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Finances

Officials celebrate the installation of a denitrifying septic system in Nesconset in 2015. Photo from Bellone’s office

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has made two proposals to the legislators that he believes will protect taxpayers and environmental programs in the wake of the economic effects of COVID-19.

He would like to use two existing tax stabilization funds to mitigate the budgetary impact of the virus.

These proposals, which he would like to add as a referendum for voters in November, would “protect taxpayers and essential employees and 100 percent protect environmental programs,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “Any legislator who votes no on this legislation is only making layoffs more likely to occur.”

He urged legislators to give taxpayers the option of voting for these proposals, which he suggests will protect taxpayers, employees and environmental programs.

In addition, Bellone said he appreciated the efforts of U.S. Reps Tom Suozzi (D-NY-3) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) to reverse the effect of an Internal Revenue Service ruling that taxes homeowners who participate in a septic improvement program, which was designed to protect Suffolk County’s waterways.

Suffolk County residents “care about clean water,” Bellone said. “These individuals should not be liable to pay taxes on grant money that never even touches their hands.”

The county executive applauded people who move beyond earlier versions of wastewater treatment systems, which, he said, “degraded” water quality and represented a mounting threat.

Separately, the county has no plans to provide any fireworks for the 4th of July celebration. Belone said some local municipalities have considered such an option.

Amid concerns about the illegal use of fireworks, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the police have made two arrests to date and will be providing a public service announcement regarding fireworks and the dangers involved.

Residents who see or hear illegal fireworks, which can lead to injuries, fires or cause other damage, can call crime stoppers at (800) 220-TIPS.

“We want people to enjoy themselves,” Bellone said. “These fireworks are dangerous. The best thing you can do is to leave fireworks to the experts.”

As the county prepares to move into Phase 3 of its reopening tomorrow, Bellone called the continued reopening, which is occurring two weeks after the start of Phase 2, a “big milestone for us.”

Bellone will continue to monitor the viral figures that come out of upstate New York, where several counties are entering phase 4, to get an indication of whether the next phase of reopening could begin two weeks from now.

Viral Numbers

Even as other states, such as Florida, Texas and Arizona are encountering a surge in cases and hospitalizations, Suffolk County continues to move down the infection curve.

In the last 24 hours, an additional 46 people have tested positive for the coronavirus. That is a positive rate of 1.3 percent among those tested, which is above recent trends but still well below rates during the worst of the pandemic on Long Island. The number of people who have tested positive for the virus is now 41,056.

The number of people who have tested positive for antibodies to the virus stands at 18,188. These are people who didn’t have a COVID-19 positive result, but whose bodies have produced antibodies.

Hospitalizations declined by one to 89. People with COVID-19 in the Intensive Care Unit increased by one to 28.

Hospital capacity remained well below guidelines, with hospital beds and ICU beds at 63 percent and 60 percent capacity, respectively.

An additional six people were discharged from the hospital over the previous day.

Meanwhile, the number of people who died from complications related to COVID-19 increased by five to 1,970. During each of the previous four days, one person died each day from the virus.

The county distributed 4,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the previous day.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Alex Petroski

As Suffolk County emerges from a public health crisis that claimed the lives of close to 2,000 residents and triggered an economic collapse, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has renewed his request for financial aid from the federal government.

Following a municipal committee that laid out an economic shortfall for this year of over $800 million, the county’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office validated the enormous financial hole that threatens public health, public safety and social services.

“Our immediate need right now is for $1 billion in federal relief,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “That won’t solve all our issues. We are still going to need to make some tough choices,” which  he said includes streamlining processes and potentially cuts in other areas.

Bellone urged the federal government, which originally urged the lockdown to save lives, to prevent essential employees from not only risking their lives and the lives of their families by working during the pandemic, but then also from having to help foot the bill for these unprecedented efforts.

“What we’re asking Washington to do is to give us back a fraction of what we send every year,” Bellone said. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

Bellone felt confident that a bipartisan group of federal government representatives recognized the need for financial help from the government.

The budget review office provided a list of mitigation measures that could include laying people off, lagging in payrolls, raising an energy or sales tax and amortizing pensions, all of which would cause additional suffering for first responders, essential employees and county residents.

Even putting all those items together, however, would only add up to $150 million, which is well short of the financial need the county has over the next three months when the next budget is due.

Bellone said the county was considering cuts in all areas, which could include the Suffolk County Police Department.

Viral Numbers

The viral numbers continue to remain stable and is a considerably better daily tally than many other counties and states which have seen a surge in new cases and hospitalizations.

In Suffolk County, the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 was 32, which brings the total to 40,770. The positive tests continue to represent below 1 percent of the overall tests from the county each day.

These numbers remain low over a week after many of the 100 protests over the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, whose death triggered sweeping requests around the world for reform of police tactics.

“I feel very comfortable saying that [the low number of positive tests] is evidence that the outdoor environment is a very safe environment with the caveat that I’m not a doctor,” Bellone said. “When you’ve had this many protestors wearing face coverings and not seeing a spike in cases is real strong evidence about how safe the outdoor environment is.”

The number of people hospitalized increased by eight to 129, which reflects a continuing holding pattern in that figure around 125.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit declined by two to 35.

Hospital occupancy remained well below health care metrics. The occupancy of hospital beds was at 64 percent, while the occupancy of ICU beds was at 60 percent.

The number of people discharged from the hospital in the last day was 10.

Meanwhile, one person died from complications related to COVID-19 in the last day. The total number of deaths for Suffolk County now stands at 1,958.

The H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge. Photo by Rita J. Egan

As the economic toll from the lockdown during the virus becomes clearer, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has asked department heads to come up with 5 percent cuts in their discretionary spending, which would trim $60 million from the budget.

Those departments include the Health Department, the Department of Public Works, Real Estate, Parks, the Budget Office and the Office of Aging.

“Earlier today, I directed the departments under the control of the county executive’s office to identify potential cuts in preparation for the budget that we will be working on for 2021,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

As for the spread of the virus, Bellone said he is concerned about any increase in viral transmission during the numerous protests in response to the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who died when a former police officer, who was now charged with his murder, kneeled on his neck while he was handcuffed for close to nine minutes.

“Gatherings of this size and proximity is a concern,” Bellone said. The county executive said the transmission of the coronavirus could become evident over the next week.

As of now, the county has excess capacity at its testing sites, including in hotspot areas.

Separately, Bellone and Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor) will host a town hall tonight at 6:30 p.m. to discuss testing and contact tracing. Interested residents can tune in through facebook.com/SteveBellone.

Viral Numbers

Over the last 24 hours, Suffolk County has had the smallest increase in deaths due to complications related to COVID-19, with one additional person dying. The current total is 1,916.

“Every day, I’m hoping to see that number get down to zero,” Bellone said. “We haven’t been down to [as low as one death] since the third week in March.”

The number of people infected with the virus each day continues to hover below 100. Over the last day, 91 people tested positive, raising the total in Suffolk County to 40,153. The number of residents who tested positive for the antibody was 14,778.

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, decreased by 11 to 225, with those in Intensive Care Unit beds declining by five to 56.

An additional 20 people were discharged from hospitals in Suffolk County.

Hundreds of protesters stand at the corner of Routes 112 and 347 in Port Jefferson Station Monday, June 1 to protest police violence, especially against people of color. Photo by Kyle Barr

In response to the ongoing unrest in the country caused by the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by a former police officer who has now been charged with second-degree murder, Suffolk County will field hate or bias crime calls through its 311 number.

Starting today, residents can call 311 to address concerns about bias or hate crimes that they are subjected to or that they witness.

“Hate, bias, bigotry and discrimination have no safe haven in Suffolk County,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. Operators will be ready to provide information or transfer callers to the Human Rights Commission, as needed.

At protests around the county, which included seven such gatherings yesterday in Suffolk, residents are expressing concerns about hate crimes and bias, Bellone said.

The county executive continued to show an appreciation for the way demonstrators behaved during their protests and the ongoing protection and surveillance from police.

“The demonstrations we have seen have been peaceful,” Bellone said. “They represent a contrast with events that have transpired in other communities in our country. That is a credit to the people demonstrating and to the Suffolk County Police Department.”

Amid the economic devastation from the lockdown, Bellone commissioned a financial report that he presented to various public sector unions earlier today. The report anticipates a revenue shortfall of between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion over the next two years.

Bellone shared with those unions his hope that federal representatives, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) will continue to support the county and will endorse financial assistance amid the financial devastation caused by the virus.

Bellone didn’t offer the unions any specific assurances, saying that he wanted to give them the foundation of the financial issues the county was facing.

Meanwhile, outdoor seating at restaurants will be allowed throughout the state as each region reaches phase two of its reopening. At the latest, Suffolk County could enter that phase next Wednesday.

SC Taskforce Worst Case Scenario Projects $590 Mln Revenue Shortfall for 2020

None of the choices is particularly appealing, but V is certainly better than W and U.

A COVID-19 Fiscal Impact Task Force report projected a range of economic scenarios for the county, depending on the impact of the virus later this year. In a “V” case, the economy rebounds quickly and continues to climb.

A “W” scenario, on the other hand, recovers, then stumbles amid a second wave of the virus that doesn’t require a lockdown, and then stages another recovery.

The worst-case scenario, however, is the “U,” in which a second wave presents enough of a recurring public health crisis that the economy recovers far more slowly.

The three possibilities will likely dictate the extent of the revenue shortfall over the next three years.

About $329 million of the overall revenue shortfalls come from actual declines in sales tax collection so far in 2020. Additionally, the task force, which included Emily Youssouf, Larian Angelo, Michael Kelly and Nathan Leventhal, anticipates a 4.9 percent shortfall in property tax collections, which translates into a reduction in collections of $35 million.

The group also projected a $30 million revenue shortfall from OTB/ casino and motel/ hotel taxes.

The range of revenue shortfalls through 2022 are from $1.136 billion to $1.518 billion. The biggest single-year gap between projected revenue and actual revenue would be in the “U” scenario for this year, for which the county would come up $590 million short.

The task force concluded that the current economic outlook requires a swift and dramatic response to prevent an economic disaster.

“Even the most optimistic scenario which the task force has examined will place enormous pressure on the ability of the county to maintain an acceptable level of government service which the County’s residents have every right to expect,” the group warned in its conclusions.

Viral Numbers

The number of residents who tested positive for the virus was 82, raising the total with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 40,062. With 4,840 tests, that represents a 1.7% percent positive rate among those tested, which is well below the rate for positive tests in April.

The number of people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 declined by 11 to 236 as of the 24 hours ending on June 1. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds also fell by six to 61.

The percentage of people in hospital beds with COVID-19 was 63 percent, while the percentage in the ICU was 52 percent, both of which provide the kind of flexibility in the health care system the state hoped to provide.

Over the last day, another 11 people left the hospital. Six people have died over the last day due to complications related to the coronavirus, raising that enormous human toll to 1,915.

Stock photo

Suffolk County has a tough task in digging out of its enormous financial hole.

A group of independent and municipal financial experts completed their analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the economy and presented it to County Executive Steve Bellone (D) last night.

Over the next two and a half years, the county is facing a shortfall that is anywhere from $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion, which is three times the budget deficit the county faced coming out of the financial crisis of the last decade.

“This is a budget crisis that is greater than this county has ever seen before,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “This report outlines it well. We have a long road ahead.”

Bellone is sending this report to the entire congressional delegation so they can understand the financial emergency created by the public health crisis.

“This is a crisis that’s beyond what a local government has the capacity to deal with on a local level,” Bellone said. “If ever there was a time that a local community needed their federal representatives to deliver for them, that moment is now.”

After residents did as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal government instructed, by staying at home, not going to work and limiting their activities over the last few months, Suffolk County residents need the federal government to say, “Yes, we have your back,” Bellone said.

The range of estimates for the shortfall comes from the uncertainty about how the virus will affect the county for the remainder of this year. On the lower end, which is still an enormous financial challenge, the economy remains open. In a second scenario, where a second wave of the virus hits in the fall, potentially concomitant with the appearance of the flu, the county needs to enact some economic restrictions.

In the third scenario, the spread of the virus is so problematic that it forces another lockdown, which would cause the shortfall to balloon to $1.5 billion.

No matter how the virus affects the county later this year, however, this has a “cataclysmic financial impact,” Bellone said. “This is not something we can get through alone. We need that support.”

The county executive said he plans to meet with employee unions, including those that represent police, nurses and emergency workers, to have some tough conversations.

These people are out there “trying to keep the public safe and to prevent a second wave,” Bellone said. “These are tough conversations only because these are extraordinarily difficult challenges.” It’s not something they should have to think about.”

Ultimately, Bellone said he believes the federal government will step up to the challenge created by the public health crisis and the economic damage it wrought.

“I’m confident our federal government will deliver and will do what needs to be done,” Bellone said.

As for the ongoing protests, including a demonstration in Shirley yesterday, Bellone remained appreciative of the peaceful and constitutionally protected way demonstrators expressed themselves.

When the demonstrators marched along William Floyd Parkway, the police “worked to deescalate a situation that could have grown worse,” Bellone said.

Viral Numbers

In the last day, the number of people who died from the virus was three, bringing the total to 1,909.

Those deaths, horrific as they are for each person who died and for the families and friends who lost a loved one, are the lowest they’ve been since March.

“If there’s anything positive today in being able to talk about those numbers” it’s that the death toll is lower than it’s been since the beginning of the crisis, Bellone said.

In the 24 hours ending on May 31, the number of residents hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped by six to 247. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds remained unchanged at 67.

People with COVID-19 accounted for 68 percent of bed use, while residents with COVID-19 accounted for 54 percent of ICU bed use, which are each below the target 70 percent figure that was necessary for Phase 1 of reopening.

The number of positive tests increased by 275 to 39,980. That number, however, includes 200 people who had not been reported earlier, which puts the number of new infections closer to the county’s daily tally, which has been tracking below 100.

The number of people who have tested positive for the virus on an antibody test has increased to 14,222.

As for supplies, the county distributed 22,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the last day, raising that total above 5.8 million.

Today, the county received 50,000 surgical masks from the Taiwanese government, which had shipped them to New York City last week and were delivered to Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services today.

Stock photo

By Leah Chiappino

One of the most trying aspects of COVID-19 is the financial turmoil it has brought on both national and local business sectors. Financial adviser Michael Christodoulou of Edward Jones Investments in Stony Brook answered some commonly asked questions about how to secure investments and resources for small businesses, and the types of financial assistance offered through the recent stimulus package.

Q: What is your advice for people, especially those that are retired or nearing retirement, regarding their stocks and 401(k) plans?

A: For one thing, ask yourself this: When do you really need the money from your investment accounts, such as your IRA and your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan? These are retirement accounts, so, depending on your age, you may not need to tap into them for 20, 30 or even 40 years. If so, your losses may be “paper” ones only for now and aren’t subjecting you to imminent financial jeopardy. This isn’t to minimize the effect this downturn will have on you, of course — it always takes time to recover lost ground, and there are no guarantees with investing. However, although past performance does not guarantee future results, it is useful to note that, over its long history, the U.S. stock market has typically trended in one direction — up — despite serious and sometimes lengthy declines such as we saw in the Great Depression and, to a lesser extent, the bursting of the dot.com bubble of the early 2000s and the financial crisis of 2008-09.

Nonetheless, you may have shorter-term goals — a wedding, down payment on a home, overseas trip, etc. — for which you need to save. For these goals, though, you wouldn’t want to touch your IRA or 401(k), anyway, as you’d likely face taxes and penalties. Instead, you’ll want your money invested in liquid, low-risk accounts that will be minimally affected, if at all, by declines in the financial markets. These vehicles might include Certificates of Deposit (CDs), money market accounts and even good old-fashioned U.S. savings bonds, all of which offer the protection of principal and can pay higher rates than traditional bank savings accounts.

Q: Should people stop contributing to retirement during this time?

A: Every investor has a different time horizon and risk tolerance. Depending on their time horizon and risk tolerance there may be a number of different recommendations.

For example, if a client has a longer-time horizon until retirement it may make sense to continue investing periodically in their retirement plan. But for someone who is looking to retire relatively soon, they might want to stop contributions or start saving those assets in low-risk accounts.

I highly recommend they work with their financial adviser in order to have a personalized strategy designed based on their goals for retirement.

Q: How would you advise small businesses go about applying for governmental assistance, especially through the federal stimulus bill?

A: Small businesses should work with their tax professionals/CPA and financial adviser in order to review their individual situation. I recommend they start by logging onto www.sba.gov/disaster. During this time, they should also be very cautious about scams. 

Q: The economic effects of this virus are already enormous, and will get exponentially worse. How do you think people can financially cope if this crisis continues?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) offers help for investors and small businesses. As we go through the coronavirus crisis, we are all, first and foremost, concerned about the health of our loved ones and communities. But the economic implications of the virus have also weighed heavily on our minds. However, if you’re an investor or a business owner, you just got some help from Washington, and it could make a big difference, at least in the short term, for your financial future. Specifically, the passage of the $2 trillion CARES Act offers, among other provisions, the following:

  • Expanded unemployment benefits: The CARES Act provides $250 billion for extended unemployment insurance, expands eligibility and provides workers with an additional $600 per week for four months, in addition to what state programs pay. The package will also cover the self-employed, independent contractors and “gig economy” workers. Obviously, if your employment has been affected, these benefits can be a lifeline. Furthermore, the benefits could help you avoid liquidating some long-term investments you’ve earmarked for retirement just to meet your daily cash flow needs.
  • Direct payments: Individuals will receive a one-time payment of up to $1,200, although this amount is reduced for incomes over $75,000 and eliminated altogether at $99,000. Joint filers will receive up to $2,400, which will be reduced for incomes over $150,000 and eliminated at $198,000 for joint filers with no children. Plus, taxpayers with children will receive an extra $500 for each dependent child under the age of 17. If you don’t need this money for an immediate need, you might consider putting it into a low-risk, liquid account as part of an emergency fund.
  • No penalty on early withdrawals: Typically, you’d have to pay a 10 percent penalty on early withdrawals from IRAs, 401(k)s and similar retirement accounts. Under the CARES Act, this penalty will be waived for individuals who qualify for COVID-19 relief and/or in plans that allow COVID-19 distributions. Withdrawals will still be taxable, but the taxes can be spread out over three years. Still, you might want to avoid taking early withdrawals, as you’ll want to keep your retirement accounts intact as long as possible.
  • Suspension of required withdrawals: Once you turn 72, you’ll be required to take withdrawals from your traditional IRA and 401(k). The CARES Act waives these required minimum distributions for 2020. If you’re in this age group, but you don’t need the money, you can let your retirement accounts continue growing on a tax-deferred basis.
  • Increase of retirement plan loan limit: Retirement plan investors who qualify for COVID-19 relief can now borrow up to $100,000 from their accounts, up from $50,000, provided their plan allows loans. We recommend that you explore other options, such as the direct payments, to bridge the gap on current expenses and if you choose to take a plan loan work with your financial adviser to develop strategies to pay back these funds over time to reduce any long-term impact to your retirement goals.
  • Small business loans: The CARES Act provides $349 billion to help small businesses — those with fewer than 500 employees — retain workers and avoid closing up shop. A significant part of this small business relief is the Paycheck Protection Program. This initiative provides federally guaranteed loans to small businesses who maintain payroll during this emergency. Significantly, these loans may be forgiven if borrowers use the loans for payroll and other essential business expenses, such as mortgage interest, rent and utilities, and maintain their payroll during the crisis. Please visit sba.gov/disaster for more information.

We’ll be in a challenging economic environment for some time, but the CARES Act should give us a positive jolt — and brighten our outlook.

Q: Do you have any information on how residents will know the exact number on their stimulus check for those above the $75,000 income threshold?

A: I would advise individuals to contact their tax professional/CPA. They will be able to give more accurate guidance based on their clients’ taxable situation and possible qualifications for the CARES Act direct payment program.

Q: What is your advice for those that have recently lost jobs and need to prioritize their loans? How can people cut back, and are there any specific loans that should be paid over others?

A: In the unfortunate event that you or a family member loses your job there are some easy steps to follow to help you better prepare yourself for this event. The federal government has taken a big step in protecting renters by issuing a 120-day moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing and property with federally backed mortgage loans. Some states have barred evictions for a few weeks. Please check with your landlord and or mortgage company.

Q: With stocks dipping, is now a good time to buy?

A: Before investing we recommend that investors understand their time horizon with the asset they are thinking about investing. What will that money be used for in the future? At what point in the future will you need the money?

For investors with a long-term outlook and time horizon, we remain confident that a rebound will take shape. It may take a while longer to materialize, but we think it will be robust and fueled by a return of confidence in the post-virus outlook. Long-term investors don’t need to capitalize on the pullback all at once but should consider opportunities to benefit from this decline. Consider:

  1. Rebalancing: Trimming overweight allocations and filling gaps in underrepresented asset classes and sectors.
  2. Systematic investing: Taking advantage of the ongoing volatility by systematically investing at regular intervals, reducing the “timing” aspect as the selloff plays out.
  3. Look for good buying opportunities, because they are certainly out there. A well-managed company with a solid business plan that produces quality products and services is going to be that same company after the coronavirus and oil price panics subside and, right now, that company’s stock shares may literally be “on sale.”

We recommend you consult with a financial adviser in order to make sure you completely understand your level of risk and time horizon.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for a set amount people should have in savings in case of an emergency? What is the best way to do so?

A:  I believe everyone should have an emergency fund. Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal dollar amount that applies for everyone.

If you don’t already have an emergency fund, take these first steps to prepare:

  1. Detail your current financial situation including your income, expenses, assets and debts and any money previously set aside for unexpected expenses.
  2. Create a detailed budget in order to figure out what your monthly and annual living expenses add up to.
  3. Consider saving between three and six months of living expenses if you are still working; 12 months or more if you are retired.

This is just a starting point. Depending on your age, your list may look considerably different. Your financial adviser can help you put together your cash flow analysis related to your financial goals and help you calculate how much cash you may need for your next unexpected event.

Q: How do you think people should go about negotiating with credit card companies and banks if they need relief?

A: If someone is facing some financial hardship, they should contact their credit card company or bank directly. In most cases these companies can provide guidance and options so the individual understands their options and can make a decision based on all the information provided to them.

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The SWR High School parking lot is finally completed as part of the ongoing bond project. The district is looking to see if the fitness center will use extra bond funds. Photo by David Luces

With construction of a new parking lot at the Shoreham-Wading River High School complete, school officials are chomping at the bit to receive the guard booth they already ordered by the start of the school year.

Entering into the new parking lot, drivers are greeted with two routes, one for buses and the other for parking. 

The SWR High School parking lot is finally completed as part of the ongoing bond project. The district is looking to see if the fitness center will use extra bond funds. Photo by David Luces

“The biggest question a person will have to ask is whether I turn right, or I go straight,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations. “There’s plenty of signage. … It should be very clear.”

Some of the new spaces are designated specifically for student parking, while other spots are designated for library patrons, marked with green lines, of which there are 20. Each space, except for handicapped spots, are numbered, which will correspond to senior student’s assigned parking values. Otherwise there are a number of spots for parents dropping off items or for expected mothers.

The other major piece of the parking lot, however, still has to arrive. Arcuri said they ordered their mobile guard booth, one that is attached with a trailer, after the school budget passed several months ago but has yet to arrive, with the company citing delays. 

Otherwise, the guard booth will be set up at the drive in toward the new parking lot. It will not contain a lowering bar, and instead a security guard will ask each incoming car why they’re there. All North Shore Public Library users will be asked to park in a marked section, while others who are dropping off items will be directed, and the guard will radio they are coming. The booth will be up during school hours, but it may also be used during larger events. A permanent booth could be added using money from the New York State Smart School Bond Act, which the district finalized plans for at the end of 2018.

The mobile booth is a test, the assistant super said, for what may become a permanent booth not just in the high school but in other district buildings.

During school hours, the recreational facilities like the football field and tennis courts, along with the trails to the southwest of the high school, are off limits, Arcuri said.

“It pushes any imminent threat further out, and that’s the goal of the visitors booth,” he added. “We are learning as we’re going.”

Arcuri said the district should be releasing a map of how to navigate the new parking lot sometime before the start of school.

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

Suffolk County financial reform has leaped to the tops of the minds of members of both parties in county government.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced proposals aimed at strengthening Suffolk’s financial future at a press conference in Hauppauge Feb. 27. As part of the Securing Suffolk’s Financial Future Act, Bellone proposed amending the county Tax Act to allow the county to collect tax revenue that is owed in January, instead of waiting until June. Officials said the plan is the latest in the county’s efforts to streamline operations and be more efficient. 

Bellone said the goal of the plan is to help strengthen the county’s financial condition going forward. 

“It would ensure the county would get tax revenue that it is owed at the beginning of the year instead of waiting until June and [being] forced to borrow funds.”

— Steve Bellone

“When we look at planning ahead, looking beyond where we are today and thinking about where we’ll be five, 10, 15 years down the road — it’s important that we do that,” the county executive said. 

The plan would build upon previous undertakings by the county, which include bipartisan efforts to bring the county in line with the best finance practices set forth by financial experts from the Office of the New York State Comptroller and the Government Finance Officers Association, according to Bellone. 

In doing so, the county would press to amend the Tax Act, which would require state legislation. The county executive said the 100-year-old law is seriously outdated.

“It would ensure the county would get tax revenue that it is owed at the beginning of the year instead of waiting until June and [being] forced to borrow funds,” he said. “This is an issue that crosses party lines, this is not an issue that is partisan or [one] that should be partisan.”

The county executive called for the authorization of a four-year budget plan, which would allow the county to focus on long-term projects as well as updated debt management and fund balance policies. New computer software will be purchased to enhance transparency and
accountability.

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), a known critic of Bellone, announced plans in February to run for county executive in November. His campaign has attacked Bellone on the current state of the county’s finances, placing a lot of the blame on his Democratic contender for a downgrade in Suffolk’s bond rating and for raising county fees. 

Kennedy said Bellone is just attempting to look fiscally responsible.

“Steve Bellone doesn’t know how to spend less,” Kennedy said. 

In a Jan. 31 TBR News Media article, Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director, said while the county’s bond rating has dropped, Kennedy were “overstating” the impact. He said Moody’s, which gives the bond grades to municipalities, was only looking at the past and not the future. Kennedy has said he plans to consolidate county offices in order to reduce taxes.

Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), deputy presiding officer, said fiscal responsibility is the top priority when talking about taxpayer dollars. 

“These policies that we are laying out are common-sense ways to ensure that we are transparent with the public,” he said. 

The county executive also called for re-establishing an insurance reserve fund, originally created in 1980, which would assist in paying unexpected legal expenses. There was a call as well to reorganize the county’s audit joint committee and add more members. 

“Steve Bellone doesn’t know how to spend less.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Bellone said the changes would allow for a more robust and diversified review of the fiscal condition of the county. 

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman (D), who helped piece the plan together along with a team from the county executive’s office, said its goal was to figure out how Suffolk County can be best managed and reach its fullest potential. 

“What we can do is to present reform in a manner to get the best out of what this county can offer,” Kaiman said. 

County officials indicated legislation has been filed and expect a hearing to be set at the end of March and the proposals could be up for consideration into law sometime in April. 

Graphic by TBR News Media

By Sara-Megan Walsh and Kyle Barr

The three North Shore towns of Brookhaven, Huntington and Smithtown are grappling with how to best recycle in 2019 after Brookhaven’s facility ground to a halt in October 2018. 

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August 2018. Brookhaven has since returned to dual stream recycling. Photo from Town of Smithtown

In that month, Brookhaven’s recycling contractor Green Stream Recycling prematurely terminated its 25-year agreement to operate the town’s recycling plant in Yaphank. The announcement came as collected recyclables piled up like mountains outside the Yaphank facility as China’s new National Sword policy took effect, implemented in January 2018, which set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials it would accept. Up until then, China had been the world’s largest importer of recycled materials, and now local towns had to scramble to find a new market to sell to.

All three towns solicited bids from recycling companies in the hopes of finding the most efficient and green solution for its residents. 

The result is Brookhaven, Huntington and Smithtown have all taken slightly different approaches based on what services they’ve been offered. Residents have been puzzled by new recycling schedules, as the townships are still attempting to explain what has changed with their recycling and how it will impact the future.

Brookhaven

Once the bottom of the recycling market fell out from China’s decision, Brookhaven was caught directly in the storm that followed, with the Green Stream facility being the center of multiple towns’ recycling efforts.

“It’s not the system that so much changed, as much as what was allowable,” said Christopher Andrade, the town’s recycling commissioner. “[China] went down from 5 percent contamination to 0.5 percent. It wasn’t the equipment that caused the problem, it was the standard that caused the problem.”

At the Jan. 17 Brookhaven Town Board meeting, council members unanimously voted to sign a $760,000 contract with West Babylon-based Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island to take their materials to Smithtown’s Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. 

The new standards mean Brookhaven residents can only put out the most common No. 1 and 2 plastics, which are collected together with aluminum such as food cans. Paper products are collected separately. The town asked that any unclean paper products such as used pizza boxes be thrown out with regular trash instead. Glass is no longer being picked curbside by the town, and instead can be placed at one of seven drop-off points located around the town.

“It’s not the system that so much changed, as much as what was allowable.”

— Chris Andrade

To advertise these changes, Brookhaven took out newspapers ads and broadcasted the changes on radio, television and social media at the tail end of 2018. The town is planning another media blitz for 2019, including another mailer to all residents along with additional newspaper and radio ads. The annual mailer sent to Brookhaven residents, which includes information about the new recycling system, costs $30,000. Otherwise the town has spent approximately $12,000 on newspaper ads and roughly $10,000 on radio ads so far. Andrade said the town is continuing to advertise the changes.

Further changes to Brookhaven’s recycling system could again appear on the horizon. Matt Miner, chief of operations, said the town is looking for means of getting its recycling facility restarted, though this would require a new contractor to partner with Brookhaven. 

Andrade said he hopes to have the facility running again before the six-month contract with Smithtown is up. In addition, the recycling commissioner said he is awaiting news of the current litigation between the town and Green Stream over the voided contract.

For now, Brookhaven is sticking with dual stream, as officials said single-stream recycling resulted in a worse quality product that at this point was near impossible to sell.

For more information on recycling, visit Brookhaven’s video on recycling.

Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown opted to take a unique approach to dual-stream recycling by taking on two different contracts in hopes of getting their best payout for recycled materials. 

In December, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) signed a six-month contract with Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island to pick up all collected paper and cardboard recycling in exchange for paying the town $30 per ton. These collections are expected to net Smithtown approximately $177,000 per year, if they choose to extend the contract. 

Since Oct. 29 the Town of Smithtown has been piling up residents’ recyclables at its Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. File Photo by Kyle Barr

The town entered a separate contract with Islandia-based Trinity Transportation, which will take unprocessed curbside metals and plastics, limited to plastics Nos. 1 and 2, with $68 per ton being paid by the town, at a total cost of approximately $104,000 per year. 

Overall, the combination of two contracts along with money received from Brookhaven for shipping their recyclables for pickup, will net the town approximately $178,500 per year in total, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. 

Residents who wish to recycle their glass bottles and containers can drop off materials at three locations throughout town: Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park, Town Hall and the Highway Department building on Route 347 in Nesconset.  

Smithtown Town Board has budgeted $16,000 for its public campaign regarding the return to dual-stream, the least of any township but also with the smallest population to reach. Garguilo said many of the graphics and printed materials have been designed in-house, which has helped save money. She added that the supervisor and town officials will be speaking with senior citizen groups and community associations throughout early 2019 to help re-educate residents who may not be technologically savvy. 

For more information on recycling, go to Smithtown’s video on the subject.

Huntington 

After the Yaphank plant’s closure, the Town of Huntington signed a two-year contract with Omni Recycling of Babylon returning to a dual-stream process with papers and cardboard being collected on alternate weeks from plastics, aluminum and glass. The town’s total recycling costs will depend on how well the town can re-educate residents and their compliance, according to Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R).

“The only vendors continuing single-stream recycling would have trucked it off Long Island at a cost of $120 to $135 a ton,” he said. “It’s a matter of re-educating the public and getting them used to the old system again.” 

“It’s a matter of re-educating the public and getting them used to the old system again.”

— Chad Lupinacci

Lupinacci said to stick with a single-stream process would have cost the town approximately $1.7 million to $2 million a year based on bids received from contractors. As such, the town decided to move to a dual-stream process where its costs will be determined by how much of the collected material is clean enough to be repurposed. The town will receive $15 per ton of recyclable papers and cardboard delivered to Omni Recycling, and be billed $78 per contaminated ton as determined by the facility. 

“We require lids and covers on the recycling bins to reduce contamination from dirt and moisture,” the supervisor said. “Soiled and moldy paper are not recyclable.” 

The Town of Huntington expects to collect 900,000 tons of paper and cardboard from its residents. Assuming that 80 percent will be clean enough to recycle, Lupinacci said the town will wind up paying out approximately $32,000 for its paper goods. 

Unlike Brookhaven and Smithtown, Huntington town residents can continue to put all plastics, Nos. 1 through 7, and glass bottles out for curbside pickup. Based on an average of 550,000 tons collected annually, the town will pay $75 a ton, at a cost of $412,500 a year, to recycle these materials. 

“I think people are adjusting, but it will take a few weeks.”

— Chad Lupinacci

The Town of Huntington has set aside nearly $86,000 in 2019 — more than Brookhaven and Smithtown combined — to educate its residents about the return to dual stream. According to Huntington’s website, dual-stream recycling is the collection of bottles, cans and plastics one week, with paper and corrugated cardboard the following week. Half that budget will be paid by a grant obtained from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, according to Lupinacci. To date, the town has spent $1,000 on social media ads and roughly $43,000 on printed materials including direct mailers and calendars. 

The supervisor said it seems to be paying off. 

“Omni-Westbury, [which] does our collection, said the quality of our first week’s recyclables was better than expected,” Lupinacci said. 

The first collection of papers and cardboard in January yielded 104 tons, only 10 percent of which was considered contaminated, according to the supervisor. 

“I think people are adjusting, but it will take a few weeks,” he said. 

For more information on recycling, watch Huntington’s video on recycling.

Glass: Is it worth collecting? 

Glass is a product many town officials have found difficult to sell, as there’s not much market for it.

Brookhaven and Smithtown are no longer accepting it as part of curbside pickup, but rather asking their residents to bring glass bottles to various drop-off locations. Collections at these locations has increased, according to Miner, and Brookhaven Town has installed larger containers to meet that demand.

To date, Brookhaven has sent two pilot shipments with Jersey City-based Pace Glass Recycling, and Miner said the town is looking to set up some sort of long-term contract.  Andrade said the town is not currently making money from sending the glass to Pace, but the only costs incurred are from the town employees hauling the product up to New Jersey.

“This is actually a recycling of the glass, which most of the towns on Long Island have not been able to achieve,” Miner said.

Andrade added there is a chance Brookhaven could land a deal with the New
Jersey-based company.

“You have to establish relationships, so we’re still in the beginning of the dance there,” the recycling commissioner said. “They’re taking a look at the quality of our material … they’re liking the material so I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Smithtown elected officials renewed a prior inter-municipal agreement with Brookhaven at their Jan. 24 meeting, agreeing to ship the town’s collected glass to their neighbor for processing. 

John Kennedy Jr. (R) in a 2014 debate at TBR News Media. File Photo by Erika Karp

Hot off an electoral victory from last November, Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) spoke to TBR News Media on a number of topics including a new county online tax filing system, the need for more cohesion on how towns send their tax rolls to his office and the potential of running for Suffolk County executive in 2019.

Online tax filing for delinquent taxes

Kennedy announced a new online filing service that will be available to Suffolk County residents after the tax season ends May 31.

‘With this new software component somebody is able to pay taxes on a Sunday.’

— John Kennedy Jr.

The program, called Citizen Self Service, will allow residents to plug in their bank account and routing numbers instead of sending the county a paper check to pay late or delayed property taxes. 

“With this new software component somebody is able to pay taxes on a Sunday,” Kennedy said. “[People who don’t use technology] are something we, in government, have to be mindful to accommodate.”

Each township’s receiver of taxes mails out tax bills mid-December and are payable to the tax receiver from Dec. 1 through May 31. If a resident fails to pay their taxes on time, they become delinquent and must pay their taxes to the county comptroller with an additional 5 percent interest plus 1 percent for each additional month the taxes are late. Payments received later than Aug. 31 are charged an additional tax sale advertising fee.

Kennedy said the existing pay-by-mail system will remain in place. The comptroller’s office also hosts a pay-by-phone system that allows property owners to talk to a representative and pay the bill that way, but Kennedy said that system is limited in the amount of time it takes and the business hours of the comptroller’s office. 

“We always must make an ability for someone to go ahead and transact,” he said.

Need for consistency between towns

The comptroller said there have been issues in the past with how municipalities report tax payments to his office. Suffolk County towns must give lists to the comptroller’s office on which bills were paid and those persons or businesses that are tax delinquent. The issue, Kennedy said, was no two towns currently use the same system to file these reports.

“I have 10 town tax receivers to deal with regarding their individual software systems for the record of tax collection,” he said. “We have to drive uniformity amongst the towns — one way or the other they will have to pass muster through us.”

Some towns are more accurate than others, according to Kennedy, as he named the Town of Islip as the most consistently accurate and on-time with its tax reports. Most municipalities collect approximately 90 to 95 percent of their areas property taxes. The comptroller’s office must then spend time going back and forth between the towns’ tax receiver offices to work out those discrepancies. 

Kennedy said he’s soon planning to implement, on a prototype “scrubbing system” that will find mistakes on each town’s end and flag them to be fixed before the documents reach the comptroller’s office. The system will first start on a preliminary basis with Brookhaven and Smithtown townships this year. 

Potential run for county executive

‘Do I think I could do a better job than the current county executive? Yes, my answer to that is yes.’

— John Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy is only a few months out from his Nov. 6 victory against Democratic challenger Jay Schneiderman for his second term in office. It was close as Kennedy received only 50.88 percent of the votes. 

Still, the comptroller is now weighing the pros and cons of running for the office of county executive.

“I am weighing the possibility, but I have not made any decision yet regarding it,” he said. “Do I think I could do a better job than the current county executive? Yes, my answer to that is yes.”

Part of his decision-making process is figuring if he would trust another person to take up the duties and responsibilities of Suffolk’s comptroller. 

“Do I know of anybody that comes to mind, anybody who would embrace the position that I have? I don’t know.” Kennedy said. “The thing that allows me to be aggressive, is the time I spent in the Legislature, the time I was minority leader, my experience in government and my experience as an attorney.”

Read TBR News Media next week for Kennedy’s take on Suffolk’s financial status, how it could impact residents and the upcoming police contract negotiations.