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Crisis Forces Owners to Get Creative

Stony Brook Trauma Center staff member Colby Rowe and Wang Center Building Manager Scott LaMarsh accept donations for the COVID-19 Donation Center. Photo from SBU

Local businesses throughout Long Island have been hit hard because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but it also has brought them closer together. These uncertain times have bred creative and unique ideas in an effort to keep these storefronts afloat. 

Renee Goldfarb of Origin of Era in Port Jefferson hosts daily livestreams demonstrating an item in her stock during the ongoing crisis. Image from Facebook

For Renee Goldfarb, owner of Origin of Era boutique in Port Jefferson, it meant finding ways to further connect with clients and new customers despite them not being able to come into the store. 

“There’s not the heavy foot traffic we are used to seeing, so instead of just sitting in an empty store why not continue to interact with customers online?” she said. 

Goldfarb started what she calls a “virtual shopping experience” where she showcases and models different pieces of clothing from a number of indie and female designers. In these half-hour livestreams, she said it allows customers to get that familiar experience of seeing products in real time and decide what they like.

“I’m very hands on; I want them to see how these pieces look on a normal human being, not just a store mannequin,” the boutique owner said. “The viewers also leave comments and it gives me the chance to talk to them and answer their questions.”

Goldfarb currently produces weekly videos on Instagram Live and Facebook. She said she has already sold a few items from her store and is getting good feedback from customers on the videos. 

 “The business community in Port Jeff is really trying to support one another,” she said.

Though times have been trying, it has not stopped local shops from supporting those who arguably need it the most.

Similarly, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District is conducting a restaurant delivery program that will send meals to St. Charles and Mather hospitals for the medical staff, to thank them for their service during the ongoing pandemic. The Greater Port Jeff Chamber of Commerce is also assisting in the effort. 

Theresa Skogen, liaison for the Port Jeff BID and the chamber, said they already started to drop off meals at the hospitals earlier last week.  

“We started last Saturday — it’s been a good way to revitalize some of the businesses that had to shut down and it keeps them busy during their slower days,” she said.

James Luciano, owner of the Port Jeff Lobster House and BID secretary, said the BID is donating up to 40 meals at a time to the hospitals on a rotating basis. 

“Any restaurant that is in the Greater Port Jeff area can participate,” he said. “The BID will pay them a flat fee of $500 for 40 meals. We pick up the meals and deliver them to the hospitals for free.”

Luciano said they hope to continue delivering meals every day to the local hospitals. 

In addition, the Port Jeff chamber has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to help Port Jeff restaurants feed hospital workers at St. Charles and John T. Mather hospitals. GreaterPortJeff.com is sponsoring fundraising efforts for the restaurants involved and the campaign will also help local restaurants. As of today, close to $4,000 has been raised. 

“We wanted to make sure we could provide that service, and be able to employ local personnel.”

-James Luciano

In an effort to further help Port Jeff businesses, the Village of Port Jefferson has created a website page titled Open Today. The page contains a list of over 30 restaurants and other businesses. The BID is also sponsoring a free delivery service  from 12 to 8 p.m. daily.  

Luciano said they wanted to have a centralized delivery system in the village during this time and at the same time have this option available to customers. 

“We wanted to make sure we could provide that service, and be able to employ local personnel,” he said.  

For some entrepreneurs, making sure customers know that they are still present is just as important, despite seeing a dip in business. 

Gabriela Schwender, of Long Island Crafty Ones, a mobile and traveling workshop based in Rocky Point, said a lot of business plans have had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Her craft workshops cater to face-to-face interactions with her clients. 

In the meantime, she has been livestreaming craft workshops on the business’ Facebook page. While she can’t provide art materials like she usually does, Schwender said she has turned to finding common household objects that can make for fun craft projects. 

“Usually when I do these workshops, I’m right there to help them or guide them,” she said. “Right now, I’m answering questions through text.”

Schwender said a number of viewers have already reached out to her saying that they would like to hire her once the pandemic/shutdown is over. 

Gary Pollakusky, executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, said small businesses are going through a difficult time right now, adding the chamber has reached out to all its members in an effort to assist them in any way they can, including giving each other ideas and advice. 

The organization has come up with its own page titled Shop Locally, Distance Socially, which can be found on its website (www.rpsbchamber.org) where it lists a number of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses that are still open and taking online orders. The chamber is also encouraging residents to order a gift card for now, to shop with once life returns to normal.

“These small businesses and mom-and-pop shops need the support of the public more than ever before,” he said. 

State Sen. John Flanagan (R). Photo by Kyle Barr

Mario Mattera, a St. James resident, local union official and Suffolk County Water Authority board member, has been tapped by Suffolk County Republicans to run for the seat being vacated by state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport).

Mario Mattera

The announcement came five days after the longtime senator announced he won’t run for reelection after 18 years in the state Senate and 16 years in the state Assembly.

Mattera has been a member of Plumbers Local Union 200 for the past 25 years and is currently the business agent for the union. He said he is honored by the selection and is dedicated to fighting for the “working men and women of Long Island.” 

“I want to thank the GOP for having the confidence in me,” he said. “It is not going to be easy to fill John Flanagan’s shoes. I want to bring a commonsense voice to the Senate and be an advocate for Long Island families.”

The St. James resident said his focus right now is making sure the coronavirus is defeated on Long Island and making sure health care workers are well protected and equipped to fight the disease. 

If elected, Mattera said he would focus on a number of issues, one of them being bail reform. Republicans across the board have called for the law’s removal. Another issue would be creating jobs in the district and prevent young people from leaving.

The union official said he looks at construction jobs and blue-collar positions as the “backbone of the economy” and wants to make sure they can attain a livable wage and afford to live in the county. 

This will not be Mattera’s first attempt at elected office. In 2013, he ran unsuccessfully in the Republican Primary against current county Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman, Jesse Garcia, believes Mattera has the experience to follow “a great leader” like Flanagan. 

“Mario shares our fierce Long Island values,” Garcia said. “He will be a great candidate for the people of Suffolk County.”

In addition, the chairman said the St. James resident is a go-getter and will be able to work across the table with Democrats in the Senate. 

Garcia acknowledged that this race and the one for the vacated seat of Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) are important in the party’s quest to regain control of the Senate from the Democrats. He said getting Mattera and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), a state assemblyman who is running for LaValle’s seat, elected would help their chances. Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven Town supervisor, said he has great respect for Flanagan and is “saddened” that New York will not continue to have his leadership in Albany. But he thinks Mattera is the right choice for the seat.

“He has been in the union for many years, and he’s fought for the working people,” he said.

The Brookhaven supervisor said he is concerned about the Democratic majority in the Senate, saying he is worried that Long island will not have a strong voice. He added that up in Albany there has been a shift toward New York City interests, and it has gone away from a suburban interest. 

“If anyone can change them, it would be Mario,” Romaine said. “He’s got the energy and will get along with everyone.”

The race for the 2nd Senate District will slate Mattera against Democratic candidate Mike Siderakis, a retired state trooper from Setauket. 

Republicans lost control of the state Senate in 2018, dropping to a 40-23 minority. From 2015-18, Flanagan served as the majority leader of the Senate. 

Mattera said he has a good relationship with Flanagan and LaValle and called them both mentors to him. 

“Mario will fight back against one-party control in Albany and will be a driving force to help move our economy in the right direction,” Flanagan said in a statement. “I am proud to endorse Mario Mattera to represent the people of the 2nd Senate District.”

Slurp Ramen in Port Jefferson has set up a unique means of serving customers, with a large screen in between workers and patrons. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local business owners are looking at an uncertain future due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis here on Long Island.

Due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order that shut down nonessential businesses last Saturday in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, entrepreneurs and others are worried if they will be able to survive the financial blow. With bills due at the beginning of the month and with no new income coming in, many are calling on the state and the federal government for help.

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club, looks at blueprints of new the building in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Tuesday, Congress and the President Donald Trump (R) administration finally reached a $2 trillion agreement to assist people during the ongoing crisis. The new bill includes one-time direct payments to residents of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year or $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child. It also includes a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. Meanwhile, for larger industries the bill includes $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to bail them out as revenue has severely dropped.

Still, the question remains of how small local businesses will remain intact or even be able to open their doors again as the crisis ebbs.

Indu Kaur, director of operations of The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station, said, “This is a burden my father and I are trying to figure out, just like everyone else,”

A family of restaurateurs who recently took over The Harbor Grill had plans to open their third restaurant this month. In addition, The Meadow Club was set to reopen after being closed due to a fire in 2018. Kaur said the ongoing health crisis has put both openings on hold.

In the meantime, she said, The Curry Club in East Setauket is taking take-out and delivery orders.

“We had to lay off our staff,” she said. “There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

When asked about the recent virus rescue bil from the federal government, Kaur said “it was great news and a good first step. “Many of us are suffering financially right now.”

She also said she is hopefully that Suffolk County can eventually do something similar to help business owners.

Currently, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering economic injury disaster loans to affected businesses. Funds come directly from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the maximum unsecured loan amount is $25,000.

Kaur said she doesn’t think that is a viable option for her and other business owners.

“I’m not sure we can take out one more loan on what we already have,” she said. “For others there might be no other option.”

Last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the launch of the Business Recovery Unit, a component of the county’s Business Response Plan, to address concerns and questions that businesses have amid the coronavirus outbreak. Businesses are asked to complete a comprehensive survey on the county’s website (www.suffolkcountyny.gov).

In a conference call March 23, Bellone said that, with several hundred surveys completed, over 4,000 workers were indicated as laid off or furloughed.

“We keep getting calls and the numbers are going up; we are getting calls from workers who are self-employed who are in the same boat,” Bellone said.

In the new federal relief package, furloughed workers will have their salaries replaced for four months, getting whatever amount the state provides in unemployment plus a $600 add-on per week. Gig workers such as Uber drivers are included in that as well.

“There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

Indu Kaur

In an effort to help business owners, New York State Republicans sent Cuomo a COVID-19 action plan that includes extending the payments of monthly sales tax by 90 days, making available no-interest loans immediately to entities that face a dramatic decrease in business and eliminating penalties for late payments of business and property taxes, among other things.

Similarly, over 17,600  people signed a Change.org petition titled Save Small Business Before It’s Too Late. It also called on the city, state and federal governments to take the necessary steps to save local businesses.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, creating jobs, generating tax revenue and providing valuable services,” said New York City Councilman Mark Gjonaj (D), who started the petition.

Lenore Paprocky, president of the Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, said, while a lot of businesses are hurting, she is grateful how everyone is willing to come together and help fellow entrepreneurs.

“It’s difficult right now but we want to keep these businesses afloat,” she said.

The chamber has come up with a list of local businesses that are offering catering/takeout and automotive services.

Paprocky said they are trying to stay optimistic amid the ongoing shutdown, and she hopes elected officials can hash something out to help them.

“The future is uncertain, but we need to stay positive and work together to get through this,” the president of the chamber said.

PJS/Terryville Civic Association vice president Ed Garboski gives blood to the NYBC donor center at 1010 Route 112. Photo from Garboski

As national nonprofits and local hospitals are encouraging residents to donate blood as the coronavirus crisis has not only strained health care facilities but also caused a depletion of the region’s blood supply. 

The American Red Cross said they are facing a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly 2,700 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled, and in the eastern New York region 23 blood drives have been canceled. 

In total, cancellations have resulted in 86,000 fewer blood donations. More than 80 percent of the blood the Red Cross collects comes from blood drives, according to the organization. 

The shortage has prompted concerns about how hospitals will treat medical emergencies. According to the Red Cross, a single blood donation can be used to save multiple lives and about one in seven hospital admissions requires a blood transfusion. 

“Unfortunately, when people stop donating blood, it forces doctors to make hard choices about patient care, which is why we need those who are healthy and well to roll up a sleeve and give the gift of life.” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, in a statement. 

Similarly, The New York Blood Center is urging healthy donors to donate. In addition, they are extending open hours at their donor centers. NYBC operates 19 donor centers across New York and New Jersey. Its Port Jefferson Station Donor Center, located at 1010 Route 112, works closely with St. Charles Hospital. 

NYBC officials said these steps have maintained the blood supply for now but stressed that blood is perishable and the supply must be continually replenished to avoid a shortage. 

NYBC said they are taking extra precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and advise people who are experiencing a cold, sore throat, respiratory infection or flu-like symptoms to avoid donor centers. 

Stony Brook University Hospital is currently accepting blood donations as well. 

Hospital officials said they are constantly monitoring the blood supply situation at its facilities and assured residents that donating blood is safe. Donors are health screened at the hospital entrance, and the donor room is not crowded. The screening process includes completing a form regarding recent travel history and potential acute respiratory symptoms and COVID-19 exposure.

The hospital is accepting blood donations from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. People can call 631-444-2626 to make an appointment.

The Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

The COVID-19 crisis has affected daily life for every resident, but it has especially created challenges for individuals seeking essential resources, and for the workers and volunteers who provide them. The ongoing health crisis has caused numerous facilities including homeless shelters and other nonprofit organizations to rethink how they operate for the time being. 

For Stephen Brazeau, director of Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson, it has been business as usual at the facility, with a few exceptions. 

“We’ve had an open-door policy at the center, but now we’ve locked the front door and have begun screening individuals who want to come in,” Brazeau said. “We usually have significant walk-in traffic and we’ve definitely seen a reduction in that.”

The director said they have seen anywhere from a 60-70 percent decrease in walk-ins. 

Currently, the hospitality center has a total of four staff members working with a few volunteers, compared to an additional 10 interns and 40-plus volunteers, due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order limiting operations. Brazeau said the center’s 24 beds are occupied, and for individuals they can’t accommodate they are trying to set them up with an official from the county’s department of social services. 

“We are doing our best to make sure these services and basic needs are continuing to be offered,” he said. “At the same time, we want our workers to be safe as well.”

In 2016, 3,960 individuals were deemed homeless on Long Island but more than half of those were children, according to a Long Island Coalition for the Homeless survey count. More than half of the surveyed homeless were children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended homeless shelters minimize face-to-face staff interactions with clients, and limit visitors to the facility during the outbreak. 

The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance said in a directive to shelter providers, “congregate facilities, such as shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness, are especially at risk for the spread of communicable diseases due to the number of individuals living in close proximity.”

Brazeau said he is also concerned about undocumented individuals who may need a place to stay as well as food.

“A few of the places that they go to for meals have closed, so we have tried to lead them to churches, schools and other places that are offering them,” the director said. 

For Celina Wilson, president of the Bridge of Hope Resource Center, she and her staff have had to adjust on the fly. Moving away from face-to-face interactions and meetings, they now try to do most of their work through phone calls and other technological means. 

“Even though we are limited in mobility, we are still able to help and advise our clients on a number of issues,” Wilson said. “We call them, text them, FaceTime them and we walk them through whatever they need help with.”

The Port Jefferson Station-based resource center provides a number of counseling, mentoring and education services. It is working on a graphic informational guide on the coronavirus that will be published on its website. In addition, the center will list other resources available on the Island like sites for mobile food distribution. 

“At this point we have to work together to get through this and keep people informed,” Wilson said.

Northport Middle School closed after contamination concerns. File photo

Remediation work is currently underway at Northport Middle School, according to a district letter sent to parents March 12. The district also detailed that no toxic chemicals had reached the groundwater at the building.

Robert Banzer, superintendent of Northport-East Northport school district, said in the letter that an investigative data report from P.W. Grosser Consulting, of Bohemia, has been received and reviewed by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

Banzer said in order to receive a “notice to remediate,” which would allow for remediation work to start from SCDHS, PWGC had to send investigative data directly to the county agency.

“The full comprehensive study [from PWGC] is expected to be completed and reported to the community in the next few weeks,” the superintendent added.

According to the letter, the remediation work will consist of pumping out the “contaminated” sludge or liquid from the septic tanks and leaching pools. An industrial waste transporter, licensed and approved by the state, will remove the waste. SCDHS will be on site during what is called “end point sampling” which is a confirmatory sampling test conducted after remediation is performed to ensure that all waste has been removed. PWGC will then prepare an “underground injection control” remediation report documenting the results and, if acceptable, the county will indicate that remediation is complete, and no further action is required. District officials expect remediation work to take approximately one to three weeks.

Previously, PWGC found elevated levels of mercury in cesspools outside the building and high levels of benzene in two septic tanks. The middle school has been closed since January. 

At a March 5 board meeting, district officials said that reopening the school could be an option depending on what comes back from the ongoing remediation work as well future sampling and testing at the grounds. 

Rich Rowehl, a Northport parent of a seventh-grader in the district, said his daughter and other students have been resilient during the transition. Though he said they do feel “homesick.” 

“They feel like they don’t have a home,” he said. 

The status of the middle school has been a divisive topic in the community. Some want the school to remain closed, while others believe the school shouldn’t have been closed to begin with. 

“We don’t want a quick fix, we should wait for the results to come out,” the Northport parent said. “If they feel like it is safe to go back, then I’m sure the district will have those discussions.”  

Rowehl is confident the board can make the right decision with the information it is given, once the full report comes out.

“Let’s just play things out and see what happens,” he reiterated. 

Rowehl also brought up the ongoing demographic study in the district. He said they should wait on those results to determine what steps needed to be taken going forward. 

“Declining enrollment at the district could be a factor,” he said. “Do we need two middle schools, or could we be better off combining schools, or moving students to another building?” he said. “It’s something to think about.”

Suffolk Legislator Susan Berland was at the head of changing ban the box legislation. File photo

The Suffolk County Legislature voted overwhelmingly March 17 to pass a piece of legislation that “bans the box” and restricts employers from asking about criminal histories in job applications.

The new law aims to allow those with criminal convictions to have more employment opportunities without the stigma of past criminal history. In addition, supporters of the bill have said that it would help those individuals rehabilitate and reacclimate into society. 

“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application.”

— Susan Berland

County legislators have been trying to pass ban-the-box legislation since last year, but the latest breakthrough came late last month when lawmakers announced they had reached a bipartisan agreement on a new amended piece of legislation. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) sponsored the bill, while Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) were co-sponsors. 

“This law allows applicants with criminal records to have the opportunity to get their foot in the door, have that face-to-face with an employer and get that interview,” Berland said. 

In addition, the law gives the applicant the chance to address their criminal history with a prospective employer earlier if they choose to and protects the employer’s right to investigate the backgrounds of its applicants after an initial interview.

Berland said the new amended legislation protects both sides. She believed previous versions of the bill placed too much onus on employers, requiring them to wait an extended period of time until they could inquire about an applicant’s arrest or conviction record, and disclose to applicants the reason why they were not hired. 

“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application,” the legislator said. 

Advocates have said Suffolk County has one of the largest parole populations in the state and that one in three adults have a criminal record in the U.S. According to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, the FBI considers anyone who has been arrested on a felony to have a criminal record, even without a conviction. Effectively, one in three adults in the U.S. have a criminal record, but far less have actually been convicted. 

Supporters of the bill have said the ban would afford people a second chance, instead of having their applications discarded on the basis of one answer. Also, it would reduce the stigma and bias associated with individuals with a criminal background. Suffolk County will join more than 150 municipalities and 35 states in the U.S. which have implemented ban-the-box laws. 

“You can’t help but be affected by their stories,” Berland said. “These people have made mistakes, but they want to turn their lives around.”

Co-sponsor McCaffrey said in a statement that individuals deserve an opportunity to put their best foot forward in a job interview without being automatically disqualified. He said the legislation “strikes a fair balance.”

Gonzalez, the other co-sponsor, said he believes access to gainful employment will improve the quality of life for people with criminal records and the communities in which they live, ultimately reducing recidivism and increasing public safety. 

“We have been working on this legislation for quite some time — it’s a good day,” Berland said. “These are people that want to better themselves as well as families. This will get them in the door based on their application.”

Katrina Denning, Erica Kutzing and Jenny Luca are the three in charge of Brookhaven’s new TNR task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new pilot trap, neuter and release program will look to stem the tide of the growing feral cat population in the Town of Brookhaven. Such has been the efforts of local animal activists who for months have advocated for official help in what seemed an insurmountable problem. 

Erica Kutzing, a Sound Beach resident and vice president of North Shore-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said she and others believe it will allow for better outcomes and success rates for feral cats. 

Strong Island Animal Rescue joined with local animal activists and Brookhaven town to set up the new task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It meant a lot to us to help solve this real issue,” she said. 

Kutzing, Katrina Denning, founder of the Jacob’s Hope Rescue, and Jenny Luca, among others attended a number of Town Board meetings from October to December 2019, discussing the need for Brookhaven to provide more assistance to local animal rescue groups in the ongoing feral cat crisis. 

“The TNR [Trap-Neuter-Return] program at that time was broken and needed to be fixed,” Kutzing said. 

At the end of December, the trio were given the opportunity to meet with Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Town Board members to talk about the status of the program. In two separate meetings, animal rescue advocates discussed ways they could improve the program and ease the burden on local rescue groups.

After some weeks of negotiations, town officials agreed to put the trio in charge of the task force. The town also decided to increase the original program’s budget from $40,000 to $60,000, began a partnership with Medford-based veterinary clinic Long Island Spay & Neuter, and will pay professional trappers to help capture feral cats. 

The pilot program was officially announced at the March 12 board meeting, classified as a “Program for the Public Good,” thereby qualifying it for coverage under the town’s public good insurance. 

“We are moving in a direction to reduce the population of feral cats — we believe the best way to deal with this issue is to work with nonprofits, who are extremely committed people,” Romaine said. “Limiting the population is the right thing to do for the community.” 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said the feral cat population on Long Island has been increasing drastically over the years, with a significant amount being located in Council District 1. 

“The town was able to develop the pilot program with significant community input from the rescue organizations,” she said in a statement. “We are anticipating success of the pilot program and we appreciate the community groups working collaboratively with the town.”

Denning said they were pleasantly surprised that town officials put them in charge and supported their ideas. She expects to see improved results once the program is set up, especially with Dr. John Berger, a veterinarian at Long Island Spay & Neuter, in place to perform the procedures.

“The way it was done before was just not working,” she said. “We needed someone who was skilled with dealing with a high volume of feral cats. Dr. Berger is trained to do a large number of surgeries.”

In turn, Denning said it will allow them to get more cats fixed and treated than before. 

“We will be doing clinics and specifically have a block of time where Dr. Berger can deal with a mass quantity at once,” she said. “We will be able to treat 20-30 cats and deal with entire colonies.”

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

In addition, the group will come up with a list of approved trappers who will “go out and capture these feral cats instead of the homeowners who are not as experienced,” Denning said. “We will be paying them for their work and incentivize them to go out more, now they don’t need to spend their own money on supplies.”

Luca, who has been an independent rescuer for the past 10 years, said the new program will allow them to do more in helping feral cats. 

“Cats are on every block on Long Island — we were very limited in what we could do before,” she said. 

Luca said with added support they will be able to use funds to buy new equipment like drop traps to ensure they’ll be able to capture more feral cats. 

Another aspect of the program is public education. 

“Educating people is huge — we are looking for individuals/volunteers who are interested in learning what we do and help us, it would be great,” Luca said.

Kutzing said surgery appointments will be twice a month at the clinics and they expect the program to be up and running sometime in April. 

In the meantime, the trio is excited for
the opportunity.

“It is incredible what we’ve been able to do,” Kutzing said. “It has been such a rewarding experience.”

 

Two neighboring hamlets joined forces last week to raise awareness for pediatric cancer. On March 6, the Centereach and Selden fire departments  along with the Centereach Civic Association hosted a St. Baldrick’s Day event at the Selden Fire Department’s main firehouse. 

Over 100 Centereach and Selden residents attended the event, and barbers and hairdressers from Rockabilly in Stony Brook and Blondie’s Salon in Centereach were on hand to shave the heads of men, women and children for a good cause. In total, over $23,000 was raised. The night included food, raffles and a performance by Irish step dancers from Mulvihill-Lynch Studio of Irish Dance. 

Rob Wilson, Centereach resident and event coordinator, said he has been involved in St. Baldrick’s event for the past 18 years as either a shavee or a volunteer. 

“We usually host this at the Centereach Fire Department but they are under construction, so our neighbors from the east were gracious enough to host it this year,” he said.

Wilson said they are shaving their heads in solidarity for those who are battling cancer and going through chemotherapy. 

“The money we raise will fund childhood cancer research; we want to give those kids more holidays and more birthdays,” he said. 

Diane Caudullo, president of the Centereach Civic Association, was glad everyone came out for the event. 

“Every year this crowd comes out. This is a phenomenal turnout,” she said. 

Wilson had similar thoughts. 

“We are always together, we are two separate hamlets but one big community,” he said.

Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer points to a chart showing the impact discovery law changes have had on small municipalities. Photo by David Luces

Town supervisors in Suffolk County say recent criminal justice reform has caused “unintended consequences” to municipalities and local code enforcement. They are asking the state to exempt small municipalities from new guidelines, among other things. 

The issue they have is with the state’s new discovery provisions, which require names and contact information for complaints to be turned over within 15 days of arraignment. In turn, it has eliminated anonymity, which many municipalities rely on when it comes to handling code violations. 

“You’re not going to call, you’re not going to complain, what does that do for the quality of life?”

— Ed Romaine

Rich Schaffer (D), Town of Babylon supervisor and chair of the county Democratic committee, said at a March 5 press conference they usually receive a lot of anonymous tips from concerned residents but have noticed many are not willing to come forward with the new changes. 

“They don’t want to put their names down, and quite frankly we don’t want to [either],” he said. “We want to be able to go after the offenders and educate them on how to clean up their act and be a good neighbor.”

A letter signed by all of the county’s town supervisors was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in January. The group said with the new standards in how case information is turned over to the courts, it means there are currently no distinctions between a homicide case and a “municipal code violation for high grass.” 

The supervisors said the reform was rushed through the legislature and didn’t give municipalities enough time to formulate a public education campaign. In addition, the changes hurt them on a local level because the state “got involved in things that we didn’t need their involvement in,” Schaffer said.

Supervisors also complained the requirement for after issuing a summons, a court date must be set within 20 days. Officials said it used to take a month to process cases, but now there are four additional “hoops to jump through” to process a complaint. A case could take up to two years to be resolved.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the criminal justice reform has had a “chilling effect on code enforcement.” 

“So now, if you live next to a guy that has a house with two illegal apartments and four or five unregistered vehicles and trash on the property, if you call, we are obligated by state law to tell the guy next door that you called,” he said. “You’re not going to call, you’re not going to complain, what does that do for the quality of life?”

The four supervisors called on the state Legislature to pass a bill that would allow townships to handle their own code enforcement cases and reinstate anonymity.  

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) are proposing bills that would allow anonymity for those reporting local code violations, let municipalities take these cases out of district court and allow them to create their own administrative bureau. 

Chad Lupinacci (R), Town of Huntington supervisor, said many of the problems discussed can be eliminated if municipalities had their own administrative bureau. Huntington is one of three municipalities in the state to have one. 

“The bureau should be up and running sometime in May,” he said. “Code enforcement officers, instead of having to comply with these changes, will be able to just enforce the code and ensure that neighborhoods are safer.”

Brookhaven assistant attorney David Moran said they will work in compliance with the law but called it an “unfunded mandate” with no real direction given how to be in compliance. 

Schaffer said he’s volunteering Babylon to be the guinea pig regarding not following the new law and seeing what comes out of it. 

“I’d like to be the test case to challenge the system,” he said.