Town of Huntington

Neighbors near the Del Vino Vineyards on Norwood Road in Northport are struggling with traffic congestion and other concerns related to vineyard operations. Photo from Norwood Community Watch Group

After numerous residents complained about parking, traffic congestion and safety concerns on neighborhood streets around the Del Vino Vineyards in Northport, officials unanimously voted at an Oct. 16 board meeting to adopt parking restrictions to certain residential streets.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (R), who co-sponsored the resolution, said they recently met with the vineyard’s neighbors to discuss the parking problems in their neighborhood. 

“This is something we wanted, but now what do we do about street parking for us.”

— Tom Ryan

“The no-parking signs should be installed by the end of the month and we are hopeful that the signs will be effective in addressing these issues,” Cuthbertson said. 

The restrictions prohibit parking around the vineyard on both sides of Norwood Road between Starlit Drive and Russell Court as well as both sides of Starlit Drive 700 feet south of Norwood Road. The no-parking zones, which officially take effect as soon as the signs go up, will be enforced Monday to Friday from 4 to 11 p.m. and weekends from 1 to 11 p.m. Also, parking on Sound Court is prohibited at all times. 

Tom Ryan, who has lived on Norwood Road for the past nine years, and has advocated for parking restrictions along with other neighbors, said the approved changes are the lesser of two evils. 

“This is something we wanted, but now what do we do about street parking for us,” he said. 

Ryan said the new arrangement was the best option to tackle the problem, because the traffic and parking situation on residential streets has gotten completely out of control with numerous tour buses coming and going as they drop off patrons near the vineyard. A steady stream of Uber and Lyft vehicles also clog local streets.

Anthony Guardino, a Hauppauge-based attorney and representative for the vineyard’s owner Frederick Giachetti, did not respond for comment on the approved restrictions by press time. He previously said at a Sept. 17 public hearing that the restrictions were unreasonable, and it would be only fair to adopt a resolution that bans all parking on those streets regardless of the time.

“We’re anxious for the signs, as of now we have resorted to putting up garbage cans, traffic cones and caution tape to deter people from parking on the street,” Ryan said. 

The tactic seems to be working, they say. However, neighbors on Starlit Drive, who are located closer to the vineyard, have had patrons disregard the obstacles and when asked to not to park in front of homes, they’ve countered that it is a public street. 

In the aftermath of the approved parking restrictions, residents who live further back from the no-parking zones are worried that the parking problem will shift closer to them. 

Ryan expects that the shift will happen. Residents outside the immediate perimeter of the new restrictions have already reached out to town officials to add additional no-parking zones to avoid pushing the congestion deeper into the neighborhood.    

Ryan said this is just one chapter of many other chapters going forward in regard to the vineyard. 

He and other neighbors are now concerned about additional capacity problems at the vineyard, since the business was approved to build a second-floor deck by the town planning board in September. 

Additionally, the owner has proposed in the past about adding 60-80 additional parking spots at the vineyard, which would increase the lot size from 120 spaces to up to 200. 

The vineyard has been a thorn in the side of many residents since it first opened in November 2018. Neighbors have said that the core issue is that Del Vino lacks adequate on-site parking, which caused the problems.

Ryan said it could alleviate some of the parking problems, but it wouldn’t relieve the patron and traffic congestion in the area. 

“The owner is someone who just continues to push the envelope,” he said. 

Some roads near the vineyard have become so crowded, residents said, that it only can accommodate one-way traffic. They have also complained that vineyard patrons pass-out on lawns and urinate in public. 

Community gathers at Northport Middle School for 'sickout' . Photo by Donna Deddy

November 7 should have been a normal school day at Northport Middle School, according to a letter that the district sent out to its families on Tuesday. However, community members organized a protest called a “sickout” Thursday morning because of ongoing concerns that date back decades with air quality issues in the building.

Most recently, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system installed in 2018 is being blamed for causing what the district calls “unpleasant odors” in certain wings of the building. That situation, the district states, has been addressed. After inspections, it found no visible cause for the problem. It has attributed the odor to heating elements being used for the first time and debris captured in drip plates on the building’s roof. No evidence of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, airborne particulates or mold was found in its air sampling, the district said.

However, children were complaining of “dead animal smells” that caused headaches, coughing and vomiting, and after decades of ongoing health concerns, parents, retired teachers and other community members are calling for stronger action.

“The building needs to be closed,” Tara Mackey said.  “No question about it.”

“The building needs to be closed, no question about it” 

– Tara Mackey

Her child’s blood work, she said, identified a clear pattern of carbon monoxide exposure that spiked during school sessions and cleared during school vacations. The family ultimately moved last June in response to the concern after what she calls a two-and-a-half-year ordeal.

More than 600 students attend Northport Middle School on Middleville Road. The district did not respond to repeated requests for information on the number of students that have fallen ill from the latest air quality concerns at the school. People interviewed for this report and state on Facebook that their children in the past have suffered with nose bleeds, chronic coughs to the point of vomiting, asthma and headaches.

Parents, who have conducted their own informal study, have identified 18 students who were diagnosed over the last 10 years with leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia, all rare diseases often caused by environmental exposures. Four children, they say, have died. 

New York State Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) has asked the New York State Department of Health to conduct a longitudinal study in response to the concerns in a Nov. 1 letter. Earlier this year, lawmakers requested studies, when they learned that five recent Northport High School graduates from the same graduating class were diagnosed with blood cancers. That study is ongoing.

Northport Middle School renovated wings of its school in 2018 to address ongoing air quality issues. Photo from Northport-East Northport School District

“We are continuing our review of cancers reportedly developed among former students of the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District,” said Erin Hammond, press officer for the state health department. “We look forward to sharing our findings with the community in early 2020. Any further investigation will depend on the findings of the ongoing review. Again, genetics, lifestyle choices and environmental exposure histories are all potential contributing factors for cancer and are taken into consideration in incidence investigations.”

Former teachers have also reportedly fallen ill. John Kobel said that he has skin cancer, prostate cancer, heavy metal contamination and occupationally induced respiratory disease after working in the science classroom in the middle school, where he said chemicals were improperly stored in a closet cesspool. The sinks’ drains, he said, also lacked traps as code dictates. The former teacher surveyed about 200 to 300 staff members and learned that 33 former teachers also have cancer.

Government officials have said in telephone interviews that they want to avoid public hysteria.

But the lack of adequate oversight has been a concern. Some people say that there is a cover-up. They say that district officials have not completed shallow and deep soil and groundwater testing on-site or published copies of the inspection reports for two 4,000-gallon underground storage tanks that store the diesel fuel for the districts buses, which refuel at the same location. They also wonder, when prompted, why the district decided against comparing the reasons for health office visits at the district’s two middle schools. They worry about underground plumes and exhaust from idling buses at the district depot on-site. There’s also been concerns about mold in the building. 

The site is also roughly two miles from the Covanta plant, a facility that burns 750 tons per day of municipal waste from residential, commercial and industrial sources. The facility, which began operations in 1991, also incinerates the combustible portion of construction and demolition (C&D) debris, light industrial waste, shredded tires, sewage treatment plant sludge and other nonhazardous industrial waste streams on-site as approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on a case by case basis. 

Covanta Huntington, also known as the Huntington Resource Recovery Plant, is a major source of air emissions in the region and is considered among the largest in New York. The region’s air quality for oxides of nitrogen and VOCs exceed safe standards, which causes asthma and other respiratory ailments. But the facility’s emissions are within all permissible limits set for the plant by the DEC. 

“It’s just not possible for Covanta to be a factor,”  James Regan, media relations director. “Other schools, the Fifth Avenue School, Bellerose Avenue and Commack Union Free Schools are also close by, and they have no odor complaints there.”

Prevailing winds, Regan also said, blow its emissions in different directions. The company, he said, will gladly host a site tour to show community members how the facility works and cannot possibly be the cause.

The Suffolk County Department of Health states that schools fall under the state’s jurisdiction. The state department of health states that “local school districts are responsible for monitoring air quality in its schools.” The state health department added that it’s available for technical assistance, if requested.

Through its public relations firm, the district states that it has reached out to the state for assistance. 

In the past year, the school has changed its refueling schedule for buses on site, renovated wings of the school, removed hazardous material stored on-site below classrooms and installed new ventilation equipment, among other actions taken.

The district stated in its Nov. 4 letter that the school board will discuss and approve more testing and form a committee to further review the situation at its Nov. 7 board meeting. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at W.J. Brosnan School, 158 Laurel Ave., Northport.

The district has documented the actions it’s taken and its correspondence with the public and teachers union on its website. 

The Facebook page Close Northport Middle School Long Island, New York states that more than 50 people signed up to attend the “sickout.” They are calling on kids to wear blue to school, if they plan on attending classes to support the cause. 

David Luces contributed to this story. 

 

 

File photo

It’s status quo in Huntington. Voters reelected incumbents to fill seats in the county Legislature and town council.

Andrew Raia and his mother Jo-Ann Raia watch the election night returns. He took more than 57 percent of the vote for town clerk. Photo by. Donna Deedy

The popularity of Joan Cergol (D) shined through on election night, maintaining a clear voter count lead as district results were reported. Eugene Cook (R) eventually took back his seat for town council, but early on election night it looked as if challengers Kathleen Cleary (D) or Andrea Sorrentino (R) might unseat him.

“It’s been quite a journey,” Sorrentino said. “I’m just a guy off the street who decided to run and became a strong contender in this election.”

In the end, Republicans maintain control of the town council with the same people representing citizens. And with Steve Bellone (D) cinching the county executive for a third term, it’s government as usual until the next election cycle.

The big change in Huntington: Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia, who served for 40 years, passes the baton to her son Andrew (R-East Northport), a state Assemblyman for 17 years. He stays in state office until Dec. 31 and assumes his role as town clerk Jan. 1. “I’ll be working two jobs for the rest of the year,” he said. “The first thing I’ll do is help my mother clear off her desk.”

He expects to leave state government with impact. On Nov. 1, he requested that the state Department of Health conduct a longitudinal study for the Northport Middle School, where students, teachers and staff have reported for decades poor air quality, enough to make people seriously ill. Some people blame the building for the school community’s high cancer rates and other rare illnesses.

Raia’s vacant state Assembly seat could trigger a special election. The process, Raia said, doesn’t require a primary. The governor, Andrew Cuomo (D), however, may opt to skip on a special election, since 2020 is an election year. The governor has 77 days from Jan. 1 to decide, according to Raia. 

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

People go to vote at the Albert G. Prodell Middle School in Shoreham. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Executive:

(WINNER) Steve Bellone (D) – 55.42% – 148,043 votes

John M. Kennedy Jr. (R) – 43.38% – 115,867 votes 

Gregory Fisher (L) – 1.18% – 3,147 votes 

 

Brookhaven Town Supervisor: 

(WINNER) Ed Romaine (R) – 61.52% – 51,155 votes 

Will Ferraro (D) – 37.42% – 31.113 votes 

Junie Legister (L) – 1.04% – 865 votes 

 

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent: 

(WINNER) Dan Losquadro (R) – 58.47% – 48, 624 votes 

Anthony Portesy (D) – 41.51% – 34,514 votes 

 

Brookhaven town council member, 1st District: 

(WINNER) Valerie Catright (D) – 57.36% – 8,647 votes 

Tracy Kosciuk (R) – 42.59% – 6,421 votes 

 

Brookhaven town council member, 2nd District: 

(WINNER) Jane Bonner (C) – 61.97% – 10,028 votes 

Sarah Deonarine (D) – 37.99% – 6,147 votes 

 

Brookhaven town council member, 3rd District:

(WINNER) Kevin LaValle (R) – 65.12% – 8,228 votes 

Talat Hamandi (D) – 34.85% – 4,404 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 6th District: 

(WINNER) Sarah Anker (D) – 54.32% – 9,715 votes 

Gary Pollakusky (R) – 41.05% – 7,342 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 5th District: 

(WINNER) Kara Hahn (D) – 63.1% – 9,763 votes 

John McCormack (R) – 36.88% – 5,706 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 4th District: 

(WINNER) Thomas Muratore (R) – 58.97% – 7,275 votes 

David T. Bligh (D) – 39.23% – 4,839 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 16th District

(WINNER) Susan Berland (D) – 53.89% – 6,501 votes 

Hector Gavilla (R) – 46.08% – 5,559 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 13th District: 

(WINNER) Rob Trotta (R) – 61.99% – 10,385 votes 

Janet Singer (D) – 38.01% – 6,367 votes

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 18th District:

(WINNER) William “Doc” Spencer (D) – 61.47% – 11,998 votes 

Garrett Chelius (R) – 33.81% – 6,599 votes 

Daniel West (C) – 4.71% – 919 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 15th District:

(WINNER) DuWayne Gregory (D) – 72.15% – 7,037 votes

Chrisopher G. Connors (R) – 27.68% – 2,700 votes 

 

Huntington town council member – two seats:

(WINNER) Joan Cergol (D) – 26% – 20,882 votes 

(WINNER) Eugene Cook (R) – 24.81%- 19,931 votes 

Andre Sorrentino Jr. (R) – 24.07% – 19,336 votes 

Kathleen Clearly (D) – 23.38% – 18,777 votes 

 

Huntington Town Clerk: 

(WINNER) Andrew Raia (R) – 57.71% – 23,804 votes 

Simon Saks (D) – 42.28% – 17,441 votes 

 

Smithtown town council member – two seats: 

(WINNER) Thomas Lohmann (R) – 32.35% – 14,076 votes

(WINNER) Lisa Inzerillo (R) – 32% – 13,925 votes 

Richard S Macellaro (D) – 17.36% – 7,556 votes

Richard Guttman (D) – 17.32% – 7,535 votes 

 

 

 

Community gathers at the Old First Church in Huntington to celebrate those who have conquered addiction and remembering those who have been lost.

The Town of Huntington Opioid and Addiction Task Force invited residents to join a special program Oct. 28 at the Old First Presbyterian Church in Huntington celebrating those who have conquered addiction and remembering those who have been lost.

 The program, “A Recovery Event: Celebrating Hope in Huntington,” featured first-hand accounts from those who have conquered addiction, information about local prevention, treatment and recovery programs, and a stirring performance by the Old First Church Sanctuary Choir.  Sharon Richmond shared her story about her son Vincent.  The ceremony was dedicated to his honor. (See page A5 for her story.)

 “Huntington, like every other community in America, has been hit hard by the opioid crisis,” said Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who sponsored the program with the task force. “We created this event to show that there is a cause for hope and that in fact that there are thousands of local residents who have found a path to recovery,”

The event drew more than 100 people to the Old First Church. A highlight of the evening was a candlelight circle to celebrate, honor and remember those who were lost as a result of their addiction.

Created by a town board resolution in December 2017, the Opioid and Addiction Task Force includes local health care professionals, educators and community leaders. It works to unify, support and strengthen prevention, treatment and recovery efforts within the town. Its goals include reducing the incidence of substance abuse, promoting timely access to care for consumers and their families, creating environments conducive to recovery and reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorders.

“Many of our families have been greatly affected — their lives changed forever after losing a loved one to addiction,” Cuthbertson said. “We know that substance abuse is preventable, addiction is treatable and recovery works.”

The town is hanging resource information posters around town.

“Somebody is waiting for you to come to them,” said Stephen Donnelly, who has sponsored different opioid services in the past. He encourages people to ask people impacted:  “How can I help you?”

For Treatment Referral List contact the 24/7 hotline 631-979-1700. Help is a phone call away.

Photo by Donna Deedy 

Sharon Richmond poses with her son Vincent D'Antoni in Battery Park on Mother’s Day 2016. “One day society will look back at this time period and think what a terrible atrocity we allowed to happen to our most vulnerable children,“ Richmond said. Photo by Sharon Richmond

I am educator, an advocate and most importantly a parent who lost her only child to the disease of addiction. Unfortunately, I know I am not alone. The truth is: I stand with more than 72,000 other parents who grieve the loss of their child to an overdose. 

When I speak publicly about addiction issues and look out at people, I see a small piece of me. When I look at your child, I see the beautiful potential of what could have been my child. If only mental health and the disease of addiction had the same basic human right to health care as other illnesses. I hope that by sharing my son’s story, I can create a future where all people are treated equally, no matter their ability or disability. 

My son Vincent was sensitive, kind, funny and insightful. He was popular, played almost every sport, and his teachers always said he brought conversations to the next level and stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I will always stand tall and be proud of the person my son was. 

The one thing that most people never knew was that, no matter how hard he tried, Vincent still battled with serious mental health issues: ADHD, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), anxiety and low self-esteem, which eventually led to a deep depression. Even though Vincent had a family that absolutely adored him and everyone he met thought he was handsome, smart and funny, Vincent … never saw himself that way. Children need to be taught how to communicate and be given a variety of strategies to cope in today’s world. We have to work together. It needs to be at the family, school and community level. 

Vincent started smoking marijuana in high school. Toward the end of my son’s life, he shared that “pot” had been his gateway drug to stronger drugs. After high school, he was hanging around with a different crowd. During college, his “A” grades started to falter. Then, he lost his job. Something wasn’t right. I searched his room and found what I feared most: Oxycodone had become Vincent’s drug of choice. We had heated discussions that oxycodone was extremely dangerous and addictive. He would show me research that denied it. As we all know, powerful companies can find ways around the law and can state just about anything they want and get away with it. 

The oxycodone amplified my son’s anxiety and depression. He began to isolate himself. He could hardly get himself to go to work or even out of the house. Vincent tried to self-detox and get drug free on his own, failing several times. 

Finally, Vincent agreed his addiction was out of his control. I had so much hope he was going to get the treatment he desperately needed. Over the course of just one year, prior to my son passing away, he would get denied by the insurance company over four times! 

The insurance company stated he didn’t fit “medical necessity.” First, he had supportive parents. Second, he was motivated to get better. By the third denial, I filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. They were able to get my son 14 days. 14 days … is such a short time to physically and emotionally overcome addiction, and certainly not enough time for Vincent. My son came out and soon relapsed. This time to heroin. 

After battling with the insurance company for months, they finally approved my son. Regrettably, unbeknownst to us, insurance companies are allowed to back-deny services within 30 days of approval. After detox and 14 days, my son was back-denied, stating he had no other mental health illnesses, was highly motivated to get better, and had a supportive family. He was crying that he needed more time. He was extremely anxious and severely depressed. They placed Vincent on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication, even though my son was denied treatment due to not having any mental health illnesses. 

My son was trying to get better. He went to out-patient almost every day, met weekly with his counselor, and attended meetings at night. 

In the next few weeks, Vincent stayed drug free … he was beginning to be himself again. However, without getting the services he desperately needed and deserved, my son relapsed and bought drugs unknowingly laced with the deadly drug fentanyl. My son Vincent had no chance. I lost my shiny star, my beautiful son, Vincent on Sept. 13, 2017. Last month would have been his 28th birthday. 

Vincent’s battle is one like too many others. In his honor, I advocate for change. He had so many barriers making it so difficult to get the help he needed: whether it be getting denied Suboxone for detox, incorrect information to determine appropriate services, or getting the Vivitrol shot to help prevent relapse. No one should ever have to fight so hard for the basic human right to health care. 

Insurance companies need to be held accountable. They need to cross reference information for accuracy prior to denying inpatient treatment. They need to comply with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Federal law states that anyone with a mental health illness or the disease of addiction should get the same basic human rights to healthcare as those who have regular medical conditions. 

I couldn’t imagine if my son or anyone’s child had a regular health disease such as diabetes, a heart condition or cancer that they would get denied the medical care they needed, if they had a supportive family and were motivated to get better.

Over 200 loved ones die from an overdose every single day. We don’t have the luxury of time. In order to create any meaningful change, we need you to be a part of making a difference in our community. Your voice needs to be heard. It is so powerful and very important. If you truly want to see change … Reach out to your local and state representatives, ask them what their action plan is, and hold them accountable. Let them know how important it is for you and your children to have a future where everyone has the same right to get the care they need to be healthy. 

It is my hope that by sharing my son’s story, I can raise awareness, encourage the importance of communication, education and most importantly equality for basic human right to healthcare. 

Sharon Richmond lives in Northport and is part of the Town of Huntington’s Opioid Task Force. She is also a member of the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force. She works closely with F.I.S.T (Families In Support of Treatment), LICADD (Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), FCA (Family and Children’s Association),  the North Shore CASA (Coalition Against Substance Abuse) and Nassau County Heroin Prevention Task Force. She is a teacher at North Shore Schools in Nassau 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. 

File photo

The town of Huntington operates with a four-member council and a town supervisor. Currently, the supervisor is a Republican and two of the four council members are Democrats. Six names are on the ballot for Huntington’s town council, and voters can choose two candidates to serve a four-year term. The outcome of this election will determine majority party rule. 

Two incumbents are running for reelection: Joan Cergol (D) and Eugene Cook (R). Cergol is cross-endorsed by the Green, Working Families and Independence parties. Cook is cross-endorsed by the Conservative, Libertarian and Independence parties. Challengers include Kathleen Cleary (D) and Andre Sorrentino (R), who is cross-endorsed by the Conservative and Working Families parties. Eleanor Putignano is running on the Green Party. Patrick Deegan is running as a Libertarian. 

Putignano and Deegan, though they are listed on the ballot, were unable to be reached and did not attend the candidate debate hosted by TBR News Media. Deegan later agreed to a telephone interview. 

In general, Huntington’s hot topics center on overdevelopment, water quality, parking and the high cost of living.  

Joan Cergol

Joan Cergol, after being elected in 2018 to serve a vacated one-year term seat, is running again this year for a full four-year term. A lifelong Huntington resident who has worked as a communications specialist, she is one of two Democrats on a four-member board. Cergol said that she considers herself an independent voice that works for all people in the Town of Huntington. 

“If you want someone with a steady hand and head, a warm heart, a strong work ethic, all driven by an overarching desire, in all decisions made and votes cast, to simply do the right thing for Huntington, I’m your choice for town board,” Cergol states in her public profile online.

Cergol’s top concerns include budgetary policies related to appointed positions in town government and the lack of affordable housing.  

“There’s no $1,500-a-month apartments anymore,” she said. 

She said the town can save money for cash-strapped taxpayers if it exercised greater restraint and followed a different process for town employees. People in appointed positions should be qualified and paid fair wages rather than excessive salaries, she said. She favors zero-based budgeting, a system that audits every job position to justify its value and necessity. She also thinks the town can do a better job tapping into available grants to offset expenses, rather than hitting taxpayers up for different projects. 

To address the housing concern, over the last year, Cergol successfully sponsored legislation that allows people, mainly the elderly, to rent out their own home, while living in their own smaller, accessory apartment on premises. The policy, she said, solves multiple housing-related issues, and she said it’s one of her proudest accomplishments during her first year as a legislator. Live-streaming and close-captioned viewing of town meetings were also her initiatives. 

Overall, Cergol considers herself a problem solver of issues big and small and knowledgeable on the mechanisms of government. She said she prefers watching other people cross the finish line, rather than being in the spotlight herself. 

The town, she said, is 95 percent built out. When considering redevelopment and revitalization projects, she said its important to evaluate the economic, social and environmental factors.

Eugene Cook

Eugene Cook has been elected to the town council for two consecutive terms and is running for a third and final term. He sponsored the new term-limit legislation and wants to be the first to leave after three consecutive terms. 

Cook was raised on Long Island and lives in Greenlawn. He’s a welder by trade and owns a building contractor business. 

The LIPA tax certiorari issue, he said, is the town’s greatest challenge and he is committed to pursuing all avenues to fight National Grid, who owns the Northport power plant. LIPA, he said, is out of control. 

Other pressing issues for Cook include overdevelopment. He’d like to see the Village of Huntington designate more areas as historic to preserve its charm. The best way to enhance the community, he said, is through the arts. He is committed to supporting cultural projects that keep Huntington vibrant. Quality of life issues, he said, is and should be a main consideration when evaluating development projects. These approaches, he said, place Huntington on the map as a destination. He opposed the proposed Villadom Mall project in Elwood. The site, he said, is now under consideration for open space preservation. 

To address ongoing need for additional parking, Cook sponsored legislation to purchase the old Chase Bank property at Gerard Avenue and Main Street, which will be leveled and converted to a 71-stall parking lot. The site is an asset, he said, that can always be sold if Uber and other shared drive services replace the demand for parking. Cook opposes the construction of what he called an unsightly, $30 million, multilevel parking garage, because the town may never need it and will likely mismanage the project. 

Cook said he is proud of everything he does as a town council member. Helping veterans, he said, is particularly rewarding. He recently connected the Hispanic community with the police to enroll 250 kids in a new PAL soccer program. The experience, he said, was heartwarming. He also likes helping all mom and pop shops address building issues or whatever their concern may be. 

“It’s my pleasure to serve the community,” he said. 

Kathleen Cleary

Kathleen Cleary is an East Northport resident with experience as a contract manager for Fortune 100 companies. Like Cergol, she said the town is bloated with patronage positions. Her experience overseeing projects to meet time and budget constraints, she said, will help bring transparency and ethical reform to Huntington. Her business administration degree, she said, will also help her streamline town operations through departmental and personnel efficiency assessments.

The lack of adequate parking in downtown Huntington is an ongoing problem. To address issues, Cleary’s ideas include implementing employee parking shuttles. She has no spot in mind, only a concept. Overdevelopment is also a top concern.  

Cleary opposes settling the LIPA suit.

“You can’t just sit back and let them walk all over us,” she said. 

She is impressed with community activism about the issue over the last few years. Because the Northport power plant is not an isolated case in one town, she said state government needs to offer remedies. 

Overall, Cleary said her people skills, experience with government contracting and navigating bureaucracy makes her a good candidate for better efficiency and cost-cutting in town government.

Cleary also has a background in horticulture and is a Cornell certified master gardener. These skills, she said, provides insights into how to address water quality issues. She’s been involved with Long Island Native Plant Initiative, the Huntington League of Women Voters and Keep Islip Clean Project Bloom. 

Andre Sorrentino

Andre Sorrentino is also a lifelong Huntington resident and owner of PAS Professional Automotive Services. He promises to bring the small businessman perspective to town council. He loves Huntington and said he believes in getting things done. He’s proud to be a family man. 

“I want to be the guy people go to,” Sorrentino said. 

Sorrentino has insights into the town’s highway department, where he has been director of general services since February 2018. In that post, he’s helped to beautify parks. As an automotive inspector, he said that he sees firsthand that the poor state of the town’s highway equipment needs to be addressed.   

Sorrentino said he feels a strong obligation to give back. He’s serving his fifth year as Huntington fire commissioner. He has gained a reputation in the community for his work handing out turkeys to families in need around Thanksgiving. Last year’s drive donated 2,660 turkeys. 

As a tradesman, Sorrentino said that he would like to see the town promote apprenticeship programs, an idea that both Cergol and Cleary also see as important. 

Patrick Deegan

Patrick Deegan is running a grassroots campaign with no money, no fundraising and just relying on support from neighbor to neighbor.  He’s running on issues of water quality and soil contamination that can potentially cause a health crisis.

He said he’s worn four hats in life: semiprofessional distance runner, business man, a talent agent and for the last 17 years an unpaid advocate.  

Deegan suffers from a connective tissue disorder that prevents him from physical labor but allows him research issues. Deegan said that he has been operating as a lobbyist, but since he’s not paid, he’s really an advocate.  

He said he has researched topics and has worked behind the scenes to address issues such as opposing the Villadom development project and raising awareness statewide on fentanyl. 

“This is what I’m doing with my free time now, “ said Deegan.  “I want to help people.”  

The job as town representative requires mental challenges.  

If elected, Deegan will strive for more community-based leadership. He praises the work of civic organization and people who band together like the Fort Salonga Property Owners Association, which opposes the golf course development.

“If a tree falls down, we don’t need to wait three days for the town to come,” he said. “We can get it taken care of.”

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.