The race to oversee Suffolk County’s largest township pits a pair of candidates with long résumés against each other.
Ed Romaine (R) has been Town of Brookhavensupervisor since a special election in 2012, though his career in public service can be measured in decades. He worked for the town in the 1980s as the commissioner of housing and community development and director of economic development, in addition to two separate terms on the Suffolk County Legislature. His Election Day challenger for supervisor is Democrat Jack Harrington, a practicing Stony Brook attorney and officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve who spent time after law school interning in President Barack Obama’s White House counsel’s office. He also studied counter-terrorism and intelligence in Washington, D.C.
“I think [Brookhaven] has a remarkable amount to offer both in terms of the locality and the environment.”
— Jack Harrington
Harrington, a father of a 3-year-old, who is expecting his second child with wife Sarah, is a graduate of Miller Place High School. This is his first time running for public office. He shed light on his decision to challenge Romaine during a debate at TBR News Media’s Setauket office last month.
“I think [Brookhaven] has a remarkable amount to offer both in terms of the locality and the environment — the beaches and the beauty — and also the intellectual assets,” he said, adding he hopes to have the opportunity to make it easier for young people to establish roots in Brookhaven by utilizing the town’s assets, like Brookhaven National Lab and Stony Brook University, to create good-paying, middle-class jobs with upward mobility. He said it is the town’s responsibility to create that environment.
Romaine, who has long preached his goal of creating a better Brookhaven for the future, lauded accomplishments by the town since he took office in creating a sound financial environment for businesses and residents to flourish. The town has a AAA bond rating and is growing its reserves while maintaining a balanced budget and, for the most part, holding the line on taxes.
“We’re not perfect, but we are poised for great economic development,” Romaine said, citing the work of the town’s Industrial Development Agency, which has created or retained 7,000 jobs and $600 million worth of investment over the last three years, according to Romaine.
Harrington commended Romaine for his role in establishing the town’s stable financial footing, but offered a rebuttal.
“Unfortunately, a AAA bond rating does not get a 23-year-old college graduate a job, and that’s really something I think we can be doing better at,” he said.
“I will, as long as I am supervisor, be color blind to party and instead work with individuals.”
— Ed Romaine
Harrington said if elected, a way he would aim to promote economic development would be to simplify the town’s zoning and permit processes in the hopes of increasing efficiency for those looking to start a business in the town.
“All of the municipalities have very lengthy, convoluted processes with respect to getting through those functions,” he said.
Harrington was also critical of the town’s code enforcement practices, which often result in fines for homeowners looking to do renovations. He commended Romaine for his efforts to stop the practices of “slum lords,” or others who try to subvert building codes to increase profits, but said he wanted to see changes in enforcement to protect homeowners with good intentions.
Romaine defended his reputation as one of the most willing local politicians to reach across party lines, as is evident through his environmental protection initiatives and his recurring endorsements from Sierra Club Long Island.
“I will, as long as I am supervisor, be color blind to party and instead work with individuals,” he said.
The candidates agreed on ways to improve water quality and address environmental issues in the town, as well as the town’s responsibility in responding to heroin and opioid addiction. Both preached an approach that included prevention and education for young people.
An architectural woodworker is challenging incumbent Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), focusing on the issues of road repair, zombie homes and government transparency as they relate to the 3rd Council District.
Alfred Ianacci, 61, of Lake Ronkonkoma, is running on the Democratic and Working Families lines. He grew up in Long Island City, Queens and has lived in Lake Ronkonkoma for 31 years.
“The feedback I get is people are not happy with Brookhaven,” he said. He attributed that to a lack of trust in town officials, and called for more government transparency.
LaValle, who was grew up in Centereach, said he jumped into office four years ago wanting to bring government back to the people.
Representing what he calls the “blue collar, middle class area” of Brookhaven, the councilman said his residents have a different mindset than most.
“If we had a pothole in front of our house, we’d throw some dirt in it, throw a cone over it and we wouldn’t call anybody, because we take care of the problem ourselves,” he said during a debate at TBR News Media’s Setauket office in October. “That’s one thing I’ve been trying to broach being in office for four years — trying to bring government to the people and show them that we’re here. I’m here hosting events just to get out there so people know me and know I’m not running away from issues.”
Ianacci, said road repair is “a disaster” in the town. He also said the town needs to improve its drainage systems.
“There are places that flood with three or four inches of rain,” he said. “We have to really do a complete re-evaluation of our storm drain system throughout Brookhaven.”
LaValle said he knows the real issues, and said growing up in Centereach helped him to understand them.
“The big thing I know growing up in the area is that we were always traveling because we didn’t have fields, and the fields we did have weren’t very good,” said LaValle, who played on the Centereach basketball team in high school. “But now to have Selden Park in our own backyard, people can grow up and be proud of what we have.”
The councilman helped secure 24 acres behind Hawkins Path Elementary School, where four baseball fields, two multi-purpose fields, walking trails and a playground are currently being constructed. Modeling it off of Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park, he said he’d also like to incorporate a piece from Port Jefferson’s Harborfront Park — an ice rink. With Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) helping to purchase the property and state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) securing a $1 million grant, the construction is well on its way. He said he’s hoping to see it become a generational park.
“You start off as a baby, your mom is walking you in the stroller, and the kids gets a little older and they go to the playground, then they get a little bit older and they’re playing on the fields, then they get a little older they go off to college and they come back and they’re running, and then they have a family, come back and start the whole thing over again,” he said. “Any day you drive by Heritage Park there’s tons of people — something’s always going on — so where as the Centereach Pool is a condensed area, this was our last opportunity for some open space.”
Lavalle was also involved in work done at Centereach Pool, adding a $100,000 spray park, reconstructing the basketball courts, adding a sun shelter, pickleball courts and beach volleyball. The restrooms are slated for improvements next.
“We hooked up with the Middle Country school district and the athletic director to host basketball tournaments in the middle of the summer to keep kids off the streets,” he said. “We didn’t realize the turnout. The families are happy the kids have something to do and they get to come and see how nice it is now.”
More than fixing up parkland, Ianacci said he is concerned with zombie houses. The challenger said the town is “plagued” by abandoned, dilapidated homes. He said vacant houses could be salvaged instead of torn down, saying it would help the town develop affordable housing to keep residents from leaving. Brookhaven Town announced last month a similar plan is already being put into motion, fixing the blighted properties and selling them to veterans and first-time homebuyers at lower rates.
Other efforts touted by LaValle relating specifically to his council district include securing $2 million in grants over the last four years, part of which was a $25,000 grant for upgrading the Selden Dog Park; starting the Run the Farm race to raise money for the nonprofit Hobbes Farm once it began losing government funding; and revitalizing Middle Country Road by connecting parking lots, adding more green space as businesses like McDonald’s and White Castle receive upgrades and others like Five Guys and Guitar Center move in.
“It goes from the street, to the sidewalk to a parking lot — you feel like you’re in the city,” he said. “New businesses are coming in and rezoning and we’re trying to bring that green space back while also keeping people off Middle Country Road.”
Ianacci’s focus continues to be on more townwide issues, like the expected closure of the town landfill in the next decade, and fighting against the “brain drain.”
“We have so many skilled people who work in Brookhaven,” he said. “But they can’t live in Brookhaven. Our taxes are going to go up.”
He said on many issues he had no specific recommendations for improvements, but would study each problem and seek solutions.
LaValle said he hopes to continue to keep doing what he’s doing. The councilman said he or a staff member attends every civic meeting. He said he speaks regularly to the Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, churches and townspeople to find out what the real problems are.
“I try to make myself available to help me do this job,” LaValle said. “And I’m proud to have the opportunity to do this in the area I grew up. Right away you notice issues while you’re out there talking to people about their problems, what it is that’s bothering them. Whether it’s a pothole in front of their house or business development on Middle Country Road, that’s what I need to know. And there’s nothing more rewarding than to go out into your community that you’re so entrenched in and create the change that the residents have been talking about, and it’s for my friends, my family and my neighbors.”
A man was pronounced dead at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson after he was pulled from a submerged vehicle in Port Jefferson Harbor just after 7 p.m. Oct. 30, according to Suffolk County Police Department Assistant Commissioner Justin Meyers. Police have identified the man as William Whalen, 69, of Lake Grove.
“A 911 call came in at 7:10 p.m. after witnesses observed a car drive into the water at the Port Jefferson Marina boat launch located off of West Broadway Avenue and Barnum Avenue in Port Jefferson Village,” Meyers statement said. “Sixth Precinct Officers Brian Christopher and Michael Cappelli responded and jumped into the water and extricated a male victim that was trapped in his vehicle which was completely submerged. Personnel from the Port Jefferson Village Fire Department and Setauket Fire Department also responded and also went into the water to help extricate the victim.”
The officers were being treated for hypothermia in the aftermath of the incident.
Members of the Port Jefferson Fire Department — Lieutenant Geoffrey Markson, Ex-Captain David Okst and First Assistant Brennan Holmes — were on the eastern end of the marina parking lot working on the department’s fire boat when they were alerted of the incident on their paging devices, according to a spokesperson from the PJFD chief’s office. The three jumped into the water, eventually breaking the window with a hammer and removing the seatbelt to pull the victim from the car. Two PJFD Heavy Rescue Squad members in diving gear also arrived on the scene to assist in the rescue effort.
“We had a brief conversation that went, ‘are we doing this? Yeah we’re doing it,'” Holmes said during a phone interview.
He said the three firefighters were focused only on action and not on what might happen to them if they jumped in the water.
“We could have saved a life,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said via email Monday night.
Garant announced during a board meeting June 5 the village had sent a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation and State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) asking for the traffic signal at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and West Broadway to be changed from having a standard green light to a green left arrow and right arrow. The call was in response to an April 6 incident in which a man in his early 60s drove into the harbor via the same boat launch. Four good Samaritans rescued that driver, and were later honored by the Port Jeff Village board in July. Garant said the DOT told her in a letter she received about five weeks ago they intended to comply with her request to change the light.
“I am thankful that the DOT was willing to entertain and adopt our suggestion, and when the light is changed, it may save a life,” Garant said Tuesday.
In December 2005 60-year-old Setauket resident Richard Levin drove into the water on the same ramp and onlookers had to pull his unconscious body from the fully submerged car. Levin died days later as a result of the incident.
According to documents obtained from Brookhaven in May, both Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village were sued by the wife and executrix of the estate of Richard Levin in 2007.
“As a result of the negligence of the defendants in failing to properly maintain the intersection of Route 25A and Barnum Ave., in failing to properly safeguard against motorists driving onto said Port Jefferson ramp into the water, in failing to properly illuminate said area, in failing to provide fencing and warning lights — as a result of the aforementioned Richard Levin died,” the lawsuit read in part. “[The] town failed to submit any evidence that it maintained its property in a reasonably safe condition by providing adequate fencing, lighting or warning of the dangerous condition on its property.”
“We had a brief conversation that went, ‘are we doing this? Yeah we’re doing it.'”
— Brennan Holmes
Judge Joseph Farneti of the New York State Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit in January 2011 because the “acts or omissions of defendants were not the proximate cause of the alleged accident.”
The April incident stirred up memories more than a decade old for one former village resident.
“People are dying here and it’s a simple fix,” Christopher Kelsch, one of the people who witnessed Levin’s death 12 years ago and tried to help, said shortly after seeing news of the April incident. “Somebody needs to shine a serious spotlight because Dr. Levin died at that location.”
Following the April incident, a Brookhaven Town spokesperson said in a statement there are clear signs and traffic measures in place to warn residents of the ramp’s location.
“The Port Jefferson boat ramp has existed at its current location for generations,” the spokesperson said. “A number of measures are in place including a multitude of ‘Do Not Enter’ signs, road arrows and other traffic control measures to clearly indicate that this is not an entrance.”
A Brookhaven Town spokesperson directed questions to the police department Monday night. Garant called on the town to take action in April, as the marina is town-owned property.
A spokesperson for Lavalle said the state senator was meeting with representatives from the DOT Nov. 1 to discuss the incident and troublesome intersection.
This post was updated Oct. 31 to include information from the PJFD Chief’s office and a quote from Brennan Holmes, and Nov. 1 to include a response from Ken Lavalle’s spokesperson.
A Suffolk County legislator is looking to protect Port Jefferson Station and Terryville’s groundwater, and if her plan reaches completion, it will also preserve a massive chunk of green space.
The county passed a bill sponsored by 5th District Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) Oct. 3 that allows Suffolk to begin seeking appraisals from landowners of 62 separate properties within the Terryville Greenbelt, an approximately 75-acre plot of land, of which about 40 acres has already been preserved by Town of Brookhaven through open space land acquisitions.
The town is allowed by law to acquire open space based upon environmental sensitivity. Hahn’s bill allows for the appraisal of about 17 acres of the remaining unprotected land within the parcel, designated as a special groundwater protection area, located south of Route 112 and adjacent to the rear of Comsewogue High School. The bill requires signing by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) before it becomes law; then further legislation will be required to complete the purchases.
“For the past 50 years the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community has worked to offset its rapid growth with safeguards of its quality of life and environment,” Hahn said in a statement. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “Protecting these parcels, located within a special groundwater protection area in perpetuity highlights the continued commitment of Suffolk County to being a partner in this careful balance that ensures not only the local environment but also our resident’s quality of life.”
The plan has been in the works since 2003, when Terryville resident and preservation proponent Louis Antoniello began advocating for the protection of the greenbelt. After years with minimal action, in 2010, with support from former Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko (D) and former Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket), Brookhaven purchased 16 parcels of open space within the Terryville Greenbelt for $648,000.
“The dream of creating a greenbelt around Comsewogue High School started back in 2003 — we never gave up on the dream and now the dream is going to become a reality,” Antoniello said in a statement. “The preservation of the property helps to protect our drinking water; creates an ecosystem for the many species of animals that make the greenbelt their home and it creates a living biology classroom for the children in the Comsewogue school district.”
Antoniello, who thanked Hahn and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their efforts in advancing the legislation during a phone interview, said the preservation of the land is important because it filters more than a million gallons of water per year that then proceeds into an aquifer, which holds much of the area’s drinking water. Antoniello also served as chairman of the Land Use, Parks and Open Space Committee for a 2008 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet study done in cooperation with the town.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, nearly all of Long Island’s drinking water comes from underground aquifers.
Charles McAteer, chairman of the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail and also advocate for the preservation of open space, spoke in favor of Hahn’s bill.
“It is good to see more acres set aside to remain as Long Island woods for future generations to enjoy,” he said in an email. “This will allow the treed land to filter down rainwater to our Long Island aquifer system. It is a win-win for all of us in the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet.”
An Aug. 28 post by a user in a private Facebook group of about 1,300 Port Jefferson Village residents featured a photo of two men sleeping at the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station. Amidst a longer message attached to the image was the phrase: “I’ve had it.”
The post inspired comments from more than a dozen users who began a lengthy discussion about homeowners’ concerns over property values as a result of activity related to homeless people in the area. Some responses included efforts to tackle the issue of homelessness after the main poster asked: “Does anyone know what is being done about this?”
Elected officials, local leaders and data from nonprofit organizations serving the state, Long Island and Suffolk County seem to agree: Efforts exist to reduce the number of undomiciled residents, but the problem is not going away and more needs to be done.
Homelessness has been a topic of conversation in Port Jeff for decades, and Father Frank Pizzarelli, a Port Jeff resident and founder of the nonprofit Hope House Ministries, began addressing the issue in 1980. With 10 facilities, he helps serve groups and people in need. His first endeavor was The Community House in Port Jefferson.
A 30-bed long-term facility, the home on Main Street is still in operation today for at-risk 16- to 21-year-old males in need of a place to live. Almost 28 years ago, Pizzarelli said he opened Pax Christi Hospitality Center on Oakland Avenue after a Vietnam veteran froze to death in winter while living in what he described as a cardboard box village in Port Jefferson.
At least seven people listed as undomiciled by the county police department were arrested on the morning of Oct. 4 for sleeping in tents in the woods behind the Comsewogue Public Library on Terryville Road, according to police.
According to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization established in 1985 that works with government agencies to secure funding and services for homeless people in Suffolk and Nassau counties, 3,937 people on Long Island were classified as homeless as of January 2017. The number includes people in emergency or transitional housing, as well as those who are completely unsheltered, of which there were 64, according to the group’s annual report for 2017.
In context, the number of homeless people living on Long Island hasn’t changed much over the last three LICH yearly tallies. In 2016, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) conducted an audit to examine the issue of homelessness in the state, which reached some discouraging conclusions.
Homelessness is on the decline nationwide, according to the report, though New York was one of 18 states to see an increase in the number of people without a permanent residence between 2007 and 2015. The number rose by 41 percent to more than 88,000 statewide during that span, which was the largest increase of any state in the country. Much of the increase was attributable to New York City, though DiNapoli’s audit stressed homelessness as a state problem and not simply a city problem, saying homelessness is affecting “communities in virtually every corner of the state … on a daily basis.”
‘Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community. I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity.’
— Frank Pizzarelli
“The homeless problem pre-existed Pax Christi,” Pizzarelli said. The licensed social worker said the idea that his facilities attract the homeless to Port Jeff is a common refrain he’s heard cyclically over the years from people like the Facebook poster, though he said he has found those voices are few and far between and don’t represent the majority of the community.
“Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community,” he said. “I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity. Yes, there are always people that are super critical and, because of the socioeconomic nature of our community, would prefer certain things not be here. They’re a very small minority from my experience.”
He said he receives no financial support from the government other than reimbursements from the county’s Department of Social Services to barely cover his costs for sheltering people overnight at Pax Christi. His entire budget, which he estimated to be in the ballpark of $5 million annually, is covered by donations and grants. He also said he believes homeless people who commit crimes or contribute to tensions in the Port Jeff community tend not to be the same people who are interested in getting help.
“Uptown is a complicated place,” he said. “The homeless have no fixed address and they also have no voice, so it’s easy to blame them. They’re a part of the issue, but it’s not that simplistic. I don’t think the larger community really realizes that.”
Pizzarelli pointed to insufficient funds from the county and state governments as his and other organization’s biggest obstacle in providing services for those in need. He said mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, especially to opioids, are at the root of Suffolk County’s homelessness problem. Once people are in treatment for substance addiction or any mental health affliction, he said more transitional housing needs to be made available to get people on the road to recovery.
Pizzarelli said Pax Christi does not admit any persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so they occasionally have to turn people away.
“We probably all need to take a firmer stand so [homeless people being aided by services] understand if they’re not going to take care of business — hanging out at the train station is not the answer,” he said. “I agree, people don’t need to be harassed when they’re getting off the train.”
DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, in conjunction with the Welfare to Work Commission of the Legislature, arranged a public hearing Oct. 10 to discuss the impact that massive cuts in President Donald Trump’s (R) early budget proposals to funding for human services would have on local residents.
Michael Stoltz, the executive director of Ronkonkoma-based Association for Mental Health and Wellness said before the hearing he thinks the county fails to adequately invest in mental health services.
“We see a proportionate rise and increase in the number of people in our jails who have mental health conditions — untreated and under treated — and among our homeless populations,” he said.
Stoltz was representing one of the 13 agencies slated to speak during the hearing.
“The county and these agencies are facing a crisis of what could be unparalleled and unprecedented proportions,” commission chairman Richard Koubek said before the hearing. “We have watched with dismay and frustration the chronic underfunding of contract agencies that serve Suffolk County’s poor people.”
Suffolk and Nassau counties collectively are considered a Continuum of Care community, which is defined as a community with a unified plan to organize and deliver housing services to meet the needs of people who are homeless. Grants from the CoC are funded through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a federal department responsible for more than $10 million in CoC grants obtained each year to aid locals, according to its website. DiNapoli’s report found of the smaller communities with CoC programs, Long Island’s counties had the third largest homeless population in the United States.
Long Island’s relative lack of affordable housing can further complicate the issue, as housing units are priced to rent or own in Brookhaven Town according to HUD guidelines, which are dependent on the area median income of a region. In 2017, Suffolk County’s average household income was $110,800. To qualify to rent an affordable living space, household income must be less than 50 percent of this number, meaning in Suffolk, any family earning less than $55,400 annually has a right to reduced rent. Monthly rent for a three-person home for a family earning less than that, for example, by law cannot exceed $1,200.
Because of the relatively high average income in Suffolk, “affordable” rent is a term that most likely wouldn’t apply to someone sleeping on the street or residing in a homeless shelter. According to Pizzarelli and Brookhaven Housing and Human Services Commissioner Alison Karppi, there’s far less affordable housing available in the town and the county as a whole than demand would dictate.
“It is estimated that 42,500 renters spend half or more of their income on household costs,” Gregory said prior to the Oct. 10 hearing. “That startling figure emphasizes the need for cheaper housing our working families and young people can afford. We are here today to send a message that we simply can’t afford this budget.”
Last week Brookhaven Town announced a new initiative to acquire vacant “zombie” homes and make them available for veterans and first-time homebuyers at reduced costs as a way to expand the availability of affordable housing in the town. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) estimated there are as many as 2,000 vacant homes in the town with many in a salvageable state.
Port Jeff has another resource in its backyard to help those in need, which reiterates Pizzarelli’s sentiment that on the whole, it is a compassionate community.
Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jeff Village has been serving people in need, homeless or otherwise, in the area for 28 years. The group also has two locations in Port Jefferson Station comprised of about 200 volunteers and functions entirely on donations of money and food, oftentimes from a local Trader Joe’s. Five days a week, the soup kitchen opens its doors to serve as many as 100 guests free of charge each night. Unlike Pax Christi, Welcome Friends never turns away guests due to intoxication. The volunteers prevent entry to those who could be a danger to other guests, but even in those instances the person is sent away with a to-go meal, always well balanced and fresh. Multiple courses are available but served once a day Sunday to Wednesday and also on Friday.
Lorraine Kutzing, a longtime coordinator at the soup kitchen, said the organization’s sole focus is having as many meals as possible prepared each day, and hopes that she and others like Pizzarelli can continue to try to fix the problem highlighted by community members like those in the Facebook group.
“I think the need has always been there,” she said. “I don’t think that has changed that much.”
Some Brookhaven residents and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) are concerned about the potential negative impact development of a St. James property might have on Stony Brook Road.
On Aug. 2, the Suffolk County Planning Committee approved the conceptual subdivision of a 62-acre parcel of land in St. James owned by Gyrodyne, LLC. The property, known locally as Flowerfield, borders Route 25A and Stony Brook Road, and the plan includes approval for a 150-room hotel, two medical office buildings and two assisted living facilities.
One of the suggestions given at the August meeting to relieve possible traffic issues on Route 25A was to use a road that crosses over train tracks on the land parcel, passes through private property and utilizes a road owned by Stony Brook University where drivers would then be led to Stony Brook Road.
After Gyrodyne received approval from the county, resident Cindy Smith founded the Coalition of Greater Stony Brook Action Committee in the hopes of mobilizing local civic groups and providing a voice for the thousands of permanent residents in the village. Smith, along with local residents and Romaine, attended the planning committee’s Oct. 4 meeting to express their concerns to the members.
Smith said she took exception to the planning committee not seeking input from the surrounding communities. While adeveloper has not been named and the Gyrodyne property is not yet on the Smithtown planning board’s agenda, she said she is concerned that no traffic studies or environmental assessments have been conducted and there has been no estimate of the impact on the local infrastructure. In regards to traffic, the commission in their resolution suggested the future applicant consider a bike share program to help reduce short distance motor traffic.
Romaine said he attended the Oct. 4 county planning committee meeting after receiving inadequate notification of the August meeting. He said the town only received 48 hours notice, and it lacked an environmental assessment form, a project description and usage of the property.
The supervisor said with Nicolls and Stony Brook roads being the only two ways to access Stony Brook University, quality of life has been impacted negatively in the area, especially on Stony Brook and Oxhead roads, due to traffic. He added the university also owns property that borders the Gyrodyne land on the east. On the grounds is the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology where new buildings are being erected, which could cause even more traffic in the area from the center’s employees.
“We don’t need additional traffic from the Gyrodyne development pouring onto Stony Brook Road,” Romaine said. “We will strongly oppose that and we will explore all of our legal options to do exactly that.”
Smith, who is a member of Friends of Stony Brook Road, which works to address traffic and speeding issues on the street, said due to the university being state property, they do not need to follow local planning procedures or receive approval. She said she believes the lack of a master plan has created a problem and said she feels the Gyrodyne project lacks the same foresight.
“It’s really a quality of life issue — it’s safety,” she said. “It’s another town’s economic boom and Brookhaven’s financial demise because all the traffic will be on Brookhaven roads.”
Smith, who lives on Stony Brook Road and works from home as a business consultant, said another issue is that the property borders 25A, which is a historic corridor, and she is concerned its value as such will be jeopardized. She said the goal of the coalition is not to impede development but to demand a better master plan when it comes to properties such as Gyrodyne’s and the areas that surround it.
“If we are going to develop it, and it’s certainly the right of that landowner to do that, let’s do it smartly,” she said. “Let’s do it with sustainability, and let’s do it with community input and let the other local officials from the Town of Brookhaven understand what’s going on and let them have a say in it, too. Because it’s going to affect the Town of Brookhaven, even though it’s in the township of Smithtown.”
Romaine said he is also concerned with added traffic on Route 25A, pointing to the intersection of the state thoroughfare with Stony Brook Road where bends in the road cause limited sight issues. He said both are beyond their capacity.
“In my view we have too much traffic and congestion now, and I want to make sure we don’t have any additional,” Romaine said.
George Hoffman, co-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Route 25A, which conducted visioning meetings for residents in the Three Village area earlier this year, was also in attendance at the Oct. 4 meeting. He echoed Smith’s sentiments that there should have been more input from the community. He said he hopes Smith is successful in getting others involved in the coalition.
“Maybe this is the issue that gets us all at the same table to start working in a uniformed way where we start to talk,” Hoffman said. “I really think we need that.”
Romaine also sent a letter Sept. 20 to Smithtown Planning Board Chairman Conrad Chayes expressing his concerns and recommendations. He said while the county did not require a traffic study and only recommended one, he has faith that Smithtown will mandate it. When it comes to developments such as Gyrodyne, the supervisor said he is willing to work with the state, county and other towns.
“To think that people can blindly put traffic out on Stony Brook Road without us putting up a fight, they are going to be sadly mistaken,” he said. “Brookhaven is definitely going to fight this.”
Requests for comments from representatives of Gyrodyne were not returned by press time.
Nico's Way serves as reminder of child's character
By Kevin Redding
After her son was fatally struck by an SUV earlier this year, Kim Signore of Miller Place feared 14-year-old Nico would be forgotten. But a new street sign on the block where the budding lacrosse star grew up will help preserve his memory forever.
The Signores huddled together alongside family, friends and elected officials Oct. 6 during an unveiling of the sign labeled Nico’s Way. The dedication was done on the corner of Miller Place Road and Islander Court in Miller Place for the boy who died riding his bike on a busy intersection on Route 25A in February. The street sign, which stands only a few houses down from the Signore residence, was installed by the Town of Brookhaven at the request of members of the family.
“This block is where it all began for Nico,” the boy’s older brother, Vincent Jr., said before the unveiling. “Nico left us too soon, but in the little time he was here on this Earth he taught us how to live life to the fullest. He will never be forgotten. We hope that this street serves as a compass when you are lost and can’t find your way.”
Kathleen Perry, a longtime friend of the Signore family, agrees the dedication is a wonderful way to help Nico live on.
“Nico just lit up this block,” Perry said, remembering the 14-year-old as the most kindhearted boy she’d met. “I think this is a great thing for the town to do.”
Nico’s aunt, Mary Alipo, said although the family will never be the same after the tragedy, townwide support is helping with the healing process.
“He was such an amazing individual and to see this many people who cared about him coming forward and serving as a support group is just incredible,” Alipo said.
Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) commended the Miller Place community for rallying around the Signores in their time of need.
“Thank you for opening your hearts and your arms to the Signores — I know you will forever keep Nico’s memory in your embrace,” Bonner said to the large crowd, including Miller Place school district faculty, members of Nico’s lacrosse team and neighbors, as well as Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R). “You have all been there to prop them up, hug them when they needed it and dry their tears. This is a wonderful community.”
An emotional Kim Signore held back tears as she thanked everyone in attendance.
“You guys are amazing,” she said.
Upon losing Nico, the mother’s greatest fear was that, over time, her son’s legacy would disappear.
“This is a way to always remember him because he was such a good kid — a beautiful boy inside and out,” she said. She laughed recalling the impromptu dance sessions to Frank Sinatra songs that Nico often initiated. “He would come downstairs in his lacrosse shorts, and no shirt and say, ‘Let’s dance, ma.’ He was a good boy. He loved this community. He loved everybody.”
The idea for a street sign initially came from Kim and Vincent, Nico’s father, and was carried through by Nico’s aunt and uncle, Kelly and Charles Butruch, who were in contact with Romaine and Bonner for most of the year. As Brookhaven policy requires a six-month window between a person’s death and public memorialization, a resolution for Nico’s Way was approved at the end of August.
Vincent Signore hopes that the sign will serve as not only a memorialization of his son but as a reminder to drivers to be more careful.
“I would like for people to be more aware of their surroundings when they’re driving and not be distracted,” he said.
Since Nico’s death at the intersection of Miller Place Road and Route 25A, there have been significant changes to the location to ensure better safety for pedestrians and drivers alike.
Around what would have been Nico’s 15th birthday in April, the road saw the implementation of a red left-turn signal to stop cars from entering the crosswalk when pedestrians and bicyclists are given the go-ahead to get to the other side. No turn on red signs were also added.
“It’s bittersweet,” Kelly Butruch said. “A year ago, did I think we would be here today? No, and I wish we didn’t have to be, but it’s the best way to memorialize him.”
Michael Lombardi, a Miller Place 10th grader
and lacrosse player, remembers his friend as an amazing person on and off the field.
A scholarship fund for Miller Place seniors who show exemplary spirit, courage and love of community was given out to two students this past May. The family intends to continue the fund throughout the future.
As the Signores and community members gathered under the sign, they shared stories of the highly regarded student-athlete.
“Nico was astounding,” Lombardi said. “He had a great personality — he was funny. He was always nice to everybody and a great player. Whenever we needed a goalie, he stepped up. He’s greatly missed.”
Another of Nico’s former teammates, Kevin Thompson, said his friend will never be forgotten.
“Whenever you pass the sign here and look at it, we’ll think of him,” he said.
In a new program at Yaphank Correctional Facility, Suffolk County inmates and homeless dogs are helping each other get a second chance.
Six men in orange jumpsuits lined up on the grounds of the jail Oct. 4, each with a shelter dog at their side, and took turns walking their four-legged companions around in a large circle, demonstrating the dog’s new socialization skills along the way. With a quick command, the dogs either sat, stayed or laid down. One of the dogs, named Bain, an 11-month-old Rottweiler, even showed off how he can help someone get back on their feet — literally.
The demonstration was all part of a presentation of Handcuffs to Healing, a pilot program that teaches low-risk, nonviolent offenders to train abandoned dogs — Rottweilers, pit bulls and German Shepherds plucked from the Brookhaven Town animal shelter.
The aim of the program, which started in mid-September, is to socialize the dogs well enough so they can be put up for adoption. But it’s also doing plenty of good for their trainers too. The inmates train the dogs three nights a week for two hours each day.
“We’re rehabilitating humans through animals,” said Michael Gould, the president and founder of Hounds Town Charities, who pitched the idea of the dog training program to Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco in the spring. “When I see inmates, I see humans. When I see these big, powerful dogs, I see animals that shouldn’t be in a shelter.”
Gould, a former commanding officer of the Nassau County Police Canine Unit, admitted these breeds of dogs are difficult to adopt out because they carry reputations of being dangerous. But they are caring, loving and now well-trained, thanks to the inmates, Gould added.
“These are among the best dogs you can come across,” he said. With a quick snap of his fingers, the dog at Gould’s side stopped and sat at attention. “Everything is low-key. There’s no crazy energy. It’s all about structure and love. Firm hand. Kind heart.”
Undersheriff Steven Kuehhas said he believes the program will reduce recidivism among the inmates, all of whom are serving a local sentence.
“This program gives the inmates the opportunity to learn responsibility,” Kuehhas said. He also added the program may help the inmate’s’ chances of employment, in an animal shelter or as a dog handler, after they leave. He called the program a win-win situation.
Jackie Bondanza, a Hounds Town representative and one of the program’s coordinators, said she’s noticed significant changes among the inmates and dogs since the program started.
“It’s been a very inspiring transformation,” she said. “When the inmates first came, they were all composed and didn’t want to be here. They’ve since really opened up and I think it’s helped build their confidence. Same with the dogs. These dogs would be sitting in cages in a shelter a majority of the day otherwise. This is incredible for them.”
The inmates turned dog trainers were chosen by the sheriff’s department under the criteria of being nonviolent offenders and being physically capable of handling their canine.
One of the inmates — Joseph Dima, 36, from Bohemia — said he was thinking of his own dog back home when he signed up for the program.
“To help these dogs find a home and owners that will handle them well — that was a big thing for me,” Dima said, referring to the pit bull he was assigned to, Carl, as a loving mush. “He’s such a great dog. People get the wrong misconceptions about pit bulls. He just wants affection. All the dogs do.”
When the dogs weren’t demonstrating their new skills, they were perched next to their trainers, being petted and rubbed. During the course of the program, the dogs live at Hounds Town Charities, which is housed in Ronkonkoma. Plans are in place to continue Handcuffs to Healing after the expiration of the current six-week program as those behind it seek corporate sponsors and residents interested in adopting the dogs.
“There’s nothing like a dog to help an inmate heal,” said Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who spoke during the event. “These are six dogs and six inmates needing a fresh start. It’s a tremendous program and one we’re going to continue.”
If passed, homeowners would see minimal increase in property taxes
Brookhaven Town plans to spend $294.1 million in the 2018 fiscal year, about a $12 million increase compared to 2017’s budget, though the town won’t need much help from the public to do so.
Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented his tentative operating budget for 2018 to the public during a meeting Sept. 28. Romaine referred to the plan as a “taxpayers’ budget.”
“My job is to bring in the most cost effective budget, and that’s what we think we’ve done here,” Romaine said, thanking the town’s finance department Commissioner Tamara Wright and Chief of Operations Matt Miner for their work in presenting a balanced budget. He also lauded the town’s AAA bond rating as a valuable asset in putting together a spending plan.
“We have a structurally balanced budget for the last few years and we have wound up each of the last few years with a surplus, which kind of distinguishes us in terms of our fiscal soundness,” Romaine said.
The increase compared to the 2017 fiscal year can be attributed in large part to the disbanding of the formerly incorporated Mastic Beach Village, which means some services provided to residents of the village will again become Brookhaven’s responsibility. In addition, health insurance costs for town employees are expected to increase by 10 percent in 2018, and contractually mandated raises will go up by about $1.7 million. The town’s debt requirements will be about 5 percent higher in 2018. Despite the increases, if passed, the spending plan would maintain all services provided to residents during 2017, though no new programs would be funded, according to Romaine. Less than $2 million in reserve funds were needed to balance the budget, compared to about $3.5 million in 2017.
A typical Brookhaven Town resident living outside of an incorporated village should expect to see an increase of about $11 in their town property taxes in 2018 from the town’s general funds, excluding special districts such as sewer and highway districts, which will still see minimal increases. The budget falls within the state-mandated 1.84 percent tax levy increase cap, meaning it won’t need to be pierced, which requires approval via a public vote.
The town benefitted from an additional $7 million in revenue than was budgeted for ahead of the 2017 fiscal year thanks primarily to the town’s mortgage tax and other building fees and fines. Romaine said the unexpected revenue allowed the town to anticipate higher revenues in crafting the 2018 budget.
Part of the tentative budget also includes a $40.2 million list of new capital projects to be funded by bonds and reserves over a four-year period beginning in 2018, including $18 million for road repairs, drainage, traffic safety and street lighting projects; $8 million to cap the town landfill; and $6 million for park and recreation facility upgrades and equipment, among others.
The town board will host a public hearing to allow the community to weigh in on the budget Nov. 9 at Town Hall. The full tentative budget is also available to the public on the town’s website www.brokhavenny.gov.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) got into politics to get things done. After two terms as the town’s leader, which came after a lengthy career working for the county, the 70-year-old Center Moriches resident says he still has a job to do.
“What gets me up every single morning is that I want to build a better Brookhaven,” Romaine said. “This town can look a lot better than it does. I have a sense of purpose and it drives me every day. While I don’t think my job will ever be complete, I hope to leave more good than bad whenever I leave this office — and I work every day to accomplish that.”
The incumbent supervisor will run for a third full term in Brookhaven in an election this November against challenger Jack Harrington (D), a Stony Brook attorney and political newcomer.
Romaine, the former high school history teacher-turned-county legislator, grew up in Bayport and Central Islip, graduated with history and political science degrees from Adelphi and Long Island universities. He said he devotes any time outside town hall to his two grandchildren. If re-elected, Romaine said he will build on his long list of initiatives to move Brookhaven forward.
“What gets me up every single morning is that I want to build a better Brookhaven.”
— Ed Romaine
Since taking over the position from former Supervisor Mark Lesko (D) after a special election in 2012, Romaine has helped pull the township out of its fiscal crisis to become the only municipality on Long Island to pay off all of its pension debt. For the last two years, Brookhaven has secured a AAA bond rating, the highest designation issued by Standard & Poor’s Financial Services of New York City.
A lifelong advocate for environmental preservation, Romaine consistently pushes for greener, cleaner living across Brookhaven and has been endorsed by the Sierra Club and Long Island Environmental Voters Forum during past campaigns. He also pledged a commitment to the Paris agreement in the wake of the June decision of President Donald Trump (R) to withdraw from the climate change agreement.
“I intend to defend the environment,” Romaine said. “I’m a big open-space guy. I believe in preservation because I do not want to see the wave of development that has swept east to west across this Island continue.”
Under Romaine’s supervision, the town created nitrogen protection zones to preserve local waterways, kick-started a multiyear project to convert all of Brookhaven’s streetlights to LED bulbs, opposed dumping of dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound and opposed plans to clear 800 acres of woodlands near the former Shoreham power plant.
In July, the town launched a food scrap composting program at town hall to reduce food waste and use the materials for garden beds around town buildings. Also, more than 100 abandoned homes have been demolished across the hamlets, the supervisor said, in an effort to stamp out eyesores and criminal activity in quaint neighborhoods.
“The thing I like most about this job is you can actually make a difference,” Romaine said, adding that successes are made possible because of a mixed-party town board — four Republicans, one Democrat and one Conservative — that he said votes together 99.9 percent of the time.
He made it clear he works with people of all parties and values common ground.
“It’s less about party affiliations and more about common sense and practicality, and doing what works,” Romaine said. “You’re not coming to put boxing gloves on. You’re coming here to do some heavy lifting and that requires teamwork. I am blessed with six good people who vote together, don’t look to create party differences or personality disputes, which you do see in other towns.”
“His breadth of knowledge is incredibly impressive, and I always learn something when I’m with him.”
— Jane Bonner
High among his Democratic allies is state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who was elected into public office on the same day as Romaine nearly 40 years ago. The two have since worked together on countless issues, oftentimes pertaining to preserving the waterways and natural environment of Brookhaven Town and Long Island as a whole.
During a recent interview, Englebright called Romaine “a peacemaker” who can draw people to their commonalities and pays attention to the things that bring people together.
The assemblyman also credited Romaine with serving as a conduit to Republican state Sens. John Flanagan and Ken LaValle, who have taken up the mantle of inviting local leaders from both parties “into the photo,” so to speak.
Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said all levels of government could learn a lesson from how Romaine leads Brookhaven.
“He eats and sleeps this job,” Bonner said, adding how effective she believes Romaine is. “A board that works as well as we do together benefits the taxpayer. His breadth of knowledge is incredibly impressive, and I always learn something when I’m with him.”
But for all its strength, Romaine said he’s not blind to Brookhaven’s shortcomings and, on a daily basis, asks himself, “What can we do to make this town better?”
He said he wants to dissolve many special districts in the town in order to cut costs and streamline services, push for better treatment and vocational training facilities for struggling drug addicts, and build better public transportation systems.
At the start of Romaine’s career, he taught history in the Hauppauge school district for 10 years and a parochial school in Cedarhurst for two, all the while writing grants for the school district. In 1980, he entered public service and became Brookhaven’s first commissioner of housing and community development before being appointed director of economic development.
Romaine was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature for two terms, in 1985 and 1987, and became Suffolk County clerk in 1989, a post he served for 16 years.
On the side, he took a job at Dowling College teaching managerial economics for seven years, then moved over to teaching history courses at Suffolk County Community College for another seven before landing at Stony Brook University teaching administrative law at the graduate level in 2005 — the same year he was elected again as county legislator of the 1st Legislative District.
“He will, arguably, go down as one of the most effective, approachable and innovative supervisors in the history of this great town.”
— Jesse Garcia
When he was eventually approached by Jesse Garcia, chairman of the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee, to throw his hat into the ring for supervisor, Romaine hesitated. He said he loved his job as legislator too much.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Romaine recalled. But it was the memory of his late son, former Brookhaven Councilman Keith Romaine, who died in 2009 from pneumonia-related conditions at age 36, that finally convinced him to pursue the position. “I knew if he had lived, he would have been supervisor. Unfortunately, while it’s usually sons that follow fathers, I did it in reverse.”
He said such personal lows in his life have helped inform how he approaches the position.
“The bottom line is, it’s a very short life,” he said. “I didn’t get into politics to call people names. I got into politics to get something done. This job has a lot of frustrations and I’ll be happy when I leave it, but I’m doing my time here because I still have a sense of purpose.”
Garcia said he’s glad Romaine accepted the job when he did.
“What separates Ed Romaine from the rest is just his ability to not look at challenges but look at solutions that benefit the people of this town,” Garcia said, commending the supervisor on his record of tax control, job growth and bipartisanship. “He will, arguably, go down as one of the most effective, approachable and innovative supervisors in the history of this great town.”