several major infrastructural changes underway on the LIRR including the Double Track Project, which adds a second track to the Ronkonkoma branch between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma stations and is scheduled for completion later this year. He will also be expected to implement the Performance Improvement Plan, unveiled March 19, which aims to improve the LIRR’s service reliability, seasonal preparedness and communications with its customers. Public calls from elected officials to expand electrification on the Port Jefferson line east of the Huntington station, a long sought technological improvement, are also intensifying.

Suffolk County Police Department Chief Stuart Cameron and county Executive Steve Bellone hold a press conference with new police commissioner nominee Geraldine Hart..Photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is looking to continue the year of firsts for law enforcement.

Bellone announced 21-year FBI veteran Geraldine Hart as his nomination to be the next police commissioner in Suffolk at a press conference Feb. 22. If confirmed by the county Legislature, Hart would be the first female police commissioner in Suffolk’s history.

“I am honored for the opportunity to serve the residents of Suffolk County and privileged to serve with the brave, hardworking men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department,” she said. “I am extremely optimistic about the future of the Suffolk County Police Department and what we can accomplish together.”

Hart was most recently the Senior Supervisory Resident Agent in charge of the FBI’s Long Island office, a position she held for four years. Hart received a bachelor of arts from St. Francis College in Brooklyn and juris doctor from St. John’s University School of Law in Queens.

“Geraldine possesses the integrity, competence and excellence that we are looking for in someone to lead the Suffolk County Police Department,” Bellone said.

In addition to her work combatting gang violence, Hart oversees complex investigations that include public corruption, white-collar crime, terrorism, counter-intelligence, child exploitation and cyber crimes. Hart is also actively engaged in liaison activities, such as providing active shooter training opportunities for county school superintendents, houses of worship, and the first FBI teen academies in Central Islip and Brentwood.

Her leadership abilities were recognized at the highest levels as the recipient of the 2015 Director’s High Impact Leadership Award, which is given to a select number of individuals in the bureau based on an anonymous survey among their peers who rank them for superior leadership abilities.

Hart began her career as an FBI special agent focused on transnational organized crime, where she helped lead and execute complex investigations and enforcement actions to dismantle violent organized crime enterprises, such as the Lucchese crime family. In 1999, Hart was assigned to the Lucchese organized crime squad, working on an investigation that led to the conviction of fugitive Frank Federico, who was responsible for the murders of garbage-industry haulers and informants Robert M. Kubecka, of Greenlawn, and Donald Barstow, of Stony Brook (United States v. Federico). That same year, Hart was awarded the Office of Inspector General’s Integrity Award.

As an FBI case agent, Hart, in 2005, worked closely with the SCPD to investigate two former NYPD detectives who secretly worked as mafia associates on behalf of the Lucchese crime family.  The investigation led to the indictments of Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, who were ultimately convicted of committing murder and disclosing sensitive law enforcement information to mob bosses. The investigation also led to the discovery of a body in Brooklyn in connection with the criminal actions of these two individuals (United States v. Eppolito). For her performance on the case, Hart received the United States Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement, the highest award given out in the FBI.

In 2012, Hart was promoted to supervisory special agent to supervise a task force comprised of FBI special agents and NYPD detectives investigating the Genovese, Colombo and Bonanno crime families. In January 2014, these investigations resulted in the takedown of five organized crime members for murder, one tied to the Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy Airport, along with a body that was identified and dug up dating to the 1970s.

“As our next Police Commissioner, she will bring a fresh perspective and build on the progress that we have made over the last two years,” Bellone said.

Hart joins recently inaugurated Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. in a year of firsts for the county, as he became Long Island’s first African American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position earlier this year. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said in a phone interview she was happy to hear of Hart’s nomination because of her integrity and experience, and also noted the significance of a woman holding the position for the first time.

This post was updated with new photos and to include videos Feb. 22.

Check back soon for more information on Hart’s nomination.

New law closes loophole to permanently ban replacement of old, primitive cesspool technology to reduce nitrogen levels in water

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, displays the new county law banning the updating or instillation of primitive cesspools and the technology associated with them, as he’s surrounded by local leaders and environmental group organizers during a press conference. Photo from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office

Repairing old cesspools is now a thing of the past in Suffolk County.

As part of an ongoing effort to improve water quality on Long Island, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed into law a ban on installing new cesspools, ending the practice of grandfathering inadequate
sanitary system fixes with the now-primitive technology.

“It marks another historic step forward in our ongoing effort to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution that has degraded water quality in our lakes, bays and harbors, and it is a step that is long overdue,” Bellone said. “It is fairly unusual for the local governments, environmental groups and the region’s largest builders group to agree on the importance of tightening up outdated regulations to protect water quality, but that is exactly what happened in this instance. This inclusive, collaborative approach is making a huge difference in our efforts to reduce decades of nitrogen pollution.”

Cesspools have been identified as primary sources of nitrogen pollution that have degraded water quality throughout Suffolk County, contributing to harmful algae blooms, beach closures and fish kills. The use of cesspools in new construction has been banned in the county since 1973, when a requirement for the addition of a septic tank was added, but the county sanitary code did not require that homeowners add a septic tank when replacing an existing cesspool, making it legal to install a new cesspool to replace an existing one. By now closing this loophole, it will advance the water quality efforts undertaken by the county and set the stage for the evolution away from the use of nonperforming cesspools and septic systems to the use of new, state-of-the-art technologies that reduce nitrogen in residential wastewater by up to 70 percent, according to Bellone.

“With this action, I would like to say that we, as a county, have adopted the policies necessary to adequately address our region’s nitrogen pollution problems, but in reality, this gets us closer to where we should have been in the decades following 1973,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), a co-sponsor of the Article 6 revisions and chairwoman of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “I look forward to continuing the process of finally bringing Suffolk County’s sanitary code into the 21st century.”

In addition to banning the installation of new cesspools, the law approved by the Suffolk County Legislature Dec. 5 requires the wastewater industry to provide data regarding system replacement and pumping activities to the Department of Health Services beginning July 1, 2018. It also mandates permits for replacement of existing systems effective July 1, 2019, and requires business properties with grandfathered nonconforming wastewater flows to install nitrogen-reducing advanced systems if making significant changes to the use of the property.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, joined forces with other environmental group leaders in thanking the county for what was a necessary step in eliminating nitrogen from groundwater.

“We can no longer allow inadequately treated sewage to mix with our sole source of drinking water,” she said. “Modernizing our health codes is a commonsense action that is critically needed for water protection.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said he was overjoyed by the “huge step,” ending pollution by what he called Suffolk’s No. 1 threat to clean water.

“Now, we’re not just complaining,” he said. “We’re doing something about it.”

For the past three years, Suffolk’s Legislature has instituted a pilot program to test the new technologies, using a lottery system to select homeowners willing to have a donated system installed to demonstrate system performance. Under the pilot program, a total of 14 different technologies have been installed at 39 homes throughout the county. Four have been provisionally approved for use after demonstrating six months of acceptable operating data. As part of continued efforts, a voluntary Septic Improvement Program, the first of its kind in the state, was launched in July 2017 to provide grants and low-interest financing to make the replacement of cesspools and septic systems with new innovative/alternative technologies affordable for homeowners who choose to upgrade their systems. Over the first five months, nearly 850 homeowners have registered for the program, 228 have completed applications and 160 have been awarded grants and are moving toward installation of the new systems.

Suffolk County was the first in the state to apply for funding from New York State’s newly created $75 million Septic System Replacement Fund and will use the funding to expand its efforts to see the new technologies installed throughout the county.

The changes are the first in what is expected to be a series of updates to the county sanitary code over the next several years as county officials consider whether to put in place policies that require new nitrogen-
reducing systems in new construction projects, require installation of the new systems when a cesspool or septic system fails and needs to be replaced, or upon sale of a property. For now, all parties involved are on the same page moving forward, including both a working group comprised of county legislators, town planners and engineers with members of environmental organizations, as well as the Long Island Builders Institute.

“There is more work to do,” said Kevin McDonald, conservation finance and policy director for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “But passage of this bill means less nitrogen pollution in our water, and more resilient, healthy bays and people for generations to come.”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

After two terms at the helm of Suffolk County’s 13th District, Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) remains extremely critical of how the county functions — specifically its handling of finances.

The Republican incumbent has called the current system “broken,” “totally corrupt” and “horrible.” If re-elected Nov. 7, he said he plans to keep fighting to control spending and shed light on government mismanagement.

“I don’t want to see people struggling — I want this to be a prosperous place but it’s not a good situation we’re in,” Trotta said in a discussion at the TBR News Media office in Setauket, with the editorial staff Sept. 22.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta is running for his third 13th District term. Photo by Kevin Redding

He talked about his plans moving forward as the representative of his district, which encompasses Smithtown, Fort Salonga, Kings Park, Nissequogue, St. James, Head of the Harbor and portions of Commack and East Northport.

First elected in 2013, he is running for another two years as legislator against Democratic challenger Colleen Maher, who did not respond to a request for an interview.

Trotta said the legislative bills that he’s passionate about pushing through will ultimately “die in committee.” They include a law to limit Suffolk County “backdoor taxes,” or fee permits and registrations imposed on residents, to 2 percent per year — a reflection of the state’s cap for property tax increases — in order to make living on Long Island cheaper for residents; one that imposes justification for a fee increase; and a campaign finance bill to limit the amount of money in donations elected officials running for office can accept from contractors and public employee unions within the county.

Trotta said the campaign finance bill is the most crucial one because it will serve to clean up the “cesspool” of county government and curb money being tossed around in campaign contributions.

“Campaign finance is the root of all evil,” the legislator said.

A member of the Suffolk County Police Department for 25 years, Trotta pointed to County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) 28.8 percent pay increase to the police department as a prime example of the county’s “out-of-control” spending.

“We’re in debt, we have to cut spending,” he said. “I see the county budget as a pie. Cops came in and ate everything and left the crumbs for everybody else. Why would you give them a $400 million increase? It’s because they gave him $3 million to get elected.”

“I don’t want to see people struggling — I want this to be a prosperous place but it’s not a good situation we’re in.”

  Rob Trotta

Trotta overall outlined a grim portrait of the future of the county, especially for young people looking to stay and start families here.

“If it wasn’t for Manhattan, we’d be dead — we’d be finished,” the legislator said. “I want young people to be able to buy houses here but … a third of the people in their 20s are moving. People always say, ‘Oh the beaches.’ How many times in the last year were you at the beach? Apartment buildings popping up are a last resort.”

He also spoke out against the county’s Red Light Safety Program, which he has long advocated against, chalking the system of cameras at traffic signals to ticket cars that run red lights up to a “money grab” by the county against residents that’s only causing more damage along busy intersections.

The day before the debate Oct. 17, Trotta publicly called for an investigation into the county’s annual report of the program, accusing it of purposefully, and illegally, eliminating data on car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Cameras are at 100 locations and accidents are up at about 46 of them, some as much as 100 percent,” he said. “Now, if it’s about safety, wouldn’t you shut those cameras down immediately? It’s not about safety. It’s about money … it’s not a happy place to live.”

The legislature approved hiring an outside contractor to perform a six-month study of the county’s red-light camera program at its Oct. 2 meeting.

A scholarship has been launched to honor the memory of Northport resident Scott Martella who died in 2016. File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Smithtown family is hoping to honor the life of their son by providing others with an educational opportunity to follow in his footsteps.

Stacy and Stephen Martella announced the creation of the Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund in partnership with The United Way of Long Island in memory of their son, who was killed a year ago.

Scott Martella was a Smithtown student who worked with local politicians. File photo

Scott Martella, a Smithtown native and Northport resident, died in a three-car crash on the Long Island Expressway Aug. 21, 2016.

“Scott believed in the awesome power of public service,” his parents said in a statement. “We hope to keep his legacy alive by giving future leaders the same chance Scott had in pursuing a college education.”

The memorial fund aims to provide scholarships to low-income students who will be attending college and whose studies may include international or public relations.

In conjunction with the scholarship fund, Smithtown Central School District announced it will be creating a series of service learning projects for students that will run from October 2017 to May 2018. This will be done in partnership with the United Veterans Beacon House, a nonprofit partner agency of United Way, to work together on a host of activities such as painting, planting a garden, landscaping and more.

Scott Martella, who was 29 when he died, is widely remembered for his career in public service and his involvement in New York State government and politics. Martella got started when, at age 22, he became the youngest board of education member elected in Smithtown school district’s history in 2009.

From 2011 to 2015, Martella  served as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) Suffolk County representative before being promoted to Long Island regional representative. In June 2015, he started working as the director of communications for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“Scott believed in the awesome power of public service. We hope to keep his legacy alive by giving future leaders the same chance Scott had in pursuing a college education.”

— Stacy and Stephen Martella

“Scott was clearly one of the most engaging people that I’ve come across in government,” Bellone said in an interview. “Beyond the fact that he was smart, talented and hardworking, he had that something extra special that he was able to make that connection with people.”

In addition to the scholarship fund, Martella’s parents and Bellone hosted a Back-to-School Drive this month to provide supplies for underprivileged students. They said their goal was to prepare 5,000 backpacks for homeless or at-risk children.

“One of the last major events [Scott] did before he died was put together this Back-to-School Drive with Long Island Coalition for the Homeless,” Bellone said. “It’s obviously sad to think that he’s gone, but this was also a way to carry on his legacy of public service, a very appropriate way to carry on his legacy of public service.”

Charitable contributions to The Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund can be made online at www.scottmartella.com or www.unitedwayli.org/ScottMartellaMemorialScholarshipFund.

All donations made by check should be written out to include The Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund on the envelope as well as the memo section. Checks should be made payable to United Way of Long Island, 819 Grand Blvd., Deer Park, NY 11729.

Some debris dumped at the Town of Brookhaven’s Tanglewood Park in Coram. Photo from Legislator Anker’s office

The penalty for illegally dumping on county-owned properties may soon include jail time in Suffolk County, after legislators unanimously approved on March 28 both increased fines and the potential of up to one year’s imprisonment for anyone convicted. The bill, sponsored by Legislators Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his signature within the next 30 days. 

A no dumping sign along North Country Road in Shoreham. File photo

Once implemented, maximum fines for illegal dumping of nonconstruction, demolition and hazardous material wastes by a business or corporation will increase to $15,000 from the previous fine of $5,000. The penalty for dumping nonconstruction materials by an individual will remain at $1,000. If an individual is found dumping construction or demolition material, the misdemeanor fine will increase to $10,000 for an individual and $15,000 for a corporation or business. Under the change, both an individual and someone convicted of dumping material on behalf of a commercial entity may be sentenced up to one year in jail. Imposition of the ultimate fine or criminal sentence is within the sentencing court’s discretion.

“For far too long, fines associated with illegal dumping were considered just the cost of doing business,” said Hahn, chairwoman both of the Legislature’s Parks & Recreation and Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committees. “For those who choose to pursue greed over the health of the public and our environment, your cost of business has just gotten a lot more expensive. The one-two combination of increased monetary penalties and potential jail time will hopefully give pause to any person or commercial entity that believes these significant fines and the potential loss of freedom is a cost effective business strategy.”

Illegal dumping on Long Island has emerged as a serious environmental issue and threat to public health following the discoveries of potentially toxic debris within the Town of Islip’s Roberto Clemente Park, Suffolk County’s West Hills County Park and a housing development for military veterans in Islandia. In February, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation issued approximately 200 tickets for unlawful disposal, operating without a permit and other violations during stings conducted on Long Island and the Hudson Valley that also identified nine dumping sites upstate. 

“Illegal dumping of hazardous materials and construction waste on county property causes harmful chemicals to seep into our water.”

—Sarah Anker

“For decades, Suffolk County has worked tirelessly to preserve land in order to protect our environment and groundwater,” Anker said. “Illegal dumping of hazardous materials and construction waste on county property causes harmful chemicals to seep into our water, which negatively affects our health. It is important we do everything in our power to continue to protect our parklands and to ensure that illegal dumping does not occur. By doing so, we are not only preserving the environmental integrity of Suffolk County, but improving the quality of life for all residents.”

Trotta called the dumping a crime against the residents of Suffolk County.

“I want to make it unprofitable for contractors to dump this material,” he said, “and more importantly, I want them going to jail for this.”

Browning added that the parks are vital assets for Suffolk County residents, and one of the core recreational resources available to them. She doesn’t like seeing the destruction of quality of life. Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) agrees, saying it’s an important step to protecting parks, while giving teeth to all legislation recently passed on this quality of life issue.

“I applaud legislator Hahn for her hard work toward preventing this serious problem,” Browning said. “Aggressively attacking illegal dumping head on will ensure the sustainability of our parks and preserve one of the many reasons Suffolk County continues to be a great place to live.”

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