Town of Smithtown voters can choose between incumbent Tom Lohmann (R) and Democratic challenger Amy Fortunato for town council seat where both want to continue efforts toward downtown revitalization.
Fortunato and Lohmann stepped into the TBR News Media offices to debate about the problems and efforts circulating throughout the town’s eight hamlets.
After being in office 10 months, Lohmann said he has an appreciation for the inner workings of Smithtown’s government. While the councilman said he has worked hard with the town’s Highway Department to fix roads, he wants to see the local business districts built up to incentivize young people to remain in town.
“People I speak to don’t mind paying a little bit more if they have good roads,” Lohmann said. “These are things we use. You want to have businesses we can patronize. We don’t have businesses there because we let it deteriorate to something unsustainable.”
Democratic challenger Amy Fortunato is looking to break the Republican stranglehold on the town council, one that has been in place for more than two decades. She said the town needs to improve its communication and transparency with the community.
“Our towns look shabby, but we’ve got plenty of money, and our budget needs to move there,” Fortunato said. “What is so important is a comprehensive master plan — we’ve been talking about that for a long time, and I’m just concerned that the community has heard what we want to see in Smithtown.”
On Oct. 5, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) released his draft 2019 budget that increases $4 million from this year, and includes a raise for all board members from $65,818 to $75,000. Fortunato said she
disagreed with the pay increase, especially when comparing the council members’ salaries to either Huntington or Brookhaven, two larger townships than Smithtown.
“I would not take that salary,” the Democratic challenger said. “[Supervisor Ed Wehrheim] should be longer in government before taking a raise.”
Lohmann said that, compared to previous boards, he and other council members are working full time on town matters. He says he is in his office full time, not including other night or weekend events. The councilman said the largest increase to the town’s budget is due the town’s employee health care costs, which he hopes to address if he gets another term.
“I think I’m worth $75,000,” the incumbent said. “One of the biggest increases is $1.1 million
to support health care costs. We’re on an unsustainable course of action. We have to look to
employees to subsidize their own costs.”
Lohmann was appointed to the board in January 2018 after the seat was vacated by Wehrheim. Some, including Fortunato, originally protested the decision, saying that the move was unilaterally made without input from the community.
The Town of Smithtown is involved in several sewer projects at various stages of development in Kings Park, Smithtown and St. James. Lohmann said that while New York State politics has put the project on hold by keeping an alienation bill required for the Kings Park pump station from being voted on in the state Assembly, he and the rest of the board are still wholly committed to these projects.
“We’re not going anywhere without sewers,” the incumbent said. “In Kings Park, it’s ready, but unfortunately what’s going on in Albany that died on the vine … A true comprehensive master plan has to involve community input and town hall meetings to drive the picture of what we want to see which is a living breathing document updated every 5 to 10 years.”
Fortunato said she is in full support of sewering, but that she wants the town to be open in relaying to the community what environmental impacts the new sewers could have.
“We got to be careful, and we want transparency,” she said. “We should have a public forum to present these options [for sewer treatment plants] and what we are looking at.”