Tags Posts tagged with "Suffolk County"

Suffolk County

County officials at Cordwood Landing County Park in Miller Place announce free park access. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County legislators announced April 16 all county residents will have free access to all county parks April 20 through April 28.

Parks Appreciation Week will coincide with National Parks Week, which promotes free access to all federally-owned parks.

Normally residents require the county parks Green Key Card, which charges $30 for a three-year pass; otherwise they would have to pay a parking fee. During the week the county will have no admission required.

“We have this luscious, beautiful woodland that we can enjoy,” said legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).

During the week, Suffolk officials are also promoting a number of programs in many county parks.

For more information, go to Suffolk County’s parks website at https://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/Parks  or call Suffolk County Parks Department at 631-854-4949.

Here are some of the events going on during the week:
  • St. James General Store –New Spring Displays and old fashioned items available at the store. The St. James General Store is an historic and is a National Historic Landmark has been in continuous operation since it was built in 1857 by Ebenezer Smith. It held St James’ first post office. It is considered to be the most authentic general store in the United States.
  • Long Island Maritime Museum is hosting fun Spring Break Classes for Children April 22-26
  • The Seatuck Environmental Association (550 South Bay Ave Islip, New York 11751)  is hosting their The 10th Annual Eco-Carnival Saturday, April 27, 2019 A full day of educational family fun featuring nature programs , live animals, music, art and food to celebrate Earth Day 2019
  • Vanderbilt Museum will be hosting its annual Bunny Fest, located at 80 Little Neck Road in Centerport Saturday, April 20
  • The Vanderbilt Museum’s Spring Creative Workshops for Children (180 Little Neck Road) Centerport, April 22-26 offering a different program each day
  • Versatile Steel Silk Band Returns to Planetarium (180 Little Neck Road) April 27 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
  • North Fork Environmental Council  is hosting a 5K Walk/Run –  Help “Save What’s Left” April 28. Indian Island Proceeds will be used to fund the 2019 NFEC Scholarship Fund. This fund will give two scholarships to high school seniors that plan to pursue environmental.
  • DEC Free Fishing at Southaven Park April 23 10am-12pm. In this fishing event participants can fish for free, where they supply all bait, rods, and tackle for free, no freshwater fishing license necessary. In addition to fishing, participants can learn about fish identification, fishing equipment and techniques, angling ethics and aquatic ecology.
  • Long Island Greenbelt is holding its STUMP POND CIRCULAR “CHOCOLATE” HIKE April 25 at 9:00 AM – 5.7 miles – moderate – varied – Info Nancy B., 631-682-0035. Hike around the 120-acre pond in Blydenburgh Park: bring drinks and snack: rain or shine, although extreme weather cancels; meet at the south entrance of Blydenburgh County Park, opposite the County Offices on NY 347 in the parking lot just east (above) the entrance booth; enjoy a chocolate snack when over.
  • Long Island Greenbelt LAKELAND County Park TO WESTBROOK: April 27 9:00 AM – 6 miles – moderate – flat – Info: Tom or Sherri, 631-567-9484. See Honeysuckle Pond, the Connetquot River, historic hatchery and mill and more on a walk-through Lakeland County Park and Connetquot River State Park Preserve; rain cancels; bring water; meet at Westbrook sports complex; from So. St. Pkwy. Exit 45E, follow Montauk Hwy. east over LIRR bridge to an immediate left onto Wheeler Rd.; park at bottom of hill.
  • Long Island Greenbelt San Souci Stroll April 28 10:00 AM – 4 miles – moderate – mostly flat – Info: Kathie, 631-682-5133.    We will explore two trails in the pine barrens of this county park in Sayville; heavy rain cancels; meet at park entrance on Broadway Avenue turn left to park; parking is limited; overflow parking on Broadway Ave. or side street opposite entrance.
  • Long Island Beach Buggy Association Beach clean-up of Smith Point County Park on April 27
  • Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center at Munns County Park Nanny Class. Learn how to assist our hospital staff in feeding the orphaned babies this Spring in this class. No experience necessary. We will train you. Commit to a minimum of 3 hours per week. Ages 16 and over. Call 631-728-WILD(9453) to register
  • North Fork Audubon-Earth Day and Get To Know Your Local County Park Saturday April 20 at 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Inlet Pond County Park 64795 County Rd 48 Greenport Celebrate Earth Day and “Get To Know Your Local County Park Day” with The North Fork Audubon Society at Inlet Pond County Park.  The Nature Center will be open and there will 2 guided nature walks at 10 AM and 12 PM respectively. This is a family fun day, so adults and children are welcome. Come discover Inlet Pond County Park and learn about the North fork Audubon Society as well. For more information contact Tom Damiani at (631)-275-3202
  • Sagtikos Manor Earth Day Clean-up Monday April 22 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. 677 Montauk Highway West Bay Shore Bring your gardening gloves and weeding tools and we will provide the rest.
  • Nissequogue River and Kayak Rentals open for Paul T. Given County Park, Smithtown call for tide and rental information 631-979-8422.
  • Scout Stewardship Day at SCMELC Mon 4/22/19 Hours 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Calling all scout troops. Join us for a celebration of Earth Day to learn about and get directly involved with the restoration and stewardship efforts of CCE’s Marine Program. Projects will include eelgrass restoration, shellfish population enhancement, a beach clean-up and more!
  • This program is intended for scouts ages 6-18 with their leaders. All children must be accompanied by an adult, this is not a drop-off event. Advanced registration REQUIRED via Eventbrite Fee $10/person
  • Blydenburgh Rowboat rentals available daily 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Southaven Rowboat rentals available daily 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn holds up straws during Legislature's meeting. Photo from the Suffolk County Legislature Facebook

Several businesses have already converted to renewable products

Come January next year, Suffolk residents will likely be slurping down their iced coffees using paper straws, instead of the usual plastic.

As Suffolk lawmakers passed bills aimed at reducing plastic and polystyrene waste in the county April 9, food business owners will need to begin the process of adjusting to the new restrictions on plastic straws and polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam, food service products. 

As per the new bill, food establishments would be required to provide straws and stirrers by request only, and they would have to be biodegradable — not plastic. For customers with a disability or medical condition, plastic straws will be made available by request.  

“The plastics crisis is more urgent than people realize.”

— Kara Hahn

“The scale of the worldwide single-use plastics problem has become an ever-increasing threat to our environment and everything that relies on it, including human health,” said Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “The plastics crisis is more urgent than people realize.”

Some businesses in Suffolk County have already made the switch over to biodegradable options. Local’s Cafe in Port Jeff doesn’t use plastic straws and stirrers, and only uses paper goods, while Soul Brew in St. James said they switched over to paper goods at the end of last summer.  

Constantinos Drepaniotis, co-owner of the Setauket Village Diner, said he and others have advocated for the environment and said the bans are quite a big step in right direction. 

Drepaniotis’ diner hasn’t used Styrofoam food service products for close to two years and has begun reaching out to vendors for plastic straw alternatives. He has considered distributing reusable straws to his customers as well. 

While the price of these alternatives has concerned business owners, the restaurant owner said it is business’ responsibility to be proactive and help in this environmental cause. The owner said he will not let the cost affect the business and it will adapt. 

The Styrofoam bill would bar businesses from using items such as cups, trays and containers that are made from polystyrene, as well as ban retail stores from selling those products. It will require businesses in the county to use biodegradable products, though the bill would exempt items used to store uncooked eggs, raw meat, seafood and poultry. Changes would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified styrene as a potential human carcinogen and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, polystyrene manufacturing process is the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste in the United States. 

“[Styrene has] recently been upgraded from a possible carcinogen to a probable carcinogen — a cancer causing chemical,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said at a Feb. 13 press conference advocating for the bills. “Long Island has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.”

Plastic presents a difficult but necessary to address challenge for the world’s oceans. Photo courtesy of United States Coast Guard

An employee from Tiger Lily Café in Port Jefferson said she dislikes plastic straws and hopes the new ban will potentially get people to bring their own reusable straws, mentioning that it is very expensive right now to purchase biodegradable alternatives, like paper straws. 

While acknowledging the ban would be good for the environment, she said the cost is something a lot of entrepreneurs will have to deal with. The employee also hopes as the demands for these paper goods increase eventually the prices will go down and manufacturers will make it more cost effective. 

Other businesses have been using alternatives to polystyrene containers. Setauket Pita House said it doesn’t use Styrofoam food containers and currently uses aluminum foil containers.   

Officials also passed a third bill that would prohibit the sale of single-use plastic cups, utensils and beverage straws from county beaches and parks. 

Last month, the Legislature approved a companion bill that would replace existing water fountains with new ones designed to allow bottle filling at county facilities and county-owned parks that have water dispensers. 

The bills will now go to the county executive’s office to be signed into law.

Nicolls Road. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

County Road 97, commonly known as Nicolls Road, is one of Long Island’s main thoroughfares, connecting Stony Brook on the North Shore to Patchogue on the South with nearly 16 miles of highway. For years the county has examined ideas to relieve rush hour traffic; now it is proposing a rapid-transit bus system, high-occupancy vehicle lanes and 16 roadside bus stops.

“It’s going to be dual function, and also reduce congestion on Nicolls Road, so its two birds, one stone effect,” said William Hillman, a chief engineer at Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works.

In a 2015 county report prepared by multinational engineering firm Parsons Brickerhoff, the project cost was originally estimated at upward of $200 million, though plans have been scaled down slightly since then.

“By making the buses faster, more reliable, more frequent, we may have a chance to get people to sit in it and get out of their cars.”

— Kara Hahn

Babylon-based engineering firm Greenman-Pedersen, which was the latest company tapped to research the Nicolls Road project, presented April 2 summaries of its initial plans at Suffolk County Community College. 

The plans, as they currently exist, call for 16 new stations positioned along Nicolls as bus terminals connecting to existing Suffolk County Transit routes. The plans would also include 16.5 new miles of dedicated lanes to bypass traffic congestion. Service of these bus lines include a frequency much higher than any current county bus, from a weekday peak of every 10 minutes to a weekend peak of 20 minutes.

Presenters did not offer details on the buses’ fuel source nor did they describe where new stoplights or other traffic slowing devices may be implemented. Larry Penner, who worked for more than three decades in the Federal Transit Administration regional office and now comments on ongoing projects as a self-described transit historian, said that buses typically get right of way in among normal traffic.

Mike Colletta, a project engineer at engineering firm Greenman-Pedersen, which created the most recent presentation on the road, said the firm was recently put onto the project by Suffolk County, and is still in the very early stages of design.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said the Legislature has been approving the project, applying for grants and getting funding toward the corridor studies for years. The project still has a while to go before the county can estimate the true impact on traffic. County officials worry that people will not use buses.

“By making the buses faster, more reliable, more frequent, we may have a chance to get people to sit in it and get out of their cars,” Hahn said. 

While representatives from the county and engineering firm could not give an estimate into the amount of vehicles, Penner said the county still has many things to consider, including costs of roughly 10 new buses, 16 stations and proposed amenities, such as real-time bus locators, similar to the units found at the train stations. Seating and overhangs for the stations themselves must also be factored in.

“Here’s the challenge they face: The density in Suffolk County is far less than Nassau, and far less than New York City,” Penner said. “How many people would drive to one of these 16 Bus Rapid Transit stations and how many people will take a commuter bus and switch to the rapid transit when you can get in your car and get there much more quickly, that will be the challenge they face, because time is money for people.”

These proposed stations would link up to existing Suffolk County Transit bus routes. Multiple existing bus routes already travel along or intersect with Nicolls, including the 3D, the S62, S69, 6B, S58 and 7A, though only two routes use the county road for a significant distance. Service on Suffolk County Transit has also been spotty for a long time, with users often left waiting for buses for over an hour. 

Bruce Morrison, the president of the Selden Civic Association, said he is skeptical of the project, questioning how many people would use it, especially with existing issues on the regular county buses.

“If it’s not attractive to the public, you’re going to have empty buses.”

— Bruce Morrison

“Will they get the ridership?” Morrison said. “If it’s not attractive to the public, you’re going to have empty buses.”

Buses would operate in the HOV lanes on the inside of the road and along the specialized bus lanes along the outside portions of the road. One proposed route would take these buses down the Long Island Expressway, through the Ronkonkoma Train Station and the expected Ronkonkoma Hub project as well before linking back up to Nicolls. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has been touting his Connect LI plan for years. In 2014 the county started exploring several other possible projects. Expanding Route 110 and the Sagtikos Parkway is among the other options. In 2015, Bellone shared his expanded plans for $300 million bus transit plan to connect Long Island’s downtowns, colleges, research and business centers. 

At one point, the county executive’s office floated the idea of building a rapid transit in the median of the well-populated road. Environmental impact studies are ongoing and necessary to ultimately receive federal funding.

In addition to the new route, engineers are also touting designs for a new trail that could run parallel to Nicolls. This path would be akin to the Rails to Trails project, but unlike the 3-mile Greenway Trail from Setauket to Port Jefferson Station, and the upcoming 10-mile project from Wading River through Mount Sinai, this path could be well over 15 miles of trail, crossing under the LIE and over other high trafficked roads like Middle Country Road. The 2015 study allocated $15 million for the biking and hiking trail.

Narcan, a drug that stops opioid overdoses. File photo by Jessica Suarez

By Donna Deedy

New York State Attorney General’s office announced March 28 that it has expanded a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors and members of the Sackler family, whose company Purdue Pharma made and marketed OxyContin.

The lawsuit, originally filed in Suffolk County, has now become the nation’s most extensive case to date to legally address the opioid crisis.  

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D)applauded the move.

“It is our hope that our lawsuit, and ones like it, will bear fruit that forever changes the way destructive—but profitable—drugs are marketed and sold across the nation,” he said.

“As the Sackler Family and the other defendants grew richer, New Yorkers’ health grew poorer and our state was left to foot the bill.”

— Letitia James

The lawsuit alleges that six national prescription opioid manufacturers, four prescription drug distributors and members of the Sackler family are largely responsible for creating the opioid epidemic through years of false and deceptive marketing that ignored their obligation to prevent unlawful diversion of the addictive substance. 

The amended lawsuit includes Attorney General Letitia James’  findings from a multi-year, industry-wide investigation of opioid market participants, which alleges that manufacturers implemented a common “playbook” to mislead the public about the safety, efficacy, and risks of their prescription opioids. 

“Manufacturers pushed claims that opioids could improve quality of life and cognitive functioning, promoted false statements about the non-addictive nature of these drugs, masked signs of addiction by referring to them as “pseudoaddiction” and encouraged greater opioid use to treat it, and suggested that alternative pain relief methods were riskier than opioids, among other grossly misleading claims,”  the attorney general’s office stated in its summary of the amended suit. The office claims that manufacturers used a vast network of sales representatives to push dangerous narratives and target susceptible doctors, flood publications with their deceptive advertisements, and offer consumer discount cards and other incentives to them to request treatment with their product. 

The manufacturers named in the amended complaint include Purdue Pharma and its affiliates, members of the Sackler family (owners of Purdue) and trusts they control, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates (including parent company Johnson & Johnson), Mallinckrodt LLC and its affiliates, Endo Health Solutions and its affiliates, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and its affiliates and Allergan Finance, LLC.  The distributors named in the complaint are McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation and Rochester Drug Cooperative, Inc.

“As the Sackler Family and the other defendants grew richer, New Yorkers’ health grew poorer and our state was left to foot the bill,” James stated. “The manufacturers and distributors of opioids are to blame for this crisis and it is past time they take responsibility.” 

“This company and company’s owners knew the addictive quality and used it for financial gain.”

— Kara Hahn

The opioid epidemic has ravaged families and communities nationwide and across New York. Suffolk County has been particularly hard hit statewide. When the county originally filed its lawsuit, legislators reported that the region suffered the highest number of heroin deaths statewide.  Between 2009 and 2013, 418 people died of a heroin overdose. Many people turned to heroin when their prescriptions ran out.  The opioid related death tolls have continued to rise.According to New York State Health Department data for 2017, opioid pain relievers, including illicitly produced fentanyl, caused 429 deaths in Suffolk County. Over six thousand people were admitted for opioid addiction, including heroin, into the counties Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. 

“I applaud New York State Attorney General James for joining in our efforts to recoup untold amounts of public funds that were spent to assist those afflicted by this epidemic,” Bellone stated. “Suffolk County is taking a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook to hold the Sackler family and others accountable for their role in connection with the opioid crisis.  

The Suffolk County legislature is proceeding with their lawsuit as it was originally put forward, but officials agreed with the state’s initiative.

“The pharceutical companies opened the flood gates,” said county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai). “I agree the Sacklers should be targeted for a lawsuit.”

County Legislators Anker, Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson) and William Spencer (D-Centerport) originally co-sponsored the bill.

“It’s an incredibly important that all responsible be held accountable,” Hahn said. “This company and company’s owners knew the addictive quality and used it for financial gain.”

A customer paying 5 cents to purchase a plastic bag from IGA Fort Salonga. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A small fee on plastic bags in Suffolk County has made a very big impact on usage, according to an environmental advocacy group.

Beginning in January 2018, a 5-cent tax on plastic bags from retail stores took effect across Suffolk County with a stated goal to reduce bag waste and encourage shoppers to use reusable bags. County officials alongside environmental advocacy groups and educators announced the new law has worked as intended at a press conference March 21. 

According to the one-year effectiveness report, Suffolk County is using approximately 1.1 billion less plastic bags compared to previous years. Other key highlights include 41 percent less plastic bag litter on beaches and plastic and paper bag use at stores has been reduced by over 80 percent. 

Data showing number of plastic bags collected on suffolk County beach cleanups. Image from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

“We have made a difference, right here in Suffolk County,” Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment who presented the report’s findings, said the bill has made a real difference. 

 “This legislation has changed public behavior — that was the goal,” she said.  

The report showed more members of the public bring their own reusable bags when shopping, while some forgo bags entirely. Overall much less plastic bags were
being used. 

Esposito also mentioned that the data collected in the report is being cited across the nation as other municipalities try to promote similar plastic bag bans and fees. 

“It was a little rocky in January of last year, not everyone was a happy camper, but it takes time to adjust, [the public] did it and we move on,” she said. 

Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood High School science teacher said Suffolk County is a model for the future when it comes to making changes for the environment. She also pointed to student scientists who played a large role in the survey and data collection for the effectiveness report.  

“We had six school districts on Long Island that had students go out to different locations from 2017 to 2018,” Grella said. “Without the support and the work of these young scientists out in the field we would not have the data that we have today.” 

The science teacher said it shows that environmental changes take time but also stressed the involvement of our youth. 

“Engaging our youth in these pursuits is critical,” she said.  

Data explaining rate of carryout bag usage in Suffolk County. Image from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

This turn of events could be a good sign for Long Island, whose municipalities are already struggling due to changes in the recycling industry. Though the Town of Brookhaven Green Stream Recycling facility has stopped operation since its contractor walked out on its contract with the town, when it was operating town officials said plastic bags were dangerous if they went through the facility, due to the way they could snag and constrain sorting mechanisms.

John Turner, a conservation policy advocate at Setauket Environmental Association said the legislation has had benefits on local recycling facilities as well, citing that at town municipal recycling facility machinery would be routinely clogged up by plastic bags.    

Operation would need to be shut down every couple of hours to remove all the bags, costing the town $184,000 each instance to do the work and remove the bags. 

The report comes on the heels of the county’s continuation to reduce single-use plastics. In February, legislators announced policy incentives aimed at restricting the sales of several plastics, some harmful to health and to the environment. In July 2018, a project called Strawless Suffolk started and looked for 100 seaside restaurants in Bellport, Greenport, Huntington, Northport, Patchogue and Port Jefferson Village to take a pledge to stop using plastic straws by Sept. 3, 2018. 

Juvenile clams maturing in Brookhaven’s hatchery. File photo by Alex Petroski

Long Island has become synonymous with shellfish farming, though in recent years it has become increasingly difficult for farmers to sell and market their products. 

With that in mind, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) launched a pilot program March 11 designed to remove the red tape to assist local oyster farmers by allowing vendors to expand their current retail opportunities. 

“Shellfish farming has been an important part of Long Island’s heritage for decades, and plays an important role in cleaning our waterways and promoting economic activity,” Bellone said. 

He will be introducing legislation to implement an annual temporary event permit for vendors of shellfish grown or harvested in Long Island waters. The permit will not include fees for the first two years. 

“The introduction of this legislation will go a long way in removing barriers that have made it difficult for our farmers to sell and market their locally sourced products,” the county executive said. 

Under current regulations, shellfish farmers must apply for a vendors temporary food service permit with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services before they can market and sell their products. The permits cost $95 and are valid only for a single event at a fixed location, with a 14-day limit. A permit’s time restriction makes it hard for shellfish farmers to participate in weekly and monthly events such as farmers markets and fairs. As a result, it limits a shellfish farmer’s ability to do business. 

“The introduction of this legislation will go a long way in removing barriers that have made it difficult for our farmers to sell and market their locally sourced products.”

— Steve Bellone

“The county’s aquaculture industry is vital not only to our Island’s history but to our economy as well,” said county Legislator Bill Lindsay (D-Bohemia), chairman of the Suffolk County Legislature Economic Development Committee. “This industry generates millions of dollars in revenue, supports our local restaurants and provides our residents with world-class locally grown products.”

In addition to improving the shellfish industry, the county will continue efforts to improve water quality and restore marine ecosystems.  

Past efforts include the 2010 aquaculture lease program. That program secured marine access for shellfish cultivation in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay to accommodate growth, while considering the needs of existing shellfish agriculture businesses. 

According to the county’s Department of Economic Development and Planning, the program’s total economic output from 2012 to 2017 was estimated at $13 million.

“Long Island’s farmers and aquaculture producers are grateful for this economic incentive proposal put forth by County Executive Bellone to help us market and sell our products direct to consumers,” said Rob Carpenter, administrative director of Long Island Farm Bureau. “It will keep jobs, increase sales tax revenue and continue all the associated environmental benefits the industry does for Long Island residents and our waters.”  

According to the Long Island Oyster Growers Association, local oysters filter approximately 900 million gallons of water every single day. Oysters improve waterways by eating algae, filtering out particulates and excess nutrients as well as creating habitats for other organisms.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Suffolk County officials have set their sights on the wallet of a disgraced ex-police chief, looking to recoup costs of litigation.

Nearly three months after Suffolk County legislators tabled a proposal to sue former police chief James Burke over the $1.5 million settlement it paid out to his victim, the Suffolk County Legislature passed a measure March 5 to begin a lawsuit in an attempt to recoup compensation and salary Burke had received up to when he resigned in October 2015. 

“Burke clearly breached the oath he took as an officer and the duty he owed the county to serve in his capacity faithfully and lawfully,” Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said. The Smithtown legislator was the main sponsor of the bill. 

The bill would authorize the county attorney to file a lawsuit by using “the faithless servant doctrine,” which dates back to the 19th century and allows employers to recoup all compensation paid to an employee while they acted in a disloyal manner. 

The resolution was drafted to recover the compensation paid specifically to Burke and no other county employee. 

“It feels great,” Trotta said. “Finally a victory for Suffolk County taxpayers.”

Originally, Trotta wanted to recoup money from a 2018 settlement the county paid to Christopher Loeb, who was shackled and beaten by Burke back in 2012 as part of a cover-up. County attorney Dennis Brown said at a December 2018 Ways and Means Committee public hearing there was no basis for a possible lawsuit and there was no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in the lawsuit, according to previous reporting by TBR News Media.  

In the federal civil lawsuit, the county agreed to pay the settlement amount for the civil rights offenses as they were the ex-police chief’s employer at the time. The county also paid the settlement for the actions of six other police officers who helped cover up Burke’s actions when he allegedly beat a handcuffed man for stealing a duffle bag from his vehicle.  

At the same hearing, Howard Miller, a Garden City-based attorney with the law firm Bond Schoeneck & King, presented a case for the county suing Burke for his wages and compensation paid by the county under the faithless servant doctrine.

Miller mentioned that he had successfully represented clients at the state level in similar lawsuits, including the William Floyd School District.

“This doctrine is designed to create a deterrent to future acts like this, of corruption and misconduct,” Miller said at the December 2018 public hearing.

Brown also said in a statement that the Suffolk County Charter authorizes either the county executive or the Legislature to direct legal action. The resolution that was passed by the Legislature provides a framework specific to that action, but does not limit the ability of the county executive to pursue additional legal action.

Trotta hopes the measure sets a precedent that anyone, whether in government or not, will be held accountable for their actions. 

“Former District Attorney Spota empowered and conspired with Jim Burke and Chris McPartland,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) spokesperson Jason Elan said in a statement. “Clearly, all three fall under the faithless servant doctrine so any legal action to recoup taxpayer-funded salary and benefits should include each individual.”

According to a representative from the county executive’s office, Bellone signed the legislation to recover salary and benefits from Burke on March 11 and further directed a similar suit be filed against ex-District Attorney Thomas Spota and his top aide who have also been indicted on related charges.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County financial reform has leaped to the tops of the minds of members of both parties in county government.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced proposals aimed at strengthening Suffolk’s financial future at a press conference in Hauppauge Feb. 27. As part of the Securing Suffolk’s Financial Future Act, Bellone proposed amending the county Tax Act to allow the county to collect tax revenue that is owed in January, instead of waiting until June. Officials said the plan is the latest in the county’s efforts to streamline operations and be more efficient. 

Bellone said the goal of the plan is to help strengthen the county’s financial condition going forward. 

“It would ensure the county would get tax revenue that it is owed at the beginning of the year instead of waiting until June and [being] forced to borrow funds.”

— Steve Bellone

“When we look at planning ahead, looking beyond where we are today and thinking about where we’ll be five, 10, 15 years down the road — it’s important that we do that,” the county executive said. 

The plan would build upon previous undertakings by the county, which include bipartisan efforts to bring the county in line with the best finance practices set forth by financial experts from the Office of the New York State Comptroller and the Government Finance Officers Association, according to Bellone. 

In doing so, the county would press to amend the Tax Act, which would require state legislation. The county executive said the 100-year-old law is seriously outdated.

“It would ensure the county would get tax revenue that it is owed at the beginning of the year instead of waiting until June and [being] forced to borrow funds,” he said. “This is an issue that crosses party lines, this is not an issue that is partisan or [one] that should be partisan.”

The county executive called for the authorization of a four-year budget plan, which would allow the county to focus on long-term projects as well as updated debt management and fund balance policies. New computer software will be purchased to enhance transparency and
accountability.

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), a known critic of Bellone, announced plans in February to run for county executive in November. His campaign has attacked Bellone on the current state of the county’s finances, placing a lot of the blame on his Democratic contender for a downgrade in Suffolk’s bond rating and for raising county fees. 

Kennedy said Bellone is just attempting to look fiscally responsible.

“Steve Bellone doesn’t know how to spend less,” Kennedy said. 

In a Jan. 31 TBR News Media article, Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director, said while the county’s bond rating has dropped, Kennedy were “overstating” the impact. He said Moody’s, which gives the bond grades to municipalities, was only looking at the past and not the future. Kennedy has said he plans to consolidate county offices in order to reduce taxes.

Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), deputy presiding officer, said fiscal responsibility is the top priority when talking about taxpayer dollars. 

“These policies that we are laying out are common-sense ways to ensure that we are transparent with the public,” he said. 

The county executive also called for re-establishing an insurance reserve fund, originally created in 1980, which would assist in paying unexpected legal expenses. There was a call as well to reorganize the county’s audit joint committee and add more members. 

“Steve Bellone doesn’t know how to spend less.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Bellone said the changes would allow for a more robust and diversified review of the fiscal condition of the county. 

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman (D), who helped piece the plan together along with a team from the county executive’s office, said its goal was to figure out how Suffolk County can be best managed and reach its fullest potential. 

“What we can do is to present reform in a manner to get the best out of what this county can offer,” Kaiman said. 

County officials indicated legislation has been filed and expect a hearing to be set at the end of March and the proposals could be up for consideration into law sometime in April. 

Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

An East Setauket man faces a multicount indictment for allegedly receiving more than $400,000 through insurance fraud.

On Feb. 28, Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini’s (D) office announced the unsealing of a 70-count indictment against former health care worker Joseph Basile, 50. It is alleged he fraudulently received more than $400,000 through a health insurance fraud scheme where he would file claims for unperformed procedures and list a former employer, a colorectal surgeon, on the forms.

“This was an act of pure greed,” Sini said. “He used his knowledge of the health care insurance system to illegally pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that would have otherwise been used to care for people who were sick and in need.”

Basile was charged with insurance fraud in the first degree, three counts of health care fraud in the second degree, two counts of grand larceny in the second degree, health care fraud in the third degree, grand larceny in the third degree, scheme to defraud in the first degree and 60 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree.

Basile was employed as an office manager for a private health care practice by a colorectal surgeon in Port Jefferson before the practice closed in 2013, according to the DA’s office. From January 2014 through July 2016, Basile allegedly fraudulently filed insurance claims for medical procedures, including colorectal surgeries, to Empire BlueCross BlueShield in excess of $3.8 million on behalf of himself and others, listing his former employer as the provider. The medical procedures had not been performed.

Basile then allegedly forged the signature of his former employer and deposited the checks into his own account. The more than $400,000 received was paid by both the insurance company and John T. Mather Hospital.

The former health care worker also allegedly filed fraudulent insurance claims on behalf of another individual whose health care is provided through Teamsters Local 1205’s welfare fund, according to Sini’s office. Basile allegedly stole more than $3,000 from the fund by filing false health care insurance claims.

Basile was released on $5,000 bond and is due back in court March 12. If convicted of the top count, he faces a maximum sentence of eight and one-third to 25 years in prison.

He is being represented by Legal Aid of Suffolk County attorney Kathleen Evers who could not be reached for comment.

A crowd packed the auditorium of the William H. Rogers building to speak on legalized marijuana Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

When it comes to legalizing recreational marijuana, the debate continues in Suffolk County.

More than 100 people filled the Suffolk County Legislature chambers Feb. 25 for a public hearing on the legalization of recreational marijuana and its potential impact. The over two-hour meeting fueled a contentious debate between attendees, with supporters pointing to the tax revenue the county could gain from possible legalization and the health benefits attributed to marijuana. Opponents argued that it is a quality of life issue and their view of the plant as a gateway drug, supporting the idea of the county opting out. 

“When it comes to the young developing brain there are no such things as safe drugs.”

— Kym Laube

County legislators on the health committee held the hearing to gather input from the community as New York State inches closer to legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) expressed his support for legal recreational cannabis in his inaugural address in early January. 

John Durso, president of Local 338, a union that represents close to 300 workers in the NYS medical cannabis industry, said he supports legalization and views it as a potential source of economic development in the county — if done right. 

“As we got to know more patients, caregivers and medical professionals, we learned even more about the benefits of medical cannabis,” Durso said. “In easing symptoms for those who are ill or those who suffer from chronic pain, [it gives them] the ability to live more fulfilled lives.” 

Durso added the legalization of cannabis is an opportunity to expand beyond the 5 percent of the New York population who are currently enrolled in the state program and allow more to benefit from its effects. 

Kym Laube, executive director of the nonprofit social services organization Human Understanding and Growth Services, said instead of focusing on just one drug we as a county need to address all drug use for the sake of children.

“When it comes to the young developing brain there are no such things as safe drugs,” Laube said. “Schools across Long Island are fighting this — I just don’t think we are ready today to allow this to come [into the county].” 

At first, her stance was a strong no for recreational marijuana, but now with legalization potentially on the horizon she hopes it can be delayed as long as possible. 

“Let’s think of how we can build our drug prevention infrastructure,” she said. “Let’s ensure before we roll this out that every youth has access to prevention as much as they have access to drugs.” 

Troy Smith, deputy director of the Empire State NORML, an advocacy group for the regulation and safe sale of marijuana, said he is not advocating for legalization, rather regulation to an existing industry and safe access to the plant. 

“I would like to urge you all to just say ‘no’ — don’t opt out,” he said. 

Smith said many law-abiding citizens partake in the consumption of marijuana, and legalization would lead to the existing business being regulated better so customers are protected. He also added by opting out the county would forfeit tax revenue and benefit drug dealers and criminals. 

David Falkowski, owner of Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton, which grows industrial hemp and sells CBD oil, echoed Smith’s sentiments of not opting out. 

“I would like to urge you all to just say ‘no’ — don’t opt out.”

— Troy Smith

“If by chance the county feels like it needs to opt out, I just ask them that this decision is not left up to a small board of temporarily appointed representatives and that it goes to a referendum vote,” he said. His sentiments were followed by loud applause from pro-legalization supporters. 

Some residents expressed concerns about quality of life and potential second-hand smoke hazards. If the county chose not to opt out, one resident asked representatives to outlaw and prohibit smoking in multiple unit-dwelling buildings to avoid the issue of people getting a contact high. 

For Kimberly Miller of Deer Park, marijuana isn’t all about getting high — it is more personal. 

As a recovering alcoholic and sexual assault survivor who suffers from depression, anxiety and PTSD, Miller said, for her and others like her, microdosing marijuana fills the gap traditional medicine doesn’t provide.

“Today I’m here asking you to fill one last gap for me,” she said. “Legalize and regulate marijuana, like you do with alcohol and tobacco. Let me buy it from a reputable business and let me pay taxes on it. Build some commerce. It’s a win-win for both of us.” 

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