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Brian Egan

Mayor Margot Garant analyzes coastal engineering drawings during a public meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at Port Jefferson Village Hall. Photo by Raymond Janis

The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees convened Tuesday, Jan. 17. The board tackled a range of subjects from upcoming coastal engineering projects to a rideshare service and school district facilities.

A proposed westerly wall

Mayor Margot Garant reported a development to the coastal engineering plans at the East Beach bluff, where erosion threatens the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club’s clubhouse facility.

With $3.75 million in federal funds secured for an upland wall to protect the building [See story, “Schumer secures funds for upper wall at PJCC …” The Port Times Record, Jan. 12], the mayor announced her team is exploring ways to finalize its upland plans.

A proposed “westerly wall,” originally pitched as an add-on extension to the upper wall to accommodate racket sports, is now recommended as a possible erosion mitigation strategy. Huntington Station-based engineering firm GEI Consultants “did confirm that they definitely feel we need to do both the main wall and the extension wall,” Garant said.

The village board put the upper wall projects to bid in October, announcing the cost projections the following month. The upper wall bid came back at approximately $3.3 million, with the combined upper wall and westerly wall project costing roughly $4.5 million.

Considering which option is most suitable for the village, Garant outlined why she favors constructing the westerly wall: “I believe that putting that second wall in there, now unequivocally, if somebody else is paying 75% of that cost, I think the westerly wall should go in,” she said.

Forecasting how to organize the racket sports facilities once the westerly wall is complete, Garant suggested it will be a problematic decision-making calculus regarding which racket sports to prioritize.

“We may be wanting to install more than three pickleball courts because the demand is so high and trying to get maybe an instructional court, and maybe just have the two [tennis] courts in the back,” she said. “We have to figure out when, how, where, timing, materials, cost. It’s complicated.”

She added, “The good news is we’re going to be building a wall. I think that saves a major resource for this community. I think it allows us to reinstate a racket ball campus. And I think it gives us a reasonable timeline to come up with an alternate plan, god forbid in 20 years, we need to have something different in place.”

Ridesharing service

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden and Kevin Wood, director of economic development, parking administrator and communications committee head, jointly presented on a rideshare project. 

The benefits of the plan, as Snaden explained, are threefold: to offer residents easy access to downtown Port Jefferson, provide a safe means of return travel to their homes and ease traffic congestion.

“I think we have something that’s really going to work for the residents of Port Jefferson,” the deputy mayor said, adding that the goal is “to get them downtown, to save parking for the tourists and others, and to come down, have a nice evening and get home safely.”

Wood worked out how the village would implement such a rideshare program. “The plan that you have in front of you would be to combine world-class, Uber-like software with a black car service to be exclusively used and designed for Port Jefferson residents,” he said.

Offering a rough sketch of his vision, Wood said the service would operate Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. The village government would administer the software, which would be geofenced for Port Jefferson, meaning requests outside the 11777 zip code could not be possible. “If somebody wanted to go to Smith Haven Mall, they can’t,” Wood said. 

He proposed that rides could start at $5 per person and $12.50 for groups of three to seven people. These figures could be subject to change as the village would adjust the software and set its rates based on the community’s needs.

“The beautiful part about this is that if we find that $5 is literally not enough money or too much money, I think we have some leeway there and could change this stuff on a dime,” Wood said. “We can change things on demand. We can make new group rates. We could do special event rates.”

Village attorney Brian Egan inquired whether this program could create centralized drop-off locations for riders, preventing clutter of village roads and safety hazards from stopped vehicles. Responding, Wood said the village could train drivers to drop off and pick up riders to minimize these risks.

Garant put her support behind the effort, saying this will benefit residents who wish to access their downtown amid its busy season. “We all, I’ll speak for myself, feel we’re getting snowed out in the middle of the summertime,” the mayor said. “You can’t get down here, so I think this is going to be something that I’m really excited about.”

Reports

Egan updated the board on the ongoing negotiations with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The village is attempting to reclassify the Port Jefferson Clean Solid Waste Landfill as a transfer station, enabling the continued procedure of branch and leaf pickup services. [See story, “Garbage grief: PJ Village and DEC clash over landfill permit,” The Port Times Record, Dec. 1].

“I do think we have — at least with the DEC senior administrative staff — a very receptive ear,” he said. Referring to the permit dispute with DEC, he added, “I think we’ll have a cooperative resolution to it, and I am cautiously optimistic.”

Trustee Lauren Sheprow used her report to discuss a forthcoming capital bond at Port Jefferson School District. “The school district is looking at floating another bond in May,” she said.

Citing an article in Newsday, Sheprow said approximately 80% of federal COVID-19 relief funds have yet to be spent by public schools statewide. “$14 billion has not been used yet,” she said. “There’s $14 billion issued to New York State in COVID relief,” adding that the heating and ventilation systems proposed by PJSD may qualify under COVID relief conditions.

Sheprow added she might pitch her ideas to the school board during its upcoming meeting Tuesday, Jan. 24. She encouraged her fellow board members to attend.

Snaden reported on a meeting with the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District and the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. This year’s iteration of the Port Jefferson Ice Festival, hosted by the BID on Jan. 28 and 29, will feature 27 ice sculptures at various storefronts and other locations throughout Port Jeff.

Trustee Stan Loucks reported on winter projects at PJCC. He said 188 members have already signed up for this year as of the time of this meeting. Trustee Rebecca Kassay was absent and did not deliver a report by proxy.

The board of trustees will meet again Monday, Feb. 6, with a scheduled public hearing to amend the village code concerning dogs and other animals.

Graphic from the Port Jefferson Village website

The Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees convened at Village Hall Monday, Nov. 7, for an evening packed with pressing public business. 

East Beach bluff

Mayor Margot Garant reported developments from the East Beach bluff construction site, stating buildout of the lower toe wall “has been moving along very nicely.”

“The steel wall is in, the concrete cap is about 100% in, there’s a lot of concrete rebar in there, and now they’re putting in the anchors through the wall and pinning the wall into the cliffside,” she said.

At the upland, the village must soon decide the fate of the clubhouse at Port Jefferson Country Club. The mayor said she has been gathering information from the village’s hired engineers and will provide the board with their findings later this month.

During the public comments, village resident Myrna Gordon inquired about Garant’s recent announcement regarding forthcoming informational meetings on the upland proposals. [See “A message from Mayor Margot Garant: A candid discussion about East Beach bluff,” The Port Times Record, Nov. 3.]

Responding to Gordon, the mayor said more information would be made available following the meeting later this month. 

“I’m still getting information from the engineers, looking at some of the drainage plans and alternative solutions for the upland project,” she said. “We put the [upper] wall out to bid. The engineer just got back to us with an analysis of the bid, so it’s coming together for the board to review with me.” 

She added, “Then, we’ll be setting a date and either making a presentation at the next board meeting or a special town hall, depending on which way the board thinks we need to go.”

Public safety

Representing the Suffolk County Police Department was police officer Sergio Möller. He stressed the need for drivers to lock their cars and take their keys with them when exiting their vehicles. 

“Fifty percent of the cars that get stolen within the 6th Precinct are vehicles that were already running with their keys in it, and that’s a problem,” he said. “Please take your keys with you. Shut the vehicle off. It [takes] only two seconds.”

Code enforcement chief Fred Leute underscored reasons for driving slowly on village roads. “It’s getting dark earlier now,” he said. “We have club and student athletes leaving the school late. It’s already dark, so just drive slow.”

Multiple residents pressed the board on pedestrian safety and walkability. Ana Hozyainova, who ran for trustee earlier this year, asked whether the board is considering a villagewide assessment to promote walkability, bikeability and pedestrian safety.

Responding on behalf of the board, trustee Rebecca Kassay reported she, Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden and village staff are exploring the possibility of conducting a study.

“We were pointed toward firms who would do a study, a villagewide study to look at what are the big issues in the village, and how in our particular village can we achieve the goals we want to, both with speed reduction and pedestrian safety,” Kassay said.

Snaden added there might be grant opportunities to subsidize the cost of the study. “It’s expensive, so we have to figure out a way to pay for it,” she said.

Information technology

Kevin Wood, the village’s parking administrator, director of economic development and communications committee head, delivered a presentation on the importance of securing the village’s information technology systems.

Wood’s report comes in the wake of a recent cyberattack against the Suffolk County government. He said municipalities are susceptible to ransomware and other hostile online events due to underfunding, understaffing and outdated systems. 

Based on meetings with Island Tech Services, the village’s network partner based out of Ronkonkoma, Wood said he is working to curtail these concerns.

“I live this every day,” Wood said. “I try to be ahead of the curve on this, of what our vulnerabilities are. I have met with ITS in person, and we think we’re on top of it in a lot of different ways.” 

He added, “If you look at my past reports, you’ll see why we’re ahead of the curve, but we still have to go forward and think about all of the ways we may be vulnerable.”

The village began enforcing two-factor authentication earlier this month, requiring village employees to pass through a second layer of verification to log into government accounts.

“You cannot sign onto your email with Google without having a way of authenticating [your identity], either through an authenticating app or through your cellphone,” Wood said. “It’s a little bit of a [pain], but we have to get through this because there’s been an indication that that’s how [hackers] are getting in.”

Wood also advocated the village upgrade to Municity 5, a multiplatform, cloud-computing municipal software program. He said this upgrade could make the Building Department “much more efficient and amazing.”

“Because of understaffing and other items, we have not gotten this done,” he said. “I just wanted to report that we have got to get this done.”

Wood further addressed how new technologies will affect parking. Namely, an automated license plate recognition system is already used to enforce parking limits on Main and East Main. This system, Wood said, is gradually supplanting the previous parking enforcement method.

Wood concluded his presentation by noting a villagewide software audit is ongoing to assess other vulnerabilities in the village’s various tech spheres.

Tax code

The night also included a public hearing to amend a section of the tax code. Explaining the measure, village attorney Brian Egan said the New York State Legislature sporadically changes its property tax exemptions for senior citizens. 

These changes, according to Egan, often do not correspond to the village’s tax schedule, creating an inconsistency between the state and the village’s tax laws. The motivation for the amendment was to automatically update the village tax code according to changes in state law.

“Instead of us missing that updated income, so a senior citizen can still qualify if that income level went up … we’re going to now set it automatically to whatever the state has,” he said.

Following the public hearing, the board approved the amendment unanimously.

Rental property code

Also on the agenda were two items to put out for public hearing amendments to the village’s rental property code. Kassay, who operates an inn, has helped inform the board of potential code changes, notably affecting Airbnb rentals.

Trustee Lauren Sheprow questioned this process. “I’m still unclear as to how — and I’m going to put out this disclaimer without malice — how a trustee can participate in creating a code and informing the board about a code that has direct impact on a business that she is vested in,” she said. 

Sheprow added, “I think there are guidelines and regs in [the New York Conference of Mayors] that say this has a perception or could be perceived as a conflict of interest.”

Responding to Sheprow’s concern, Garant suggested delineating a potential conflict of interest is complicated given how the code affects all board members in their capacity as residents.

“How I feel about this is everything we vote on impacts us because we’re all residents,” the mayor said. 

However, she expressed uncertainty regarding enforcing the code change, saying, “I think we need to figure out how we want to, as a board, grasp these issues from an enforcement perspective.”

On the ethics question, Kassay offered that she would recuse herself from any future vote related to this matter. Her intended role was to inform the board, given her professional expertise.

“We all have expertise,” she said. “I gave my expertise and perspective because there’s a lot that seems strange and weird, and it’s an odd industry. For me, whatever comes of it comes of it.” The trustee added, “If you’re looking at it, it’s creating more competition. The way it’s written, for my personal business, there’s no benefit.”

Responding, Sheprow said: “Regardless of what you are telling us right now, your involvement in this process is a conflict.”

The board agreed to table the two items pending an ethics review from the New York Conference of Mayors.

To watch the full general meeting, including trustee reports and public comments, click here.

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The county legislature passed a bill to crack down on reckless bicycling this week, Port Jefferson officials created a village task force that will help prevent problems and keep patrons safe. File photo from SCPD

Village officials have moved to curb reckless biking around Port Jeff by impounding bikes of people they find breaking the code.

At the Nov. 4 board meeting, Port Jefferson officials amended the village code to allow Suffolk County police and code enforcement officers to impound bicycles from reckless riders, including juveniles.

“As an era of common sense is not really operating anymore regarding bicycles, we have heard and seen kids running in front of cars, playing games where they’re hooking onto cars — incredibly dangerous activities out there,” village attorney Brian Egan said. “Vehicles are taking incredibly dangerous maneuvers to avoid these bikes.”

The code’s language forbids persons from trick riding, which usually comes in the form of wheelies, weaving back and forth in traffic or hanging onto automobiles driving on the road. It also forbids people from riding distracted, such as while using a phone or camera, though using a GoPro camera or similar devices while biking is permissible, according to the village attorney. 

Acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute Jr. could not be reached for comment.

Egan said at the Nov. 4 meeting that the law was being “narrowly tailored” to still allow bike riding in the village.

Bikes seized by either code enforcement or Suffolk police are kept in Port Jeff at the Department of Public Works building, with a record of impounding kept by the head of Code Enforcement. A parent or guardian can retrieve the impounded bike on behalf of a minor. 

Some residents at the meeting questioned if there were any issues with taking and impounding a minor’s bike, but Egan said it has worked for villages like Babylon.

“In practice, we see from other villages that these bikes never get retrieved,” he said. 

Mayor Margot Garant said after they reach a certain number of bikes that are not recovered after a time, they would hold an auction like they have done for kayaks left on village racks after the season is complete. She said the village would likely decrease the price of impounded bikes based on age.

“We have to review the impounding fee, because I think with the kayaks, we didn’t take into consideration an aging timeline, it was one set fee and here we were with all these kayaks,” she said.

In August of this year, the Village of Babylon passed a similar measure to curb the number of reckless bicyclists. That village fined riders over 16 years of age $250 when charged with violating the village code. 

The village has yet to set any fines from breaking this new section of the code or for retrieving the bike. Village officials said that decision would come at a future date after discussion, likely the next board meeting Nov. 18.

 

Port Jeff and Belle Terre would like to be absorbed by the Mount Sinai Ambulance District, which is overseen by Brookhaven.

The villages of Port Jefferson and Belle Terre are proposing a change to its ambulance service contracts with the goal of increased efficiency on the mind.

Currently emergency ambulance services are provided to homes in Mount Sinai Ambulance District, and the two incorporated villages by the Port Jefferson Ambulance Company, a not-for-profit corporation located on Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai. 

The ambulance company provides services to the three entities through individual contracts, with a projected 2018 total budget of $1.4 million. Port Jeff and Belle Terre villages contracted KPC Planning Services Inc. to examine the possibility of proposing to expand the Mount Sinai Ambulance District to encompass the two villages, thus simplifying the process and requiring a single contract with the company for its existing coverage area.

Port Jeff Village Attorney Brian Egan called the current set up, “not even close to efficient,” noting the three entities do not even operate on the same fiscal year, making budgeting for ambulance services more complicated than village officials say it needs to be.

“It creates a problem for us because the 51 percent majority can pass a budget without our say,” Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant said during a May board meeting. The Mount Sinai Ambulance District makes up more than 50 percent of the ambulance company’s territory and is overseen by the Town of Brookhaven.

KPC Planning Services’ report summed up the goal behind the proposed change: “Operationally, the district managers must answer to three municipalities to make a capital, equipment or operational decision. The goal of the expanded district is to remove the village[s] from operational responsibility and vest the power exclusively in the Town [of Brookhaven].”

In actuality, Port Jefferson Village’s contract with the ambulance company expired in 2011, meaning the entities have continued a relationship without an official contract for seven years.

“It means no change in area, no change in service, no change in population — everything remains exactly the same,” Egan said in an interview. “The only structure that we’re changing is that we would no longer be a contracting party. It would be 100 percent exclusively in control of the Town of Brookhaven.”

Egan said residents should not expect to see any changes in their taxes, services or even the name on the side of an ambulance in the case of an emergency. Both villages have passed resolutions proposing the change, which will need to be acted on by Brookhaven before it can go into effect. Egan said he’s not sure of the timeline from the town’s perspective but hopes it is soon.

Consolidating services has been on the mind of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), as the town was named the winner of a $20 million grant for its proposals as part of a New York State competition earlier this year.

“Elimination of this three-ring tangle is consistent with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine’s goal to eliminate duplication in districts, streamline decision making and consolidate services,” the KPC report said.