11/19/13 10:17am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has signed the 2014 budget.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Steve Bellone has signed the 2014 county budget.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has signed a 2014 budget previously amended by county legislators earlier this month, though the amended plan has environmental groups preparing to sue over how the county is balancing its books.

Signed on Monday, the $2.7 billion spending plan – which calls for no tax increase in the county’s general fund – calls for using nearly $33 million from the county’s sewer stabilization fund, a reserve account created when Suffolk County taxpayers approved the Drinking Water Protection Program via referendum in 1987.

The fund comprises one of several dedicated revenue streams created by the sales tax — another being open space preservation, for example — which is one-quarter of one percent, and critics say the choice to use it to close a budget gap violates the terms under which voters agreed to tax themselves.

“The public has repeatedly voted to tax themselves – and they are paying 2.5 times the national average as it is – to protect their drinking water with the explicit assurance that the writing can’t be altered for any other purpose,” said Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper. ”There’s no justification for violating this solemn contract with the public.”

Suffolk voters last agreed to renew the tax in 2007 — approving a ballot measure to maintain the tax through 2030. The recent plan laid out by the county intends to start paying back into the sewer stabilization fund – which is used to offset spikes in sewer rates – in 2017.

The balance currently hovers around $140 million, leaving over $100 million left in the sewer stabilization fund.

Mr. Bellone, in the budget he presented to the Legislature, had suggested closing the budget gap through borrowing from the New York State Dormitory Authority, a path that would have required legislation approved at the state level. A report from the County’s Budget Review Office identified that plan as a risk because of the necessary legislation.

Legislator Tom Barraga (R-East Islip), who spent over 20 years in Albany as an assemblyman, voted along with legislators Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) against the county Legislature’s budget – pointing to past bailouts in New York City and Nassau County as evidence the legislation would not be much of a risk at all.

Supporters of the decision to use the funds said the plan will save over $40 million in interest payments from what they would have paid if they borrowed from the Dormitory Authority.

“It’s a huge savings,” said North Fork Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who added that he wasn’t exactly sure how the use of the funds was legal.

He said that’s “a legal issue for the lawyers to decide.”

An opinion of the county attorney’s office, provided by a spokesperson for Mr. Bellone, pointed to case law — considered analogous with Suffolk County — that held that “The New York Court of Appeals has endorsed the statement that ‘laws proposed and enacted by the people under an initiative provision are subject to the same constitutional, statutory, and charter limitations as those passed by the legislature and are entitled to no greater sanctity or dignity.’”

While the county and some environmental groups remain in court over similar action taken in 2011, Bob DeLuca, executive director of Group for the East End — which did not take legal action then — said his organization’s members are deciding for themselves whether or not to sue.

Mr. DeLuca questioned whether or not the sewer fund would ever be replenished as promised.

“Anybody can promise anything in order to get a short-term gain,” Mr. DeLuca said. “But in 2017, to go back to the Legislature and say, ‘You promised to put the money back’ — there will be different people in place and different priorities. Maybe there will be another economic downturn.”

Aside from the county’s decision to use reserves from the sewer stabilization fund, an attempt to bring back about $120,000 more in revenue to the East End, generated through the county’s hotel/motel tax, stalled in the Legislature’s economic development and energy committee.

In addition, the Legislature rejected measures to adjust its police revenue sharing program — a move that would have brought over $500,000 to Riverhead, more than $400,000 to Southold and over $50,000 to Shelter Island — as well as an attempt to fund the Vocational Education and Extension Board, part of the county fire academy for a full year, as opposed to six months.

Pointing to the police revenue sharing defeat, the decision not to fund VEEB, and the loss of additional hotel/motel revenue — as well as use of the sewer stabilization funds — Mr. Schneiderman voted against the budget for the first time in 10 years.

“I don’t feel this year’s budget was great for the East End,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who was just re-elected to a sixth and final two-year term in office under term limit laws.

Mr. Krupski, meanwhile, said that some hotel/motel funds were brought back to the East End during the budget working group meetings, a closed-door process that has earned criticism on its own.

He also pointed to success “keeping revenue projections in a more realistic place,” and added that police revenue sharing is something that needs to be addressed on a percentage basis, rather than the hard numbers currently negotiated.

While he said the budget’s end product might not be exactly what East End voters would want, he said, “I did have some constructive input on it, but everything doesn’t always go my way or my district’s way. Every dollar was allocated evenly.”

As far as going to court over the use of sewer funds, Mr. Amper said the Pine Barrens Society’s board of directors has already approved litigating the topic. Group for the East End is still considering, while a request for comment from the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, another major environmental group in the region, was not immediately returned.

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

11/19/13 10:17am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has signed the 2014 budget.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Steve Bellone has signed the 2014 county budget.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has signed a 2014 budget previously amended by county legislators earlier this month, though the amended plan has environmental groups preparing to sue over how the county is balancing its books.

Signed on Monday, the $2.7 billion spending plan – which calls for no tax increase in the county’s general fund – calls for using nearly $33 million from the county’s sewer stabilization fund, a reserve account created when Suffolk County taxpayers approved the Drinking Water Protection Program via referendum in 1987.

The fund comprises one of several dedicated revenue streams created by the sales tax — another being open space preservation, for example — which is one-quarter of one percent, and critics say the choice to use it to close a budget gap violates the terms under which voters agreed to tax themselves.

“The public has repeatedly voted to tax themselves – and they are paying 2.5 times the national average as it is – to protect their drinking water with the explicit assurance that the writing can’t be altered for any other purpose,” said Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper. ”There’s no justification for violating this solemn contract with the public.”

Suffolk voters last agreed to renew the tax in 2007 — approving a ballot measure to maintain the tax through 2030. The recent plan laid out by the county intends to start paying back into the sewer stabilization fund – which is used to offset spikes in sewer rates – in 2017.

The balance currently hovers around $140 million, leaving over $100 million left in the sewer stabilization fund.

Mr. Bellone, in the budget he presented to the Legislature, had suggested closing the budget gap through borrowing from the New York State Dormitory Authority, a path that would have required legislation approved at the state level. A report from the County’s Budget Review Office identified that plan as a risk because of the necessary legislation.

Legislator Tom Barraga (R-East Islip), who spent over 20 years in Albany as an assemblyman, voted along with legislators Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) against the county Legislature’s budget – pointing to past bailouts in New York City and Nassau County as evidence the legislation would not be much of a risk at all.

Supporters of the decision to use the funds said the plan will save over $40 million in interest payments from what they would have paid if they borrowed from the Dormitory Authority.

“It’s a huge savings,” said North Fork Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who added that he wasn’t exactly sure how the use of the funds was legal.

He said that’s “a legal issue for the lawyers to decide.”

An opinion of the county attorney’s office, provided by a spokesperson for Mr. Bellone, pointed to case law — considered analogous with Suffolk County — that held that “The New York Court of Appeals has endorsed the statement that ‘laws proposed and enacted by the people under an initiative provision are subject to the same constitutional, statutory, and charter limitations as those passed by the legislature and are entitled to no greater sanctity or dignity.’”

While the county and some environmental groups remain in court over similar action taken in 2011, Bob DeLuca, executive director of Group for the East End — which did not take legal action then — said his organization’s members are deciding for themselves whether or not to sue.

Mr. DeLuca questioned whether or not the sewer fund would ever be replenished as promised.

“Anybody can promise anything in order to get a short-term gain,” Mr. DeLuca said. “But in 2017, to go back to the Legislature and say, ‘You promised to put the money back’ — there will be different people in place and different priorities. Maybe there will be another economic downturn.”

Aside from the county’s decision to use reserves from the sewer stabilization fund, an attempt to bring back about $120,000 more in revenue to the East End, generated through the county’s hotel/motel tax, stalled in the Legislature’s economic development and energy committee.

In addition, the Legislature rejected measures to adjust its police revenue sharing program — a move that would have brought over $500,000 to Riverhead, more than $400,000 to Southold and over $50,000 to Shelter Island — as well as an attempt to fund the Vocational Education and Extension Board, part of the county fire academy for a full year, as opposed to six months.

Pointing to the police revenue sharing defeat, the decision not to fund VEEB, and the loss of additional hotel/motel revenue — as well as use of the sewer stabilization funds — Mr. Schneiderman voted against the budget for the first time in 10 years.

“I don’t feel this year’s budget was great for the East End,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who was just re-elected to a sixth and final two-year term in office under term limit laws.

Mr. Krupski, meanwhile, said that some hotel/motel funds were brought back to the East End during the budget working group meetings, a closed-door process that has earned criticism on its own.

He also pointed to success “keeping revenue projections in a more realistic place,” and added that police revenue sharing is something that needs to be addressed on a percentage basis, rather than the hard numbers currently negotiated.

While he said the budget’s end product might not be exactly what East End voters would want, he said, “I did have some constructive input on it, but everything doesn’t always go my way or my district’s way. Every dollar was allocated evenly.”

As far as going to court over the use of sewer funds, Mr. Amper said the Pine Barrens Society’s board of directors has already approved litigating the topic. Group for the East End is still considering, while a request for comment from the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, another major environmental group in the region, was not immediately returned.

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

11/08/13 4:00pm

JULIE LANE PHOTO | One of the original affordable houses built on Bowditch Road in the mid 1990s.

10 YEARS AGO
Consultant warns Task Force on housing needs

Affordable housing was Shelter Island’s prime problem in 2003, according to consultant Philip Herr. He was hired by the town to work with the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals in crafting recommendations for the Town Board to consider about changes in zoning codes. The problem of providing affordable housing “is of profound proportions, and will require effort if it is to be effectively addressed,” Mr. Herr said in his report to the town. In the mid 1990s, the town constructed six affordable houses on Bowditch Road over protests from some that home ownership shouldn’t be available to those who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to purchase property on Shelter Island. Families who qualified for the houses received subsidies of about $30,000 from state and federal grants to reduce the cost of the houses.
POSTSCRIPT: There continues to be an active Community Housing Board and Shelter Island Housing Options, Inc is still functioning, but there has been little call for affordables, Councilwoman Chris Lewis said in 2012.

20 YEARS AGO
Island will get first traffic light

In order to facilitate construction of the Chase Creek Bridge, Town Board members had to allow the New York State Department of Transportation the right to install traffic lights on Bridge Street. By using a single lane for both north- and south-bound traffic, the construction crew could completely remove the existing bridge and replace it in one step. The traffic light would provide control over that single traffic lane during construction.
POSTSCRIPT: Look around today; there are no traffic lights on Shelter Island.

30 YEARS AGO
Salary hikes disputed at budget hearing

Just 30 years ago, a handful of taxpayers showed up to protest planned salary increases contained in the Town Board’s 1984 budget proposal. Town Board members, who were receiving $3,750 were due to get a raise to $4,300. The town supervisor’s was projected to go to $20,000 from $18,000. Then Supervisor Mal Nevel said the raises were not decided in an across-the-board fashion, but based on moving salaries nearer to what other towns were paying as well as productivity. Mr. Nevel later said the town wasn’t trying to equalize salaries with neighboring towns. But added that town salaries had been “stymied” for years and said salaries had to be increased to catch up with the demands of jobs.
POSTSCRIPT: The supervisor and Town Board members in 2014 would see a 2 percent increase in salaries if the projected budget is approved.

50 YEARS AGO
Island group organizes Goldwater for President chapter

Just two weeks before President Kennedy was killed, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater was launching his campaign to oppose the incumbent and supporters organized to push for their candidate’s nomination by the Republican Party. Robert Conlin of Hay Beach led the local effort and said Mr. Goldwater was the grass roots candidate for the nomination. Mr. Goldwater won his party’s nomination, but went on to be defeated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 by what was then the largest margin in history. He carried only six states and won 52 electoral votes to Mr. Johnson’s 486.
POSTSCRIPT: Although nationally there has been a movement to support Hillary Clinton running for President in 2016 and a number of Republicans have been talked about at possible candidates, there’s no local action here, given the focus on more local elections and the fact that President Obama has three years left in his term.

11/06/13 8:28am

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO I Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, right, seen here with his opponent Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi in a debate last month. Mr. Schneiderman will represent Shelter Island for the first time beginning in January.

 

Jay Schneiderman is going back to the Suffolk County Legislature for his fifth term, but this time he has new constituents to represent.

Shelter Island was redistricted from the 1st District on the North Fork into the 2nd District, which runs from Montauk to Moriches.

Mr. Schneiderman running on the Independence Party ticket as well as the Democrat and Working Families lines, easily defeated Republican and Conservative Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi by a tally of 60.3 percent of the vote to Mr. Nuzzi’s 39. 6 percent.

Unoffical numbers from three of the four election districts on the Island show the margin of the incumbent’s victory. In the First ED, Mr. Schneiderman polled 128 votes to Mr. Nuzzi’s 75, 126 to 70 in the Second ED, and 104 in the Third ED to Mr. Nuzzi’s 85.

Mr. Schneiderman early in the campaign hit home to Island voters by writing and promoting a  law directing the county’s vector control, active in preventing the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses, to take a role — for the first time — in helping control the public health crisis of tick-borne diseases.

Mr. Nuzzi agreed with the legislation, but was forced to play catch up, and had to fight Mr. Schneiderman’s slight lead in name recognition here.

The most discussed ballot proposition, which would authorize seven gambling casinos to open in the state, passed easily by a margin of 54 to 37 percent statewide.

 

 

 

11/05/13 10:52pm

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Town Board incumbent Republicans Chris Lewis and Ed Brown at Sweet Tomato’s, shortly after hearing they had won new terms of office.

In an election marked by low turnout, Town Board incumbents Ed Brown and Chris Lewis, running on the Republican and Conservative tickets, cruised to victory Tuesday over Democrat Robert Reylek.

Ms. Lewis was the big winner with a total of 611 votes. That was more than Democrat incumbent Supervisor Jim Dougherty, running unopposed, who tallied 598 votes.

Final totals for Mr. Brown were 544 votes to Mr. Reylek’s 385.

A total of 850 ballots were cast out of 2,236 registered voters. Shelter Island Democratic Chairwoman Heather Reylek said after the votes were in that a good portion of her party’s base took the day off.

According to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, 196 absentee ballots were requested. Bob DeStefano Jr., Shelter Island GOP chairman, said as the polls closed there was no way his candidates’ margin of victory would shrink much after all absentee ballots were counted.

A little after 9 p.m. at the Shelter Island School polling place, Mr. Reylek said he had no regrets and offered congratulations to his opponents. He said he would be going to Sweet Tomato’s, the Republican’s election night headquarters, to personally wish Mr. Brown and Ms. Lewis well.

“I worked hard,” Mr. Reylek said, adding he couldn’t think of anything he would have done differently.

At Sweet Tomato’s, surrounded by supporters, Ms. Lewis, who has served 12 years on the Town Board, said she was “greatly relieved. In any election there’s always some concern. Bob Reylek is a worthy opponent and I couldn’t take anything for granted.”

Mr. Brown, who will be sworn in for his fourth term of office as a councilman in January, thanked his party chairman, Mr. DeStefano and Amber Williams, former chairwoman for the Island Republicans.

He was proud of the campaign all candidates had run. “It wasn’t contentious,” Mr. Brown said. “This was Shelter Island at its best.”

Incumbents Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar and Town Assessor Patricia Castoldi, running unopposed on the Republican and Conservative lines, received congratulations at Sweet Tomato’s from well-wishers.

About 30 Democrats crowded into Kyle’s to hear party Chairwoman Heather Reylek announce, “We have two winners tonight. Let’s think positive,” speaking of Mr. Dougherty’s victory along with Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr., who also ran unopposed.

“Unfortunately, Bob did not win,” Ms. Reylek said of her husband. Even when the absentee ballots are counted, “There’s not enough of them to make a difference,” she said.

Mr. Dougherty called the Republican victory in the Town Board races “not surprising.”

He praised Mr. Reylek as a man of “so much character and so competent,” but said he’s penalized for being a “quiet guy. It’s the Island’s loss.”

“We’ll see,” was all Mr. Card said about running for another term after this one.  Mr. Card threatened during budget negotiations not to seek a third term unless he got a substantial raise.

As for Mr. Dougherty, he said his decision to run again in two years would depend on what he accomplishes in this term.