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Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern

Huntington resident Ginny Munger Kahn received a proclamation from Suffolk Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) Dec. 19.

A Huntington woman has taken to heart that Earth was made for all to enjoy, big and small, including man’s favorite four-legged friends.

Ginny Munger Kahn, president of Huntington-based The Long Island Dog Owners Group (LI-DOG), has been leading the way to create dog parks and dog-friendly park policies in Suffolk County since 2002. In her most recent victory, she convinced the Huntington Town Board to amend town code Aug. 15 to allow for on-leash walking of dogs in town parks.

“It is the highlight of my day to take my dog for a long walk,” Munger Kahn told TBR News Media in August. “I don’t want to do it just in my neighborhood on the street, but I want to be able to walk my dog in a beautiful public park. It’s been frustrating over the years on Long Island as many towns don’t allow it.”

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said that Munger Kahn was one of the first constituents to sit down and have a meeting with him when he was elected to office. He has come to have a great deal of respect for her and LI-DOG.

“It has many volunteers and is an outstanding non-for-profit organization that does wonderful things not just for our furry friends and beloved family members, but I am sure everyone would agree sharing time in the outdoors with our pets is not just good for them, it’s good for all of us,” Stern said. “It’s good for all of us and our quality of life.

Due to Munger Kahn’s activism, Stern was the leading sponsor on county legislation that directed the Suffolk parks commissioner to identify at least five parks where dog parks could be created in 2007. A decade later, there are 10 such parks on Long Island, seven of which are in Suffolk County including an off-leash beach, plus dozens of on-leash dog walking trails.

“The dog parks are large, attractive and very much appreciated by the people who use them every day,” Munger Kahn said.

Two of the local dog parks that have been created are at Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown and West Hills County Park in Huntington.

“By expanding access to and enjoyment of Suffolk County’s beautiful parks and open spaces, Ginny Munger Kahn has helped to materially improve the quality of life of thousands of current and future Suffolk County residents,” reads a proclamation Stern gave to the LI-DOG president at the Dec. 19 county Legislature meeting. “In recognition of [that work], we, the members of the Suffolk County Legislature, do hereby honor Ginny Munger Kahn.”

Munger Kahn has been involved in changing laws and setting precedents not only at the county level, but the town. In 2013, her nonprofit organization supported the town’s dog walking trails initiative, which allowed on-leash dogs at select Huntington parks. But, she wanted more for her four-pawed friends.

“It was kind of crazy to have some parks in the Town of Huntington allow on-leash dogs and the vast majority of town-owned parks not to allow dogs on a leash,” Munger Kahn said in Aug. 2017. “This was confusing to people. The thought was if we adopted standards, a policy more closely aligned with Suffolk County’s policy, it would make enforcement easier.”

As LI-DOG’s representative on the Huntington Greenway Trails Citizens Advisory Committee, she pushed for the town to adopt more uniform park standards for leashed dogs in Huntington Town parks which was approved earlier this year, with two exceptions of Heckscher Park and Centerport’s Betty Allen Twin Pond Nature Park.

A perpetual advocate, Munger Kahn said she hopes once the town’s new policy is proven successful, she will be able to revisit regulations regarding Heckscher Park

With Suffolk County’s dire financial straights for the present and the future, some legislators are proposing ideas to trim the fat and save costs, while others think the real problems are not being addressed.

County Legislator William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) has drafted two bills, one that would freeze salaries for all legislators for five years and another to consolidate the Legislature from 18 members to 13.

County legislators receive an annual raise equal to 4 percent or the increase in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. This year the raise is expected to be 0.58 percent, according to Lindsay’s office.

Lindsay has advocated to get rid of the automatic increases for some time, and recently drafted legislation for a five-year freeze — a motion that didn’t receive a seconder in the Government Operations, Personnel, Information Technology & Housing Committee. Fellow members Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) declined to second Lindsay’s motion. Hahn and Kennedy did not respond to requests for comment.

“This sends a message we’re serious about tackling the issue,” Lindsay said. “Everyone should feel the pain a little. We should lead by example. This gives us more credibility.” Lindsay froze his salary when he first took office in 2013, and other legislators have done the same.

Lindsay said he was surprised the proposal didn’t get more consideration from his colleagues.

“We need to show we can be an example, that we’re cutting back during fiscally challenging times.”
—Sarah Anker

“With the financial issues we’re facing, we need to look at alternatives to cut spending,” he said.

Lindsay’s second proposal to drop from 18 to 13 representatives was created in the same spirit. The first public hearing on the bill was due to be held Dec. 6. If the bill is approved by the Legislature it will be up to a voter referendum.

“Why shouldn’t we allow voters to decide how they should be governed?” Lindsay said.

The 8th District representative said he thinks cutting legislators would help reduce costs without sacrificing the quality of representation for each district.

His proposal would see each representative go from roughly 80,000 constituents to 110,000.

According to a 2015 government census report, Suffolk’s population is approximately 1.5 million. By comparison two Californian counties, Sacramento and Alameda, each have five representatives for their 1.4 million and 1.6 million residents respectively. Both of these counties function with a board of supervisors, instead of legislators.

According to Lindsay’s office, Suffolk almost doubles the national average of representation while each legislator represents only one-fifth of the average constituency nationwide.

Lindsay’s proposal states that at present each county legislator receives a salary, is assigned three paid staff members and is entitled to a district office, among other benefits.

If this legislation passes, it would not go into effect until 2021, after the county district lines are set to be redrawn.

Lindsay’s suggestions all take aim at relieving some of Suffolk’s budgetary issues. Legislators, a credit rating agency and the director of the Budget Review Office for the Legislature have said the county’s financial situation is dire.

Robert Lipp, director of the Budget Review Office, expressed concerns in his assessment of the county budget.

“How are we able to provide services at needed levels when facing a structural deficit that is far in excess of $100 million in each of the past several years? It is a conundrum,” Lipp said in a letter accompanying his review of the budget in October. “The short answer is that the county’s structural deficit is increasingly driving our decisions. As a result, some initiatives, that may be considered crucial, are funded without regard for our ability to pay, while others are funded at less than needed levels because of our deficit position.”

He said the county has set a bad precedent by borrowing money to pay for operating expenses. The credit rating entity Moody’s Investors Service has projected a negative credit rating outlook for the county due to outstanding debt and a reliance on borrowing.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said the budget is deeply flawed, but he does not believe either of Lindsay’s proposals would help fix the problem.

“This is pennies compared to the problems we have,” Trotta said in a phone interview. “It’s showboating.” The District 12 representative is most concerned with the county’s contract with the Suffolk County Police Department, which he said costs Suffolk $135,000 per day.

“We’re in these binding arbitrations that we have no ability to pay,” he said.

Trotta’s primary concern is contractual pension and pay increases for county police officers. The county and the Police Benevolent Association agreed on the current contract in 2011, which runs through 2018. Trotta, a former SCPD detective, estimated for every 200 cops that retire, it could cost the county more than $60 million.

“We need to generate businesses and growth, but we can’t afford to,” he said.

Trotta said a five-year salary freeze for legislators is equivalent to a grain of sand on the beach, but he would support a salary freeze of all government employees. As for a reduction in members, he said he doesn’t think that goes far enough either.

“It should be six or seven members,” he said. However, Trotta warned fewer representatives could put grassroots campaigns at a disadvantage with more ground to cover in a single district. Ultimately he called the idea a double-edged sword.

Lindsay’s proposal acknowledged this concern, stating districts would still be small enough to “allow underfunded candidates to compete effectively in legislative races and permit winning candidates to provide excellent services to their constituents.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she supports the five-year freeze. She froze her own salary in 2011.

“We need to show we can be an example, that we’re cutting back during fiscally challenging times,” she said in a phone interview.

But Anker doesn’t back a smaller Legislature. “If you have less representation, that’s not in the best benefit for the public.”

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas

A victory was gained in the fight against opioid abuse this month, as the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a new bill that prohibits the sale and possession of U-47700, a highly addictive synthetic opioid drug.

“We must protect our young people from synthetic opioids like U-47700 that we know lead to addiction, graduation to heroin and potential death.” —Steve Stern

The pink pill contains fentanyl, another addictive and dangerous opioid, and is resistant to treatment with Narcan, a drug used to revive people who have overdosed.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) created the bill, which passed Oct. 5.

“We must do everything in our power to protect our young people from synthetic opioids like U-47700 that we know lead to addiction, serious health effects, graduation to heroin and potential death,” Stern said in a statement.

Stern’s office said U-47700 was originally developed by the pharmaceutical industry as an alternative to morphine but was never marketed when it was determined to be more than eight times as potent as morphine. The drug is manufactured overseas, mainly in China and is sold at a low cost on the internet, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It can be smoked, snorted or orally ingested and can cause respiratory depression, coma, permanent brain damage and death.  The DEA temporarily listed the drug on Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act in September because of the imminent hazard it presents to public safety.

Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, are not currently accepted for medical use in the U.S. and are deemed unsafe even under medical supervision. Other drugs in the Schedule I list include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

Many states, including Georgia, Ohio and Wyoming, have banned the drug.

The DEA confirmed at least 15 fatalities from the use of U-47700, and according to news sources, at least 50 deaths nationwide can be linked to the drug.

According to the bill, any person who knowingly violates the law will be guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year of imprisonment. The law goes into effect immediately after the Office of the Secretary of State files it.

The legislation to prohibit its sale was supported by the entire legislature, as well as Health Commissioner James Tomarken and Police Commissioner Tim Sini.

“I thank my colleagues on the Legislature for joining me in taking meaningful action to protect the health and safety of our communities,” Stern said.