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Suffolk County

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By Phil Corso

A difference in philosophy underscored the race between an incumbent Republican legislator and his Democratic challenger.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) was first elected to the Suffolk County Legislature in 2013 and said his first term in office opened his eyes to the county’s financial woes. But to keep working at it, he must first win re-election against Kings Park resident Richard Macellaro.

The two sat down in the Times Beacon Record Newspapers newsroom last week to discuss their campaigns and demonstrate why they deserved to represent the county’s 13th District, which encompasses Smithtown, Fort Salonga, Kings Park, Nissequogue, St. James, Commack, Head of the Harbor and East Northport. Trotta kicked it off with strong rhetoric.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience over the past two years. I am shocked and saddened at how bad the county is fiscally,” Trotta said, highlighting the crux of his concerns looking ahead in the Legislature. “I’ve seen serious, serious problems. Worse than anybody even knows.”

The legislator said the looming threat of the county’s bond rating being reduced coupled with the growing sentiment that it’s too expensive to live in Suffolk have made his job all the more challenging. The blame, Trotta said, rests on out-of-control spending, too much union involvement in politics, and too much money being tossed around in campaign contributions.

A mismanagement of funding was at the heart of almost everything Trotta discussed as key campaign concerns. He cited recent development — part of a downtown revitalization plan — in Wyandanch as “overkill” and cautioned that communities like Kings Park would benefit from his voice of concern as the community looks toward a similar revitalization.

Democrat Richard Macellaro. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Democrat Richard Macellaro. Photo by Rohma Abbas

“Kings Park is a diamond in the rough, and we have a plan there when it comes to sewers,” he said. “But we don’t want it to be another Patchogue.”

Macellaro — who identified himself as a “new kid on the block” when it comes to seeking political office, despite unsuccessful bids for the state Assembly in 2010 and Smithtown’s Town Board in 2013 — said he wanted to put his experience as a civic member of the Kings Park community to work. With the campaign slogan “A different voice, a different choice,” the Kings Park resident said he hoped to use the office to prevent an increase in property taxes by consolidating all the county’s school districts, allocating just one per town. While a move like that does not rest in the hands of a Suffolk County legislator, Macellaro said he would use his office as a bully pulpit to enact the change.

“It can be done,” he said. “Someone has to begin to force the school districts to lessen property taxes for our residents.”

Another important issue he said he planned on addressing, if elected, was working to construct an all-encompassing master plan for the county. Doing so, he said, would revitalize downtowns throughout the county, enhance transportation and ultimately help entice young families to stay in Suffolk.

Beyond finances, Trotta said he was not a proponent of the county’s Red Light Safety Program, which utilizes cameras at traffic signals to catch and ticket cars that run red lights. He argued that some of its regulations, including the right-on-red violations, are nothing more than a money grab on innocent residents. But Macellaro, who has worked for the county’s traffic and parking violations agency in the red light division, said he disagreed.

“I think the government is functioning very well,” he said. “Taxes are what we pay for the lifestyle we choose.”

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Suffolk County Legislator William ‘Doc Spencer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County Legislator William ‘Doc Spencer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Suffolk County Legislator William ‘Doc Spencer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

A doctor and Democratic Suffolk County legislator is vying for another two-year term to lead the 18th Legislative District in a race against a Lloyd Neck resident and former congressional contender who feels he can do the job better.

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) is facing a challenge from Republican Grant Lally in the election next week. The two men sat down with the Times of Huntington, Northport & East Northport in separate interviews earlier this month to chat about why they’re running for office.

Spencer touts a list of accomplishments in his four years in office, several of them health-related. He spearheaded a measure to stop companies from manufacturing energy drinks to kids. He worked to ban the sale of powdered caffeine to minors, and raise the age of selling tobacco products from 19 to 21. He also helped Northport Village obtain funding to update its wastewater treatment plant.

“I think that we’ve been able to start moving things in the right direction,” he said.

Lally, by contrast, was critical of the legislator at several points in the interview, and said taxes are a big issue in the district, something he feels he stands apart from Spencer on. Lally most recently ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) from his position. If elected, Lally said he would attempt to be more involved than Spencer.

“I’ll be more engaged,” he said. “He’s a very successful doctor. I salute him for that.”

Grant Lally photo by Rohma Abbas
Grant Lally photo by Rohma Abbas

If granted another term in office, Spencer said he would fight to go after pharmaceutical companies to support local anti-drug programs, claiming they’re part of the reason why so many people have become addicted to certain drugs. He also said the county is “terribly lacking” in outpatient solutions for those who do fall to addiction.

“I think we need more community support programs,” he said.

When it comes to crime, Spencer said while cops have made steady progress in making Huntington Station safer, the public still feels unsafe. He said he’d like to engage young people and help bridge a cultural gap between minorities and police, because minorities often feel the police aren’t there to protect them. He wants to add more bilingual officers and appropriately trained officers on the street.

“We have to capture the hearts and minds of these young people,” Spencer said. “ … I don’t think we can shoot our way out of this problem.”

Lally agrees there’s a crime issue in Huntington that needs to be addressed. He suggested doing so by having a stronger connection with federal law enforcement, coordinating resources to attack problems like gang activity, on a regional level.

“Gangs don’t just stop at the county line,” he said.

Spencer suggested tapping federal resources. He said he wants to compete with gangs to recruit young people — who gravitate towards them by societal pressure of not feeling wanted or belonging — to the good side. He said he wants to make it “unpalatable” for gangs to thrive in Huntington Station. “That’s how we change the culture.”

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Sarah Anker talks local issues at a debate at Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Desirée Keegan

With her second full term under her belt, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she hopes a third term would allow her to expand on the toughest issues facing the 6th District. But her Republican challenger, Steve Tricarico, says it’s time for a fresh perspective.

Steve Tricarico talks local issues at a debate at Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Steve Tricarico talks local issues at a debate at Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Tricarico, who works as Brookhaven Town’s deputy highway superintendent, said the county’s finances were a main focus of his campaign to unseat the incumbent. Anker, however, said she is also focused on being fiscally responsible, but keeps tending to the needs of her constituents at the core of her decision-making.

“I’m looking forward to taking on more issues, more problems, and then addressing them, but also taking on projects that are benefiting the community,” said Anker, a 30-year Long Island resident. “I’m ready to jump in the fire and be the action to get things done. I’ve put in so much time and energy and effort — I’ve networked, I’ve created these very strong relationships and I have the knowledge to move those projects forward.”

But community projects, her opponent argued, still cost money, one way or another. Tricarico, born and raised in Shoreham, said he planned to address the county’s financial stress by proposing that legislators avoid budgeting for sales tax increases year to year.

“It would force us to make the difficult decisions in our departments to stay within our means, and any extra revenue could go toward paying off what we’ve already borrowed,” he said. “I think that we’re drowning, and we need someone that understands public finance, and I do it every day of my life, professionally, to make those cuts and find those efficiencies. I think all the services in the world are great, but if people cannot afford to live here, they mean nothing. And I’m fighting to make it more affordable here, in Suffolk County.”

Sarah Anker talks local issues at a debate at Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Sarah Anker talks local issues at a debate at Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Tricarico said he managed a $115 million budget, as an example of his understanding of finance.

Anker argued that while she and her challenger both understand that addressing issues requires dollars, she’s done work to keep the county financially sound. She helped reduce county government costs 10 percent by streamlining services, saving taxpayers more than $100 million annually.

There are other issues Anker said she’s addressing and projects she’s working on to help the people of the 6th District, which she argues Tricarico does not have the experience to address.

“Besides keeping the county fiscally stable, we need to speak for the residents here, and that’s something I’ve been doing for the last 25 years,” she said. “We can’t address the issues in the community unless we talk to the constituents, work with them and meet with them. My doors are always open, my phone is always available, and I don’t know if [Tricarico] has the experience to do that.”

Anker noted particular projects she’s spearheaded that she feels enhance the quality of life of her constituents.

After her grandmother died of breast cancer, Anker founded the Community Health and Environment Coalition, which was vital in advancing the New York State Department of Health’s research on cancer cluster causes, the legislator said. She also implemented the Green Homes Go Solar program, to bring renewable energy opportunities to residents.

Anker also advocated to create Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, initiated the North Shore Coastal Erosion Task Force, created the Jobs Opportunity Board to connect graduating seniors with local jobs, started a sports safety forum as a result of a recent death and some serious student-athlete injuries, and provided more health services to people struggling with addiction.

While Tricarico, who is also concerned about keeping young adults on Long Island, said he wouldn’t throw away any projects Anker has already put into motion that he in turn supports, he said he disagreed with how Anker handles addressing problems, pointing out Anker’s tendency to create task forces when addressing issues.

“I’m a man of action,” he said. “I think that there’s a lot that we can do to make the government more efficient. What the residents want to see is less task forces, less commissions, less talk and more action, and that’s what I’m offering the 6th District.”

An issue Tricarico brought up was the progression of the 10-mile Rails to Trails recreational path that would run from Mount Sinai to Wading River.

“What have we been doing for 15 years?” Tricarico said of the project, which was originally introduced in 2001. “I grew up in this community and I’ve been hearing about Rails to Trails since I was in high school. I think that the project has taken way too long, if it’s ever going to happen.”

Anker, who took office in 2011, said the federal government takes time on any project, and said that after a year of required public input, a plan will be in place, and the money is there to complete the project.

Tricarico said if elected into the Republican minority caucus, he will work with the Democratic majority to get things done, but said he would not be a “rubber stamp” for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“We’re basically seeing one government here,” he said. “To get thing done, of course you have to work across aisles, but we need a check and balance. We need a Republican legislature, which is a check on absolute power.”

Tricarico admitted he does see good work in what Anker has done, but said he wants to work in a different direction.

“I think Legislator Anker is a good advocate to the community,” he said. “I see her at a lot of different events, she’s a good people person, she’s able to relate with folks. I just think the county needs a different leadership at this time, especially when it’s related to fiscal issues.”

This version corrects information about how long Legislator Sarah Anker has been in office.

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Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy is looking for her first re-election on Nov. 3. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Just months removed from a special election that brought her into office, Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) faces her first re-election bid.

Kennedy was elected to represent the 12th District — which includes Smithtown, Nesconset, Hauppauge, the Village of the Branch, Lake Grove, and parts of Commack, Islandia and Ronkonkoma — in April to succeed her husband, former county legislator and now county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), and has since placed constituent concerns at the core of her campaign. Her Democratic opponent, Adam Halpern, has not actively campaigned and did not attend a debate at the Times of Smithtown’s headquarters.

In the interview, Kennedy prided herself as being a researcher and a behind-the-scenes government official who wears her heart on her sleeve. While serving on the county’s operating budget committee, she said she takes the county’s finances very seriously and often refers to tax dollars as “OPM” — other peoples’ money.

“I debated hard whether or not to run, but I love government,” she said. “I love the ability to help and serve. There has to be a voice of reason that realizes the enormity of the financial problem we are in.”

With her husband also serving the county as comptroller, Kennedy said she gained perspective on what kinds of things Suffolk could and should do to make money.

“We don’t collect what we should collect,” she said, referring to certain taxes not being actively pursued in areas like hotels, motels or bed and breakfasts. “We need to recoup that money. If we did, we wouldn’t be seeing historical buildings fall, or arts and entertainment budgets being cut.”

The legislator has spent her time pushing for top-tier constituent services while also keeping her ear to the ground when it comes to the county’s business community. She has been attending several Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency meetings since being elected and said she wanted to work to employ tax incentives to draw businesses to the region.

As for quality of life concerns, Kennedy said public safety projects like new sidewalks and infrastructure upgrades were top priorities of hers. She has also identified herself as an environmentalist and backed that up by pushing for projects that aim to clean up the county’s water.

One of her biggest qualms with how county government works, Kennedy said, was an overabundance of management. If re-elected, she said she would advocate for less management and more action.

“We’re top heavy,” she said. “There is more management than necessary. I have never seen so many titles.”

In order to make the county a more vibrant place for young people to grow and raise families, Kennedy said the Legislature needed to act on keeping taxes low and the streets safe. If re-elected, she said she would keep her constituents at the heart of her decision making.

“We have to get our act together,” she said. “It’s sad to watch people have no opportunities. They are struggling to stay in their houses and I don’t think life should be that hard.”

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Kara Hahn photo by Desirée Keegan

By Elana Glowatz

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn said she wants a third term in office to continue working on protecting public health, while Republican challenger Donna Cumella said she wants to focus on Suffolk County’s finances.

Donna Cumella photo by Desirée Keegan
Donna Cumella photo by Desirée Keegan

Hahn (D-Setauket) has spent much of her two terms in the 5th Legislative District on environmental and public safety issues, crafting a bill that put Narcan, an antidote for opioid overdoses, into the hands of first responders and another that set the gears into motion to ban tiny plastic pellets called microbeads that pollute our water supply, among others. But in a recent debate at the Times Beacon Record Newspapers office, Cumella said while that work is important, the county’s fiscal state is a more pressing issue.

The challenger, a Port Jefferson Station resident, said county officials, in crafting budgets, habitually overstate county revenues and understate expenses, creating a serious deficit.

“Projections far exceeded what the reality was,” she said, referring specifically to county estimates on sales tax revenue.

She said borrowing is “out of control” and called for a smaller government.

But Hahn fought the idea that the county is spiraling.

“Our debt burden is manageable,” she said, adding that Suffolk tends to pay off its debt quickly and legislators always look for ways to decrease borrowing. About the size of government, she noted that the county has been reduced by about 1,200 positions in the last few years.

Kara Hahn photo by Desirée Keegan
Kara Hahn photo by Desirée Keegan

The incumbent also said that a certain amount of debt is unavoidable, because “you can’t pay cash for everything.”

Cumella and Hahn agreed that neighborhood revitalization is important. The Republican emphasized that the county could get help from state and federal grants to push along the projects. The Democrat stressed that the county needs to grow its number of high-paying jobs and said she has an idea to boost the economy by training workers for technology-based positions at Suffolk County Community College.

There were not many other similarities between the two women. One of the ways the candidates stood apart was on their methods for improving the county’s cash flow. Cumella said the county should be sharing more services with other municipalities, specifically local towns, and Hahn said she has been holding meetings on finding new revenue streams, such as penalizing polluters like those who use certain fertilizers on their lawns.

The legislator is looking for another term because she is “deeply committed to making a difference” and there is still work to be done. She has been working on initiatives to raise awareness of chemicals used in dry cleaning, affecting water quality and public health; to make it easier for people to safely get rid of leftover prescription medication; and to change the way the county addresses domestic violence and its victims.

Cumella, on the other hand, spoke against partisanship in the Legislature and said getting the county’s finances in order will help keep young people on Long Island.

“We need to keep our families together,” she said.

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Officials gather to see the cesspool at Alan Marvin’s house in Nesconset on Thursday, Sept. 24. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By John Kominicki

Cutting the ribbon on a new shopping center used to be an elected official’s most-prized photo op. Today, it’s unveiling a septic system install.

That’s real progress on a couple of fronts. First, there is scientific evidence that suggests Long Island will actually sink if anybody builds another shopping center here. More importantly, it shows that sewage has finally taken its rightful place, front and center, in the minds of local pols.

And about time. The region’s aquifers, which supply residents with almost 140 billion gallons of fresh water a year, are showing signs of real distress, with rising nitrogen levels from wastewater and storm runoff that’s laced with lawn, golf course and farm fertilizers.

Phosphorus is also on the rise, and new pollutants, from flushed pharmaceutical and personal care products, have been found in our drinking water lately.

I’ll pause for a collective, “Eeew.”

What’s so bad about nitrogen, you ask? Basically, that it thrives on oxygen, which, as you may remember from high school, is a pretty important part of H2O. Get too much nitrogen in your water supply and you have to worry about bad things, like methemoglobinemia, which is better known as Blue Baby Syndrome. The name pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Nitrogen in our rivers, lakes and seas also fertilizes oxygen-sucking algae, which have been known to cause giant oceanic dead zones, completely devoid of other plant life or aquatic species. The algae can also choke out coastal grasses and other plant life that slow down the tidal waves associated with storms that have names.

Storms with names like “Sandy,” for instance.

Nitrogen levels are a problem for both our counties, but in different ways. Nassau’s issue is the outflow from its waste treatment facilities, which is discharged way too close to shore and is responsible for the spread of an especially foul-smelling, marsh-killing algae called sea lettuce. The county would like to shoot the effluent a couple miles out to sea, but it needs financial help – $600 million ought to do it – to get the job done.

Maybe some of our friends in Albany are reading this.

Suffolk’s problem is on the intake. With huge swaths of the county still unsewered – for more, do a Google search of “Southwest Sewer District Scandal” – residents rely largely on septic tanks and cesspools, which do little more than strain waste through the soil and, eventually, back into the aquifer.

Another, “Eeew” is appropriate.

Now, back to the photo op, where we saw Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) posing recently beside a large hole in the yard of Nesconset’s Jim Minet, one of 19 lucky winners of the county’s advanced wastewater treatment systems lottery. The prize: A $15,000 Hydro Action “extended aeration” system that keeps micro-organisms at the buffet longer, reducing exiting nitrogen levels by as much as 80 percent.

Nineteen advanced wastewater treatment systems are a nice start, but with 400,000 septic tanks in the county, the program obviously has a ways to go. What’s important is that Bellone and Nassau counterpart Ed Mangano (R) are proactively working the clean water issue and lobbying mightily for the state and federal financial aid needed to move local efforts along.

Good on them. Perhaps they understand that elected office is, itself, a lot like a sewer.

What you get out of it, after all, depends almost entirely on what you put into it.

The author works as the editor of www.InnovateLI.com and is also a columnist for the Long Island Index blog, a project of the Rauch Foundation.

Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen patches a pothole in the Town of Smithtown as another highway department staffer looks on. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen (R) has resigned and pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges in a scheme to alter road-repaving records from last year.

Jorgensen, 63, pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead on Thursday, Oct. 15, to a felony charge of offering a false instrument for filing and a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct as part of a plea deal with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

He will be sentenced on Dec. 11 to four months of jail but will serve an alternative sentence in lieu of jail of 570 hours of community service, and will receive three years probation, according to Robert Clifford, spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

“This disposition compels the defendant to resign from his elected position and his admission of guilt before the court confirms the facts uncovered during the investigation,” Clifford said in a statement. “As the Superintendent of Highways Mr. Jorgensen knowingly had false information about the paving of town roads filed as an official town record, and he knowingly directed that inaccurate information be filed to make it appear as though the roadwork met state mandatory specifications.”

Vecchio’s office confirmed that Jorgensen resigned from his position as of Friday, Oct. 16.

In April, Jorgensen was charged with tampering with public records, falsifying business records, filing false records, official misconduct and grand larceny, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said. Initially, Jorgensen pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At the time, Jorgensen, of St. James, was accused of altering road construction reports and stealing a public work order for an improper repaving. He tried to conceal his approval of paving at least eight Smithtown streets in freezing temperatures last November and then directed a highway foreman to alter the record of the weather conditions done during the repaving work.

District attorney detectives found work orders for the improper repaving jobs hidden under Jorgensen’s bed at his Hope Place residence.

“State Department of Transportation construction standards dictate asphalt must not be applied to a road surface in freezing temperatures, and in fact, the town’s own engineer has said repaving in freezing weather would result in the asphalt falling apart,” Spota said in an April statement. “The repaving of a residential street doesn’t happen that often and when it does, residents are paying for a job done correctly, not a faulty repaving that will soon need pothole repair work.”

Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) has said he felt Jorgensen should resign from his post amid the slew of accusations.

“It is a sad occurrence and I will have no comment other than I have sympathy for Mr. Jorgensen and his family,” Vecchio said in an email on Tuesday morning.

Jorgensen had also been accused of sexual harassment involving his former secretary. The town was issued a notice of claim alleging he sexually harassed her in December. The claim also alleged he had taken her out to job sites, out to eat and eventually fired her after finding out she was dating an employee of the highway department. Earlier this year, Vecchio publicly called Jorgensen out for taking his new secretary out to job sites, going against the Suffolk County Civil Service’s job description for the position.

“It seems to me that you are either not comprehending why the position exists, you have a disregard for civil service law or you are mocking the town board and the public,” Vecchio said of Jorgensen bringing his new secretary to the job site in April.

Smithtown Democratic Committee Chairman Ed Maher also called for Jorgensen’s resignation in April, and said it was an outrage that the taxpayers were funding his salary.

Jorgensen worked for the Smithtown Highway Department for 37 years, and won election for highway superintendent in 2009 and 2013.

Jorgensen’s attorney could not be reached for comment this week.

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When a car runs a red light in Suffolk County, does it make a sound?

Yes. If you listen closely, you’ll hear your wallet being pried open.

Beware the daring driver who goes through a yellow light to traverse a busy intersection. It’ll happen so suddenly. You’ll see a quick flash of white light, followed by a sinking feeling: You just ran a red.

Flash forward weeks later when you get slapped with a $50 ticket. Let’s not forget the $30 administrative fee. And don’t be late with it, or else you could be hit with additional late fees of $25 or more.

Suffolk County’s Red Light Safety Program just feels unjust. Ask any Long Islander about it, and you’re likely to get that eye-roll or an angry tone.

It’s a “money grab,” they’ll say. And they already pay a ton in taxes to live here.

Remember that story over the summer about the Centereach man who used an expandable pole to push the cameras toward the sky? It attracted much attention and numerous shares on social media. To the public, he was known as the “Red Light Robin Hood.” In a follow-up interview with Newsday after his arrest, the man, Stephen Ruth, defended his actions.

“It’s abusive and it’s got to stop,” Ruth told Newsday reporters. “My taxes have doubled. … They keep taking more and more money from people. When is enough, enough?”

GOPers in the Suffolk County Legislature say they feel like Ruth. Some Republicans are calling for greater scrutiny in the program, and some flat out disagree with it all together. A press conference last week singled out the county’s red light program, dubbing it a cheap attempt at building revenue on the backs of everyday citizens.

We agree with that notion, but we do not outright disagree with the program’s premise. Those drivers who purposely whiz through a red light deserve that ticket they’ll eventually receive in the mail, but we don’t feel the same way about drivers slapped with tickets for not stopping enough before a turn at right-on-red intersections. Cameras don’t capture enough of the oncoming traffic in an intersection, in our opinion, to appropriately determine whether or not a right on red was executed safely, and that — to us  — is a textbook money grab.

The county says red-light-running is “one of the major causes of crashes, deaths and injuries at signalized intersections.” The action killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000 in 2009, the year before the county program was enacted. And nearly two-thirds of the deaths were people other than the red-light-running drivers.

But while it is a noble intention to stop speeders or those who flagrantly disobey the rules of the road, and to prevent fatalities from occurring, we agree with the notion that the measure is a money grab. We agree the county should stop and yield to the concerns of many and evaluate how to make the program better.

Some Suffolk County elected officials are calling the red light safety program a scam. File photo

Five years after red light cameras were installed in Suffolk County, North Shore officials are still examining the program’s effectiveness, as well as its purpose, by asking: Are the cameras a means of enhancing public safety or simply another source of income for the county?

On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Republican Suffolk County Legislators Tom Muratore (Ronkonkoma); Robert Trotta (Fort Salonga); Leslie Kennedy (Nesconset); Tom Cilmi (Bay Shore); Tom Barraga (West Islip) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) addressed some of their concerns when they met to discuss potential reforms to the Red Light Safety Program.

The program was written into law in 2009 and installed red light cameras at up to 50 intersections in Suffolk County. The cameras were installed to capture the backs of the drivers’ cars, as opposed to the drivers themselves. Under the program, drivers who run through a red light face a $50 traffic violation but do not receive points against their license.

Prior to the press conference, Muratore said county Republicans were left in the dark regarding details surrounding the program, such as the duration of various lights. While there are three-second and five-second yellow and red lights, Muratore said it was impossible to identify which lights resided where.

Despite this, Muratore said he found the program relatively reasonable. The legislator said he voted in favor of the program, thinking this new technology would help avoid traffic accidents. But what he disagreed with, he said, was the county’s manipulating of administrative fees associated with the program.

“If you’re getting tens of thousands of tickets and you increase the fee by $5.00, you’re getting half a million to a million dollars, maybe more,” Muratore said in an interview. “That’s just money-grabbing right there.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) did not respond to requests seeking comment.

After Tuesday’s press conference in Riverhead, Trotta said he thinks the “money-grabbing” surpassed Bellone’s proposal to increase the administrative fee. He said the county has $2 billion worth of debt and claimed the program is nothing but an opportunity to collect money to help offset that.

According to Trotta, if the camera “does not produce 25 tickets in a 16-hour period, then the county has to pay $2,136.”

The money is a fixed monthly fee the county must pay the program’s contractor, Baltimore-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc. According to an amendment to the program, the county must also pay an additional $17.25 for each paid citation generated from such enforcement system.

While public safety is a concern for many county officials, Trotta said he does not think there is a safety issue. Some Suffolk County residents also oppose the cameras, so much so that Stephen Ruth of Centereach used a pole to turn the cameras away from the road at various locations. He was arrested in August for tampering, and some hailed him as a “Red Light Robin Hood.” The defendant called the program “abusive.”

Muratore said the issue is not really people running red lights, but drivers’ timing when turning right on red. He said drivers should not receive a ticket for turning right on red when it is permitted, provided they came to a full stop: “They forget they have to stop and then go. There’s no three second rule or five second rule, it’s a full stop.”

By Larry Vetter

What does a vibrant industrial park bring to a town? The answer is simple: jobs and an increased tax base, to ease the burdens on everyone.

There are essentially two types of economic centers within the town of Smithtown. One type is visible. This is the downtown areas. The second is the industrial parks, equally important, but more hidden. When we think of industrial parks, Hauppauge immediately comes to mind; however, Nesconset, St. James and Kings Park also contain industrial zones.

Larry Vetter
Larry Vetter

Recently, I had the opportunity to drive through the various zones. The Hauppauge, Nesconset and St. James zones consist primarily of warehouse-type structures, while Kings Park consists mostly of yard-type commercial businesses. Many of the buildings in the Nesconset and St. James zones are empty or significantly underutilized. The Hauppauge Industrial Park was once vibrant with a mix of light industry, manufacturing and warehousing. Today, there is also a malaise in this industrial park.

Suffolk County and several of the townships within the county have developed industrial development associations. They recognize the “Long Island Brain Drain,” where many of our well-educated young people cannot find the type of employment commensurate with their education. The primary purpose of these associations is to entice business into the county and more specifically to our towns. Today, Smithtown contains no such association. It seems to be a rather significant oversight to have, within our borders, one of the largest industrial parks, and yet not have any plans for developing it.

So what do we do? What seems to happen is that we sit back and hope. Our only initiative was to allow building owners to extend the roof heights in hopes of attracting business. So far, neither idea appears effective.

We need to once again think outside of the box. My solutions to this crucial problem are as follows:

1. Develop an industrial development association. This can be done with resources we already have within the town. It is not necessary to spend additional tax revenue on this process. We can piggyback with the existing Suffolk County program.

2. Actively entice businesses to Long Island. Who is to say that Hauppauge cannot become the next “silicone valley”? Technology companies often need minimal raw materials and shipping is often parcel post; something we are situated very well for.

3. Open discussions with Suffolk in an attempt to develop sewer system plans in Smithtown. As important as this topic is to homeowners, it is equally as important to businesses.

4. Suffolk County has a number of transportation initiatives. Why not work with the county to develop alternative transportation from our nearby rail hubs to enable easier movement into and out of the industrial park?

Smithtown is a great place. We have many hardworking families that take the education of their children seriously. As a result, there are well qualified individuals to staff modern technology enterprises. We have great public schools and nearby higher education facilities, as well as world-renowned research facilities. We have wonderful beaches and golf courses, and several nearby townships are undergoing a revival in eateries and entertainment. Finally, we are located very near one of the most vibrant cities in the world. It seems to me that it would not at all be a difficult sell, but like everything else, it must be worked for.

This November, take the opportunity to vote for individuals that will work toward solutions and not accept excuses for why things cannot happen. Let’s reverse the “Brain Drain” and give us all a chance to keep families together on Long Island.

The author is a Smithtown resident running for the Town Board on the Democratic line in November’s election.