Tags Posts tagged with "Suffolk County Legislature"

Suffolk County Legislature

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.

Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer works at his desk in his North Babylon office. Photo by Alex Petroski

As the night progressed Nov. 8, 2016, it steadily became clear that months of data and polls had failed to accurately predict the future. Around midnight, it was no longer in doubt — Donald Trump was going to be the 45th president of the United States, and Democrats had a long road ahead to figure out what went wrong.

Both nationally and locally, the time since the shocking 2016 presidential election has served as a period of reflection and resistance for the Democratic Party. Political leaders across the country, like Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer, were tasked with crafting a new message and understanding the emotion Americans voiced with their votes in November: anger.

In an exclusive interview at his North Babylon office, Schaffer weighed in on the platform of the party going forward: How Trump’s message resonated for Suffolk voters making him the first Republican presidential candidate to win the county since the early 1990s; a high profile race for Suffolk’s district attorney; the two congressional seats up in 2018; his journey in politics since age 11 and much more.

The future of the party

Schaffer is in an enviable and high stakes position. The leading Democrat in the county has a blank slate as a platform, while the party tries to rebirth itself from the ashes of 2016. The path forward is whatever Suffolk Democrats choose to make it from here, but choosing wrong could be a major setback. The successes of ultra-progressive candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) could make a further left-leaning Democratic Party a possibility for the future. However, swinging too far to the left could alienate moderates from both sides of the aisle, similar to the way Trump Republicans are trying to go it alone with little support outside of the base.

“I’m trying to make sure I keep saying this: Make sure we don’t burn the house down,” Schaffer said of infighting amongst different sects of the party. “Or even I use the line, ‘Don’t make me pull the car over.’ The kids are arguing in the back and we’re about 50 miles away from the destination and they’re carrying on … I’ll pull the car over and we’re not going anywhere.”

Schaffer said he held a meeting in March with about 25 leaders of various activist groups in the hopes of emerging with a unified front.

“I brought them all together at our headquarters and I said, ‘Look, we all have the same goal — we want to defeat [U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)] and [U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford)] and we want to defeat Trump,’” Schaffer said. “‘That’s our four-year plan. We all have different reasons why we want to accomplish that goal — your issue might be health care, your issue might be the travel ban, your issue may be you think Trump’s an idiot, you’re concerned about the Supreme Court. Whatever your issue is, we have to put that energy together and see how we can, as best as possible, move in the same direction to accomplish that.’”

The Democratic Party is not in the shambles locally as it might appear nationally, according to Schaffer. The Suffolk County Legislature has had a Democrat majority since 2005. He said he wasn’t a huge fan of the “A Better Deal” Democratic rebranding effort released by the party nationally recently, but instead would like to see politicians from both sides of the aisle meet in the middle and compromise on important issues, rather than focusing on branding and slogans.

Schaffer described his initial foray into politics as getting swept up in a Democratic wave of support. Living in West Islip, Schaffer had a friend named Jeff, whose older brother Tom Downey was running for the county legislature in 1971. The candidate, who was just 22 years old at the time, enlisted the help of neighborhood kids, including 11-year-old Schaffer, to pass out fliers for the campaign.

“The father, Mr. Downey, says, ‘Alright you guys, get in the station wagon, we’re going to go deliver these fliers for Tom,’” Schaffer said. Downey was elected, becoming the youngest member of the legislature in its history. In 1987, Schaffer was also elected to the county legislature, and when he was sworn in at age 23 he became the second youngest member. He also currently serves as town supervisor for Babylon and will seek re-election in the fall.

Schaffer credited his preparation for office at such a young age to an unusually difficult upbringing. He said his father abandoned the family when he was 10 years old, and when he was 14, his mother was sent to jail for killing someone while she was driving drunk. His aunt and uncle finished raising him through those difficult times, though he came out the other end more prepared than most for adversity.

In 1974, Downey ran for Congress again aided by Schaffer and others. He attributed the post-Watergate environment to Downey’s victory as a Democratic candidate. Schaffer said he anticipates a similar wave to impact the 2017 and 2018 elections locally and nationally as a response to all things Trump.

Trump support in the county

Trump’s victory nationally was a surprise, but a Republican winning Suffolk County was a shocker not seen in the last five election cycles. He took home nearly 53 percent of the vote and Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle, who also played an active role in Trump’s campaign, told TBR News Media during an interview in April the key issues that drove local residents to the polls in support of a first-time politician were the failures of his predecessors to make any inroads on immigration, health care and jobs in Suffolk.

Schaffer realized the irony in LaValle and him naming the same few issues as the most important to voters in the county.

“Because they’re human issues,” he said. “So that’s what I say, is that I’m never going to question John LaValle’s commitment to wanting to make a better place in Suffolk County. I’m never going to question — take a Republican — [county Legislator] Leslie Kennedy [R-Nesconset]. I’m never going to question that. I know that nobody wants to have gunfights breaking out and gangs and people overdosing, but can we sit down and figure out how we get it done?”

Schaffer was careful to relay that the party needs to have a parallel focus in order to smooth over tensions between the two in the current political climate.

“I think the message should be that we’re going to oppose Trump and his team on things we believe are hurtful to people,” he said. “And we’re going to support him on things, or compromise with him on issues that are going to deliver results.”

A common refrain from Republicans is the everyday voter doesn’t care about “distracting” issues — like the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign/administration, palace intrigue stories and the president’s tweets to name a few; the voters care about what is actually getting done. From that perspective, the Democrats Schaffer has come in contact with are in the same boat as Republicans.

Local races

Schaffer pointed to the race for Suffolk County district attorney as a potential indicator of where politics is heading in the county in the near future. He sang the praises of Democrat candidate and current Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini, whom the party has already endorsed. Sini will square off with Ray Perini (R) a criminal lawyer from Huntington, for the seat left open by Tom Spota (D), who will not seek re-election. Schaffer also cleared up an issue with Sini’s announcement of his candidacy, which came as a surprise because during his confirmation hearing to become police commissioner before the legislature he said he had no interest in running for DA.

Schaffer said at the time Sini was being truthful, he had no intentions of running, but he said Sini felt he had made more progress in his short time as Suffolk’s top cop to make him comfortable seeking a step up.

“No secret kabuki plan, no conspiracies,” he said. “Nobody said, ‘OK, we’ll fake them out and tell them you’re not running and then you’ll run.’”

LaValle was critical of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and his management of Suffolk’s finances. The county has a poor credit rating and an ever-growing deficit, though Schaffer defended Bellone and said he’s done an admirable job in a tough position.

Schaffer also addressed comments LaValle made in April regarding Zeldin and his claims that “liberal obstructionists,” and not genuine constituents, were the ones opposing his policies and protesting his public appearances. LaValle called those constituents “a disgrace.”

“Yeah and John should know better also,” Schaffer said. “I’m not ever going to question anyone’s patriotism unless somebody shows me evidence that they’re colluding with a foreign government or they’re doing some terrorist activity.”

Schaffer said regardless of where on the political spectrum a given Democrat falls currently, the goal is to find candidates capable of defeating Zeldin and King.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo by Rohma Abbas

With Suffolk County’s dire financial straights for the present and the future, some legislators are proposing ideas to trim the fat and save costs, while others think the real problems are not being addressed.

County Legislator William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) has drafted two bills, one that would freeze salaries for all legislators for five years and another to consolidate the Legislature from 18 members to 13.

County legislators receive an annual raise equal to 4 percent or the increase in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. This year the raise is expected to be 0.58 percent, according to Lindsay’s office.

Lindsay has advocated to get rid of the automatic increases for some time, and recently drafted legislation for a five-year freeze — a motion that didn’t receive a seconder in the Government Operations, Personnel, Information Technology & Housing Committee. Fellow members Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) declined to second Lindsay’s motion. Hahn and Kennedy did not respond to requests for comment.

“This sends a message we’re serious about tackling the issue,” Lindsay said. “Everyone should feel the pain a little. We should lead by example. This gives us more credibility.” Lindsay froze his salary when he first took office in 2013, and other legislators have done the same.

Lindsay said he was surprised the proposal didn’t get more consideration from his colleagues.

“We need to show we can be an example, that we’re cutting back during fiscally challenging times.”
—Sarah Anker

“With the financial issues we’re facing, we need to look at alternatives to cut spending,” he said.

Lindsay’s second proposal to drop from 18 to 13 representatives was created in the same spirit. The first public hearing on the bill was due to be held Dec. 6. If the bill is approved by the Legislature it will be up to a voter referendum.

“Why shouldn’t we allow voters to decide how they should be governed?” Lindsay said.

The 8th District representative said he thinks cutting legislators would help reduce costs without sacrificing the quality of representation for each district.

His proposal would see each representative go from roughly 80,000 constituents to 110,000.

According to a 2015 government census report, Suffolk’s population is approximately 1.5 million. By comparison two Californian counties, Sacramento and Alameda, each have five representatives for their 1.4 million and 1.6 million residents respectively. Both of these counties function with a board of supervisors, instead of legislators.

According to Lindsay’s office, Suffolk almost doubles the national average of representation while each legislator represents only one-fifth of the average constituency nationwide.

Lindsay’s proposal states that at present each county legislator receives a salary, is assigned three paid staff members and is entitled to a district office, among other benefits.

If this legislation passes, it would not go into effect until 2021, after the county district lines are set to be redrawn.

Lindsay’s suggestions all take aim at relieving some of Suffolk’s budgetary issues. Legislators, a credit rating agency and the director of the Budget Review Office for the Legislature have said the county’s financial situation is dire.

Robert Lipp, director of the Budget Review Office, expressed concerns in his assessment of the county budget.

“How are we able to provide services at needed levels when facing a structural deficit that is far in excess of $100 million in each of the past several years? It is a conundrum,” Lipp said in a letter accompanying his review of the budget in October. “The short answer is that the county’s structural deficit is increasingly driving our decisions. As a result, some initiatives, that may be considered crucial, are funded without regard for our ability to pay, while others are funded at less than needed levels because of our deficit position.”

He said the county has set a bad precedent by borrowing money to pay for operating expenses. The credit rating entity Moody’s Investors Service has projected a negative credit rating outlook for the county due to outstanding debt and a reliance on borrowing.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said the budget is deeply flawed, but he does not believe either of Lindsay’s proposals would help fix the problem.

“This is pennies compared to the problems we have,” Trotta said in a phone interview. “It’s showboating.” The District 12 representative is most concerned with the county’s contract with the Suffolk County Police Department, which he said costs Suffolk $135,000 per day.

“We’re in these binding arbitrations that we have no ability to pay,” he said.

Trotta’s primary concern is contractual pension and pay increases for county police officers. The county and the Police Benevolent Association agreed on the current contract in 2011, which runs through 2018. Trotta, a former SCPD detective, estimated for every 200 cops that retire, it could cost the county more than $60 million.

“We need to generate businesses and growth, but we can’t afford to,” he said.

Trotta said a five-year salary freeze for legislators is equivalent to a grain of sand on the beach, but he would support a salary freeze of all government employees. As for a reduction in members, he said he doesn’t think that goes far enough either.

“It should be six or seven members,” he said. However, Trotta warned fewer representatives could put grassroots campaigns at a disadvantage with more ground to cover in a single district. Ultimately he called the idea a double-edged sword.

Lindsay’s proposal acknowledged this concern, stating districts would still be small enough to “allow underfunded candidates to compete effectively in legislative races and permit winning candidates to provide excellent services to their constituents.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she supports the five-year freeze. She froze her own salary in 2011.

“We need to show we can be an example, that we’re cutting back during fiscally challenging times,” she said in a phone interview.

But Anker doesn’t back a smaller Legislature. “If you have less representation, that’s not in the best benefit for the public.”

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) believes Suffolk County’s dire financial straights can be traced back to campaign promises made by County Executive Steve Bellone (D). File photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County’s nearly $3 billion budget for 2017 is waiting to be signed on the desk of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) after it was approved with several amendments by the Legislature Nov. 9. But legislators, Moody’s Investors Service and the director of the Budget Review Office for the Legislature have reported the county’s financial situation is dire.

The Legislature approved amendments to Bellone’s budget by an 11-7 vote. The Public Health Nursing Bureau, the Tobacco Education and Control Program and increased funding for overtime in the Sheriff’s Office were among the beneficiaries of the Legislature’s amendments.

Legislator for the 13th District, Rob Trotta (R- Fort Salonga), was among the seven who voted against the budget. He notably called for the resignations of Bellone and District Attorney Tom Spota (D) earlier this year for their roles in the promotion of former county police commissioner, James Burke, who in February pleaded guilty to charges of a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

“The county finances are in total shambles,” Trotta said during an interview in his Smithtown office Nov. 15. “[The other legislators are] sticking their head in the sand. They’re not addressing the real problems. No one wants to address the problems. You need colossal change.”

Trotta’s primary concern is contractual pension and pay increases for county police officers. The former county police detective likened Suffolk’s current financial situation as treating a scratch on an arm that is hemorrhaging blood due to a severed hand. The county and the Police Benevolent Association agreed on the current contract which runs from 2011 to 2018.

Trotta estimated for every 200 cops that retire, it could cost the county more than $60 million. “We need to generate businesses and growth, but we can’t afford to,” he said.

Robert Lipp, director of the county legislature’s Budget Review Office, expressed many of the same concerns Trotta had in his assessment of the county budget.

“How are we able to provide services at needed levels when facing a structural deficit that is far in excess of $100 million in each of the past several years? It is a conundrum,” Lipp said in a letter accompanying his review of the budget in October. “The short answer is that the county’s structural deficit is increasingly driving our decisions. As a result, some initiatives, that may be considered crucial, are funded without regard for our ability to pay, while others are funded at less than needed levels because of our deficit position.”

The budget included $26.7 million in revenue from short-term bonds to pay for sick days, vacation days and terminal pay for the police but the measure was rejected by legislators in a bipartisan vote, though the county must still fullfill its contractual requirement with the police department.

“The county sets a bad precedent when paying for operating expenses with borrowing,” the assessment said.

The credit rating entity Moody’s Investors Service has projected a negative credit rating outlook for the county due to outstanding debt and a reliance on borrowing.

The budget actually calls for the collection of $2 million less in property taxes than the maximum allowed by New York State’s tax-levy increase cap. But about $50 million in increased fee revenue from various government services is included in the 2017 operating budget, in addition to more than $42 million in increases already enacted in 2016, according the Budget Review Office.

“In light of the size of the structural deficit, in spite of the large sums of recurring revenue that some of these fees bring in, we are still unable to make a dent in the structural deficit,” the letter from the Budget Review Office said. “That being said, some of these fees have been met with a great deal of criticism, including the false alarm program, the $300 mortgage fee, the 1-percent administrative processing fee on all contract agencies and the red-light camera program, to name a few.”

The county executive responded to concerns with Suffolk’s finances in an emailed statement through spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter:

“We always remain open if people have ideas to save money. Our simple goal is to meet our obligation to the Suffolk County taxpayers. This is a tight budget. But it is a fair budget, which protects taxpayers, prioritizes critical areas and avoids draconian cuts to important services. We will hold the line on taxes, but we will also continue to do everything we can to ensure the safety of Suffolk County residents and make the critical investments in growing our economy and protecting water quality.”

The assessment from the Budget Review Office did project an increase of revenue from sales taxes, which makes up more than half of the county’s total revenue and is an indication of an uptick in the economy. However, the office’s assessment warned sales tax revenue can be volatile, and increases can’t be assumed going forward.

William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), legislator for the 18th District, was among those who approved the budget, though he said he also sees potentially difficult times ahead. He voted in favor of the police contract, and he called the decision a “tug of war” between the need for additional revenue and public safety.

“I think once again the budget definitely was very difficult because of the substantial structural deficit we have,” he said. “We were able to maintain services to pass the budget this year, but we’re getting to a point where we’re going to have to make some difficult cuts … we still are facing a long-term challenge where at some point we’re going to have to make difficult decisions.”

Legislators for the 5th District, Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), and the 6th District, Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), each voted to approve Bellone’s budget. Neither could be reached for comment.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas

A victory was gained in the fight against opioid abuse this month, as the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a new bill that prohibits the sale and possession of U-47700, a highly addictive synthetic opioid drug.

“We must protect our young people from synthetic opioids like U-47700 that we know lead to addiction, graduation to heroin and potential death.” —Steve Stern

The pink pill contains fentanyl, another addictive and dangerous opioid, and is resistant to treatment with Narcan, a drug used to revive people who have overdosed.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) created the bill, which passed Oct. 5.

“We must do everything in our power to protect our young people from synthetic opioids like U-47700 that we know lead to addiction, serious health effects, graduation to heroin and potential death,” Stern said in a statement.

Stern’s office said U-47700 was originally developed by the pharmaceutical industry as an alternative to morphine but was never marketed when it was determined to be more than eight times as potent as morphine. The drug is manufactured overseas, mainly in China and is sold at a low cost on the internet, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It can be smoked, snorted or orally ingested and can cause respiratory depression, coma, permanent brain damage and death.  The DEA temporarily listed the drug on Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act in September because of the imminent hazard it presents to public safety.

Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, are not currently accepted for medical use in the U.S. and are deemed unsafe even under medical supervision. Other drugs in the Schedule I list include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

Many states, including Georgia, Ohio and Wyoming, have banned the drug.

The DEA confirmed at least 15 fatalities from the use of U-47700, and according to news sources, at least 50 deaths nationwide can be linked to the drug.

According to the bill, any person who knowingly violates the law will be guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year of imprisonment. The law goes into effect immediately after the Office of the Secretary of State files it.

The legislation to prohibit its sale was supported by the entire legislature, as well as Health Commissioner James Tomarken and Police Commissioner Tim Sini.

“I thank my colleagues on the Legislature for joining me in taking meaningful action to protect the health and safety of our communities,” Stern said.

Kara Hahn photo by Desirée Keegan

County lawmakers are taking a proactive approach toward keeping Suffolk kids safe.

The Legislature unanimously voted last week to establish a 13-member Child Fatality Review Team panel tasked with reviewing all childhood fatalities across Suffolk County deemed to be unanticipated, suspicious or the direct result of physical trauma.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who sponsored the bill, said the team’s findings would not be used to assign criminal or civil liability in death cases involving children, nor would they be used for prosecutorial purposes. The main objective, she said, was to make it so similar incidents do not repeat themselves at Suffolk County children’s expense.

In a statement, Hahn, who serves as majority leader in the Suffolk County Legislature, said the panel would work to identify the underlying causes of a child’s death and find what resources, if any, could have prevented that outcome.

“As a culture, we strongly hold that children aren’t supposed to die,” Hahn said. “When that understanding is challenged by a child’s death, natural or otherwise, there is a reflexive and necessary motivation to uncover the reasons why and ways to prevent similar circumstances from leading to additional losses.”

The 13-member panel would be made up of medical, child welfare, social service and law enforcement professionals who would be looking at the facts and circumstances relating to the deaths of children under the age of 18. The deaths would also need to be deemed either unexplainable or the result of violence, including that which is self-inflicted.

“Suffolk County takes the public health and safety of all our residents, especially our most vulnerable, very seriously,” the county’s Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said. “By assembling this review team and collaboratively studying the recent losses of life in Suffolk County, we may be able to prevent similar tragedies in the future and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s signature is the only thing standing in the way of this bill becoming a law. In a statement, the county executive said he was in favor of the review team and planned on signing it into action promptly.

“The public safety of all of our residents, especially our most vulnerable, is of paramount concern to us,” Bellone said.  “By creating this review committee, we are creating an opportunity to analyze and review circumstances surrounding violent child deaths in an effort to prevent similar tragedies and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Hahn said the team would hold its first meeting within 90 days and quarterly thereafter.

The panel’s data would not include any identifiable information and its records would be kept confidential, Hahn said. Any reports generated by the team would also be submitted to the state’s office of children and family services when they are finished.

The North Shore is no stranger so incidents that could qualify for the kind of review Hahn’s panel would be seeking.

In October 2014, 16-year-old Thomas Cutinella of Shoreham-Wading River High School suffered a fatal head injury after colliding with another player during a football game. In July 2014, a Kings Park man was convicted of beating his 43-day-old son to death. In December 2015, an 11-year-old from Kings Park died just days after a van struck her as she crossed a road in her hometown.

The state’s office of children and family services said Suffolk County recorded an average of 12.6 child fatalities annually between 2010 and 2014. The office also found that in the year 2015, average percentage of case workers with more than 15 investigations on their caseload on the last day of each month between July and December was 33 percent.

Legislator Kara Hahn, center, speaks about her domestic violence bill as officials look on. Photo by Phil Corso

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) celebrated another milestone victory this week as her most recent efforts to curb domestic violence led to the rehiring of three outreach precinct project caseworkers months after being laid off.

The Long Island Against Domestic Violence non-for-profit organization, which provides domestic violence caseworkers in Suffolk County, did not receive a federal grant to fully staff their outreach project in March, and as a result, was forced to lay off four workers. And while LIADV secured private funding, allowing the rehire of one of the four caseworkers in May, Hahn’s recently passed budget amendment will now provide the organization with $79,000 to rehire the remaining three caseworkers this year.

Although the organization received the federal grant last year, according to Colleen Merlo, executive director of LIADV, its application the following year was denied. Its advocacy department includes seven precinct advocates, two of whom are also full-time court advocates. Victims in need still had the option of calling the organization’s 24-hour hotline at (631) 666-8833 during this time period, however, in the caseworkers’ absence.

Merlo also said the organization reapplied for this same federal grant, since the applications were available under the new funding cycle. The organization will not know if it received the federal grant until October.

Meanwhile, the $79,000 will last the non-for-profit organization until December of this year, Merlo said.

Hahn, alongside Legislators Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) sponsored this bill amendment, which County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has until July 16 to sign. For Hahn, who said she is a domestic violence survivor herself, this budget amendment will not only help the non-for-profit organization, but also the individuals who benefit from its services.

“I want to help victims get themselves out of violent situations,” Hahn said during a phone interview. While she said she doubts that domestic violence will disappear completely, Hahn said she wants to help these victims know their risks and find advocacy in their times of need.

This was Hahn’s fourth piece of domestic violence legislation to see validation through the county Legislature. Although she would not disclose what is next on her domestic violence agenda, Hahn said Suffolk County is “on the cutting edge” of protecting domestic violence victims. She also said the county will continue to support organizations at the frontline of this issue.

Merlo said non-for-profit organizations like LIADV need funding from multiple levels to successfully provide their services.

“I’m appreciative of the budget amendment,” Merlo said during a phone interview. “But the truth of the matter is that we need to provide our services and we rely on not just the government but private donors as well.”

Faces off against incumbent Sarah Anker for 6th District seat

Steve Tricarico photo by Erika Karp
Steve Tricarico photo by Erika Karp
Steve Tricarico photo by Erika Karp

After years of working in the public sector and for local government, Republican Steve Tricarico, Brookhaven Town’s deputy highway superintendent, is making his first run for elected office.

The 30-year-old Wading River native will face off against incumbent Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) for the 6th District seat in November. In a recent interview, Tricarico touted his years of experience working within local governments and his fiscally conservative approach when it comes to budgeting.

Bettering the county’s finances is a main focus of his campaign, Tricarico said. He was critical of the county increasing departmental fees, over relying on sales taxes and borrowing to pay for its operating expenses. He said the county, like its residents, should be living within its means and cut its borrowing.

“The county just doesn’t seem to be getting that message,” he said.

Tricarico said he took issue with how the county overestimated its sales tax revenue in 2014 by 1.5 percent, causing an $18.1 million shortfall, according to a June Fitch Ratings report. Despite the shortfall, the county budgeted for a 4.87 percent increase in sales tax for 2015.

Tricarico said this practice is “hurting our ability to function,” and if elected, he wouldn’t budget for any increase in sales tax, as to not overestimate.

Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle described Tricarico as the “ideal candidate,” and one that people — from Dan Losquadro to former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy — have sought out to work with.

“He has really excelled everywhere he has gone,” LaValle said.

Prior to working for the town, Tricarico worked as a district manager for LIPA, liaising between government officials and constituents. He also worked under Levy in the intergovernmental affairs unit. Tricarico said the jobs provided him with the best background as he understands local government, constituents and budgets.

Sarah Anker file photo by Erika Karp
Sarah Anker file photo by Erika Karp

Tricarico, who still lives in Wading River with his wife, Francine, said their two-year-old daughter, Charlotte, served as an inspiration for him to run as he wants to leave the county better than how he found it for her and for future generations.

As an adjunct professor at Farmingdale State College, Tricarico said he hears from students all of the time about how they would like to stay on Long Island, but just can’t because of the high-cost of living and lack of good jobs.

So if elected, he said he would like to explore ways to provide additional incentives to local businesses and create an economy that grows jobs. All options must be on the table when looking at how to better local government and its economy, Tricarico insisted, stating that he would explore the privatization of some government functions, like health and social services.

“As county representatives there is only so much we can do, but in order to start keeping good businesses here on the Island, we need to make sure that our county legislator, especially in the 6th District, is representing the constituents of the 6th District,” he said. “In my opinion, the current county legislator is rubber-stamping every policy that comes across her desk.”

In a phone interview, Anker said she is focusing on her responsibilities as a county legislator. She said she is grateful that she has had the opportunity to serve the people of the 6th District and would like to continue to do so.

Like Tricarico, Anker said she believes the county needs to start borrowing less. She described taking office in 2011 during one of the worst fiscal challenges anyone has faced  — a time when the county didn’t have much of a choice but to borrow.

“I don’t think he understands the government process,” she said.

Anker also defended her position on creating task forces to look at problems. Tricarico described this as creating “bureaucracy to solve problems.”

But Anker said the groups focus government resources on an issue and create plans to fix things. For example, the SAVE Hotline, which provides schools a direct line to police in the case of an active shooter situation, came out of task force discussions.

“I don’t wait for something to happen,” Anker said. “I actively and proactively [look at] what needs to be focused on, what needs to be changed.”

An x-ray device is used at a press conference to show how inspectors will monitor potentially harmful toxins in children’s products across Long Island retail stores. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Suffolk County is not playing games when it comes to toxic toys.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) saw one of her latest proposals receive unanimous approval last week when the Suffolk County Legislature approved measures that would ban the sale of any toys containing potentially dangerous toxins. The Toxin Free Toys Act zeroes in on six toxins most commonly found in toys marketed to children and will forever ban them once the legislation gets County Executive Steve Bellone’s signature.

Hahn said the initiative came as a response to a recent report issued by the New York League of Conservation Voters and Clean and Healthy New York that found several children’s products containing carcinogenic components on the shelves of Long Island stores. Most specifically, the legislation targeted dangerous materials that are linked to cancer, cognitive impairments, hyperactivity and genetic disorders in children, Hahn said.

“As a mother, I am outraged that children’s toys contain these toxic chemicals that can cause cancer, learning and developmental disabilities and respiratory, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disorders,” Hahn said. “By passing this law today, we are acting proactively to protect our children’s health.”

Under the proposal, new children’s products sold in Suffolk County would need to contain less than specified limits in parts per million of the six following components: antimony, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, lead and mercury. The legislation pegged the county’s Department of Health Services to head up the operation by notifying retailers by the beginning of 2016 that inspectors would be conducting random checks for toys and other children’s products containing toxic content using an x-ray fluorescence analyzer.

Clean and Healthy New York released the “Toxic Toys on Long Island” report back in December, which surveyed various retail spots like Target, Party City, Walmart, The Children’s Place, Macy’s, Ocean State Job Lot and Dollar Tree to find that some products contained potentially harmful materials. The report found more than 4,600 children’s products and toys contained at least one of 49 hazardous chemicals.

Kathleen A. Curtis, executive director of Clean and Healthy New York, was one of several health and safety advocates to applaud the proposal as an appropriate response to December’s report.

“In the absence of a strong state or federal law to regulate toxic chemicals in children’s products, it is both laudable and appropriate for Suffolk County to take action to protect its most precious and vulnerable residents,” she said. “Hopefully, this action will create a tipping point for New York State to follow suit. Otherwise, more localities will step up and follow Suffolk’s lead.”

Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, has also been at the forefront of the statewide push to limit the kinds of toxins children could be exposed to through their toys. While the state still waits for its own comprehensive response to toxic toy legislation, Bystryn applauded Suffolk for taking the lead.

“Toxic chemicals have no place in children’s toys, and they should not be on store shelves for sale,” Bystryn said. “I applaud bill sponsor Kara Hahn and the Suffolk County Legislature for sending a clear message to parents that they deserve the right to know what dangers are lurking in the products they bring home.”

Social

4,793FansLike
5Subscribers+1
982FollowersFollow
19SubscribersSubscribe