Suffolk County

Steve Bellone (D) and fellow Democrats celebrate keeping the county executive position. Photo by David Luces

In the most profiled race of the year for Suffolk County Executive, Democrat Steve Bellone won handily over his challenger, County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) with 55 percent to Kennedy’s 43 percent. Libertarian candidate Greg Fischer gained just 1 percent of the overall vote.

John Kennedy Jr. (R) the night of Nov. 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

Bellone was greeted by enthusiastic cheers at IBEW.

“It turns out that the voters have decided that there is more work for us to do here,” he said. “This will be my third and final term as County Executive, I don’t know what the future holds but it entirely possible that this could be my final race for public office… If that is the case I must give one final thank you to the person who has been with me for every race that I have won.”

He also thanked his opponents John Kennedy and Greg Fischer.

“I look forward to working together to build a better future for Suffolk County.”

Kennedy blamed the incumbent’s near $2 million war chest for the loss, along with negative campaign ads he said targeted not only him, but his wife and children.

He promised he would continue to be a financial watchdog for the county, saying he thinks the county will entire a financial death spiral it may not be able to pull out of.

“The good news is, I get to keep doing the job I love, being comptroller,” he said. “There’s no lack of fraud waste and abuse in Suffolk County, which we demonstrated the past five years.”

After a heated campaign season, and while the vote seemed to be close as they were tallied, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) defeated her Republican opponent Gary Pollakusky 54 to 41 percent. Libertarian candidate James Kevin, who was not available for comment, gained nearly 5 percent of the vote.

When brought up on stage, Schaffer called her “landslide Anker.”

The 5th time legislator said it was her strong base and work of her campaign that helped pull her through. She added there are numerous projects she hopes to work on in the coming years.

“We have so many projects in the works … We have the Rails to Trails, the park in Middle Island, continue working with the opioid advisory panel,” she said. “There is so much work to do.

I really want to focus on mental health/addiction treatment, tackle the financial issues with the county, be proactive with supporting local business and those mom and pop shops.”

Pollakusky remained gracious after his loss, saying, “I hope Sarah serves her constituents well for our legislative district.” He added he will continue to be active in the community by leading the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce and serving on the board of the Rocky Point Civic Association.

Susan Berland takes a photo with staff and supporters Nov. 5. Photo by Rita. J. Egan

In the Port Jefferson-Setauket area Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) won overwhelmingly against her Republican opponent John McCormack 63 to 37 percent.

Kara Hahn said she is looking forward to continuing working on several projects including protection of the environment, public safety and the opioid epidemic.

“Those numbers have to come down to zero,” she said. “We cannot accept more opioid deaths. The numbers have fallen a little bit, but we have to continue to work on that. We cannot be losing our children. It’s senseless. It’s preventable. We have to be sure we do what we can on that.”

McCormack was not available to comment.

Thomas Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) easily won over Democratic challenger David Bligh in the fight for the 4th district with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He thanked his wife and staff and said they would move on “stronger.”

While Bligh lost to Muratore for Suffolk County Legislator in the 4th district, he said he plans to stay in the political arena and to run again.

“Tom’s term limited after this year so there’s going to be an open seat in two years,” he said.

Bligh, an environmental engineer, said he has a long list of quality of life issues that he wants to address, including affordability and water quality issues.

Garcia announced Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) 62 percent victory against Democrat Janet Singer, by mentioning Trotta’s propensity to stir the pot. Ever the firebrand, the Fort Salonga resident did not disappoint, getting to the mike and calling the Conservative party “corrupt,” adding “this is about honesty and integrity, and that party is clearly lacking.”

When asked to expand on that, Trotta said, “The entire Conservative party is corrupt, period.”

Singer said she was disappointed as she felt she would be a great legislator but enjoyed campaigning where she learned a lot.

She said before this election cycle she felt Rob Trotta didn’t pay attention to water quality issues. She feels it’s a non-issue for him and that suddenly it’s a “hot topic.” She was surprised water quality was included at the bottom of his campaign ad.

“I don’t really care what party you’re in, water needs protection, and it’s going to need money,” she said. “And he doesn’t want to vote for any expenditures, and we can’t do that.”

Rob Trotta the night of Nov. 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though her husband did not win over the majority of county voters, Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) still beat her opponent, Democrat Margot Rosenthal, 65 to 35 percent. She said, “We could not have done it without every single one of you,” adding, “while we didn’t get everything we wanted this time, we’ll get it next time.”

For the 16th District, Susan Berland (D-Commack) won out against several-time Republican challenger Hector Gavilla. The race became extremely heated towards the end, with allegations that Gavilla intimidated Berland at a local meet the candidates. Gavilla, on his part, claims Berland’s husband nearly assaulted him.

Schaffer spoke on the incident.

“If you wanted to see probably one of the most despicable races in Suffolk County, was the race that took place in the 16 LD,” Schaffer said. “Let me tell you something, it’s a shame when you happen to have a candidate, a legislator who has been in office for almost 20 years, tell you she’s frightened by her opponent.”

Susan Berland thanked her supporters, staff and volunteers.

“I’m grateful to the residents of the 16th district who have confidence in me to represent them for the next two years.”

William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) easily conquered the vote against Republican challenger Garrett Chelius with 11,998 votes to Chelius’ 6,599.

Chelius was brought up on stage for consolation, and Garcia lauded them for their work in campaigning.

Spencer spoke of his ideas and projects going forward.

“I’m looking towards the future — I want to still focus on our environment, our kids, the vaping/opioid epidemic,” he said. “I think there is a lot of work to be done there. Also, I want to finish some infrastructure projects like the sewers in Huntington Station.”

The lone upset of the night, Republican challenger Anthony Piccirillo won with barely a 1 percent margin against William Lindsay (D-Holbrook). The Democrats have asked for a recount, but if Piccirillo succeeds it would mean the Democrats 11-7 hold on the legislature would become a 10-8, just as partisan divide between officials seems at a near peak. Last year, Republicans and Democrats butted heads over lump bonding issues, with Republicans using their slim minority to block bonds they called were being pushed through by Democrats.

David Luces, Rita J. Egan, Leah Chiappino and Donna Deedy all contributed reporting.

Sarah Anker, the legislative chair of the opioid panel, said they too are concerned of increase in opioid overdoses. File photo by Erika Kara

Despite the proliferation of news and ads surrounding the county executive race, there was one election in the District 6 area many spoke of being more exhausting than the others, and that was the race between Democratic incumbent Sarah Anker and Republican challenger Gary Pollakusky. 

We at TBR News Media do not appreciate some of the methods used in this election, which happened on both sides of the isle. There were some campaign ads that Anker should have put her foot down to stop. On Pollakusky shoulders, the methods employed passing around often misleading information regarding his opponent were also not appreciated. The situation involving the last summer concert series got out of hand, and neither candidate handled it to the standard a legislator requires.

Beyond that, TBR News Media is endorsing Sarah Anker to continue on as legislator. While we appreciate the challenger’s concern for county finances, his ideas for confronting schools and their taxes don’t hold much water. While he has complaints about how much residents will spend on dealing with water quality issues, he did not have much in the way of concrete plans.

Anker has been involved in much, from opioid panels to the North Shore Rail Trail, which we hope will become a major thoroughfare for ecotourism.

We hope that if Anker wins another term, she reaches out to some who have been vocal about feeling unheard. District 6 needs a person who can bridge that divide, and we believe Anker can increasingly fill that gap

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker is running against Republican Gary Pollakusky to represent the 6th District. Photos by Alex Petroski

Five-term Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is once again facing Republican challenger Gary Pollakusky, a Rocky Point business owner and head of the recently remodeled Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce. The candidates challenged each other in 2017, but while many issues remain the same, such as county finances, coastal water issues and opioids, the campaign season has been even more contentious than two years before.

Many of the Republicans running for county Legislature this year have made county finances a major part of their campaigns, and Pollakusky made it a point when he ran two years ago. 

“The $4 billion plan is unrealistic — it will come down to taxpayers, people who are leaving the Island, to take on this burden.”

— Gary Pollakusky

In a recent in-house debate at TBR News Media offices, the Republican challenger pointed to the recent report from the New York State comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli (D), which called Suffolk one of the most fiscally stressed counties in the state, Pollakusky adding the county now has junk bond status. He said small businesses have a hard time opening in Suffolk County, that it takes two to three years when it should, at most, two to three months. He said the county should have done more to bring in retail giant Amazon. 

Though the largest percentage of residents’ tax bills are due to school districts, the challenger said Suffolk should look to work with both the state and local school districts to reduce the number of administrators, even creating a “chancellor of education” to oversee that cause.

Anker, who first came to the Legislature in 2011 during a special election, argued that the county is not in as much fiscal stress as Republicans have said. She argued that the county’s Baa2 bond rating by Moody’s shows a different picture of the county’s financial shape. She said finances have improved significantly since when she was first elected.

The incumbent argued that instead of looking to bring in Amazon, the North Shore should look to become an “ecotourism hub,” with amenities like the new North Shore Rail Trail and Tesla Science Center.

“Instead of making a right to go pumpkin picking and wine tasting, take a left to downtown Rocky Point, so we can revitalize it,” she said. “So many stores have gone out recently.”

The Republican challenger criticized Anker for removing Rocky Point from the county sewer list and called Suffolk’s prototype septic system program a “toilet tax.” Though residents can get grants from New York State that pay most or all of the installation, Pollakusky argued there are fees attributed to landscaping or regular maintenance. 

“As far as runoff, the $4 billion plan is unrealistic — it will come down to taxpayers, people who are leaving the Island, to take on this burden,” he said.

Anker called Suffolk the “most proactive agencies in government that addresses this issue,” adding she supports the prototype septic systems as well as the county water authority’s multibillion dollar plans to reduce 1,4-dioxane in wells throughout the county. 

She added the reason she removed Rocky Point from the sewer list came from a request by the Rocky Point Civic Association whose members said they did not want to pay an additional sewer tax.

Anker currently chairs the Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel, which was created in 2017. She said the panel has already borne fruit with one recent example being Suffolk County police’s new mass spectrometer, which can identify previously undetectable substances. She said the device came from a suggestion on the 24-member panel. She added the county’s lawsuit of pharmaceutical company Purdue and the Sackler family may bring in millions of dollars of revenue to the county.

“Instead of making a right to go pumpkin picking and wine tasting, take a left to downtown Rocky Point, so we can revitalize it.”

— Sarah Anker

Pollakusky argued that while some county statistics say the opioid epidemic has plateaued, he hasn’t seen an example of that in the district, claiming there is a glut of “drug dealing homes” all across the North Shore. Like in 2017, he criticized his opponent for voting to close the Foley Center in Yaphank, saying it could have been used for bed space and as a treatment center.

Anker came back saying the county should look toward public-private partnerships in creating new treatment space.

Though the candidates talked about the ongoing issues, they were also asked how they felt about their opponents campaign tactics during this contentious season. The challenger’s voice rose during the debate as he criticized Anker for mailings published by political advocacy group People for Political Responsibility, depicting him in photoshopped, unflattering images. He claimed Anker had been disbursing campaign material at functions like the Downtown Rocky Point Summer Concert Series and advocating for herself over radio. 

Anker fired back that she had nothing to do with the mailings and had not handed out campaign material at these functions, instead handing out informational pamphlets for services provided by the county. She said her radio show was not sponsored at all by her campaign and only talked of work being done in the Legislature. 

Both have continuously blamed the other for politicizing an incident several months ago at the final summer concert series event, when chamber members were barred from entering the concert. Chamber members said they had permission from the local Veterans of Foreign War post, which participates in putting on the concerts, but Anker said she had only received word that they wanted to attend the day before, and that they did not have space for them. The chamber was allowed a single table at the concert, she added. Pollakusky said it was unfair she was able to attend and “campaign” at the concert while disallowing others.

This post has been amended from how it appeared in the Village Beacon Record to clarify Anker’s position on informational material for services provided by the county.

Incumbent Susan Berland and challenger Hector Gavilla are vying for Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District seat. Berland of Dix Hills is the Democratic candidate and has served on the Legislature for the past two years. She served on the Huntington Town Council as a councilwoman for more than 16 years prior to being elected county lawmaker. 

Republican hopeful Hector Gavilla is seeking political office for the first time. In 2017, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the 16th District seat which he lost to Berland. Gavilla has been a licensed real estate broker since 2003 and has run Commack-based Long Island Professional Realty since 2010.

The candidates are concerned with the future of the red-light camera program, the county financial situation, affordable housing and public safety. 

Red-light camera program:

The incumbent says she believes red-light cameras save lives. 

“People need to stop at a red light, they shouldn’t run through it and stop appropriately,” Berland said. “If people did that then you wouldn’t have the ‘money grab’ argument because they wouldn’t be paying the fines for them.”

Berland said there is a need for improvements in the program. She proposed looking at individual camera locations and potentially moving cameras to other problem areas. 

The incumbent also said they want to make sure they can oversee the placement of cameras once they get a new contractor. 

Gavilla disagreed saying the red-light camera program is a scam.  He argued that the cameras are placed disproportionally in low-income areas. 

“The county has discriminated by putting red-light cameras in low income communities,” he said. “There are none in the affluent areas [on the Island].” 

Though he admitted that if someone runs a red-light they deserve a ticket. 

Suffolk’s financial future:

The county’s finances have been one of the main topics of discussion in this year’s election season. According to a recent state comptroller report, Suffolk was under the most severe fiscal stress of any county in 2018 for the second year in a row. Suffolk had an operating deficit of about $26.5 million in 2018 and a general fund balance deficit of $285 million. 

Gavilla said the county is spending money it doesn’t have. 

“The total [deficit] amount depends on who you speak to,” he said. 

If elected, the challenger would get rid of certain special taxes and fees. He would also look to consolidating services and making cuts in some departments. 

“We need to cut expenditures, we can do that very easily by going to department heads and employees and incentivizing them to find ways to cut their fees,” Gavilla said. 

Berland said when Bellone was elected to office, the county was $500 million dollars in debt. 

“There hasn’t been an increase in the property tax line and we have kept within the 2 percent cap,” she said.  

Berland said they are continuing to provide the services residents need, while acknowledging that the county has cut numerous government job position in the last few years. 

Affordable housing on Long Island/Town of Huntington:

The county legislator said there is a need to find affordable housing for everyone. 

“We need to be able to provide affordable housing, you have these [housing] developments built and then 20 to 30 years later it goes to market rate,” Berland said. 

The incumbent looked to the recent Ronkonkoma Hub project as a way they could provide affordable housing as well as keep working families and young people on the Island. 

Berland said she supports continued economic development in the town and giving more resources to schools. 

 The challenger on the other hand would look to bring back high paying jobs to the area. 

Gavilla said he wants to bring back Fortune 500 companies, mentioning that his own father worked for a subsidiary of Grumman when he was young. He also said he would work with state lawmakers to assist in bringing those jobs here. 

In addition, Gavilla said there is a tax problem that needs to be fixed. 

“Property taxes are too high and that affects everything,” he said. “ You have to keep business owners here.”

Public safety (opioids/vaping/gang violence):  

Gavilla said while visiting homes throughout the area people are happy that federal government officials are assisting in the fight against MS-13. 

“I’ve visited close to 5,000 homes … the Hispanic communities are happy the feds are involved,” he said. 

Gavilla said there is a need for increased police presence as he believes more can be done on the opioid epidemic as well. 

According to him, the Hispanic communities are against making parts of Suffolk County as sanctuary areas, saying “they want the bad guys out.” 

Berland agreed with Gavilla that more can be done with MS-13, but said the Suffolk Police Department is doing a good job. 

The incumbent said in terms of immigration, people that are committing crimes should be deported. 

Berland supports banning vaping in the county, saying it has created “a whole new generation of kids smoking.”

“We also need to crack down on the sale of opioids and increase Narcan training,” she said.

Garrett Chelius is challenging incumbent William "Doc" Spencer for Suffolk County Legislative District 18.

Seasoned incumbent William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) is vying for a fourth term in the Suffolk County Legislature, where he has served for the past seven years. Spencer, a practicing physician for 28 years, has his own Huntington practice. 

Since taking office, the incumbent has worked to ban the sale of powdered caffeine to minors, raise the age of selling tobacco products, helped passed a measure to stop companies from manufacturing energy drinks to kids and spearheaded a ban on flavored e-cigarettes and a fee on single-use plastic bags.  

If reelected, Spencer would like to work on lowering the cost of living for young people in his district. He also proposed the need for a wintertime economy on the Island and suggested an indoor water park or convention center. 

Tackling the opioid and vaping crisis will present another challenge for Spencer, who said he is committed to finding treatment and addiction solutions to those affected. 

In Huntington Station, Spencer has his eyes set on connecting areas to sewer systems to attract restaurants and other local businesses.  

His challenger Garrett Chelius (R) is running because he is concerned that his three children, as well as other children in the county, are not going to be able to afford to stay in Suffolk. He blames the current administration’s fiscal irresponsibility. 

The long-time Huntington resident said his experience working in the banking and staffing industries for the past 25 years will help in getting the county back on track financially. Chelius also mentioned that the county has a junk bond rating due to seven straight downgrades.

The LIPA tax situation concerns Chelius. He said residents are fearful of how the upcoming LIPA court decision will affect them financially. In addition, congestion and overdevelopment in the town and safety issues related to the deployment of 5G technology are also concerns. 

If elected, Chelius would like to make sure beaches and waterways remain pristine for generations to come. He mentioned renovating Coindre Hall, a mansion and 33-acre park overlooking Huntington Harbor. Lessings Caterers currently uses the site as a catering hall.  Chelius believes it could be an amazing pier and harborside facility as well as a must-see family-friendly destination for residents and out-of-town guests. 

“Lastly, people are concerned about the water we all share, the water to drink, and the harbors and bays we enjoy,” Chelius said. “We need to make every effort to keep both our drinking water and our harbors and bays pristine.”  

Also, the challenger believes the red-light camera program is unsafe and biased toward lower income areas. 

Daniel West is also listed on the ballot running for the seat on the Conservative Party line. He was unable to be reached for an interview. 

Steve Bellone (D), John Kennedy Jr. (R) and Greg Fischer (L) are facing off for Suffolk County exec. Photos by David Luces

It is a three-man race for the Suffolk County executive seat this year. Incumbent Steve Bellone (D) is vying to secure a final term after coming into office in 2012. Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) and Libertarian candidate Greg Fischer, from Calverton, are looking to unseat Bellone in this year’s election. 

Some topics discussed were the county finances, the opioid and MS-13 situations and Suffolk’s water quality. 

Suffolk County finances

The status of the county’s finances continues to be a pressing issue since Thomas DiNapoli (D), the New York State comptroller, released a report saying Suffolk was under the most “significant fiscal stress” of any county — with Nassau — in the state in 2018 for the second year in a row. Suffolk had an operating deficit of about $26.5 million and a general fund balance deficit of $285 million. 

“When I came into office in 2012 the county was on the brink of bankruptcy, we had a $500 million accumulated deficit.”

— Steve Bellone

Bellone touted since he took office seven years ago, he has made the county government more streamlined, fully eliminated the existing operating deficit and has helped achieve an operating surplus for two consecutive years.

“When I came into office in 2012 the county was on the brink of bankruptcy, we had a $500 million accumulated deficit,” he said. “The county government was completely dysfunctional. Everyone was saying we were heading in the same direction as Nassau County, we were going to have a control board. I told them that was not going to happen, and we made the tough decisions.”

Since Bellone took office, the county government has cut close to 1,300 municipal jobs looking to reduce expenditures. 

Kennedy, who has been the county comptroller for the past five years, said his office has been auditing aggressively, has saved the county upward of $56 million and helped refinance its pipeline debt. He said the county is currently $883 million in operating debt and has a $91 million general fund balance deficit. 

The longtime Suffolk politician argued that the county would probably have to cut back at least $50-60 million from the current operating budget. 

“There’s things in life, you have your wants and your needs — that’s where we are at [right now],” he said. “We have departments that are not running properly, we have to consolidate.”

Kennedy said he would look to implement percentage decreases across the board for contract agencies and in some cases suspend services, similarly to what the county Legislature did in 2008 in the midst of a recession. 

“I am running based on the 15 years of public service — I think I can put us back to balance,” he said.

Fischer put it simply that the county is no different than a big bankrupt company. 

“We are rated lower than Nassau County, which has financial control boards,” he said. “We can’t rely on the state for anything right now.”

If elected, Fischer would freeze further increases in spending immediately as well as freeze future hiring and begin cross-training county employees.

“This is something that has to be done now,” he said. 

Opioids/MS-13 

On opioids, Kennedy said the county has had an addiction issue long before oxycodone was ever cooked up, mentioning morphine, methadone and crystal meth that have been a concern since the late ’80s. 

He said treatment for addicts is one of his main concerns. 

“We have fewer treatment beds in Suffolk County than five to 10 years ago,” Kennedy said. “Availability of treatment beds is the most pressing need right now.”

“I am running based on the 15 years of public service — I think I can put us back to balance.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Many Republicans have criticized the Bellone administration for the closure and sale of the Foley Center in Yaphank, which they contend would have helped in the fight against the opioid crisis.

The county comptroller said that the governor has to be more proactive in helping the county. In addition, he said law enforcement needs to be more effective. 

Fischer said he lost his brother to heroin and is acutely aware of what is going on in the fight. 

“This is horribly addictive stuff — I believe in ‘scared straight’ programs, bringing in junkies into schools and scaring the crap out of kids,” he said. “I do want more treatment and prevention not just more cops.” 

The county executive maintained a comprehensive approach is the only way to solve the opioids crisis. 

He agreed with Kennedy and Fischer that local law enforcement plays a big part, but that prevention is just as important. 

Bellone touted partnerships with community-based groups and schools and opening DASH, a substance abuse and mental health center in Hauppauge, that is seeing patients 24/7. 

“The inability to provide adequate treatment has been a failure of our country,” he said. “Once you become addicted it is very hard to extricate yourself from it. We have made progress — the state has helped us.”

He also mentioned that the county has decided to sue the people responsible for the opioid epidemic. 

“Though we can’t restore the lives lost, the Sackler family [which controls Purdue Pharma] should be made to pay,” he said. 

On MS-13, Bellone said the Suffolk County Police Department has led the fight against the gang and has helped in getting the lowest crime rate in the history of the county. 

Kennedy and Fischer contend that it is the federal government’s involvement that has swayed the tide in the fight. Though all three candidates agree that while strides have been made, there needs to be continued law enforcement efforts from both the local and federal levels. 

Suffolk’s water quality

Bellone called water quality “the most significant issue of our time in Suffolk County.” 

“Climate change will have certain impacts, but if we don’t address water quality, we are sacrificing the future of the county — we cannot sustain what this place is without protecting water,” he said. 

Bellone said water quality is not only vital for the county’s economy but also to local tourism which brings in billions of dollars each year. 

“It is one of the reasons why people live here and for the quality of life,” he said. 

The county executive defended his septic improvement program which he launched in 2017, saying it has allowed homeowners to replace outdated septic systems and cesspools. He also mentioned that it has helped reduce contaminants in the groundwater.

“We have departments that are not running properly, we have to consolidate.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy said his main concern is to continue to identify any suspected contaminants in our groundwater. He supports the Suffolk County Water Authority’s efforts to identify and remove 1,4-dioxane. 

“We need to raise funding to install 31 wells [throughout the county],” he said. 

Another of his concerns is stormwater runoff prevention, which he said, to him, the jury is still out on the advanced septic system, adding that four to six systems are not working properly. 

Fischer said he would propose a “100 projects in 100 weeks” plan if elected, adding there are some things the county could implement right now. 

“I would put a sizable fee or ban on high nitrogen fertilizer — this is dangerous stuff,” he said. 

The Libertarian candidate criticized Bellone’s advanced septic system program, calling it a complete failure and needs to be put into moratorium until it is fixed. 

Fischer also proposed changes to water codes, mentioning gray water — or the water that comes out of baths, sinks and other appliances — and setting certain mandates for new construction.

Suffolk County legislators approved a $3.2 billion budget for 2020 Nov. 6. TBR News Media file photo

County residents got a glimpse of the county’s budget process as the operating budget working group held its first public meeting Oct. 17 when the 2019-20 recommended operating budget was discussed.  

The county operating budget funds employee payroll costs, county departments and a variety of other expenditures. The status of the budget has been in the spotlight since the New York State comptroller, Tom DiNapoli (D), said Suffolk was under “significant fiscal stress” — with Nassau — for the second year in a row. In 2018, Suffolk had an operating deficit of about $26.5 million and a general fund balance deficit of $285 million. 

The topic has been an important issue in the county executive race. The current incumbent, Steve Bellone (D), has stated that during his tenure he has worked to bring the county spending and finances back in check. John Kennedy Jr., the county comptroller and Republican challenger for executive, has stated that the county is in a “fiscal crisis.”

Here is what legislators discussed at the meeting. The proposed operating budget for 2019-20 will be $3.2 billion, an increase from last year’s $3.1 billion budget. 

The recommended budget would look to increase property taxes by $14.66 million (2.14 percent), according to the report. The increase is comprised of a rise in police district property taxes of $16.56 million (2.8 percent). 

The police district will face an $11.3 million deficit by the end of 2019. It is the fourth year in a row that the district will have a deficit. Overtime for the police department in 2019 is estimated at $30.9 million. 

In addition, the county’s general fund, despite seeing an increase of $318 million in revenue from 2015 to 2019, is projected to experience its fifth consecutive deficit in 2019. Combined with the police district, the county may face an operating deficit of some $20 million. 

Sales tax revenue is projected to increase an additional $48.5 million from 2019-20 or about 4.5 percent.  

Another area of concern is the county payroll. It has increased by $315 million in the last seven years, despite the workforce being reduced by 1,250 positions. From the start of 2019 through Sept. 8, the number of active county employees on the payroll declined by approximately 150, according to the report. The recommended expenditures for employee health care in 2020 is projected to increase by approximately by $22.2 million. 

The Budget Review Office also raised concerns in the report that property taxes in the Southwest Sewer District, which covers parts of Babylon and Islip, would decrease by $2.14 million. This could lead to less funds available for sewer projects and potentially increase borrowing. 

In terms of other revenue, the county is projected to see an increase in funds from video lottery terminals at Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel in Islandia. The revenue brought in will increase to $25 million in 2020 compared to $2.9 million in 2018 and $3.3 million in 2019. 

For homeowners, the proposed county property tax will yield an estimated average tax bill of $1,207, an increase of $25. Average taxes per homeowners will increase by $32 in five western towns, including Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington, and decrease by $2 in the county’s five eastern towns. 

 

Last week, Long Island was slammed and hit by an unexpected fall nor’easter which brought in heavy rains and gusting winds that exceeded 50 mph. 

The powerful winds from the storm caused downed power wires and felled large trees and branches. According to the National Weather Service, parts of Long Island dealt with moderate coastal flooding and about 2-3 inches of rain.   

More than 73,000 PSEG Long Island customers lost power during the storm. Within 48 hours, PSEG restored service to nearly 100 percent of customers affected by the storm on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 16-17, according to PSEG media relations. The rest were restored by that Friday. 

By the end of the nor’easter, crews had removed a total of 1,206 trees and large branches downed by the storm.

In Port Jefferson Harbor a sailing sloop named Grand Prix slipped her moorings and drifted aground in front of Harborfront Park, according to local photographer Gerard Romano who took a photo featured on the cover of this week’s paper. Another sailing vessel called the Summer Place washed ashore in Mount Sinai Harbor.

The Town of Brookhaven Highway Department responded to nearly 250 calls during the 24-hour storm. 

“We worked directly with PSEG as they dispatched their crews to areas where trees had fallen on wires so we could safely remove the debris after the power lines were de-energized,” town Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro (R) said in a statement. “Crews worked throughout the night to clear the roadways swiftly and efficiently.”

 

Police are looking for a man who robbed a Sound Beach gas station. Photos from Suffolk County Police

Police said a small Sound Beach gas station was robbed at gunpoint Saturday, Oct. 19.

According to police, a man allegedly approached the attendant at CND Automotive on Echo Avenue, displayed a silver handgun and demanded money at around 8:45 p.m. The attendant, a 50-year-old man, complied and gave his own wallet and cash from the register to the suspect. The suspect then fled the scene on foot
southbound on Blue Point Road. The attendant sustained a minor injury and declined medical treatment at the scene.

The suspect was described as black, approximately 5 feet 9 inches tall with a medium build, wearing all black clothing, tan sneakers, black gloves and a black mask partially covering his face. He was carrying a black backpack with blue trim.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on the robbery to contact the 7th Squad at 631-852-8752 or Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS. All calls will remain confidential.

 

The Commerdinger home in Nesconset, as seen today, was expected in 2006 to become a living museum.

Instead of selling their property to a developer for nearly $2 million, the family of Walter S. Commerdinger, Jr. sold to Suffolk County in 2006 their property on the north side of Lake Ronkonkoma with its historic home, circa 1810, for a reported $1.2 million. The idea, said Commerdinger’s heir, Paul Albert, was to turn the site into a living museum to honor the legacy of the family, regarded as one of Nesconset’s earliest settlers.

The home, which was in pristine condition when sold, has sat vacant for more than a decade now and has been repeatedly vandalized. Despite being awarded $100,000 in grant money for repairs from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, the county has allegedly not yet followed through with its end of the bargain.

The Commerdinger home in 2006, when the county purchased the site.

Both parties aim to renegotiate the agreement. 

Marie Gruick is a member of Nesconset Chamber of Commerce and she’s been helping Albert navigate the situation he’s facing with the government.

“They keep saying they’re broke,” Gruick said. “It’s been a bunch of empty promises. They just gave other communities $500,000 for a parking lot.”

The situation, though, highlights the challenges of preserving history on Long Island and in New York in general. Commerdinger Park and Marion Carll Farm, in Commack, are two examples of families hoping to preserve history with gifts of historic homes and properties to public entities. Both sites have historic homes that have fallen into a state of disrepair. 

Sara Kautz is the preservation director of Preservation Long Island. The not-for-profit organization works with Long Islanders to protect, preserve, and celebrate cultural heritage through advocacy, education, and stewardship of historic sites and collections.  The organization offers many services for free.  She said that more and more places are at risk.

John Kennedy Jr. (R) served as Nesconset’s county legislator in 2006 and helped facilitate the initial transaction for the Commerdinger site. Kennedy now serves as county comptroller and is running for county executive. His wife Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) now serves as county legislator for District 12. She said there are no new updates.

“There’s a contract that everyone is reading through, so Commerdinger can join up with Smithtown Historical Society,” Leslie Kennedy said. “But it’s all in the talk stage.”

Gruick said the park is the last green space in Nesconset and its trails stretch to Lake Ronkonkoma. If the county isn’t interested in maintaining the home, she said, they should give it back. The family formed a 501(c)3 nonprofit, W.S. Commerdinger Jr. County Park Preservation Society, in 2008 to serve as stewards for the site but have been unable to accomplish what needs to be done for the house and its buildings. They say they feel like they’re on a merry-go-round.

“How long is the county going to dangle carrots,” Gruick said. 

The most immediate task, Gruick and Albert said, is to get PSEGLI to hook up the electricity to the site, so they can install security cameras to prevent further damage and to get county water hookup. What Gruick doesn’t understand, she said, is why the county is telling them that hooking up to electricity needs to go to bid if PSEGLI is the business that connects electricity. 

The county said in response to our inquiries that the order is in with PSEG, which needs to schedule the work. They could not provide a time frame for electric hookup and could only say that the request has been in for a while. 

Albert said that he has collections of antiques, including pottery crafted in the first kiln brought to America. He had hoped to move the pieces into the site by now. Formerly a banker, Albert said that he needs a lawyer that specializes in preservation but is unsure who has that expertise.

Crolius family heirs hope to exhibit a rare pottery collection in the Commerdinger home museum.

Kathryn Curran is the executive director of the Gardiner Foundation, a philanthropic group that supports historic preservation projects for 501(c)3 organizations with an education mission, but not for schools. 

The foundation offers $5 million in grants annually and said that some projects go more smoothly than others. When a municipality owns a building, she said, they typically have a contract in place with a “friends” group to manage the property. 

“The money is allocated to the friends group, not the municipality,” she said. 

Because of the “friends” agreements with government, she said the group needs town approval for the work and the contracts it hopes to secure. For some reason, towns or government entities don’t always feel comfortable with the process.

“We’re trying to give historic educational experiences to enhance a community,” she said. “It’s a downtown revitalization gift.”

She said that local businesses benefit when these projects are completed, so she doesn’t always understand herself why governments are reluctant. She said that many people are willing to volunteer as part of a friends group. These people, she noted, are also a precious gift. 

“It appears they don’t want to be beholden to private money,” she said. 

Gruick and Albert said they are frustrated but remain hopeful. They plan to meet with officials in the Town of Smithtown in the upcoming weeks for help.