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Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim

Nicolas 'Niko' Maldonado-Molina (standing in center) proudly shows off one the benches he built. Photo from Town of Smithtown

On Nov. 4, local and state officials joined with family, friends, and the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce to unveil the Eagle Scout Project of Boy Scout Nicolas “Niko” Maldonado-Molina of Troop 566.

Niko chose to build two benches, one standard and one which is ADA accessible, for residents to utilize at the newly renovated playground at Gibbs Pond Park. The project, created by hand, was designed to create inclusivity and hopefully inspire similar projects.

“Niko not only sought to build new benches for the playground area, he had the thoughtfulness of mind to create ADA accessible benches. This is a great new addition to Gibbs Pond Park and we are thrilled to be here today to unveil them as Nicholas Maldonado-Molina’s Eagle Scout Project for Troop 566,” said Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

The ADA compliant, handicap accessible bench has a 34 inch gap in the center, allowing for a wheelchair user to easily maneuver it into the gap and sit next to others, instead of having to place it beside the bench.

“Only 4% of Scouts in the Scouting program achieve the Eagle rank before their 18th year, which is the deadline. Reaching Eagle rank requires dedication, perseverance, and a very, very good work ethic. With the help of many people, I was able to complete this project. With over 50+ hours of collecting and recycling 10,000 bottles, we raised $500 so that we could build these cedar benches that belong to this park now,” said Niko. “I thought it would be unique to do this as a way to give back to my community, and include a portion of people who might be overlooked. ”

The benches at Gibbs Pond Park are one of several recent improvements made to the park. Other renovations include new landscaping, state-of-the-art LED sports lighting, turf resurfacing, reconditioning of the tennis and basketball courts, and new playground areas.

Photo from Town of Smithtown

Elected officials and community members break ground at the spot of the soon-to-be Celebrate Park in St. James. Photo by Julianne Mosher

As part of the Lake Avenue revitalization project in St. James, Celebrate Park is well under way to bring an inviting space to local residents.

Rendering of the planned Celebrate Park in St. James. Rendering from Town of Smithtown

On Wednesday, Nov. 4, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) joined other elected officials and members of the community to break ground at the soon-to-be Celebrate Park. The new park will sit on the lot formerly occupied by the Irish Viking bar located at 369 Lake Ave. and is part of an $8 million rebuild of St. James’ downtown.

During the press conference, Wehrheim said the project is seven months ahead of schedule.

“We are seeing the rebirth of this beautiful community,” he said. “Vacancies are down, assessed values are up and people are beginning to walk up and down Main Street again.”

The property where the bar sits was put up on a tax lien, and the town and Suffolk County worked together to acquire it through an intergovernmental contract. The space will eventually house a small park and municipal parking lot. The Lake Avenue entrance into the park will be through an arched ceremonial gateway flanked with informational brick piers. A clock will be centered at the top of the arch.

“The park is designed to provide a flexible inviting public space that is defined by classical elements that reflect the rich history of buildings and places in our Historic St. James Cultural and Arts District, and that will be a centerpiece of the downtown revitalization,” said Bob Retnauer, architect with RDA Landscape Architecture of St. James.

Celebrate Park is planned to be arranged around a classical ellipse walkway with the outer edge bordered by brick seat walls. The bricks can be engraved within the walkways and are available for purchase to commemorate families and residents. Festival lights will be hung across the park to create a welcoming atmosphere for anyone who visits.

Natalie Weinstein, president of Celebrate St. James, said the collaboration of local government and volunteers may seem unusual but, by working together, the vision of economic revitalization is getting close.

“It has been a bumpy road, as progress usually is, but when all the bumps are gone  — as they soon will be — we can look back at this time and know we have done the right thing for our town, today and for its future,” she said.

Demolition of the Irish Viking bar began after the groundbreaking. According to Weinstein, the project should be completed by next spring.

The Town of Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Phil Corso

Smithtown town officials presented its 2021 tentative budget of $107.6 million to residents last week during a virtual public town hall meeting. A budget vote is scheduled for November.

“2020 has certainly been a whirlwind throwing challenges our way that are expected to continue throughout 2021,” Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said during the meeting. “It has made our jobs as municipal managers much more difficult in both overseeing the operating results for 2020 and projecting the budget for 2021.”

He said that early on in the pandemic, the town “weathered the storm” and created adequate reserves to keep things intact and continued to complete advantageous projects including the Lake Avenue Business District, among others. “The economic benefits of these projects will last long into the future, allowing for generations to come benefit greatly,” he said. 

Wehrheim added that this year the town decreased overtime and decided to cut discretionary spending by 15%. 

“If we should experience this again, we can promise you that town board, myself and our town employees will be ready after all the town endures.”

— Ed Wehrheim

The upcoming budget claims it will maintain municipal services while trimming payroll and increasing property taxes on the typical non-village home less than 1%. 

“In 2020, we looked to reducing expenditures by reinventing our own ways of doing business and created new opportunities to make up for the pandemic-related shortfall,” the supervisor said. “This enabled me to deliver a budget it stays within a mandated allowable New York state tax cap limitation this year of 1.5%, which is becoming increasingly more difficult for municipal managers.”

Some highlights included an overall decrease in salaries accounting for a little over $600,000. 

“Due to the retirement incentive we instituted during the pandemic, we did not utilize any fund balance to balance this budget,” he said. “It is a structurally balanced budget.”

Wehrheim said that overall taxes increased by less than 1% with the exception of residents within the St. James water district who experienced a slightly greater increase due to the water mains along Lake Avenue. The Lake Avenue Project cost $8 million, and includes a dry sewer line that officials home could connect to a sewage treatment plant at the Gyrodyne site near the town’s Brookhaven border. 

The 2021 tentative budget meeting broke down expenses by type. The bulk of expenses at 34% goes towards salaries, 30% to contractual agreements, 29% to employee benefits, 5% to debt service and 2% to equipment. 

It also states the Town’s General fund will see an increase of $22.57 for a home assessed at $5,500 or 3.74%. The same residence will see a reduction in their highway taxes of $4.51 or 3.61% for a net increase of $18.06 per residence valued at $5,500 or 2.48% increase. 

Residents not within village boundaries will see taxes increase by $10.48 for a home assessed at $5,500 or 0.81% higher. Wehrheim said no use of fund balance in any of those funds were used to balance the budget.

After officials broke down the plan, residents voiced their concerns. Members from the civic group We Are Smithtown brought up issues surrounding the Lake Avenue Project, the Master Plan and questions involving the town’s School Age Child Care Program. 

The group criticized that the budget seemed to show the town was profiting off of the program with the tentative budget showing revenue exceeded expenses by $548,264 in 2019. However, it shows that the program is expected to operate at a $226,846 loss this year, and that revenue is expected to exceed costs by $100,000 in 2021. 

James Bouklas, president of the group, argued that the Town of Smithtown brings in $1.413 million in revenue for the program each year, yet the budget shows the program’s cost is $828,000 – a profit of almost $600,000 yearly.

“If you look at the cost, you can see it’s pretty comprehensive,” he said. “This is not its own fund, it’s part of the general fund … In my opinion, it’s pretty comprehensive. There’s not a lot of shared services.” 

He added that the group called for an accounting for every dollar coming into the program. “All profits should be refunded to the families of the program,” Bouklas said. 

Patty Stoddard, a Nesconset resident and board member of the group, said this program is essential to working parents and should be accounted for. 

“This is a program that is a lifeline for working parents often work long hours to be able to afford to live in Smithtown and send their kids to excellence,” she said at the meeting. “This is not the first time we’ve addressed issues with this program. It came to our attention earlier this year that many childcare workers in the towns program were earning less than minimum wage. We pressured the town into doing the right thing and the town agreed to increase wages.”

However, Town Comptroller Donald Musgnug said the budget does not break down the program’s cost provided by other town departments including payroll, insurance, accounting and Parks and Recreation. 

“If you add them to the direct costs, would greatly diminish what you’re perceiving to be, quote, a profit,” he said. “We don’t measure profit and losses within a governmental entity. We’re not viewing it as a business per say. We’re not trying to make money off of that, and the fact of the matter is between 2020, because of the diminished revenues, we’re anticipating a loss of $227,000.”

Despite the problems 2020 caused for everyone locally and across the country, Wehrheim said he hopes the town will never have to witness circumstances like this again. 

“If we should experience this again, we can promise you that town board, myself and our town employees will be ready after all the town endures,” he said.

Local legislators joined U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) at a press conference Sept. 14 in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) invited elected officials from across Suffolk County and from all levels of government to join him Monday, Sept. 14, on the front steps of Town Hall to send a plea for help to the capital as Congress members prepare to negotiate the next federal COVID-19 package.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On hand was U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who along with Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY19) introduced the Direct Support for Communities Act in the House of Representatives. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D).

Wehrheim said the legislators are calling on Congress for direct coronavirus funding while their municipalities face historic financial shortfalls. He thanked Zeldin for working across the aisle and advocating for a bipartisan proposal for the funding that local governments could use for essential services and to offset lost revenues during the ongoing pandemic.

Zeldin said while there has been legislation to provide relief for families, small businesses and for state and local governments under the CARES Act, there was still more that needed to be done.

He gave the example of the Town of Brookhaven, which was excluded from the last relief package. The congressman said for a town to receive CARES Act funding directly it needed a population of more than 500,000. Brookhaven has just under that number. The town had requested $12 million from the federal government, according to Zeldin.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here.”

— Lee Zeldin

“The formula of how that CARES Act money was distributed was very strict to ensure that the money could only be used for COVID-19 related expenses,” he said. “It’s important for there not only to be more funding for state and local governments, but also more flexibility in how that money is spent.”

The legislation introduced recently by Zeldin would allow a new formula to disperse relief funding based on population. Under the new guidelines, if the act is passed, Brookhaven could potentially receive the $12 million.

Zeldin said with the new formula half the money would go to the counties based on population and the other half to towns, cities and villages.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here,” the congressman said.

During his speech, four protesters jeered Zeldin as he spoke and held up signs, one of which read, “Lazy Lee Must Go! CD1 Deserves Better!” 

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also spoke at the press conference. He said the pandemic has shut down the economy and the effects will reverberate for the next 100 years. He thanked Zeldin for his help with what he called “a rescue bill.”

“Government is no different than the average family,” he said. “Our revenues are down, and we still must provide services. We need some help. We need some leadership.”

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said since the middle of March towns have provided much needed essential services such as senior centers providing meals for those in need, garbage pickup and public safety agencies patrolling the beaches and parks, which he said may have seen more visitors in the last few months than in the last 15 years. He added that the continuity of services continued without federal assistance and it’s important to remember that the future is unknown with COVID-19.

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on every aspect of county and local government functions.

“We are on the verge of utter collapse, and without intervention and swift intervention from the federal government, our county government and local governments will no longer exist as we know them here,” the comptroller said. “And guess what? We deserve better. We deserve better from Washington. We deserve a government that is going to actually be receptive to this crisis.”

New York State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R- Fort Salonga), plus Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R), Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar (R), Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (D) and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) also spoke at the event to show their support for the bipartisan bill.

Department chief Kevin Fitzpatrick presents a plaque to Hailee Hurtado July 6. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A 15-year-old’s heroic actions were recognized July 6 at Smithtown Fire Department’s main facility on Elm Avenue.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim talks about Hailee before he and councilmembers gave her and her sister Madison skateboards. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The fire department, elected officials and the Smithtown Children’s Foundation presented Hailee Hurtado with awards and presents for helping to save her entire family from a devastating house fire June 26. If her actions would have been delayed by a few minutes, the outcome could have ended in tragedy, according to the fire department’s public information officer Rick Torre.

“We can all agree today that Hailee’s quick instinct and fast actions define her today as a hero,” Torre said.

It was in the early morning hours of June 26 when Hailee thought she smelled smoke in her Stuyvesant Lane home. Her first response was to wake up her father, Jonathan Hurtado, who discovered there was a fire in the garage. As the father evacuated his wife, Evelyn, and younger daughter, Madison, Hailee ran downstairs for her grandmother. After getting his wife and younger daughter to safety, Jonathan Hurtado returned inside the house where he found Hailee downstairs assisting her grandmother who uses a cane.

When the family was all safe outside, the garage became engulfed in flames and the fire had spread up the exterior to the upper level. Despite the fire department responding in minutes, the home was left uninhabitable with the total destruction of all keepsakes, clothing and electronics.

Torre said while firefighters are trained and participate in drills, Hailee didn’t have that luxury.

“In the early morning hours of June 26, the skills of the classroom or drills didn’t come into play for Hailee Hurtado,” he said. “It was instinct.”

Department chief Kevin Fitzpatrick presented Hailee with a plaque, and she received accolades and certificates for her valor from Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

Hailee Hurtado, left, holds the plaque she received from the Smithtown Fire Department as Congressman Lee Zeldin (R) congratulates her on her bravery July 6. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Zeldin congratulated Hailee on her bravery and counted her among the town’s finest as several of the department’s firefighters were on hand for the event.

“It really says a lot about what Hailee did when you have hometown heroes calling you a hero,” he said.

John Kennedy said his office has internships and then handed Hailee his business card and said she was welcomed to call at any time if she were interested in interning in his office.

Wehrheim joked that Hailee asked her parents if she really had to attend, he said, “Now you know why you had to come.”

“The Hurtado family have lost their home, their memories and their keepsakes, but they still have each other thanks to Hailee doing the impossible,” Wehrheim said. “It’s a privilege to honor her today.”

After his speech, Wehrheim and councilmembers gave Hailee and her sister skateboards. Mario Mattera, who is running for State Senate in November and is the business agent for Local Plumbers Union 200, presented four bicycles for the whole family.

Christine Fitzgerald, co-founder of the Smithtown Children’s Foundation, said an iPhone 11 was on the way for Hailee. The foundation has provided relief for the family after the fire and neighbors have started a GoFundMe page to help.

While Hailee was too shy to speak, her father Jonathan Hurtado said the tragedy has been surreal, and he thanked his neighbors and the community, especially the firefighters for their quick response.

“It was apparent in that moment I didn’t know what to do with myself and my family,” he said.

The father said the family appreciated the help they have received and neighbors reaching out to check up on them.

“It was truly a blessing to see how everybody pitched in,” he said.

People wishing to help the Hurtados can visit GoFundMe.com and search Help the Hurtado Family.

Steve Bellone discusses ideas about promoting the arts in St. James with the civic group Celebrate St. James during a recent visit to the Calderone Theater. Photo by David Luces

State and local officials gathered at the St. James General Store to commemorate the recent completion of the new pedestrian crossing that connects the store to Deepwells Farm and its parking. The project also included drainage and infrastructure repairs near the building as part of phase one of the Downtown Revitalization Project. 

The arts, experts state, is a sure-fire way to revitalize a community. Photo by David Luces

Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) noted that the repairs were completed just in time as the community nears peak holiday season, when residents frequent the Suffolk County-owned and operated shop. 

“As you know this is the oldest general store in operation in the United States,” he said at a press conference. “Not only does this [repaved road] make for safe crossing on Moriches Road, but the beautification allows for more people to stop and encourages people to shop locally.”

Douglas Dahlgard, Head of the Harbor mayor, said the general store is a destination in the community. 

“This is a destination, it has been one since 1857,” he said. “History is very important in this community, tourists have come from as far as South Africa [to visit the store]. [The store] reminds me of my roots.”

Wehrheim expects the rest of phase one initiative, which includes renovating sidewalks, crosswalks and concrete gutters spanning from Patrick’s Way to Jericho Turnpike, will be completed in the next two weeks.

Phase two of the revitalization plan is expected to be completed by the end of winter.  It includes adding a sewer line and pump station along the main stretch of Lake Avenue, new off-street municipal parking and major pedestrian safety and traffic calming measures. 

After the press conference, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined town officials in a Lake Avenue walking tour and visited the Calderone Theater, which will soon open as a cultural arts center in the future.     

Wehrheim said they have looked at a number of parcels that are primed for economic development. Ideas include purchasing the vacant Irish Viking Bar to create a pavilion for live entertainment in the center of town and additional parking. 

By Heidi Sutton

Christmas came early for many little girls and boys as two members of the Radio City Rockettes, Mindy Moeller (left) and Taylor Shimko, stopped by the Smithtown Library’s Main Branch on Sept. 25 to meet their fans and take part in a kids craft program.

Each child took an instant photo with the Rockettes that was placed in a keepsake snow globe. The globe was then decorated with stickers.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim presented the two dancers with a proclamation thanking them for their time and “the joyful memories made today with the children and families of Smithtown.”

The day was especially meaningful for the supervisor’s 6-year-old granddaughter Danica (in the pink ballet outfit) who loves to watch the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show and aspires to become a Rockette when she grows up.

Schedules match play championship

Smithtown Landing golf course gets a makeover. Photo from the Town of Smithtown

On July 8, Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and his fellow elected leaders joined with PGA master professional and golf Hall of Famer Michael Hebron and tournament organizer David Capo at the Smithtown Landing Country Club. Wehrheim announced registration was officially open for the first-ever Sarazen Par Three Match Play Championship, aka “The Squire”. The announcement came one week after major renovations and repairs to the golf club were completed.

Left to right: PGA Hall of Famer Michael Hebron, Director of Parks Joe Arico, Director of Recreation Tom McCaffery, Superintendent of Highways Robert Murphy, golf championship organizer David Capo, Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo, Director of Traffic Safety Mitch Crowley, Receiver of Taxes Deanna Varrichio, Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy, Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, Councilwoman Lynne Nowick, Town Clerk Vincent Puleo and Councilman Tom Lohmann. Photo from Town of Smithtown

“Over the last year-and-a-half we set out to invest in smart improvements to the Smithtown community that would result in a return on investment for the taxpayer. The renovations just completed here at Landing speak to this point,” Wehrheim said. “I am very pleased to present the community with this exciting match play event, which will undoubtedly bring attention to the historic roots here at Landing and generate a weekend of new foot traffic for surrounding businesses.”

Recent renovations to the Smithtown Landing Country Club include repaved golf cart paths, entryway, roads, curbs and pavement, new starter shack, newly renovated halfway house, sidewalk areas, benches and fencing. An entryway island was redesigned and landscaped with plantings, signage and renovated crosswalks featuring all new traffic calming signs and lighting. Additionally,  ID cards have been instituted for the pool and golf course, which has already generated $6,000 in new revenue in two weeks. Building renovations are set to begin in the fall. The Smithtown Departments of Parks, Building and Grounds; Recreation; Traffic Safety and Highway were responsible for the completion of the work. 

“It’s been an honor for me to be here for many years and see the influence the town’s golf course has had on the community. To be a part of this team has been an opportunity for me to share what we can do with the community,” PGA Hall of Famer Michael Hebron said. “Children’s camps, children going off to play golf in college, children developing social and business skills through golf … to be a small part of the big picture here has been a real honor.”

This event is meant to honor the life of golf legend Gene Sarazen, known as “The Squire,” who helped to design the Par Three Course at the Smithtown Landing Country Club. Many golfers who have played on the course have said it is one of the most difficult par three courses they have played. 

“We embarked on a five-year project in the Town of Smithtown, and part of that is understanding the history … it’s a fascinating place,” said golf championship organizer David Capo. “After finding an old map, learning that the course weaves along the historic Culper Spy Ring … I came down to talk with Michael Hebron and his knowledge about the history of Smithtown Landing helped to inspire this event.”

The opening ceremony will take place on July 25 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with the two-day championship running July 27 and July 28. Golfers at all skill levels (ages 16 and older) are invited to register for the 64 available spots in this 100 percent handicap par three match play championship, held on the Sarazen par three course. 

The opening ceremony will feature presentations by Wehrheim, Hebron and members of the Sarazen Family. Practice rounds are available by contacting the pro shop at 631-979-6534. 

Registration is $29 per golfer to enter the tournament. Tickets to attend the opening ceremony party are $25. Registration closes on July 20. 

The owner of The Oasis club in Smithtown is in talks with town officials to negotiate a sale of the building. Photo by Donna Deedy

The Town of Smithtown is looking to close a deal with the owner of The Oasis club, a business that calls itself “a gentlemen’s club’ located under the railroad trestle across from the town’s iconic bronze bull.  

“We’re seeking appraisals,” said Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski. “It’s going to take some time, if it’s going to happen at all.”

The transaction is part of multifaceted plan to create a swath of parkland along the Nissequogue River where a Suffolk County park vendor currently rents canoes and kayaks.

Since at least 1994, court records show that the town has attempted, so far with limited success, to enact and legally enforce ordinances against The Oasis club that would prevent adult entertainment from being located near parks, playgrounds, schools, churches and residential districts. 

The decades-old dispute may ultimately end with the sale of the property.  

A privately held company, 490 West Jericho Realty Corp., owns the premises, with Thomas Murray of Pelham Manor named in public documents as owner. The Oasis club has paid its $10,943 tax bill for the first half of 2019 through TJS of New York, a corporation referenced in town and court documents as the club’s owner, with Murray as CEO. He was unable to be reached for comment. 

Attorney Howard Greenberg, of Smithtown, who represents the club, said in a phone interview that his client is working in a coordinated effort with the town, but added that talks are in the early stages and noted that his client is operating a business and not necessarily eager to sell. 

“The town board is taking some preliminary measures to potentially purchase the property,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “However, this is all contingent on whether we can secure a mutually beneficial idea that was discussed during talks with the County Executive [Steve Bellone (D)] and myself to swap some parkland with the town.”

In an April 4 letter to Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Brown, Jakubowski described exchanging the town-owned Bill Richards Park with county-owned Givens Park, which is adjacent to The Oasis club along the Nissequogue River. The county-owned former Bavarian Inn site along Lake Ronkonkoma is also part of the swap. The exchange, according to the letter, complies with New York State law, but will require special legislation from the New York State Legislature as parkland is involved.  

State Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said in a phone interview that he expects the parkland swap agreement between the town and county to sail through the Senate and Assembly and is happy to act as a vessel to get the agreement passed as long as the state’s Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation system gives it the thumbs up. 

According to the town attorney, Smithtown would continue to contract the county’s kayak vendor once the swap is complete. 

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By Donna Deedy

It was a life well-lived. A first-generation American, the child of Italian immigrants, born during the Great Depression and dedicated to public service.

“At the end of the day, I’ve done something for people. And that’s the guiding principle of my life,” said former Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio in a 2015 interview with The Times of Smithtown. 

“At the end of the day, I’ve done something for people. And that’s the guiding principle of my life.”

— Patrick Vecchio

Patrick Vecchio died Sunday, April 7, at age 88. For a record 40 years — nearly half of his lifetime — he held the Town of Smithtown’s highest office. During his tenure, seven different U.S. presidents held office, while the residents of Smithtown re-elected the same man to represent them again and again for 13 terms.

Roughly half of his years in office, he served as a Democrat, the other half a Republican. Today, people in both parties recognize his distinct leadership qualities. In fact, his portrait hangs in the Town of Smithtown Town Hall, and the building itself bears his name. The gesture, announced while Vecchio was still in office during a March 3, 2015 board meeting, surprised Vecchio and left him humbled and teary-eyed.

During the 2015 town hall dedication ceremony, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) made a point to say that Vecchio had served Smithtown the right way. At the same event, New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) was equally complimentary.

“He’s cheap, and he wears it like a badge of honor,” he said. “He never forgot, never forgets and never will forget where the money is coming from.”

Vecchio was legendary for his fiscal restraint. Town Historian Brad Harris said with a laugh that it’s more apt to call him “tight.” But Vecchio’s 40-year Smithtown legacy is rich and storied on a range of topics from open government policies to environmental conservation.

Under his leadership, Smithtown earned national recognition for many environmental and clean energy projects. The town pioneered a development rights program that enabled — at no cost to taxpayers — the preservation of important land such as the historic Harned Saw Mill site in Commack and the Saam wetlands at the headwaters of the Nissequoque River. Thanks to Vecchio, Smithtown was the first community in the nation to voluntarily convert its diesel-powered fleet of refuse trucks to run on compressed natural gas, which saved money and reduced noise and
air pollution.

“I’ve been here for 35 years; the Town of Smithtown never had a better friend than Pat Vecchio.”

— Russell Barnett

Smithtown was also an early adopter of wind generators and solar panels. Under Vecchio, the state awarded Smithtown in 2016 a $250,000 clean energy grant. Thanks to that award, solar electric projects are still underway at Smithtown Landing Country Club and town hall.

“I’ve been here for 35 years; the Town of Smithtown never had a better friend than Pat Vecchio,” said Russell Barnett, the Smithtown environmental protection director.

The community regarded Vecchio as a man with conviction. And people, whether they agreed with his position or not, said that they respected his opinion.

“He’s a feisty guy … ready to take on an issue or political opponent,” said Harris, after the town hall dedication ceremony. “He does battle for the people of Smithtown.”

People consistently note the leader’s commitment to the local community.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that he recognized Vecchio as a true public servant. “In his historic time in office, he always did what he thought was best for residents … that was always at the forefront of his every decision,” he said.

December 12, 2017 was Vecchio’s last board meeting as Smithtown supervisor. The occasion drew a crowd that filled the board room and trailed through the hallways and down staircases. People bid farewell and thanked the supervisor for implementing his vision on their behalf. Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) noted during the tribute that Vecchio was leaving Smithtown with a budgetary surplus rather than debt.

“This town is in such good financial shape, it is all because of you,” Trotta said. “You should be a model for every other town in the nation, the state and certainly the county.”