Government

New law requires all smoke alarms sold in New York to operate on batteries that function for a decade

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

This time, the batteries are included.

State legislation aiming to address fire safety for New York families was signed into law this week, requiring every smoke alarm sold be equipped with a nonremovable, nonreplaceable battery that powers the device for a minimum of 10 years. State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) heralded the new law he sponsored as a protective measure against house fires.

In a statement, the senator said the law would help ensure that smoke alarms are operational for a longer period of time and hopefully save lives. Since smoke alarms were first mandated in the state back in 1961, Flanagan said that deaths due to fire have been cut in half, but most deaths due to fire today happen in homes with either no smoke alarm or a nonfunctioning one. Under the new law, Flanagan said, homeowners can be protected from dangerous fires for a longer period of time without constant maintenance.

“Too many families in our state have suffered the loss of a loved one due to a fire emergency, and this new law is aimed at protecting New Yorkers from this pain,” Flanagan said. “The data is crystal clear in how essential smoke detectors are in saving lives.”

Over the operational life of the average smoke alarm, the new law could also potentially save homeowners money by eliminating the need for replacement batteries every six months, Flanagan said. After the 10-year operational time period of the device, a new smoke alarm device would need to be purchased as a replacement.

Firemen’s Association of the State of New York President Robert McConville said lawmakers, including Flanagan, have taken big steps to keep New York families safe.

“We would like to thank State Sen. John Flanagan for his leadership on this critical issue. Simply put, his efforts in passing this legislation will help save lives in New York State,” he said. “We’ve seen time and again that working smoke alarms can be the difference between life and death. Together, State Sen. Flanagan, Assemblyman Joseph Morelle (D-Irondequoit), and N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) have succeeded in making New York a safer place to live.”

The new law will go into effect in April 2019, once an agreed-upon chapter amendment between the Governor, the Senate and the Assembly is approved.

It will not apply to devices which have been ordered or that are in inventory when the law goes into effect. It will not impact devices that are powered through electrical systems, fire alarm systems with smoke alarms, fire alarm devices that connect to a panel or other devices with low-power radio frequency wireless communication signal.

Additionally, the upcoming amendment will provide the state fire administrator, through its regulatory process, the ability to designate other devices that are exempt from the legislation.

“It is critical that all homeowners who do purchase these devices in our state are able to trust them for a full decade,” Flanagan said. “The goal is to help New Yorkers protect their homes and their families, and this legislation is a great step in that effort.”

Deer rutting season means more of the animals running out on local roads. Photo by Rohma Abbas

With the first deer-hunting season in Eaton’s Neck coming to a close, Huntington residents and town board officials are evaluating if the new bow hunting rules are a success.

Huntington Town spokesperson A.J. Carter said in a phone interview that the board plans to gather different viewpoints and “assess what to do going forward,” to see if the town achieved its stated goal of cutting down the deer population.

The board voted to allow bow hunting of deer in early September, amending the town code to allow it in Eaton’s Neck under the direction of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation during the state’s deer hunting season, between Oct. 1 to Jan. 31.

Joe DeRosa, an Eaton’s Neck resident and president of the civic group Eaton’s Neck Corporation, said he thinks this season has gone well.

A petition on Change.org calls for an end to deer hunting in Eaton's Neck. Screen capture
A petition on Change.org calls for an end to deer hunting in Eaton’s Neck. Screen capture

According to DeRosa, the community has hunted and removed more than 60 deer — and residents have noticed a difference.

“During the day, you don’t see too many deer at all,” DeRosa said in a phone interview. “The number of sightings has drastically declined since this time last year.”

DeRosa said his expectations for the town measure have been met.

Some residents do not share that sentiment.

A petition on activism website Change.org, created in November, now has more than 500 supporters who want the Huntington Town Board to stop allowing hunting in residential areas. The petition expressed safety concerns from neighbors who have hunters on adjacent lots acting close to their own properties.

“These deer slayers now roam freely in the Town of Huntington with no enforced restrictions, regulations or policing of any kind,” the petition states. “They come and go, killing and wounding at will.”

When the law passed in September, Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said measures would be taken so “it’s not just ‘Joe the hunter’ coming in.”

According to the resolution, anyone with a DEC permit can hunt on their own Eaton’s Neck property or on such a property where they have the owner’s consent.

DeRosa said residents were advised to call the Suffolk County Police Department with any complaints or concerns they had after the law was enacted, but neither a police spokesperson nor a DEC spokesperson could immediately confirm whether their departments received any complaints.

Many of the people who signed the petition are not actually from the Huntington area, with some living as far as Delaware and Pennsylvania.

DeRosa said the petition does not reflect the overall consensus of the community.

The Eaton’s Neck Corporation conducted a resident survey earlier this year, before the town took action, and more than 85 percent wanted something done about the perceived overpopulation of deer in their area, according to DeRosa.

“The community asked for help and they got what they wanted,” he said. “This is a community effort.”

The issue was a hot debate in the summer and fall, with many people concerned about the traffic danger deer posed as well as the threat of spreading Lyme disease.

In addition to the bow hunting law, the town board created a deer management program to research alternative methods of lowering the deer population, such as contraceptives or herding programs. Carter said that program is still in the early stages of development.

State Sen. Ken LaValle works with North Shore elected officials and residents to ensure the community, and greater Long Island region, have quality health care. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Quality health care and, to hear state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) describe it, home cooking are good for the body, mind, soul and community. That’s the argument the Republican senator has been making for years on behalf of the Stony Brook University medical center and its hospital.

After the university lost out earlier this year on a partnership with Peconic Bay Medical Center, which agreed to team up with North Shore-LIJ Health System, the longtime local senator has continued his unflagging support of Stony Brook, particularly with John T. Mather Memorial Hospital.

“If we think of a wheel, the hub of a wheel, and the local community hospitals are its spokes,” LaValle said, referring to Stony Brook as that hub in the center. “This is my vision and one that I think is good for the people I represent” to allow them to have the “best quality health care” close to home.

For his consistent and long-term efforts to lend the support of his office to an important area institution, and for the passion and dedication he has shown to the residents of the region for close to four decades, LaValle is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

Sen. Ken LaValle speaks with a biker as she rests at the Port Jefferson Elks Lodge in Port Jefferson Station in the middle of a 330-mile bicycle trip to support wounded warriors. File photo
Sen. Ken LaValle speaks with a biker as she rests at the Port Jefferson Elks Lodge in Port Jefferson Station in the middle of a 330-mile bicycle trip to support wounded warriors. File photo

Stony Brook officials appreciated LaValle’s work on their behalf and suggested that he played a seminal role in keeping their ongoing relationship with Southampton Hospital on track.

“It took perseverance to continue to push the Southampton relationship with Stony Brook through,” said Reuven Pasternak, the CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital. “He was absolutely critical in keeping those discussions going and seeing them to fruition.”

Pasternak said LaValle also facilitated a connection with Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.

The senator has been “a big supporter” of that relationship, Pasternak said. “He’s always made himself available to speak to people in Albany.”

LaValle was instrumental in the building of the new Medicine and Research Translation building, a 240,000-square foot facility that is expected to be completed in 2016. Kenneth Kaushansky, the dean of the School of Medicine and the senior vice president of health sciences, said LaValle helped secure critical state financing.

LaValle identified $45 million that was earmarked for a law school at Stony Brook that was never built that he “was able get reallocated,” Kaushansky said. “The state support for MART was hugely dependent on the senator.”

Kaushansky said he and LaValle have regular discussions about any potential issues that arise.

If things aren’t proceeding the way the university would like, LaValle “always volunteers to help put them back on track.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright said LaValle deserves recognition for his work on behalf of Stony Brook and all the area hospitals.

“He is firmly supportive of Stony Brook’s role and mission, as well as for all the hospitals in our community,” Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

LaValle suggested his role as chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education gives him an opportunity to advocate on behalf of the SBU medical school. His chairmanship provides “a vehicle to be able to work with other people in the state university system and within state agencies,” he said.

The approximately 129 students in each medical school class contribute to area health care while they pursue their education, LaValle said.

“That is one of the very first helping points for the university,” LaValle said. “It’s being able to fulfill the education of their medical students. There are also people doing their clinical work and residencies.”

Sen. Ken LaValle speaks at a public forum on the Common Core. File photo
Sen. Ken LaValle speaks at a public forum on the Common Core. File photo

LaValle is contributing to Stony Brook’s effort to secure a longer-term connection with Mather. He cited numerous such two-way benefits for a potential longer-term alliance.

Stony Brook can provide services that “will save Mather a lot of money,” LaValle said.

For patients of the two hospitals, the quality and convenience are also a winning combination.

“If someone needs cardiac care, it is a hop, skip and a jump to get that care,” LaValle said. “They don’t have to be helicoptered some place or drive a long time distance.”

Kaushansky appreciated the support from the senator.

“He’s doing everything he can,” Kaushansky said. LaValle has “been a strong proponent of getting us and Mather to work together for the benefit” of the patient population in the area.

Kaushansky cited several other benefits to Mather of an ongoing and deeper connection with Stony Brook, including support for Mather’s stroke center with back-up cerebral artery intervention, and support for their radiology department.

While a deeper connection with Mather would be mutually beneficial for the hospitals, LaValle suggested, it would also create an important level of convenience for patients.

“I have started with the premise that patient care closest to home is the best care for the patient,” LaValle said. “The families can interact and it’s convenient. We are focused in a way to ensure that the quality of health care is at its maximum.”

From the leaders through the rank and file, Stony Brook health care professionals appreciate LaValle’s support.

“If anybody were to ask a person working in the dialysis unit, ‘Of all the politicians in the state of New York, who do you think is the strongest advocate for Stony Brook Medical School and Stony Brook University Hospital?’ most of them would say Ken LaValle,” said Kaushansky.

Pasternak, who considers LaValle a friend, called him sincere in his beliefs.

“It’s not the politics that drives him,” Pasternak said. “It’s his passion for the region and the people in the region.”

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Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown homeowners are slated to receive more hefty state tax rebate checks this year, thanks to a healthy report from the state comptroller, the town said this week.

The New York State Deputy Comptroller Division of Local Government and School Accountability sent a notice to the Town of Smithtown on Dec. 10 outlining that the town’s tax levy limit and tax levy for the fiscal year ending in 2016 was reviewed with “no findings.” This meant that the Smithtown residents could expect a state tax rebate check more than double the amount of last year’s amount of $173, Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said in a statement.

These rebate checks are made available to residents who also qualify for the state’s STAR exemptions — which includes roughly 31,734 homes in the town, Vecchio said.

“Irrespective of the debate on whether tax incentives stimulate the economy, one thing I know for sure is that had we not complied with the tax cap requirements, nearly $14 million of money from the state would have gone elsewhere and not into our homeowners’ pockets,” Vecchio said in a statement.

According to the supervisor, the economic impact to Smithtown would have been huge had the town not compiled with both requirements of the tax program. In order to receive the tax cap rebate checks, Smithtown had to keep the 2016 tax increase below the town- specific allowable tax cap amount of .99 percent and also meet the requirements of the government efficiency plan imposed by the state. This plan required that Smithtown achieve savings through intramunicipal agreements of 1 percent of its 2014 tax levy or at least $536,000 in savings.

Vecchio said the actual savings should approximate $785,000 and the tax increase of .81 percent was well below the limit of .99 percent.

The effect of complying with these requirements has a triple effect for residents, Vecchio said. Smithtown residents should benefit from the efficiency savings of $785,000, the tax increase being below the town’s maximum amount of .99 percent, and most of all, cumulatively, town residents should receive about $13,725,000 in rebate checks, the town said in a statement.

“When you take into account the economic impact of putting nearly $15 million into the pockets of our residents and taking into account the effect of spending this money in our small business community, the affect is enormous,” Vecchio said.

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Ray Calabrese and Mayor Margot Garant smile with Thomas Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Thomas Jefferson will watch over Village Hall visitors in the future, thanks to a donation from the Calabrese family.

“Much to my surprise, there’s nothing for the public viewing of anything of Thomas Jefferson — no statue, no bust, no painting,” Ray Calabrese said at the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees meeting Monday night. “So I decided to do something about it.”

To applause from the audience, he presented Mayor Margot Garant and the board with a painting of Jefferson, the original of which he said was done by Rembrandt Peale in 1805, halfway through the president’s tenure.

Garant said the portrait would hang above the stairs so that as people go between the first and second floors, “they’ll see Thomas.”

Friends, family and town officials gather to remember Maggie Rosales, Danny Carbajal and Sarah Strobel in Huntington Station on Thursday. Three trees were planted in their honor. Photo by Mary Beth Steenson Kraese

Huntington residents are calling on their elected officials to change the way their Public Safety Department operates.

At a Dec. 8 town board meeting, residents said former Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone, who is a consultant for the town department, is not necessary as the town’s connection to the 2nd Police Precinct to increase safety and control crime.

The Huntington Town Board hired Varrone as the town liaison to the police department in 2014 and gave a $50,000 budget to his company, Varron Solutions LLC, to provide consulting services and act as the town’s contact with the police, community leaders and social services agencies. The business was also required to assist in restructuring Public Safety to better protect and control crime in the Huntington Station community — the main reason the town hired Varrone.

But residents are saying Varrone isn’t essential to reducing crime.

According to Huntington Matters member Robert Rockelein, Varrone hasn’t been very active in his role to increase safety in the town.

“The Huntington Matters and the Huntington Matters Neighborhood Watch have not seen or heard of any policy, procedure or project initiated or influenced by Dominick Varrone over the last year,” Rockelein said during the meeting, speaking for the two civic groups.

He added that his organization attends meetings regarding safety in Huntington, but he has seen Varrone at only a handful of those meetings.

Other residents said the town doesn’t need Varrone at all.

“I think $50,000 a year for Dominick … we could spend $50,000 somewhere else,” Jim McGoldrick, a Huntington Station resident, said during the meeting. “We could spend it on our children, on a drug program or something like that.”

He also said 2nd Precinct Commanding Officer Christopher Hatton is doing a good enough job on his own when it comes to the town’s safety.

The town hired Varrone in November 2014, after a series of murders in Huntington Station and subsequent demands and fears from residents regarding security. Maggie Rosales, one of the victims, was stabbed to death in Huntington Station that October, a few blocks from her home.

Huntington Matters was also born out of that series of incidents, with the goal of facilitating better communication between the government, the community and the police.

Despite resident comments on Dec. 8, Huntington Town spokesman A.J. Carter said Varrone works closely with police and other agencies to address safety concerns and crime in the area.

Councilman Eugene Cook (I) was the only board member to vote against extending Varrone’s contract into 2016. He said Varrone’s sparse appearances as the town’s liaison swayed his decision.

“I think Dominick is doing a good job, but he needs the presence,” Cook said in a phone interview. He added that safety within the town is important to him, and he planned to meet with Varrone to discuss improving his presence in the community.

Varrone did not return messages seeking comment.

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Suffolk County Republicans assembled at the Legislature building last week to call for a federal monitor to oversee our county police department. They argued that a recent indictment of former Police Chief James Burke was a tipping point, proving that county government could not be trusted to operate independently without supervision. They also cited County Executive Steve Bellone’s appointment of Tim Sini to replace Burke as key evidence supporting their pleas, accusing him of not having enough experience to do the job at the level the county needs.

We don’t disagree with the Suffolk County GOP in saying that the federal government should consider monitoring the county’s police department to make sure it is adequately protecting us and that the taxpayer dollars funding it are being well spent. There should be a monitor — but not solely for the reasons our Republican lawmakers have outlined. There are plenty of other issues concerning the Suffolk County Police Department that a federal monitor could help alleviate.

For starters, we have editorialized in the past about the department’s ongoing relationship woes with the greater Hispanic community, which has had a public spotlight for the last several years. The department has taken some steps to address this issue, but a lot more can be done.

A federal monitor could also make sure our department utilizes its resources appropriately at a time when many elected officials argue that patrols are being stretched too thin and officers are overworked. Better management of resources could also mean better enforcement of the county’s gang population and fight against drug abuse.

As much as we might cringe at the idea of “more government” — especially on the federal level — it would be better than nothing.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta, second from right, calls for a federal monitor to oversee the county police department in the wake of recent scandals. Photo from Suffolk County Republicans

North Shore lawmakers are calling on the federal government to keep a closer watch on the county police department.

At a press conference last week, Suffolk County Legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) stood beside Republican minority leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) at the William Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge to call for heightened oversight of the Suffolk County Police Department via a federal monitor. Their pleas came in light of a recent investigation and indictment of former county Police Chief James Burke, who was accused of beating a handcuffed suspect and attempting to cover up the crime.

During the press conference, numerous members of the Republican Caucus made it clear that both Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Tim Sini needed to speak up about what they know — if anything — regarding the alleged malfeasance of the department, given that their positions were so intimately tied to its internal mechanisms.

Trotta said that as more facts related to Burke roll out, it has become more apparent that the problem needs to be addressed by a federal monitor. He and his colleagues argued that federal involvement would allot the best resources available to the investigation and also instill an element of objectivity.

“I want the monitor to come in to make sure that everything in the internal affairs department is running correctly,” Trotta said at the press conference. “I want the monitor to come in and say that the person appointed to be police commissioner is qualified.”

Bellone ensured that a monitor will be established as soon as possible.

Bellone tapped Tim Sini to become Suffolk County police commissioner after serving as Bellone’s chief criminal justice advisor since August 2014.

Before his tenure as Suffolk’s assistant deputy county executive for public safety, Sini served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2010 to 2014, specializing in violent crimes, gang prosecutions and large-scale narcotics cases.

“When looking for a police commissioner, I am seeking someone with character, experience and vision, and Tim Sini has all three,” Bellone said. “Tim is a man of real integrity with a strong sense of justice. Tim Sini has a unique blend of law enforcement experience as a federal prosecutor combined with a keen understanding of Suffolk County’s law enforcement community by serving as my top law enforcement advisor.”

But McCaffrey argued at the press conference that there was no time for “on-the-job training” when one is elevated to the level of commissioner of the county police department. McCaffrey argued that Sini is inexperienced, making it that much more essential that federal investigators seek out accountability.

“This is not a political issue, it is one of public safety and the integrity of our government,” McCaffrey said. “The State of New York, and now Suffolk County, is just roiling with corruption and mismanagement. The people of Suffolk County deserve much better than this, and anything less than full federal involvement will not be acceptable.”

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Supervisor offers nine ways to strengthen and protect the aquifer

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, right, speaks at the New York State Assembly hearing on illegal sand mining and dumping. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven

On Dec. 16, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) testified at a New York State Assembly hearing on illegal sand mining and dumping, bringing to the forefront the threats that such actions pose to Long Island’s drinking water. Different from the rest of the state, Long Island is completely dependent on its sole source aquifer for drinking water, and the ecological and economic viability of the region is dependent on strong protections for this irreplaceable resource. At the hearing, state officials announced that they plan to release proposed regulations in February of 2016, including cradle-to-grave tracking of construction and demolition debris, that will help to stop illegal dumping.

In his testimony, Romaine said that the Town of Brookhaven worked with law enforcement agencies and took concrete steps to amend the Town Code in 2015 to allow more effective enforcement against illegal sand mining. He applauded the state’s proposal for stricter action and commented that it “must take on the complex task of tracking, monitoring and enforcing statutes that will stop illegal sand mining and illegal dumping on Long Island. The costs of inaction are extraordinary, because water treatment and cleanup of contaminants can easily cost billions of dollars in an area as large as Long Island.”

The supervisor also noted that the City of New York uses aerial patrols and watershed police to monitor activities near their reservoirs, and that they “could serve as a model for a Long Island NYSDEC unit dedicated to the protection of drinking water.”

He also made nine recommendations that will strengthen the protection of the aquifer.

The first involves upgrading misdemeanor illegal dumping charges to felonies, and the second, will upgrade illegal sand mining charges to felonies. Romaine also suggested improving legal definitions of sand mining and illegal dumping to make prosecutions easier, and requiring manifest logs for all materials being transported on or off individual sites. The fifth suggestion recommended substantially increasing the number of enforcement personnel. The sixth is creating a dedicated drinking water protection unit to focus on illegal dumping, illegal sand mining and other activities that threaten drinking water supplies. Romaine would also like to see improvements in the sharing of information and coordination between local government and enforcement agencies to curtail illegal sand mining and dumping. Another suggestion involves an increase in monitoring existing legal sand mines to ensure drinking water is protected and that sand mines are fully covered with suitable topsoil and revegetated. The final recommendation is the use of Natural Resource Damage Claims to force the reclamation and restoration of illegal sand mines.

In making the recommendations, Supervisor Romaine said, “I feel strongly that the protection of our water quality is of paramount importance for current and future Brookhaven residents … and I look forward to working … to make the penalties for illegal dumping and sand mining a strong deterrent to these activities,” he said. “We must make certain that all of the progress made to protect our drinking water and surface waters through the expenditure of millions of dollars to purchase open space and to build storm water abatement projects is not undone by allowing criminals to contaminate our water supply by the dumping of toxic waste. We must also ensure that the sand, which is the only natural filter for our drinking water, remains in place.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is among the lawmakers hoping to use the #MeToo moment not only to change culture, but to change laws. File photo

Suffolk County Democrats have a new majority leader in the Legislature.

The Democratic caucus voted unanimously on Saturday to name Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) the newest majority leader, replacing Legislator Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), who is expected to succeed Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) as deputy presiding officer in early 2016 after a vote scheduled for the first week in January.

Schneiderman was term limited out of the Legislature and will be succeeded in the 2nd District by Legislator-elect Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor).

Hahn, who was first elected to the Legislature in 2011, referred to her quick rise to the majority leader position as validating and empowering, as she looks ahead into the new year.

“I am truly honored that my colleagues have put their trust in me to lead our caucus,” she said in a phone interview Monday. “I feel like I have a proven record of getting things done, and I’m going to do everything I can to work with my colleagues to address the needs of Suffolk County.”

As majority leader, Hahn will lead caucus meetings and help set the Democratic agenda in the county Legislature, a spokesman from her office said. In her four years as a legislator for the North Shore’s 5th District, Hahn has been at the forefront of several legislative battles advocating for the environment, the fight against drug addiction and public safety. She said she planned on tackling the same issues with her majority leader role, with hopes of enacting change for every district in the county.

“It’s important to me that we work hard to solve people’s problems,” she said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) referred to Hahn’s legislative record as a promising attribute to his party’s newest majority leader. Bellone has signed onto several pieces of Hahn’s legislative agenda items over the past several years, including attempts at addressing domestic violence in Suffolk County and limiting the abundance of microbeads polluting county waterways.

“Kara Hahn has a proven record on critical issues like protecting our environment, tackling the opioid crisis and advocating for victims of domestic violence,” Bellone said in a statement. “I know Kara will use the platform of majority leader to be even more effective on the issues that she has spent her life fighting for, and which are critical to move Suffolk County forward.”

Calarco said he has known Hahn for a long time, dating back to when the two of them worked as aides in the county Legislature long before they were first elected. He gave his long-standing colleague encouraging words as she prepared to succeed him as majority leader.

“I think she’s going to be great,” he said. “She knows the Legislature well. She knows how to get things done. She’s a very good fighter for her district and the county as a whole.”

Among the top issues Hahn said she hoped to lead the Democratic caucus in addressing were spurring economic development throughout the county, requiring the county to test groundwater for toxins, preserving open spaces and advocating for healthy living.