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Suffolk County Legislature

By Peggy Olness

In 1968, the citizens of Suffolk County voted to adopt an amendment to the Suffolk County Charter that replaced the Suffolk County board of 10 town supervisors with elected legislators from the 18 legislative districts designated in the amendment. Among the major duties given to the Suffolk County Legislature was the duty of reviewing, amending and approving the annual budgets needed to allow Suffolk County to function.

A budget is a plan that looks at the revenue expected for the fiscal year and the best way to spend to provide the needed services during that fiscal year. The Suffolk County fiscal year runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of each calendar year. During each year the legislature must review, amend and adopt three budgets to allow the county to function during the next fiscal year. These budgets are:

•The capital budget covers major construction expenditures such as road and bridge repair and construction, most of which extend for periods of more than one year. The capital budget is reviewed during the spring and usually approved by May.

•The operating budget funds the day-to-day operations of the county departments and agencies and is reviewed in the fall and usually approved in November so that spending can begin Jan. 1 of the next fiscal year.

•The community college budget funds the county’s community college system and is reviewed during the summer and usually approved before the start of the community college fall semester. The college budget covers a period coinciding with the school year.

The operating budget generally receives most of the attention because it has the largest impact on our day-to-day lives and the services citizens receive. The operating budget process begins in the spring when the county executive tells the county departments and agencies what he expects the county financial situation will be in the next fiscal year and requests each department/agency head to submit a budget request for the coming fiscal year based on those expectations. 

The county executive’s budget staff reviews the requests and works with the departments/agencies to produce a budget with which the county executive’s office is comfortable. This budget request is then sent to the county legislature. Each legislator receives a copy, and the legislature’s Budget Review Office begins work on the review and evaluation of the facts and figures in the county executive’s budget request so that it can advise the legislators on any concerns or problems that may occur.

Suffolk County relies on sources of revenue to fund the county budget that are problematic. While the federal government and the states can tax incomes, the county is limited to sales taxes, property taxes and various fees such as the motor vehicle surcharge and the tax map certification. Unfortunately, both sales and property taxes are considered “regressive taxes.” When the economy is good, these taxes produce a sufficient amount of revenue. However, when the economy is bad such as during the recent Great Recession, the revenue from these tax sources is reduced and has not covered all the county’s expenses. 

There are limitations on the amount of revenue the county can draw from these sources. New York State caps the property tax increase each year (2 percent at present). To exceed this amount would require a 60 percent vote by the county legislature.

Currently, the sales tax provides about 60 percent of the general fund revenue. As a result of the sluggish economy, the county has been forced to borrow from several sources to balance the budget since 2008. These loans must now be paid back. Moreover, the sales tax revenue has not rebounded sufficiently to cover the budget. An underlying problem with the sales tax is the increase in internet sales at the expense of “brick and mortar” local store sales. These online sales do not return sales tax to Suffolk County.

In future columns, the League of Women Voters will review some of the problems Suffolk County faces in the future as a result of the changes in the local economy.

Peggy Olness is a board member of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Suffolk residents are suing the county, overseen by Executive Steve Bellone, for what they deem to be illegal fees. File photo

By Kevin Redding

An upstate New York legal group that helps residents stand up against improper actions by their government recently set its sights on Suffolk County, whose hike in illegal fees in the past two years is the focus of a class-action lawsuit.

On Oct. 24, the Government Justice Center, an Albany-based nonprofit that offers pro bono representation to New York residents seeking to “fight city hall,” filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court on behalf of five Suffolk County residents against the county, saying its abundance of assessment fees are “unauthorized taxes.”

The plaintiffs — homeowners living in Melville, Kings Park, Commack, Calverton and Shirley — face increasingly expensive fees for filing real estate documents, namely tax map verifications, which raked in $66 million this year, that far surpass the county’s operating budget of $1.2 million to perform the transactions through its Real Property Tax Service Agency, the suit alleges.

Between 2015 and 2017, mortgage recording fees and tax map verification fees imposed by the county jumped from $60 to $200 per land parcel, with an additional $300 slapped on for every mortgage recording instrument used. The revenue from the fees contributes to the county’s general fund.

According to the complaint, the county passed legislation to enforce these “backdoor taxes” on a certain subset of residents — in this case, homeowners — to bear the county’s burden as it was “unwilling to rein in its spending or face the political consequences of raising taxes to pay for general fund expenses.”

But, under state law, local fees are not allowed to exceed the cost of service or be used
to offset the revenue of government functions.

The homeowners are now calling on the county to stop imposing the illegal fees or at least reduce them to more closely match the $1.2 million service cost, and to refund them a portion of the real estate document fees. The county is currently being subpoenaed.

“It’s important that residents get the opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Cameron MacDonald, the executive director of the GJC. “The county is not supposed to be raising revenue through unauthorized taxes in the form of excessive fees. They need to either pass a tax that affects everyone or cut its spending.”

Ahead of the Suffolk County Legislature’s budget vote for 2018, which passed Nov. 8, MacDonald said he and his group called on legislators, to no avail, to eliminate a total $102 million in fees that generate revenue above the cost of the departments that collect them.

Mike Armstrong, the director of field operations for Reclaim New York Initiative, a nonpartisan group with representation on the GJC’s board which launched the Fight the Fees campaign to end illegal fees across the state, has been active in gaining public support of the lawsuit.

Armstrong compared the gradual increase of fees on taxpayers to “the difference between getting small cuts on your arm to having it chopped off entirely.

“The county talks about wanting to keep people here while they’re pushing them out the door with fees and taxes,” Armstrong said, adding that while tax increases are never popular, it’s at least honest compared to these fees. “I feel bad for young couples who want to buy a house that are now paying that mortgage fee. I feel bad for senior citizens who are closing out their mortgages and then are faced with an  exorbitant fee. It’s an issue that’s impacting people in a really dramatic way.”

During a vote last December to adopt the 2017 county budget,  Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) defended the fee increases, saying residents will not leave Suffolk County because of a few additional hundreds of dollars.

“I don’t think anyone is going to move to Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona or anywhere else because of $300,” Gregory said regarding the verification fee. “I think it’s going to cost more to relocate than the
increase in this fee.”

Among few voices of opposition on the Legislature is Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who, during the meeting to adopt the 2017 county budget, called it “death by a thousand knives.” He warned of an inevitable deficit in the county’s budget.

“The mismanagement of Suffolk County is heading us down the path of bankruptcy,” Trotta said. “They’re going to lose the lawsuits and they’re going to have to refund the fees and stop spending money. There’s going to be a huge hole in the budget no matter what.”

Jason Elan, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone (D), addressed the lawsuit in an emailed statement.

“This is a politically motivated lawsuit filed by Albany insiders who lack any understanding on how government costs are apportioned, yet have no problem saddling taxpayers with the cost of fighting this completely frivolous complaint,” Elan’s statement read.

The state supreme court has since ruled similar fees in Nassau unconstitutional.

“This is a major victory for taxpayers, homeowners, businesses and any New Yorker who has been forced to pay an illegal fee,” Reclaim New York said in an email. “Every government around the state should get the message loud and clear. Nassau and Suffolk legislators have knowingly been stealing from residents with illegal fees ­— it’s theft. It is time to end illegal fees across New York.”

Legislators have approved the initial step toward preserving the Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Suffolk lawmakers have taken the first step toward preservation of nearly 41 acres in St. James as open space.

The county legislature voted at its Nov. 21 meeting to approve a bill introduced by Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) for an appraisal of part of the Gyrodyne LLC property in St. James, also known as Flowerfield, that runs along Route 25A. The property contains freshwater wetlands and adjacent wetlands that feed into the Long Island Sound, Mill Pond in Stony Brook and Stony Brook Harbor.

“I am greatly appreciative of my legislative colleagues’ support for our effort to preserve 41 undeveloped acres of the former Gyrodyne property,” Hahn said. “With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County. I am hopeful that the owner will understand the property’s overall environmental significance and its potential to negatively impact surrounding ground and surface waters, traffic safety and overall quality of life should it be developed.”

The bill, which now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his approval, allows for the county’s planning division to assess the owner’s interest in selling the tract to the county for open space purposes. An interest by Gyrodyne would mean the county could follow its initial outreach by obtaining a real estate appraisal and additional legal and environmental reviews that are required for a potential sale from the company to the county. According to county law, if sale of the land parcel can be negotiated, funding will come from the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program.

“With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County.”

— Kara Hahn

While preservation of the land is being considered, a conceptual development plan from Gyrodyne was approved by the Suffolk County Planning Committee Aug. 2 and was met with resistance from Stony Brook and St. James residents.

Over the summer, the property’s owner submitted an application to the Town of Smithtown to construct a 150-room hotel with restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings totaling 128,400 feet and two long-term care buildings that would have a total 220 assisted living units on the property. Many in the area raised concerns about the amount of traffic that would empty out onto Route 25A and Stony Brook Road if an exit to the Brookhaven street was made accessible on the east side.

Trotta said he’s not completely against development as he realizes the community needs businesses such as the proposed assisted living facility. However, Trotta said he understands the community’s concerns about traffic and would like to see a good amount of the property preserved. 

“It’s always about balance,” he said.

Trotta said he believes Gyrodyne will be willing to work with the community.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have it appraised and get into discussions with what the community wants, what can we put up with traffic-wise and meet somewhere in the middle,” Trotta said.

At a Nov. 15 Smithtown Planning Board meeting, Gyrodyne representatives said their own traffic studies proved residents had sound reason to be concerned about increased traffic and pointed to six local intersections that needed improvement. The results were submitted to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Transportation in October 2017 but have yet to be reviewed. Conrad Chayes Sr., chairman of the Smithtown Planning Board, concluded the board would hold off on a decision until an environmental impact study is completed by the town, which he said may take up to a year.

Hahn said the commercial development of the land would “fundamentally change the character of the Stony Brook and St. James communities.”

“Each of us, regardless of which side of the Brookhaven-Smithtown border you reside on, is threatened by this project moving forward,” Hahn said. “For that reason, Legislator Robert Trotta and I put forward legislation to preserve these environmentally and historically important parcels from being destroyed.”

Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R) is being challenged by Democrat Kevin Hyms to represent Suffolk County’s 12th District. Photos by Kevin Redding

Two candidates vying to represent Suffolk’s 12th Legislative District Nov. 7 share a common ground on several key issues, making for a very respectful debate between a one-term incumbent Republican and her Democratic challenger.

Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), a longtime nurse and former small business manager who was elected in 2015 to succeed her husband and now-county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), pledged to continue serving in her position “fulltime,” drawing businesses to the region and working to control as much county spending as possible.

Her Democratic opponent is Lake Ronkonkoma resident Kevin Hyms, a former environmental, health and safety engineer and prior Brookhaven Town board candidate who wants to put community ahead of politics.

“I want to protect and preserve our precious environment, provide incentives, career opportunities, workforce and affordable housing to keep our youth from migrating off here,” Hyms said during an Oct. 20 sit-down with Kennedy at the Times Beacon Record News Media office. “I believe in doing the right thing for Suffolk County and the community.”

Kennedy said she initially ran for office out of frustration seeing elected officials not doing what’s needed to improve Suffolk.

“It’s because I love where I live — I’ve lived in my district since 1958 and have no intention of ever retiring to Florida,” she said. “I don’t want to see this place destroyed, and more and more I see it becoming impossible to live here. We have to make drastic changes and have to start by developing the ability to say ‘no’. Now that we do not have a penny left to our names, I think the majority is getting it.”

Since being elected, Kennedy said she has voiced her concerns over the county’s financial problems by voting against all fee hikes introduced in the budget from mortgage fees to false home alarms which have been labeled “backdoor taxes.”

“I don’t lie to people,” she said. “We keep spending other people’s money and it makes me crazy. I don’t think a majority of people can afford this … and it’s our job to smack people into living within their means.”

Hyms, who has served on a number of community groups including the board of the Ronkonkoma Chamber of Commerce and Sachem PTA Council, agreed with Kennedy. He proposed further consolidating services within the county to minimize budget shortfalls and debt. The Democratic candidate wants to control the cost of the police department; provide overtime to younger officers instead of older, higher-salaried ones; and hopes to tackle the county’s drug problem by providing better prevention and treatment programs to elementary school students.

“We have to impact the children when they’re younger because by the time they hit middle school, that’s when the real problems occur,” Hyms said. “I don’t think we’re doing as good a job today as we used to with the  DARE program.”

Kennedy acknowledged the opioid and heroin issue as well, pointing to her 30 years of experience as a nurse and medical experience treating gang members.

“With education on drugs, we definitely have to start earlier, but we also have to teach our kids self-confidence and self-esteem,” the legislator said. There’s more pressure on children today created by their parents and society, and they’re being taught they must be superachievers.”

Both candidates share similar views on the environment. Hyms addressed a need to install new types of sanitary systems to replace old concrete cesspools to greatly reduce the nitrogen contamination that enters the groundwater. Kennedy has pushed for projects that aim to clean up the county’s water supply. Both candidates strongly advocated for the importance of sewers as a way to improve not just the environment but the economy of downtown areas as well.

Lawyer Edward Flood is challenging incumbent Kara Hahn for the county legislator seat in the 5th district. Photos by Desiree Keegan.

By Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is seeking re-election for her fourth term Nov. 7. Challenging her is Republican Edward Flood of South Setauket. A lawyer with offices in Smithtown and Port Jefferson, he is the chief of staff for state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).

Hahn and Flood sat down at the Times Beacon Record News Media office in October to discuss their stances on various issues, with the county’s growing debt and poor credit rating serving as a backdrop.

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, said she has worked on a water quality program that helps homeowners obtain grants up to $11,000 to replace their outdated septic systems or cesspools with advanced wastewater technologies, which are designed to significantly reduce nitrogen pollution. Hahn said older septic systems create nitrogen issues in local waterways since they don’t remove the chemical and can leave between 55 and 80 parts of nitrogen per million — drinking water is acceptable at 10 parts per million.

“We need to come to the table and we need to put a more appropriate budget out there and work to solve some of these crises.”

— Edward Flood

“It degrades our resilience — coastal resiliency — by degrading our marshlands, the nitrogen in the water actually hurts the grasses that grow and protect us and as an island that’s important,” Hahn said.

She said the county secured grants for $6 million over three years for which homeowners can apply.

“I’m fully supportive of that project; it’s just that we have to find ways to pay for it ourselves,” Flood said.

He pointed out the county borrowed $30 million against the sewer stabilization fund and will have to start paying the money back. He said the county needs to work with other levels of government, especially federal, to come up with more money for projects in the future.

Both candidates discussed providing more affordable housing options. Hahn said she is in favor of increasing the percentage of inexpensive options available, which is now 15 to 20 percent, and working with developers to ensure that buildings include more one-bedroom and studio apartments.

Flood said he supports programs where first-time homeowners receive assistance with down payments. He also suggested mandate relief to bring property taxes down by having every organization that receives tax benefits go through their budgets and find state mandates that may not be regionally appropriate.

Flood said to stimulate the county’s economy new businesses need to be attracted to the area. He is supportive of the group Long Island Needs a Drag Strip building a strip in Suffolk County. He said it is estimated it could bring in $40 million in tax revenues due to concessions, ticket sales and businesses that open around tracks such as high-end motor vehicle parts stores and hotels.

“We faced a $500 million deficit when I took office, and we have cut that down significantly by making very difficult cuts to staffs, combining departments.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn said she believes a convention center near MacArthur airport, Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood or Kings Park would be a boon to the economy because it would bring in off-season visitors.

Flood said the high cost of living and poor economic outlook is his top concern as he has watched friends leave the island for better opportunities. He said the county needs to stem the tide on taxes.

“We need to come to the table and we need to put a more appropriate budget out there and work to solve some of these crises,” Flood said.

The legislator-hopeful pointed to Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy’s (R) auditing receipts, which led him to discover overpayments to one emergency homeless shelter.

“We have a lot of money that we waste, and not just the way we grant and the way we give out grants, and we’re finding [this] out as we audit,” he said.

Hahn said she feels the county legislators have been responsible budget managers.

“We faced a $500 million deficit when I took office, and we have cut that down significantly by making very difficult cuts to staffs, combining departments,” Hahn said. “We have done fiscally responsible things to get a handle on it, and when you have a budget of $3 billion and have a structural imbalance over three years of a $150 million, give or take, it’s reasonable,” Hahn said.

Incumbent Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) will face Republican challenger Dom Spada to represent the county’s 18th District. File photo, right; photo on right from Dom Spada

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Suffolk County’s current fiscal crisis is the motivation for a Huntington Bay resident to campaign against the incumbent for a seat in the Suffolk legislature.

Dom Spada, deputy mayor of the Village of Huntington Bay and second assistant chief of the Halesite Fire Department, is running as the Republican candidate against incumbent Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) to represent the county’s 18th legislative district.

Spada said it’s his concern over the county’s “dire” financial situation that has inspired him to run for political office.

“We have a huge spending problem here in Suffolk County,” he said. “We have the worst gang and opioid problem we’ve had in decades with a huge deficit and debt. I think it’s time for a change.”

The county has a budgetary shortfall of more than $150 million for 2017, according to County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) September budget proposal for 2018, and is roughly $2 billion in debt.

“We have the worst gang and opioid problem we’ve had in decades with a huge deficit and debt. I think it’s time for a change.”

— Dom Spada

Spada said he believes elected officials need to stop “spending so much money on nonsense” and cut wasteful spending, citing examples like $150,000 for a study on a guard rail in Rocky Point and $350,000 approved to design two miles of sidewalks. If elected, he said he will request reviews of all county contracts with outside vendors to see if better rates can be negotiated.

Spencer, a physician with his own Huntington practice and an ordained minister, was first elected to the Legislature in 2012 and is seeking re-election for his fourth term. Since taking office, Spencer said he’s been conscious of the county’s “abysmal” finances and has worked to improve it.

“I have a building, I have a home and a mortgage; there’s good debt and bad debt,” he said. “It’s the same thing in government. I believe when we invest in our public safety, our environment and our infrastructure, it’s good debt.”

Spencer pointed to various cost-saving measures he’s approved including reducing the county’s workforce by 10 percent; consolidating the offices of the comptroller and treasurer; and getting out of an unfunded mandate to build a new prison which he estimated saved the county approximately $100 million. He also noted he voted to freeze legislative officials’ salaries and agreed to contribute to his own health insurance.

If re-elected, the incumbent said he will continue to look to improve efficiencies, reduce waste and seek additional funds.

“I believe we send more to Albany and the federal government than we get back,” Spencer said. “I believe we should get our fair share.”

“I believe when we invest in our public safety, our environment and our infrastructure, it’s good debt.”

— Doc Spencer

His Republican challenger said the increasing number of fees — the mortgage fee, red-light camera fees, false home alarm fee, cremation fees — to make up the county’s budgetary shortfall is unfair to taxpayers. Spada said he’d repeal all “illegal” fees if elected as he doesn’t believe the fees’ cost is commensurate with the services being provided.

Spencer said he’s weighed and questioned each individual fee as they’ve come up for a vote. He supported the cremation fee, but said he agreed he’d like to review the red-light camera system and modify the home alarm fee so that a homeowner’s first false alarm requires them to register with the county but no monetary penalty.

The Legislature hopefuls also discussed opioid and heroin addiction, one of the most widespread issues plaguing the county as a whole.

The Republican candidate said he would like to see more officers on the street and requirements that anyone saved from an overdose through Narcan be required to immediately be transported to a treatment facility for a 72-hour stay, similar to treatment for mentally disturbed patients.

Spencer said the county’s resources are limited in combating opioid/heroin addition and gang violence. If re-elected, he said he would continue looking for state funding to increase the number of treatment beds for addicts and get qualified physicians more involved in the county’s 24-hour hotline and emergency resources.

Huntington councilwoman Susan Berland (D) races against Republican Hector Gavilla to represent Suffolk’s 16th Legislative District. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Two candidates are vying to represent Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District as term limits force incumbent Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) to step down after 12 years of service.

Democratic candidate Susan Berland, of Dix Hills, has served Huntington residents as a councilwoman for more than 16 years. She has drafted the town’s blight legislation for abandoned or unsafe buildings and structures, placed restrictions on bamboo growth, and had free sunscreen dispensers installed at town beaches.

Republican hopeful Hector Gavilla, also of Dix Hills, is seeking political office for the first time. Gavilla has been a licensed real estate broker since 2003, and has run Commack-based Long Island Professional Realty since 2010.

The candidates are concerned with the county’s financial future, affordable housing and public safety. Both nominees said with Suffolk expecting a budgetary deficit of more than $150 million this year, there is a need for the incoming legislator to help bring finances under control by consolidating
services wherever possible.

“We spent over $600 million for social services and we never ask these people if they are illegal aliens.”

— Hector Gavilla

Berland also proposes that the county’s sale tax be increased by 0.25 percent, from 8.625 to 8.875 percent, and that all county employees be asked to chip in and help contribute to their health insurance.

“That really spreads it among everybody equally and that would help raise money,” she said during a recent candidate debate at TBR News Media’s Setauket office.

Gavilla said if elected he would look to save money in two of the largest areas of the county’s budget: police department salaries, as their contract ends 2018, and social services.

“We spent over $600 million for social services and we never ask these people if they are illegal aliens,” he said. “I want to make sure these people are American citizens.”

While residents continue to struggle with the cost of living in Huntington township, the two candidates disagreed on what measures would improve quality of life.

Gavilla said his platform puts taxpayers first by looking to reduce backdoor fees, like the mortgage fee and false alarm fee, and stop wasteful government spending in attempt to build transit-oriented or affordable housing.

“We have an obligation to provide different types of housing for different people,” Berland countered.

“We have an obligation to provide different types of housing for different people.”

— Susan Berland

The councilwoman said if elected to the legislature she would support high-density, mixed-use retail and apartment space as a way of helping to preserve existing open space, like parks and golf courses.

Gavilla said he would rather see 20-year tax abatements offered to large businesses in an effort to attract more job opportunities.

For current residents, public safety in combating gang-related violence and the heroin/opioid crisis is a top priority.

Berland said she would suggest bringing back the county’s DARE program to educate elementary school children on the dangers of gangs and drug use. She also recommended closer cooperation among law enforcement officials and drug courts, which offer addicts a choice of treatment or jail time for drug-related offenses.

“We need to have cooperation between the police department, FBI, town and code enforcement to draw together and combat these issues,” she said.

Gavilla said he’d propose much stricter prosecution and enforcement on drug dealers, increase police patrols, and arrest and deport any illegal immigrant.

“I want to make sure every single illegal alien who commits a crime has to be deported,” he said. “Today, we have many illegal aliens coming in and they have become a burden on society.”

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The issue of the newspaper that you now hold in your hands or are reading on an electronic device is an annual superstar. Only once in each year do we publish a comprehensive preelection section that speaks to the upcoming races. We invite the opponents together to our offices for each local race and pepper them with questions until we feel we have a good handle on them. This section is the distillation of many hours of interviews with the candidates and follow-up research, putting together the information that we are privileged to learn. Then we share that information with you.

We go even further. After careful consideration, sometimes over a period of many days, we will come to a conclusion as to whom to vote for and tell you what we think and why. These are our endorsements and may be found on the editorial pages in the back of the paper. We also include a sample ballot so you can walk into your polling place and know the layout on which you will mark your choices.

We are the only community newspapers that span three towns in Suffolk: Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington. So as you can imagine, there are a good number of races in which we need to be involved. In two of these towns, there will be a new day for there are open seats at the top of the ticket for the first time in more than a score of years. In Huntington, longtime Supervisor Frank Petrone decided not to run again, and so Edwards is giving up her seat on the town board, as she and state Assemblyman Lupinacci compete to lead the town. Candidates for the two town board seats are incumbent Cuthbertson and challengers Smyth, Leonick and Rogan. Berland, too, is leaving her seat on the board and trying for a Suffolk County legislative seat, running against Gavilla. Kennedy is challenged by Hyms for her seat in the legislature.

Smithtown Township has the same open top position since Vecchio lost the Republican primary and will not be running for supervisor for the first time in 40 years. Instead the residents will have Holst, Wehrheim or Slevin as their new leader. The voters will also choose two board members among Fortunato, Doyle, McCarthy, Nowick, Lohmann and Stoddard.

Brookhaven, in contrast, has no open seats but plenty of competition. Incumbent Romaine is facing a challenge from Harrington for supervisor. In our coverage district, incumbent Councilwoman Cartright is running against challenger Canale, and incumbent Bonner is being opposed by Goodman. For the county Legislature in our Brookhaven area, we have incumbent Anker versus Pollakusky and incumbent Hahn challenged by Flood. Also in play is the Brookhaven Town superintendent of highways position, as incumbent Dan Losquadro is challenged by Portesy.

Two of the most closely watched contests in Suffolk County are for district attorney and sheriff. Both of those positions are open seats. Police Commissioner Sini is running against Perini for DA and Stony Brook University Deputy Police Chief Zacarese is opposed by Toulon in the race for sheriff.

On top of our usual duties at TBR News Media, we interviewed them all. It was exhausting but exhilarating, as we learned more than we already knew from the incumbents and a great deal about the challengers. We heard about the issues that are on the minds of the North Shore community. The electorate is concerned about the escalating opioid epidemic that is killing hundreds, particularly of our younger people. Residents also continue to be frustrated about high property taxes, public safety — especially as it relates to the insidious growth of gangs, the traffic in Smithtown, the homeless in Brookhaven and the brain drain that is the result of not enough high-paying jobs and affordable housing.

We also tell you our opinion of a constitutional convention. We oppose it, fearing a Pandora’s box containing many evils.

We are always impressed that residents will come forward to run for public office. Campaigns are a lot of work, and being a public servant has its tribulations. This year, more than most others, we are further impressed by the high quality of candidates. We urge you to do one of the two things you are allowed only if you are an American citizen. Please be sure to VOTE.

P.S. The other is to serve on a jury.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) discusses red light cameras during a press conference in Miller Place Sept. 21. Photo by Kevin Redding

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) is calling for an investigation into the county’s annual Red Light Camera Program Report, which he said has purposefully, and illegally, eliminated data on car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

Trotta stood with fellow legislators and colleagues Sept. 21 at the intersection of Route 25A and Miller Place Road in Miller Place to address his ongoing concerns with a lack of available statistics surrounding accidents, injuries and deaths due to the county’s red light camera program, highlighting a conversation he had last month with a traffic engineer of Nelson & Pope, the company that prepares the annual reports.

The traffic engineer, according to Trotta, advised him that the company was instructed not to include the pedestrian and bicyclist-involved accidents at red light camera locations in reports, in order to paint a better picture of the program. The reports are submitted to the state and made available to the public. The most recent report was released in April and highlighted statistics for 2015. While pedestrian and bicycle-involved accidents have been reported in a scattered few reports since the program began in 2010, the data has not been included in the last two years’ reports.

Trotta said the data exclusion is a violation of the state’s motor vehicle and traffic law, which states the mandatory annual report must include the number, type and severity of all accidents reported at these intersections with traffic control devices.

He also said it is not clear who is behind the data exclusion, the county or the company behind the red light camera program, but urged the state attorney general to get involved so the guilty party can be held accountable.

“How can anybody adequately look at the positive or negative features of a program when they’re not getting all the data?” Trotta said during the press conference. The legislator has long been opposed to the program, which he said he believes is the cause of an uptick in accidents throughout the area and is merely a ticket and revenue-generating scam by the county. “There are multiple reasons why this program should be shut down immediately and I’m aghast by the fact that we’re doing nothing and we are lying to the public by not including the pedestrians and the bicyclists. When I found about this, I couldn’t believe it.”

Trotta was joined by Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Smithtown) and Tom Muratore (R-Selden), as well as county legislature candidate Gary Pollakusky (R), at the busy intersection where two teenagers have died after being struck by cars, which features red light cameras.

“We lost a child here on a bicycle and a child here as a pedestrian,” Trotta said, referring to 14-year-old Nico Signore who died earlier this year, and 16-year-old John Luke, who died in 2015. “But I guess that doesn’t mean anything to anybody because they’re not even including [those accidents] in the report. I absolutely think there’s cohersion with the county and this company to keep the money stream coming in. This entire program is just a calamity of errors.”

Pollakusky said he supports the suspension of the red light camera program due to its negative impact on public safety.

“The red light camera program is a money grab by [County Executive Steve Bellone] and the Democrats in the Legislature and has been sold to the public as a public safety program — it is anything but safe,” Pollakusky said, stressing that accidents have increased after the red light cameras were installed.

He also took issue with his opponent, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who initially voted against the program but has since come to agree with its mission of changing poor traffic.

“[She] is famous for saying ‘if it saves one child’s life,’ it’s worth it [but] this program that you and your cohorts support, Mrs. Anker, has hurt innocent drivers, pedestrians and children alike,” Pollakusky said.

Personal injury lawyer David Raimondo, based in Lake Grove, represents the Luke family and pointed to an omission of data, including fatalities of pedestrians in auto accidents, in a presentation before the Suffolk County Legislature in 2014 led to the red light camera program’s renewal.

“It’s up for renewal in 2019 and if we don’t have the proper data before the Legislature, it will continue to be renewed and we cannot let that happen,” Raimondo said. “It’s very important this program come to an end, it be suspended and that the suffering of the taxpayers of Suffolk County — both financially and physically — end.”

This artistic rendering depicts what Huntington Station may look like once revitalized. Photo from Renaissance Downtowns

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Efforts to revitalize the southern portion of Huntington Station received a much-needed push forward last week.

Huntington Town Board members voted to approve spending $1.25 million in bond funds received from the Suffolk County Legislature to conduct an extensive sewer study as part of the Huntington Station
revitalization efforts.

The lack of sewers in Huntington Station is one of the areas that is desperately in need of improvement to make revitalization possible, as the land north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Huntington Station is served by the sewer district, but the south side is not, which has limited development and economic opportunities.

“It is the hurdle that prevents development from occurring,” said Ryan Porter, the director of planning and development with Renaissance Downtowns. “It prevents this project from being implemented on the south side.”

Renaissance Downtowns is a nationally-renowned development group chosen by the town to be a master developer of Huntington Station’s revitalization in 2012. Porter said due to the lack of sewer access in the south, the town has been forced to pursue a “dual track” when approaching revitalization efforts. Construction of a mix-used  building at the intersection of Northridge Street and New York Avenue was started this past January while there remain no specific plans yet in place for the south side of town, according to Porter.

The sewer study, which will be conducted by Suffolk County under an inter-municipal agreement, will analyze the existing sewer infrastructure, feasibility and design conditions within Huntington
Station to determine the most efficient way to connect the southern part of the town to existing sewer districts.

The southwest sewer district, which currently serves areas in the Town of Babylon and Town of Islip, currently extends only as north on Route 110 as the Walt Whitman Mall.

Porter said if southern portions of Huntington Station could be hooked into either the southwest sewer district or another system, it would greatly increase the future development potential.

“If an existing building is under performing, [the owner] can only tear down what they have and rebuild the same thing,” Porter said. “There’s very little motivation for people to improve their buildings. If
sewers were available, they could increase the building’s uses which is a financial
justification to rebuild your property.”

Suffolk County has already moved to issue the request for bids from engineering firms interested in undertaking the study.

Huntington Station residents interested in sharing their thoughts and ideas about what they would like to improved or built can visit www.sourcethestation.com. The website contains information on sharing ideas find out about upcoming community meetings.