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Steve Bellone

Huntington Hospital and Northwell released slides displaying the purpose of social distancing and other measures to "flatten the curve." Image from Northwell

As testing for the coronavirus COVID-19 increases in Suffolk County and throughout the country, so too does the number of confirmed cases. As of Wednesday, Suffolk County had 152 confirmed cases, with three fatalities.

“We were behind the eight ball on testing for a while now,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with other members of the National Association of Counties and the press. “Those numbers are going to continue to jump. All of these efforts about trying to contain that.”

There are 17 positive tests in Brookhaven, 43 in Huntington, 23 in Islip, and 3 in Smithtown. People who would like to get tested can call 888 364 3065. Residents won’t automatically receive a test if they show up. They need to go to a doctor or have a telephone reference for a possible test. Bellone expects the requirements for testing to loosen up in the coming days.

To protect police officers, Bellone urged residents to file some reports online. Residents can file lost property, criminal mischief, non-criminal property damage, and minor motor vehicle damage, among other issues, through the web site http://www.suffolkpd.org.

The county executive also reminded residents who are experiencing a mental health emergency can reach out to the Dash Center in Hauppauge, which is the first crisis stabilization center on Long Island.

This week, Bellone’s office continued to take numerous steps to inform the public and protect first responders. He encouraged residents to sign up for Smart911, to provide emergency responders with critical medical information. Residents can sign up through the website www.smart911.com.

Residents can also sign up for text message updates on their mobile devices if they text CovidSuffolk to 67283. Over 10,000 people signed up for the texting service on the first day, the county executive said.

Apart from ongoing concerns about the spread of the virus, residents are confronting an economy that has ground to a halt, as people maintain social distancing and businesses from movie theaters to bowling alleys to dry cleaners all closed.

The government “knows the impact to businesses will be devastating,” Bellone said on the call.

The county executive has put together a business response plan and is working to collect data from local businesses. He also advised he continues to work with a business response team, which the Department of Economic Development and Planning and the Suffolk County Department of Labor are leading.

Bellone said the business group was in the “discovery phase” of the plan, as the Department of Labor takes the lead on collecting data from businesses to find out “what’s happening on the ground with their work force.”

He encouraged businesses to reach out through 311 to provide information about the impacts of the virus.

Bellone said he was working on supply chain issues for personal protection equipment for health care workers. He is also hopeful that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will find ways to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to expand hospital bed capacity to meet the anticipated surge in demand. 

As of now, Suffolk County has 2,300 hospital beds, of which 391 are currently available. There are 242 Intensive Care Unit beds, of which 68 are available.

George Latimer, the Westchester County executive, also shared his experiences and his expectations for the progression of the virus on the National Association of Counties call.

Westchester’s cases, which surged to 308, said the county is “where many places will be,” with its number of infections and its efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

Latimer wasn’t optimistic about the potential to reopen schools in his county any time soon.

“I doubt we’ll see academic [efforts] back before the end of June,” Latimer said. “That will cause all sorts of disruptions.”

Latimer said he is concerned about beds and ventilators and that his district has asked retired nurses and doctors if they would return to service.

County executives from other areas also expressed concerns about numerous other challenges, including helping the homeless population, safeguarding people in prisons, protecting first responders and health care workers, and managing their counties’ finances while tax revenue plummets and costs skyrocket.

A blood sample with respiratory coronavirus positive. Stock photo

Suffolk County has recorded its first two deaths from the coronavirus Covid-19, while the number of positive tests continues to climb and was at 74 as of early Monday.

Peter Scully, left, was confirmed to have contracted coronavirus. The county executives office has limited contact with others. File photo

A man in his 80s, who had been in isolation at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Smithtown, passed away, according to county officials. Another man, who was in his 90s and was in isolation at Huntington Hospital, also succumbed to the virus that has caused a pandemic throughout the world.

“It’s with great sadness” that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) reported that the virus has taken the lives of the two people. “We offer our condolences and sympathies to the family who have lost loved ones and we will do everything we can to contain the spread of the virus,” he said on a conference call with reporters Monday, March 16.

One of the confirmed positive cases includes a member of Bellone’s senior staff, Peter Scully, a Deputy Suffolk County executive. While Scully is “doing well,” he remains at home in isolation, where he continues to work as part of the team responding to the virus that has given him a sore throat and chills, according to Bellone.

Several members of Bellone’s team are under mandatory quarantine because they have had direct contact with Scully, which includes spending more than 10 minutes within six feet of him. That list includes Gregson Pigott, who is the commissioner of the county’s Department of Health Services.

Although he was not in direct contact with Scully, Bellone has been directing the response to the virus from his home office.

“The guidance we put out is important for everyone to follow, including top levels of the government,” Bellone said. “Leadership by example is important and it is important for people to know you can follow this guidance but continue to do the things you need to do.”

Bellone expressed some concerns about children gathering to spend time together, particularly with the approach of the warmer spring weather.

“We want to send a message out to parents and the community that it is important that while kids are home, it’s not a time for mass gathering,” Bellone said. “Parents need to be following social distancing guidelines for kids.”

Indeed, school children in Nassau and Suffolk County have been out of school starting Monday for at least two weeks.

Northwell Health, meanwhile, announced that it is postponing elective surgeries. The new guidelines don’t apply to emergency surgeries. Elective surgeries, endoscopies and other invasive procedures in the outpatient setting will continue when doctors determine that they are clinically necessary. If the medical staff decides these surgeries are not essential, they will be postponed or cancel them to minimize exposure to Covid-19 for patients and staff. Northwell is also asking its practitioners to reschedule non-essential visits unless medical necessary within the next four weeks. Planned imaging procedures including Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRIs, Computed Tomography (CTs) and ultrasound will not be canceled. Patients confirmed for imaging will be contacted prior to their visits to identify those people who might be at higher risk from the virus.

Comptroller John Kennedy is preparing for the possibility of closing the Hauppauge and Riverhead offices. The Comptroller indicated that he may need to close these offices or restrict the work from home. Even if that occurs, however, the Comptroller has worked with financial institutions to ensure that the government continues to function and funds remain available. Kennedy ensured that PayMySuffolkTaxes.com has been working for almost a year, which will allow residents to pay delinquent property taxes online. He also launched a self-service tool, SuffolkSelfService.com to allow vendors to make status payments and notify appropriate personnel.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) urged residents to report any price gouging for products such as hand sanitizers or household cleaning supplies. The phone number to call is 1-800-697-1220.

Suffolk Parks remain open and are operating on normal business hours. Organized events and youth group camping, however, have been suspended. Residents can call 311 to confirm if an event is still taking place.

Sheriff Errol Toulon, Jr. has suspended all visits with inmates at Suffolk County Correctional Facilities starting on March 17th. Attorneys may continue to see their clients. While there are no current cases of the virus at the facilities, Toulon indicated he made this decision to control the spread of the illness. Toulon also suggested that most office bureaus are available by phone or website and urged people who do not need to visit the office to make contact from home.

Nissequogue River State Park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psych Center. Photo by Donna Deddy

A piece of legislation that would have begun the process of creating a master plan for the Nissequogue River State Park was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Jan. 1, putting the future development of the park up in the air. 

“The park described in this bill is the subject  of  recent  litigation against  the  park’s office  and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” Cuomo stated. “In light of the fact  that  the  litigation  addresses  an environmental review conducted by the State related to uses in this very park, it would be inappropriate to sign this legislation.”

The park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, has been a popular destination for area residents who enjoy hiking, jogging, bird-watching and accessing the local waterways via its marina. But many of the site’s derelict buildings prevent the place from being truly enjoyable. Many people find the old institution creepy. 

New York State lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill in June sponsored by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) that would have required state parks officials to begin a master plan for the park. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

– John McQuaid

The introduction of a master plan would have included input from residents, state agencies and other stakeholders. It would also include assessing park resources, outlining future goals/cost of development and allowing the demolition of a number of dilapidated buildings on the grounds. 

John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, said he was disappointed to hear of the governor’s decision. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

McQuaid admitted that he believes the veto may have been political, stemming from the foundation’s decision to sue the state park’s office and Department of Environmental Conservation over the siting of a DEC Division of Marines Resources building in the park. 

Smithtown, state and local officials including County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended a rally Dec. 20 in support of the proposed project.  

According to Smithtown and county officials, the state project is expected to be an economic boost that would bring  in approximately 500 construction jobs, 100 permanent positions, plus the added year-round police presence in the state park. 

“We have never been against a DEC building on the property,” McQuaid said. “But we were against the location of the building, if we had the master plan process we could avoid this, everyone would have their say and input.”

The proposed site of the building would be in close proximity to the park’s marina. McQuaid deemed the location “inappropriate.”  

State officials who helped sponsor the master plan legislation were left confused about Cuomo’s decision.  

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan. It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

– Steve Englebright

“I am both shocked and disappointed by this action and feel like our community deserves better,” Flanagan said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to veto this legislation instead of joining us in protecting our community, our environment and our way of life.”

Since 2006, Flanagan said his office worked with former Gov. George Pataki (R) to ensure the land is protected by halting the sale of land to developers, adding additional land to the park system. In addition, they secured over $31 million in state funding and worked with local leaders to ensure continued efforts to preserve and remediate the property.

Flanagan said he stands ready to work with all interested parties to see if they can reach an agreeable compromise on this important issue. 

“I continue to be optimistic that we can work out a solution, and will return to Albany in January ready to work to find an amicable solution that protects the residents of Kings Park,” he said. 

Englebright offered similar sentiments and was hopeful lawmakers would revisit this issue. 

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan,” he said. “It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

McQuaid echoed the state officials’ thoughts saying the foundation is anxious to sit down with the parks office and state officials so they come to some type of agreement. 

Previously, there had been discussions about repurposing park land for a sports field, a concert area and a community center.

Bellone and Wehrheim meet at Park Bake Shop for signing of a $500,000 law for economic development project.

Popular downtown Kings Park businesses, such as the Park Bake Shop and the Kings Park Shipping and Business Center, have said for years that they lacked adequate parking for their customers. Their decade-old complaint has finally spurred action that has become one of the county’s most significant investments in a downtown: $500,000 for a new parking lot that will provide 23 stalls for local businesses. 

“I was shocked when I got the call,” said Lucy Shtanko, who owns the bakery with her husband, Gabe.

On Thursday, Oct. 3, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) sat beside Smithtown’s Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) inside the busy bakery to sign the new Jumpstart economic initiative. 

“When we’re focused on families, communities rather than political nonsense,” Bellone said. “We get things done.”

Bellone said that Kings Park had all the qualities worthy of economic development efforts. It has a train station, natural resources, a good school district and is located between Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Lab. Most importantly, people worked together to make it happen. 

“When you talk about revitalization, you have to start with community right from the start, otherwise it will fail,” Bellone said. “This community has done it right.”

Shopowners Shtanko and John Nobles, who own the shipping center, said they had gathered years ago more than 750 signatures and worked with civic groups and other businesses to mobilize action. Their persistence has ultimately paid off. 

Wehrheim, who lives in Kings Park, said that the town had already purchased in the late summer of 2018 two vacant lots for the additional parking at a cost of $279,000.  

“We cannot do this alone,” the supervisor said. “We rely on higher levels of government and there couldn’t be a better partner than Bellone.”

The jumpstart funds will pay for the entire project from start to finish, according to the supervisor’s office. But, not for the land that has already been purchased. Costs include surveying, erosion control and environmental protection, excavation, grading, pavement, concrete, handicap accessible sidewalk entrances, landscaping, all new electric lighting, traffic control signage and labor.

The parking lot is expected to be particularly useful for the Park Bake Shop and the Shipping Center and restaurants The Reel Kitchen, Dragon House, Red and Relish. The additional parking will also likely help with leasing out shops that have been vacant, according to town officials. 

Since the downtown is laid out rectangularly with the train station serving as a corner hub, some business leaders foresee Kings Park becoming a more popular destination. Joann Galletta Hahn, president of the Kings Park Heritage Museum, predicts that people will be more likely to stroll the business district. 

Bellone noted that when the chamber, civic, businesses, residents and government join together, anything is possible. 

Twenty-four hours after the jumpstart announcement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill that essentially secured funds for $20 million in sewer upgrades for Kings Park. The upgrades are considered essential for the downtown business development.

“I thank the governor for signing this important bill into law,” said State Sen. John Kennedy (R) who was the bill’s original sponsor. “And I am grateful the project can now proceed.”

The overarching consensus of the community after the announcements: Great things are on the horizon.

The jumpstart project will begin immediately with the surveying. The town expects to finish the parking lot in May or June of 2020.

File Photo

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) with the support of the Republican Caucus has requested a Certificate of Necessity (CN) from County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to reauthorize the red-light camera program in Suffolk County through a mandated referendum. 

“Let the public decide if this program is saving lives or costing the taxpayers their hard earned dollars,” said Trotta.

His fellow Republicans echoed this sentiment.

According to Trotta, a $250,000 study, prepared by L. K. McLean Associates, did not provide the data that the Suffolk County Legislature was seeking to thoroughly determine if the red-light camera program should be extended for another five years. In addition, the report noted that accidents increased 60 percent at red-light camera locations, yet the consultants argued that the program should continue. 

Republican legislators Tom Climi (R-Bay Shore), Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), Steven Flotteron (R-Bay Shore) and Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic Beach) support Trotta’s resolution to have a mandated referendum on the November ballot.

“This bill is a yes or no to sign the contract for renewal of the red-light cameras,” said Kennedy. “We have been told that we can work on issues once the contract is signed. We all know that all issues are defined upon contract signature, just look at the roughly 15 million we had to pay out when our County Executive decided to breach the signed contract at Ronkonkoma Rail Road Station for solar panels.”

The GOP Caucus leader Tom Climi has said that his seven-member caucus will vote unanimously to end the program. 

“The results speak for themselves: more than a thousand additional crashes at red-light camera intersections involving thousands of drivers, all put at risk of injury or worse, all subjected to vehicle repair costs and increased insurance rates, with no reduction in fatalities at these intersections,” Climi said. “Rather than taking photos and video at these intersections, pretending to make them safer, we should engineer these intersections to actually BE safer.” 

Trotta had encouraged the public to speak at the Sept. 4 meeting of the full Legislature  and to speak in support of his referendum. The meeting, which was held at the Williams Rogers Building, Legislative Auditorium, 725 Veterans Memorial Highway, Hauppauge, began at 9:30 a.m. and by 3:30 p.m. the issue had not yet come up for debate and residents were still waiting to speak for their allotted three minutes during the public portion. 

Trotta has encouraged anyone with questions to call him at 631-854-3900.

Democrat leaders were unavailable for comment before going to press. Bellone’s office did not respond to questions about the program.

The results of the Sept. 4 meeting were unavailable before press time.  By early evening, county legislators ultimately voted along party lines in a 11-7 vote to extend for five more years the red-light camera program. 

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Executive Steve Bellone attend a June 14 press conference to announce a partnership between SCPD and Stony Brook Medicine to host Mobile Mammography Van events in the county. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Stony Brook Medicine and the Suffolk County Police Department are joining forces to provide proactive health services to residents.

“By partnering with Stony Brook Medicine to bring their Mobile Mammography Van to a number of different locations all across the county this summer, we are making it easier than ever for working women to get checked.”

— Steve Bellone

Officials announced June 14 that the police department and Stony Brook Medicine’s Mobile Mammography Van will host events this summer at various county locations. The events will provide convenient access to mammography examinations for SCPD employees as well as the public.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who was previously diagnosed with breast cancer, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), members of the Suffolk County Police Department and Stony Brook’s Mobile Mammography Program coordinator Dr. Patrick Dineen were on hand for the announcement.

“Commissioner Hart should serve as an inspiration to us all, using her own personal experience with breast cancer to raise awareness about the power of early detection, which has saved countless lives,” Bellone said. “By partnering with Stony Brook Medicine to bring their Mobile Mammography Van to a number of different locations all across the county this summer, we are making it easier than ever for working women to get checked.”

Officers from the Community Relations Bureau, Canine and Aviation Sections will be on hand to interact with children while their parents are being screened, according to county officials. Activities will include demonstrations, games and giveaways.

Hart said her first mammogram detected cancer in its earliest stages, and she hoped sharing her story would inspire others to be screened.

“Our mission includes fighting crime and one of the most effective ways to continue to drive down crime is to ensure we are finding new ways to partner with all our communities,” she said. “I believe our partnership with Stony Brook Medicine will serve as a great outreach to members of the community.”

Dineen said Stony Brook Medicine was thrilled about the collaboration.

“Our mission includes fighting crime and one of the most effective ways to continue to drive down crime is to ensure we are finding new ways to partner with all our communities.”

— Geraldine Hart

“The partnership between Stony Brook Medicine and the SCPD strengthens the efforts to ensure that all women from all socioeconomic backgrounds have easier access to screenings since we visit various locations such as businesses, school districts, libraries and churches throughout Long Island,” he said. “Furthermore, not only is the SCPD dedicated to helping our community members, they believe in this program so much that we have scheduled screening events at SCPD headquarters and the 4th Precinct so that staff members are also staying on top of their health.”

Eligible residents can visit the van for screenings at the following locations:

• Diamond in the Pines, 1844 Route 112, Coram — June 29 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• St. Hugh of Lincoln R.C. Church, 21 E. 9th St., Huntington Station — July 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• St. Anne’s R.C. Church, 88 2nd Ave., Brentwood — July 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• SCPD 4th Precinct, 727 Route 454, Hauppauge — July 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to Stony Brook’s website, the Mobile Mammography Van team provides services to women on Long Island, age 40 and older, who have not had a mammogram in the last year and are not pregnant. No prescription is needed. Women seeking mammograms at the mobile events should not have implants or breast issues, such as a lump or nipple discharge, and never been diagnosed with breast cancer. They should also have had an office visit with a gynecologist, primary care physician or internist within the past year who is willing to accept the results of the screening. Individuals who do not have health insurance will be processed through the Cancer Services Program of New York, if eligible. On the day of the  mammogram, women should not wear deodorant, perfume, powders, lotions or creams on the breast area.

The van travels Suffolk and Nassau counties all year round and features a registration area, waiting room, private changing and exam space, 3-D equipment and an all-female medical staff.

For more information, call 1-833-MY-MAMMO or Dineen’s office at 631-432-0267.

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A look inside the St. James General Store. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Residents’ outcry over Suffolk County’s shortchanging of St. James General Store was met with an immediate reaction.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) made an internal budget transfer Jan. 23 to reallocate $100,000 from the Parks Department’s line for staffing to the funds for operation of St. James General Store, making good on his office’s promise to make the historic landmark whole.

“The hotel/motel tax came in better than we expected,” Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director said. “We felt we could move $100,000 without impacting our operations.”

Alarm swept through the St. James community, residents and the store’s supporters last week after it was brought to light that the iconic store had its funding reduced by nearly 80 percent under the county’s adopted 2019 operating budget. Backers of the shop were concerned about its ability to keep its shelves stocked and continue operations.

“This is something that is near and dear to all of our hearts,” said Kerry Maher-Weisse, president of the Community Association of Greater St. James. “It’s a landmark that was the original post office of St. James. It’s such a huge part of our town that people come from all over to come to this place.”

Bellone only set aside $29,129 for the general store to purchase items for resale in 2019, down from a 2018 budget of $125,000. These funds were expected to stock the shelves of both the store and the Big Duck gift shop in Flanders, which is overseen by the same county staff. Naughton admitted the lowered funds would have only been sufficient through mid- to late spring.

Funding for the St. James General Store is taken from the proceeds of Suffolk’s hotel/motel tax, according to Naughton, which places a 3 percent occupancy tax on individuals renting rooms or lodging within the county that took effect in 2014.

Naughton said part of the reason the internal transfer was done is that the county executive did not want to delay funding to St. James General Store, which generally turns a profit for the county. Suffolk Legislature is expected to review and vote on allocation of the 2018 hotel/motel at its Feb. 13 general meeting for various organizations. To wait till then would have left St. James community wondering about the future fate of the landmark for an additional three weeks.

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A check is presented to Rebecca Briggs, second from left, the widow of Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, during a July 24 press conference in Hauppauge. Photo from Bellone's office

By Anthony Petriello

A Port Jefferson Station family received some comfort in the form of a fully paid off mortgage following the tragic death of their Air Force husband and father.

The family of Port Jefferson Station Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, 30, who was killed March 15 in a helicopter crash near the Syrian border in western Iraq, had the remaining balance on their mortgage paid off thanks to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation July 24.

Briggs’ wife, Rebecca, and two young children, Jayden and Ava, received a miracle in the form of an undisclosed payment in addition to $33,000 already donated by Caliber Home Loans toward the payoff.

“I just wanted to say thank you to Tunnel to Towers and Caliber Home Loans for doing this mortgage pay off, because it’s very comforting to know there’s people out there helping all the military families, Gold Star families, and it’s just nice to know that we can stay in our home,” the widow said to the media at the press conference.

Briggs’ family also received close to $46,000 as of Aug. 7, raised through a GoFundMe campaign launched by Andre Galarza, a close friend, former roommate and Riverhead High School classmate of Briggs’.

“I looked up to him very much, just because of the type of man he was — one of the realest people you’ll ever meet,” Galarza said in an interview in March. “As a person, he was one of the strongest people I know.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) recognized Briggs for his sacrifice in serving the country during the July 24 press conference in Hauppauge.

“Today we honored the family of a man, a husband, a father, a soldier and a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice to his country,” he said. “Technical Sergeant Briggs served us all and now it is we who must honor his service.”

Tunnel to Towers was established to honor the service and sacrifice of Brooklyn firefighter and Staten Island resident Stephen Siller, who died Sept. 11, 2001. The foundation “also honors our military and first responders who continue to make the supreme sacrifice of life and limb for our country,” according to its website.

All seven airmen on board were carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the  U.S. Department of Defense. All seven military personnel onboard died in the crash of the Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter.

Briggs and three others aboard the aircraft — Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack were members of the 106th Air National Guard Rescue Wing out of Westhampton Beach’s Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base.

“Fireworks are a great way to celebrate the July 4th holiday and our independence, but be smart and stay safe.”

That’s what Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said when he joined with officials from the Suffolk County Police Department, Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, and local fire chiefs to provide safety tips for residents ahead of the Fourth of July, as well as demonstrate the dangers of possessing and using fireworks. During the event, police officials showcased the dangers of fireworks by igniting a collection of pyrotechnics in a residential shed, a typical storage place for illegal fireworks.

The United State Consumer Protection Agency indicates that an average of 230 people in the United States visit the emergency room with fireworks-related injuries around the 4th of July holiday every year. In 2017, fireworks accounted for approximately 1,200 emergency department treated injuries associated with sparklers nationwide.

“We are here today to talk about the 4th of July and how we all love to get together and celebrate,” Bellone said. “We always hear about these incidents happening and they are unnecessary, preventable injuries.”

He urged parents to disallow children to use or ignite fireworks or sparklers. Suffolk County Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) put forward legislation to ban sparklers to ensure they are out of the hands of children.

“This is something I know was very important to the fire services here,” Bellone said of the legislation. “They did a tremendous job and I want to say kudos to them and thank them for their leadership on this issue. In addition to the great work of our fire departments, and fire rescue and emergency services personnel, Suffolk County will be exercising zero tolerance when it comes to the possession, use and sale of illegal fireworks.”

He urged residents to instead get out and see professional fireworks displays throughout the weekend.

“Celebrate our country’s independence and gather together with our families and our loved ones and our friends and have a great time as a country,” he said. “It’s a unifying day for our country. Sometimes we have these heated battles in our country and it’s easy to forget that we are one great country. The 4th of July is always a great time to celebrate that we are Americans and we’re proud of that.”

Some of the fireworks displays throughout Suffolk County:

  • Grucci fireworks at Bald Hill July 4 at 9:15 p.m.
  • Peconic Riverfront in Riverhead July 5 at 9:30 p.m.
  • Peconic Bay Medical Center festival July 6 at 6164 Route 25A in Wading River at 10 p.m.
  • Crescent Beach in Shelter Island July 7 at 9 p.m.
  • Post-game fireworks display at the Long island Ducks stadium July 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Rob Trotta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This has become the worst of our politics.”

— Duwayne Gregory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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