Editorials

by -
0 594

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) put the county’s red light camera program back under the microscope this week, as he should. We appreciate his watchdog approach when it comes to the county’s finances — he went so far as to call the red light camera program, which photographs and tickets cars that run through red lights or don’t come to a full stop before turning right on red, “taxation by citation.”

This newspaper has been historically critical of the program, and when the county released its 2014 annual report on the matter, it reminded us why.

In 2014 alone, the county collected $27.5 million from about 321,000 citations issued. Most of that was profit — Suffolk paid the camera vendor only $9.5 million to operate the program. And the county’s net revenue that year represented an exponential increase from when the cameras went live in 2010.

We are not ignoring the statistics, though. We recognize that overall crashes decreased by 3 percent, right-angle crashes went down by 21 percent and crashes involving injury decreased 4 percent. Rear-end crashes, however, went up 42 percent.

But Suffolk County has gotten into a dangerous habit. While some lawmakers and residents remain critical of the cameras, our government now has several years of ever-increasing citation dollars going to the county’s general fund. If we were to nix the red light camera program, it would leave a gaping hole in the county’s pocketbook. Rather than cutting equal expenses, we all know where our government would turn to make up the difference: taxpayers’ wallets.

At this point, the best solution would be to go back in time and never allow the program to pass in the first place. Instead, we urge our lawmakers and neighbors to continue to be critical of the red light camera program and keep it honest as it evolves across our county. If there’s no way to dismantle it without passing the buck onto taxpayers, we hope together we can at least find a happier medium.

by -
0 562

The state has finally rescinded a cut to education funding that has been costing our schools billions of dollars — now it’s time to rebuild.

But we can only rebuild if we move up from here. We cannot afford any more setbacks.

Ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment will allow our school districts to collect more financial aid than they have been able to for several years now. The total deduction statewide started as high as $3 billion and was eventually reduced to $434 million before being cut altogether. This was great news for education advocates across the state.

However, this new balance needs to be preserved in order for education to truly recover, because of the timing in which the cuts were installed. Around the same time the state started slashing education dollars, school districts were forced to adhere to tax levy cap regulations imposed under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

The Gap Elimination Adjustment was already an enormous deficit for our schools, but adding the cap on top of it made it much more difficult for districts to find their footing. Because of this terrible timing, the true damage done to our districts cannot be measured in just dollars and cents — they’re going to need some time to reposition themselves in the coming years.

Kids are our most important assets and we’re already falling behind other countries when it comes to educational performance. We need our legislators to stay true to their current position when it comes to education spending and invest in higher standards for our students.

We’re gratified that our legislators finally got on board with slashing the Gap Elimination Adjustment cuts. They should have never enacted it in the first place.

by -
0 701

Suffolk County put out a request for proposals to help redefine what the former Steck-Philbin Landfill brownfield site on Old Northport Road in Kings Park could look like, and this week a Stony Brook group has proposed to build a solar farm there.

We were excited to read some of the details behind the Ecological Engineering of Long Island plan, which the firm’s president Shawn Nuzzo said would deliver significant amounts of solar electricity to Long Island’s power grid without decimating anymore of the area’s land.

This is the kind of development we hope our fellow Long Islanders can get behind.

The solar farm proposal is an example of what can be done with Long Island’s most problematic properties. All we need is for residents and politicians to give it a chance.

Oftentimes we encounter widespread resident opposition across our North Shore communities to development proposals of any sort for various reasons. But by giving projects like this a thorough look, coupled with an open mind, we believe we can address some of the biggest environmental issues facing the Island.

In this case, for example, transforming an industrial area into something that could benefit us all seems almost like a no-brainer. The former landfill site in Kings Park is no doubt an eyesore and a horrific blight on the greater North Shore community, so why not see it transformed by a legal and reputable business? EELI wants to come in and build a 6-megawatt solar farm through crowdfunding dollars, so let’s support the firm.

This quote from Nuzzo, also the president of the Three Village Civic Association, said it all: “Unlike other recent utility solar projects on Long Island — where large developers have proposed to clear-cut forests, raze golf courses and blanket farmable lands — our proposal takes a dangerous, long-blighted and otherwise useless parcel and revives it as a community-owned solar farm,” he said.

We say reputable, by the way, because of the several letters of support Nuzzo and his team received from some of the North Shore’s staunchest environmental advocates, including state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station).

This property is a perfect example of what we could do with so many more of our neglected areas across the North Shore. The landfill is not situated directly next door to someone’s house, so the “not in my backyard” argument holds a little less weight. It’s time we think smart when it comes to repurposing our landscape.

by -
0 628

Last week it was confirmed that Steven Romeo, the allegedly intoxicated pickup truck driver involved in the fatal Cutchogue limo crash in July, was not going to be charged with manslaughter.

We’re sure this came as a shock to many people, who had written off Romeo as guilty as soon as it was reported that he had been drinking the day he T-boned the limo in a crash that killed four young North Shore women on a wine tour and injured several others.

Referring to limo driver Carlos F. Pino’s risky U-turn that put that vehicle directly into Romeo’s path, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota confirmed last week,  “A perfectly sober Steven Romeo could not avoid this crash. An intoxicated Steven Romeo could not avoid this crash. It was simply unavoidable from Romeo’s perspective.”

Pino will be charged with manslaughter for his dangerous maneuver.

But some damage may have already been done in Romeo’s case.

News outlets and some North Shore residents vilified the man long before the DA’s report was finalized. It’s no doubt a gut reaction for people to assume a drunk driver is at fault in a car crash, but this shows us why we should not be so quick to jump to conclusions. Sober people make mistakes or reckless maneuvers on the road every day, and this limo crash is an example of that.

The American criminal justice system is set up so that every citizen is innocent until proven guilty, and we should all keep that in mind for instances like this. No matter the mistakes or poor decisions a person has made, that person deserves fair, unbiased treatment. That goes for the courtroom as well as the public and the press.

by -
0 675

At the risk of sounding like a cliché, the future is, in fact, now. And it’s up to our North Shore towns to embrace that fact.

Huntington Town unveiled a new initiative this week that makes it easier for residents to learn about and sign up for its programs with the click of a mouse, or the touch of a tablet.

The spring brochure from the town’s parks and recreation department was released online as an interactive document, which allows residents to watch a video about a summer athletic program, directly ask the program head any questions they may have and then sign up to participate, all with a few clicks.

This brochure is available on a desktop, tablet or mobile phone, and is not only keeping residents informed more easily, but also making the town money with new space for local advertisers.

Once we heard about this project, it seemed almost hard to believe that this technology wasn’t being utilized across the North Shore in other towns like Brookhaven or Smithtown.

This move cuts costs, adds revenue and reduces the town’s environmental footprint by stopping mass production and printing of the paper brochures, Huntington officials said. This is a win-win for any town, and one that other towns should start mimicking as soon as possible. A town’s first duty is to serve the people as efficiently as possible. Municipalities should constantly be looking to update their systems and make their communication efforts as progressive as possible.

We think North Shore towns should look to Huntington in this regard. There is still great room for improvement and the ideas are as close as a neighborhood away. To view the interactive pdf visit www.tohparks.com

by -
0 516

This past Tuesday was International Women’s Day, and the message behind such an occasion is still very important, necessary and timely.

As we come off celebrating the day, time should be taken to reflect on the challenges that women still face today. Unequal compensation and women’s health issues are still hotly debated —  but these subjects can be traced back to much earlier times.

Stories come from all over the country about young female students being taken out of school for outfits deemed too revealing by administrators, even despite the widespread acceptance of boys shedding their shirts to play basketball or in the stands at football games. Girls’ sports teams have a harder time getting necessary funding for new uniforms and equipment, and many young women still get a puzzled look from others if they express interest in certain educational fields.

We heard one story in which a male engineering student told a female classmate that she must be lost as she walked in for the first day, also telling her that she wouldn’t last long.

It’s not only up to women to push back against sexist beliefs, thoughts or stigmas. It is also up to men.

We need to teach our boys at a young age how to view women — as their equals. We need to instill in them the correct way to value women and understand that women can make just as many contributions as females can.

Women can only achieve true equality if men stand by their side as partners. Let’s strive to raise a generation of men who will be proud to be those partners.

by -
0 2417

A new 24-hour hotline will soon be available to Long Islanders battling addiction, bringing new hope to families struggling to overcome drug-related issues.

Suffolk County officials recently announced their hotline, which the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence will run in order to direct callers to different resources in the area based upon their needs. It could launch by April.

While addiction is a growing issue that lawmakers have struggled to address, this hotline will become a new tool to combat it. We can see it assisting many people who previously would not have known where to turn. It could be particularly helpful because it will provide an easy route for a population that is often so isolated that they have trouble digging themselves out of the hole of addiction. Some have been pushed away by their families, or have only old friends who reinforce bad habits. But the hotline will be there in their moment of clarity, no matter the hour, to steer them toward the support they need.

Until the hotline launches a few weeks from now, there are other places to call for help:

• LICADD: 631-979-1700

• Response of Suffolk County 24-hour hotline: 631-751-7500

• Hope House Ministries: 631-978-0188

• Phoenix House’s Edward D. Miller substance abuse treatment center: 844-447-0310

• Samaritan Village’s Suffolk Outpatient Treatment Program: 631-351-7112

• St. Charles Hospital rehab program: 631-474-6233

This version removes an incorrect phone number.

by -
0 788
Congressman Lee Zeldin. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

People who come home after serving our country overseas should not have to cope with mental illnesses stemming from their experiences, but the sad reality is that most veterans have seen or dealt with traumatic things. That means we have to do everything we can for those who return home with post-traumatic stress disorder.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), an Iraq war veteran, is on the right track in addressing this. When he was in the state legislature, he established a peer program in which veterans could help one another battle mental issues, and now he is working to take that initiative to the national level.

Part of the reason this program is important is that it addresses the stigma surrounding mental illness. The shame people feel deters the average citizen from getting help, but think of how those feelings must be compounded in people who carry the weight of a reputation as one of our country’s bravest and strongest. And even without the fear of appearing weak, veterans have experienced many things others cannot truly understand if they have not served in the military. They need and deserve the support of people who have been in their shoes — people who know what they are going through. Mental illness is often woefully misunderstood as it is, so we must mitigate that as much as possible.

Ultimately, we would prefer more resources for military psychiatrists to better identify and treat issues with active servicemen, so they leave their PTSD or other mental or emotional problems overseas, but we will gladly support a national veterans’ peer program to assist those we have so far failed to help.

by -
0 583

Laws governing sex offenders have turned a corner over the last year.

County and town governments recently lost the authority to regulate where registered sex offenders are allowed to live. That power now rests solely with New York State, which only limits offenders on parole or probation.

While we appreciate the good intention behind one state senator’s bill to let local governments enact their own residency restrictions, it is not ideal.

Part of the reason the local municipalities’ authority was overturned in the New York State Court of Appeals last year is that there were too many layers of restrictions.

In just our area alone, both Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven had their own separate restrictions on where registered sex offenders could reside in their jurisdictions.

There should be laws that prevent sex offenders from living within certain distances from schools or their victims, but allowing each county, town or village to decide on their own creates a mishmash of rules that are nearly impossible to follow. When this is the process, there are counties and towns next door to one another, or even overlapping, with different rules. That makes it more difficult for sex offenders to comply, and it would benefit us all if offenders are more able to actually comply with the laws we have enacted. In addition, clean-cut laws that are easy to identify, and thus follow, would also likely bring peace of mind to their victims, who deserve to feel safe.

The onus should be on the state to design more comprehensive restrictions on where registered sex offenders can live. That system should include required distances from victims’ homes and places of employment, as well as schools, playgrounds and other places where children gather. And the regulations should vary slightly based upon a community’s density, so as not to treat urban, suburban and rural areas as if they are the same.

Although more state regulation is not always an appealing idea, this is one of those cases when we need the state to intervene, in order to make enforcement more uniform. And it is an important issue, because it has an immediate impact on our children and on the sex crime victims we have a moral responsibility to protect.

by -
0 582

The Suffolk County Police Department needs more oversight, but a committee entirely composed of Suffolk County legislators is not going to cut it.

Rob Trotta, the Republican representative for the 13th Legislative District, called upon his experience in law enforcement when he proposed such a committee to investigate and oversee county police operations. There have been concerns after issues such as former police chief James Burke’s resignation last year amid charges of civil rights violations. Trotta is a former Suffolk County detective who once worked on the FBI’s Long Island task force. His idea would put six members of the Legislature on this committee to review police practices, as well as those in the district attorney’s office and the county sheriff’s office, and investigate allegations of favoritism and other issues.

While we support his notion of assembling an oversight committee to keep the county police department honest, we also prefer bringing in people from different backgrounds. There should be legislators involved on the committee, but we would limit it to only two members — one from the Legislature’s majority party and one from its minority. From there, we would add a local expert on ethics, one representative each from the police department, sheriff’s office and DA’s office, and perhaps a financial member such as Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. Bringing together these different brains and skill sets would bring more ideas to the table and help in problem-solving — diversity in opinions and backgrounds could enhance the conversation.

Having this sort of diverse membership would also help prevent abuse, as the committee Trotta has proposed will have the authority to subpoena and to administer oaths and affirmations. Not that we think our legislators are necessarily untrustworthy, but putting that level of power into the hands of any one lone group is asking for trouble. We already have enough of that with people who have abused their authority — that’s why we’re in this position in the first place.