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Finances

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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.

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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. 

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

New York State has issued a glowing report on the state of a local school district’s finances.

The Port Jefferson School District received a “spotless” report from the New York State Comptroller following an audit meant to examine if the school board properly managed its voucher payment system.

Audit vouchers are made on all school expenditures, where either the school board or a designated auditor looks at each claim to determine if each item complies with district policies and whether the amounts are necessary district expenditures before the cost is paid. The comptroller’s audit, which spanned from July 2016 to September 2017, stated Port Jeff’s claims audit process was “adequately designed and that it had been properly implemented.”

“This report reflects proper oversight by the board of education and the stringent controls put in place and carried out by our business office personnel,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a statement. “The carefully conducted examination and positive results are a testament to the district’s comprehensive policies and procedures for claims payments.”

The comptroller’s office reviewed one percent of all claims paid by the district during the span, which amounted to 60 general fund claims. These claims totaled close to $300,000, including $2,705 from 10 “extra-classroom activity” claims. The office determined Port Jeff’s system was working as intended, and that the school could support all of its expenditures.

Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, said while they don’t have specific numbers on how many schools have problems with their audit voucher systems, Port Jefferson has been more responsible than others.

“These types of audit results are not that common and, as noted in the final report, the district should be commended for their well-designed claims system,” Butry said.

The report said district officials created well working procedures to analyze extra-classroom activities such as clubs, where each has a treasurer and faculty advisor, and that payment orders were supported with fully signed invoices.

“Given that there were no negative findings indicates the district’s claims process has an overall well-designed system,” Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said in a statement. “As our district places a strong emphasis on ensuring tax dollars are spent effectively and efficiently, we are pleased with the outcome of this auditing process, as it reinforces from an external perspective.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Steve Bellone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks during a press conference June 20 calling out Republicans for voting down three bond resolutions. Photo by Kyle Barr

Democrats and Republicans in the Suffolk County Legislature are at each other’s throats over funding for a series of bonds, including for public safety initiatives, that failed to pass at the June 19 legislature meeting.

“The Republican caucus put politics ahead of public safety,” county Executive Steve Bellone (D) said at a press conference June 20. “We saw a group of seven Republican legislators put their own politics over the interests of their constituents, of public safety, of teachers and students.”

At the June 19 meeting, three out of four bond resolutions failed to garner support from at least 12 legislators, which would represent the two-thirds support necessary to pass a bond resolution. The seven members of the Republican minority caucus voted against the resolutions. The three failed bonds included 14 items that would have provided funding for county parks, correctional facilities, public safety initiatives, road reconstruction and more.

Republican legislators said they voted against the bonds because they did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, lumped with items they were comfortable supporting now.

“We shouldn’t be paying these things off for 30 years because it’s just not fair to young people.”

— Rob Trotta

“The blame for the failure of this bond rests squarely on the shoulders of Steve Bellone,” said Minority Leader Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore). “Last month the county executive abandoned 40 years of history and precedence in Suffolk County… in an effort to bully the legislature into every one of his proposals.”

Bonds traditionally had not been grouped together by the Suffolk Legislature.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he opposed the resolutions in part because bonding for each of the 14 projects would increase the country’s deficit.

“What we’re doing is increasing debt,” Trotta said. “We shouldn’t be paying these things off for 30 years because it’s just not fair to young people.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) sponsored a bill that would allocate funds for a Rails to Trails project from Wading River to Port Jefferson. That bill was included in a larger bond proposal at the June 6 legislative meeting, and that too was voted down by the Republican caucus.

“I hope they can get this resolved soon because it’s basically hindering government,” Anker said. “The county has to bond for these sorts of projects – that’s why we have this sort of process.”

Anker said the $8 million Rails to Trails project was to be funded by that bond and then the county would be reimbursed by the federal government, but without the bond the county is now looking for different revenue sources so it would not have to push back plans to start building the trail by spring 2019.

The most contentious item amongst the recent three defeated bonds was $2 million in funding for licensing Rave Panic Button mobile app, a downloadable application that acts as an instant call to fire and emergency services as well as police in an emergency, specifically a school shooting, for school and government employees.

The Rave app is currently active in 95 percent of county facilities with 20 percent of county employee phones now equipped with the app, according to Joel Vetter, the county Emergency Medical Services coordinator. The program is already in place in 19 school districts with 10 enabled devices per building. The funding, Vetter said, would have put the app in the hands of all current school administrative and teaching staff in all county school districts.

“This means that if the cellular system is down, you could contact emergency services through WiFi,” Vetter said.

Bellone defended the lump bonding, saying it’s a practice used in town and local governments across the state. He said the public safety initiatives would have saved district schools more than $1 million since each would not have to pay for it themselves.

“This has become the worst of our politics.”

— Duwayne Gregory

“If we back down from this outrageous conduct now, they will continue to hold hostage every important investment on the environment, on public safety, on roads, on parks — and we’re not going to allow that to happen,” the county executive said.

Cilmi contended that bundling the bonds together does not save money because the county’s bond council, New York law firm Harris Beach PLLC, does not charge for bond preparation.

The contract between Suffolk and Harris Beach, signed by the county in 2014, reads that there shall be no fee paid by the county related to the preparation of county resolutions, which includes bonds.

Cilmi and Trotta both said they could come close to guaranteeing funding for the Rave app would be approved as a stand-alone measure.

Democrats accused the Republican caucus of being hypocritical as the bond vote was all for items those legislators have already supported in the recent past.

“This has become the worst of our politics.” Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said. “Nobody gets 100 percent of what they want, and when they say, ‘we’re going to vote against a package to other bills regarding funding for our correctional facilities,’ saying ‘I don’t like one or two parts of the bill and I’m going to vote against,’ is just ridiculous.”

Bellone said he expects to put the bonds back up for vote in the next legislative meeting July 17, but he did not give specifics about whether or not the county would try and repackage the bills to be more favorable to the wishes of the Republican caucus.

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman (D) said if the bond vote fails again the app will not be available to districts until after school reconvenes in September.

“We have to regroup and think what kind of strategies we have going forward,” Kaiman said. “When you fail a vote the process takes a lot of time to come back.”

Town to send letter to New York State comptroller asking for review of town's finances

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

A request by Huntington’s new town board to have the state comptroller review the town’s finances was met with criticism.

Huntington Town Board voted 4-1 at its Jan. 3 meeting to go forward with a request to New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D) to conduct a review and audit of the town’s finances, policies and procedures. Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) was the sole vote against the measure.

“I just think this is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “I think it’s a shot at the prior administration that had healthy financials and won a number of awards each year for the records we keep and our finances.”

In December, the Town of Huntington received its 17th consecutive certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association.  The nonprofit professional association serving nearly 18,000 government financial professionals across North America, had reviewed the town’s comprehensive financial report for the year ending Dec. 31, 2016.

I just think this is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money.”
— Mark Cuthbertson

Councilman Eugene Cook (R), who sponsored the audit resolution, denied that it was a strike against former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and his practices, but rather a way to provide for a fresh start.

“Any business owner knows if they are buying a new business and going into a new business, they want to check all the records,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Cuthbertson suggested given the lengthy time and funds it would require for the state to audit the town, the new administration and town officials would be better served by studying the town’s yearly internal audits performed by an outside contractor.

Cook sponsored a similar resolution in 2012 calling for state review, but it failed to gain the board’s approval. Petrone then offered a revised resolution that was approved, and ultimately resulted in a 2013 audit conducted by the state comptroller.

The 2013 audit report, which reviewed the town’s finances from Jan. 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012, found issues with the town’s ability to track overtime hours and paid leave for town employees adequately.

“We found that the town may have higher payroll costs than necessary because town officials did not monitor and control these costs,” states the 2013 audit’s summary findings.

Any business owner knows if they are buying a new business and going into a new business, they want to check all the records.”
— Gene Cook

The state comptroller’s office also found the town was awarding contracts to attorneys without going through the standard bidding process and then paid without providing detailed invoices in some cases. Recommendations were made and discussed between state and Huntington officials on corrective actions to be made.

“While serving as an affirmation of the policies that have helped Huntington maintain its AAA bond rating, we also appreciate the audit’s insight on how to make Huntington’s government operate even more efficiently,” Petrone had said in his response to the 2013 audit. “We will consider changes to implement the recommendations we have not already put into place.”

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), who worked for the town prior to 2013 and was sworn in to sit on the town board this month, voted in favor of requesting the state comptroller’s office perform an audit, though she said the measure was not necessary.

“I welcome an audit, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” the councilwoman said. “If there is one, I think it will prove we run a tight ship.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the resolution merely sends a letter to the state comptroller’s office to review the town’s financials “if they feel it is necessary,” to indicate the town would be both willing and cooperative in the process.