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Suffolk County

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker is running against Republican Gary Pollakusky to represent the 6th District. Photos by Alex Petroski

A Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency volunteer and small business owner is challenging incumbent Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) as she vies for a fourth term to represent the 6th District.

Gary Pollakusky, a Rocky Point resident since 2012 who graduated from Baldwin High School and Cornell University, said he wants to bring more fiscal responsibility to the county while working to keep young people living on Long Island. He moved to Rocky Point from Long Beach following losing his home to Hurricane Sandy.

“You have to force the government to work within its means,” he said during a recent debate at TBR News Media’s office. “We need to treat the public’s purse like we treat our own. You don’t borrow from Peter to pay Paul.”

“I will continue to provide leadership in our county government by prioritizing fiscal responsibility, public safety and protecting our health and environment.”

— Sarah Anker

While Anker, a resident of Mount Sinai for more than 20 years, who previously lived in Middle Island and Coram, said she is fiscally conservative, Pollakusky pointed to Suffolk’s recent practice of borrowing to make payroll. He criticized Anker for calling for a traffic study following the release of a red-light camera program report and for voting for the $700 million contract between the county and the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association. Though he was critical, he ultimately admitted he would have voted in favor of the contract as well, citing public safety as the primary reason.

“Each year our budget is going up $50 million and $48 million is going toward the police contract,” Pollakusky said. “We have to create sustainable contracts, we need people who understand business and have business acumen and financial acumen in government.”

Anker defended her track record on the Legislature. She voted against the controversial fees, which many have referred to as “backdoor taxes.” The legislator voted to reduce Suffolk County’s pipeline debt by closing out unused funds for unrealized capital projects; against the increase in mortgage recording fee, which would have gone up $300; against the alarm bill fee; against increased fees for Suffolk County parks; and against the proposed plastic bag fee that would charge 5 cents per bag at the grocery store.

“I also feel if you don’t have the money don’t spend it, but unfortunately, you have to provide services, it’s mandated by the government,” Anker said, adding that she took a pay freeze and also voted to freeze other legislators’ salaries. “We combined comptroller with treasurer’s office, saved $23 million by privatizing the health care centers, sold the Foley Center, reduced staff by 1,000 people, cut county services costs by 10 percent and I think we still have a lot to do.”

Democrat incumbent Legislator Sarah Anker is running for her fourth term as the 6th District representative in the Suffolk County Legislature. Photo by Alex Petroski

She fell in agreement with her challenger regarding the SCPD contract, as she said it’s important to have boots on the ground amid the opioid crisis and rise in gang violence, but said she’s still hoping the county can make cuts at the negotiation table next year when the existing deal expires.

“We have a new police class which contributes to 15 percent of their health care,” she said. “It takes them longer to reach the highest pension payout; we’re revamping the whole system once these senior officers retire. Overtime should not be included in pensions, and the best thing I can do, and I’ve done this for 20 years, is to advocate strongly — shine a light and let the county executive and police unions know that this needs to be done. I can be one of many voices to direct them to do the right thing; to have a bully pulpit and use it effectively.”

The legislator highlighted her sponsored legislation passed to create a permanent heroin and opiate advisory panel, re-established from a temporary 2010 panel, created to ensure a continuous and interdisciplinary approach to help mitigate the issue. Her challenger cited the panel’s few recommendations the last time around and said he has a more active approach he would take.

“I want to identify programs, like the Given a Second Chance program developed locally four years ago, and keep the heroin crisis more consistent in curriculum and assemblies,” Pollakusky said, also highlighting his panel work with his organization, North Shore Community Association. “We need community coalitions to push law enforcement to close down drug-dealing homes and more drug reform on the supply side.”

While Pollakusky said his organization, which is not a registered nonprofit, was created in 2013, there is no mention on the website or Facebook page prior to June, when he announced his run against Anker.

“We need to look at storefronts that left and see why, see what true development we’re doing and how it’s being led.”

— Gary Pollakusky

“The association began with a small group of community advocates who felt there was a void in their local civics organizations,” he said in response. “No money flows in or our of our group. When we raise money it is through and for 501(c)(3) organizations in need, and much of our work has no events
associated with them.”

The challenger said he is more business friendly than Anker, and his time working with the town IDA has helped him. He said by retaining talent and creating jobs, keeping residents on Long Island is more attainable.

“We need to look at storefronts that left and see why, see what true development we’re doing and how it’s being led,” he said. “I act. I create jobs.”

Anker questioned his businesses, saying he outsources jobs to countries other than the United States for Media Barrel LLC and Travel Barrel LLC. Pollakusky responded that they are support teams not employees, to which Anker responded: “Do they do your work for you? Do you have [products] that are made in the United States? That’s all I’m asking.”

“For you to perpetrate these lies I not only find disappointing, I find that shameful,” Pollakusky said, asking Anker if she owns a car, television or phone made in the United States. “I am a local businessman. I work within our local economy, I have local clients.”

Republican Gary Pollakusky is running to represent Suffolk County’s 6th legislative district. Photo by Alex Petroski

Travel Barrell only lists some of the events that Pollakusky discussed, many of which are unclickable. The website’s About Us, Our Brands, Testimonials and Contact Us tabs also do not work. Anker questioned her challenger about an event called Boobs & Tubes, also listed on the website, which he referred to as a charity event that donates to breast cancer research. Based on online photos and videos of the event, referred to as “the most fun you can have with (some of) your clothes on,” it is marketed as an exclusive weekend summer event of camping, tubing, barbecuing, music and relaxation. The 2017 New York trip was canceled. Pollakusky’s last name is the only last name not in the About Us and the only mention of charity is deep in the About Us: “After Scott lost his friend Marcelo Vandrie to cancer in 2009, Boobs & Tubes began donating a portion of its proceeds to a different charitable event each year.” There is no mention of how much or to which charities the organization contributes anywhere on the website.

Anker cited several initiatives she’s proud of contributing to locally, including land acquisition with the Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai and Cordwood Landing property in Miller Place to preserve more open space, a single-stream recycling program and work with veterans and seniors.

“I will fight for lower utility costs and continue to educate residents about common scams,” said Anker, who used to serve on the Mount Sinai Civic Association and worked on major projects like the construction of Heritage Park and ongoing Rails to Trails recreational path. “I will continue to provide leadership in our county government by prioritizing fiscal responsibility, public safety and protecting our health and environment. I will stand strong to support our veterans who have defended our nation. I will do everything in my power to protect our children. I will use my extensive experience in public policy to create safer communities for families and to improve the overall quality of life for Suffolk County residents.”

This version was updated to correctly identify what year Gary Pollakusky moved to Rocky Point and the names of his companies. The version also adds what university he graduated from.

Ray Perini and Tim Sini are campaigning to replace current Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota on Election Day 2017. Photos by Kevin Redding

In life, timing is everything.

Thanks to the indictment of current Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota (D) Oct. 25 for his alleged involvement in the cover-up of former Suffolk Police Commissioner James Burke’s civil rights violation — a charge the ex-police chief pleaded guilty to in 2016 — the high-profile race to be the next DA in Suffolk just got a brighter spotlight.

The next DA — be it Burke’s replacement in the police department, Democrat Tim Sini, or Huntington resident and criminal lawyer with more than 40 years of experience, Republican Ray Perini — will be tasked with restoring public faith in a position now synonymous with corruption. The two candidates have publicly traded barbs during the campaign, and that didn’t stop during their individual interviews at TBR News Media’s Setauket office in October.

Huntington resident and former Suffolk County narcotics bureau head Ray Perini is running to replace Thomas Spota as the county’s next District Attorney. Photo by Kevin Redding

Perini said a key distinction in this race is he is not a politician. His first attempt at political office came four years ago when Perini decided to challenge Spota because he said he was concerned the incumbent would be cross endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats.

“You’ve lost your moral ability to lead an office,” Perini said of Spota, after his announcement that he would be stepping down before the end of the year. “He had to step down for the good of the office.”

The challenger began his career as a lawyer in the 1970s in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, and he spent time working on both narcotics cases and homicides while in Brooklyn. In 1976, he moved to Suffolk County to head its narcotics bureau, where he tried one or two major cases each year, he said.

“There’s nothing I haven’t done as a criminal prosecutor, and I’m very proud,” he said. “I believe I have had a very successful career.”

Perini said he believes his background suits him perfectly to be the next Suffolk DA.

“It’s what I’ve trained my whole life to do,” Perini said. He added his experiences have prepared him to tackle two of the county’s biggest problems: drug addiction and gang infiltration. “I was successful because I actually worked on a daily basis with the [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] task force and you can’t do that kind of work without working with the FBI and the DEA.”

Sini also got his foot in the door as a lawyer to the west. He was the assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York working as a federal prosecutor under Preet Bharara, where he said he specialized in violent crime cases.

“I loved my job — I loved bringing justice to victims or family members of victims,” he said.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota, who did not plan to run for re-election, was indicted Oct. 25 and will retire prior to the completion of his fourth term in office. File photo

The Babylon resident said he always wanted to make his way back to Suffolk. He eventually returned to serve as the deputy county executive under County Executive Steve Bellone (D), specializing in public safety initiatives. As the successor to Burke, he said he has experience taking over a department in turmoil.

“I have a proven track record of leadership in difficult situations,” Sini said. “I walked into the police department during a scandal and if I’m elected DA I’ll be walking into the district attorney’s office amidst a scandal.”

He explained why he thinks he’s a fit for the position.

“This is, in my opinion, the most important position in Suffolk County,” Sini said of the DA. “The level of responsibility that the district attorney has is enormous. I’m running for district attorney to restore integrity to the leadership of the district attorney’s office, which is sorely needed.”

Both were critical of the other’s assertions that their background has prepared them to serve as district attorney.

Sini pointed out Perini’s resignation from the narcotics bureau amid allegations of illegal wiretapping. A New York State Commission of Investigation report named Perini more than 100 times, according to Sini. The police commissioner has also been vocal about annual parties his opponent chartered for local district attorneys and judges, which Sini saw as a sign of impropriety.

Perini attributed the issues to two narcotics officers within his 12-person department who “went bad,” and said he investigated when allegations arose, eventually forcing the pair to resign, making no attempt at a cover-up. He defended his decision to host the boat parties as standard operating practice amongst defense attorneys, judges and prosecutors who work together closely.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini is running to become the county’s District Attorney. Photo by Kevin Redding

“People have this image of a yacht and call girls — it wasn’t that,” he said. “We don’t do X-rated parties. I never thought it would be this kind of issue. Would I do it again? Of course not.”

Perini, in turn, swung back at Sini for claims the police commissioner’s campaign ads made about some of his accomplishments while working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, saying they were inflated.

“I believe what he’s been doing has been to raise his profile,” Perini said. He referenced Newsday’s endorsement of Sini, which referred to him as “a low-level and undistinguished” prosecutor.

Perini also criticized Sini for telling the Suffolk County Legislature he did not intend to run for DA when being confirmed as the police commissioner. Sini said at the time he didn’t intend to run for DA, but things changed.

The candidates did find some common ground on dealing with gang issues and drug addiction. The pair said they see prevention as the most effective method to deal with addiction, and both suggested plans to reach kids earlier before the problems spiral out of control. Each also preached interdepartmental cooperation and intelligence sharing as the primary solution to dealing with gang-related violence, especially by MS-13.

Perini suggested the county should utilize the existing “kingpin” statute, which sets sentences from 20 years minimum to life for dealers making at least $75,000 during a six-month span.

“Quite frankly, I think that has to be used more aggressively with less plea bargaining to get the word on the street that, ‘If you do this in Suffolk County, you’re going to pay dearly for it,’” he said.

Sini stressed the importance of reaching Suffolk County immigrants, who are recruited by gang members upon instruction from crew higher-ups in home countries, with programs and social service resources — prior to recruitment — as a means to stomp out gang activity.

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Rocky Point's field hockey team celebrates its first Suffolk County championship title since 2014. After losing to Miller Place in the county finals the last two years, Rocky Point shut out the Panthers 4-0 Oct. 28. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Rocky Point head coach Katie Bittner felt different about this county playoff game.

For the first time after her pregame ritual, which involves showing a picture slideshow to her field hockey team, she wasn’t crying.

Bella Fusco passes the ball up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

“I always tell them I get very nervous before games, and I always get very scared before a county game because it could mean goodbye,” the coach said. “But they looked at me after we did our picture slideshow and they said, ‘Look, she’s not crying.’ And I wasn’t crying, because today I knew wouldn’t be goodbye.”

Bella Fusco fulfilled Bittner’s prophecy, finding the back of the cage twice in her Rocky Point field hockey team’s 4-0 blanking of Miller Place for the Suffolk County Class B crown Oct. 28.

“We wanted it a lot more — we’ve been working for so long, we work hard, we practice, we run a lot to stay in shape, and we just deserved it,” Fusco said. “We’re all a big family so to move on [to the Long Island Championship], nothing could be sweeter.”

Fusco, a sophomore at top-seeded Rocky Point, scored her first goal nine minutes into the contest off a pass from Sara Giammarella. The senior set the tone 40 seconds later, when she rocked the back of the box with a hard hit off of a feed from senior Christiana Bellissimo for a 2-0 lead at the 20:20 mark. But Giammarella was quick not to take all of the credit.

“It’s our defense,” she said of what helped her Eagles soar. “Nicki Taveras holds our backs on the defensive side; she’s a wall, no one can get past her. And Lizzy Wiener, she’s awesome, just fantastic.”

Miller Place’s Nicole Beck and Rocky Point’s Sara Giammarella fight for the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Rocky Point proved faster to the ball, passed cleanly and pressured the No. 2 Panthers, which struggled to get the ball past midfield.

With 12:51 left in the first half, Fusco struck on a crossing pass from senior Emily Molinaro for a 3-0 advantage at the break.

Deflated, opportunity came knocking for Miller Place when Rocky Point went a down a player with 24 minutes left in regulation, but was unable to capitalize.

Senior forward Hannah Luchsinger scored the final goal on a solo shot to close out the scoring for the Eagles, which had previously lost to Miller Place in the last two county finals matchups.

“I have 10 seniors who want it [more than anything else],” Bittner said. “I have 10 seniors who have gone to the county championship the past three years and have not won it, so all I saw today was heart.”

Rocky Point will face Garden City in the Long Island championship Nov. 1 at Newfield High School at 6:30 p.m. The Eagles last faced the Trojans when the team made it to the regional game in 2014.

Rocky Point’s field hockey team shut out Miller Place 4-0 for the team’s first Suffolk County Class B title since 2014. Photo by Bill Landon

Northport police have played a key roll in providing information that may get a suspected heroin dealer off the village’s streets.

Three Northport Village Police Department officers worked on a joint operation with the Suffolk County Police Department, Suffolk County Sherrif’s office and Suffolk County District Attorney’s office to execute a search warrant on a Central Islip home Oct. 11 that led to the arrest of an alleged heroin dealer.

In searching the Wilson Avenue apartment, officers found and confiscated 33 grams of heroin, seven grams of Fentanyl, $3,050 in cash along with drug scales and drug packaging materials. A 2016 Honda was also seized in the raid.

Davon McNair, 25, of Central Islip, was found and arrested a short distance from his home, and found to be in possession of crack cocaine, according to police.

Davon McNair mugshot. Photo from Northport Police Department

“Anyone who sells this poison in our village can expect the Northport police to pursue them to wherever their trail leads,” said Chief Bill Ricca of the Northport Police Department.

Ricca said the information that led to McNair came to light when two of his officers made unrelated arrests for drug possession in May. Upon questioning those in custody, police were able to piece together details that appeared to lead back to the same individual making heroin sales not only in Northport but throughout Suffolk County. The intelligence was brought before the Suffok County task force, who had undercover agents purchase heroin from McNair on three different occasions over several months before applying for the search warrant.

McNair, a known member of the Bloods street gang, was charged with five felony counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and one misdemeanor count of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He is currently being held on $100,000 bond/$50,000 cash bail.

“McNair maintains his innocence, defends his reputation, and will vigorously defend himself against these charges,” said his defense attorney Pierre Bazile.

In the past few weeks, Northport police have also been involved providing Suffolk County police with information that led to the arrest of Manorville resident Donald Guichard Sept. 20. Guichard was arrested for allegedly growing more than 100 marijuana plants in a subterreanian home for sale, according to Suffolk police.

“We like to let the public know when we can get bad guys off the street,” Ricca said. “But if there is more to gain, we don’t publicize it.”
Ricca said he was confident strict enforcement polices seem to be reducing the amount of drugs in the village.

“For the first time in three or four years, we’re seeing a downtick so far,” he said, noting there are three months left in the year. “We’ve been told by those we arrest or informants that the word is out — ‘stay away from Northport.’”

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Keren Collins is surrounded by her teammates following her three-set win to propel Ward Melville to a county team title. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Patriots had been in this position before, but this time, all eyes were on senior Keren Collins.

Keren Collins returns the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

The Ward Melville girls tennis team’s chance at redeeming last season’s finals loss to Commack for the Suffolk County team title came down to the third singles match, and Collins came from behind 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 to claim the crown for the No. 1 Patriots with a 4-3 edging of No. 2 Half Hollow Hills East Oct. 23.

“At first, the pressure was nonexistent, but when I found out [I was in the last match of the day] and up by three or four games, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to use that advantage and get this, right here,’” Collins said. “Last year we made it to the finals and lost to Commack, but this year we were determined to make it happen and I wasn’t going to let the chance slip away.”

While Collins was competing on the William Floyd court, third doubles pair Ellie Berger and Sam Sloan were playing alongside her. The Patriots duo dropped the second set 1-6 after winning a commanding first 6-1, and eked out a 6-4 win in the third over Lauren Kornfeld and Emily Me taxas.

Denise Lai volleys. Photo by Bill Landon

After the win and even with the mounting pressure, Collins kept her pace and her power stroke strong as she wore down her opponent.

“I was able to hit down the middle and I kept going to every possible corner that I could,” she said. “But [Melissa Chen] was extremely athletic — she was able to get to almost everything, she was like a ball machine, so I had to tire her out as much as possible.”

Ward Melville head coach Erick Sussin said his three-time All-County player was a game-changer.

“Keren was able to change the dynamic of the game. What she lacks in mobility on the court she makes up with power,” he said. “With power — putting the slice in every so often — she mixed it up so that pace went from really fast to really slow, and that caught her opponent off=guard.”

Earlier in the match, Anna Ma won her fourth singles match 6-3, 6-1 and Denise Lai did her part in first singles, defeating Alexis Huber in convincing fashion 6-0, 6-2. But the two-time All-State player admitted she was nervous about whether her team could pull out a victory.

“I had some doubts,” Lai said. “Last year was kind of sad, we lost big time, but I’m so happy that we finally won.”

Julia Hu serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Sussin said that changing wind conditions presented a problem, especially during Collins match, but said she seemed to take the gusts of wind in stride.

“It was a factor early on, especially in that second set, and she used the wind when she needed to —when the wind was at her back her slice was dropping in,” Sussin said. “And when the wind was at her face she was able to hit through it with all her pace.”

Julia Hu, a three-time All-County player, said she did not doubt Collins in the nail-biting contest, even through standing still in silence with her teammates.

“I knew she could pull it out — she has that amazing mental strength,” Hu said. “She’s been playing tennis for so long and she knows she has to get the job done, and won’t let her emotions interfere with what she has to do.”

Ward Melville now turns its attention to winning the Long Island title. The undefeated, 18-0 Patriots will play Port Washington at Half Hollow Hills West Oct. 25 at 3 p.m.

The Ward Melville girls tennis team took the Suffolk County team title with a 4-3 win over Half Hollow Hills East Oct. 24. Photo by Bill Landon

Wendy Velasquez. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County police 2nd squad detectives are seeking the public’s help to locate a Huntington Station teen who was reported missing last week.

Wendy Velasquez, 16, who was last seen at her residence in Huntington Station Oct. 10, was reported missing Oct. 12. She is Hispanic, 5 feet, 4 inches tall, 120 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

Detectives do not suspect foul play.

The investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information to call 911 or contact the 2nd squad at 631-854-8252.

Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson has been around for almost 30 years, though its founder said homelessness was an issue in Port Jeff long before that. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

An Aug. 28 post by a user in a private Facebook group of about 1,300 Port Jefferson Village residents featured a photo of two men sleeping at the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station. Amidst a longer message attached to the image was the phrase: “I’ve had it.”

The post inspired comments from more than a dozen users who began a lengthy discussion about homeowners’ concerns over property values as a result of activity related to homeless people in the area. Some responses included efforts to tackle the issue of homelessness after the main poster asked: “Does anyone know what is being done about this?”

Elected officials, local leaders and data from nonprofit organizations serving the state, Long Island and Suffolk County seem to agree: Efforts exist to reduce the number of undomiciled residents, but the problem is not going away and more needs to be done.

Volunteers at Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jefferson prepare a meal for guests. Photo by Alex Petroski

Homelessness has been a topic of conversation in Port Jeff for decades, and Father Frank Pizzarelli, a Port Jeff resident and founder of the nonprofit Hope House Ministries, began addressing the issue in 1980. With 10 facilities, he helps serve groups and people in need. His first endeavor was The Community House in Port Jefferson.

A 30-bed long-term facility, the home on Main Street is still in operation today for at-risk 16- to 21-year-old males in need of a place to live. Almost 28 years ago, Pizzarelli said he opened Pax Christi Hospitality Center on Oakland Avenue after a Vietnam veteran froze to death in winter while living in what he described as a cardboard box village in Port Jefferson.

At least seven people listed as undomiciled by the county police department were arrested on the morning of Oct. 4 for sleeping in tents in the woods behind the Comsewogue Public Library on Terryville Road, according to police.

According to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization established in 1985 that works with government agencies to secure funding and services for homeless people in Suffolk and Nassau counties, 3,937 people on Long Island were classified as homeless as of January 2017. The number includes people in emergency or transitional housing, as well as those who are completely unsheltered, of which there were 64, according to the group’s annual report for 2017.

In context, the number of homeless people living on Long Island hasn’t changed much over the last three LICH yearly tallies. In 2016, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) conducted an audit to examine the issue of homelessness in the state, which reached some discouraging conclusions.

Homelessness is on the decline nationwide, according to the report, though New York was one of 18 states to see an increase in the number of people without a permanent residence between 2007 and 2015. The number rose by 41 percent to more than 88,000 statewide during that span, which was the largest increase of any state in the country. Much of the increase was attributable to New York City, though DiNapoli’s audit stressed homelessness as a state problem and not simply a city problem, saying homelessness is affecting “communities in virtually every corner of the state … on a daily basis.”

‘Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community. I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity.’

— Frank Pizzarelli

“The homeless problem pre-existed Pax Christi,” Pizzarelli said. The licensed social worker said the idea that his facilities attract the homeless to Port Jeff is a common refrain he’s heard cyclically over the years from people like the Facebook poster, though he said he has found those voices are few and far between and don’t represent the majority of the community.

“Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community,” he said. “I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity. Yes, there are always people that are super critical and, because of the socioeconomic nature of our community, would prefer certain things not be here. They’re a very small minority from my experience.”

He said he receives no financial support from the government other than reimbursements from the county’s Department of Social Services to barely cover his costs for sheltering people overnight at Pax Christi. His entire budget, which he estimated to be in the ballpark of $5 million annually, is covered by donations and grants. He also said he believes homeless people who commit crimes or contribute to tensions in the Port Jeff community tend not to be the same people who are interested in getting help.

“Uptown is a complicated place,” he said. “The homeless have no fixed address and they also have no voice, so it’s easy to blame them. They’re a part of the issue, but it’s not that simplistic. I don’t think the larger community really realizes that.”

Pizzarelli pointed to insufficient funds from the county and state governments as his and other organization’s biggest obstacle in providing services for those in need. He said mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, especially to opioids, are at the root of Suffolk County’s homelessness problem. Once people are in treatment for substance addiction or any mental health affliction, he said more transitional housing needs to be made available to get people on the road to recovery.

Pizzarelli said Pax Christi does not admit any persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so they occasionally have to turn people away.

“We probably all need to take a firmer stand so [homeless people being aided by services] understand if they’re not going to take care of business — hanging out at the train station is not the answer,” he said. “I agree, people don’t need to be harassed when they’re getting off the train.”

A breakdown by race of Long Island’s nearly 4,000 homeless people, according to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. Graphic by TBR News Media

DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, in conjunction with the Welfare to Work Commission of the Legislature, arranged a public hearing Oct. 10 to discuss the impact that massive cuts in President Donald Trump’s (R) early budget proposals to funding for human services would have on local residents.

Michael Stoltz, the executive director of Ronkonkoma-based Association for Mental Health and Wellness said before the hearing he thinks the county fails to adequately invest in mental health services.

“We see a proportionate rise and increase in the number of people in our jails who have mental health conditions — untreated and under treated — and among our homeless populations,” he said.

Stoltz was representing one of the 13 agencies slated to speak during the hearing.

“The county and these agencies are facing a crisis of what could be unparalleled and unprecedented proportions,” commission chairman Richard Koubek said before the hearing. “We have watched with dismay and frustration the chronic underfunding of contract agencies that serve Suffolk County’s poor people.”

Suffolk and Nassau counties collectively are considered a Continuum of Care community, which is defined as a community with a unified plan to organize and deliver housing services to meet the needs of people who are homeless. Grants from the CoC are funded through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a federal department responsible for more than $10 million in CoC grants obtained each year to aid locals, according to its website. DiNapoli’s report found of the smaller communities with CoC programs, Long Island’s counties had the third largest homeless population in the United States.

Long Island’s relative lack of affordable housing can further complicate the issue, as housing units are priced to rent or own in Brookhaven Town according to HUD guidelines, which are dependent on the area median income of a region. In 2017, Suffolk County’s average household income was $110,800. To qualify to rent an affordable living space, household income must be less than 50 percent of this number, meaning in Suffolk, any family earning less than $55,400 annually has a right to reduced rent. Monthly rent for a three-person home for a family earning less than that, for example, by law cannot exceed $1,200.

Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson has been around for almost 30 years, though its founder said homelessness was an issue in Port Jeff long before that. Photo by Alex Petroski

Because of the relatively high average income in Suffolk, “affordable” rent is a term that most likely wouldn’t apply to someone sleeping on the street or residing in a homeless shelter. According to Pizzarelli and Brookhaven Housing and Human Services Commissioner Alison Karppi, there’s far less affordable housing available in the town and the county as a whole than demand would dictate.

“It is estimated that 42,500 renters spend half or more of their income on household costs,” Gregory said prior to the Oct. 10 hearing. “That startling figure emphasizes the need for cheaper housing our working families and young people can afford. We are here today to send a message that we simply can’t afford this budget.”

Last week Brookhaven Town announced a new initiative to acquire vacant “zombie” homes and make them available for veterans and first-time homebuyers at reduced costs as a way to expand the availability of affordable housing in the town. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) estimated there are as many as 2,000 vacant homes in the town with many in a salvageable state.

Port Jeff has another resource in its backyard to help those in need, which reiterates Pizzarelli’s sentiment that on the whole, it is a compassionate community.

Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jeff Village has been serving people in need, homeless or otherwise, in the area for 28 years. The group also has two locations in Port Jefferson Station comprised of about 200 volunteers and functions entirely on donations of money and food, oftentimes from a local Trader Joe’s. Five days a week, the soup kitchen opens its doors to serve as many as 100 guests free of charge each night. Unlike Pax Christi, Welcome Friends never turns away guests due to intoxication. The volunteers prevent entry to those who could be a danger to other guests, but even in those instances the person is sent away with a to-go meal, always well balanced and fresh. Multiple courses are available but served once a day Sunday to Wednesday and also on Friday.

Lorraine Kutzing, a longtime coordinator at the soup kitchen, said the organization’s sole focus is having as many meals as possible prepared each day, and hopes that she and others like Pizzarelli can continue to try to fix the problem highlighted by community members like those in the Facebook group.

“I think the need has always been there,” she said. “I don’t think that has changed that much.”

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.”

Owners will be required to keep companions on a leash

Stock photo at top; file photo above from Stephen Jimenez; photo at left by Sara-Megan Walsh Dog owners in the Town of Huntington can now walk their dogs on leashes in most parks. Stock photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The dog days of summer are here as Huntington residents and their canine companions are now welcome to  enjoy a stroll in most local parks.

Huntington Town Board voted unanimously at their Aug. 15 meeting to amend town code to allow on-leash walking of dogs at town parks.

Dog owners in the Town of Huntington can now walk their dogs on leashes in most local parks, like those at Frazer Drive Park in Greenlawn. File photo from Stephen Jimenez

“It is the highlight of my day to take my dog for a long walk,” said Ginny Munger Kahn, president of the Huntington-based Long Island Dog Owners Group. “I don’t want to do it just in my neighborhood on the street, but I want to be able to walk my dog in a beautiful public park. It’s been frustrating over the years on Long Island as many towns don’t allow it.”

The town code changes now permit on-leash walking of dogs in town parks and trails on a leash that’s 4-to-6 feet in length.

Dog owners are required to immediately pick up and dispose of any waste. It will remain illegal for dog owners to bring their canine companions into the more developed areas of town parks: all playgrounds, picnic areas, courts and sports fields, campgrounds, near educational area programs and all town beaches with the exception of paved areas and boardwalks.

The exceptions to the new changes are that no dogs will be allowed at Huntington’s Heckscher Park or Centerport’s Betty Allen Twin Ponds Nature Park.

Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter said that based on recommendations made by the Huntington Greenway Trails Advisory Committee in a letter dated May 24, town board members excluded  Heckscher Park due to its continuous public events and the nature park due to  its primary use as a fishing site, as casting of lures could pose  safety risks.

A sign at Frazer Drive Park in Greenlawn tells visitors a list of rules for walking dogs in Huntington parks. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The decision to exclude Heckscher Park, one of the more widely used town parks, was not unanimous.

“We thought that Heckscher Park would greatly benefit from the presence of leashed dogs as it would deter the geese from fouling the grass there,” Munger Kahn said. “Unfortunately, the town was not ready to make that change yet.”

She pointed out that Northport Village had similar issues with a population of Canadian geese making a mess of Northport Village Park, which based on her personal experience has been largely resolved by allowing on-leash canines and their companions to stroll the grounds.

“We hope that once the policy is put into effect and proven successful that we will be able to revisit the issue with the town,” Munger Kahn said.

The push for changes to Huntington’s park regulations started as a request made by the trails committee in early 2016 for uniform park standards.

“It was kind of crazy to have some parks in the Town of Huntington allow on-leash dogs and the vast majority of town-owned parks not to allow dogs on a leash,” Munger Kahn said. “This was confusing to people. The thought was if we adopted standards, a policy more closely aligned with Suffolk County’s policy, it would make enforcement easier.”

The town co-owns 10 parks with Suffolk County, including Knolls Park, Hilaire Woods Park, Fuchs Pond Preserve, Paumanok Wetlands Preserve, Elwood-Greenlawn Woods, Breezy Park and Lewis Oliver Farm. Under county code, licensed dogs were permitted on trails in all county parks on a leash not more than 6 feet in length. The new laws approved by Huntington now fall more in line with the county code.

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.

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