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Suffolk County Legislature

Suffolk County legislators approved a $3.2 billion budget for 2020 Nov. 6. TBR News Media file photo

In a 16-2 bi-partisan vote, Suffolk County legislators approved a $3.2 billion budget for 2020 during a special meeting this past Wednesday, Nov. 6.  

Highlights of the budget include $640,000 for contract agencies, additional positions in the Sheriff’s Office, restoration of funding to the Legal Aid Society and $500,000 for implementation of the school bus camera program. 

The property tax level for the Southwest Sewer District has been decreased, restoring it to the 2019 level. Cash reserves were increased by $2 million for settlements to reduce the need to borrow to cover liability expenses, reduced reduced sales tax revenue in the general fund by $1.7 million over two years and included repayment of funds borrowed from the Assessment Stabilization Reserve fund. 

The additions were offset by an anticipated $2.5 million in fine revenue from the school bus camera program, reducing repayment of the Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund from $12 million in the recommended 2020 budget by $2.6 million, and reducing the uncollected property tax contingency line by $1.6 million. 

 

People go to vote at the Albert G. Prodell Middle School in Shoreham. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Executive:

(WINNER) Steve Bellone (D) – 55.42% – 148,043 votes

John M. Kennedy Jr. (R) – 43.38% – 115,867 votes 

Gregory Fisher (L) – 1.18% – 3,147 votes 

 

Brookhaven Town Supervisor: 

(WINNER) Ed Romaine (R) – 61.52% – 51,155 votes 

Will Ferraro (D) – 37.42% – 31.113 votes 

Junie Legister (L) – 1.04% – 865 votes 

 

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent: 

(WINNER) Dan Losquadro (R) – 58.47% – 48, 624 votes 

Anthony Portesy (D) – 41.51% – 34,514 votes 

 

Brookhaven town council member, 1st District: 

(WINNER) Valerie Catright (D) – 57.36% – 8,647 votes 

Tracy Kosciuk (R) – 42.59% – 6,421 votes 

 

Brookhaven town council member, 2nd District: 

(WINNER) Jane Bonner (C) – 61.97% – 10,028 votes 

Sarah Deonarine (D) – 37.99% – 6,147 votes 

 

Brookhaven town council member, 3rd District:

(WINNER) Kevin LaValle (R) – 65.12% – 8,228 votes 

Talat Hamandi (D) – 34.85% – 4,404 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 6th District: 

(WINNER) Sarah Anker (D) – 54.32% – 9,715 votes 

Gary Pollakusky (R) – 41.05% – 7,342 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 5th District: 

(WINNER) Kara Hahn (D) – 63.1% – 9,763 votes 

John McCormack (R) – 36.88% – 5,706 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 4th District: 

(WINNER) Thomas Muratore (R) – 58.97% – 7,275 votes 

David T. Bligh (D) – 39.23% – 4,839 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 16th District

(WINNER) Susan Berland (D) – 53.89% – 6,501 votes 

Hector Gavilla (R) – 46.08% – 5,559 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 13th District: 

(WINNER) Rob Trotta (R) – 61.99% – 10,385 votes 

Janet Singer (D) – 38.01% – 6,367 votes

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 18th District:

(WINNER) William “Doc” Spencer (D) – 61.47% – 11,998 votes 

Garrett Chelius (R) – 33.81% – 6,599 votes 

Daniel West (C) – 4.71% – 919 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 15th District:

(WINNER) DuWayne Gregory (D) – 72.15% – 7,037 votes

Chrisopher G. Connors (R) – 27.68% – 2,700 votes 

 

Huntington town council member – two seats:

(WINNER) Joan Cergol (D) – 26% – 20,882 votes 

(WINNER) Eugene Cook (R) – 24.81%- 19,931 votes 

Andre Sorrentino Jr. (R) – 24.07% – 19,336 votes 

Kathleen Clearly (D) – 23.38% – 18,777 votes 

 

Huntington Town Clerk: 

(WINNER) Andrew Raia (R) – 57.71% – 23,804 votes 

Simon Saks (D) – 42.28% – 17,441 votes 

 

Smithtown town council member – two seats: 

(WINNER) Thomas Lohmann (R) – 32.35% – 14,076 votes

(WINNER) Lisa Inzerillo (R) – 32% – 13,925 votes 

Richard S Macellaro (D) – 17.36% – 7,556 votes

Richard Guttman (D) – 17.32% – 7,535 votes 

 

 

 

Steve Bellone (D) and fellow Democrats celebrate keeping the county executive position. Photo by David Luces

In the most profiled race of the year for Suffolk County Executive, Democrat Steve Bellone won handily over his challenger, County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) with 55 percent to Kennedy’s 43 percent. Libertarian candidate Greg Fischer gained just 1 percent of the overall vote.

John Kennedy Jr. (R) the night of Nov. 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

Bellone was greeted by enthusiastic cheers at IBEW.

“It turns out that the voters have decided that there is more work for us to do here,” he said. “This will be my third and final term as County Executive, I don’t know what the future holds but it entirely possible that this could be my final race for public office… If that is the case I must give one final thank you to the person who has been with me for every race that I have won.”

He also thanked his opponents John Kennedy and Greg Fischer.

“I look forward to working together to build a better future for Suffolk County.”

Kennedy blamed the incumbent’s near $2 million war chest for the loss, along with negative campaign ads he said targeted not only him, but his wife and children.

He promised he would continue to be a financial watchdog for the county, saying he thinks the county will entire a financial death spiral it may not be able to pull out of.

“The good news is, I get to keep doing the job I love, being comptroller,” he said. “There’s no lack of fraud waste and abuse in Suffolk County, which we demonstrated the past five years.”

After a heated campaign season, and while the vote seemed to be close as they were tallied, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) defeated her Republican opponent Gary Pollakusky 54 to 41 percent. Libertarian candidate James Kevin, who was not available for comment, gained nearly 5 percent of the vote.

When brought up on stage, Schaffer called her “landslide Anker.”

The 5th time legislator said it was her strong base and work of her campaign that helped pull her through. She added there are numerous projects she hopes to work on in the coming years.

“We have so many projects in the works … We have the Rails to Trails, the park in Middle Island, continue working with the opioid advisory panel,” she said. “There is so much work to do.

I really want to focus on mental health/addiction treatment, tackle the financial issues with the county, be proactive with supporting local business and those mom and pop shops.”

Pollakusky remained gracious after his loss, saying, “I hope Sarah serves her constituents well for our legislative district.” He added he will continue to be active in the community by leading the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce and serving on the board of the Rocky Point Civic Association.

Susan Berland takes a photo with staff and supporters Nov. 5. Photo by Rita. J. Egan

In the Port Jefferson-Setauket area Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) won overwhelmingly against her Republican opponent John McCormack 63 to 37 percent.

Kara Hahn said she is looking forward to continuing working on several projects including protection of the environment, public safety and the opioid epidemic.

“Those numbers have to come down to zero,” she said. “We cannot accept more opioid deaths. The numbers have fallen a little bit, but we have to continue to work on that. We cannot be losing our children. It’s senseless. It’s preventable. We have to be sure we do what we can on that.”

McCormack was not available to comment.

Thomas Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) easily won over Democratic challenger David Bligh in the fight for the 4th district with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He thanked his wife and staff and said they would move on “stronger.”

While Bligh lost to Muratore for Suffolk County Legislator in the 4th district, he said he plans to stay in the political arena and to run again.

“Tom’s term limited after this year so there’s going to be an open seat in two years,” he said.

Bligh, an environmental engineer, said he has a long list of quality of life issues that he wants to address, including affordability and water quality issues.

Garcia announced Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) 62 percent victory against Democrat Janet Singer, by mentioning Trotta’s propensity to stir the pot. Ever the firebrand, the Fort Salonga resident did not disappoint, getting to the mike and calling the Conservative party “corrupt,” adding “this is about honesty and integrity, and that party is clearly lacking.”

When asked to expand on that, Trotta said, “The entire Conservative party is corrupt, period.”

Singer said she was disappointed as she felt she would be a great legislator but enjoyed campaigning where she learned a lot.

She said before this election cycle she felt Rob Trotta didn’t pay attention to water quality issues. She feels it’s a non-issue for him and that suddenly it’s a “hot topic.” She was surprised water quality was included at the bottom of his campaign ad.

“I don’t really care what party you’re in, water needs protection, and it’s going to need money,” she said. “And he doesn’t want to vote for any expenditures, and we can’t do that.”

Rob Trotta the night of Nov. 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though her husband did not win over the majority of county voters, Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) still beat her opponent, Democrat Margot Rosenthal, 65 to 35 percent. She said, “We could not have done it without every single one of you,” adding, “while we didn’t get everything we wanted this time, we’ll get it next time.”

For the 16th District, Susan Berland (D-Commack) won out against several-time Republican challenger Hector Gavilla. The race became extremely heated towards the end, with allegations that Gavilla intimidated Berland at a local meet the candidates. Gavilla, on his part, claims Berland’s husband nearly assaulted him.

Schaffer spoke on the incident.

“If you wanted to see probably one of the most despicable races in Suffolk County, was the race that took place in the 16 LD,” Schaffer said. “Let me tell you something, it’s a shame when you happen to have a candidate, a legislator who has been in office for almost 20 years, tell you she’s frightened by her opponent.”

Susan Berland thanked her supporters, staff and volunteers.

“I’m grateful to the residents of the 16th district who have confidence in me to represent them for the next two years.”

William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) easily conquered the vote against Republican challenger Garrett Chelius with 11,998 votes to Chelius’ 6,599.

Chelius was brought up on stage for consolation, and Garcia lauded them for their work in campaigning.

Spencer spoke of his ideas and projects going forward.

“I’m looking towards the future — I want to still focus on our environment, our kids, the vaping/opioid epidemic,” he said. “I think there is a lot of work to be done there. Also, I want to finish some infrastructure projects like the sewers in Huntington Station.”

The lone upset of the night, Republican challenger Anthony Piccirillo won with barely a 1 percent margin against William Lindsay (D-Holbrook). The Democrats have asked for a recount, but if Piccirillo succeeds it would mean the Democrats 11-7 hold on the legislature would become a 10-8, just as partisan divide between officials seems at a near peak. Last year, Republicans and Democrats butted heads over lump bonding issues, with Republicans using their slim minority to block bonds they called were being pushed through by Democrats.

David Luces, Rita J. Egan, Leah Chiappino and Donna Deedy all contributed reporting.

Trotta and Singer review the Ccounty's issues during a recent debate.

The Times of Smithtown circulation area includes two Suffolk County legislative districts: 12 and 13. The 12th District encompasses Nesconset and Lake Grove and extends west through portions of St. James into Commack. The 13th District extends from Fort Salonga east to St. James. 

Currently, two Republicans represent the areas, Leslie Kennedy and Robert Trotta, respectively. Overall, the Democrats with an 11-7 ratio, have a majority rule in the county, as it has for the last 13 years. Republicans held the majority for 33 years prior to that. 

Many analysts say that this year’s election could potentially see a shift in power or perhaps tie the representation. So a lot is at stake.

District 13: Parts of Smithtown and St. James, Fort Salonga, San Remo, Kings Park, Nissequogue, Head of the Harbor, Commack and East Northport 

By Leah Chiappino

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R) is running for reelection. He has represented Suffolk’s 13th District since 2013. Jan Singer (D), a retired matrimonial lawyer, is challenging him for the seat in this year’s election. 

Trotta, a former Suffolk County police officer for 25 years and FBI agent for 10 years, said his priorities include addressing high taxes, wasteful spending and weeding out county corruption. 

Serving under a corrupt police chief, he said, prompted him to run for office six years ago. “I knew how corrupt the county was and I knew if I didn’t leave, I would get arrested, get in trouble, or die,” he said. “Of the three of us that were on the FBI task force, one is dead, one got arrested and I became a legislator.”

Personally, Trotta said that he has refused any campaign contributions from any person or organization that does business with the county. He supports legislation that would prevent lawmakers from voting on union contracts, if the union has contributed to a legislator’s campaign. Overall, these practices, he expects, would save money and prevent conflicts of interest. 

“Everything comes from wasteful spending and corrupt politicians taking too much money,” he said.

 Singer said her leadership experience will help to make needed changes for Suffolk. She operated a private law practice for over 30 years before retiring in 2012.  She’s organized phone banks for Perry Gershon (D) and Hillary Clinton (D), served as president of her homeowner association, and sat on the board of the Suffolk County Girl Scouts and the Smithtown Democratic Committee. If elected, Singer’s priorities include addressing Suffolk County’s water quality issues. 

 “If we don’t have quality water, free of nitrogen, 1-4-dioxane, and chemical pollution, we can’t have anything,” she said. “We can’t have the economic development which is so necessary to making Suffolk County thrive, because businesses will not open and people will not buy homes.”

To address water quality, Trotta supports reallocating the county’s one-quarter percent (0.25) sales tax income for its Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program, so more general fund money is dedicated to protecting the county’s water. 

Singer’s position to address climate change includes support for renewable energy initiatives such as wind turbines and solar energy and an increase in public transportation.

A major concern for both candidates is the county’s budget problems. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) monitors fiscal stress for the state’s municipalities.  Suffolk County, according to the latest report, tops the list as the worst fiscal condition out of all counties. 

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing the debt we are putting on our children,” Trotta said.

He blames the county budget troubles on overspending. Government contracting, he said, should be more deeply scrutinized. Personnel costs and expenses, such as police overtime, large pensions and pay increases need to be reined in. As a former police officer, he says he understands the vital work the police do. 

“I’m not saying they don’t deserve their money, but they don’t deserve to bankrupt the country and make it unaffordable for people to live here,” he said. 

Singer takes a different stance.

“The police are the ones that run into danger when I run away,” she said. “They are the ones dealing with the opioid crisis and MS-13. If you go to doors, I have not heard people screaming about overtime and excess pay for the police. They want them there.”

To address the issue, Trotta prefers raising revenue through taxes, instead of hitting people with expenses such as mortgage filing fees, which recently jumped from $65 to $600. The fee is paid not only when people buy a home but also when they refinance their mortgage.

Singer is not for eliminating these fees.

“I’m not debating whether or not some of the fees such as the mortgage recording fees are too high, but I don’t disagree with the principle of having it because the alternative is to either discontinue the service, run the service at a reduced level, or raise taxes,” she said. 

Both candidates see the opioid crisis as a critical issue. Singer proposes expanding education prevention services and supports an effort to expand medically assisted therapy and rehab programs in prisons. Any settlement funds that the county receives from its lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, Singer said, should be used for treatment and education. 

Trotta says the county “cannot arrest its way out” of the problem, noting that many people addicted to opioids also suffer from mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. He supports “treatment and a variety of different methods” to curb the issue.  

With regard to the red-light camera ticketing program, Trotta calls it a money grab that causes more accidents than it prevents. He thinks it should be eliminated. 

A study conducted by Brookhaven-based L.K. McLean Associates and released earlier this year, stated that accidents were up 60 percent since the program’s implementation, though accidents involving injuries went down by 11 percent.

“If someone runs a red light and it’s dangerous, they should get a ticket period,” Trotta said. “Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening here.”

Singer supports continuing the program.

“It is about safety,” she said. “The vehicle and traffic law says you can’t run that red light.

Singer and Trotta both support the revitalization of Kings Park, and both agree that the community should retain its small-town feel. 

Kara Hahn in 2017 Photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is seeking re-election for her fifth two-year term Nov. 5. Her Republican challenger, John McCormack, of Port Jefferson, is not actively campaigning and was not available for a debate with Hahn at the TBR News Media offices. Therefore, the legislator answered a few questions during a phone interview.

County finances

After receiving the county’s Office of Budget Review’s recent report, she said that even though there are still stresses on the budget, Suffolk is in a better place than it has been in past years.

The legislator said the proposed 2020 operating budget has no new fees and there is no pension amortization for the second straight year. The budget came in $4.8 million under the property tax cap.

“Of course, we’re overly reliant on the sales tax revenue and that was so low for so long, and we’re coming out of that,” she said. “When you are reliant on taxpayer dollars, you always feel pressured to be as tight as you can be, and you want to cut costs at every corner and, of course, we’re doing that.”

Hahn said she is aware that due to the county being reliant on sales tax, from which Suffolk receives approximately $1.6 billion, if a recession hits the county is not properly prepared.

She said a slight increase of the 3 percent hotel/motel tax, which is one of the lowest in the country, would help the budget and at the same time not deter anyone from visiting the area.

When it comes to stimulating the economy, she said it’s important to stay vigilant in the collection of sales tax. It was also helpful that the state allowed Suffolk to collect internet sales tax in 2019, she said, which generated about $10 million additional sales revenue this year and is expected to be $20 million in 2020. She said Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation, which oversees Jake’s 58 casino in Islandia, paid off its debt, and its revenue will contribute $25 million to the county budget in 2020.

“We’ve been getting some good revenue sources that have helped to take the pressure off and that’s important,” Hahn said.

Low-nitrogen septic systems

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, has supported the rollout of new low-nitrogen septic systems in the county. The wastewater nitrogen content has a mandated maximum of 19 milligrams per liter.

“This is a long-term, multidecade effort as 360,000 residences are unsewered,” she said. “These homes have to either become sewered or get a new innovative on-site alternate wastewater system. That cannot happen in one year. That cannot happen in 10 years.”

She said to help with the rollout the county has created priority zones, including the Town of Brookhaven’s initiative where new construction within 500 feet of a waterway is required to install the systems. Grants, on both the county and state levels, have been made available for homeowners who choose to replace their cesspools with the new system.

She said it took years for the county’s health department to work on establishing the program to ensure the new systems would work as promised, adding the process for the program also included working with health and science experts along with those who work in the industry. She said she is proud of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for sticking with the implementation despite the amount of time spent on the issue.

“He stepped up, and it’s happening,” she said. “It might be slow for people who are used to instant gratification but I’m shocked that we’re here where systems are being installed and people are beginning to recognize it, and we’re going to be seeing improvements in water quality because of it.”

Environment

When it comes to the 5-cent minimum fee for plastic bags in stores, Hahn said the program has been successful, with a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of the bags. She also sponsored a bill to create a plastic straw ban in restaurants that will take effect in January.

In addition to continuing work on the county’s Blueway Trail, which will create a water path for recreational boating opportunities along Suffolk rivers, lakes, canals and coastlines, she hopes to establish Blue Flag beaches in the county, which will be the first in the United States. The standard was created in Europe, where a beach that flies the Blue Flag has a higher standard when it comes to water quality.

Opioids

Hahn in 2012 sponsored legislation to provide Narcan in police cars. The last two years she has worked with Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence and Stony Brook University to create training for athletic coaches in county middle, junior and high schools to teach them about the signs and symptoms of all forms of addiction. Hahn said she hopes to expand the program to athletic leagues outside of schools and even make it available to dance instructors, music teachers and Scout leaders.

“So that they’re trained to know how to deal with things when they hear it or see it, and know how to help fight and how to prevent — really the key is to prevent addiction,” she said.

Margot Rosenthal (D) is challenging incumbent Leslie Kennedy (R) for County District 12. (photo right to left)

The Times of Smithtown circulation area includes two Suffolk County legislative districts: 12 and 13. The 12th District encompasses Nesconset and Lake Grove and extends west through portions of St. James into Commack. The 13th District extends from Fort Salonga east to St. James. 

Currently, two Republicans represent the areas, Leslie Kennedy and Robert Trotta, respectively. Overall, the Democrats with an 11-7 ratio, have a majority rule in the county, as it has for the last 13 years. Republicans held the majority for 33 years prior to that. 

Many analysts say that this year’s election could potentially see a shift in power or perhaps tie the representation. So a lot is at stake.

District 12: Parts of Smithtown, Nesconset, Hauppauge, Village of the Branch, Lake Grove, parts of St. James, Commack, Lake Ronkonkoma and Centereach

Smithtown resident Margot Rosenthal, a nurse-practitioner, midwife and a Smithtown Democratic Committee person is challenging incumbent candidate Leslie Kennedy.  Rosenthal did not attend the debate hosted by TBR News Media. According to her online profile, she seeks to address health care, housing, education, environmental causes and improve access to mental health care.  She is committed to combating the opioid crisis and teen vaping. She has worked for 39 years with underprivileged patients. 

Kennedy, a Nesconset resident, has worked for 13 years as a legislative aide to both Donald Blydenburgh and her husband John Kennedy. She was elected to her seat in 2015, when her husband became the county’s comptroller. 

In a one-on-one interview, Kennedy said that she loves government and policymaking but hates politics.  Her background in the medical field, she said, provides the county with useful insights that contribute to the county’s response to the opioid epidemic.  She is opposed to the county’s current cesspool/septic system replacement initiative to reduce nitrogen. The systems, she said, are ineffective.  Peter Scully, Suffolk County deputy executive, who is addressing the county’s water quality issues, said that nothing can be further from the truth. 

Kennedy opposes the red-light camera bill, stating that it mainly targets and enforces questionable violations of right turns on red.  The affordable housing issue, she said, is one of her top concerns. 

Some of her proudest accomplishments include the preservation of the Nissequoque River’s headwaters.

Suffolk County legislators approved a $3.2 billion budget for 2020 Nov. 6. TBR News Media file photo

County residents got a glimpse of the county’s budget process as the operating budget working group held its first public meeting Oct. 17 when the 2019-20 recommended operating budget was discussed.  

The county operating budget funds employee payroll costs, county departments and a variety of other expenditures. The status of the budget has been in the spotlight since the New York State comptroller, Tom DiNapoli (D), said Suffolk was under “significant fiscal stress” — with Nassau — for the second year in a row. In 2018, Suffolk had an operating deficit of about $26.5 million and a general fund balance deficit of $285 million. 

The topic has been an important issue in the county executive race. The current incumbent, Steve Bellone (D), has stated that during his tenure he has worked to bring the county spending and finances back in check. John Kennedy Jr., the county comptroller and Republican challenger for executive, has stated that the county is in a “fiscal crisis.”

Here is what legislators discussed at the meeting. The proposed operating budget for 2019-20 will be $3.2 billion, an increase from last year’s $3.1 billion budget. 

The recommended budget would look to increase property taxes by $14.66 million (2.14 percent), according to the report. The increase is comprised of a rise in police district property taxes of $16.56 million (2.8 percent). 

The police district will face an $11.3 million deficit by the end of 2019. It is the fourth year in a row that the district will have a deficit. Overtime for the police department in 2019 is estimated at $30.9 million. 

In addition, the county’s general fund, despite seeing an increase of $318 million in revenue from 2015 to 2019, is projected to experience its fifth consecutive deficit in 2019. Combined with the police district, the county may face an operating deficit of some $20 million. 

Sales tax revenue is projected to increase an additional $48.5 million from 2019-20 or about 4.5 percent.  

Another area of concern is the county payroll. It has increased by $315 million in the last seven years, despite the workforce being reduced by 1,250 positions. From the start of 2019 through Sept. 8, the number of active county employees on the payroll declined by approximately 150, according to the report. The recommended expenditures for employee health care in 2020 is projected to increase by approximately by $22.2 million. 

The Budget Review Office also raised concerns in the report that property taxes in the Southwest Sewer District, which covers parts of Babylon and Islip, would decrease by $2.14 million. This could lead to less funds available for sewer projects and potentially increase borrowing. 

In terms of other revenue, the county is projected to see an increase in funds from video lottery terminals at Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel in Islandia. The revenue brought in will increase to $25 million in 2020 compared to $2.9 million in 2018 and $3.3 million in 2019. 

For homeowners, the proposed county property tax will yield an estimated average tax bill of $1,207, an increase of $25. Average taxes per homeowners will increase by $32 in five western towns, including Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington, and decrease by $2 in the county’s five eastern towns. 

 

Legislator Sarah Anker and challenger Gary Pollakusky during a debate at the Sound Beach Firehouse. Photo by David Luces

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Gary Pollakusky, the challenger, dueled at a meet the candidates night hosted by the Sound Beach Civic Association Oct. 14. Anker has served as the Suffolk County 6th District legislator for the past eight years and is seeking another two-year term. Pollakusky is looking to unseat the incumbent after an unsuccessful run for the same position in 2017. 

Here are some of the topics the candidates discussed. 

Suffolk’s fiscal situation

Pollakusky criticized how the county handles its finances. He said there have been seven bond downgrades since 2012 and the structural deficit is between $85 and $150 million. 

“We have raised taxes and fees by $200 million in the last eight years; we are not doing the right thing by our residents,” he said.  

Anker disagreed saying that the county has never had a junk bond status.

“We’ve never been there,” she said, adding the county has a AAA bond rating in long-term debt services.

“When I took office in 2011, there was a $500 million deficit, we changed that,” the legislator said. “We are anywhere near $50 to $60 million. We are cleaning up the house, we really are.”

The incumbent also said the county has since streamlined services, combined departments and reduced staff. 

Heroin/opioid epidemic  

Both candidates agreed that the opioid epidemic is still an ongoing problem on Long Island. 

Pollakusky said there are three ways to address the epidemic. He would look into finding prevention programs for schools whether they be assembly or curriculum based.  

The challenger touched on law enforcement. 

“Our law enforcement is so important to the process of fighting this opioid epidemic. We have hundreds of drug dealing homes along the North Shore,” he said. “These are consistent offenders, we don’t have enough boots on the ground, law enforcement is thinned staffed and that’s because our county is fiscally irresponsible.”

Pollakusky criticized Anker for voting to close the Foley center, a nursing and rehabilitation facility, saying treatment programs are few and far between. 

Anker defended her choice on the Foley center stating that it was losing $10 million a year, so the county executive thought it best to sell it. 

She spoke about her work as the chair of the Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel including beginning to institute Narcan workshops in the fight against opioids. 

“We are getting a lot done, we are cross communicating, networking, we are finding where the system is failing us,” she said. 

The incumbent brought up education as a key component.  

“We have to get to these kids when they are young, not to scare them, but to begin education in elementary and increase it into middle and high school,” she said.  

Red-light camera program/road safety

Anker said the red-light cameras are meant to protect residents and get drivers to stop and prevent accidents.  

She mentioned fatal accidents have decreased by 11 percent, but there was an increase in rear-end crashes that she considered unacceptable. She said she is frustrated with the program as it is not working as it should be. 

“The report I had commissioned failed to look into distracted driving,” she said. “I need to know if it’s a red light or [someone] being distracted. I’ve heard from law enforcement that its mostly distracted driving.” 

She also said there needs to be more educational driving programs for teens and adults. 

Pollakusky said if elected he would terminate the red-light program. 

“It has been a money grab for our county for some time, and they have just voted to extend this for another five years,” he said. 

The challenger called out Anker for commissioning another report on the program that cost taxpayers $250,000. 

He stated the report shows that accidents increased at intersections with red-light cameras and argued that yellow lights change quicker to red merely for profit.  

Development/infrastructure/housing

Anker said she would focus on creating a type of smart growth development where housing is built in one area so work can be done on the surrounding infrastructure.

She likened it to the Ronkonkoma hub development. The incumbent also proposed creating an eco-tourism hub located on the north end of the William Floyd Parkway, which would  support local businesses.  

“Tourism dollars have brought in $4 billion to Long Island,” she said. 

For housing, Anker would propose creating a millennial housing project similar to planned retirement communities that would be located near college campuses and transportation. She also mentioned the ongoing revitalization of downtown Rocky Point. 

Pollakusky said he is less concerned with development, as they are seeing seniors and college graduates leave the area and more empty business fronts in the area. 

“The problem is people are leaving because of taxes,” he said. “Expand the tax base, lower the residential tax burden by supporting businesses.”

The challenger said local businesses are important to the fabric of the community.   

“We need to inspire commerce and economic development,” he said.  

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Mayor Margot Garant speaks of new parking lot at press conference Oct. 10.

Funds are coming from both town and county for the construction of a new parking lot in Port Jeff, yet still the price tag could be high.

At its Oct. 2 meeting, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to grant Port Jefferson $200,000 in a jumpstart grant for the creation of a new parking lot on Barnum Avenue. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) joined village officials Oct. 10 to announce the new funds.

“This is a village that for some time has been leading in innovation and creativity and we’ve been there to support it,” Bellone said. “What this really is about is how do we continue to grow in a sustainable way.”

The new parking lot at Barnum Ave. is expected to have 44 new spots. Photo by Kyle Barr

The new parking lot will be located on Barnum Avenue at the intersection between it and Caroline Avenue. The site is expected to include 44 new stalls, two of which are planned to be charging stations for electric vehicles, which would be a first for Port Jeff village.

“Importantly, this lot is very close to the newly renovated Rocketship Park, which brings down thousands on a daily basis,” Mayor Margot Garant said.

The site will have ingress and egress onto Caroline Avenue in two separate spots and will border the Joe Erland baseball field on its southwestern end. The 32,000-square-foot lot will also include two bioswales bordering the foot entrance onto Barnum Avenue to aid in flood mitigation. The bioswales will look like two dips in the ground with plantings overlaying them.

Nicole Christian, the Port Jeff grant writer, said the fact the project includes these green initiatives was one of the main reasons they got the grant.

Costs for the Barnum lot could cost approximately $900,000, the mayor said. The village will use its own funds to construct the lot, and the grant will reimburse the village up to the set amount.

“Because we need to do prevailing wage, it doubles the cost,” Garant said. “There’s no way around that.”

Other than the recently finished Texaco parking lot in Upper Port, this would be the first new piece of downtown parking infrastructure in more than a decade.

Parking has been an issue in Port Jeff for years. Several years ago, in 2015, the Town of Brookhaven had sold property to a local developer for retail and apartment space. However,  because of a lack of parking for the structure, the town was all set to go forward on an agreement to grant around 30 parking spots from the town’s marina municipal lot near the harbor to the village, which had planned to reconstruct it with more plant fixings and solid boundaries. However, after a disagreement between officials and a resident in Port Jeff, a letter sent to the New York State attorney general by the Brookhaven town attorney provoked a response in December 2017 saying the land was parkland, though purposed for marina parking, and it would require consent from the New York State Legislature.

In the years following, officials tried to hash out some kind of agreement that would grant payment in lieu of parking (PILOP) for those 30 spots. Brian Egan, the village attorney, said talks became mired, with it finally requiring the village to put out a notice of claim before the town agreed to grant the PILOP. However, as another wrinkle to the issue, due to outflow of sediment from Mill Creek into Port Jefferson Harbor, which the town said the village was responsible for paying for dredging, the town only agreed to pay after subtracting the cost of dredging.

Finally, at the village’s Oct. 7 meeting, officials voted to accept a check for $125,800, an amount which subtracts the cost of dredging the outflow from the creek of $34,600.

Although the mayor said the money is nice, parking is much more expensive to build than the money they are granted from the town, and she would have rather had the marina spaces.

“That plus the jumpstart money, that’s half the Barnum lot,” she said.

The lot is expected to go out to bid within the next several months, with full construction to start no later than early spring, according to Garant.

A map showing where the SCWA expects to put the treatment systems, should they be approved. Images from SCWA

In an effort to eliminate 1,4-dioxane in county drinking water, Suffolk County Water Authority has proposed installing additional treatment systems at sites throughout the county, though costs could be high if plans see the light of day.  

An image of the proposed treatment system. Image from SCWA

In a presentation to Suffolk County legislators, SWCA proposed installing 31 new advanced treatment systems at a number of sites where the levels of 1,4-dioxane are higher than the New York State proposed limit, which is 1 part per billion.

Jeffrey Szabo, SCWA chief executive officer, said the authority is continuing to develop technology that will eliminate toxic chemicals such as 1,4-dioxane. 

“We have been working with the health department on our AOP (advanced oxidation process) systems and the results have been successful,” Szabo said. 

A concern of 1,4-dioxane is that it can’t be removed through conventional treatment methods and involves a complex process of mixing the contaminated water with hydrogen peroxide, treated with ultraviolet light, which then gets sent to tanks filled with carbon where the rest of contaminants are filtered out. The hamlet of Central Islip currently has the sole advanced oxidation process system capable of removing 1,4-dioxane on Long Island. 

The authority says that its systems can destroy 1,4-dioxane molecules to virtually undetectable levels. Szabo said there are close to 100 wells in Suffolk County that need to be treated for the toxin. 

The proposed plan could take five to six years to install all 31 treatment systems, according to the authority’s chief executive officer and it would cost between $1.5 and $6 million in capital costs alone for each system. 

“We are trying to get this done as quickly as possible, there are things still up in the air,” Szabo said. 

The authority is waiting on the state Department of Health to adopt an official maximum contaminant level (MCL) standard. According to officials, they expect to get confirmation sometime in early 2020. 

Szabo stressed that the authority and other water providers will need time to adjust to the new standards as well as to implement the new systems. 

“This will take time, each system has to get approved by the department of health before it can be installed,” Szabo said. 

In the case of the AOP pilot system in Central Islip, officials said it took over two years to get approval from the Department of Health. 

“We want to reassure the public that we are doing everything we can,” Szabo said. 

1,4-Dioxane has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen associated with liver and kidney damage after a lifetime of exposure to contaminated drinking water. The chemical has been found in industrial solvents, detergents, shampoos and other products. 

In July, the state health department began the process of adopting the MCL of 1 part per billion. The department would become the first in the country to set a limit on 1,4-dioxane. Similarly, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has planned to offer $350 million in grants for treatment. 

At a forum in February, the Long Island Water Conference estimated the cost of treatment systems for close to 200 water wells contaminated by 1,4-dioxane to be at $840 million. 

The authority said it is hopeful it can begin to implement the plan sometime in 2020. In addition, two additional AOP systems are currently in development for pump stations in East Farmingdale and Huntington.