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Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim

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SPAC will hold a benefit to raise funds to save the theater. Photo by Kimberly Brown

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center is in need of being saved.

Local elected officials and community leaders gathered at the theater Sept. 8 asking for local residents to help pitch in money to save the building. The owner of the building, Ken Washington, put it up for sale last month.

State Sen. Mario Mattera, left, joined other local elected officials and community members to talk about the importance of the Smithtown Performing Arts Center in the town. Photo by Kimberly Brown

Not only is the SPAC a place for entertainment, as well as education, but it also serves as a sentimental piece of history to the community. The theater itself was built in 1933 and aged well into its years making it 90 years old. It has become a well-known staple and has brought in families from all over the Island.

“This is like the hub of our downtown revitalization,” said state Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James). “This is history. This is history we need to make sure is secured and that will still be here for our families — our young, our middle-aged and our seniors.”

Mattera also pointed out that the educational acting programs for 17 and 18 year olds are extremely vital in this day and age. He said coming to the Smithtown Performing Arts Center is one of the few ways to get young people off their phones and learn about art and history. 

“The only way the surrounding businesses will survive is if this theater remains a hub,” said Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R). “If it does not, and it’s sold for other purposes, you will see millions of dollars in expendable income leave Smithtown and go to other places such as Patchogue, Babylon or Northport.”

Currently, a GoFundMe is set up for community members to donate to. The goal is to reach $400,000, with $6,300 raised as of Sept. 8. The board members of the Smithtown Performing Arts Center are very confident they can reach their goal as long as donations are placed and fundraisers are successful.

The Smithtown Performing Arts Council made an offer of $1.3 Million to purchase the historic theater at the time the property was listed, but are currently awaiting a decision on the matter.

With the support of the Smithtown Performing Arts Council, a nonprofit organization, a benefit performance with some of Long Island’s most talented artists will be held on Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. All are welcome to come and donate to the cause.

To donate to save Smithtown Performing Arts Center, visit www.gofund.me/93a0c9fe.

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.

From left, Environmental Director David Barnes, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, Smithtown artist Susan Buroker, Smithtown CSD Art Teacher Timothy Needles talk with students about stormwater runoff. Photo from Town of Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown, in partnership with the Smithtown Central School District, has begun a unique partnership in time for the 2021-2022 school year. Town officials will begin to coordinate hands-on experiential learning opportunities with school science teachers, which focus on real world environmental issues affecting the community. The new programming will focus on the branches of science and how to apply the curriculum to real world issues such as solid waste, invasive species, and water quality.

“We’re absolutely thrilled at the prospect of getting our youth more engaged in critical environmental issues, like protecting the watershed, and Long Island’s impending waste crisis. I can remember back to my school days, always asking ‘When am I ever going to use this in the real world?’ This programming takes studies from the chalk board to the real world, so kids witness the benefits of their hard work unfold before their eyes… I’m especially grateful for the School Districts partnership in what will undoubtedly be a phenomenal learning experience for our youth,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

Over the Summer, town department experts at Environment and Waterways, and Municipal Services Facility will begin coordinating with school district science teachers to help perfect the programming. Real world topics include the impending solid waste crisis, shellfish and water quality, invasive species census and stormwater runoff. Each class will hear expert presentations from Smithtown’s environmental authorities, in addition to participating in eco-adventure field trips. Students will then learn how to apply STEM related solutions to real world issues.

While still in the planning phase, the new partnership program is slated to launch in the fall.

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Photo from the town

By Chris Cumella

Through a Zoom meeting Feb. 4, the Smithtown Town Board and residents gathered together virtually to elaborate on the efforts of the town and H2M Architects and Engineers, of Melville, to implement a comprehensive master plan within the next couple of years. The meeting followed other public outreach meetings that have been held since the middle of January to discuss specific plans for Commack, Hauppauge, Nesconset, Kings Park and St. James.

On December 15, 2020, the town released a draft comprehensive plan and initiated the State Environmental Quality Review process.  

Directing participants through a slideshow of statistics and ambitions allowed Allyson Murray, principal planner of the Planning Department, to detail the progress of their collaborative efforts with H2M.

Murray said that the town’s former plan “is outdated,” considering the last time it had been adopted was 1957 — and once more before that in 1949. She especially elucidated that the plan’s proposals were only hypothetical and subject to alteration at any point in the next two years.

“There have been questions in some of the past presentations where people thought some of the made recommendations in the plan were 100 percent going to happen,” Murray said. “That’s not really the case — these are guiding policy recommendations that may be implemented.”

The town extended its public outreach to the community in advance in 2019. Murray emphasized that announcements had been made at each of the Town Board meetings, fliers distributed in the downtown areas and in schools, and mentioned the various articles featured in local newspapers.

The presentation made available to those on the call had been made possible from the result of public outreach that the Town Board extended. In addition to the 1,200 responses that the town had garnered in the spring of 2019, it also hosted 370 participants over the course of six community-planning workshops.

“This is the public input over the course of months we were taking it,” Murray said. “H2M took these comments, met with the town, and began preparing that draft plan.”

The plan’s formulation took one year following community feedback.

Smithtown residents felt there was an increased need for safety and renovations, also people needed high quality to be upheld and refurbishments made in several areas of the town.

Pedestrian safety was highlighted as a significant concern, which included enhancing walkability along Main Street as well as the general streetscape. The community also wanted to see the removal of fences that separate the town, county and state parks, and more buildings added to the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

Murray advised what the next steps of the plan would entail for the town and community. In March, a public hearing on the draft plan is set to occur with a date to be determined, which would allow for further public feedback and revision of the plan as necessary. Another hearing will occur in May when the final comprehensive plan will be formatted.

The Town Board recommends that the community continues to provide as much feedback as possible by utilizing its website and to see what the comprehensive plan holds in store for Smithtown’s future.

For more information about Smithtown’s comprehensive master plan and to view the public outreach meetings, visit www.smithtownny.gov/648/draft-comprehensive-plan.

The soccer fields at Moriches Park

The Town of Smithtown Town Board unanimously approved the 2021 capital budget on Thursday January 21st. Capital improvements for the upcoming year are heavily focused on Parks and Recreation projects, in an effort to improve quality of life amid the coronavirus pandemic. Highlights of the plan include improvements to the pool area at Landing Country Club, renovating East Hills & Laurel Drive parks and replacing the turf soccer fields at Moriches Park. 

By the end of 2021, the Town of Smithtown will have completed the renovation and restoration process of over 75% of the town’s parks and beaches in a four-year period. The 2021 capital budget continues these efforts with the planned revitalization of parks like East Hills and Laurel Drive, along with replacing the turf fields at Moriches Soccer Complex and the replacement and relocation of the playground at Flynn Memorial Ballpark. 

Additionally, the installation of permanent shade structures at the Landing Country Club pool will complement the recently completed new surfacing and stairwell replacement. The Parks department is also in the process of installing a new bathroom and small concession area at the entrance to the country club to accommodate golfers. The golf course was recently renovated (2019) which included the repaving of the golf cart paths and roadway, constructing a custom-built starter shack and halfway house, all new landscaping of the entryway island as well as brand new sidewalks, benches and fencing.  

Capital Budget Highlights:

  • Replacement of Turf Soccer Fields at Moriches Park Soccer Complex

  • Renovations to the playground, resurfacing of tennis courts, new fencing, handball courts and walkways at Laurel Drive Park

  • New playgrounds, refurbished Handball Courts and new walkways at East Hill Park

  • Replacement and repositioning of playground and repaving of the parking lot and curbing at Flynn Memorial Ballpark

  • Permanent shade structure awnings around the Smithtown Landing Country Club Pools

  • A Solar Farm development & Solar Array Feasibility Study to evaluate placing solar arrays on Town Property

  • Replacement of heavy-duty trucks and equipment for snow removal

  • Replacement of the Kings Park Salt Barn to mitigate environmental impacts of road salt storage

  • Refinancing of 2013 outstanding bonds resulting in estimated aggregate savings of approximately $115,000.

“Providing residents with improved facilities and parks has never been more vital to the wellbeing and quality of life of our quaint community. In these uncertain times, the people of this great community can rest assured of this administration’s steadfast commitment to restoring and maintaining the parks system for all to enjoy,” said 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.