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Town of Brookhaven

Thousands of residents came out to enjoy the exhibits, including this one courtesy of Bloomin Haus Nursery, at last year’s Home & Garden Show. Photo courtesy of Town of Brookhaven

It’s back! The Town of Brookhaven will present its annual Home & Garden Show at the Holtsville Ecology Site, 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville on March 23 and 24 and March 30 and 31 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m..

The indoor event will feature dozens of vendor exhibits including landscaping, garden centers, stonework, garden structures, siding and windows, interior décor, gutters and more.

In addition, with paid admission, visitors can participate in free educational workshops and hands-on classes for children, as well as photos with the Easter Bunny. Classes and workshops are subject to change; a comprehensive schedule of seminars is available at www.brookhavenny.gov.

“The Home and Garden Show is an excellent opportunity for residents to support local businesses and reinvest in our local economy, while getting some unique ideas from our vendors’ displays,” said Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Daniel P. Losquadro.

“From building outdoor fireplaces and getting more creative with landscaping design to replacing fencing and walkways or even going solar, the Home & Garden Show features innovative ways to enhance your home, garden and property this spring,”  he added.

The cost of admission is $6 for adults; children 16 and under are free. Discounted tickets are available for prepurchase at www.brookhavenny.gov. Parking is free, as is the opportunity to visit with the Easter Bunny and walk through the animal preserve, which is home to more than 100 injured or nonreleasable wild and farm animals. In addition, each day attendees will have the opportunity to win services or merchandise raffled off by vendors.

For further information, contact the Ecology Site at 631-758-9664.

A house located at 55 Shinnecock is torn down by Brookhaven town. Photo by Bea Ruberto

There was once a house on Shinnecock Drive in Sound Beach. Now there is a vacant patch of land and rubble. From the front, it was close to idyllic, featuring a small single-floor cottage, a mason stone exterior, a picket fence and a worn birdbath sitting just behind a fence. 

The house is gone, torn down by the Town of Brookhaven for being a derelict property. Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said the frontage of the home was beautiful, but everything behind the front, what one couldn’t see from the street, was torn up and run down.

“It was like on a theater stage, the front looked good, but there was nothing behind it,” Bonner said.

A house located at 55 Shinnecock is torn down by Brookhaven town. Photo by Bea Ruberto

The work to take down derelict homes is constant. At the tail end of February, the town had demolished another home on Audrey Street in Miller Place. These vacant and derelict houses have had a menacing moniker affixed to them, zombie homes, and since the 2008 mortgage crisis and subsequent recession, they have become endemic on Long Island. At a Sound Beach Civic Association meeting March 11, Bonner explained the process the town takes to removing these blighted structures and explained the reasons why it’s difficult to repurpose the land after the home is torn down.

Town officials are informed about zombie homes in multiple ways. Residents can call up town hall or contact the council district office directly. Otherwise, Bonner said her office learns about these derelict buildings through interacting with the community at civic meetings or by just driving around the district.

The town sends out a third-party inspector, namely Hauppauge-based engineering firm Cashin, Spinelli & Ferretti LLC, to check on the home and make sure the property is vacant. If not, the house is then put on the vacant home registry, a long list of houses in the town that no longer have legal occupants.

At its annual March 11 state of the town address, Brookhaven town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said more than 250 zombie homes had been demolished since 2014. Bonner said the town currently has approximately 2,000 zombie homes in the process of being demolished by the town.

“When I started, I never thought the town would be in this kind of business,” Bonner said. 

Bonner said her office often gathers information on a derelict property from the Suffolk County Clerk’s office, especially looking at whether the property’s taxes are current, whether there is a mortgage on the property, or whether the land is owned by an LLC. Town employees try to contact the homeowner, who is required to contact the town clerk, pay a fee of $250 and provide a point of contact for the maintenance company. However, this step is especially challenging, as often there are little means of contacting the homeowner, especially if they no longer live in the state and their contact information is not current. It could mean months of work talking to the banks or going through other channels to contact these people.

“When I started, I never thought the town would be in this kind of business.”

— Jane Bonner

If there is a significant number of problems with the property, and if there is no property management company the town can get a hold of, Brookhaven will go in and cut overgrown grass or board and secure the property, though they will only board and secure the first floor and the town does not repair roofs. After the inspection is done the inspector determines whether it meets the threshold for demolition. The inspection will also detail if there is asbestos on the property, which will mandate additional work to contain during demolition.

After the home is recommended for demolition, the town hosts a public hearing on the property. A typical town board meeting could have several of these public hearings for properties all across the town. Occasionally, the homeowner or bank that owns the property will come to the hearings and based on the arguments of the property owner, an extension could be made to allow the owner to fix up the property. Otherwise, the town allows 30 days after the public hearing before a final decision to raze a property is made.

“Occasionally, I think they don’t think we’re serious at the public hearing,” Bonner said. “Sometimes we give them time, other times we tell them they already had their 30 days.”

Brookhaven spokesperson Jack Krieger said the town expects to spend $1.8 million in 2019 on derelict properties, of which $1.2 million is directly related to demolition. The rest of that money is spent on support staff dealing with matters on contacting property owners or taking care of the property. The property owner is responsible for the demolition costs.

The town has two full-time employees who work directly on these derelict properties. Beyond that, each council member is supposed to be involved in the houses within their own district. Bonner said her office will spend a cumulative time of a full eight-hour day each week just dealing with these zombie homes.

Krieger said there have been 35 zombie homes demolished in district 2 since the zombie program began in 2013. That is peanuts compared to the likes of Mastic Beach, a village that had disincorporated in 2016. In that area, the town is dealing with more than 100 known derelict and run-down properties.

“Talk about impacting the quality of life,” Bonner said. “Talk about squatters, talk about drug dealing, talk about impacting your property values — there are a lot of components to it.”

These derelict properties often have issues with animal infestation, break-ins and squatters, which can intensify and lengthen the process of removing the run-down properties. But the biggest roadblock to bringing a house back up to standards might be the lien put on the property. 

“Talk about squatters, talk about drug dealing, talk about impacting your property values — there are a lot of components to it.”

— Jane Bonner

After the town cleans up the property, Brookhaven will often put a lien on that property for the property taxes, either expecting the property owner or the county to pay back the town. In order to buy that property, a prospective buyer must satisfy that lien first, which on the steep end could be as high as $500,000, such as the case with the house on Audrey Street, according to Bonner.

These liens could make buying the now vacant property much harder, often leaving the property vacant for years with minimal means of getting a developer to build on the property with the extra fee coming from the lien. 

“It’s kind of like a cog in the wheel, it gums up the work, it really does,” she said.

Mimi Hodges, a Sound Beach resident, asked why these houses couldn’t be rejuvenated using state loans to rehabilitate them. That, or start community projects in order to buy the property and turn it into housing for homeless veterans or other needy groups, an example of which was a land trust that was recently created in Uniondale by community members.

“To support the character of the community,” Hodges said. “Make it an affordable house.”

Satellite image of the 795-acre Brookhaven Calabro Airport. Image from Google Maps

Most couples agree there’s nothing worse than receiving a breakup message on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, that’s the message New York City received Feb. 14 when Amazon said it would no longer build its next headquarters in Queens.

Reactions from Long Island’s elected officials was swift. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said the blame rests on New York’s unfriendliness to business.

“New York’s 1st Congressional District would be happy to be Amazon’s Valentine today and take these 25,000 great-paying jobs,” Zeldin said in a statement. “New York wouldn’t even need all the subsides if we didn’t have one of the worst business climates in the United States. We must level the playing field, reduce taxes and burdensome regulations, stop picking winners.” 

“New York wouldn’t even need all the subsides if we didn’t have one of the worst business climates in the United States.”

— Lee Zeldin

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who were both heavily involved in the Amazon deal, also made public comments lamenting the loss. Meanwhile, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) reaffirmed the town would welcome the retail giant with open arms. 

Now that Amazon is no longer courting New York City, Romaine offered to sign over the 795 acres of Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Shirley if the corporation chooses Brookhaven as a site of their future headquarters. 

“We would close and give them the airport,” he said. “That’s a transfer of property. We’re interested in economic development.”

The town had offered the airport to Amazon before they had originally settled on Queens. The supervisor said the same tax deal proposed by Cuomo is still on the table should the company want to come to the East End of Long Island. The state offered a total of $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits to Amazon, in addition to providing a $505 million capital grant to aid in building its new headquarters. With New York City also pitching in, the total aid package would have been at least $2.8 billion. Romaine said the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency could make up the same amount of aid should Amazon rethink its plans and come back to Long Island.

A representative from the Brookhaven IDA did not respond to requests for comment.

The town supervisor was adamant the airport location was perfect for Amazon’s needs, boasting of its proximity to Sunrise Highway, the Long Island Expressway and William Floyd Parkway. The site is also a few miles away from Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Mastic-Shirley train station. He said the proposed location’s close proximity to the Hamptons, Shoreham and Wading River would be an extra incentive for those looking to make day trips.

“They’re looking for a campus-life situation, and this would provide that,” Romaine said. “If they wanted to they could keep one of the runways for light aircraft. That is totally negotiable.” 

“If they wanted to they could keep one of the runways for light aircraft. That is totally negotiable.”

— Ed Romaine

Despite the pushback the Queens Amazon headquarters received from residents and city politicians, Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said Brookhaven residents are much more open to the idea of a company like Amazon coming in.

“We’re looking for corporate businesses that would create good-paying jobs,” she said. 

Romaine said he knows it’s a long shot, especially with Amazon saying in a Feb. 14 blog post it would not be conducting its new headquarters search again. Instead, the corporation would be looking toward northern Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee, for its new headquarters location.  

“I think it’s worth a shot,” the supervisor said. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

A scene from Steiner's Woods. Photo from Beth Dimino

By David Luces 

A nearly 30-year fight to protect 10 acres of land known in the Sound Beach community as Steiner’s Woods has finally come to an end. 

On Dec. 20, Town of Brookhaven purchased the land for $5 million, effectively preserving the site as open space. 

“Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.”

— Beth Dimino

The stretch of land, situated near Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, had been owned by Robert Toussie for over 25 years. The Brooklyn-based developer proposed to build up the site as Villages on the Sound, a 15-home development clustered on the northern portion of the property near the bluff, with a single access road extending northward from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

For years, the proposed plans have been marred by environmental and logistical issues raised by town officials and community members. 

Local residents have voiced their concerns the development would have led to more vehicular traffic on existing narrow roads that were already overburdened in the neighborhood. The property also serves as protection for Scott’s Beach, and residents have argued development could have led to negative environmental impacts due to stormwater runoff into the Long Island Sound. 

The woods serve as a natural drainage site and water recharge basin for the surrounding communities, according to an environmental analysis conducted by the town in 1989. If development went through, the town would have spent close to $2 million to mitigate stormwater runoff from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

Sound Beach resident and retired science teacher Beth Dimino, who lives adjacent to the property, is glad the town was able to purchase the site. 

“The woods provide natural drainage in the community,” the Sound Beach resident said. “Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.” 

The 1989 environmental report also stated the trees support the environment and also protect the community from winds from hurricanes and rainstorms. 

Dimino said she has to give credit to Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). 

“She understood the problem and understood the concern of the community,” Dimino said. “I told her it would cost millions to mitigate the water drainage issue. We are indebted to her — she has helped save the environment in that area and it’s going to help preserve the wildlife.”

“The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

— Bea Ruberto

Bonner said this has been a long process, one that started before she took office. 

“This is a win for the community and the Town of Brookhaven,” Bonner said. “It’s a beautiful parcel of land and it’s great that it won’t be developed.”

Bonner said her office has received many positive phone calls from residents who are happy with the recent news. 

Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto said the community is elated about the news. 

“I’ve been involved for the past ten years,” she said. “The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

Ruberto said if development went through they would have had to instead fill the ravine, located in the vicinity of Steiner’s Woods, which serves as a drainage point. Filling that would have led to issues of water runoff that normally flows into the area.  

“They would’ve had to mitigate the stormwater and it would’ve cost millions of dollars,” she said.  “If it could be done.”

Bonner points to the advocacy done by local residents and the town as the reason the property was able to be preserved.

“This has been a total group effort,” the councilwoman said. “It’s nice to finally put this to bed.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine announced Dec. 12 that the town received the AAA long-term rating on general obligation bonds from S&P Global. File photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven is on solid footing when it comes to its finances.

On Dec. 12 Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced that S&P Global Ratings, an American financial services company, assigned its top-tier AAA long-term rating to the town’s series 2018A and 2018B general obligation bonds. The municipal bond is one that is secured by a local government’s pledge to use legally available resources, such as tax revenues, to repay bondholders.

“Our financial team has worked hard to achieve this AAA stable rating, but the real winners are the taxpayers who will save millions of dollars in the years ahead,” Romaine said. “We owe it to them to spend their money more wisely.”

S&P Global also affirmed the same rating on the town’s existing bonds. Based on recent local municipal bond sales, it’s been estimated this rating and bond sale has resulted in a $1.65 million savings for taxpayers, according to a press release from Brookhaven township. The town plans to finance construction of ambulance buildings, open-space acquisitions and other infrastructure projects with the bonds. The $20.8 million general obligation bonds will be amortized over 20 years, according to the release.

S&P cited in its AAA ranking a very strong economy, with the town’s access to a broad and diverse metropolitan statistical area and a local stabilizing institutional influence; strong management, with strong financial policies and practices; and solid budgetary performance with operating surpluses in the general fund and at the total government fund level in fiscal 2017. There was also budgetary flexibility and strong liquidity, among others.

According to S&P’s rating announcement, the Brookhaven’s rating is higher than the U.S. 10-year Treasury note. S&P believes “the town can maintain better credit characteristics than the U.S. in a stress scenario.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who is the board liaison to the town’s Department of Finance, said the rating is due to the town’s fiscally conservative ethos.

“The AAA Stable rating is clear evidence that our conservative fiscal policies have made a significant impact, saving taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” Bonner said. “I am proud to continue working with Supervisor Romaine and the finance team to help build on the success that we have already achieved.”

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) credited the board with working toward balancing the budget and responsible fiscal management.

“We tackle this process with the goal of continuous improvement,” Cartright said. “Receiving the highest bond rating, once again, is a reflection of this effort.”

Thousands packed Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for the Town of Brookhaven’s ninth Polar Plunge, an annual event in which brave souls dive into icy waters to raise money for the Special Olympics. All funds raised by the event go toward sports training and competition, health and inclusion programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities looking to compete.

Voters heading to the polls Nov. 6 who live in the Town of Brookhaven will find this proposition on the back of their ballots.

Brookhaven Town residents will have to flip over their ballots Nov. 6 to respond to a referendum pertaining to councilmembers’ terms in office, but they’d have to do backflips in the voting booth to be able to respond to the two-part question which allows for a single “yes” or “no” answer.

After a public hearing featuring speakers mostly in opposition in August, Brookhaven’s board unanimously moved to proceed with establishing a referendum on the back of this year’s ballot, an off year for Brookhaven’s representatives.

“Should the town code of the Town of Brookhaven be amended to establish term limits of three (3) four-year terms for elected officials, and amend the length of term of office from two (2) years to four (4) years for all elected officials commencing January 1, 2020?” the referendum will read verbatim.

Despite there being two components to the question, voters can only respond “yes” or “no.” The wording of the referendum was written by the town’s Law Department, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto.

When asked why they wanted to expand terms from two to four years councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) in interviews and during the hearing offered similar, admittedly understandable explanations for the change. Having to campaign and fundraise for elections every two years is laborious, and makes getting things done difficult once in office, they said — both the Republicans and the board’s lone Democrat. While we can see how this would be a problem, we’d prefer to see adjustments to campaign finance law, requiring less fundraising and allowing more time for actual legislative work, before going with a solution that results in voters having less frequent opportunities to express their opinions.

Issues could be raised and conspiracy theories crafted for the motivation of the Town Board to advance a referendum like this during an otherwise ordinary August meeting based on the fact more than one member of the current board is nearing 12 years in office. If passed, based on the wording, term limits would begin to be instituted on councilmembers beginning in 2020, meaning years already served will not have started their clocks. Fair or unfair, the process did nothing to squash those theories. And even without those issues, there is still no way to reconcile that putting a referendum with perplexing verbiage before town voters will somehow yield the will of the people.

This is not to mention an additional element — that in 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three, four-year terms on elected officials in Brookhaven thanks to a referendum, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts, as state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the August hearing. That interpretation has been questioned by many and could conceivably lead to a lawsuit if the referendum passes.

Add it all up and the answer became clear to our editorial staff: We’ll be voting “no” on Proposal One.

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Recyclable materials have been building up at the Brookhaven Town recycling plant in Yaphank ever since China stopped accepting imports from American facilities in January, but the future of the facility is even more up in the air now.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said contractor Green Stream Recycling terminated its 25-year contract to operate the Yaphank facility effective Oct. 29 citing financial woes due to market changes. The company signed the agreement with the town in 2013.

“We’re a regional facility — for them to do that it certainly isn’t going to speak well of the future of their waste management business on Long Island,” Romaine said.

The town plans to pursue legal action against the contractor for breach of contract, according to the supervisor.

Green Stream Recycling, owned by principals Joe Winters and Anthony Core, also of Hudson Baylor Brookhaven LLC, did not return a phone call requesting comment.

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Romaine said the town will be putting the contract out for an emergency bid Nov. 1 for a new facility operator, and the town board will select a replacement at a Nov. 2 special meeting.

“They had three years of very good profits, and then as you know more recently there have been changes obviously in the recycling market where most of our recycling goods went,” Romaine said. 

The terms of contract with Green Stream Recycling yielded $20 per ton of processed recyclables, a quarter of which went back to Brookhaven with the remaining 75 percent
redistributed to neighboring municipalities that had agreements with Brookhaven to send their recyclables to the Yaphank facility, Romaine said. The supervisor said the town hadn’t received any money from Green Stream since May, though Brookhaven has continued making payments to other municipalities.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington,” Romaine wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to Huntington Supervisor Chad
Lupinacci (R).

Similar letters were also sent to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and the other municipalities that have single-stream recycling agreements with Brookhaven.

John Clark, director of Environmental Waste Management for the Town of Huntington, said the town was previously informed Aug. 23 Brookhaven would not renew the intermunicipal agreement to accept Huntington’s collected recyclables set to expire at the end of this year. Under the terms of the agreement, Huntington received up to $15 per ton of recyclable material delivered to the Yaphank facility.

In 2017, Huntington collected and delivered more than 14,000 tons of material to the single-stream recycling plant that was processed through the intermunicipal agreement. This resulted in more than $152,000 in net revenue, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

The town had already issued a request for proposals Oct. 18 in an attempt to find an alternative solution to start Jan. 1, 2019, which may include converting back to dual-stream recycling where residents may be held responsible for sorting their trash again.

The news of Green Stream Recycling ending its contract with Brookhaven will pose only a temporary issue for Huntington, Lembo noted.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington.”

— Ed Romaine

“We are already in the process of reaching out to potential recycling vendors and other municipalities to execute a two-month agreement that would get us through the end of the year under our single-stream recycling mode,” Lembo said.

Russ Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental protection director, said the town had received a telephone call from Brookhaven Oct. 19 to immediately cease sending recyclables to Brookhaven’s Yaphank facility. Smithtown’s town board plans to issue an emergency request for proposals at its Oct. 25 meeting seeking a new contractor to cart and process its residents’ recyclables, according to spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. It’s unclear what if any impact this may have on Smithtown’s tentative 2019 budget.

“Residents should continue doing what they are doing right now,” Barnett said. “We’re not asking residents to make any changes.”

Smithtown Town plans to temporarily store all collected materials at its Municipal Services Facility on Old Northport Road in Kings Park until a new carter is found. A new recyclable operator could mean a move back to dual-stream recycling.

“We’ve got a broad solicitation out there to identify what our options might be,” Barnett said. “Whether we will be offered services as an unsorted single-stream recyclables for sorting and purification elsewhere, or whether or not people might propose that prior sorting [by residents] needs to be done.”

A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement the agency is working with Brookhaven and the other towns impacted to develop solutions that will allow for processing of existing materials at the site and long-term solutions to continue recycling in the region, as well as working with industry stakeholders to solve the problem of drying up markets for the recycled material.

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On Long Island, the cost of property taxes weighs heavily on many people’s minds. In Brookhaven, the town is working with villages, schools, libraries, and other special districts to consolidate municipal services, which should lead to savings for homeowners. Any initiative to save taxpayers money is a worthwhile endeavor in our book.

After a two-year long process, New York State recently awarded Town of Brookhaven a $20 million grant for its application as part of the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition. The grant is a byproduct of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) attempts to cut costs, share services and streamline inefficiencies in order to reduce property taxpayers’ burdens statewide.

In a field of finalists that were all upstate counties other than Brookhaven, the town came out on top, and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) wasted no time in gathering representatives from villages, ambulance and fire districts, school districts and library districts to create a Council of Governments Committee. On Oct. 10 the council met to discuss the best practices of governance, shared services and intermunicipal opportunities expected to come from the $20 million cash influx.

Due to his leadership qualities and ability to work across party lines, we have confidence that Romaine has the ability to implement the money in an effective way. Project proposals have included using town contracts to buy in bulk things like asphalt replacement, which can save money for villages since the town can get a better price due to its size. Villages such as Port Jefferson could benefit not only from highway services but a town purchasing portal, electronic records management and storage.

While we know the council is in good hands, we hope the committee will take a serious look at how to run each agency more efficiently, even if some are not consolidated, and we also have suggestions for the future.

In addition to implementing current plans established during the grant application stage, the council hopes to explore possible other future initiatives. As the town moves forward, one suggestion we have with any potential plans is to call on local village officials and district heads to organize public meetings where residents can attend and discuss their concerns with town officials or brainstorm suggestions.

We also hope that Brookhaven will lead the way for other municipalities outside its scope. While we know not every town has the privilege of a $20 million grant, after implementing changes in Brookhaven, we hope to see town leaders reach out to other towns in Suffolk County for examples and suggestions to save their residents money.

The chance to save taxpayers money has the potential to cross town lines in the next few years.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella along with leaders from dozens of other districts attend the first meeting of Brookhaven’s Council of Governments Committee, a group aiming to reduce taxes through sharing services across taxing districts. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The committee’s title sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but Brookhaven Town’s plan to streamline government services is nonfiction and slated for the nearer future than a galaxy far, far away.

Brookhaven Town hall was the setting for the inaugural Council of Governments Committee meeting, a congregation of representatives from across the town’s villages, ambulance and fire, school and library districts Oct. 10. The leaders came together to begin brainstorming strategies to make government more efficient by sharing services with the goal of reducing costs for their mutual taxpayers. The meeting was hosted by Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and was attended by representatives from the Villages of Belle Terre, Shoreham and Port Jefferson; Setauket Fire District; Port Jefferson EMS; Comsewogue, Port Jefferson, Emma S. Clark, and Middle Country libraries; and Shoreham-Wading River, Comsewogue, Port Jefferson and Rocky Point school districts among many others.

Brookhaven was recently awarded a $20 million Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition grant by New York State, which will go toward modernizing and reinventing the delivery of services while reducing the burden on taxpayers by reducing redundancy in local governments, pursuing opportunities for increasing shared services, and implementing modernizations and best practices, according to a town press release. The committee will be charged with implementing the changes and identifying additional areas for efficiency and fiscal savings, as well as providing oversight of the 16 MCEC projects.

“We’re interested today in talking about what we can do jointly for our mutual constituents to improve the delivery of services, to reduce costs, to share services whenever possible — to do the things that are going to move this town, your school district, your village, your taxing district forward so that our mutual constituents benefit from this,” Romaine said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to redesign how we do things. This is one opportunity where we can reach across jurisdictional lines and say we’re all in this together.”

Engineering firm Laberge Group has served as a consultant for the town’s municipal consolidation plans, and representatives Ben Syden and Nicole Allen were on hand at the committee meeting to update the attendees on the status of some of the projects already underway.

“A year and a half ago, we asked for your hope, we asked for you to say, ‘yup, I may be interested in doing this,’” Syden said during the meeting. “Now, we have pilots, we have examples and now we want to deploy this townwide.”

The projects will be implemented over a span of two to three years, according to Syden, and the full implementation of the projects is expected to save more than $60 million collectively amongst the taxing districts over five years.

The dissolution of the Village of Mastic Beach and reincorporation into the town, the consolidation of 24 of the town’s 112 special districts including four water districts into the Suffolk County Water Authority and six erosion control districts consolidated into one are among the already completed projects undertaken as part of the MCEC project. Upcoming projects include the consolidation of property tax collection and processing systems with several villages including Port Jefferson and Shoreham, construction of a regional salt storage facility, purchase of regional specialized fleet equipment, expansion of single-stream recycling waste management services to six special districts throughout the town and many more.

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