Village Beacon Record

Amazing Olive in Port Jefferson village is just one of many businesses which has turned to online orders as nonessential shops have been closed. Photo by Kyle Barr

After the pandemic caused New York state and Long Island to shutter businesses for months, Long Island moved within two days of entering phase one of reopening.

Hospitalizations continued to fall, with the number of beds occupied with COVID-19 patients dropping 31 to 343 in the period ending on May 23rd, the most recent date for which the county had figures. The number of people in Intensive Care Units battling the virus also declined, by eight to 111.

In the last day, an additional 18 new cases of residents with COVID-19 have required hospitalization.

At the same time, 38 people have left the hospital in the last day, continuing their recovery at home.

An additional six people died in the last day from complications related to the virus, raising the total in Suffolk County to 1,840.

Patients with COVID represented 64 percent of total hospital bed occupancy and 61 percent of ICU bed use, well below the 70 percent required for reopening.

“We are looking forward to hitting that first phase this Wednesday,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

So far, the attendance at the newly opened beaches has been light due to the weather during the three-day weekend.

“We are determined to make sure families and kids will enjoy a summer, even in the midst of this global pandemic,” Bellone said. “We believe we can do this safely.”

Bellone was also pleased that the area was able to hold a Memorial Day ceremony at the American Legion Post in Patchogue. The ceremony, which didn’t include the typical parades and moments to honor the service men and women who died for their country, was streamed live on FaceBook.

Bellone was especially eager to recognize the fallen service men and women this year, on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

“It was a pleasure to be there with all my colleagues, democrats and republicans,” Bellone said which included Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1), who, is a U.S. Army Veteran and also spoke at Calverton National Cemetery. “It is a time for all of us to be reminded of the fact that what unites us is so much more important than petty disagreements.”

Bellone added that, “we are all Americans and we are all in this together.”

Separately, as the county and Long Island prepare to enter Phase One of a reopening plan, officials cautioned residents to continue to practice social distancing and to wear masks when they can’t remain at least six feet away from others.

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron said he was in his office today, on Memorial Day, to continue to prepare enforcement plans for the area.

“I’m not certain how people are going to react,” Cameron said on the call with reporters. “I hope they are going to react with good judgment. We are prepared to act if necessary.”

Cameron added that the police department has been successful in educating people and asking for their compliance. He said officers have been able to convince residents and business owners to continue to follow guidelines that protect public health.

“If necessary, we will move to an enforcement phase,” Cameron said. The SCPD has issued summonses to a few businesses and to individuals.

Stock photo

Reacting to a stirring front page of the New York Times that included the names of people felled by COVID-19 the day before Memorial Day, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) took stock of all the county has lost, and protected.

The New York Times is a “reminder, when you look at it, of the fact that these are not just statistics we are reporting every day,” Bellone said on his daily call with reporters. The losses families, friends and caretakers have felt these losses keenly each day, causing an untold impact on the county, the state and the country.

Amid all the death and loss, Bellone said he takes comfort in the way Long Islanders have abided by social distancing and face covering restrictions, which has kept the unimaginably high death toll in the county — which increased another 12 to 1,834 over the last day — from being even higher.

“Thousands of people are alive today because of the extraordinary efforts” of everyone from first responders to business owners who have closed up their shops to reduce the spread of the virus.

Bellone urged residents to “continue to be smart.”

Bellone cited an incident in Patchogue at Dublin Deck on Friday night that included numerous videos of people crowding around a bar in clear violation of social distancing rules.

The owners of Dublin Deck have apologized on their Facebook page, saying said they had invited people in because of the rain. They acknowledged they were wrong and that it will not happen again.

“What we saw in those videos is unacceptable and not smart,” Bellone said. “Police are aware of that and will continue to follow up.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart explained that the owners were vocal and apologetic and that 85 precent of the patrons had cleared out by the time the police arrived. An officer stayed at the location until everybody had cleared and responded at other times to make sure it was in compliance.

Dublin Deck posted an apology to its social media site and indicated “there are no excuses when it comes to public safety.”

As for the viral figures in the county, the number of people who tested positive in the county in the last day were 162, bringing the total to 38,964. That figure excludes the 12,272 who tested positive on an antibody test.

Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 fell by 35 through May 22 to 374. That is the first time since Marcy 27 that total hospitalizations were below 400.

The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds declined by six to 119.

With 3,031 total hospital beds, the number of available beds was 1,041, which keeps the county on track to start opening on Wednesday. Similarly, with 230 ICU beds available from a total of 595, the number of beds occupied with COVID-19 patients is below the 70 percent maximum.

Over the last day, 45 people have been discharged from the hospital.

The county executive said four sites would be reopening for residents to purchase green key cards. The cost of the cards is $30 and they are valid for three years. The sites are at the east booth at Smith Point Park, at Indian Island County Park in Riverheads, at Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown and at Sears Bellows County Park at Hampton Bays.

Bellone urged residents to practice social distancing at these sites and to wear face coverings.

Planes from the 106 National Guard Rescue Wing flew over St. Charles and other local hopsitals May 16. Another flyover from the Bayport Aerodrome Society is planned for Memorial Day. Photo by Brendan Duffy

After 66 days stuck in New York Pause, Long Island is expecting to start phase one of its economic reopening on Wednesday.

“If we continue on this track, and we believe that we will, we are looking to reopen Long Island” on Wednesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “That is great news.”

Phase One includes construction, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, retail (which is limited to curbside or in-store pick up or drop off), manufacturing and wholesale trade.

Bellone urged residents to continue to wear face coverings when they are indoors or when they are around other people and can’t maintain a reliable six feet of social distancing. He also acknowledged that the reopening of the camping reservation web site did not go as planned last night, when it reopened at 7 p.m.

The site crashed amid a high demand which was built up by the long layoff from recreational and leisure activities.

Bellone expects to get the site up and running this week and indicated he would provide plenty of notice for when it is reopening so that people can book their reservations for periods starting after July 15.

This morning, Bellone joined residents at Babylon cemetery, who came out to place thousands of flags at the graves of veterans across the county.

Volunteers placed flags at the graves of former service men and women, thanking veterans across the generations and centuries who are all “part of this great American story that gives us and has given us our freedom,” Bellone said.

As for the COVID-19 update, the number of residents who tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours was 130, which brings the total to 38,802. That doesn’t include the over 12,000 who have tested positive for antibodies to the virus.

As of May 21, the number of hospitalizations from the virus declined by 16 to 409, while the number of people in the Intensive Care Unit declined by six to 125.

Bed capacity fell below 70 percent usage, with 993 beds available out of a total of 3,035 and 212 ICU beds available out of a total of 547.

Over the last day, 43 people left the hospital. An additional eight residents from the county died from complications related to COVID-19, which raises the terrible death toll to the virus to 1,822.

To honor the veterans and health care heroes, the Bayport Aerodrome Society, which is the last remaining public grass airfield on Long Island, will do a flyover with eight World War II era planes on Memorial Day.

Starting at noon on Monday in Brookhaven, the planes will fly over Long Island Community Hospital, Mather, St. Charles, Stony Brook, St. Catherine’s, Huntington Hospital, and Good Samaritan. The planes will end their flight over South Side Hospital in Bayshore.

Three of the pilots are veterans.

by -
0 319
SWR student John Basile works on the Wildcat Pause 2020 senior issue. Photo from Jean Branna

It was months before the start of the crisis, and the editors of the Wildcat Pause school newspaper at Shoreham-Wading River High School were anticipating the school year’s end and the annual senior issue. Last year, printing troubles resulted in only a few copies getting published. This year was supposed to be different. 

‘I will miss the relationships I have created with teachers and peers. Some of us went to kindergarten together, so it’s not easy to recreate the same type of relationship.’

—Brianna Cohen

Quoted in SWR 2020 senior issue

Then the pandemic happened. The schools were closed. Students started learning at a distance online, and for the editors of the Pause, a new concern popped into their heads. What would happen to the senior issue, the one supposed to cap off both their and their fellow student’s final year?

“It became obvious that we needed to have it ready,” said high school journalism teacher Jean Branna. The newspaper is planned to be available online and will be printed in time to be handed out alongside the yearbook.

What became apparent to both the teacher and school newspaper editors was this senior issue, the last of their K-12 careers, would mark a defining moment for so many of their classmates. What they were experiencing was historic, a disruption to traditional schooling not seen in more than a century.

It was a marking point for a graduating class which editors said has become tight knit through adversity, such as the students who came together in the 2018 high school walkouts, protesting gun violence in schools after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“The senior class is very close, we went through a lot of stuff in the past several years,” said Heather Tepper, co-editor-in-chief of the Pause. “To see the last three years taken away from a lot of people, you really see them react with deprivation and disappointment.”

Tepper, along with co-editor-in-chief Sasha Medvedeva, SWR senior John Basile and Branna have taken to the task of producing the senior issue come hell or high water.

Of course, nothing comes easy, especially in a crisis. The school newspaper crew is unable to use Adobe InDesign from home, as Branna said the program does not meet the data privacy and security requirements by state law. Instead, thanks to the technical expertise of Basile, the editors have started laying out using Google Docs. Normally just a tool for straight text formats, using tables and cells the students have learned to format the papers, despite limitations of the program.

The fact the students and teacher have had only three weeks to put together issue meant some long hours compiling pictures and senior comments, then laying everything out. Tepper said there was one night she logged on to see Branna was still working on a page at around 11:30 p.m. She told her teacher to “go get some sleep.”

Doing this project, she said, is as much for the students as it is to show appreciation for her teacher.

‘Be yourself and don’t sweat the small stuff. The years go by way too quickly to worry about the little things, and one day you’ll look back on those things and realize how stupid they were. Also, be yourself and never change for anyone because you’re happiest when you’re you.’

— Mike Casazza 

Quoted in SWR 2020 senior issue

“Branna is so invested with journalism in general, she’s so into her work, and I felt like I wanted to go out with a bang,” Tepper said.

But the hours have been worth it, as students from the journalism class take in the massive number of quotes from seniors. In previous years, when student-journalists would get comments from seniors wandering the halls, comments had been terse or simple platitudes. Now, while students are forced online, seniors became more verbose. To read some of their quotes is to understand the mindset of those graduating seniors, hurtling themselves into the many unknowns the pandemic has produced.

“I’ve learned about how their friendships, their experiences have changed with other people,” Medvedeva said. 

The senior was planning to attend Binghamton University to study neuroscience, but she still does not know if the college will even have a fall semester, or what shape it will take. Tepper was set to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and study advertising with a goal of going into public relations. Similar to her fellow editor, she also does not know what the future may bring. It is possibly the most daunting and most uncertain time for a person to graduate since the 2008 financial collapse.

Though in writing the senior issue’s editorial, co-written by both editors, what became clear was just what this issue of the Wildcat Pause meant to the graduating students. Medvedeva in hearing some of the anecdotes from seniors has “learned about their friendships with other seniors, of how some experiences throughout their high school career have changed them. It has just warmed my heart to hear those.”

Tepper, who shared in her fellow seniors’ anxieties over the future, added this Pause issue may memorialize the shared experiences of her classmates.

“I still think there’s something to celebrate, as things were taken away from us,” she said. “I think that given the unfortunate circumstances, we can appreciate what we had even more.” 

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon speaks during a media event Feb. 9 at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank. Photo by Kevin Redding

While jails and prisons across the country have seen a rise in COVID-19 in their facilities, the Suffolk County Correctional Facilities in Riverhead and Yaphank have seen significantly lower cases. Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon (D) credits early usage of face covering, frequent sanitation and social distancing practices. 

To date, only one inmate has contracted COVID-19 while at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility and one inmate entered the jail already carrying the virus. The average daily inmate population is 515. Less than 2 percent, or 21 correctional staff out of 858 has come down with coronavirus.  

The sheriff also reported four deputies out of 252 contracted the virus and only one civilian employee of 130 was confirmed with COVID-19. They only have nine coronavirus cases of officers. Currently, the facilities have no COVID-19 positives. 

Toulon said that since everyone is required to wear face coverings and that social distancing is enforced throughout the facilities, coronavirus hasn’t spread inside the two jails like it has elsewhere. He added it “should serve as an example” for the general public that COVID-19 can be controlled by following the advice of public health officials.  

“I think if more people knew how we have controlled the spread of COVID-19 inside the jails by wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distance from others, that people would understand that they do have some control if they take personal responsibility,” he said. “The mixed messages have put too many people in danger, led to further spread of the virus, and it has caused immeasurable damage to the economy.”  

In April, a state court denied the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County’s request to free around 120 inmates over coronavirus fears. The State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen claimed the decision was, in part, because of the jail’s success in halting the spread of the virus. The legal aid society was, however, successful in securing release of many other inmates held on noncriminal parole violations. 

The numbers are significant, especially compared to other jails in New York. The New York Times reported May 20 that 1,259 of New York City’s 9,680 correction officers and their supervisors have caught the virus, while at least six have died. To note, however, there are thousands more inmates in city jails compared to Suffolk County’s facilities.

Amazing Olive in Port Jefferson village is just one of many businesses which has turned to online orders as nonessential shops have been closed. Photo by Kyle Barr

As Long Island continues to take steps toward reopening and some sense of normalcy, municipalities are aiming to help small businesses and their financial futures. The Town of Brookhaven has created a post-COVID-19 task force for economic recovery in an effort to revitalize the downtown areas and help small businesses affected by the pandemic, many of which are receiving no income at all during this time.

The Small Business Recovery Task Force is made up of business owners, chamber of commerce representatives, business experts and other officials. 

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, said the task force gives them the opportunity to come together and be on the same page on how to help these small businesses. 

“We all have similar concerns and it’s important that we rally together and have a unified plan,” she said. 

The task force has continued to comply with feedback from local business owners. A complaint they have brought up is the state’s process of phasing in business reopenings.

“They could come up with a formula that could be based on square footage of a business and safety measures.”

— Barbara Ransome

Ransome said the state’s plan favors big box stores. While large retailers like Target and Walmart have been able to stay open, smaller merchants, who sell many of the same products, have been forced to close. =

“Those businesses don’t have that ability right now [to reopen],” she said. 

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and the Suffolk County Supervisors’ Association has sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) calling on him to come up with a consistent way of judging businesses. 

“They could come up with a formula that could be based on square footage of a business and safety measures,” she said. 

The group has also called on elected officials to help with insurance coverage issues.

Educating business owners, merchants and customers on social distancing and other best practices is another area the task force is focusing on. 

“It’s all our responsibility to make sure we are on the same page,” said Charlie Lefkowitz, the president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce,. 

One idea they’ve proposed is creating a public service announcement in coordination with the town. Lefkowitz said it would inform the public on safety measures, social distancing compliance and other information. They would also use it as an opportunity to send out a positive message of unity. 

“The hardest thing we will have to figure out is how we are going to social distance,” he said. “We are trying to help these main street and small businesses.”

In addition, the task force is looking at ways to ease the reopening process for owners. Capacity and the number of customers a business can serve could play a huge role in how they do so, given the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. 

Lefkowitz said he has been working with the town officials on a way to allow business owners to temporarily extend their store space either by permits, tweaking town code or drafting new legislation. 

“Some businesses might be able to use walkways and put merchandise outside, or they could set up a tent outside in the parking lot,” he said. 

The chamber of commerce president has a draft legislation proposal that would increase the floor area ratio of a business, which would help in making more selling space. 

Lefkowitz said restaurants were just one type of business that could benefit from increase in space. 

“They can be more efficient with indoor and outdoor space,” he said. “Whatever the capacity is, you may have customers that might not feel comfortable going inside.” 

Long Island has taken steps toward reaching Phase 1 of Cuomo’s New York Forward plan for reopening its economy, meeting five of seven benchmarks required by the state. The governor’s plan to reopen consists of four phases which include different categories. Restaurants are in Phase 3. 

“Whatever the capacity is, you may have customers that might not feel comfortable going inside.”

— Charlie Lefkowitz

Michael Ardolino, a past president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said businesses will be facing different challenges when they reopen. 

“How will places like beauty salons and barbershops fare when everyone is in close proximity to each other?” he said. “These owners will want to be able to get their business going.”

Ardolino said he could envision a scenario where those types of businesses take a certain number of customers by appointment only.  

“We will continue to monitor all businesses and may have to plan for what might be a new business climate,” he said.  

Owners hope business reopens sooner rather than later, with summer close by. 

“As the warmer weather gets closer it will be challenging to keep people at bay,” Ransome said. “We have to continue to push government leaders, need to continue to make these phases and hit these benchmarks so we can reopen. We don’t want to be going backward instead of going forward.”

St. James Memorial Day celebration 2018. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

After a Memorial Day weekend when beaches will be open under new social distancing rules, Suffolk County is on track to reopen the economy starting next week.

Camp grounds will reopen starting on June 1. Starting tonight, residents can make reservations to visit those camp grounds starting on July 15, which is “a positive sign of the progress we’ve made,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said today that Long Island was on track to potentially reopen. What that requires is additional contract tracers, which Suffolk and Nassau officials said they were currently working on acquiring, and a 14-day total decline in deaths. The latter is likely the most tentative, and will surely depend on no spikes in numbers in the coming week.

The governor announced he would allow construction staging on Long Island, in anticipation for phase 1 of reopening, which would allow construction companies to start up again.

Bellone said people often think of Memorial Day weekend as the start of the summer season. This year, as the county and state look to loosen restrictions caused by COVID-19, summer will “serve as the unofficial transition to reopening our economy,” Bellone said.

Bellone encouraged residents to participate this weekend in the first of the Suffolk County Veterans runs. Interested participants in the virtual race, which is free but accepts donations to support veterans, can sign up at suffolkveteransrunseries.com.

The Suffolk County Police Department reiterated its plan to enforce social distancing and wearing face masks over the Memorial Day weekend. The SCPD anticipates crowds in downtown areas and said its Together Enforcing Compliance (or TEC) Team would be on foot in downtown areas and parks. Marine Bureau officers also expect more boaters on the water than usual after the end of New York Pause and planned to adjust their staffing levels and patrols accordingly.

Bellone raised the white flag in his ongoing effort to honor veterans who are buried at Calverton National Cemetery and Long Island National Cemetery. After putting together a proposal about how the county could plant flags safely at the cemeteries, Bellone received several rejections, interrupting an annual tradition that began in 1995.

The county executive still plans to plant flags for deceased service men and women at 15 non-national cemeteries tomorrow.

Bellone provided the daily update to the viral numbers.

An additional 119 people tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of residents who tested positive to 38,672. That does not include the 12,013 people who tested positive through the antibody test, which indicates they had the virus at some point.

The number of hospitalizations from the virus decreased by 28 to 425 through May 20. The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit increased by two to 131, also through May 20, which is the most recent 24 hour period for which the county had data.

With 882 beds available from a total of 3,009, the occupancy is just over 70 percent, which is the target for reopening. The number of available ICU beds is 193 out of a total of 547, which means ICU occupancy is at 65 percent.

In the last day, the number of people who died from complications related to the coronavirus increased by 12, bringing the total who died to 1,814.

Separately, the county executive office distributed an additional 30,000 pieces of personal protective equipment.

Bellone said 16 sites at CVS drive-through locations would provide self-administered COVID-19 tests. Residents will drive to the drug stores and will receive instructions with the kit. Someone from CVS will observe the process to ensure it is done correctly. Residents will get results within three days.

The county had six pediatric cases in the hospital as of May 20, which does not necessraily mean they have the rare inflammatory condition the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking.

Gregson Pigott, the Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said the inflammatory condition caused by COVID-19 was still “very rare.”

The new east jetty at Mount Sinai harbor. Photo by Gerard Romano

After nearly eight months of work and years and years of consternation, reconstruction of the Mount Sinai Jetty has finally come to completion, with work crews having already moved on by mid-May and a few check-box items still to be finalized. 

Photographer Gerard Romano took the original picture Sept. 20, 2017. The latest picture was taken May 13, showing a dramatic difference in size and shape of the east jetty. Photos by Romano

The Jetty Project has been a long time coming. For years, both the east and west jetty have been largely submerged at high tide, with both water and sand leaking through breaks in the stones and settling into the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor. Port Jefferson’s East Beach has been seeing a rapid loss of sand in the past few years, and village officials have said much of that sand is ending up in the harbor inlet. 

In September 2016, the town received $3 million in a Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally secured thanks to the help of New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Last year, the Town of Brookhaven hired H&L Contracting with a $7.4 million bid to complete the project. The construction workers worked through the winter months repairing and replacing stones on both the east and west sides of the jetty. That number was revised in late February, with an additional $868,000 for a total contract amount of $8,297,782.50. Construction began last September and ramped up over the following months.

Photographer Gerard Romano took the original picture Sept. 20, 2017. The latest picture was taken May 13, showing a dramatic difference in size and shape of the east jetty. Photos by Romano

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who has been the main town point-person on the project for over a decade, said the extra funds were for extra contingencies, but the final project still comes in under the original estimates of $10 million.

With this part of the project complete, the last step is for Suffolk County to complete dredging of the inlet. 

Joe Palumbo, the Port Jefferson village administrator, said they have not yet heard word from the county about dredging.

“This is a project the village is monitoring closely and will continue to,” Palumbo said.

Bonner added that the new jetty will not only be a boon to the beachgoers and boaters, but to the surrounding wildlife. The broken jetties have caused issues with the harbor’s ability to “flush” or how the water flows in and out of Long Island Sound.

“That’s the most significant part of this,” the councilwoman said.

SWR Assistant Superintendent Glen Arcuri talks to the school board about precautions the district has made toward COVID-19. Photo by Kyle Barr

With school district budgets and board elections on the docket for June 9 with an extension from New York State, this year’s crop of district spending and revenue plans have had to contend with many unknowns.

In fact, budgets may change from now until June 1, as the current pandemic holds much in the air. COVID-19, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) estimates, could result in approximately $61 billion less revenue for New York State from 2021 to 2024. The hope rests on the federal government supplying the state with emergency funding.

“It’s very, very hard to plan for the unknown,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations at the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District.

The governor has three look-back periods for revising state aid. The last period is Dec. 31.

Though one certainty is the start of next school year will weigh heavily on officials, as many still do not know when students will again walk through facilities’ doors.

Additionally, complicating this year’s votes is everything must be done outside of polling locations. Suffolk County Board of Elections, based on an executive order, will mail ballots to each residence with a prepaid return envelope.

There are still many unknowns, even as districts craft budgets. Nobody could say whether students will have a fall sports season, whether students would have to wear masks and remain apart in the classroom, or whether there will even be the chance for students to learn in-person, instead of online.

Numbers floated by Cuomo for state aid reductions have not inspired much hope. The governor said without state aid, school districts could see an upward of 50 percent reduction.

“A 50 percent reduction would be very painful for our school district, it would be insurmountable for any other school district,” said Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister.

All that comes down to whether the federal government will provide aid to the state for it to maintain current budget figures.

All budget information provided is the latest from the school districts, though if it does change based on any state decisions, an update to this article will appear in the June 4 issue.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai residents will see a marginal increase in budget but only a slight increase in taxes, despite the lingering question whether students will even be in school next September. The district voted to approve its budget at its May 18 board meeting.

The 2020-21 budget sees a $61,769,870 budget, a $760,100 and 1.25 percent increase from last year. The tax levy is set at $41,396,602, an increase of 1 percent and well below the 2.43 percent cap set by New York State.

The largest increases come in the form of operations and maintenance by just over $84,000 because of contractual obligations, as well as oil and electric increases. Employee benefits increased by $272,695, mostly from employee and teacher retirement requirements. 

“Every participant in the retirement system is given percentages based on the market performances from the comptroller’s office,” said board president Robert Sweeney.

Though much of the budget remains the same in presentations from the past 3 months, officials said that this year’s budget has had to account for the fact many, many residents have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. 

“Our community is not in the same financial position five weeks ago,” said Superintendent Gordon Brosdal.

A second proposition the district will ask voters to approve $1.2 million for capital projects from the reserves. This does not increase the tax levy.

Current projects still include continuing the high school roof replacement for $865,000, replacing the middle school water heater for $100,000, among others for a total of $1,200,000. 

The district is currently set to receive $17,653,079 in state aid this upcoming school year, a some $135,000 decrease from last year. Brosdal said it was due to decreased building aid from continuing to pay off loans and bonds from building projects.

Brosdal said the question of whether the governor will cut state aid, that is still up in the air, could mean massive upheaval for the district.

“He has talked about a further 20 percent school aid cut, which would be devastating, devastating,” Brosdal said. “Things are not what they were, this is a brand new game.” 

Should the state budget change mid-year, that would also cause issues for the district, the superintendent said, as they would then have to revise the budget midstream, potentially leading to staffing cuts and program changes.

Brosdal, who in his time working from home has grown a mustache since the start of quarantine, also added, “I need to go back to school because I need to shave.”

Mount Sinai will host its budget hearing June 2 at 8 p.m. A link to the online meeting can be found at mtsinai.k12.ny.us. Votes must be received by June 9 at 8 p.m.

Miller Place

For a budget that was originally meant to be displayed and voted on earlier this month, not much has changed between then and the pandemic which has pushed the vote back to May 9. 

The district adopted its budget at its March 17 emergency meeting, but has reallocated resources in order to better meet the needs of students as they handle distance learning, and potentially when they are allowed back into school buildings.

“We reviewed all of our expenditures reallocated from areas that we can regress,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano.

The budget for 2020-21 is set at $75,713,895, a $1,755,288 or 2.37 percent increase from last year. Though the district also cites using about a million dollars in capital project funding, which would mean this year’s increase is $754,612, or just over 1 percent.

The largest increases come from the usual suspects such as a $390,137 or 2.38 percent increase in employee benefits and a $134,659 increase in health insurance budget.

The district’s 2020-21 tax levy, or the amount of money the district raises through area taxes, is set at $47,616,059, which sits directly at the state tax cap limit for this year of 1.46 percent. It’s an increase of $687,471 from last year.

Miller Place’s state aid was set at $23,144,911, but the district also has leftover building aid of $792,666 and will be receiving an additional $208,010 for 2020-21. Cartisano said that million or so dollars came in response to the high school gym floor, which was remedied last September. Now that aid, along with saved funds, will be used to help offset any potential reductions in state aid, should the state revise its budget somewhere down the line. 

“It’s not an advantageous place to be in to have a huge unknown, but we are fortunate that we can plan for it — the school district is very financially solid,” the superintendent said. 

In terms of programming for this upcoming year, the district plans to continue with all current classes and clubs along with adding more time to middle school math labs and new courses of AP Calculus BC and non-regents chemistry. These two new courses are being funded by reallocation of resources and will only run if there are enough students enrolled. 

The budget also adds elementary sections in an effort to lower class sizes in the third, fifth and sixth grades. These sections were seeing an average of 26 students before, but that will be reduced to 22 or 24.

The district is also adding an extra 10 minutes of “specials” time in the elementary school, or the daily activities where one day may be gym and the next day art. These activities are going from 30 to 40 minutes for physical education, art, music or library time.

The district has also allocated for a 1 to 1 technology initiative with each student receiving a district laptop or otherwise electronic device, which will also go towards distance learning if state mandates remain in place. Going along with this thought, the high school will receive an additional 3:05 p.m. late bus for students who stay after school for extra help. In addition, the district is adding two counselors to expand mental health options and assist with the transition back to classes.

This is alongside an overall enrollment that continues on the gradual declining trend. May 2019 saw a size of 2,581 students. Next year is projected to have 2,531.

Miller Place is hosting its budget hearing May 26 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Residents can go to the district website millerplace.k12.ny.us/District to find the link. All mail in ballots must be received by 5 p.m. June 9.

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point Union Free School District adopted its budget at its May 19 board meeting, though the 2020-21 budget has seen some significant reductions since it was last seen by board members in April.

Things have changed since then, with a reduction in New York State aid resulting in an even larger cut in overall budget by some $2.1 million to the new 2020-21 total of $84,586,600.

The reductions in budget coincides with a loss of state aid funds compared to last year, seeing a reduction of nearly $1.5 million. 

Expenditure decreases are across the board to reach the reduced budget. This is also to reduce the budget thanks to a tax levy cap of just 0.08 percent this year, a figure Christopher Van Cott, assistant superintendent for business, said was due to expiring debt service, which is no longer allowed as an exclusion. The budget sets the tax levy, or the amount the district raises in area taxes, at $52,483,059, setting itself directly at the tax cap, and is a very slight increase from last year’s figure. 

Van Cott said the district is “taking a very conservative approach” toward this year’s budget, adding there will be cuts in several areas while still being able to maintain current instructional programming, along with athletic and cocurricular programs.

“We looked at staffing and enrollment, and made decisions based on that enrollment, looking for different ways to deliver the same service in more economical ways,” Van Cott said. “Despite fiscal challenges, and lack of guidance and the numbers we need from the state, we were able to achieve budget goals.”

There are cuts across the board, though the biggest decreases are from administration and central services, as well as a $250,000 decrease in athletics and PPS. Van Cott said the district plans to reduce the number of sports teams at the middle school level. Though not removing any sports from the roster, multiple sports that have two teams will be reduced to one, Van Cott said. 

The district is also planning to use the capital reserves to repave the front driveway area in front of the high school with a cost not to exceed $350,000. Rocky Point’s current reserve balance is set at $1,590,368. In a separate proposition to the budget, the district will be asking residents to vote to gain access to the funds. The capital reserve does not increase the tax levy. 

The potential the state could further reduce state aid is real, and Van Cott said the district is looking to use its capital reserves, along with the described expenditures reductions, to plug any holes that come up. If state aid does not decrease, he added some of those staff positions expected to make reductions in might not have to be.

Rocky Point is hosting its budget hearing June 2 at 6 p.m., but residents will also be mailed a budget brochure and six-day notice shortly after. That same document will be available at the district website May 26. Ballots are due by 5 p.m. June 9. 

File Photo

Shoreham-Wading River

SWR’s 2020-21 budget boasts it will maintain all current programming despite looming fears state aid will be cut in the near or distant future. The district adopted the revised budget at its May 19 meeting.

The district’s $77,164,774 budget is a 1.6 percent increase from last year’s $75,952,416. The year’s tax levy, or the amount of funds raised from resident taxes, would stand at $55,391,167, a $1,013,510 increase from 2019-20.

This tax levy represents an overall decrease from what the district showed in its March presentations by almost $300,000.

Though the district boasts its maintaining its programming, the overall cuts to the planned budget have left an impact. Recent program initiatives, including several new art, wellness, jazz band and world languages clubs, have been axed. The planned SWR 101 class, which would have been a new kind of basic overview class for incoming freshmen, is no longer on the table for the year’s budget. Replacement equipment for the Wading River school’s gym wall pads and outdoor basketball hoops, as well as middle school smart classroom furniture and high school volleyball standards will not arrive as originally planned. In addition, travel and conference funding will be reduced by 50 percent if the budget is approved.

Assistant superintendent Arcuri said those funds are being redirected to applying additional “structural” support for distance learning due to COVID-19, as well as additional sanitizing equipment and supplies. He added, optimistically, there’s a possibility if funding stabilizes bringing in these proposed clubs mid-year.

The budget relies on a $12,789,308 state aid package, which would be a $112,843 increase from last year. To make room for the very real potential the state could make cuts to state aid midyear in the fall, the district has placed certain items in the budget that would not be purchased before Dec. 31, including multiple infrastructure projects at Miller Avenue elementary and the middle school, as well as work on the districtwide grounds and asphalt repairs.  

“These are not items that are absolutely essential,” Arcuri said. “They are important to get completed, but they are not more important than losing instructional support or any student related program and/or any staff within the district.”

Of course, with so much still unknown, the district does not know if the approximately $5,235,229 of a $24,114,734 five-year contract with bus company First Student will even be used.

The district is planning to host its budget hearing presentation May 26. For mail-in ballots, all must be received in the clerk’s office by 5 p.m., June 9.

Photo by Rita J. Egan 2018

Frustrated by a Veterans Affairs office that has denied his repeated requests to conduct flag planting at Suffolk County’s two national cemeteries over Memorial Day weekend, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is asking President Donald Trump (R) to get involved.

“I’m asking for his support once again on an incredibly important issue in this moment,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

Bellone thanked U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) and Trump for their help in securing personal protective equipment for the county and for helping to ensure that the county can tap into the municipal liquidity fund, which will allow the county to provide temporary property tax relief until July 15.

Without help from the president, Bellone said he is “afraid that a tradition that goes back a quarter of a century will end this Memorial Day weekend.”

Even if the county can’t place flags at Calverton National Cemetery and Long Island National Cemetery, Bellone and the county plan to place flags at 15 cemeteries. The County Executive is still looking for volunteers, who can sign up through his facebook page at facebook.com/SteveBellone. He is also looking for a donation of 3,500 8×12 inch or 12 x 18 inch flags in good condition.

Separately, the county executive indicated that Suffolk County residents shouldn’t expect fireworks displays in July to celebrate Independence Day.

“We know reopening our economy safely and being able to sustain that is directly connected to keeping our curve flat,” Bellone said. “Opening back up to mass gatherings” which would include July 4th fireworks “would undermine our goals.”

Viral Numbers

Hospitalizations continue to decline. The number of people in Intensive Care Units has declined by 29 through May 19 to 129, which is the “largest decline the county has seen” in a while, Bellone said.

The number of people who are hospitalized was 453, which is a decline from two days earlier, when the number was 497.

In the past day, 53 people have come home from the hospital.

The number of deaths due to complications from COVID-19 rose by 11 to 1,802.

The number of people who tested positive for the virus increased by 142 over the last day, rising to 38,553. That doesn’t include the 11,461 people who have tested positive for antibodies to the virus.

Stony Brook Update

Stony Brook is cutting back the hours of its drive-through testing site in the South P lot. It will be open from 8 a..m until 6 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday. Residents must make appointments in advance through the New York State Department of Health Hotline, at 888-364-3065 or at coronavirus.health.nygov/covid-19-testing. The site will not accept walk ins.

Finally, America’s Got Talent Golden Buzzer and Apollo Theater Competition Grand Prize Winner Christian Guardino will perform tonight at 8 p.m. at the entrance to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

The performance is for hospital personnel only.

The musical tribute will include a light show.