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By Michael E. Russell

Michael E. Russell

What we do know is that often, history repeats itself. We tell our children that they need to learn from their mistakes.  However, we never seem to follow our own advice. So where are we?

Trying to get a handle on how to manage our investments is proving to be difficult at best. The stock market is following every comment by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, hoping for a guiding light. 

This past Friday, stocks dropped after a strong opening despite a solid August payroll report. The report showed solid job growth, increasing labor force participation and slowing hourly wage increases. Perhaps this shows that inflation may have peaked. The report was positive enough to unlikely change monetary policy. In spite of this the S & P 500 Index still fell 1.1% with the Nasdaq Composite down 1.3%. This capped an awful August in which the S&P 500 fell more than 4%. That followed July’s 9% gain, the market’s most solid month in more than two years.

Okay folks, the lesson for today is which month to believe. Is this the start of a new bull market or is it a bear market rally?

Let’s talk about a sector of the market that is extremely perplexing. Social media is probably the most influential innovation of the 21st century. Think about this. In 2022, if an event does not appear on a social feed, it never really happened! Most of Wall Street has been blind-sided by social media’s troubles. With every passing year, digital advertising is near a point where the market is saturated.

Case in point: Facebook. This stock, under its new name Meta, traded at $175 during 2017. This past Friday, it closed at $160. Over the past five years it traded as high as $380. As we have learned this past year, market realities eventually trump technology.  (Note:  trump with a small ‘t’).

I have not spoken about Crypto in a few weeks, so here are some thoughts. If Bitcoin is crypto’s answer to gold, Ethereum is the closest thing it has to its own internet.  For example, any person who wants to mint a new token or spend $150,000 on a Bored Ape non-fungible token, or NFT, probably uses the Ethereum network.

As of today, more than $3 billion in transaction volume flows through Ethereum daily. About $60 billion in crypto assets sit on its blockchain through third-party apps.  Other than Bitcoin, there is no network that is more critical to crypto’s infrastructure going forward.

A stock I have owned, Nvidia, has been a casualty of a slowdown in hardware purchases. Recently, on the company’s last earnings call, it was stated that the stock has suffered from a slowdown in gaming and other core areas. It was also stated it could not predict how reduced crypto mining might hit demand for its products. 

All of this new technology is growing way too fast for me. I am still having trouble learning all of the features on my iPhone. 

With school classes resuming and the holidays fast approaching, here are thoughts on some retailing stocks. Target (tgt) looks to be a cheaper stock based on its P/E ratio than Walmart (wmt). There is a potential for 20% upside from its Friday close of $164.  It trades at less than 16X earnings, while Walmart trades at 22X earnings — a 33% discount. 

On the interest rate front, it looks like Chairman Powell will be calling for two more rate increases of 50 to 75 basis points each. Banks will be charging more for car, personal, business and mortgage loans, while paying little if any interest on your savings accounts. Hmm, not fair!!

Just a thought …With the President’s new plan on school loan forgiveness, would it not be a good idea to convert your 30-year mortgage to a school loan? Probably not legal, also just kidding! On a closing note, I just cannot wait for the IRS to put the 87,000 new inspectors to work. Have a great September.

Michael E. Russell retired after 40 years working for various Wall Street firms. All recommendations being made here are not guaranteed and may incur a loss of principal. The opinions and investment recommendations expressed in the column are the author’s own. TBR News Media does not endorse any specific investment advice and urges investors to consult with their financial advisor. 

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By Michael Christodoulou

Michael Christodoulou
Michael Christodoulou

As you know, the stock market has attracted a lot of attention — and for good reason, as we’ve seen considerable volatility almost from the beginning of the year. But if you own bonds, or bond-based mutual funds, you might also have some concerns. However, it’s important to understand why bonds should continue to be an important part of your portfolio.

To begin with, let’s look at what’s happened with bond prices recently. Inflation has heated up, leading the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to help “cool off” the economy. And rising interest rates typically raise bond yields — the total annual income that investors get from their “coupon” (interest) payments. Rising yields can cause a drop in the value of your existing bonds, because investors will want to buy the newly issued bonds that offer higher yields than yours.

And yet, despite this possible drop in their value, the bonds you own can still help you make progress toward your financial goals. Consider these benefits of bond ownership:

Income — No matter what happens to the value of your bonds, they will continue to provide you with income, in the form of interest payments, until they mature, provided the issuer doesn’t default — and defaults are generally unlikely with investment-grade bonds (those rated BBB or higher). Your interest payments will remain the same throughout the life of your bond, which can help you plan for your cash flow and spending.

Diversification — As you’ve probably heard, diversification is a key to successful investing. If you only owned one type of asset, such as growth stocks, and the stock market went into a decline, as has happened this year, your portfolio likely would have taken a big hit — even bigger than the one you may have experienced. But bond prices don’t always move in the same direction as stocks, so the presence of bonds in your portfolio — along with other investments, such as government securities and certificates of deposit — can help reduce the impact of volatility on your holdings. (Keep in mind, though, that by itself, diversification can’t guarantee profits or protect against all losses in a declining market.)

Reinvestment opportunities — As mentioned above, rising interest rates and higher yields may reduce the value of your current bonds, but this same development may also offer you some favorable reinvestment opportunities. If you own bonds of varying durations — short-, intermediate- and long-term — you should regularly have some bonds maturing. And in an environment such as the current one, you can reinvest the proceeds of your expiring short-term bonds into new ones issued at potentially higher interest rates. By doing so, you can potentially provide yourself with more income. Also, by owning a mix of bonds, you’ll still have the longer-term ones working for you, and these bonds typically (but not always) pay a higher interest rate than the shorter-term ones.

It might not feel pleasant to see the current value of your bonds drop. But if you’re not selling them before they mature, and you take advantage of the opportunities afforded by higher yields, you’ll find that owning bonds can still be a valuable part of your investment strategy.

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Member SIPC

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By Michael E. Russell

Michael E. Russell

My wife Barbara and I were lucky enough to spend the past week in Vermont. A respite like this gives one the chance to see what is occurring in the economy from a different perspective.

Sitting on the front porch in the morning I watched truckers hauling lumber and building supplies up and down the road. I decided to check out the nearby diner to hear what the local populace had to say. It sure sounded familiar: prices on the rise, shortage of employees and a real concern as to the direction the country was headed.

However, restaurants were full, many of whom were New Yorkers! Other tourists were taking in the beauty of southern Vermont.  So where are we?

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise short-term interest rates by three quarters of a percentage point later this month. This will lift the benchmark rate to approximately 2.5%. The probability of another one percentage point rate by the year’s end will hopefully cool down inflation which is approaching 9%.

The market has looked favorably on the current moves by the Federal Reserve that were done over the past two weeks. In the short-term there have been some widespread commodity-price declines and other signs of inflation slowing.

The bond market has responded in a positive way. The yield on the ten-year treasury has decreased by one quarter of a percentage point. It currently is at 3.1%, down from 3.1 in early June. This includes a 2% increase in the past week alone!

The S&P is currently projecting earnings for 2023 at under 16x earnings. The 2022 earnings is close to the same number. What this says is that the current 2022 projection on the earnings yield which equates to profits divided by the current index level is close to 6%, twice the ten-year treasury yield!

Looking at other indices is showing that that there may be opportunities in area other than the S&P 500, which most investors follow.

The S&P small cap 600 is currently priced at less than 12x estimated 2022 operating earnings. This a number that hasn’t been seen in a long time. This index and corresponding exchange traded funds may provide for portfolio growth.

As I have mentioned in past articles, the money center banks have provided dividend yields ins excess of 3%. These dividend yields have given support to their stock prices.  Bank of America, Goldman Sachs trade at near book value. Citigroup, which has improved its balance sheet by controlling expenses and increasing its net interest income, is trading at half its book value.

Even though short-term earnings are not looking robust due to a drop in mortgage origination fees and weaker investment banking opportunities, all dividends appear secure.

What is Warren Buffett up to? This week he added to holdings in Occidental Petroleum through Berkshire Hathaway. He now owns close to 20% of the company in a stake worth more than $20 billion.

By the way, Berkshire Hathaway is holding close to $100 billion in cash and cash derivates I expect Buffett to put several billion into picking up value stocks.  As an aside, the $100 billion in cash will give Buffett a profit in excess of $5 billion annually. NICE!!!

In summary, where are we? Not exactly sure. West Texas Crude Oil has dropped to $98 a barrel, some “experts” are projecting a drop to $65. We can only hope! Mortgage rates have dropped to 5.3% and the June jobs number beat expectations.

Boris Johnson is gone, Elon Musk says no to Twitter, Janet Yellen threatens China with sanctions, China threatens Taiwan, etc, etc. Now Monkey Pox!!! Can we just catch a break and enjoy the rest of the summer? Sure hope so. Until next time.

Michael E. Russell retired after 40 years working for various Wall Street firms. All recommendations being made here are not guaranteed and may incur a loss of principal. The opinions and investment recommendations expressed in the column are the author’s own. TBR News Media does not endorse any specific investment advice and urges investors to consult with their financial advisor. 

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By Michael E. Russell

Michael E. Russell

The S&P rebounded with the biggest weekly increase since February. There have been some encouraging signs, specifically, that the Omicron variant may have less severe symptoms than the Delta variant.

A major concern is growing inflation. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has radically changed his position on fiscal tightening. This is due to severe price increases that we have seen over the past 6 months.

This week, at the conclusion of the FOMC meeting, we will have a much clearer picture as to what the FED is thinking.

This past week all sectors of the market were higher. Tech and energy were the leaders, while discretionary and utilities did well also. These 2 sectors were up 2.5%

The U.S. Department of Labor reported initial jobless claims fell again. The numbers indicated almost full employment.

CPI data which measures the prices to consumers for goods is used as one measure of inflation.  November numbers indicate a 0.8% on top of a 0.9% advance in October.  These numbers are troublesome in that they are the highest in more than 40 years. For those of us that were around then, think about the years of the administration of Jimmy Carter. As a side note, I remember that the administration sold the Presidential yacht Sequoia for $60,000! I thought that the Treasury was down to its last $60,000.

What to expect for 2022

Wow! So many things to ponder. Putin-Ukraine, China-Taiwan, OPEC, Southern Border Immigration.

The energy sector will be one to focus on. Gas and oil prices are already up 50%.

Supply chain issues will still be in the forefront. Cargo ships are laying at or outside the port of Los Angeles; some have been there for more than 50 days.  A shortage of chips, meat prices up 30%, vegetables up 22%, etc. With all of this inflationary data, the stock market keeps going up. The reason for this is simple. TINA! — There is no alternative.

I am a staunch follower of Jim Cramer.  I closely monitor what the holdings are in his charitable trust. Here are some of my favorites: Abbot Labs, Advanced Micro Devices, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Chevron, Costco, Ford and Wells Fargo

Costco is a well run company, opening new facilities in France and China as well as 19 more in the U.S. As I mentioned before, containers destined for Costco are delayed for up to 2 months. If the supply chain issue is resolved, the earnings should be even more robust.

Ford should be looked  at also. Their truck division, specifically the all electric F150, should add to earnings.

To summarize, the stock market should continue to climb with 5-10% corrections interrupting its upward momentum. For those crypto currency followers, I would expect some government regulation to occur.

From my family to yours, we wish all a great holiday and a happy and healthy New Year!

Michael E. Russell retired after 40 years working for various Wall Street firms. All recommendations being made here are not guaranteed and may incur a loss of principal. The opinions and investment recommendations expressed in the column are the author’s own. TBR News Media does not endorse any specific investment advice and urges investors to consult with their financial advisor. 

Metro Photo

By Michael E. Russell

Michael E. Russell

To the readers who have missed the Investing 101 column by Ted Kaplan, I have spoken to his lovely wife Elizabeth and will try to follow in his footsteps.

To say that present times are challenging is an understatement. Supply chain issues, higher gas prices at the pump, heating oil and natural gas prices are expected to increase by 60% this season. We have seen shortages at the supermarket and shortages of corks for wine bottles!!! We have housing shortages, federal deficits approaching $25 trillion. We have an economy that is still robust with 10.2 million jobs unfilled.

The 10-year treasury is now at 1.62% and  analysts are expecting an increase to almost 3%. We have not seen rates this high in almost 12 years. A key measure of the bond market as quoted in The New York Times expects inflation to increase by 3% per annum over the next 10 years. It appears that the Federal Reserve will have to take major steps to halt this inflation creep.

In spite of these negative factors, investor’s wealth increased by $9.7 trillion, 23.5% for the year!

That being said, the University of Michigan’s survey stated that this has not trickled down to the average family. Their economic outlook shows the lowest confidence in the economy in more than 10 years. What this says is that employment is up, wages are up, but their income in real terms is down. The Consumer Price Index has jumped 0.9% in October, bringing the year-over-year increase to 6.2%. The most in more than 3 decades!

For many investors, according to Randall Forsyth of Barron’s, the growing concerns about rising prices and interest rates present a problem. In this scenario, bonds may not serve as a buffer in the classic 60/40 equities to bonds portfolio.

Morningstar is looking for a 7.5% gain in equities next year while analysts at Bank of America believe the S&P will be flat.

With all the potential negative news out there, I still believe there are stocks with solid dividends that have potential for growth.

A conservative play is New York Community Bank, NYCB. This bank has over 1200 branches with a dividend of 6%.

I believe that the major energy suppliers are attractive at these levels. Energy demand is high and will continue to be so.  ExxonMobil, XOM, is currently trading at $63. This is 25% below its 5 year high. It is paying a 5.5% dividend.

In closing, let me wish everyone a healthy holiday season.

Michael E. Russell retired after 40 years working for various Wall Street firms. All recommendations being made here are not guaranteed and may incur a loss of principal. The opinions and investment recommendations expressed in the column are the author’s own. TBR News Media does not endorse any specific investment advice and urges investors to consult with their financial advisor. 

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By Michael Christodoulou

Michael ChristodoulouIf you’ve been investing for many years and you’ve owned bonds, you’ve seen some pretty big changes on your financial statements. 

In 2000, the average yield on a 10-year U.S. Treasury security was about 6%; in 2010, it had dropped to slightly over 3%, and for most of 2020, it was less than 1%. That’s an enormous difference, and it may lead you to this question: With yields so low on bonds, why should you even consider them?

Of course, while the 10-year Treasury note is an important benchmark, it doesn’t represent the returns on any bonds you could purchase. Typically, longer-term bonds, such as those that mature in 20 or 30 years, pay higher rates to account for inflation and to reward you for locking up your money for many years. But the same downward trend can be seen in these longer-term bonds, too — in 2020, the average 30-year Treasury bond yield was only slightly above 1.5%.

Among other things, these numbers mean that investors of 10 or 20 years ago could have gotten some reasonably good income from investment-grade bonds. But today, the picture is different. (Higher-yield bonds, sometimes known as “junk” bonds, can offer more income but carry a higher risk of default.)

Nonetheless, while rates are low now, you may be able to employ a strategy that can help you in any interest-rate environment. You can build a bond “ladder” of individual bonds that mature on different dates. When market interest rates are low, you’ll still have your longer-term bonds earning higher yields (and long-term yields, while fluctuating, are expected to rise in the future). When interest rates rise, your maturing bonds can be reinvested at these new, higher levels. Be sure you evaluate whether a bond ladder and the securities held within it are consistent with your investment objectives, risk tolerance and financial circumstances.

Furthermore, bonds can provide you with other benefits. For one thing, they can help diversify your portfolio, especially if it’s heavily weighted toward stocks. Also, stock and bond prices often (although not always) move in opposite directions, so if the stock market goes through a down period, the value of your bonds may rise. And bonds are usually less volatile than stocks, so they can have a “calming” effect on your portfolio. Plus, if you hold your bonds until maturity, you will get your entire principal back (providing the bond issuer doesn’t default, which is generally unlikely if you own investment-grade bonds), so bond ownership gives you a chance to preserve capital while still investing.

But if the primary reason you have owned bonds is because of the income they offer, you may have to look elsewhere during periods of ultra-low interest rates. For example, you could invest in dividend-paying stocks. Some stocks have long track records of increasing dividends, year after year, giving you a potential source of rising income. (Keep in mind, though, that dividends can be increased, decreased or eliminated at any time.) Be aware, though, that stocks are subject to greater risks and market movements than bonds.

Ultimately, while bonds may not provide the income they did a few years ago, they can have a place in a long-term investment strategy. Consider how they might fit into yours.

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Member SIPC.

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Rocky Point residents took to the polls in 2017 to vote on propositions to demo the old and rebuild a new North Beach Company 2 firehouse, and purchase a new fire truck. A new bond is asking an extra $1 million to go all the way. File photo by Kevin Redding

*This article was updated to include a link to the firehouse projects budget breakdown.

As the Rocky Point Fire District settles in for a $1 million community bond vote Tuesday, some residents still have questions about the process and what their tax dollars will go if they vote “yes.”

The district has scheduled a vote for Tuesday, Oct. 13, for a $1 million bond to help complete the station 2 firehouse construction. Officials have previously said that because of a delayed start, expanding construction costs and the pandemic they do not have the funds to complete the original $7.25 million project. 

The new firehouse along King Road in Rocky Point has been in construction since May of last year, but fire district officials said they need more funds in order to fully complete the project. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a Zoom conference call hosted by district officials Wednesday, Oct. 7, fire district commissioners, the project and manager and attorneys for the district answered the community’s questions.

Several asked if there would be absentee ballots for those unable to vote in-person out of concern for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but Fire District Chairman Anthony Gallino said having to count absentee ballots would result in a “delay in the process,” when construction needs to be completed by the end of the year. Officials claimed that New York State law under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive orders are unclear regarding special district votes. 

Fire District Attorney William Glass did not return a call for clarification before press time. Officials also said that if they waited for election day Nov. 3, the district would not receive funds until February next year.

The district originally asked the community to support a $8.5 million bond in 2017, where $7.25 million would go to the construction of the new firehouse. Gallino said they originally included about 7% contingency of over $500,000. This new $1 million bond is looking at a 25% contingency of about $250,000. Gallino added that any unused funds of the new bond will be put to paying down the bond.

“We realized that [original contingency] was not enough to cover obstacles so we put a little more in there for this building,” Gallino said. 

On Saturday, Oct, 10, district officials made a full breakdown of the project budget available. Documents show the district lacks $752,310 to complete the firehouse. That number is out of a remaining $1.5 million on a firehouse that is 75% complete. The district still has $500,000 in contingency bond funds and $293,814 left in money taken from the general fund.

Click here to see the budget breakdown, which includes the remaining amount of money left from the districts last bond.

There were issues on the project from the start, officials said during the call. The project manager they originally hired put out bids which were routinely around $1 million over budget. In Aug. of 2018 the district terminated its contract with its original construction manager. In February, 2019 they hired a new project manager, Devin Kulka, the CEO of Hauppauge-based Kulka Group, and were able to get started with asbestos abatement in May, 2019 and demolition followed in June. Materials and labor costs, especially with New York prevailing wage, also increased from when the bond vote was passed. The pandemic made things even more complicated. 

Documents show there were items that came in way over what they were originally budgeted for several years ago, resulting in the $752,310 shortfall. HVAC, for example, was slated for $600,000, but is now awarded at a $925,000. While a few items came slightly under budget, those overages make up the total of the $1.5 million the project is over by.

Kulka said during the Zoom call there was one contractor company that went under during construction due to COVID-19. He confirmed a surety company would be cutting a check for the cost between the work the contractor already did and what it wasn’t able to complete.

Gallino said materials costs increased by 10%. Some community members questioned what the cost could be on what has already been constructed, which now resembles a cinder block exterior, but officials said the price of prevailing wage kept costs high.

District officials said the increase of the yearly fire district tax bill will increase about $18 or $19 for the average house within the district. The idea of forking over more money during a time of austerity due to the pandemic might not be appetizing, but Gallino said this was the only means to construct the firehouse. Currently the station 2 company is housed in the old Thurber Lumber property on King Road, which is owned by local developer Mark Baisch. The developer allowed the company into the property free of charge, but plans to turn that property into a slate of 55-and-older rental pieces, and would need the company to be out by the end of the year.

“We’re also residents of the community, we understand that this was not an easy decision,” the chairman of the board of fire commissioners said. “We tried alternative methods, but we found if you want to finish this building on time, you need another $750K to get it done, I think it was the only decision we can make at this point.”

Kulka said the firehouse should be finished by the end of the year if things keep at the current pace.

Some residents are still not convinced, perhaps even less so because of the Zoom meeting. Shoreham resident John Searing, who lives in the district and himself works as a project manager, said he does not feel they were given all the information needed to make a decision as he listened to the Zoom meeting.

“I went into this meeting with an expectation that the Fire District would be able to clearly articulate the need for the additional 13.8%, or $1 million, increase in this project,” he said via email. “However, neither the fire district nor their construction manager or engineer could even provide a rough estimate of expenditures thus far, which raised many more questions in my mind about the future need.”

The bond vote is set for Tuesday, Oct. 13.  Polls will be open from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Shoreham Firehouse, located at 49 Route 25A. Voters are reminded to please wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

This article was updated Oct. 12 to correct the spelling of a name as well as add additional information from the budget document.

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

With nine projects currently on Port Jefferson Village’s plate, the board decided July 20 to put over $2 million worth of beach, road and facility improvements into a 5-year bond anticipation note, known as a BAN, anticipating more surplus and grant funds in the following years.

The nine projects are worth $2,364,216, though all are in various phases of development and the end costs on several could change. With grants and the use of otherwise existing funds, the village anticipates it will need to pay off $1,241,416 over time.

Denise Mordente, the village treasurer, said a BAN is a 5 year loan that has lower interest rates than a normal bond, with this one being at 1 percent. In that time between when a BAN becomes a bond, the village is anticipating to have paid off significant portions of what they owe through the grant funds or other surpluses.

Projects include:

• $118,562 for the Highland Boulevard retaining wall project

• $519,745 (with a $450,000 grant) for an expansion of Public Works Facility and creation of a emergency command center

• $399,250 for the East Beach retaining wall

• $711,150 (with existing $350,000 bond and $350,000 grant) for Station Street project

• $141,056 (with a $49,000 grant) for Rocketship Park bathroom renovations

• $125,603 (with a $73,800 grant) for Village Hall bathroom renovations

• $180,000 for the Longfellow Road drainage project

• $814,069 (with an existing $300,000 bond, $200,000 grant and $314,069 in parking funds) for Barnum Parking Lot project

• $230,000 for the digitization of planning department records

For this year’s budget, Port Jefferson’s $9,992,565 in appropriations was a 3.19 percent decrease from last year’s total amount. Not only that, but Port Jeff’s settlement with LIPA over the assessed tax value of the Port Jefferson Power Station meant the village will need to raise $6,451,427 from taxes, a near $50,000 increase from last year.

Mayor Margot Garant said in previous years the village has had its surplus carried over from year to year, which has been used to fund these projects, especially when grants often take a significant amount of time before the village can be reimbursed on said projects. This year, with the loss of revenues from the first and second quarters due to the pandemic, the village anticipates much less of that surplus into next year.

“We have a lot of projects in the works, but what we don’t have is a lot of surplus money,” she said during the livestreamed July 20 meeting. “We are three years into the LIPA glidepath and last quarter losing $350,000 due to COVID, we still closed last year’s budget with a surplus, but it’s just not the money we used to have.”

The village is currently working to pay off two other existing bonds, while one other BAN on the village books will be made into a bond this August. That original $1,480,000 BAN was created in 2016 to finance the purchase of a vehicle for the department of public works, renovate Rocketship Park and purchase the dilapidated structure on Barnum Avenue that will soon become a new parking lot. As the BAN becomes a bond, that $1.4 million has been lowered down to $720,000, and will be a 2 percent interest rate. The first payment of $85,000 will be due in 2021.

The two older debt services the village is paying off include a 2011 and 2013 bond with a total outstanding debt of $4,040,000, which are expected to be paid off in 2029. Both of those bonds were refinanced in 2019, which saved the village about $37,000 a year, according to Mordente.

The village currently has an AA bond rating.

The board also tackled the difficult question of potential future staff layoffs due to the loss of funds this year. Trustee Bruce D’Abramo suggested the village makes active strides in its budget and potentially even borrow money to reduce layoffs.

“I would like to see us make up for the projected revenue from the courts, from parking and from the Village Center — I’d like to see us borrow that money and make our 2020-21 budget whole for the rest of the year and not lay any of our good employees off,” D’Abramo said.

Both Mordente, in speaking with the village’s financial advisers, and Village Attorney Brian Egan argued that current municipal finance laws wouldn’t allow for Port Jeff to borrow in that way. 

“Everyone’s in the same boat, they’re up against that same issue,” Egan said, who added the village will monitor bills in Albany that would allow municipalities to gain access to additional funds.

D’Abramo confirmed the village should be thinking about such in the future.

“I would like the board to think about this, so we can keep all of our employees,” he said.

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Whew, that was close. We feared that a good ole game of Suffolk County partisan tug-of-war almost left us high and dry again.

Suffolk County legislators voted down 14 bond-seeking bills for various projects that have impact on the day-to-day life of residents June 5 and 19 on a party-line basis. The reasoning given was the 14 items were lumped together in three resolutions, which Republicans argued didn’t allow them to individually vote against projects that they didn’t agree with or may regret funding later.

For nearly a month, both Democrats led by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Republicans headed by Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) publicly bickered back and forth on how to approach county bonds. Each group held press conferences and made inflammatory statements as time kept ticking in the race against the clock to get federally matching funds for both the Wading River-to-Mount Sinai Rails to Trails project and repaving of Commack Road, among others.

It’s said all’s well that ends well, right? Luckily for North Shore residents, both the Rails to Trails and Commack Road bills received the bipartisan support — a supermajority 12 out of 18 votes — necessary to move forward at the July 17 legislative meeting. Most of the 14 bills were voted on individually this time around, the majority of which were approved.

Unfortunately, a few projects failed or were not voted on. Cries for funding repairs and upgrades to Suffolk County Police Department’s K-9 Unit facility in Yaphank failed despite the roof leaking, the floor having holes and the air conditioner and heating not working properly, according to Bellone. Republicans argued the planning should be done in-house rather than borrowing to pay for the project.

We couldn’t help but notice that a bill to fund $4.68 million for upgrades for the Suffolk County Police Department and county Medical Examiner’s office also failed. Another bill, one that would have given the Republican Suffolk County Board of Elections Commissioner Nick LaLota another term, as his time in office ends Dec. 31, also failed. The outcome of these votes seems to indicate that political partisanship is still afoot, alive and well, as all Long Islanders are aware that politics, too, affects our law enforcement offices.

A word of warning to our Suffolk County elected officials: While President Donald Trump (R) and our U.S. Congress play on sharp political divides to gain power and momentum, that’s not an acceptable way to act here. We beg, don’t take your political cues from Washington, D.C.

We — your residents, constituents and voters — expect you to rise above party politics and do what’s best for Suffolk. You must reach out across the aisle, discuss charged issues calmly and reach a compromise that best benefits all. It’s in the job description.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has called on residents to donate PPE for health care workers and first responders. File photo by Kyle Barr

Though the fight over lump bonding in the Suffolk County Legislature is not over yet, both parties are looking to find common ground.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the county would be offering un-lumped bond resolutions for the next legislative session July 17, after a series of bond-seeking bills for various projects were voted down on a party-line vote last month.

“Unfortunately we have seen the creeping into Suffolk County of national style politics that has delivered abuse in Washington – which is a shame because we haven’t had that in Suffolk, particularly when it comes to funding of critically important and even routine capital projects,” Bellone said. “I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

Bellone mentioned several bond resolutions that will be up for vote come July 17. One includes funding for repaving on Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. Two other major projects include $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees, and $8.82 million in funds for the Rails to Trails project that will establish a trail from Wading River to Mount Sinai on grounds that used to host train tracks.

Ninety-four percent of Rails to Trails is funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the driving force behind the project, said if the bond doesn’t pass the county could miss the August deadline to get access to those federal grants.

“We have already invested $1 million with a design and engineering plan that we will have to reimburse if this bond does not pass,” Anker said. “We are ready to put a shovel in the ground, even at the end of this year.”

“I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

— Steve Bellone

The legislature needs to vote “yes” on both an appropriations bill as well as one to approve bond funding to support capital projects, and for weeks the two parties in the legislature have battled over bundled bonds. Bellone has said the Republican minority was hypocritical if it voted for the project’s appropriations but voted against the funding. Republicans were against any lump bonds because they did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, lumped with items they were comfortable supporting now.

Because the legislature requires 12 of the 18 members to pass a bond vote, the seven-member Republican minority have joined together during the past two legislative meetings to shoot down any lump bonds.

Bellone said he would be going forward with legislation that would require both appropriations and bonding be included in one single vote, but Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the Legislative Counsel has questioned the legality of that idea, with appropriations requiring 10 votes and bonds needing 12.

Instead, Gregory said he instructed the county clerk to write up the next week’s meeting agenda to have bonds be voted on before appropriations.

“If the bond resolution fails then the appropriation doesn’t come up for a vote,” Gregory said. “It limits the opportunity for somebody to vote for it before voting against it … Hopefully it takes the politics a little bit out of it.”

Republicans in the legislature see the move away from lump bonding as a victory.

“We’re happy that the County Executive has agreed to go back to individual bond resolution for several bonds,” Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said. “We’re looking forward to working forward with the County Executive over the coming months to find some common ground.”

Though Cilmi said he and other Republican legislators are happy the bonds will not be lumped together, he still has misgivings about a few of the projects, especially when it comes to county finances.

“There are certain proposals where we agree with the project, but we believe the funding for the project should come out of operating funds rather than going out and borrowing money to do it,” Cilmi said. “The county is $2 billion in debt, and we have to exercise restraint in how we go out and borrow money.”