Tags Posts tagged with "Legislator Rob Trotta"

Legislator Rob Trotta

Pictured at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry in Kings Park are volunteer Annette DeFino and Legislator Rob Trotta.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta is hosting a summer drive to collect non-perishable items for school lunches, snacks and personal care products for the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, located at St. Joseph’s Church, 59 Church Street, Kings Park.  The pantry is open on Monday and Thursday form 1pm until 4pm. To speak with someone at the pantry, please call 631-269-6635.

Specific items that they are seeking include snack size cookies, chips, pretzels, juice boxes, small bottled water, and salsa and chips. They also need such staples as small bottles of cooking oil, sugar, flour, mustard, mayonnaise, jarred sauce, breadcrumbs, Hamburger Helper, pickles, canned fruit, boxed milk, Pop Tarts and sandwich bags. Personal care items requested are shaving cream, razors, tissues, small hand sanitizers, and laundry detergent.

“During this difficult time, especially after the pandemic, it is important to help our fellow neighbors so donations of the aforementioned items may be dropped off at my office at 59 Landing Avenue, Suite 1 A, Smithtown, from now until September 10, between the hours of  9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.,” said Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. For more information, please call Legislator Trotta’s office at 631-854-3900.

 

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, left, county Legislator Rob Trotta, second from left, and state Sen. Jim Gaughran, right back row, remembered the tragic loss of four young women with their parents Nancy Dimonte, Paul and Suzanne Schulman, Carol Belli, Mindy and Howie Grabina, Steven and Felicia Baruch and Susan Arundel. The group met at Smithtown High School West where a sign is dedicated to their daughters. Photo from Town of Smithtown

On Saturday, July 17, Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim joined state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) to present the families of the Cutchogue limo crash victims with signed copies of the New York State legislation improving road safety.

Gaughran presented the families with the New York State bills, which they devoted years advocating for, improving limo and bus safety. The following day marked six years since the community was devastated by the limo crash that critically injured Olga Lipets, Melissa Crai, Alicia Arundel and Joelle DiMonte and tragically killed four Smithtown young women, Lauren Baruch, Amy Grabina, Brittany Schulman and Stephanie Belli.

“I’d like to give a special thanks to Senator Gaughran who made it a point to hand deliver the signed legislation, which he also co-sponsored,” Wehrheim said. “I’d especially like to acknowledge all eight families who led a massive five-year effort to reform limo safety laws. Truth be told, all of New York has these eight remarkable families to thank for making our roads safer. They became the voice for their daughters and their friends, they sought out the Schoharie [limo crash] families after that horrific day to offer comfort and support. They turned grief, heartbreak and frustration into a life saving effort that will benefit countless generations. It’s been an honor to advocate for limo safety by your sides. While these small victories can never replace the lives of our four angels … I can give my word to each of you … this administration will always honor their memory. Lauren, Amy, Brittany and Stephanie will never be forgotten.”

The two bills that were presented to the families on Saturday make it illegal for limousines to make U-turns and the second requires limousines to use commercial GPS devices. Additional legislation that had previously passed includes seatbelt requirements which requires motor vehicles converted into stretch limousines (on or after January 1, 2021) to have at least two safety belts for the front seat and at least one safety belt in the rear for each passenger the vehicle was designed to hold. Additionally, the legislation requires all stretch limousines to be retrofitted to include seatbelts by January 1, 2023. The New Commercial Driver’s License Requirements for Limousine Drivers bill requires individuals operating limousines carrying nine or more passengers, (including the driver) to have a passenger endorsed commercial driver’s license.

Suffolk County Legislator William "Doc" Spencer. File photo

A Suffolk County legislator has asked for the removal of one of his colleagues from the three committees he serves on in the Legislature.

Legislator Rob Trotta

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) requested that Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) be removed from the Public Safety, Health and Ways & Means committees, during the Nov. 12 Public Safety committee meeting, according to a press release from Trotta’s office.

The request comes after the Oct. 20 arrest of Spencer, 53. According to police, the legislator was in a county-issued vehicle when officers arrested him. Police said he allegedly planned to meet a prostitute in the parking lot of a Goodwill store in Elwood to trade sex for the pills, which were reportedly oxycodone, a legal form of an opioid. The arrest was part of an undercover operation.

Spencer also serves on the county’s opioid task force.

“It is not about my personal feelings for Doc Spencer, but it is about upholding the integrity of the office of a legislator and the perception the taxpayers have of him and the office,” Trotta said.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office said Spencer had a handgun on him when he was arrested and had a permit for the gun. He handed it over after his arraignment. Trotta said such an action could have put police in danger.

“Spencer’s illegal behavior could have jeopardized the safety of the officers involved, given the fact he was carrying a handgun,” he said. “Officers have a split second in which to make a decision when they come upon a scene with a gun involved. It could have ended very differently.”

The decision to remove a legislator from a committee is up to presiding officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). Calarco said at this point in time there are two legislators who are facing felony charges. Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic Beach) is also facing charges after being indicted in July 2019 for alleged perjury, ethics violations and other offenses in connection with his work as the former district manager of the Centereach Fire District that continued after he became legislator in 2018.

The presiding officer said both legislators believe their charges are not appropriate. Just like he hasn’t removed Sunderman from his committees, he said, he will not be removing Spencer.

“I think it’s important for me to treat every legislator equally,” Calarco said. “So, I have not and will not be removing Legislator Spencer from his committee assignments for the remainder of the year.”

He said it was important for both men to have the opportunity to make their cases in court and have the judicial process unfold. However, Calarco said while Spencer remains on the committees, he is no longer chair of the Health committee. He also no longer serves as vice chair of the Ways & Means committee.

The DA has charged Spencer with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, a class B felony, and criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, a class B felony. He was arraigned Oct. 21 at the John P. Cohalan Jr. Courthouse in Central Islip. Spencer is due back in court on Feb. 26. If convicted of the top count, he could face a maximum of up to nine years in prison.

In addition to his legislative duties, Spencer runs a private practice, Long Island Otolaryngology & Pediatric Airway in Huntington. After his arrests, Huntington Hospital temporarily suspended his privileges pending further investigation.

Spencer is not required to step down as legislator, according to county law. A representative from Spencer’s office did not return requests for statements about his arrest and Trotta’s announcement.

Legislator Rob Trotta, center, was joined by Republican lawmakers and a few environmentalists to decry proposition 2. Photo from Trotta's office

Several Suffolk County Legislators and a New York assemblyman urged residents to reject proposal 2, which County Executive Steve Bellone (D) put on the ballot to help close the financial gap caused by the pandemic.

If approved, the proposal, which was added to the ballot in July after a 14-3 vote in the county Legislature, would reduce the sewer stabilization fund by $180 million and move $15 million to the general fund. Bellone had proposed the moves to shore up the county’s finances after the economy stopped during the COVID-19-related shutdown.

“My hope is that Suffolk voters will ultimately see this proposal for what it is – a ploy to bail out Bellone’s mismanagement,” Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said in a statement.

“Proposal two has to be defeated,” Lee Koppelman, former Executive Director of the Long Island Regional Planning Board and the past head of the SUNY Stony Brook Center for Regional Policy Studies, said in a statement. “It is wrong to take money from a dedicated fund to balance the budget.”

While several of the politicians who opposed the proposal were republicans, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also decried the measure.

“I already voted and I voted against Proposition Two,” Englebright said in a statement. “I am totally against taking money from this fund to cover county expenses and I encourage the residents of Suffolk County to vote no, too.”

The Long Island Pine Barrens Society also opposed the proposal, suggesting the area needed the funds were needed to replace polluting septic systems with nitrogen-removing technology as well as sewers.

The Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program was created in 1987 by a 0.25% sales tax to fund water quality initiatives, the preservation of open space and control taxes in sewer districts.

Bellone has indicated that the measures would prevent layoffs of county workers that might be necessary to balance the budget. He also said on several calls to get the measure on the ballot that the county would not spend any less money on existing environmental programs.

The county executive has also indicated that the sewer funds can either protect taxpayers against higher sewer tax rates or against higher taxes that might be necessary to prevent a reduction in services.

On the ballot this year is also Proposition 1, which will extend the term of legislators from two years to four years.

County Executive Steve Bellone said there could be massive cuts to Suffolk bus routes if they receive no financial aid soon. Photo by Kyle Barr

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has continued his calls for additional federal funds, now saying bus routes and bus drivers’ positions could be eliminated in the planned county budget to be released within the next week, officials said. 

Click the image to see which routes could be cut in your area.

Bellone held a press conference Friday, Sept. 25, saying that cutting 19 bus routes and 25% of paratransit bus availability would result in about $18 million in savings for the county’s 2021 budget. The non paratransit routes, officials said, are equivalent to 2,500 riders a day, according to the pre-pandemic ridership levels. Cuts would impact about 200 daily riders who use the Suffolk County Accessible Transit service, and could also potentially eliminate hundreds of workers’ positions.

The routes themselves are spread out throughout the county, and though officials said those chosen would be busses with overall less ridership, they represent some of the only public transportation for certain areas. The S62, which runs across the North Shore from Riverhead to Hauppauge and is the only bus for places like Shoreham, Rocky Point and Miller Place, would be axed under current plans. The S54, which connects the Patchogue railroad to the Walt Whitman Mall is also in the crosshairs. Together, those routes contain the highest ridership and represent 887 daily riders, according to the county. 

All Planned Route Cuts

  • S54 – 548 riders per day
  • 10B – 45 riders per day
  • S59 – 90 riders per day
  • S57 – 139 riders per day
  • S31 – 12 riders per day
  • S76 – 36 riders per day
  • S56 – 89 riders per day
  • 2A – 106 riders per day
  • 7A – 60 riders per day
  • 10C – 85 riders per day
  • 6B – 108 riders per day
  • S47 – 73 riders per day
  • 8A – 131 riders per day
  • S62 – 339 riders per day
  • 1A – 63 riders per day
  • 6A – 78 riders per day
  • S69 – 3 riders per day
  • 2B – 161 riders per day
  • S23 – 149 riders per day

Other nixed routes include the S76, which connects Stony Brook and Port Jefferson Village and has an estimated 36 daily riders, may also get cut. The S56, which runs in Smithtown from Commack to Lake Grove with around 89 daily riders, could be eliminated as well.

This is all part of an anticipated 2021 county budget that Bellone said will include cuts across the board.

“Washington has failed to act,” Bellone said. “We need Washington to do its job, to do what it’s always done in times of crisis when local communities are hit by unprecedented natural disasters that are beyond the scope and capability of local government can handle.”

The cuts to personnel could be especially devastating, he said, considering many were “essential workers” who did their jobs even during the worst of the pandemic on Long Island. Many hospital and other frontline workers take the bus to work as well.

These planned cuts are despite receiving close to $26.6 million earlier this year in federal aid specifically for public transportation services. Bellone said the money has already been spent or allocated for the current year.

The total operating cost of Suffolk Transit is over $85 million, with more than $43 million being funded by the county, around $29 million from New York State, more than $4.4 million from the federal government, and $8.2 million in fares. Suffolk County estimates it will lose $6.1 million in farebox revenue in 2020, alongside a 20% or $6 million cut in state funding. Bellone’s office reported that the $26 million in federal funds allowed the county to operate the buses as normal during the height of the pandemic. 

John Corrado, the president of Suffolk Transportation Services, a private company which operates all the buses used by Suffolk County, said they lost about 40% of ridership during the pandemic, and though numbers are coming back there is no way it can stave off the massive loss in farebox revenue.

In a repeat of last week’s press conference where Bellone announced major cuts to Suffolk County Police, Republicans in the county legislature held a retaliatory press conference of their own that same day. Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a member of the legislature’s Public Works, Transportation and Energy Committee, claimed the county is only down $4 million in bus fees. The GOP members of the legislature have constantly attacked Bellone on its financial situation, with officials often citing a 2019 report from the state comptroller calling Suffolk the most fiscally stressed municipality in the state.

Legislator Rob Trotta joined fellow Republicans in denouncing Bellone’s planned bus cuts. Photo by Kyle Barr

“To blame the federal government is a cop out,” Trotta said. 

Though that aid that Suffolk received this year must be put towards current budget impacts due to the pandemic, Trotta said the numbers Bellone cited were off, and that the $26 million federal funds could be used now and all the savings could be rolled over into next year.

Though one will have to wait until the final 2021 budget is released before making any claims of what should or should not be cut, Republicans have claimed both this and other cuts to major services are unnecessary considering the CARES Act funding the county has already received to the tune of $257 million, not counting the additional public transit funds. This, they argued, should be enough to cover COVID-related expenses. Republicans said that new money is being used to pay for past financial mismanagement by the county executive. 

Though when asked what else could be cut instead of these services, Republican legislators said they would need to see the full budget before making that determination. 

Though some legislators admitted there is need for further federal aid, Legislator Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville) suggested the federal government put a watchdog on the county executive to make sure the funds are spent correctly.

In response to the accusation the cuts are not needed, Bellone said since the county pays more than $40 million for the bus system, and though the federal funds have helped, they does not cover what will be a massive $800 million deficit for this year going into next year.

The planned cuts to public transportation would also impact the Suffolk County Accessible Transit buses, otherwise known as SCAT, which hundreds of residents with disabilities rely upon for service in doing things as simple as going to physical therapy or shopping for food. The service allows residents to schedule being picked up and dropped off, and represents one of the few tangible means for those lacking mobility and without personal transport for getting around.

Frank Krotschinsky, the director of the Office for People with Disabilities under the county executive, said “the county has gone above and beyond” in the offerings it has for disabled transport. He added the questions his office most commonly receives are from people asking about transportation.

“The day these cuts are made, people with disabilities will be disproportionately affected,” he said. “We need the federal government to step up to its role.”

The same day as the press conference, Bellone hosted a call with the county executives of Onondaga and Orange upstate counties, both of whom are Republican, in emphasizing the bipartisan need for additional relief from the federal government. 

“As we put forward this budget, there is not going to be a part of this budget that involves discretionary spending that will not be impacted by Washington’s failure to act here,” Bellone said.

 

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A proposal for Suffolk County sue former  police chief James Burke over the $1.5 million settlement it paid out to his victim was tabled by the county Legislature as legal advice on the best approach to seek reparations differed.

The county’s Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing Dec. 13 on Legislator Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) resolution to have Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini (D) initiate a lawsuit against Burke for the settlement the county paid out to Christopher Loeb in February 2018.

Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor),the chairwoman of the committee, cited a memo from county attorney Dennis Brown that advised Trotta’s proposed lawsuit “would likely be unsuccessful but could expose us to [court] sanctions and attorney fees.”

“As the committee has discussed, there is no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in that lawsuit.”

— Dennis Brown

“There is no basis for it,” Brown said when questioned. “As the committee has discussed, there is no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in that lawsuit.”

In the federal civil lawsuit, Suffolk agreed to pay the $1.5 million settlement as Burke’s employer at the time for the civil rights offenses and the actions of six other police officers who participated in covering up the ex-chief’s actions. Burke retained his own private attorney and settled Loeb’s civil case against him for an undisclosed sum, according to Fleming.

Howard Miller, a Garden City-based attorney with the law firm Bond Shoeneck & King, presented a case for the county suing Burke for his wages and compensation paid by the county under the faithless servant doctrine. This doctrine, according to Miller, dates back to the 19th century allowing employers to seek compensation back from disloyal employees.

“Here, the facts are egregious as you had not only beating of the suspect but systematic coverup of that,” he said. “This doctrine is designed to create a deterrent to future acts like this, of corruption and misconduct.”

Attorney Howard Miller speaks before Suffolk County Legislature. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Miller stated doing so wouldn’t necessarily require further court litigation, given Burke had pled guilty, but could help Suffolk to claw back wages and any benefits paid to the former police chief from the date of the incident with Loeb, occurring in 2012, through Burke’s resignation in October 2015. While he admitted a lawsuit to see back the $1.5 million settlement was iffy, Miller said he has successfully represented clients at the state level who have been successful in similar lawsuits, including the William Floyd school district.

“What would be a successful lawsuit in my opinion, a plainly meritorious suit would be to go after the compensation [Burke] was paid while he was covering up his misconduct,” Miller said.

Fleming called for the county attorney to research the county’s legal possibility further and received a vote to table the discussion. Trotta has promised to submit an new resolution seeking to sue Burke for repayment of his salary.

Several Suffolk residents and former police department members asked the Legislature to further investigate what its legal options were for seeking repayment of the settlement, Burke’s salary or pension.

“You as the legislative body of our county have a fiduciary responsibility to Suffolk residents to go after the employees whose actions harm their employees, thus harming Suffolk County residents,” Pam Farino, of Smithtown, said. “Disgraced ex-chief James Burke did just that.”

Huntington resident James McGoldrick complimented Trotta for his intentions but asked the county’s officials to consider the cost of any legal action, considering the total funds Suffolk stood to regain might not be enough compared to the expenses of further litigation.

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Superintendent's Council creates 31-minute video to share with their peers

Kings Park student members of the Superintendent's Council stand with school staff and elected officials. Photo from Kings Park school district

By Amanda Perelli

Kings Park students are going digital in the national debate of mental health awareness to raise awareness among their peers and inform community leaders.

Students in Kings Park school district worked to create a nearly 31-minute video to spread mental health awareness in the community and with elected officials.

The Superintendent’s Council, a group of more than 30 Kings Park students from grades four through 12. The council is made up of approximately four students per grade, who are elected by their peers in fourth grade and remain a part of the council through graduation.

“We got to talk about mental health, a big conversation not only in Kings Park, but all around the country.”
– Timothy Eagen

Timothy Eagen, superintendent of Kings Park school district, said that this year’s council was focused on mental health. The students invited Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) to a council meeting in March, where he spoke about his role in local government. As a result of that meeting, council members decided to create a video covering stress and anxiety; vaping, smoking, and substance use/abuse; and online safety to raise awareness of mental health in the community.

“They are just a great group of student leaders that I use to bounce ideas off of and pick their brain and insight on a student perspective,” Eagen said. “We got to talk about mental health, a big conversation not only in Kings Park, but all around the country.”

The students filmed themselves, teachers and their classmates in the district for the video. Several Kings Park staff members who assisted include district Assistant Superintendent Ralph Cartisano; Rudy Massimo, principal of R.J.O. Intermediate School; Ken Ferrazzi, assistant principal at William T. Rogers Middle School; and Danielle Thompson, technology integration specialist, helped the students create the video which was filmed on iPhones and iPads. Thompson then edited and pieced together the footage using iMovie.

“If we can get the students to share what they are experiencing, just encourage them to speak about it… maybe we can save a life or two.”
– Rudy Massimo

“We broke it into different groups and being that I am one of the participants of the Superintendents Council, I worked with middle school students on drug and alcohol abuse, including vaping,” Massimo said.

The entire video, from the script to where they filmed, was driven by the students. They filmed parts in areas of the building where students might go to do things against school policy, including the stairwells, bathrooms and basement. They used their smartphones to gather information and read off of them like a script. Throughout filming, the students had one goal to get their peers to listen, according to Massimo.

“Mr. Trotta was the first audience that the kids had to show off their video, Eagen said. “We have it posted to our website and we’ve also shared it with our elected officials, so they can best understand how our students are feeling.”

The principal of R.J. O Intermediate said he has plans to show pieces of the video in the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms next year.

“What the kids say is that they are tired of the same kind of information coming to them,” said Massimo. “If they hear it from their peers, it means more.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn and Stony Brook resident Cindy Smith at a Nov. 10 press conference to propose a county initiative for Flowerfield in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Local legislators are paying attention when it comes to the concerns of Stony Brook residents regarding the proposed development of a land parcel in St. James.

At a Nov. 10 press conference held on the steps of Smithtown Town Hall, it was announced that Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) introduced a bill in the Legislature asking the county to begin the process of purchasing more than 40 acres of property currently owned by Gyrodyne LLC. The first step is an appraisal of the land, which runs along Route 25A and borders Stony Brook Road and Mill Pond Road. The goal is to preserve the open space, known locally as Flowerfield, while continuing to lease the few older buildings to small businesses and artists currently renting.

The announcement was made a few days before a public hearing regarding the Gyrodyne subdivision proposal at the Smithtown Town Planning Board’s Nov. 15 meeting. On Nov. 13, the bill was approved during the county Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture committee meeting and will be voted on in the general meeting Nov. 21.

“We are for smart, sustainable development, and this isn’t sustainable in the area it happens to be in.”

— Cindy Smith

Cindy Smith, founder of the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition, thanked Hahn, Trotta, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their support. Smith founded the coalition after the Suffolk County Planning Commission approved the conceptual subdivision of the 62 acres of land owned by Gyrodyne at an Aug. 2 meeting. The proposed plan includes a 150-room hotel, two medical office buildings and two assisted living facilities. There is also the possibility of opening a street behind University Heights Drive that would lead to Stony Brook Road.

“We know already what it’s like when development is done and things happen in your backyard,” Smith said of why she was hosting the press conference. “All of a sudden there’s a tremendous amount of traffic.”

The Stony Brook resident said she doesn’t want to see the same thing  occur in Smithtown, or see things get worse in her area. Due to increased traffic over the years from Stony Brook University and the Wireless Center, which borders the Gyrodyne property, she said residents along Stony Brook Road, where she lives, have witnessed 18-wheelers using the street, drivers littering and historical characteristics in the area disappearing. During rush hour, Smith said emergency vehicles have difficulty traveling down the street.

The coalition founder said no traffic studies or environmental assessments have been conducted by the county and there has been no estimate of the impact on the local infrastructure.

“We’re not against development,” Smith said. “We are for smart, sustainable development, and this isn’t sustainable in the area it happens to be in.”

“This is not the proper use of this parcel, and we would like to see it preserved.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, said if the land is developed it could harm local bays and waterways, and agreed it would overburden roads and increase the dangers of traveling in the area. The hazards of 25A and Stony Brook Road are something she is acutely aware of after being involved in a head-on collision at the intersection in April 2001.

“This is not the proper use of this parcel, and we would like to see it preserved,” Hahn said, adding that she asked Trotta if she could take the lead on the bill because she felt it was critical to her district.

Cartright, who was in attendance to represent the Town of Brookhaven and spearheaded 25A-visioning meetings in the Three Village area during the last year and a half, said the main concern of Stony Brook residents was traffic congestion in the area, especially at the juncture of 25A and Stony Brook Road.

“Today there is an alternative that is being presented by our county Legislature and that is to preserve this vital open space,” she said. “And we stand in support of the preservation of this land.”

Englebright said he wrote a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation asking it to deny any application for curb cuts on 25A. He said the town needs to change the zoning in Smithtown. While it made sense for the property to be zoned for business when Gyrodyne tested helicopter blades, the assemblyman said it should no longer apply to the residential area.

“If this proposal is allowed to go forward it will paralyze the communities of Stony Brook and St. James,” Englebright said, adding it would bring mid-Manhattan-style traffic to the area. “It will be like driving a stake into the heart of St. James.”

Gyrodyne could not be reached for comments by press time.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) discusses red light cameras during a press conference in Miller Place Sept. 21. Photo by Kevin Redding

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) is calling for an investigation into the county’s annual Red Light Camera Program Report, which he said has purposefully, and illegally, eliminated data on car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

Trotta stood with fellow legislators and colleagues Sept. 21 at the intersection of Route 25A and Miller Place Road in Miller Place to address his ongoing concerns with a lack of available statistics surrounding accidents, injuries and deaths due to the county’s red light camera program, highlighting a conversation he had last month with a traffic engineer of Nelson & Pope, the company that prepares the annual reports.

The traffic engineer, according to Trotta, advised him that the company was instructed not to include the pedestrian and bicyclist-involved accidents at red light camera locations in reports, in order to paint a better picture of the program. The reports are submitted to the state and made available to the public. The most recent report was released in April and highlighted statistics for 2015. While pedestrian and bicycle-involved accidents have been reported in a scattered few reports since the program began in 2010, the data has not been included in the last two years’ reports.

Trotta said the data exclusion is a violation of the state’s motor vehicle and traffic law, which states the mandatory annual report must include the number, type and severity of all accidents reported at these intersections with traffic control devices.

He also said it is not clear who is behind the data exclusion, the county or the company behind the red light camera program, but urged the state attorney general to get involved so the guilty party can be held accountable.

“How can anybody adequately look at the positive or negative features of a program when they’re not getting all the data?” Trotta said during the press conference. The legislator has long been opposed to the program, which he said he believes is the cause of an uptick in accidents throughout the area and is merely a ticket and revenue-generating scam by the county. “There are multiple reasons why this program should be shut down immediately and I’m aghast by the fact that we’re doing nothing and we are lying to the public by not including the pedestrians and the bicyclists. When I found about this, I couldn’t believe it.”

Trotta was joined by Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Smithtown) and Tom Muratore (R-Selden), as well as county legislature candidate Gary Pollakusky (R), at the busy intersection where two teenagers have died after being struck by cars, which features red light cameras.

“We lost a child here on a bicycle and a child here as a pedestrian,” Trotta said, referring to 14-year-old Nico Signore who died earlier this year, and 16-year-old John Luke, who died in 2015. “But I guess that doesn’t mean anything to anybody because they’re not even including [those accidents] in the report. I absolutely think there’s cohersion with the county and this company to keep the money stream coming in. This entire program is just a calamity of errors.”

Pollakusky said he supports the suspension of the red light camera program due to its negative impact on public safety.

“The red light camera program is a money grab by [County Executive Steve Bellone] and the Democrats in the Legislature and has been sold to the public as a public safety program — it is anything but safe,” Pollakusky said, stressing that accidents have increased after the red light cameras were installed.

He also took issue with his opponent, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who initially voted against the program but has since come to agree with its mission of changing poor traffic.

“[She] is famous for saying ‘if it saves one child’s life,’ it’s worth it [but] this program that you and your cohorts support, Mrs. Anker, has hurt innocent drivers, pedestrians and children alike,” Pollakusky said.

Personal injury lawyer David Raimondo, based in Lake Grove, represents the Luke family and pointed to an omission of data, including fatalities of pedestrians in auto accidents, in a presentation before the Suffolk County Legislature in 2014 led to the red light camera program’s renewal.

“It’s up for renewal in 2019 and if we don’t have the proper data before the Legislature, it will continue to be renewed and we cannot let that happen,” Raimondo said. “It’s very important this program come to an end, it be suspended and that the suffering of the taxpayers of Suffolk County — both financially and physically — end.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County’s current and future financial outlook has been a topic of conversation for months, and a nonprofit founded to ensure government transparency is taking notice, following County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D-West Babylon) presentation to the state Senate and Assembly representatives in Albany Feb. 14.

Bellone visited the capital last week to discuss Suffolk’s “daunting” fiscal challenges going forward. Among his eight points addressed during the presentation was a request for authority from New York State to obtain bonds for separation pay of law enforcement officers for 2017 and 2018, a point of contention raised repeatedly by Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). Reclaim New York, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established to “educate New Yorkers on issues like affordability, transparency and education,” echoed a similar sentiment to Trotta’s following the presentation.

“Suffolk County has a problem: it spends too much on its police department,” a Feb. 15 post on the organization’s blog said in part. “Its 2,397 officers were paid an average of $161,463 last year, far more than any other county, or town police officers, or Nassau County’s police, for that matter. Spending reached this level after years of political action by the police, who spent in 2015 more than $600,000 influencing local elections–from one PAC alone. Now, having fallen behind on those expenses … Bellone is proposing borrowing $60 million because the county doesn’t have enough cash for payouts on unused sick and vacation time, that Suffolk cops were promised years ago.”

Doug Kellogg, the organization’s communications director, said in a phone interview Reclaim New York doesn’t currently have plans to begin a project or campaign pertaining specifically to the police contract, which the county and the Police Benevolent Association agreed on and which runs from 2011 to 2018, but they do plan on monitoring Suffolk’s budget and financial outlook going forward.

“It’s really starting to get out of control,” Kellogg said. “The path can get worse.”

Trotta has said in past interviews he feels like he’s alone in calling out the county’s financial situation relating to the police department contract.

“The county finances are in total shambles,” Trotta said during an interview in his Smithtown office Nov. 15. “[The other legislators are] sticking their head in the sand. They’re not addressing the real problems. No one wants to address the problems. You need colossal change.”

Following the meeting, Trotta said it was “typical” of Bellone to ask to borrow to pay for the retirement pay for police officers. He added he’s been in contact with Reclaim New York and plans to work with them to inform the public about the county’s finances.

“I’m going to work with them because together we could get the word out to the public on how bad it really is,” Trotta said in a phone interview. “The title says it all — we need to take back New York.”

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a spokeswoman for Bellone, said in a phone interview the request regarding bonds for separation pay was just a small part of his presentation, but if obtained the funds would improve public safety.

“In the future we’ll be able to hire more police officers to ensure our county is safe,” she said.

Bellone’s presentation also included a justification for borrowing to close the budget gap.

“Allowing for this five-year bonding will allow Suffolk County to protect taxpayers and public safety by smoothing out the expense associated with an anticipated increase in retirements,” he said. “Bonding will allow Suffolk County to retain the resources and fiscal flexibility to continue to hire new officers, which is critical to maintain public safety and save taxpayer dollars over several years.”

A look at the county budget by the legislature’s budget review office in October resulted in a warning.

“The county’s structural deficit is increasingly driving our decisions,” the office’s director Robert Lipp said in the review. “The county sets a bad precedent when paying for operating expenses with borrowing.”