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County Executive Steve Bellone

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, announced the first round of recipients of opioid settlement funds at a Jan. 12 press conference. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the names of 34 organizations who will receive $25 million to combat the opioid crisis in the first round of funding secured by the county’s settlement against manufacturers, distributors and others involved in the crisis.

Suffolk County Legislature Minority Leader Jason Richberg, at podium, was on hand to announce the first round of recipients of opioid settlement funds at a Jan. 12 press conference. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

The grant recipients, who were among the 111 that applied for funding, include community groups, nonprofits, for-profit groups and county agencies and will receive the funds over a three-year period.

The county hopes to provide funds in the next couple of weeks to combat a crisis that COVID-19 exacerbated in the last few years.

“We had begun to make real progress in the battle and in 2019, deaths declined for the first time in many years,” Bellone said at a press conference Jan. 12 announcing the recipients chosen by a bipartisan five-member committee. The pandemic “reversed that progress and, once again, we saw opioid-related deaths rising.”

Funds from the settlement against manufacturers and distributors of opioids total over $200 million, which the county will distribute over the next 20 years. The second round of funding will begin later this year. The county encouraged some of the groups that didn’t receive funding in the first round to reapply, while opening up the opportunity to other organizations that are similarly dedicated to prevention, education, treatment and recovery.


County Legislature Minority Leader Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), who helped select award recipients, said the committee received over $170 million worth of requests.

“The goal is not only to have an immediate impact, but to have a long-standing impact,” he said in an interview. The committee wanted to take a “multifaceted approach when funding these organizations.”

Richberg said the group took a considerable number of hours to put together the list of recipients for the first round.

“We understood the urgency to make sure this came out in the best way possible,” he said.

The minority leader appreciated the perspective of fellow committee member Sharon Richmond, president of the Northport-East Northport Community Drug and Alcohol Task Force and a victim-advocate whose son Vincent died from opioids in 2017.

Richberg described Richmond as a “beacon of strength” who helped guide the group in the right direction.

At the press conference, Richmond said her son would have been “honored to know that so many people are going to get so much help” with these funds.

‘We want to reach individuals in the community and not necessarily have to wait for someone to come to our emergency departments.’

Dr. Sandeep Kapoor

Reaching out

The leaders of the groups that will receive this money have numerous approaches to combat an epidemic that has robbed the community of family members, friends and neighbors.

“We want to reach individuals in the community and not necessarily have to wait for someone to come to our emergency departments,” said Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, assistant vice president of addiction services for Northwell Health.

Northwell’s Project Connect Plus will receive about $3.5 million, which is the largest single award in the first round of funding.

Project Connect Plus would like to expand its reach and is partnering with domestic violence organizations and with Island Harvest food bank to create a pathway for people to access support.

“The goal of this initiative is to make sure we can navigate people [to services], build partnerships and ensure that people trust the process,” Kapoor said.

Project Connect Plus is emphasizing the importance of ongoing contact between health care providers and people who need support to defeat drug addiction.

He contrasted the attention most patients get after an operation with the lack of ongoing attention in the health care system for those people who come to an emergency room for drug-related problems.

‘It’s a significant amount of money that will have a significant impact. It means a lot to us to have the support of the county around harm reduction efforts.’

— Tina Wolf

Hospitals typically reach out to patients numerous times after knee operations, to check on how people are feeling, to make sure they are taking their medicine, to check for infection and to remind them of future appointments.

Someone with a substance use disorder typically receives no phone calls after an emergency room visit.

“If [the health care community] is doing right by people with knee surgery, why not take the same approach” for people who are battling addiction, Kapoor said. “We continually engage people to make sure they are not alone.”

Project Connect Plus is also partnering with other organizations, including Community Action for Social Justice, which is working toward increasing safety around drug use.

CASJ’s executive director and co-founder, Tina Wolf, provides direct services to reduce the risk for people who use drugs, such as syringe exchange and risk reduction counseling, overdose prevention training and harm reduction training.

CASJ is receiving $1.5 million from the opioid settlement.

“It’s a significant amount of money that will have a significant impact,” Wolf said. “It means a lot to us to have the support of the county around harm reduction efforts.”

Wolf said the funds will enable CASJ to double its existing harm reduction efforts in Suffolk County, which is important not only amid an increase in substance abuse in the aftermath of the pandemic, but also as people develop wounds amid a change in the drug supply.

In the last few years, amid volatility in drugs used in the county, some fentanyl has included xylazine, a pet pain reliever and muscle relaxant. In Philadelphia, Puerto Rico and Long Island, among other places, xylazine has caused significant nonhealing wounds.

“Some of this money is for wound care issues,” Wolf said.

Other grant recipients include Hope House Ministries of Port Jefferson ($600,000), Town of Brookhaven Youth Prevention Program ($75,000) and Town of Smithtown Horizons Counseling and Education Center ($111,000). 

A comprehensive list

The award recipients will update the committee on their efforts to ensure that the funds are providing the anticipated benefits and to help guide future financial decisions.

Groups have to report on their progress, Richberg said, which is a part of their contract.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) was pleased with the work of the recipients.

“It’s a fantastic list” that is “really comprehensive and varied in the type of services and the location geographically,” she said. “We do need so much out there.”

She believes the funds will “do some
real good.”

Wolf said she hopes “we don’t all just do well in our individual projects, but we can link those projects together. I’m hoping there’s enough overlap that we can create this net together to really make sure people aren’t falling through the cracks.”

Photo by Raymond Janis

On Saturday, April 23, public officials gathered to formally rename the 107-acre Farmingville Hills County Park after the late Suffolk Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma); it will be known as Thomas Muratore County Park.

The ceremony was hosted by county Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), majority leader of the Legislature. Caracappa succeeded the late legislator by special election less than two months after Muratore’s untimely death on Sept. 8, 2020. Caracappa also sponsored legislation to rename the park in Muratore’s honor. 

“Tom Muratore had a special way about him,” Caracappa said. “He knew how to touch us and mentor us and just be a good friend to us. Anyone who knew Tom knew of his passion for serving his community, his constituents and the residents of Suffolk County. Whether it was talking about politics, talking about his family or talking about the way the Yankees either won or lost, he had a passion that was unmistakable.”

The event included elected leaders from the town, county and state governments. First among these speakers was County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who emphasized Muratore’s unique ability to bring competing parties and interests together. 

“You have people from all walks of life here, people from all across the political spectrum, and I think that speaks volumes about who Tom Muratore was,” Bellone said. “He was always the utmost gentleman and would work with you. There was a way about him that I think was an example and a model for all of us to look at about how we should govern.” The county executive added, “This man was a true public servant his entire life and we need to honor public servants like that. We need more of the way that he conducted himself in public life.”

Elected officials gather at the newly named Thomas Muratore Park at Farmingville Hills on April 23. Photo by Raymond Janis

Discussing what it means to rename the county park after Muratore, Bellone said, “It’s an honor to be here today to be able to help name this park in his name so that forevermore, as we move from here, this will be a place where a man of great honor and a great public servant is remembered always in this county.”

County Legislature presiding officer, Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), acknowledged Muratore’s record of public service and his example of quality leadership throughout the county. 

“I got to know Tom when I joined the Legislature in 2014,” he said. “He was truly a mentor to me. He always had my back, never afraid to tell me when I was doing something right or wrong. No matter what role he took, whether it be in government, as a police officer or serving our county … he continued to serve.” McCaffrey added, “He didn’t just serve, he served well.”

Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), minority leader of the county Legislature, commended Muratore for the human touch that he put on his work in county government. “Tom was always invested in you,” Richberg said. “It didn’t matter when it was, he was always walking around, talking to everyone, finding out how their family was doing, what was going on in their personal lives.” The minority leader added, “He really wanted to know how you were doing. Beyond the politics, it was always about you.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) spoke of his experience serving for three years as Muratore’s chief of staff. LaValle said Muratore made little distinction between his public and private responsibilities, treating his staff as though they were family.

“You weren’t employed by Tom Muratore,” LaValle said. “You may have worked for Tom, but when you worked for Tom, you were part of his family and that’s how he always treated us.” Reflecting upon Muratore’s passing, the councilman added, “It hit us all hard because it was like losing your uncle or your dad. He always was around for us no matter what it was. It wasn’t just about government for Tom. It was about you as a person and about your family and how you were doing. It was never about Tom.”

County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) complimented Muratore’s legislative philosophy. According to her, his leadership was defined by his love of his community.

“Tom operated and governed from a base of love,” Kennedy said. “He loved the organizations, he loved the people that he was with. He was a good human being and I know right now that he is sitting in the palms of God’s hands.”

County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) spoke of Muratore’s effectiveness as a labor leader. Kennedy believed that Muratore’s style of representation included both a sense of urgency as well as a sincere conviction and passion for the work he performed.

“Always, always he was about our workforce and about the integrity of our county. He truly embraced that concept of service,” the comptroller said. 

County Clerk Judy Pascale (R) used her memorial address to recite a quote from the late American poet, Maya Angelou. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” Pascale said, adding, “Tommy, you always made us feel very special. Rest in peace, brother.”

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) suggested Muratore brought to county government a commonsense outlook and an approach guided by practical wisdom. 

“It was commonsense government, that’s what it was when you were with Tom Muratore,” Mattera said. “He cared about a decent wage, a decent health care [plan], a decent pension for all, so that we can live here on the Island.” Sharing his expectations for the park, the state senator added, “We have 107 acres here and when anybody walks these 107 acres at Tom Muratore Park, you’re always going to remember this name. This is an absolutely beautiful park and to have a name like Tom Muratore, I am just blessed to say I knew him.”

State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) emphasized Muratore’s authenticity. “Every time he would talk to you, he was never texting or doing anything like that,” Smith said. “He would be in the moment. I think more of us should live in the moment and genuinely care about each other.” The assemblyman also highlighted Muratore’s creative strategies to solve problems and get work done. “And I really appreciate that kind of relentless attitude. I just loved that about Tom and about how he always wanted to go to bat for people.”

Michael Wentz, president of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, presents a proclamation to Linda Muratore. Photo by Raymond Janis

Michael Wentz, founder and president of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, presented Muratore’s wife Linda with a proclamation that the chamber had prepared with Sachem Public Library of Holbrook. It reads: “On behalf of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, we present this proclamation in recognition of Thomas Muratore, whose never-ending support of his community and local businesses will forever live on, and be remembered for generations to come.”

The presentations were concluded with a short speech prepared by Linda Muratore, who used her time to honor Caracappa’s mother, the late county Legislator Rose Caracappa: “I don’t know if Legislator Caracappa knows, but Tom was very fond of his mom, Legislator Rose Caracappa. Every time he saw her name on a building, he said, ‘That must be the greatest honor.’” Linda Muratore added, “Today his dream has come true because of all of you. Thank you again for honoring my husband. I truly know that it was his honor to serve all of you.”

'Kayaks at Bay' by Holly Gordon

Contestants will be eligible to receive prizes, including a free Family Event aboard the historic Oyster Sloop Priscilla. Additional prizes provided by Long Island Aquarium, Long Island Ducks & Splish Splash

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced April 29 the launch of the 2022 Reclaim Our Water Poster Contest, for fifth grade students in the County, to encourage artistic expression and increase awareness of our most treasured natural resource — water. As a part of Reclaim Our Water (ROW), the County’s over-arching water quality improvement initiative, poster contest entrants are to create original artwork depicting their favorite water-related activities in Suffolk County with family and friends, such as swimming, kayaking, fishing, gardening and more, by May 20.

Oyster Sloop Priscilla

Contestants are encouraged to use their creativity, making posters that are humorous or serious, as long as they focus on the contest theme and direct viewers to the Reclaim Our Water website, www.ReclaimOurWater.info. Prizes will be awarded for first place, as well as for up to four other finalists. The first place winner will receive a free afternoon with family aboard the historic sailboat, Oyster Sloop Priscilla, of the Long Island Maritime Museum. Additional prizes will be provided by the Long Island Aquarium, the Long Island Ducks and Splish Splash. For more information, including rules, guidelines, and entry forms , please visit www.ReclaimOurWater.info.

“It is so important to involve our students in the work that we are doing now to create a cleaner, safer environment for them and future generations,”  said County Executive Bellone. “Coupling art with environmental awareness does that, in a unique way, to not only achieve our goal of increasing water quality awareness today, but also to pique their interest in protecting water quality for decades to come.”

To stop and reverse nitrogen pollution from cesspools and septic systems, improve water quality and protect natural storm barriers, County Executive Bellone launched the Reclaim Our Water initiative in 2017, which includes connection to sewers in some areas, and the installation of Innovative Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (IAOWTS) where sewers are not a practical or cost-effective solution. A featured aspect of the program includes the provision of up to $30,000 in state and county grants to eligible homeowners for the installation of Innovative and Alternatively nitrogen removal septic systems. As of March 2022, more than 1,030 Suffolk homeowners have utilized the program to install such systems.

Bonahue, above, entering the inaugural ceremony at the Suffolk Federal Credit Union Arena on the Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood. Photo by SCCC

On Friday, April 8, Suffolk County Community College celebrated the inauguration of Edward Bonahue as the college’s seventh president. 

Bonahue, who took office in June 2021, was joined by students, educators, community leaders and public officials at the Suffolk Federal Credit Union Arena on the Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood. During the event, various speakers had an opportunity to share their respective visions for the community college under Bonahue’s direction. 

Sarah Kain Gutowski, a professor of English at SCCC, delivered the inaugural poem, “A Shared Relief.” Gutowski’s poem reflected upon the setbacks faced by the Suffolk community because of the pandemic and offered a message of reassurance and hope.

“Perhaps memory serves us best when it reveals this: That after the onslaught of illness, fear, isolation and doubt, privation and poverty, empty rhetoric and tenuous polity, something remains,” Gutowski said. “Being together again, communing in this space whether virtual or real, masked or unmasked, standing six feet apart or three, is the way to recovery. Our eyes reflecting shared relief, it says, ‘Good, you’re still here.’”

Among the group of inaugural speakers was Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who commended Bonahue for his leadership qualities and for his unique ability to generate partnerships throughout the community.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, above, spoke during the inauguration. Photo by SCCC

“We are fortunate now to have a seasoned higher education executive with more than 20 years of experience in community college education leading this great institution,” Bellone said. “If the last 10 months tell us anything, it’s that Dr. Bonahue is a proven leader. Throughout the course of his career, he has successfully implemented creative programs and creative, innovative partnerships.” The county executive added that these are “all talents he has brought with him to his role as our new president.”

Bellone also touched upon Bonahue’s local roots, which he considered vital for the continued connection between residents and the community college: “Dr. Bonahue not only has the experience and know-how to lead this incredible institution, but we know he has a special interest in seeing this region succeed as a native Suffolk County resident and graduate of Ward Melville High School.”

Edward Bonahue (left) and County Executive Steve Bellone (right) share a laugh during the inaugural ceremony. Photo by SCCC

Mary Reid, member of the SCCC Foundation Board of Directors and a tax preparer based in Bay Shore, said Bonahue had met with over 100 community representatives from various organizations throughout the county in September 2021. Since that initial meeting, Bonahue has already strengthened the ties between SCCC and its community partners.

“Dr. Bonahue, you and your staff have kept in contact and have begun to implement the suggestions offered that morning,” Reid said. “You have interacted with library directors, with superintendents of schools, labor leaders, civic groups, religious leaders and mothers wanting to attend college who were seeking day care and financial aid,” adding, “We thank you so much for that.”

Reid said jokingly, “Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot leave without asking for something.” Addressing Bonahue, she said, “Today I ask you to add to your to-do list a program that will meet the needs of persons with disabilities, especially those with Down syndrome,” adding, “Also remember to engage in frequent updates to the community groups.”

Representing the student body was Zachary Frost. He celebrated the appointment of Bonahue as president, arguing that Bonahue intends to bring quality higher education opportunities to low-income families throughout the county.

“The first time I met President Bonahue, we spoke about the many resources made available to students to ensure their success,” Frost said. “President Bonahue wanted to streamline access to these resources and make them more readily available to any student who may be struggling. It was in this meeting that I saw President Bonahue’s passion for driving success, especially for those at a disadvantage.” 

Frost described the challenges of growing up in a single-parent household and of being raised by a parent who struggled to make ends meet. “I remember as a young child, probably six or seven years old, my mother didn’t have the easiest time going through college, whether it be financially or her trying to find someone to watch me while she was in class,” he said. “I can’t help but wonder, had she been a student here at Suffolk County Community College and had access to all of these amazing resources, like our food pantry, writing centers, hardship funds and on-campus day care centers, accompanied by caring professors and a great faculty, she probably would have had a much healthier college experience.” 

Dr. Bonahue, on behalf of our three bargaining units, the Faculty Association, AME, the Guild of Administrative Officers, and the executive leadership team, we welcome you, we welcome your family, to our community.

— Dante Morelli

Representing the SCCC employees and the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees was Dante Morelli, professor of communications. He said AME union members are the engine behind the entire operation at SCCC’s campuses and downtown centers.

“President Bonahue, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that you probably already know,” Morelli said. “If you really want to know who keeps the college running, it’s the members of AME. It’s the members of AME who are often the first voice and/or a face a student sees or hears when they walk onto campus or pick up the phone to ask for assistance.” He added, “Dr. Bonahue, on behalf of our three bargaining units, the Faculty Association, AME, the Guild of Administrative Officers, and the executive leadership team, we welcome you, we welcome your family, to our community.”

To access our coverage of Bonahue’s inaugural address, click here.

A historic photo of downtown Huntington Station. Photo from Town of Huntington

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced Dec. 29 a partnership between the county and Town of Huntington to expand sewers into Huntington Station. Both the county and the town will invest $22 million to fund the Huntington Station Hub Sewer Project, the first project funded under the county’s newly created Wastewater Infrastructure Fund, according to a press release from Belone’s office.

“For far too long, our region’s outdated infrastructure has slowed growth and development, with the lack of sewers being a primary driver,” Bellone said. “This is an historic partnership where both the Town and the county have come together and will be utilizing American Rescue Plan funds to push this much needed project forward, which will boost the local economy, create jobs, and allow for the continued revitalization of blighted areas.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) praised the county and town for the partnership.

“I fought hard to deliver over $1 billion in COVID relief to county, town, and village governments across Long Island, and I’m so glad that County Executive Bellone and Town of Huntington and are using some of this aid to make long-sought investments in sewer infrastructure that will help Huntington build back better.,” Schumer said in the press release. “Upgrading sewer infrastructure is key to improving Long Island’s environment, protecting public health, fostering sustainable growth, and spurring economic development.”

Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) thanked everyone involved.

“I thank County Executive Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County Legislature and my Town Board colleagues for our shared bi-partisan vision to invest our respective American Rescue Plan Act funds in a renewed Route 110 Corridor,” Luinacci said in the press release.  “It is very satisfying to have, as one of my last acts as Supervisor, allocated this funding for sewers in downtown Huntington Station on the south side of the train tracks, something that will spur economic investment and produce tangible results in the revitalization of my hometown–one of the key goals of my administration–in the years to come.”

The lack of sewers in Huntington Station has long been an obstacle to revitalization efforts by both the county and the town. This expansion will allow downtown Huntington Station to continue to evolve as a major economic center of Long Island. The sewer improvements will promote mixed-use development and provide the possibility to expand existing businesses, allow new businesses to move in and allow for the redevelopment of vacant parcels.

The Huntington Station Hub Sewer Project plans for installation and connection to sewers for both residential and commercial properties within the Huntington Hub. The project will connect approximately 229 parcels in the vicinity of the Huntington Railroad Station and south along NYS Route 110 corridor. Additionally, the sewers would also serve several commercial blocks of Depot Road and industrial land along the LIRR tracks.

Earlier this month, the Town of Huntington allocated $22 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for the Huntington Station Hub Sewer Project. The town will transfer $22,209,010 in American Rescue Plan Act Funds, its entire share of ARPA funds, to Suffolk County for the construction of the project.

As part of the 2022 Operating Budget, Bellone created the Wastewater Infrastructure Fund, which includes $125 million in new funding to significantly advance the County’s historic Reclaim Our Water Initiative.  The program is designed to stop and reverse nitrogen pollution by eliminating old cesspools and septic systems through sewer connections and the installation of Innovative Alternative.

Suffolk  County  is  partnering  with  the town of  Huntington  in  their  revitalization efforts of downtown Huntington Station, providing planning and design services of various infrastructure improvements. The Huntington Station LIRR stop is a vital east-west transportation connection and a study to examine implementing a bus rapid transit (BRT) line is currently underway. These efforts are part of the Connect Long Island economic development initiative and is intended to improve the economic future of Huntington Station.

Huntington Station, home to a diverse population, was once a thriving downtown that was displaced in the 1960s due to an Urban Renewal project. In the decades since, there have been unfulfilled promises to restore the downtown. Fortunately, in the last several years, through collaborative efforts of the public and private sectors, as well as the community- Huntington Station has seen tangible progress. Expanding the sewer infrastructure southbound, will build on the progress made and capitalize on the area’s existing assets such as the train station and access to major highways.

Stock photo

The Greek letter versions of the variants are beating up on Suffolk County, just as families prepare to gather during the holidays and New Year.

Suffolk County reported a 13.6% positive testing rate on Dec. 20, which is the highest rate in over a year, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“The omicron variant is, without question, powering a surge in cases here,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters. “We are seeing that play out in long lines for testing as the holiday season continues and as Christmas and New Year’s approach.”

Indeed, Bellone announced that he is using his emergency powers to create three new testing sites on Long Island. The county will open a site at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach on Dec. 27, in West Sayville on Dec. 27, and in the Sound Beach area on Jan. 4.

Bellone said he chose these sites near locations where the positivity rate is higher.

Bellone encourages residents to visit the county’s website, at suffolkcountyny.gov/covid19 to get details about signing up for tests at these new locations.

As for holiday preparations, Bellone and Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, suggested residents could continue with their holiday gathering plans as long as they take adequate precautions.

“It’s important to be vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna,” Pigott said. “It’s more important to get that third shot, that booster shot, that’ll give you the maximum protection.”

Infectious disease experts urged residents to remain vigilant about the virus during the current surge and as people prepare to visit families.

“I would suggest making sure that everyone test for COVID and receive a negative test result” before family gatherings, Sean Clouston, associate professor in the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine, explained in an email. “This is especially true for those in which there are individuals who are either unvaccinated, or those where attendees either are vaccinated but aged 60 and older.” Hospitals in the area have seen a dramatic increase in emergency room visits from residents who contracted COVID.

“The number of COVID hospitalizations has tripled in the last three weeks,” Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital/Northwell Health, wrote in an email.

Popp explained that patients who have been vaccinated have a milder form of COVID, while unvaccinated patients have suffered more severe symptoms. About two thirds of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated at Huntington Hospital, while several patients are in the intensive care unit.

With the increase in omicron cases, Popp explained that “we are all concerned that we may be overwhelmed if too many sick patients will show up all at once in the emergency room.”

To be sure, even with the increase in hospitalizations from the fall, the number of people batting the disease in the hospital remains well below peak levels. As of a year ago, 526 people battled COVID in the hospital. This week, that number stood at 326.

“The numbers are increasing, but they are still less than they were,” Bellone said.

Dr. Sunil Dhuper, chief medical officer at Port Jefferson’s St. Charles Hospital, suggested a three-pronged approach to defending against the next phase in the spread of COVID.

Getting vaccines and boosters is the first and most important step. Treating vulnerable residents with monoclonal antibodies is the second, and testing and wearing masks is the third step.

GlaxoSmithKline’s monoclonal treatment, called sotrovimab, works the best against omicron, Dhuper said.

At this point, the supply of that treatment, however, is limited. Dhuper hopes to get the supply issue resolved this Monday.

Until that is resolved, however, only people who are unvaccinated and who are vaccinated and immunocompromised or over 65 are eligible for this treatment, which is what the National Institutes of Health and Department of Health have recommended, Dhuper said.

The shortage of monoclonal antibodies is “an issue that needs to be addressed at the state and federal levels,” Bellone said. “I’m encouraged by what we’ve seen happening there. It’s an issue that we’ve heard from hospitals. With this surge, we’re seeing all of the capacity tested once again.”

Indeed, hospitals remain prepared to increase their staffing levels, particularly in January when people return from traveling and visiting family members.

“Everybody is aware that we may call upon any employee at any time, even if they are on vacation if we begin to see that the system is getting overwhelmed,” Dhuper said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk police commissioner Rodney Harrison. File photo

At a press conference Dec. 14 in Hauppauge, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) named Rodney Harrison as his nominee for county police commissioner. Harrison is the outgoing New York Police Department chief of department.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, Harrison is a 30-year veteran of the NYPD. His appointment will go before the county Legislature Dec. 21.

Stuart Cameron has served as acting commissioner since former police commissioner, Geraldine Hart, stepped down in May.

From left, Bruce Tilden, Jeanne Tilden, Councilman Eugene Cook, Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson, Councilman Ed Smyth, Councilwoman Joan Cergol, Mark McAteer, Sarah Lansdale, August Ruckdeschel and Larry Foglia. Photo from Town of Huntington

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson, Bruce and Jeanne Tilden, Huntington Town board members, representatives from Suffolk County, Larry Foglia, Suffolk County Farm Committee Representative and environmental groups were on hand Oct. 21 to announce the Town and County’s 50-50 partnership in the acquisition of the development rights to the approximately 13.69 acres of Tilden Lane Farm, a farm that has been in operation since 1793. 

In July of 2015 Councilman Cuthbertson started the process for the Town of Huntington to consider acquiring the development rights to the farm (TOH resolution 2015-345 & 2017-327) in conjunction with Suffolk County. 

In January 2020 the Town and County closed on a joint acquisition of farmland development rights of the Tilden Lane Farm.   This acquisition was possible due to the Farmland Development Rights program, which began in 1974. Suffolk County was the first in the nation to create a program like this, which permanently preserves farmland.  

Other farms in Huntington that are protected in this manner include the 49-acre White Post Farm on West Pulaski Road in Huntington and the 1.9-acre former Ketcham Horse Farm in Fort Salonga both of which had their farmland development rights acquired by the County.  In 2009 the Town and County shared in an acquisition of farmland development rights for 16.4 acres of the Richter’s orchard in East Northport and Fox Hollow Farm in South Huntington which is now ELIJA Farm. 

Since the creation of the program, Suffolk County has preserved over 11,000 acres. Additionally, other municipalities and land trusts have preserved 9,000 acres, bringing the countywide total to 20,000 acres. In 1998, when the first Huntington Environmental Open Space and Park Fund Review Advisory (or the EOSPA) Program was approved by Huntington residents, 15 open space acquisitions were made with the County’s support, matched by Town dollars. This helped to protect 2/3 of the total acreage conserved through the EOSPA program. 

The County Farmland Protection Program is known across the country. It preserved agricultural lands and farm livelihoods. It allows families and farmers to ply their heritage and opens opportunities for starting farmers to engage at a more reasonable cost. 

“I want to thank the Tilden family, Suffolk County, and the EOSPA committee. This collaboration will allow the Tilden Lane Farm to continue to operate as a working farm” said Councilman Mark Cuthbertson. “The thousands of acres of farmland in Suffolk County that have been preserved, are a “win-win” in that it preserves the land and allows farming operations to continue in perpetuity.  There is such little farm land in Western Suffolk County, I am proud to be a part of preserving every farm we can.”

“Everyone at Tilden Lane Farm appreciates the support of our elected officials in the Town of Huntington and the County of Suffolk that will enable us to keep operating our 8-generation family farm!,” said Bruce Tilden.

“Through the County’s first in the nation Farmland Preservation program, and thanks to the partnership of the Town of Huntington, we have been able to preserve more than 13 acres of farmland in Western Suffolk County – a major accomplishment when it comes to ensuring the future of farming all across Suffolk,” said County Executive Bellone. “This family run farm, which has been in operation for centuries, will be able to continue their tradition of providing Christmas Trees to the surrounding community for generations to come.”

“It is vital that we preserve as much of Long Island’s usable farmland as possible. I commend and thank Councilman Mark Cuthbertson for his hard work, as well as everyone on our Open Space Committee and in the Suffolk County Executive’s office who was involved in this important farmland acquisition” stated Councilwoman Joan Cergol

“Thanks to the Town-County partnership that allowed the preservation of Tilden Farm and other ones like it, future generations will also be inspired to become advocates for the environment and protecting our green space,” said Supervisor Chad Lupinacci.

“Thank you to Bruce, his wife Jeanne, and the entire Tilden family as well as the county and EOSPA committee for working with the Town of Huntington to help preserve this open space and retain Tilden Farm’s agricultural purpose for generations to come. Acquiring Tilden Farm is an incredible example of what can be accomplished when local governments work together,” said Councilman Ed Smyth.

“The purchase of the development rights for Tilden Farm is a wonderful way for Suffolk County and the Town of Huntington to partner in maintaining this farmland in perpetuity,”, stated Councilman Eugene Cook. 

“I want to thank the Tilden Family who will continue to operate this Greenlawn Christmas tree farm, while protecting it from development.  I am proud to be part of preserving not only an important part of Long Island history, but a part of the charm that Huntington was built on.”

Steve Bellone at a recent press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced on Oct. 20 that he tested positive for COVID-19.

“Today I tested positive for COVID-19 and will be following the recommended CDC protocols for fully vaccinated individuals,” he said. “I am experiencing mild symptoms at this point but otherwise feel in good health and spirits.”

The county executive had a reminder for residents.

“I hope this serves as a reminder to all residents that while we are making incredible progress in the war against COVID-19, we are not done just yet,” he said. “To that end, I encourage anyone who is eligible to receive their booster shot to do so.”

For more information on vaccination, you can go to suffolkcountyny.gov/vaccine.

Steve Bellone. Stock photo by Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone released the 2022 Recommended Operating Budget that will allow the county to recover and reemerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic, and focuses on strategic investments in water quality infrastructure, public safety, small businesses and local downtowns to foster a strong economic recovery.

Additionally, the budget freezes General Fund property taxes and complies with the New York State 2% Property Tax Cap for the tenth year in a row. 

Suffolk County will once again project an operating surplus in 2022 for the third year in a row. The total 2022 Recommended Budget is $3.88 billion.

“Even as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s recommended budget focuses on a strong recovery by making large-scale investments in water quality infrastructure, public safety, main street businesses and our county workforce,” Bellone said. “The budget does all this while remaining structurally balanced, protecting taxpayers at all costs and securing the county’s financial future.”

 Highlights of the County Executive’s Recommended Budget include: 

Water Quality Infrastructure Investments

Bellone has made Suffolk County a recognized leader statewide in efforts to protect and improve water quality. 

Scientists have identified the lack of wastewater treatment as a significant threat to Long Island’s environment and economy. 

For decades, cesspools and septic systems have discharged excess nitrogen pollution into the environment, culminating in recent years in beach closures, toxic algae and fish kills. 

To stop and reverse nitrogen pollution from cesspools and septic systems, Bellone launched the Reclaim Our Water initiative, which includes connection to sewers in some areas, and the installation of Innovative Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems where sewers are not a practical or cost-effective solution.

The Recommended Budget will invest $125 million in a Water Quality Infrastructure Program, funded by the American Rescue Plan.  

The Main Street Recovery Program

Small and Main Street businesses were hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many of them had to alter operations, invest in new technology, supplies, and tools to remain open, and some had to shutter their doors entirely. Businesses needed to be able to pivot in real-time to navigate these ongoing challenges. 

Last year, to assist struggling businesses, Bellone launched the Suffolk County Business Recovery Unit, which has worked to address the concerns and questions of the business community during the pandemic. 

The unit launched a number of initiatives, including but not limited to, a Small Business Grant Program, Business Recovery website with information and resources, Business Recovery call center, job board and in partnership with Stony Brook University College of Business, a technology assistance program, gift card program and Pandemic Shift workshops.

With challenges still lying ahead, this year’s Recommended Budget includes $35 million in funding for The Main Street Recovery Initiative, which will be funded by the American Rescue Plan.

The county’s Main Streets and downtowns are critical to the long-term economic success of this region. Suffolk’s economic development plan, Connect Long Island, is centered around this fact. Downtowns are the places to develop the kind of housing diversity that the region needs and that will support small businesses. 

They are also the places to build a mix of uses that will ultimately reduce car trips and thus reduce traffic congestion. Downtowns are also the places to create the kind of vibrancy that is necessary to attract young people, innovators and entrepreneurs to the region. 

These recovery funds will be used to invest in downtowns, invest in infrastructure and projects and in cultural arts institutions. 

The Main Street Recovery Fund will help provide direct assistance to Small Businesses and rent relief to help businesses impacted by COVID-19 and to reduce vacancies in the region’s downtowns.     

Public Safety

This budget makes public safety a priority. Police Academy classes, which will begin in January and September of 2022, will graduate approximately 220 new Suffolk County police officers. 

The Budget also includes funding for a Deputy Sheriff’s class of approximately 30 officers, two Correction Officer classes in June and September of 2022 that will graduate approximately 110 new officers, and 20 new Probation Officers.

The budget also provides funding to implement Police Reform in the Police District and additional funding for east end police departments and other local departments.  Part of that funding will pay for the implementation of Body Worn Cameras.    

County Workforce

This year’s budget provides funding to staff departments to ensure superior delivery of county services and adds funding for 120 new positions, including new mechanics, nurses and public safety dispatchers. The budget also continues to fund positions that previously remained vacant due to the pandemic such as 66 various titles in the Department of Public Works. 

The budget also includes funding for positions in Human Resources and Procurement to better support the county government’s most valuable resource, its workforce, and to save taxpayer dollars by centralizing operations to better coordinate and streamline purchasing processes.

Opioid Settlement Fund

Suffolk County was the first county in New York State to bring litigation against drug makers in connection with the opioid crisis. The county has since reached several multi-million dollar settlement agreements with three major opioid distributors, Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corporation, and major retail pharmacies including Walmart, CVS and Walgreens.

The 2022 Operating Budget creates a separate fund for the restricted and non-restricted opioid settlement funds for use in addressing the opioid epidemic.  County Executive Bellone has convened an intra-agency committee with Presiding Officer Rob Calarco, who sponsored the initial legislation to commence litigation against the companies responsible for the Opioid epidemic. 

The Committee is tasked with developing priorities related to the settlement agreements the county is receiving from Opioid distributors, manufacturers and pharmacies. The Committee has engaged with key stakeholders within the substance abuse community, including non-profit service providers with expert-level experience in harm reduction, prevention, treatment and recovery services.

Protecting Taxpayers 

The 2022 budget, which freezes the County Tax for the 10th year in a row, also includes a number of additional financial measures designed to protect taxpayers in Suffolk County. The proposed budget takes an intensive approach to building reserves and contingency funds to safeguard future years’ finances. The County’s Tax Stabilization Reserve Fund is funded at the highest level in its history. Additional reserve funds including the Retirement Contribution Reserve Fund, the Debt Service Reserve Fund and Insurance Reserve Fund are also funded.  This budget also creates several contingent funds to further stabilize the county’s long-term fiscal position.

The Budget includes contingencies for snow and ice removal and road repair costs, accrued liability from employee benefits, and most notably a contingent fund to pay every deferred employee salary ever implemented – including those instituted by prior administrations.  This budget pays off previous debt from deferrals and pension amortization and from the sale/leaseback of the H Lee Dennison Building.  These fiscally responsible actions will help deliver lower interest rates and eliminate the need for short term borrowings, both of which will ultimately save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.