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Government

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By Lisa Scott

There is a presumed lack of engagement in civics of today’s youth: an inability to discern truth from hyperbole, ignorance of our nation’s history and disinterest in government. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court and 32 state supreme courts have explicitly stated that preparation for capable citizenship is a primary purpose of education, and programs in New York State and Suffolk County do bring together education and civics.

At a League of Women Voters’ program several weeks ago, a group of high school students from six western Suffolk districts participated in the League’s “Student Day at the Suffolk County Legislature.” This program, developed with the Suffolk County Legislature’s Presiding Officer, was initiated in 2015 but interrupted by COVID. Returning to Hauppauge this year, it was praised by the participants, teachers, and legislators. 

Students (selected by their schools) knew that they would be either supporting or opposing an “Introductory Resolution” (developed in advance): ”RESOLVED, that in order to make our Suffolk County schools as safe as possible, the Suffolk County Police Department is hereby authorized, empowered and directed to allow School Safety Officers and Suffolk County Police stationed at all Suffolk County schools to be armed, including concealed weapons, in order to protect our precious schoolchildren …” 

Upon arrival, they were greeted by representatives of the Legislature and the League, and then heard from elected officials about the responsibilities and role of a legislator. Three representatives of the Suffolk County Police Department with experience in the schools then educated the students about the role of school safety officers, procedures, etc. 

Students had numerous questions and the session was thorough and informative. They then caucused in their “pro” and “con” assigned groups to debate, exhort, and plan their words and actions for the Mock Legislature. They stated later that they needed much more time to fully explore and formulate their position(s). 

They finally convened in the legislative “horseshoe” chamber, with students taking on a variety of roles: 18 as legislators, and the remaining 13 representing the public and Suffolk County Legislature staff. The student acting as Presiding Officer had a herculean task managing the “legislators” and the “public” who vied for time to speak and convince. Finally there was a roll-call vote, and the Resolution was defeated. 

Students were insightful in their evaluations: “I learned that despite the different views of the public, a legislator has to look for a way to please both parties, which isn’t an easy job” and “In AP Gov’t I learned about the congressional/national level, but seeing the similarities and differences on a local/state level was interesting. I noticed how the debate was controlled similarly in Congress but one difference was that even if the moderator has his own side he did not use that against his opponents when choosing who would speak.”

Beyond this small group example of why we have faith and hope in our young people, there are other programs and collaborations such as the League’s “Students Inside Albany” held each May over 3 days. Also  the League has joined DemocracyReady NY— a statewide, nonpartisan, intergenerational coalition of organizations and individuals committed to preparing all students for civic participation. 

The League participated in a task force to create the New York State Education Department’s Seal of Civic Readiness which is a formal distinction on a high school transcript and diploma that a student has attained a high level of proficiency in terms of civic knowledge, civic skills, civic mindset, and civic experiences. In order to obtain the Seal of Civic Readiness, a student must complete all the requirements for a New York State local or Regents diploma and earn a total of six points with at least two points in Civic Knowledge and at least two points in Civic Participation. Students may also earn points by completing a middle school Capstone project or a high school Capstone project. Several hundred NYS schools are committed to this program in the coming school year. 

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

From right, Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich with members of Cub Scout Pack 204. Photo from TOB

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich recently welcomed “Arrow of Light” Cub Scouts from Pack 204 in Miller Place to Town Hall in Farmingville. 

The group held a lively discussion about Town government and the role of the Supervisor and Town Council. Part of their requirement to transition from Cub Scout to Boy Scout is to speak with local leaders about how they serve their community.

“Scouts visiting Town Hall is a longtime tradition and I am always happy to join my colleagues to speak with them about my career in government. These scouts asked very good questions and their enthusiasm gives me great hope for the future of this country,” said Supervisor Romaine.

Councilwoman Bonner added, “I really enjoyed our meeting with the Cub Scouts at Town Hall. They were so enthusiastic to learn more about how government works, and I was happy to spend the time talking with them. These boys are the leaders of tomorrow and from what I can see, we will be in good hands.” 

“I really enjoyed meeting with the Scouts. I was so impressed by their well thought out and sophisticated questions. Explaining how government and politics work to young people really helps put into perspective what we’re here to do and I have every hope and confidence that these young people will grow up to be an active part of the community,” added Councilmember Kornreich. 

People rallied in Ridge June 25 to decry the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

New York State Route 25, known as Middle Country Road, which crosses through several hamlets in the center of Brookhaven Town, has long gone without fixes to its cracked pavement and massive potholes. Civics, town officials and some state officials said the New York State Department of Transportation has reneged on promises to finally repair the broken asphalt this year.

Gail Lynch-Bailey, the president of the Middle Island Civic Association, calls on New York DOT to pave Middle Country Road, though the DOT claims it never had such plans. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I have been at many meetings over the years to pave Middle Country Road, and last year they did promise us it would be done,” said town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point). “The issue has not been addressed for so long, this roadway now requires complete reconstruction. And you know why? Because cheap is expensive in the long run.” 

The road runs parallel to its sister highway Route 25A, which just recently received repaving in Rocky Point. Route 25, on the other hand, has received only minor patches in the past several years, officials said.

Town of Brookhaven officials said the state DOT had promised it would repave the section of road from Mount Sinai-Coram Road to Wading River Hollow Road in Calverton by July. However, officials said recent word from the state said it likely would not happen this year.

At a press conference held in Ridge June 25, state and town officials stood alongside local civic representatives and members of local fire departments calling for the road to be repaved.

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said the road’s uneven surface can make cars swerve and cause accidents. It also greatly impacts ambulance drivers who may be carrying injured people in the back of their vehicles.

“I have been here since 1991, and I haven’t seen it be repaved since then,” Keiser said. 

State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), whose district partially covers a section of the state highway, said he was copied in on an email with state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that the construction company wished to do the road in a different order, starting with a part of the road in Nassau. The DOT is repaving Route 25B in the Town of North Hempstead and Route 107 in Oyster Bay as part of the state’s repaving project.

“My office got a response from DOT that they’ve had more complaints over in that direction in Nassau,” he said. “The only reason the complaints stopped here, which were more voluminous than anything in Nassau, is because we were told the construction was coming.”

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said Route 25 has not been repaved as long as he’s been in the district, since 1991. Photo by Kyle Barr

The press conference also brought in a measure of politics, even more emphasized during an election year. No local Democratic elected officials were there at the press conference. Members of the Town Board and local state Assembly members criticized the governor for what they called a dismissive attitude to the plight of local infrastructure.

Palumbo also referenced several state officials in Nassau who are seeking reelection this year for why construction was starting on that side of the Island. Palumbo is the Republican candidate looking to take the state Senate District 1 seat once LaValle vacates it at the end of the year.

In a statement, LaValle said, “My office has worked closely with the civics and constituents for well over a year in an attempt to fix the safety issues along this stretch of Route 25. We were given a commitment by DOT that repair and paving would begin this summer and completed in the 2020 calendar year. It is unacceptable that the DOT would do an about-face and put this project off for a year, especially in light of the fact that emergency vehicles cannot safely travel this stretch of road and driver safety is a major concern.”

In response, Stephen Canzoneri, a DOT spokesperson, said the resurfacing project on Route 25 has always been the end of 2021, though there will be spot repairs on the highway for this year.

“The resurfacing of Route 25 was never anticipated to be completed this year,” he said. “In addition, the department plans to make temporary repairs to sections of Route 25 ahead of this winter.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said residents have been contacting her office for years about the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

However, that directly contradicts comments sent to local officials last year. New York State DOT sent a letter April 8, 2019, to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) which stated that the resurfacing project on Route 25 has been “accelerated to a bid opening in early 2020” with a going out to bid in March and a schedule to start construction in spring of 2020 for the described section of the highway. 

The letter was signed by DOT Regional Planning and Program Manager Glenn Murrell. Anker said in reaching out to DOT officials, there seems to have been a mix up on their end for why she and other officials were told it was in the pipe for 2020. She added this issue has been constantly on electives’ minds, with more than a few letters being sent to the DOT over the past several years. 

“I will continue to follow this intensely as this has been going on for a number of years,” she said. “Hopefully we can see the whole road done sometime soon.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Alex Petroski

In response to the ongoing need to close a revenue shortfall caused by the economic lockdown during the pandemic, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is signing an order today freezing all steps and raises for management and exempt employees through 2021.

“It’s important that we move forward in a way that we’re doing the lowest-hanging fruit possible,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

The move will save the county an estimated $3.4 million and is a part of an ongoing effort to prepare for a budget shortfall in the next three months that could be as high as $829 million.

“We are analyzing additional cuts in our department right now,” Bellone said. “In light of the catastrophic budget numbers we are talking about, it’s important that we make clear we are willing to take these steps.”

Bellone reiterated his call for the federal government to provide $1 billion in relief to Suffolk County, which stood at the epicenter of the pandemic and which shut down its businesses in response to guidelines from the federal government. Bellone urged the national government to provide financial support that would also support infrastructure projects as well as small businesses.

“I’ve been in public life for more than 20 years,” Bellone said, and the federal government has been talking about making a major investment in infrastructure projects. “That hasn’t happened. Now is the time,” as low interest rates will reduce the cost of those funds while also supporting the restart of an economy crippled by the virus.

Bellone is hopeful that the federal government will consider his request for financial support for Suffolk County in July. Bellone said the county sends to Washington billions more than it receives each year. This year, amid the pandemic, he urged the federal government to recognize the natural disaster that has devastated the region and urges the federal government to step in to prevent the county from hollowing out the vital services that responded to this crisis.

Viral Numbers

After a one-day slight increase in positive testing for the virus on Sunday, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 rose by a smaller number through Monday. The number of new positive tests was 38, bringing the total for the county since testing began to 41,010.

The positive tests were below 1 percent of overall tests, which is a decline from the 1.2 percent on Sunday.

The number of people hospitalized declined by eight to 90. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds increased by six to 27.

An additional 17 people were discharged from the hospital in the 24 hour period ending on June 20.

For the fourth day in a row, one person died from complications related to the coronavirus. The death toll in Suffolk County is 1,965.

Bellone remains confident that the data will stay within a safe range through the summer.

“The numbers will remain good, largely because people will remain outdoors,” he said.

The fall, however, brings additional challenges, as students may return to school and people may return to more indoor activities, which could lead to a spike or a second wave.

He encourages residents to keep social distancing where they can, make sure they wear face coverings when they are in close proximity to others and to stay home if they are not feeling well.

With refinements in contact tracing, he is also confident that the county will be successful in keeping the economy open, operating and recovering.

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.

Tracy Kosciuk is running against Valerie Cartright for Brookhaven Council District 1. Photo from Kosciuk for Brookhaven Facebook

By Leah Chiappino

Tracy Kosciuk, who identifies first as a wife, mother and nurse, is challenging town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for Brookhaven Town Council in the first district. And Kosciuk lives right down the street from the incumbent.

Kosciuk said she has been drawn to political participation since childhood, as she watched her grandmother, an active Democrat, become president of her local Democratic club. 

“I got to see how politics ran,” she said.

Having once been a Democrat, she is now challenging Cartright on the Republican ticket. 

“I did not leave the Democratic party, the Democratic party left me,” she said. “It’s just not the party I grew up with … I want to help make a difference and make things better and work across party lines.”

Still, she said her focus is on local issues.

Past legal history between candidates

Despite initial claims of a cordial relationship, when Cartright moved into her home in 2005, she inherited a lawsuit upon buying the property based on its property lines. The suit had been filed in the New York State Supreme Court, but ended in 2008 with the judge siding with Cartright.

Cartright had this to say about the lawsuit:

“My first interaction with my new neighbor Tracy was surrounding a baseless lawsuit over property boundaries. Having to deal with an inherited lawsuit commenced by my next-door neighbor was an unfortunate situation and I would not wish that experience on anyone moving into a new neighborhood,” she wrote via email. “I am thankful that the lawsuit was not representative of what I had to look forward to in my future years in Port Jefferson Station. Over the years, many of my other neighbors showed themselves to be welcoming, accepting and loving toward me and my family. The many positive interactions and relationships with other wonderful neighbors is what helped keep me here and led me to serve as councilperson of this amazing community.”

Kosciuk did not return multiple calls for comment.

“There are issues such as the opioid epidemic, tax increases and revitalizations that need to be done and have not been done, plaguing my area such as the opioid [crisis] that are not being addressed properly and resolved,” she said. “[Cartright] may have intentions to do things but they have not been done.” 

Given the fact Kosciuk grew up in Coram, and has lived in Port Jefferson Station for 25 years, the challenger says she has deep roots in the local community. She is an active member of the Comsewogue PTA, having had all of her three children attend Comsewogue schools, as well as the Drug Task Force Committee, Port Jeff Station/Terryville Civic Association and a self- initiated member of the neighborhood watch. 

Most notably, Kosciuk has been a registered nurse for over 30 years, after receiving her degree from Suffolk County Community College. She currently works in maternal care at St. Charles Hospital and has been a past representative for the New York State Nurses Association and the local union president for the last five years. She has traveled to Albany to lobby for improved working conditions. 

“I know how important it is to be someone who represents something and allows members of my union to have a voice, so I know how important it is for the council district to be able to have a voice,” the challenger said. “Our district has not gotten the accountability it deserves.”

Her main initiative is to increase the effectiveness and transparency of the town council. Though she plans to continue her current role as a nurse upon election, she promises the same 24/7 attention she gives to her nurses, even pausing in the interview saying she “doesn’t like to leave my nurses hanging if they need something.”

She said she plans to help streamline the tax grievance process and have elderly residents call her office to walk them through any questions they may have, as well as advocating to get them any tax relief to which they are entitled. 

As her husband is a Suffolk County police officer, she says she understands the impact of crime, especially in Port Jeff Station. Kosciuk feels that the drug epidemic is contributing to this, and that prevention education is one of the best ways to alleviate the issue. 

Kosciuk added that she believes she can help to make progress of revitalization projects throughout the district she said have been pushed aside, while remaining fiscally responsible.

She cites environmental preservation as an important issue for her and promises to ensure the maintenance of local parks as well as collaboration with the “experts’ such as Stony Brook University and Department of Environmental Conservation in order to help combat erosion as well as rust or “red” tide algae, which has appeared in Port Jefferson Harbor and Conscience Bay and is known to suffocate fish and shellfish.

Kosciuk says she faces few challenges in the race. 

“While campaigning, I have found that a lot of the same concerns that I had that caused me to want to run for town council are the same issues throughout the entire council district,” she said.

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Port Jefferson Treasurer Don Pearce and Village Clerk Bob Juliano as they tallied the 2015 election results. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Village of Port Jefferson announced the village clerk of nearly two decades, Bob Juliano, will no longer be in his position effective Aug. 1.

“This is difficult, very difficult,” said Mayor Margot Garant. “We wish him well, and I mean that in every sense of the word.”

The village held an emergency executive meeting July 26 regarding a “personnel matter.” According to Garant, the board voted 5-0 to not reappoint Bob to the position of clerk. She said this decision was made two weeks ago, but it became official July 29.

“It was the same position we were in two weeks ago, but I wanted everybody to take two weeks and make sure that was what we had to do and what was in the best interest of the village,” the mayor said.

Juliano took an unannounced vacation for that period but has since returned to Port Jefferson. He took to Facebook July 30 thanking the community and saying he does not intend to leave Port Jeff.

“I have always tried to conduct myself as a gentleman in all my actions at Village Hall, and hope I succeeded more times than I failed,” he wrote. “To date, I am the longest serving village clerk that Port Jefferson has had, and I appreciate the fact that no one will be able to say that before the year 2038.”

He added he intends to seek employment with another municipality in the near future.

Garant would not speak on the record about why Juliano was being called to retire from his position but said she has appreciated him as a person and a friend.

Juliano has been with the village for just under 19 years, assisting in village elections amongst his many other duties. He was named clerk of the year in 2017 by the New York State Association of City & Village Clerks, and currently serves as Suffolk director for the Long Island Village Clerks and Treasurers Association.

In the interim, assistant to the mayor and Deputy Village Clerk Barbara Sakovich has been filling in as clerk while Juliano was on vacation and now that he is no longer with the village. She said the village will need to perform a lengthy hiring process, and that a new clerk would have to have many skills in administrative work.

“You need someone with very specific credentials, someone specifically from a municipality,” said Sakovich.

She added she is doing her best to get in front of a steep learning curve of the full clerk position, though the process for hiring a new administrator could potentially take some time.

Deputy Mayor Stan Loucks and Garant met with Juliano the morning of Monday, July 29, to agree to his retirement and accept his signature, according to the mayor, who told TBR News Media they would provide him a letter of recommendation for a future job if he needed it.

The mayor said he is retiring with his full sick pay and vacation benefits, and that he is entitled “to the rest of his health care insurance.”

At the same time, Juliano will not be retiring with full retirement benefits. A village employee would require having worked 30 years by the age of 55, or be 62 and retire, to receive those full benefits, according to Sakovich.

Reaction to the news on Facebook ranged from surprise to anger, with many people lauding Juliano for his welcoming personality and his general respectability.

This post has been updated to include quotes from Juliano.

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim. Photo from Nicole Garguilo

More than a year into his first term in office, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) believes his administration has brought a renewed sense of energy and purpose to Town Hall. 

Wehrheim took over the reins from former Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) — a man who once held the title of New York’s longest active serving town supervisor after 40 years in office — in January 2018. The move came after Wehrheim narrowly beat Vecchio in a party primary that deeply divided Republicans in the township, before securing the office with 57 percent of the vote over two challengers. 

TBR News Media sat down with Wehrheim in an exclusive interview to review his performance on 2017 campaign promises and the status of the township.

“I came in, kept the same people here, and made them understand what my initiatives were and how I operate.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“I would give myself an A,” Wehrheim said. “I’ve gotten out to the Smithtown community and business community on what we are  doing and the feedback that I’ve gotten has been consistently positive.” 

One of the first challenges the new supervisor faced was how to unite a Republican town board and administration that had been split into opposing camps during the 2017 election process. 

“I did not come in and make a lot of changes, which I could have done,” Wehrheim said. “I came in, kept the same people here, and made them understand what my initiatives were and how I operate.” 

One of his pledges had been to create town government for Smithtown that was more transparent to its residents. Wehrheim appointed Nicole Garguilo as the town’s first spokeswoman within days of his swearing-in and has ensured live streaming of town board meetings. A mobile phone app was launched in August 2018 to keep residents up to the minute with the latest public safety notices, but a complex town meeting agenda
he once criticized as “75 items, labeled A to ZZ, and nobody understands that” he admits has changed little. 

“People have to remember we inherited a government that had zero transparency,” Wehrheim said. “Not many people outside it, and sometimes not even town council people, would know what was happening. We couldn’t fix it immediately.”

For 2019, the supervisor is focused on restructuring the town’s website and said an updated town agenda was available Jan. 24, with more to come in once the website revisions are made. 

Wehrheim made promises during the 2017 elections to revive “long dormant downtown
revitalization” projects including sewers for Kings Park and to bring apartments to Smithtown. He said the town’s Nov. 30, 2018, report found there have been 2.1 million square feet of commercial development that’s begun or is permitted and ready to begin construction. The supervisor has worked with Suffolk County to complete an engineering study for sewering downtown Kings Park, which has been stymied by the state Legislature’s unwillingness to vote on a home rule bill that would isolate a necessary piece of land needed to construct a pump station. 

“People have to remember we inherited a government that had zero transparency.”

— Ed Wehrheim

He said received assurances from state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) will be taking up the legislation, hopefully for a vote shortly.

Wehrheim had led the town in approving construction of Lofts at Maple & Main, which has all approvals needed to bring a mixed-used building containing 9,500 square feet of retail space and 72 apartments to Smithtown’s Main Street. He hopes this will help address “brain drain” on Long Island and be a move toward creating a walkable downtown environment. 

In St. James, the town has more than $8 million set aside for revitalization with sewers, water mains and improved streetscaping. He’s also brokered a promise with Gyrodyne LLC to expand the sewer treatment plant for proposed Flowerfield property development to accommodate the Lake Avenue business district. 

Large-scale commercial developments approved under Wehrheim’s tenure include CarMax taking over the Smithtown Concrete Plant on Route 25 and Tesla renovating the former 6th Avenue Electronics on Route 247 in Nesconset.

One thing Smithtown’s supervisor has yet to get around to is creating the business advisory council. Wehrheim has promised interviews for an executive board are underway as of January.

“There’s always room for improvement, there’s not a question about that,” he said. “At this particular time, it’s going well, and I’m sure down the road we will improve more.” 

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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As I sit here, writing my column on election eve, I can feel — or imagine I can feel — the nervousness of a nation on the threshold of the unknown. More than perhaps any other midterm election, this one has come to epitomize the turbulent and contradictory forces pulsating within America today. One thing is certain, however. The day after the election, we will still be living with those same forces: racism, income inequality, foreign affairs and the role today of the Constitution written more than two centuries ago.

Seemingly just in time, although he explains that he started the book two years before President Trump was elected, Joseph J. Ellis has written about these same subjects by sharing the conflicting viewpoints of a quartet of our most admired Founding Fathers. Remarkably they concern these same issues, and hence Ellis states in “American Dialogue: The Founders and Us” that he is writing about “ongoing conversations between past and present.” He even labels chapters “then” and “now” lest the specific themes of his dialogues and how they relate to today are not clear. Our Founding Fathers not only argued among themselves, they argue across more than 240 years, speaking to us in the present — and in a way reassuring us that the dialoguing is not ruinous but rather an asset of our democracy.

So much for our current concern about a divided country.

The four founders are Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington and James Madison. Ellis describes Jefferson’s contemptible views on race as he grew older, insisting as he did that the two races could not live together and that blacks could never be equal to whites. This after a younger Jefferson wrote that “all men were created equal,” and denounced slavery. But as we know, he benefited from many slaves at Monticello in Virginia and sired multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemings. Certainly he struggled with the whole issue of race but did little to try to ameliorate the problem. He might have banned the spread of slavery to the Louisiana Purchase that he so brilliantly acquired in 1803, or sold some of it to compensate slave owners for freeing their slaves or even have provided a safe haven for freed slaves to live there. He did none of that.

In their final 14 years through 1826, Jefferson and Adams exchanged letters regularly, arguing not only for their time but consciously for future Americans to be able to read their deliberations. Jefferson held a romantic notion that economic and social equality — not between the races, however — would come to be the natural order of American life. Adams realistically insisted that “as long as property exists, it will accumulate in individuals and families … the snowball will grow as it rolls.” Adams believed that government had a role in preventing the accumulation of wealth and power by American oligarchs. The Gilded Age of the late 1800s proved Adams right, as the unbridled freedom to pursue wealth essentially ensured the triumph of inequality. So has our own age. We have an endemic, widening gulf. What should be the role of government at this juncture in our democracy?

Madison — who orchestrated the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and the ratification, wrote many of The Federalist Papers and drafted the Bill of Rights — changed dramatically from a staunchly held belief in federal supremacy to one in which states and the federal government shared sovereignty, thus allowing future residents to interpret the Constitution according to a changing world.

Washington famously warned against foreign adventuring in countries of little threat to the United States. It was almost as if he could see Afghanistan and Iraq over the horizon.

Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several books about our early history, believes that history helps us understand the present. We can see the same arguments going back and forth that somehow sound an optimistic chord.

And what does he see as the ultimate fix? A great crisis would certainly unite us, he suggests, perhaps even that of evacuation of the coasts with rising seas. He also thinks mandatory national service would help, not necessarily from the military aspect but toward some form of public good.