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Councilman Ed Smyth

From left to right: Town of Huntington Councilman Ed Smyth (R) is going against State Senator Jim Gaughran (D) for a seat in NY’s 5th District. File photos

Town of Huntington Councilman Ed Smyth (R) is looking to unseat state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) in the 5th District. Smyth is currently serving his second term on the Town Board, while Gaughran is completing his first term as state senator.

The two participated in an Oct. 16 Zoom debate with the TBR News Media editorial staff to discuss their strategies regarding issues on the forefront of constituents’ minds, including the state’s actions during the pandemic, bail reform, water quality and more.

COVID Response

Both the councilman and senator agreed that the state’s response to the pandemic was appropriate, and the decision to give Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) executive authority was warranted.

“There was no road map for this,” Gaughran said. “Everyone got hit over the head with this.” 

The senator said he still remembers when he and his colleagues being briefed by Dr. Howard Zucker, New York State commissioner of health, back in March about the virus and how there was a need to move forward quickly and give Cuomo the power to make decisions quickly. 

“We went through a lot of pain, and now we’re climbing back,” Gaughran said.

While the senator doesn’t feel businesses should open up fully all at once, he does want them to open as quickly as possible while remaining safe.

Smyth said he wants to help businesses open up quicker as he feels the emergency has now passed regarding the coronavirus and medical professionals have a better grasp on it. He said it needs to be recognized that every type of business has a different need, and that every person can decide to enter a business based on their own health conditions and fears.

“An electrical contractor has a very different need than a restaurant or bowling alley,” Smyth said.

Gaughran said his office has been working closely with businesses to identify their needs and wants. He has seen many working well with the new public health guidelines,

“I’m working every day with businesses in my district trying to help them reopen fully but safely,” he said. “But these decisions shouldn’t be made by politicians, they should be made by health officials.”

Smyth agreed that legislators need to sit down with health officials and let them weigh in. He said during the pandemic, some of the guidelines were applied unfairly and unevenly, and he said he didn’t understand why a person could go on a plane but not go to church or a gym.

“The quarantine is being applied unequally, while one size doesn’t fit all,” Smyth said. “The logic behind this, to me, doesn’t pass a common sense test.”

Gaughran said he has seen some unfairness, but he said with slight upticks in the infection rate, “we need to be safe.”

LIPA

A hot topic in the district has been the Long Island Power Authority’s Northport power plant.  For years, many local residents have been waiting for a settlement with LIPA. The Northport power plant was taxed at $86 million, which LIPA said was overassessed, and the entity was seeking a court-order reduction which could have led to a 90% cut of taxes for the company. This in turn would have led the Town of Huntington being responsible for an $800 million refund to LIPA and school taxes would have been raised.

A recently proposed settlement, agreed on by the Northport-East Northport school district and the town, will cut LIPA’s taxes to $46 million from $86 million over the next seven years, lessening the burden a court-ordered reduction would have imposed.

Gaughran said the town should be obligated to make the final agreement accessible to residents.

“Until you get the final agreement, you don’t know exactly what it is,” he said.

Smyth said while the details of the settlement are still being worked out, all information so far has been made public. He said looking over the case, “it was begging to settle,” adding the power plant had been overly assessed and calling it “a dinosaur.”

“It would be great if it could be redeveloped into a far more efficient plant,” he said, adding that would be up to LIPA.

Education

Smyth said by nature he is a “debt hawk” and doesn’t believe in any government going into debt, but regarding school funding and with the COVID-19 impact, he said it may be appropriate to accrue some debt to ensure schools are funded properly. He said it’s also important to comb through the budget to find any abuse, citing a recent audit by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) that found millions of dollars of abuse from the Medicaid program. 

“Every line item has to earn its way into the budget, but school funding should not be a negotiable item,” Smyth said.

Gaughran said he was behind a bill that made the 2% tax cap permanent in New York state, adding that he thought the new permanent law would be a “game changer.” He said he was also proud that he brought more school aid to his district than ever before during his first year in office. The state senator said if President Donald Trump (R) gets reelected he is concerned that the state won’t receive the federal funding it needs. Without the proper federal and state funding, it will add to the property tax burden and more people will leave the state.

“This is a very slippery slope,” Gaughran said.

Smyth pointed out that whether or not New York receives federal aid is not solely Trump’s decision, as the house and senate also vote on aid too.

“It’s not solely one person calling all the shots in Washington, D.C.,” Smyth said.

Bail Reform

Smyth said the bail reform bill that was passed in 2019 needs to be repealed, saying the results of the bill have been “disastrous.”

“No one should ever spend a night in jail for an expired registration, but low-level crimes were a Trojan horse that carried far more serious crimes into the bail reform bill,” Smyth said.

Gaughran said the bill was originally presented on its own merits but was blocked by many legislators which led to the governor inserting it into the budget. Gaughran said it was important to get passed the permanent 2 percent tax cap, which was also in the same budget, and he wasn’t going to walk away from schools.

“At the end of the day when you get to Albany you have to make some tough choices sometimes, and when you’re making those decisions you have to decide whether or not you’re going to vote on a budget based on what’s in it,” the senator said.

He added that he met with colleagues and law enforcement representatives after the bail reform bill was passed, and he and others immediately filed a bill to restore some violent offences back to allowing judges to set terms of bail.

Smyth said Gaughran should have been standing on his desk arguing the bail reform law. He calling any changes made to the reform “window dressing.”

Protecting Waterways

Both candidates discussed the importance of protecting the health of local waterways. 

Smyth said he is a big proponent of homeowners being allowed to demolish debilitated homes and rebuilding a new one while keeping the current tax assessment as long as it is the same size. He said in doing so septic tanks and heating systems would be updated. He pointed out that what goes into the ground we eventually drink or wash into the harbors and bays. Providing an incentive to update septic systems would help to secure the health of local waters.

Gaughran said he recommends that the New York State Department of Conservation cracks down on New York City storm runoffs, which eventually flows into the Long Island Sound. He also is in favor of updating septic systems and working on ways to install sewer systems, water filtration systems and rain gardens. If he gets reelected, he said he has a plan to provide funding to municipalities to do just that.

Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci and Councilman Ed Smyth joined Andrew Steinmueller, President of ARS Landscape & Design, the first business to “adopt” and beautify two pieces of public property under the Adopt-a-Corner community beautification program, for a special unveiling of the installations at the southwest entrance to Heckscher Park in Huntington on June 24.

ARS Landscape & Design planted their first Adopt-a-Corner installation at the Prime Avenue entrance to the park in September of 2019 and added a second installation at the Main Street and Prime Avenue corner entrance to the park, maintaining both installations throughout the year. 

A box of complimentary wildflower seed packets was installed by the landscape company at the second installation, from which visitors to the park can take a complimentary seed packet. A second box of seed packets will be installed next to the first installation on the western Prime Avenue entrance to the park within the week.

Businesses, organizations and residents can adopt, beautify and maintain a select piece of public property approved by the Town of Huntington for one year, with the option to renew for a second year. 

Supervisor Lupinacci sponsored the Town Board resolution creating the Adopt-a-Corner program in October 2018 after Andre Sorrentino, the Town’s Director of General Services, approached him with the idea to involve the greater Huntington community in beautification projects across the town.

“Adopt-a-Corner is quality of life initiative, that offers a creative outlet for residents, business owners and organizations to display their pride in the Huntington community, while helping beautify our town at no cost to our taxpayers,” explained Supervisor Lupinacci. “Thank you to ARS Landscape & Design for these inaugural Adopt-a-Corner installations and for the seed packets they are giving away.”

“I am the prime beneficiary of this Adopt-a-Corner installation because my office is located across the street,” stated Councilman Smyth. “I see this beautiful corner every day. I encourage everyone to make the town look its best by adopting a corner. The resident or business which adopts a corner may put place a small plaque with their name or dedicate the corner in honor of someone.” 

“Over these past few months, we have been faced with a pandemic that forced us all inside and gave us all a feeling of uncertainty. Audrey Hepburn once said ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,’ I hope that by planting these gardens, I can spread a little joy and hope for what tomorrow may bring,” added Steinmueller.

Pictured in photo, from left, Councilman Smyth; Andre Sorrentino; Supervisor Lupinacci; Andrew Steinmueller (holding Addison Steinmueller); Bonnie Steinmueller (holding Ashton Steinmueller); Liz Steinmueller; and Joseph Digicomo. To apply to adopt a corner, visit www.huntingtonny.gov.

Photos courtesy of the Town of Huntington

Brookhaven Town officials, with Supervisor Ed Romaine at the microphone, join local representatives from the state and nearby townships to protest the LIRR’s planned fare hike. Photo from TOB

Local and state officials, along with citizen advocates voiced a collective message to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City during a press conference at Ronkonkoma train station on March 2: “Stop shortchanging Long Island.” 

The group called on the MTA to abandon its plan for a systemwide 4 percent fare increase in 2021 for Long Island Rail Road customers, including those in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The decision was a part of the NYC Outer Borough Rail Discount plan which offers an up to 20 percent discount for city riders. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well.”

— Ed Smyth

“Long Island is not the cash cow for New York City,” said Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven Town supervisor. “This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

Romaine said a typical Ronkonkoma LIRR commuter who purchases a monthly parking pass, monthly train ticket and unlimited ride Metrocard would have to pay $7,224 annually. 

“The MTA has not made the capital investments it should on Long island — what about our riders?” Romaine said. 

The supervisor added that Long Island has already been shortchanged regarding electrification, as there is no electrification east of Huntington and none past the Ronkonkoma station.

The discounts were mandated by the state Legislature as a condition of its approval of congestion pricing legislation, which would create new tolls for drivers in Manhattan to help fund the authority’s $51.5 billion capital program. The plan will go into effect in May of this year. 

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) also took issue with the MTA’s decision. 

“We had the congestion pricing vote, which I voted against it,” he said. “This is completely counterintuitive to the folks using the trains. Congestion pricing was meant to get individuals to start using public transportation and not use their vehicles.”

He added that the MTA has billions of dollars of subsidies from the state and federal government. 

“This is a New York City problem — we should not bear the brunt of it,” he said. “Mayor [Bill] de Blasio [D] should pay for this — they are overwhelmingly serviced [by the MTA].”

The MTA board is made up of 21 stakeholders appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), including people recommended by unions and municipalities such as the city and surrounding counties. Kevin Law represents Suffolk County, and was nominated by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The other Long Island representative, David Mack, represents Nassau.

Despite their differences, officials continued to agree with the planned change at a Feb. 26 board meeting, saying they expect the up to 20 percent discount to entice Queens and Brooklyn commuters to use the LIRR if they live far from a subway line.

MTA officials say this is a pilot program up to one year’s duration. 

However, on Long Island, other local officials voiced their displeasures. 

“This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

— Ed Romaine

Ed Smyth (R), Huntington Town councilman, said commuters will essentially be paying for their ticket and for somebody in NYC. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well,” he said. 

Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), Brookhaven Town councilman, said the MTA plan would negatively affect the progress they’ve made to bring transit-oriented development to the area. 

“On a town level, this is something we’ve been working on for years,” he said. “The Tritec [Ronkonkoma Hub] development is an example of that. It will make it easier for Long islanders to get into the city. With these fee increases it will make it harder for them to afford to live here and ride here.”

Palumbo added he will be writing a letter to Cuomo in the coming days and will ask Long Island representatives from both political parties to sign it. The assemblyman is hopeful the plan can be changed before the NYS budget deadline next month. 

“Hopefully he can see it, and this can be fixed on April 1 — I’m just hoping that it doesn’t fall on deaf ears,” he said. 

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Photo from NEFCU

RIBBON CUTTING

Long Island based credit union NEFCU formally opened its 19th branch on the Island with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 4. Located at 356 New York Ave., Huntington, the 2,067-square-foot location first opened for business in late January. 

The event was attended by a number of NEFCU representatives and local officials including Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) who presented NEFCU President and CEO John Deieso with a Certificate of Recognition. 

This marks the second Huntington area branch for the credit union after opening its doors in Huntington Station in 2015 at 721 Jericho Turnpike.

“We’re Long Island born and bred, and we’re continually looking for communities across this hard-working island to put down new roots,” said Deieso. “Suffolk County presents a great opportunity for us, and we’re rapidly making our name known as we move eastward. And we’re finding that existing and new members are attracted to our digital and mobile banking offerings that are augmented by an increased level of personal service.” 

In the photo, from left, Jillian Guthman, receiver of taxes, Town of Huntington; Lupinacci; Madeleine Sewell, NEFCU assistant treasurer; Deieso; Councilman Ed Smyth (R); and Michael Varriale, NEFCU branch manager.

From left, John Clark, Scott Schneider, and Huntington Councilman Ed Smyth kick off Pick Six Jan. 24. Photo by Karina Gerry

By Karina Gerry

A Town of Huntington official is asking Huntington’s residents to try to see the small actions can add up.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) unveiled Jan. 24 a new non-litter initiative he calls Pick Six that asks  residents to pick up six pieces of trash every day and throw it in the trash at Huntington Town Hall.

“Together, we can make our town cleaner,” Smyth said.  “And a more environmentally friendly place to live work and do business.”

The program was inspired by Huntington resident Scott Schneider, an artist who for years has been collecting trash on his daily walks and turning them into art.

‘Well what difference can I make,’ but now that it’s being rolled out to the whole town, you really see that small acts can turn into bigger ones.”

— Scott Schneider

“I always picked up trash,” he said. “I started taking pictures of trash and then when Instagram and Facebook came on, I started posting it and people seemed to really enjoy my trash pictures or my trashy pictures.”

The councilman saw Schneider’s art as the two have known each other prior to Smyth being elected to office  through their children. It sparked a conversation  about Schneider’s daily habit.  A few weeks later, the Smyth contacted the artist to let him know that he would be rolling out a new initiative for the whole town inspired by Schneider’s work.

“As somebody who was kind of always working on my own, it was extremely exciting,” the artist said. “Because you always think, ‘Well what difference can I make,’ but now that it’s being rolled out to the whole town, you really see that small acts can turn into bigger ones.”

Smyth and his colleagues hope the initiative of Pick Six will become habitual for residents.

“What I see with my own eyes, and I think everybody does, is that there’s a lot of litter around,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten to the point now that we’re so accustomed to seeing it that we stop seeing it, stop noticing it, so it’s easy to ignore it and walk past it.”

While downtown Huntington area sees the most pedestrian foot traffic, the councilman wants to encourage people to not only pick up trash when they are in the village but at the town’s beaches and parks as well. Greg Wagner, Huntington’s director of Parks and Recreation,  believes the program could make a huge difference.

“Typically, every morning at all of our beaches there are single-use plastics constantly, consistently washing up on our shores,” Wagner said.

There seems to be unnecessary finger pointing going on where people say, ‘Oh well they should go clean it up.”

— Councilman Ed Smyth

Jack Palladino, president of the Huntington Village Business Improvement District and owner of Christopher’s Pub & Eatery, said the issue of trash has been something him and the BID have been dealing with for a while.

“The problem you have with some businesses is that you have absentee business owners, a lot of corporate places that you go in to speak to the management as soon as they clock out they are done for the day,” Palladino said. “But you have businesses that people have owned they live in town, they are the ones that are concerned.”

While restaurants, bars and places offering takeout food tend to produce more trash, the councilman refused to point fingers.

“There seems to be unnecessary finger pointing going on where people say, ‘Oh well they should go clean it up,’” Smyth said. “There’s always a pronoun in there that’s not I, always they or he or she.”

The councilman hopes that people will stop blaming the businesses for the trash.

“For the downtown areas, it has to be a collective effort,” he said. “Or it’s just not going to work, because very frankly the town, the BID and the businesses don’t have the resources individually to have someone on litter control.