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Thomas DiNapoli

 

Close to 100 veterans were on hand for a Veterans Day tribute at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University Nov. 8.

Highlights of the tribute included a performance from New Lane Elementary School students who sang a number of patriotic songs for the veterans and performed the Armed Forces Medley dedicated to the five individual armed services.

Fred Sganga, executive director for the LISVH, spoke on the importance of veterans’ sacrifices.

“Today we honor more than 56 million Americans who proudly wore the uniform on behalf of a grateful nation,” he said. “We all know the burdens of young men and women that they bear in America’s fight against terrorism and tyranny.”

Thomas DiNapoli, New York State comptroller and keynote speaker for the ceremony, said the holiday is a reminder of the strength that comes when people join together in a just cause.

“Every day should be a day to thank our veterans,” he said. “So much of what we now take for granted in our nation was guaranteed by each of you. And the sacrifices of countless men and women who helped preserve democracy and freedom in America and around the globe.”

Since opening in October 1991, the LISVH has provided care to more than 10,000 veterans.

 

Suffolk County legislators approved a $3.2 billion budget for 2020 Nov. 6. TBR News Media file photo

County residents got a glimpse of the county’s budget process as the operating budget working group held its first public meeting Oct. 17 when the 2019-20 recommended operating budget was discussed.  

The county operating budget funds employee payroll costs, county departments and a variety of other expenditures. The status of the budget has been in the spotlight since the New York State comptroller, Tom DiNapoli (D), said Suffolk was under “significant fiscal stress” — with Nassau — for the second year in a row. In 2018, Suffolk had an operating deficit of about $26.5 million and a general fund balance deficit of $285 million. 

The topic has been an important issue in the county executive race. The current incumbent, Steve Bellone (D), has stated that during his tenure he has worked to bring the county spending and finances back in check. John Kennedy Jr., the county comptroller and Republican challenger for executive, has stated that the county is in a “fiscal crisis.”

Here is what legislators discussed at the meeting. The proposed operating budget for 2019-20 will be $3.2 billion, an increase from last year’s $3.1 billion budget. 

The recommended budget would look to increase property taxes by $14.66 million (2.14 percent), according to the report. The increase is comprised of a rise in police district property taxes of $16.56 million (2.8 percent). 

The police district will face an $11.3 million deficit by the end of 2019. It is the fourth year in a row that the district will have a deficit. Overtime for the police department in 2019 is estimated at $30.9 million. 

In addition, the county’s general fund, despite seeing an increase of $318 million in revenue from 2015 to 2019, is projected to experience its fifth consecutive deficit in 2019. Combined with the police district, the county may face an operating deficit of some $20 million. 

Sales tax revenue is projected to increase an additional $48.5 million from 2019-20 or about 4.5 percent.  

Another area of concern is the county payroll. It has increased by $315 million in the last seven years, despite the workforce being reduced by 1,250 positions. From the start of 2019 through Sept. 8, the number of active county employees on the payroll declined by approximately 150, according to the report. The recommended expenditures for employee health care in 2020 is projected to increase by approximately by $22.2 million. 

The Budget Review Office also raised concerns in the report that property taxes in the Southwest Sewer District, which covers parts of Babylon and Islip, would decrease by $2.14 million. This could lead to less funds available for sewer projects and potentially increase borrowing. 

In terms of other revenue, the county is projected to see an increase in funds from video lottery terminals at Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel in Islandia. The revenue brought in will increase to $25 million in 2020 compared to $2.9 million in 2018 and $3.3 million in 2019. 

For homeowners, the proposed county property tax will yield an estimated average tax bill of $1,207, an increase of $25. Average taxes per homeowners will increase by $32 in five western towns, including Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington, and decrease by $2 in the county’s five eastern towns. 

 

the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will create a task force to combat the ongoing issue of homelessness in New York City subway system with similar plans underway for the Long Island Rail Road. File photo

As a part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s transformation plan announced July 24, the agency will create a task force to combat the ongoing issue of homelessness in New York City subway system with similar plans underway for the Long Island Rail Road. 

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent audit done by the NYS State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D), which revealed that Bowery Residents’ Committee, the nonprofit provider of homeless housing and services for the MTA, had only done limited outreach to the homeless. On multiple occasions, workers appeared to intentionally close their office and isolate themselves, closing off services to clients seeking assistance, the audit found.

The newly announced task force will look at new metrics for measuring homelessness, updating subway rules and regulations to provide more clarity on what is a violation of the rules, enhanced enforcement of rules, improved coordination among agencies, the potential benefit of establishing a dedicated homeless outreach office within the MTA and additional access to resources for those in need. 

According to the MTA, the homeless population in the subway system has risen 23 percent in 2019 to date.

“Homelessness is a growing problem on the subway, with a growing impact,” said Veronique Hakim, MTA managing director. “Through this task force we’re going to bring together a broad and empowered group that will help us to develop an expedited plan to keep our customers and workers safe and our trains moving — while providing much-needed resources and assistance to this vulnerable population.” 

The task force will have 30 days to design a plan, focusing on housing alternatives and increased resources that MTA officials believe will lead to a significant reduction in homelessness and panhandling by the end of 2019. 

Similarly, the Long Island Rail Road has faced criticism from the state comptroller on the issue of homelessness at its stations. In an audit sent to the LIRR earlier this year, DiNapoli found that the company that the agency contracts, Services for the UnderServed, were not doing an adequate job. 

In the report, officials said that SUS failed to assist homeless people to the extent possible under its contract responsibilities and clients were not receiving the services they needed. 

During one visit, the comptroller’s office observed SUS workers drive up to a train station parking lot and sit in the vehicle for approximately three minutes before leaving. The workers neither walked the platforms nor visited the station’s waiting room, according to the audit.

In a response to the comptroller’s finding, the LIRR responded saying that are already complying with DiNapoli’s recommendations and are implementing steps to improve oversight and performance of SUS.