Experience and track record are the name of the game in this year’s Smithtown Town Board race, and on that note, we endorse Republican incumbents Bob Creighton and Ed Wehrheim.
The two work well as a team, and say they have downtown revitalization high up on both their lists of priorities for another term.
They’ve backed a proposal to restructure Smithtown government to lead to more accountability and cooperation. The plan would involve creating four commissioner positions that would oversee about five to six department heads, compared to the 26 department heads currently answering to the supervisor. That plan stalled due to opposition from Republican Supervisor Pat Vecchio.
When it comes to economic development, both men encourage it. Wehrheim said he helped facilitate the redevelopment of the Smith Haven Mall and assisted in bringing Bob’s Discount Furniture to the Smithtown area. With Wehrheim’s support, Creighton also pitched raising the minimum wage, which eventually made its way into the town’s 2016 preliminary budget.
It will be an uphill battle at the polls next Tuesday for Creighton, as he won’t be running on the Republican line. That spot belongs to Lisa Inzerillo, a Republican who narrowly beat him out in a primary election on a rainy day — the perfect storm for low voter turnout.
Inzerillo did not show up for a debate at the Times of Smithtown’s headquarters.
Democratic challenger Larry Vetter is a knowledgeable, nice man, who strikes us as creative, energetic, bright and pragmatic. It would be great to see him take on some government position. But we feel right now is not his time as councilman.
The race to represent Brookhaven Town’s 1st District is a good one with two ambitious and qualified candidates, but we feel one of them is just the right fit at just the right time, and that’s incumbent Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station).
Cartright, an attorney, was first elected to the seat two years ago and has been busy ever since. She can be seen at various community events and working on some of the town’s most pressing issues, like drug-related crime, zoning and planning. She has hosted roundtable discussions as part of her “be a good neighbor” campaign, bringing all involved parties together to address illegal student housing in the communities surrounding Stony Brook University, resulting in new code proposals to better regulate the housing. All in all, she has been responsive in addressing what her constituents identify as concerns facing the district.
Much of the same can be said for Cartright’s opponent, civic president Ed Garboski. The face of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, Garboski is a proven leader on community issues and was named a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year because of it.
However, Cartright’s perspective and life experience is necessary to the Brookhaven Town Board. Not only is she a Democrat on a Republican-controlled board, but she also has a background unlike her council colleagues — she brings a valuable perspective to town politics that would be lost without her.
Garboski is still a great candidate and an effective leader, and we hope he does not go away if he loses this election.
If re-elected, Cartright said she hopes to build upon her constituent outreach by perfecting her communication methods, knocking on doors and bringing in the senior community to better address their concerns in the district. She has already made great strides in bringing groups together to address and discuss problems, and she should be given another term to continue her work.
Ed Romaine has a solid record of getting things done. He has kept the lid on taxes; brought single-stream recycling into the town, which added revenue and made collection day easier on residents; and fought bad neighbors who run their homes as illegal boarding houses or abandon their properties and allow them to fall into disrepair. And under the leadership of the Republican Center Moriches resident, the town paid off its pension debt this year — an important factor in maintaining fiscal stability in the future.
On top of these efforts that affect residents where they live, he has attacked broader initiatives, including supporting laws that encourage residents to use alternative energy sources.
His Democratic challenger, Douglas Dittko, is nowhere to be found, but that’s OK because what Romaine has been doing is working.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Re-elect Romaine on Nov. 3.
There’s a reason Jane Bonner has already been elected the 2nd District town councilwoman four times — the Conservative from Rocky Point knows how to get things done.
One of the most important projects she has recently been involved in was the Route 25A corridor study, which will serve as a guideline for development along the busy road, from Mount Sinai to Wading River, for many years to come. She has also worked on environmental and quality of life issues like improving stormwater drainage, combating coastal erosion and bringing down neighborhood eyesores. During her time in office, Bonner has built a reputation as someone who is accessible and responsive to residents, even if it means calling someone back while unloading her groceries.
Bonner has proven she is a caring and effective councilwoman. She should be re-elected to a fifth term.
Kevin LaValle has only been a Brookhaven Town councilman for two years, but he’s been on the scene for much longer.
He got his feet wet working for Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore, which means he’s well-versed in Middle Country’s issues.
One of the things he did with his first term in the town was helping to finally acquire space for athletic fields in Selden, something the community desperately needed and had waited years for. LaValle started the project in Muratore’s office and then picked up the torch for the town when he was first elected. Now, Selden is on its way to have more sports and leisure space for kids and adults alike.
We have a feeling LaValle, a Republican who grew up in Middle Country, will only keep getting better as time goes on. He has shown high energy and commitment. Voters should re-elect him on Tuesday.
The 38-year-old Brookhaven Town councilman, who is running for a second term, said he is trying to bring energy back to his district.
“You want to get people back into government,” LaValle said during an interview at the Times Beacon Record Newspapers office. “[You] have to make people feel the government is their for them.”
His Democratic opponent, Christian DeGeorge, did not return a request for an interview.
One big accomplishment of LaValle’s first term was finishing negotiations for athletic fields by Hawkins Path Elementary School in Selden, near where Boyle Road meets Hawkins Road. The Middle Country area has long needed field space, and LaValle began targeting that property when he was an aide for Legislator Tom Muratore. The county now owns the land, and the town is utilizing it and making improvements to it.
LaValle said he wants to continue work on that property, perhaps adding a walking trail and a parking lot to make it easier for people to use.
Moving forward, taxes and road maintenance are two of the most important issues in the 3rd Council District, according to LaValle, who grew up in Centereach. He said he tried to prioritize the roads in need of maintenance, like filling potholes and improving drainage, in his past term and will continue to do so if re-elected.,
“I tell every resident this: We can’t pave every road. I’d love to pave every road, but we don’t have the money to do that.”
He also sees cleaning up graffiti as an important issue. Greentree Park in Farmingville, for one, has been tagged over and over. Since removing graffiti is costly, LaValle hopes to help law enforcement gather enough information to build a case and eventually catch those responsible for the graffitti.
To improve the flow of traffic and safety on the roads, LaValle wants to push more businesses along Middle Country Road to allow vehicular access between their properties.
“There’s so many entrances and exits [on Middle Country Road],” the councilman said. “There’s always somebody jumping out in front of you or the car in front of you. [It] backs up [the lane and] causes all the accidents.”
The cross-accesses would allow drivers to move between businesses without having to get back onto the road as frequently.
Regardless of the problem at hand, LaValle said action is important when it comes to improving the district.
“[A decision] may not change the problem tomorrow, but 20 years from now it could completely solve … a problem, so every decision you make, you always have to think four or five steps ahead.”
Smithtown’s 2016 preliminary budget proposal called for a small increase in taxes despite some spending cuts, but officials said they anticipated no layoffs because of it.
The $101 million budget, if approved, would reduce the amount of money the town spends by about 3.4 percent when compared to this year’s budget, the preliminary proposal said. An average Smithtown home assessed at $5,500 would see an increase of roughly $18.01 in annual taxes, or $1,271.25 in total, the budget said.
As for the town’s tax levy, the budget pegged it at $55.49 million, which was more than last year’s $55.04 million levy.
In his budget message, Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said the town was building on an initiative started in 2015 in a five-year capital plan that targets strategic infrastructure upgrades.
“[The budget] substantially moves the town to a structurally balanced budget that does not reduce resident services,” Vecchio said. “It recognizes the initiatives started in 2015 of replacing only essentially needed positions as employees retire or otherwise leave the employ of the town.”
Last year, the town used more than $5 million of surplus funding to balance the budget. But this year, the town was able to use much less than that at $500,000. The use of surplus funding to balance the budget was one of the key reasons Councilmen Bob Creighton (R) and Ed Wehrheim (R) voted against the proposal last year, but both officials told Times Beacon Record Newspapers last week that they were glad to see the town working to end that practice.
In regards to the town’s general fund, Vecchio said taxes increased by $31.62 for the average home without the use of surplus dollars, which he called a change from Smithtown’s past practices. Expenditures went down by nearly $1.1 million, or 2.5 percent, he said.
“The town continues a ‘pay as you go basis’ for repairs and separation pay for retiring workers,” the supervisor said. “Large capital expenditures have been reduced in the operating budget because they have been included in the 2015-19 capital program, which acquires long-term assets through borrowing instead of the use of current operating funds.”
The town was also able to meet the 2 percent tax cap with help from roughly $900,000 in health insurance and workers’ compensation increases, which a decrease in required state pension contributions help address, Town Comptroller Donald Musgnug said. Also included in the budget were longevity and step increases for nearly 30 Smithtown Administrative Guild and 375 Civil Service Employees Association union workers, he said.
Projects in line with the town’s five-year capital budget plan between 2015 and 2019 helped Smithtown save money in the 2016 preliminary budget, officials said, citing various savings that came as a result of them. The town’s LED streetlights project helped save $200,000 in utility costs, and taxes in the outside village fund decreased by $8.80.
The town also allocated savings of about $35,000 in the animal shelter supervisor’s salary to pay for trap, neuter and release services as well as the hiring of a part-time trainer to help train the eight dogs housed at the shelter, town officials said.
On the subject of Highway Department savings, Vecchio said $500,000 of surplus funds there was used to stabilize taxes. Funding was also increased in the town’s snow coffers by $2.14 per household assessed at $5,500 because of severe storms, which he said exhausted funding last year.
Two neighborhood leaders are battling for Brookhaven Town’s 1st Council District seat, with incumbent Valerie Cartright leaning on her record of community involvement and challenger Ed Garboski on his background as a small business owner and civic president.
In a debate at the Times Beacon Record Newspapers office last week, Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who is seeking her second term on the town board, and the Republican Garboski, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, did not stand apart on many of the area’s biggest issues.
Both said they agreed that repaving town roads, upgrading parks and preserving open space were important, as well as holding the line on taxes. They also made similar statements about the need to crack down on illegal housing in the area, specifically overcrowded homes rented to raucous Stony Brook University students — Cartright and Garboski said the town has to work with the university to alleviate the problem.
But one issue for which they had different solutions was the pace of the town’s approval process for businesses looking to locate or expand in Brookhaven. Many stakeholders have argued the process for site plan approval and other planning and zoning concerns is slow and deters business, particularly in a sluggish economy. The candidates said they heard those complaints and had plans to address them.
“I was a home improvement contractor and had to deal with the Town of Brookhaven,” Garboski said, adding that he also witnesses the movement of business in his role as civic president. “The bureaucracy … [has] just too many rules and regulations.”
He said the town should keep watch on businesses, but needs to move things along. According to the challenger, his first step would be determining whether the holdup is a personnel issue or can be attributed to the approval process itself.
The incumbent, on the other hand, pointed to a department restructure in the town in January 2014 — among other changes, the town board split up the building and fire prevention department, putting building into the planning department and fire prevention into the public safety department.
“I think it’s time for us to sit down as a board and evaluate that restructuring to see if it’s been more effective,” Cartright said. “To see if there’s any additional stuff that needs to be restructured.”
Another topic that received different responses was the issue of drug abuse and addiction on Long Island. While Garboski stressed the need for outreach programs in neighborhood schools and educating parents so they can identify a child with a drug problem, Cartright said Brookhaven should be assisting community groups that are already tackling the issue and should work with the county to get homeless people, many of whom struggle with addiction, the services they need.
In endorsing herself for re-election, Cartright said she has worked to bridge the gap between the government and the community, touting the bulletin that she sends out to residents with information about upcoming public hearings and proposed laws, among other outreach efforts.
Garboski said he agreed that bulletin is helpful to people like him, who are keeping an eye on town news. For his own part, he emphasized his experience as a business owner with negotiating and budgets, and said he has time to put toward alleviating quality of life issues.
The two community advocates will face off on Nov. 3.
Over the past several years, if a Smithtown Town Board vote resulted in a 3-2 tally, chances were incumbent Republicans Bob Creighton and Ed Wehrheim were the lone naysayers. Both electeds have been seeking re-election this fall, as political newcomers from both sides of the aisle have stepped up for their seats.
Creighton, 77, came out on the bottom of a three-way Republican primary back in September, losing the GOP line on Tuesday’s ballot to both Wehrheim and Lisa Inzerillo, 50, of Kings Park, while still retaining a spot on the Conservative, Independent and Reform party lines. Meanwhile, Democrat Larry Vetter, 62, threw his hat into the race over the summer and has been vying to break the town’s all-Republican board.
All the candidates, except for Inzerillo, sat down with the Times of Smithtown last week to discuss top issues facing Smithtown and what their plans were to address them if elected.
Creighton said he hoped his record would speak for itself in his bid for another term, citing his background in law enforcement and private sector success before joining the Town Board in 2008. In the interview, both Creighton and Wehrheim discussed that familiar 3-2 split on the board and argued that dissension too often got in the way of progress.
Earlier this year, Creighton, who is in his second four-year term on the board, took to a work session to propose that the town consider installing commissioner positions similar to those held in neighboring townships like Brookhaven and Islip, which he argued would streamline workflow and make department heads more accountable. Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) was outright against the proposal and opposed it each time it was discussed before the board, which Creighton said stonewalled it from progressing.
“I’ve worked to try and change government a little bit and to make it more accountable, but it really hasn’t been acted on,” Creighton said of the plan, which Wehrheim also supported. “It will not be acted on until two of the other council people take a stand, which they will not do as long as Mr. Vecchio is there.”
Wehrheim, who is running for his fourth term on the board, said he would use another term in office to stimulate economic growth in the town, specifically with downtown business revitalization and infrastructure repairs in mind.
When asked how he planned on bettering his standing in the classic 3-2 Town Board split, Wehrheim said he would only keep doing what he has been doing — bringing business to every work session with hopes of spurring action.
“It’s a political issue that doesn’t need to exist. It might be great press, but I don’t pay much attention to the dissension,” Wehrheim said. “I bring business to every board meeting, because I have constituents that need me to discuss issues important to them.”
Wehrheim cited a recent legislative effort he championed alongside Creighton, adding that the two “went back and forth” over a minimum wage proposal for the town’s seasonal workers. That minimum wage hike was subsequently included in the 2016 preliminary budget in September.
Vetter, the lone Democrat in the four-way race, said one of the key points that set him apart from the rest, in his first run for public office, was his “outside looking in” perspective coupled with his extensive background in environmental science and business. He centered his campaign on attacking the “Long Island brain drain” and fighting to keep young adults in Smithtown by making it a more vibrant place to live and raise a family.
“I have four adult children — they’re all gone and off Long Island,” Vetter said. “I have three grandchildren I’m watching grow up on Skype. Everything springs from that, and that includes industrial development, downtown revitalization, housing initiatives, and other aspects, like sewers, infrastructure.”
Vetter said that if elected, he would only seek out one or two terms before removing himself from the board because of his strong support for term limits.
Earlier this month, Vecchio joined other marquee Republican names in Smithtown on the steps of Town Hall to endorse Inzerillo, flanked by councilmembers Tom McCarthy (R) and Lynne Nowick (R) as well as Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James).
Inzerillo, however, did not respond to several attempts to organize a four-way candidate debate at the Times of Smithtown’s headquarters. She was also absent at other debates throughout the town, with the latest one a week before Election Day at the Smithtown Fire House.
Parking in Huntington village, accessory apartments and town finances were just a few of the hot topics Huntington Town Board candidates tackled at a debate hosted by this newspaper on Oct. 23.
Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and Councilman Gene Cook (I) are seeking re-election, and challengers Keith Barrett, a Democrat and Jennifer Thompson, a Republican, are in the running for two open seats.
Berland has been in office since 2001 and is seeking a fifth term, and Cook has been in office since 2011 and is seeking his second term.
Barrett is currently deputy director of general services for Huntington Town and president of the Huntington Station Business Improvement District. Thompson is a trustee on the Northport-East Northport school board.
The candidates first discussed issues Huntington businesses face.
“Upgrades take too long,” Barrett said, referring to planning applications. “It can be done faster if the building department was streamlined.”
Berland and Thompson echoed Barrett’s sentiments. Thompson said this slow process deters people from making changes to their businesses.
“I am consistently hearing it’s a tedious process,” Thompson said. “When people take that risk to open a business they should be rewarded. Town hall shouldn’t be a roadblock.”
Berland said she welcomes business owners to come into her office and meet with department heads to go through their plans. “I have various department heads come in,” Berland said. “We sit down and look at their plans and we have every department say what’s good and bad about the plan and what you need to change.”
Cook said the biggest challenge facing business owners is high taxes. He said he has never voted for Supervisor Frank Petrone’s budget because “there is mismanagement of money and misappropriations of funds.”
Candidates agreed accessory apartments are important but need much supervision and regulation.
Cook said that he likes the idea of accessory apartments, but they are “going a little bit crazy,” because people aren’t adhering to town guidelines. Cook said every accessory apartment resident should have a spot for a car in his or her driveway and not park on the street.
Thompson agreed that with the right exceptions and variances, the units are beneficial.
“I’m interested in looking case-to-case to see what makes sense for that particular area,” Thompson said. She also said the town should be looking at other models to see how they are handling issues like this.
Young people and seniors can both benefit from such housing, Barrett said.
“I think we need to be regulating these apartments,” Barrett said. ‘I drive around and see 10 cars on a driveway.”
Berland said she is an advocate of accessory apartments, and that she spearheaded legislation to ensure they are owner-occupied. “The big problem was when investors were coming in and buying these single-family houses and turning [them] into a multiple-resident, hotel kind of thing,” Berland said. “Which I think is inappropriate and ruins communities.”
Parking in Huntington village has been an issue many residents have sounded off on.
Thompson and Cook both backed an idea for a parking garage that they say wouldn’t cost taxpayers, Cook, the owner of a construction company, said developers come to him all the time looking for jobs, and that there are companies out there that would take on this project as a public-private partnership.
“At least let’s open the door to the conversation,” Cook said.
Barrett was not in favor of the idea.
“I’m not a big fan of the three-story parking garage,” Barrett said. “I would like to explore some other alternatives first.”
Barrett said he sees these parking garages as being very costly. He thinks the biggest reason parking is an issue is because the village’s employees take up all the spots. Barrett said he’s interested in following Atlantic City’s structure, where employees park remotely and are bussed into the downtown.
Berland said the idea with a parking garage is to have some sort of structure with businesses on the bottom that would help subsidize the costs of the spots. She also said that there is no such thing as a parking garage that doesn’t cost taxpayers.