Suffolk County Government

Photo courtesy Skyler Johnson
By Skyler Johnson

With November elections rapidly approaching, both sides of the political aisle are tense.

All 18 seats on the Suffolk County Legislature are up for election, and with the end of County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) tenure, the county executive seat will be open for the first time since 2011. Unfortunately, the political desperation to take unilateral control over Suffolk County has led to dirty tricks and unethical behavior.

In late June, the Republican majority in Suffolk County was given the option to vote on a measure which, if passed, would have placed a clean water referendum on the ballot in November. The referendum would give voters the option to approve a negligible sales tax increase — 12 cents for every $100 dollars in spending — and critically, gain access to available state and federal funding.

This was particularly important as voters in 2022 overwhelmingly approved a $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act to protect the environment [See story, “NYS offers possibilities of $4.2B bond act for Suffolk County, urges public input,” Aug. 31, TBR News Media], with almost 64% of Suffolk County residents voting to pass the funding. Passing a referendum would allow Suffolk County to access some of these funds.

Clean water infrastructure would greatly improve our drinking water and protect our beaches and natural spaces. In addition, the funding would create new jobs for Suffolk County.

The Republican majority, led by Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), refused to allow residents to vote on approving the referendum. Despite the efforts of labor unions in their efforts to create jobs for working-class individuals, as well as pleading by environmentalists and advocates, the county Legislature tabled the resolution [See story, “Suffolk County Legislature recesses, blocks referendum on wastewater fund,” July 27, TBR News Media].

While McCaffrey made various excuses for his refusal to allow Suffolk County to vote on the issue, the true reason was clear: The Republican majority knew that if the referendum was on the ballot, Democratic voters would be driven to the polls in November to approve it.

The blowback was immediate. People of all political parties voiced their disapproval for the Legislature’s blatantly political action. Despite this, McCaffrey let the deadline to approve the referendum pass.

As residents continued to grow angry, McCaffrey decided to make an attempt to suppress arguments being made by Democratic candidates. Last week, he called a special meeting of the Legislature to approve a December special election for the referendum — a special election which would now cost taxpayers over $2 million to hold.

However, the special meeting of the Legislature was abruptly canceled. While McCaffrey sought to cleanse the record of his heinous political malpractice, he forgot to consider one key problem: The dissent of his own caucus.

The Republican majority refused to vote positively on the issue. With all six Democrats pledging support for the referendum, McCaffrey could not persuade even three members of his 11-seat majority to vote “yes,” and the special meeting was canceled.

Suffolk County residents now bear the consequences of these political games. Tens of thousands of homes throughout the county are without adequate septic systems. Without this funding, these systems will continue to leach toxins into our water — water that we cook with, our kids bathe in and our pets drink.

The failure by Republican leadership to come up with a plan to address Suffolk’s infamously poor drinking water quality is inexcusable. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting our drinking water, estimates that those served by the Suffolk County Water Authority are ingesting numerous separate contaminants.

In a county with the highest breast cancer rates in the state — rates significantly higher than the rest of the nation — we cannot afford McCaffrey and his Republican majority’s dirty games.

McCaffrey cannot wash his hands of this issue. It is his responsibility to address his majority’s failure of government. If he refuses to do so, voters must take this neglect of duty into account when they cast their ballots on Nov. 7.

Skyler Johnson is the chair of the Suffolk County Young Democrats.

File photo by Raymond Janis
By Samantha Rutt

As the local election season intensifies, Suffolk County’s wastewater infrastructure has now become the defining policy issue, with residents and environmentalists demanding immediate action to address what they consider an environmental crisis.

Water quality of Long Island’s coveted waterways is currently suffering as the county’s wastewater infrastructure deteriorates rapidly. Much of the system was built decades ago and has not been adequately upgraded to meet the demands of the growing population, critics say.

“Clean water is crucial to the health of our families, the lifeblood of our economy and central to our way of life,” said businessman Dave Calone, Democratic candidate for Suffolk County executive running against Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “Unfortunately, our water quality is at an all-time low, and we need to act now to protect it.”

Local officials, residents and environmentalists have voiced concerns over the issue. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, “Suffolk County Legislators have an ethical and moral obligation to protect our drinking and coastal water resources.”

County Water Quality Restoration Act

The Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act, a plan to restore the county’s water quality, includes two bills that would create a fund to restore clean water by connecting homes and businesses to sewers and finance clean water septic system replacements.

“The need for an overall plan for wastewater infrastructure has been well-recognized for more than 60 years,” said Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration.

Earlier this year, Scully had spearheaded a proposed 1/8 penny sales tax initiative to finance wastewater infrastructure. This proposal was rejected by the county Legislature in July, setting the stage for a contentious election season over this issue [See story, “Suffolk County Legislature recesses, blocks referendum on wastewater fund,” July 27, TBR News Media].

“Tragically, the Legislature doesn’t consider this a priority and has refused to let the public vote on this plan,” Esposito said. “Letting the public vote on a clean water referendum is good policy and good for democracy. It is deeply disturbing that the legislators support neither of those objectives.”

Impact on elections

The Republican vote to recess has met with fierce opposition from county Democrats, who are using the wastewater controversy to highlight differences in platforms.

“Republicans did not vote to put the referendum on the ballot,” said Keith Davies, Suffolk County Democratic Committee campaign manager. “It is clear that Republicans chose not to trust voters to make their own decisions. In our opinion, it was the wrong decision.”

Responding to these charges, county Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), who is defending her 18th Legislative District seat against pediatrician Eve Meltzer-Krief (D-Centerport), indicated that her caucus is avoiding a rush to judgment.

“Rushing to pass legislation that is flawed and that will raise our taxes is simply irresponsible and not what our residents deserve,” Bontempi said. “Holding off with a referendum for a couple of months will certainly not lead to the end of Long Island, like some fearmongers like to claim.”

Many of the county’s wastewater treatment plants, pipelines and pumping stations are well past their intended lifespans, representing a growing risk for sewage leaks, overflows and contamination of local waterways and bays.

Meltzer-Krief warned that this could have devastating consequences for the region and its fragile ecosystems, including its renowned coastal areas and marine life.

“The quality of our waterways and bays here in Suffolk County is currently the poorest it has ever been,” she said. “The main cause is nitrogen runoff from outdated cesspools and septic systems which flows into our waters and triggers potentially toxic algal blooms which deprive marine life of the oxygen they need to survive.”

Research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that nitrogen from sewage is suffocating Long Island’s bays and harbors, contaminating drinking water and causing fish kills and algal blooms.

“Thankfully, scientists know how to reverse this troubling and urgent environmental concern and clean our waters,” Meltzer-Krief said.

But, she added, “It is the responsibility of our county legislators to follow the science and protect our children from the toxins in the water by securing funding for the recommended clean water infrastructure.”

While local officials and environmental organizations have been sounding the alarm for years over aging infrastructure, progress has been slow and funding for these projects has often fallen short of what is required.

Restoring clean, healthy water requires drastically reducing nitrogen pollution from its primary source — Suffolk County’s approximately 360,000 nitrogen-polluting cesspools and septic systems.

“Once the legislation has been amended to properly address our wastewater infrastructure, the voters will be able to decide,” Bontempi said. “The Republican majority at the Suffolk County Legislature wants clean water, too.”

Suffolk County elections will take place Tuesday, Nov. 7.

By Raymond Janis 

At the Suffolk County 9/11 Memorial outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge Monday morning, Sept. 11, county officials, first responders, faith leaders and veterans held a memorial ceremony to honor the lives lost during the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The service included music, prayer and ceremonial name reading, paying tribute to Suffolk County residents who had perished on that fateful day.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Comptroller John Kennedy (R), county Clerk Vincent Puleo (R) and county Legislators Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), among others, participated in the name reading dedication.

Striking at the heart

“We stand before a monument with names etched in glass to honor, to remember the individuals who were killed on September 11, 2001,” said Bellone, who reflected upon the initial aftermath of 9/11 and the nation’s solidarity.

The nation and world, however, have undergone considerable transformation in 22 years since the attacks, Bellone added.

He suggested the terrorists sought to strike at “the heart of this nation and what we represent, the values that we believe in — freedom and democracy.”

Despite initial disruptions and the carnage inflicted, Bellone maintained that Americans worked to coalesce and persevere.

“We responded, we recovered, we rebuilt and came back stronger than ever,” the county executive said.

More than two decades later, Bellone expressed apprehensions over existing currents, highlighting the “division” and “arguments in our own country about elections.” 

A day of healing

Bellone called upon citizens to return to the values that had once united them. He maintained that internal dissension rather than external threat represents a greater risk to the nation’s future.

“If this nation, if this republic, if this democracy is ever to fall, it will not be because of external forces,” he claimed. “It will be internal division and strife.”

He added that 9/11 can serve as an annual reminder of America’s capacity to heal, overcome differences and rediscover common values.

“It is incredibly important that we have these names etched on the wall,” he said. “Because the absence of them — their lives and what they meant to their families and communities — is felt every single day.”

He concluded by saying, “How do we honor them? I believe each and every one of us [can] use 9/11 as a day to remind ourselves, to commit ourselves to coming together — to heal as a nation and as a community.”

The ceremony ended with a collective singing of “God Bless America.”

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Legislator Bontempi (center) at the forum. Photo courtesy of Leg. Bontempi's office

On September 7th, Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R – 18th L.D.) participated in the American Jewish Committee’s “Municipal Leaders Against Antisemitism” meeting at the Mid-Island Y JCC.  Included in the dynamic forum were other elected officials and specialized law enforcement officers from both Suffolk and Nassau counties.  Among the topics discussed were the U.S. National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism and the various methods employed by local governments to stamp out hate.

“This was a very timely discussion, as anyone keeping up with the news knows that we need to do more as a society to eliminate hate,” said Bontempi.  “Whether the issue is a hate crime or a hurtful incident rooted in ignorance, we can do so much more via proactive law enforcement and education.  If you see something, say something.”

Bontempi brought up Suffolk County’s 311 system, now that it is being promoted as a means of reporting antisemitism.  She explained that she is going to ensure that the system is both accessible and reliable, as time is of the essence with these matters.

“We have to take incidents involving hate much more seriously,” added Bontempi.  “Especially when youths are involved, we can use these occurrences as teachable moments, even for offenders.  At root, we all want to be treated as human beings, so understanding the issue through education can go a long way.”

From left, Minority Leader Jason Richberg, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey. Photo from Bellone’s Flickr page

After years of disruption to local downtowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Suffolk County is pushing toward economic recovery and revitalization.

A 2021 Rauch Foundation study found that 38% of downtown food and beverage with retail businesses lost a projected 50% or more in revenue in 2020 compared to 2019. The same study outlined the compounding effects of impacts of “auto-oriented development, the emergence of online shopping, and, more recently, the economic shock from COVID” as impacting the viability of Long Island’s downtowns.

County officials gathered at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge Tuesday, Sept. 5, announcing the JumpSMART Small Business Downtown Investment Program. Through JumpSMART, the county will set aside $25 million in grants for projects supporting downtown areas’ growth and vibrancy. This funding comes from the $286 million the county received in federal COVID-19 funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Our main streets, our downtowns, are critical to the long-term success of our region,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). “As we continue to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic … it is essential that we provide the necessary support” to downtowns.

The county executive said the funding offered through this JumpSMART program would carry out several simultaneous economic development goals, namely expanding housing options and bolstering small business districts.

“Our downtowns are the places where we can create the kind of housing diversity that we know our region needs and that will support, very importantly, small businesses,” he said. “They are also the place where we can create a mix of uses that would reduce car trips and traffic on our roadways.”

The funds earmarked through the program, Bellone said, would also promote various nonprofits and cultural entities throughout the county’s main street business districts: “The JumpSMART program aims to support and invigorate our main street communities by providing to different private and not-for-profit organizations, such as arts and cultural institutions,” Bellone added.

Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature and a former trustee of the Village of Lindenhurst, described the downtown revitalization efforts of his village.

“It started with bringing transportation-oriented development into our village,” he said. “We now have that vibrancy down there and young people coming in.”

“We have many downtowns that are in the process of rebuilding, restructuring or revitalizing. This grant program will go a long way toward making sure that we meet all the needs of our downtowns,” McCaffrey added.

Minority Leader Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon) outlined various areas of emphasis for investments in downtowns, such as transit-oriented development, beautification and infrastructure modernization.

“These downtown investments bring people to our communities … and economic development,” he said. “If we keep investing in our small businesses, our economy will grow,” adding, “That will raise our incomes in Suffolk County and bring more people to buy our homes, live in our buildings and use our community.”

In launching this application portal, Bellone said the county government is seeking “big proposals that make a positive impact on our communities.”

A selection panel of administration officials and county legislators will decide on the applications and appropriations.

The application portal is live and will remain open until close of business on Sept. 29. For more information or to apply, visit

A Long Island Rail Road train arrives at Stony Brook train station during rush hour. Photo by ComplexRational from Wikimedia Commons
By Samantha Rutt

The Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning recently released a survey asking respondents to share their thoughts and opinions on the potential modernization of the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. 

“Community input underpins all aspects of our approach to economic development in Suffolk County,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in a statement. “We look forward to hearing from all stakeholders on the opportunities presented by modernization to allow for a single-seat ride from Port Jefferson to both Grand Central and Penn Station for our communities along the North Shore.” 

The survey asks questions regarding the frequency of public transportation and LIRR ridership, the purpose of railway trips, specific and preferred branch use, among other questions.

Currently, the North Shore line offers limited direct train service to Penn Station with no direct service to Grand Central Madison. The decades-old proposal to modernize the line calls for electrification, double tracking and other rail yard improvements and modifications. 

If the project were approved, the Port Jefferson Branch could provide faster and more direct service options to Manhattan and more frequent service overall. 

Electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch was originally planned in the 1980s but stalled as the Ronkonkoma Branch took precedence. Critics and transit analysts regard the existing dual-mode diesel service as unreliable, inconsistent and environmentally hazardous. [See story, “Port Jeff Branch riders face potentially decades more electrification woes,” Feb. 9, 2023, TBR News Media website.] 

“It is vitally important that we electrify the Port Jefferson Branch to protect our environment from the polluting diesel trains, enhance service for our residents and create jobs for our hardworking men and women of union labor,” New York State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) said. “Our residents and our workers deserve to benefit from the funding provided to the MTA.”

A key objective of the electrification initiative is to mitigate the need for transfer services for those traveling to New York City. By eliminating transfer services, advocates for the project aim to increase ridership while promoting further development around each LIRR station. 

Updates could alleviate vehicular traffic congestion across the Island, according to New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), as commuters who regularly travel to alternate lines would have more local transit options.

Electrification would “alleviate traffic congestion, foster economic development and will help to achieve our climate goals,” the state senator said. “Clean, reliable and expanded transportation services are essential to meet Long Island’s growing population.”

The survey received nearly 2,500 responses in its opening week, according to the Department of Economic Development and Planning statement. Bellone encouraged all North Shore residents to complete the questionnaire, which takes an average of 5-10 minutes.

“I encourage everyone, including residents, businesses and students on the North Shore, to take the survey and demonstrate how important the modernization of the Port Jefferson Branch is to Suffolk County,” Bellone said.

The survey will remain open until Monday, Sept. 4. To fill it out, click on the link:

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, chair of the county’s Addiction Advisory Council, speaks during the Aug. 25 press conference. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

Suffolk County has taken another step forward in appropriating roughly $200 million in opioid settlement funds.

County officials gathered at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge on Friday, Aug. 25, announcing the opening of a second application portal for $20 million in additional funds. The first round of $25 million in settlement payments had concluded earlier this year. [See story, “County picks groups to receive $25M for first round in opioid settlement,” Jan. 20, 2023, TBR News Media website.]

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) referred to this new round of funding as a “significant milestone in our battle and our fight against the opioid epidemic,” coming from a projected $200 million settlement between Suffolk County and various opioid manufacturers, distributors, retailers and other entities that contributed to the scourge of addiction throughout the county. 

Bellone affirmed the county’s “unwavering commitment to address the opioid crisis head-on as well as to provide vital support to combat addiction.” 

The county executive added, “All of us working on this issue understand that it is critical that we spend these dollars as effectively and efficiently as possible, that we are stewards of these dollars.”

From left, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey, Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman, President and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island Rebecca Sanin and Deputy County Executive Ryan Attard. Photo from Bellone’s Flickr page

Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), presiding officer of the county Legislature, reinforced this messaging, noting how the funds received through the settlement are significant in their purpose.

“This money didn’t come at a small cost,” he said. “This is not our money. This belongs to the victims and the families that were affected by this opioid crisis,” adding, “We need to make sure when we make these decisions that we keep in mind that all this money that we are distributing … is used judiciously because it did come at a very high price.”

Minority Leader Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon) encouraged all interested, qualifying organizations to apply for these funds.

“The monies that we’re talking about here will change the lives of families and help put people in the right direction,” he contended. “To any of those organizations that are listening to this conversation — please, please apply.”

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), chair of the county’s Addiction Advisory Council, outlined the various causes to which these funds will soon be directed, from drug prevention to education services to rehabilitation, among other resource providers.

“All those entities — that are really under the county’s purview — are ready and willing to do more,” she said. “The main word here is ‘resources,’ and that’s pretty much what our panel focuses on — resources that our residents need to fight and combat the epidemic.”

Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, emphasized the conditions and trends currently happening on the ground throughout the area. She highlighted the collateral damage opioids produce for communities and societies.

“Those losses that addiction accumulates emotionally bankrupts and destroys individual lives, destroys families, destroys communities and leaves vacant unmet potential in a society that is nostalgic and hungry for progress,” Sanin said. “This announcement will mean that lives are saved. It will mean that hope is levied.”

Sharon Richmond, whose son Vincent died from an overdose at 25, described her son as sensitive, funny and intelligent — an aspiring lawyer who sought to stand up for those who couldn’t defend themselves.

“However, once oxycodone became his drug of choice, his dreams and hopes were shattered along with ours,” she said. “No family should ever have to face the tragedy mine had to endure.”

She continued, “No amount of money can ever bring back my son Vincent or the 107,000 human lives lost just last year. However, with these opioid settlement funds, I see hope, and I see life for so many thousands of loved ones.”

The application portal for the $20 million is currently live. It will remain open until close of business on Friday, Sept. 29. 

To apply, please click the following link: and search under “Opioid Grant Application.”

Former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright speaks during an environmental protest outside the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge on Tuesday, July 25. File photo by Raymond Janis
By Steve Englebright

Pure water is our most essential natural resource.

Suffolk’s economy is anchored by our two largest industries which are tourism and agriculture. Each of these forms of commerce needs clean water in order to remain viable. Polluted beaches and contaminated produce will not draw visitors from afar nor will they sustain farming. Public health needs, however, are more concerning. Living on top of our drinking water has proven to be very challenging because it is easily contaminated by our daily activities. The chemicals we continuously introduce into local ground and surface waters are what threatens the health of our families, communities and economy, each of which depends upon a generous supply of predictably pure drinking water.

‘How we manage this issue will guide the destiny of our county.’

— Steve Englebright

All of the water that we drink or use for everything from industry to personal hygiene is sourced from wells that tap Long Island’s aquifers which are natural water-bearing sediment horizons. Long Island’s aquifers are a reservoir of rain-absorbing sand and gravel that is everywhere below our feet. This fresh groundwater eventually seeps into the tidewaters that define our island’s edges. Virtually all of our fresh and salt waters are connected which is why pollution that enters the system on land eventually will contaminate our harbors and bays.

Scientific research has proven that the most widespread source of groundwater contamination in Suffolk is human waste, especially nitrate-rich urine, that is flushed into Suffolk’s more than 380,000 cesspools. Because cesspools do very little to cleanse the waste that enters into them they are a major source of nitrate contamination of our ground and surface waters. When any large amount of this chemical enters a body of surface water it may cause explosive plant growth. Seasonal decay of this overgrowth often causes ecological harm such as fish kills.

In recent years millions of state and county dollars have been invested into learning how to halt the progressive decline of water quality. This work led directly to a proposed referendum which is entitled the Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act. This legislation — which would require voter approval — economizes by consolidating numerous county-owned sewer districts and dedicating 1/8 of 1% of county sales tax toward installing both technologically advanced cesspool upgrades and new sewers for compact business districts. No property taxes are involved. Seventy-five percent of the sales tax that would be collected could be used to address the greatest need which is to provide grants to homeowners to cover most of the costs of installing advanced wastewater treatment technology within each cesspool.

If approved by Suffolk’s voters, money raised could be leveraged to attract matching federal and state dollars to further reduce local costs.

Because of the importance of protecting reserves of pure fresh water this issue has historically been a bipartisan legislative priority that has largely been off limits to red and blue bickering. Unfortunately, that wholesome tradition was compromised on July 25 when the Suffolk Legislature’s Republican majority voted unanimously to deny residents the opportunity to vote on the issue of pure water. By killing this highly anticipated public referendum, citizens have been blocked from directly weighing in on efforts to protect and improve ground and surface waters. 

It has been widely reported that this outcome was insisted upon by political party operatives who want to believe that this environmental referendum would bring out so many Democrats to vote that it would disadvantage Republican candidates in the election on Nov. 7. As the voter-approved $4.2 billion New York State Environmental Bond Act recently demonstrated this is just plain wrong. That referendum passed easily last November even though there was a low Democratic turnout. 

Tellingly, none of the Republican candidates for the many county offices that will be on the November ballot showed up at the hearing of July 25 to speak for passage of the referendum. Their absence made it clear that the county Republican Party has turned away from Suffolk’s most urgent environmental issue in an attempt to profit politically from a voter suppression scheme.

Cleaning up our water sources requires an informed and engaged citizenry. The county’s Water Quality Restoration Act referendum would enable vigorous public education on this subject to occur as voters of all political persuasions strive to inform themselves ahead of their vote. Unfortunately, by canceling the referendum county Republicans have lost their way; they should not have taken from Suffolk’s residents their constitutional right to say through their votes what the county’s future should be. 

Trying to suppress voter turnout in Suffolk by blocking public participation in the single most important economic and environmental issue affecting the county’s future contradicts the bedrock premise and promise of our democracy. It was wrong to cancel every local voter’s sacred right to express their opinion in a public referendum. 

How we manage this issue will guide the destiny of our county. Clearly, the people of Suffolk deserve to have a chance to vote either for or against clean water at the next opportunity which could be as soon as next year. This crisis demands that we again all work together. 

Restoring direct voter participation to the most critical questions relating to our sole source of drinking water and related quality of life issues is the best way to protect and enhance the equity of our homes, the health of our loved ones and the viability of our regional economy.

Steve Englebright served as New York State assemblyman for the 4th District from 1992-2022. He is a Democratic candidate this November for the Suffolk County Legislature, running against Anthony Figliola (R-East Setauket) for the 5th Legislative District.

A Suffolk County Transit bus passes through an intersection on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Raymond Janis

The Suffolk County Transit bus system is facing several financial and operational challenges, county officials and transit experts say.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) highlighted the bus system’s prominent role in servicing the county’s residents. “The bus system is very important,” he told TBR News Media in an exclusive interview. “There have been a number of efforts over the years and a lot of discussions about [improvements].”

Despite good-faith efforts, many challenges remain, presenting difficult questions for policymakers. Former Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) outlined some challenges riders face.

“We don’t have enough routes, they don’t run often enough, and they don’t run late enough into the night or start early enough — there’s no question about it,” she said. “Traffic is increasing, our roadways are crumbling, and an improved bus system would certainly help needy families across Suffolk County.”

Cost a barrier to improvement

Richard Murdocco is an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University. He noted the vital need the county’s bus system fulfills, particularly for vulnerable populations.

“Socially, it’s a service,” he said. “If people are taking the bus in Suffolk County, there’s a reason why,” as bus riders are often “the most vulnerable, and they need and rely on the bus system. It’s a public good.”

Murdocco considered mass transit in general as “a financial loser.” The bus system itself, he added, operates at a perpetual loss, requiring considerable subsidization. Hahn supported this assessment.

“It’s a difficult nut to crack because of the size of the county and the funding that we have access to,” she said. “It’s expensive to run buses all day long across a county as large as ours.”

Financing improvements, therefore, can be a complicated policy determination, especially given the dearth of riders. “The costs are always going to be astronomically high because there’s simply not enough population density for the routes to sustain it,” Murdocco said.

He added that Suffolk’s suburban character hinders ridership and hampers public investment, unlike densely populated urban areas.

A bus system “operates within the confines of the built environment,” the SBU adjunct professor said. “The fact of the matter is that Suffolk County isn’t dense populationwise. A mass transit system like the bus system needs density to thrive.”

While the bus system is “financially insolvent,” according to Murdocco, he did not consider systemwide expansion and modernization entirely off the table. 

Improvements are promised

Murdocco advocated for a “more holistic approach” when analyzing the bus system, tying buses to other modes of public and private transit. He presented the idea of a regional transportation study.

“You need a cohesive look,” he said. “Not even framing it as a bus study, but a holistic transportation study with local planners from the municipalities” is in order.

He added, “I want local governments working in conjunction with the county to look at the issue like they used to do.”

Bellone said the necessary studies and community outreach initiatives have taken place. He forecasted that systemwide improvements would be coming down the road. 

“We’ve done the analysis and a lot of community work,” the county executive said. “A lot of improvements are coming, based on community feedback and the studies that have been done.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, above, speaks during a press event Tuesday, Aug. 15, announcing a new county hotline to report acts of antisemitism. Photos from Bellone’s Flickr page

Suffolk County is making antisemitism an area of focus, creating a new hotline to facilitate the reporting of antisemitic incidents.

County officials say the program will enable them to monitor developments within Suffolk communities, attaining a clearer picture of what is happening on the ground. Using the county’s existing 311 call center, Suffolk residents can call the hotline to report acts of antisemitism.

“Unfortunately, antisemitism is something that we continue to see in our region, our country and throughout the world,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said during a press event Tuesday, Aug. 15, announcing the program. “That’s why we have to remain vigilant in identifying what antisemitism is, what it looks like and how it impacts so many.”

The county executive encouraged residents to use the hotline, regardless of whether they believe an act meets the criteria of antisemitism. Bellone acknowledged that while coming forward may be difficult for some, Suffolk 311 “can provide complete confidentiality.” But, he added, residents should nonetheless report these instances whenever possible.

“The biggest concern is the lack of reporting, the underreporting that’s occurring out there,” he noted. “We want to make sure we have as much robust reporting as possible, so we have a full picture of what’s happening” within the community.

“Through 311, we can better document and track these occurrences, allowing us to work proactively toward eliminating antisemitism in our community,” he added.

Mindy Perlmutter, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island, suggested the hotline could help provide authorities with a realistic understanding of potential antisemitic trends within the county.

“Now we’re going to be able to see the numbers … to see where we are seeing issues, what kind of issues we’re seeing, and then we’re going to be able to figure out the best way to combat those issues,” she said.

Allan Richter, chair of the Suffolk County Jewish American Advisory Board, said the hotline represents a vital measure against several dangerous currents taking place more broadly, referring to antisemitism as “a relentless problem.”

“Just about daily, we hear about or see reports in the media of antisemitism somewhere in the world,” he said. “The 311 initiative is part of a multilayered approach driven by forward thinking.”

Suffolk County Legislator Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), the minority leader in the county Legislature, emphasized the role of residents in collecting accurate data. He maintained that “nothing is too small” to report.

“Small actions have led to larger actions throughout our history that have been destructive to many different communities,” he said. “To stand against that, we need to make sure that we know what those are, report it and make sure that information is given to the [county] police department.”

The minority leader added that this effort is part of an ongoing education campaign within Suffolk County that aims “to tell people this is not right, it’s not fun and this isn’t a joke.”

Officials maintained that the 311 antisemitism hotline is not a substitute for traditional emergency response services. In the event of an emergency, please call 911. For other types of hate crimes, the county hotline is 631-852-HATE (4283).