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Suffolk County

Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen patches a pothole in the Town of Smithtown as another highway department staffer looks on. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen (R) has resigned and pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges in a scheme to alter road-repaving records from last year.

Jorgensen, 63, pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead on Thursday, Oct. 15, to a felony charge of offering a false instrument for filing and a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct as part of a plea deal with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

He will be sentenced on Dec. 11 to four months of jail but will serve an alternative sentence in lieu of jail of 570 hours of community service, and will receive three years probation, according to Robert Clifford, spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

“This disposition compels the defendant to resign from his elected position and his admission of guilt before the court confirms the facts uncovered during the investigation,” Clifford said in a statement. “As the Superintendent of Highways Mr. Jorgensen knowingly had false information about the paving of town roads filed as an official town record, and he knowingly directed that inaccurate information be filed to make it appear as though the roadwork met state mandatory specifications.”

Vecchio’s office confirmed that Jorgensen resigned from his position as of Friday, Oct. 16.

In April, Jorgensen was charged with tampering with public records, falsifying business records, filing false records, official misconduct and grand larceny, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said. Initially, Jorgensen pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At the time, Jorgensen, of St. James, was accused of altering road construction reports and stealing a public work order for an improper repaving. He tried to conceal his approval of paving at least eight Smithtown streets in freezing temperatures last November and then directed a highway foreman to alter the record of the weather conditions done during the repaving work.

District attorney detectives found work orders for the improper repaving jobs hidden under Jorgensen’s bed at his Hope Place residence.

“State Department of Transportation construction standards dictate asphalt must not be applied to a road surface in freezing temperatures, and in fact, the town’s own engineer has said repaving in freezing weather would result in the asphalt falling apart,” Spota said in an April statement. “The repaving of a residential street doesn’t happen that often and when it does, residents are paying for a job done correctly, not a faulty repaving that will soon need pothole repair work.”

Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) has said he felt Jorgensen should resign from his post amid the slew of accusations.

“It is a sad occurrence and I will have no comment other than I have sympathy for Mr. Jorgensen and his family,” Vecchio said in an email on Tuesday morning.

Jorgensen had also been accused of sexual harassment involving his former secretary. The town was issued a notice of claim alleging he sexually harassed her in December. The claim also alleged he had taken her out to job sites, out to eat and eventually fired her after finding out she was dating an employee of the highway department. Earlier this year, Vecchio publicly called Jorgensen out for taking his new secretary out to job sites, going against the Suffolk County Civil Service’s job description for the position.

“It seems to me that you are either not comprehending why the position exists, you have a disregard for civil service law or you are mocking the town board and the public,” Vecchio said of Jorgensen bringing his new secretary to the job site in April.

Smithtown Democratic Committee Chairman Ed Maher also called for Jorgensen’s resignation in April, and said it was an outrage that the taxpayers were funding his salary.

Jorgensen worked for the Smithtown Highway Department for 37 years, and won election for highway superintendent in 2009 and 2013.

Jorgensen’s attorney could not be reached for comment this week.

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When a car runs a red light in Suffolk County, does it make a sound?

Yes. If you listen closely, you’ll hear your wallet being pried open.

Beware the daring driver who goes through a yellow light to traverse a busy intersection. It’ll happen so suddenly. You’ll see a quick flash of white light, followed by a sinking feeling: You just ran a red.

Flash forward weeks later when you get slapped with a $50 ticket. Let’s not forget the $30 administrative fee. And don’t be late with it, or else you could be hit with additional late fees of $25 or more.

Suffolk County’s Red Light Safety Program just feels unjust. Ask any Long Islander about it, and you’re likely to get that eye-roll or an angry tone.

It’s a “money grab,” they’ll say. And they already pay a ton in taxes to live here.

Remember that story over the summer about the Centereach man who used an expandable pole to push the cameras toward the sky? It attracted much attention and numerous shares on social media. To the public, he was known as the “Red Light Robin Hood.” In a follow-up interview with Newsday after his arrest, the man, Stephen Ruth, defended his actions.

“It’s abusive and it’s got to stop,” Ruth told Newsday reporters. “My taxes have doubled. … They keep taking more and more money from people. When is enough, enough?”

GOPers in the Suffolk County Legislature say they feel like Ruth. Some Republicans are calling for greater scrutiny in the program, and some flat out disagree with it all together. A press conference last week singled out the county’s red light program, dubbing it a cheap attempt at building revenue on the backs of everyday citizens.

We agree with that notion, but we do not outright disagree with the program’s premise. Those drivers who purposely whiz through a red light deserve that ticket they’ll eventually receive in the mail, but we don’t feel the same way about drivers slapped with tickets for not stopping enough before a turn at right-on-red intersections. Cameras don’t capture enough of the oncoming traffic in an intersection, in our opinion, to appropriately determine whether or not a right on red was executed safely, and that — to us  — is a textbook money grab.

The county says red-light-running is “one of the major causes of crashes, deaths and injuries at signalized intersections.” The action killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000 in 2009, the year before the county program was enacted. And nearly two-thirds of the deaths were people other than the red-light-running drivers.

But while it is a noble intention to stop speeders or those who flagrantly disobey the rules of the road, and to prevent fatalities from occurring, we agree with the notion that the measure is a money grab. We agree the county should stop and yield to the concerns of many and evaluate how to make the program better.

Some Suffolk County elected officials are calling the red light safety program a scam. File photo

Five years after red light cameras were installed in Suffolk County, North Shore officials are still examining the program’s effectiveness, as well as its purpose, by asking: Are the cameras a means of enhancing public safety or simply another source of income for the county?

On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Republican Suffolk County Legislators Tom Muratore (Ronkonkoma); Robert Trotta (Fort Salonga); Leslie Kennedy (Nesconset); Tom Cilmi (Bay Shore); Tom Barraga (West Islip) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) addressed some of their concerns when they met to discuss potential reforms to the Red Light Safety Program.

The program was written into law in 2009 and installed red light cameras at up to 50 intersections in Suffolk County. The cameras were installed to capture the backs of the drivers’ cars, as opposed to the drivers themselves. Under the program, drivers who run through a red light face a $50 traffic violation but do not receive points against their license.

Prior to the press conference, Muratore said county Republicans were left in the dark regarding details surrounding the program, such as the duration of various lights. While there are three-second and five-second yellow and red lights, Muratore said it was impossible to identify which lights resided where.

Despite this, Muratore said he found the program relatively reasonable. The legislator said he voted in favor of the program, thinking this new technology would help avoid traffic accidents. But what he disagreed with, he said, was the county’s manipulating of administrative fees associated with the program.

“If you’re getting tens of thousands of tickets and you increase the fee by $5.00, you’re getting half a million to a million dollars, maybe more,” Muratore said in an interview. “That’s just money-grabbing right there.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) did not respond to requests seeking comment.

After Tuesday’s press conference in Riverhead, Trotta said he thinks the “money-grabbing” surpassed Bellone’s proposal to increase the administrative fee. He said the county has $2 billion worth of debt and claimed the program is nothing but an opportunity to collect money to help offset that.

According to Trotta, if the camera “does not produce 25 tickets in a 16-hour period, then the county has to pay $2,136.”

The money is a fixed monthly fee the county must pay the program’s contractor, Baltimore-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc. According to an amendment to the program, the county must also pay an additional $17.25 for each paid citation generated from such enforcement system.

While public safety is a concern for many county officials, Trotta said he does not think there is a safety issue. Some Suffolk County residents also oppose the cameras, so much so that Stephen Ruth of Centereach used a pole to turn the cameras away from the road at various locations. He was arrested in August for tampering, and some hailed him as a “Red Light Robin Hood.” The defendant called the program “abusive.”

Muratore said the issue is not really people running red lights, but drivers’ timing when turning right on red. He said drivers should not receive a ticket for turning right on red when it is permitted, provided they came to a full stop: “They forget they have to stop and then go. There’s no three second rule or five second rule, it’s a full stop.”

By Larry Vetter

What does a vibrant industrial park bring to a town? The answer is simple: jobs and an increased tax base, to ease the burdens on everyone.

There are essentially two types of economic centers within the town of Smithtown. One type is visible. This is the downtown areas. The second is the industrial parks, equally important, but more hidden. When we think of industrial parks, Hauppauge immediately comes to mind; however, Nesconset, St. James and Kings Park also contain industrial zones.

Larry Vetter
Larry Vetter

Recently, I had the opportunity to drive through the various zones. The Hauppauge, Nesconset and St. James zones consist primarily of warehouse-type structures, while Kings Park consists mostly of yard-type commercial businesses. Many of the buildings in the Nesconset and St. James zones are empty or significantly underutilized. The Hauppauge Industrial Park was once vibrant with a mix of light industry, manufacturing and warehousing. Today, there is also a malaise in this industrial park.

Suffolk County and several of the townships within the county have developed industrial development associations. They recognize the “Long Island Brain Drain,” where many of our well-educated young people cannot find the type of employment commensurate with their education. The primary purpose of these associations is to entice business into the county and more specifically to our towns. Today, Smithtown contains no such association. It seems to be a rather significant oversight to have, within our borders, one of the largest industrial parks, and yet not have any plans for developing it.

So what do we do? What seems to happen is that we sit back and hope. Our only initiative was to allow building owners to extend the roof heights in hopes of attracting business. So far, neither idea appears effective.

We need to once again think outside of the box. My solutions to this crucial problem are as follows:

1. Develop an industrial development association. This can be done with resources we already have within the town. It is not necessary to spend additional tax revenue on this process. We can piggyback with the existing Suffolk County program.

2. Actively entice businesses to Long Island. Who is to say that Hauppauge cannot become the next “silicone valley”? Technology companies often need minimal raw materials and shipping is often parcel post; something we are situated very well for.

3. Open discussions with Suffolk in an attempt to develop sewer system plans in Smithtown. As important as this topic is to homeowners, it is equally as important to businesses.

4. Suffolk County has a number of transportation initiatives. Why not work with the county to develop alternative transportation from our nearby rail hubs to enable easier movement into and out of the industrial park?

Smithtown is a great place. We have many hardworking families that take the education of their children seriously. As a result, there are well qualified individuals to staff modern technology enterprises. We have great public schools and nearby higher education facilities, as well as world-renowned research facilities. We have wonderful beaches and golf courses, and several nearby townships are undergoing a revival in eateries and entertainment. Finally, we are located very near one of the most vibrant cities in the world. It seems to me that it would not at all be a difficult sell, but like everything else, it must be worked for.

This November, take the opportunity to vote for individuals that will work toward solutions and not accept excuses for why things cannot happen. Let’s reverse the “Brain Drain” and give us all a chance to keep families together on Long Island.

The author is a Smithtown resident running for the Town Board on the Democratic line in November’s election.

Wastewater is handled at a sewage treatment plant on the North Shore. File photo by Susan Risoli

There’s something in the water — our own excrement.

Last week was national SepticSmart Week, an annual U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiative created to teach people how to care for their septic systems. People should know how to maintain these waste systems to prevent their contents from seeping into the ground and into our drinking water aquifer, but it’s a shame that we are still at this point.

Suffolk County politicians frequently talk about their lofty goals to build sewer systems throughout our neighborhoods. In addition to better protecting surface and groundwater, sewers enable commercial and residential development, which is what we need to keep Long Island a viable community for future generations. But we rarely see progress toward the widespread sewer goal.

Part of the problem is the tremendous cost of “sewering up” all of our homes and businesses. However, it’s better to start paying now than when we are in the throes of another recession and desperately need sewers in order to attract business and keep the economy chugging along; or when we wake up one morning to find our water supply irreparably saturated with human waste particles.

Although there are admirable government initiatives to reduce nitrogen pollution, sewers are the ultimate solution. Maybe our electeds are hesitant to be the hated ones handing taxpayers a large bill for the projects, but someone’s got to do it.

Until our elected officials start taking real action, there are things we can do to help spare our drinking water, such as investing our own money in our septic systems, upgrading them to more environmentally friendly ones and safely cleaning them out more frequently to prevent overflowing.

According to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office, there are 360,000 county lots with septic systems and cesspools that add nitrogen pollution to our communities. If even 10 percent of those lot owners upgraded their septic systems, it could make a world of difference.

Officials gather to see the cesspool at Alan Marvin’s house in Nesconset on Thursday, Sept. 24. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone (D) gathered with public officials and members of the community on Thursday to celebrate the third annual national SepticSmart Week.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SepticSmart Week, which runs from Sept. 21 to 25, is a nationally-recognized week meant to inform and encourage homeowners on how to properly maintain their septic systems.

Suffolk County officials also hope this week will educate homeowners on how their septic systems impact local water quality.

“It’s a time to focus on the issues that are and haven driven water quality, and the issues that allow us to reverse the decline we’ve seen in our water quality,” Bellone said.

Suffolk County currently has 360,000 unsewered lots with cesspools and septic systems that contribute to nitrogen pollution in the county’s surface and groundwater, according to a statement from Bellone’s office. More innovative wastewater septic systems and updated programs will help reverse the decades of decline in the county’s water, the county executive said.

“This is a testament to the importance of this problem,” Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D- Setauket) said. “Nitrogen is seeping into our groundwater and reeking havoc.”

Bellone’s “Reclaim Our Water” initiative is one that partners with the liquid waste industry to overhaul the county’s liquid waste licensing program. Changes proposed to the licensing process would require training and continuing education for the many specialized services within the liquid waste field.

“These proposed training and requirements will create accountability and increase consumer confidence, as property owners can be assured that the company they hire has been trained to best service the specific septic system they have and protect Suffolk County’s ground water,” according to a statement from Bellone’s office.

Bellone said a partnership Suffolk County has developed with the Long Island Liquid Waste Association is helping improve relationships between the private sector and their customers in water waste management.

“It’s making sure the private sector is set with the tools they need to help homeowners with these new advanced waste water septic systems,” Bellone said.

Other members of Suffolk County government were excited by the new water quality initiatives.

“We’re involved in a historic initiative in Suffolk County to address a serious threat to our environment and our economy,” Peter Scully, deputy county executive for water quality said. “We’re always happy and anxious to work with the private sector on solutions.”

This event was held at Nesconset resident Alan Marvin’s home. Officials inspected Marvin’s cesspool and observed how it had changed over time.

Marvin said he was lucky to be have been chosen because he learned afterwards that his septic system is set to overflow by December, and he would have had to call for emergency services. He said he was not aware of that.

“It’s an important issue,” he said. “I don’t think most homeowners realize when they go to the bathroom what it affects. This is a good way for Suffolk County residents to learn.”

Move is part of Stern’s Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative

Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo
Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo
Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo

Suffolk County lawmakers have taken another step toward putting roofs over homeless veterans’ heads.

On Sept. 9, the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved the transfer of eight tax-defaulted properties to nonprofit agencies that will in turn convert them into affordable rental housing for veterans who are homeless or seriously at risk of becoming homeless.

The move is a significant component of Legislator Steve Stern’s (D) Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative, a multi-pronged legislative package aimed at battling the war against veteran homelessness in Suffolk. Officials have said there are about 750 Long Island veterans who are either homeless or who are expected to be homeless by the end of 2015.

Stern, who is the chairman of the county’s Veterans and Seniors Committee, said the law is a worthy initiative and way to truly give back to those who have served.

“I’ve always said that we all need to do our part in serving those that have served us,” Stern said in a phone interview Friday. “But it can’t just be marching a parade. It can’t just be waving a flag.”

The nonprofits involved would foot the construction bill through possibly more than $10 million in state and federal grant funding available for such projects, Stern said. Funding for the construction will be provided in part from the New York State Homeless Housing Assistance Program and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

A total of 14 units of housing would be created among the eight properties that have been transferred, Stern said.

Two parcels in Central Islip will be transferred to the Concern for Independent Living for the construction of three single-family homes. Bay Shore-based United Veterans Beacon House has proposed to rehabilitate an existing home on a Copiague parcel, and build a single-family unit on a Yaphank parcel.

In addition, the Association for Mental Health and Wellness is proposing to build a new four-bedroom house for three senior disabled veterans and a live-in house manager on two parcels in Mastic; rehabilitate a house in Riverhead for one veteran family; and build a new set of four, single room occupancies for veterans on a parcel in Medford.

“As an agency committed to ensuring empowering people to overcome the impact of health and mental health disabilities, it is our intent to devote these houses to assist male and female veterans who have been affected by service-connected and post-service transition mental health challenges,” said Michael Stoltz, Chief Executive Officer of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness said in a previous statement. “I thank Suffolk County for partnering with our organization to further assist us in supporting our veterans.”

Stern’s hoping the first unit to be completed — the Copiague parcel — will be built within a year. “The timing is going to be very varied depending on the particular locations,” he said.

Housing our Homeless Heroes doesn’t stop at just housing. At the same meeting, the Legislature approved Helping Our Veterans lane (HOV lane) legislation, sponsored by Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) and Stern. The legislation’s goal is to expedite veteran services within the county’s Department of Social Services.

Stern said many times, veterans walk into the county’s DSS for services they may typically need from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and they are “turned away.” He said it becomes challenge to get them to come back to a government assistance office. The HOV lane legislation would make it so that veterans who are seeking services at DSS would get paired with a veteran services officer. Their requests would be fast-tracked when the walk into the department — regardless of whether they’re at the right office.

“That’s very important here because veterans, too many of them, face too many challenges and time becomes very important,”
Stern said.

Stern said he’s proud of the enactment of Housing our Homeless Heroes.

“I have every reason to believe that it’s going to serve as model for the rest of the country,” he said.

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone makes his way down the marathon route in a previous running event held in the county. Photo from Bellone’s office

By Steve Bellone

Suffolk County is home to more than 90,000 veterans, the largest population of veterans in any county in New York State. They have selflessly served their country, in war and in times of peace, making sacrifices to ensure our safety and protect our way of life.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone makes his way down the marathon route in a previous running event held in the county. Photo from Bellone’s office
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone makes his way down the marathon route in a previous running event held in the county. Photo from Bellone’s office

We all have a duty to make sure that veterans are not overlooked when they return to civilian life. Too often, veterans return home from service in need of our assistance and recognition for a job well done.

I am proud that the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and our many local veterans organizations work tirelessly to meet the needs of veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, lack of quality housing and job assistance. No veteran should have to fight another battle to receive needed services and adjust to civilian life.

The fact is, there is so much more we need to do to support our veterans. That is why I helped organize the first ever Suffolk County Marathon and Half Marathon to Support Our Veterans.

This event will kick off from Heckscher State Park, this Sunday, Sept. 13 and travel through many of our amazing downtowns. Every dollar that we net from this marathon will help fund services which will benefit our Suffolk County veterans community.

As a veteran myself, I will be participating in the event as one of the thousands running it. But, there are so many ways to be involved.

You can join in this effort to support veterans by running, volunteering or cheering on others who are participating in this great cause. In addition to the race, The Taste of Long Island festival will show off locally produced wine, food and drinks, with entertainment provided by bands made up of veterans. Among the thousands of runners are many veterans and active-duty members of the services.

I encourage you to go to www.suffolkmarathon.com to learn more about how you can be part of history and honoring our great veterans community. I look forward to seeing you out there.

Steve Bellone is the Suffolk County Executive.

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

Suffolk County is hosting a Narcan training class to teach residents how to administer the life-saving drug that stops opioid overdoses.

According to the county health department, the training class meets New York State requirements and will teach attendees how to recognize and overdose on opioids such as heroin and Vicodin. They will also learn how to administer Narcan through an overdose victim’s nose and what additional steps to take until emergency medical personnel arrive on the scene.

Participants who complete the training will receive a certificate and an emergency resuscitation kit that contains Narcan, also known as naloxone.

The class will be held on Monday, Sept. 14, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Office of Health Education in the North County Complex, 725 Veterans Highway, Bldg. C928, Hauppauge.

For more information on the class, contact Wanda Ortiz at 631-853-4017 or wanda.ortiz@suffolkcountyny.gov.

Stephen Ruth mugshot from the SCPD

Police arrested a Centereach man on Tuesday afternoon who they say used a pole to turn red light cameras away from the road and potential violators.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the suspect used an expandable pole to tamper with the cameras, pushing the lenses toward the sky. Officers from the SCPD’s 6th Precinct Crime Section received anonymous tips regarding a video post on social media that allegedly shows 42-year-old Stephen Ruth tampering with several of the cameras in Ronkonkoma, including one on Ocean Avenue at the Long Island Expressway’s south service road on both Aug. 21 and Aug. 24. Shortly before being arrested on Tuesday afternoon, he also allegedly tampered with two other cameras on that same service road, at the intersection with Hawkins Avenue.

After an investigation, officers arrested Ruth at his home on Stewart Circle.

He was charged with four counts of third-degree criminal tampering and four counts of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration.

Attorney information for Ruth was not immediately available on Wednesday.

The red light cameras, which are maintained by Baltimore-based Affiliated Computer Services Incorporated, take photographs at busy intersections throughout Suffolk County, recording license plates of vehicles whose drivers run through a red light or do not come to a complete stop before making a right turn on a red signal. The company reviews the photos snapped — and gets final approval from the county — and for each confirmed violation, the registered owner of the vehicle receives a $50 traffic citation.

Suffolk’s red light camera program began in summer 2010, and signs alert approaching drivers at every intersection where there is a camera.

Unlike other moving violations, red light camera violations do not add points to a driver’s license, as the cameras only record rear license plates and cannot confirm the driver of a violating vehicle.

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