11/07/12 12:58am

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Ed Romaine, right, was elected Brookhaven Town Supervisor Tuesday. He’s shown here with Brookhaven GOP chairman Jesse Garcia.

Election season came to a close on the North Fork Tuesday. It starts back up Wednesday.

That’s because North Fork County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) has won a special election to become the next Brookhaven Town Supervisor, setting up a February special election to fill his seat in the Legislature.

“Tomorrow is a new day for cheers,” Mr. Romaine told GOP supporters at the party gala in Patchogue Tuesday night.

He said his replacement in the Legislature will have to fight hard to get the residents of the North Fork what they need. He said that person will need to stand up to others “for what is right” for the East End.

“If the issues are right and you can make a decent case, you can prevail,” said Mr. Romaine of what advice he’d give his replacement.

Now the attention will turn to just who that replacement will be.

Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer of Babylon said his first phone call Wednesday will be to gauge the interest of Southold Councilman Al Krupski, the only Democrat to serve on a Town Board in Mr. Romaine’s district.

“People respect him and know he calls it like he sees it,” said Mr. Schaffer of Mr. Krupski. He did not discuss any other potential candidates.

The Republican picture isn’t as clear but a pair of Riverhead Councilmembers, Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy, previously expressed an interest in the post to the News-Review.

Democrats, with a 12-member caucus that includes two minor-party members, currently hold a majority in the Suffolk County Legislature. The County Executive, Steve Bellone, is also a Democrat.

Reporting by Jennifer Gustavson and Michael White

10/19/12 5:00pm

COURTESY PHOTO | Jen Stress, a former program assistant with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, drags a flagging cloth through a field to survey area tick numbers.

East Enders who have suffered with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases had their chance Oct. 10 to voice their frustrations to a new county task force charged with coming up with concrete steps to control the spread of the diseases.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine convened the 16-member Tick & Vector-Borne Disease Task Force earlier this fall in an attempt to focus on the health crisis facing the East End.

During the committee’s public hearing at the Southold Recreation Center in Peconic last Wednesday, task force members got an earful from people who have suffered for years from chronic Lyme Disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other serious illnesses.

Many in attendance said they’ve had difficulty getting doctors to take their chronic symptoms seriously and put them on the long-term antibiotics they need to go about their lives.

Still others told stories of years — and sometimes decades — of misdiagnoses before their illness was correctly identified as Lyme disease.

“The insurance companies don’t want to pay for it …. Doctors that know what to do and have the guts to do it are afraid,” said Sue Ulrich of Shirley. “You don’t need any of those degrees to know you are sick.”

“If you’re a tourist, you should come here in a tank and don’t get out,” said Ugo Polla of Cutchogue, adding that ticks abound in vineyards and other tourist destinations. “Have the wine delivered, drink it and get out,” he said.

“It seems like we just keep studying these things. We need action,” said Hugh Switzer of Peconic. “We need support for our supervisor and board for actions necessary to get rid of deer. We have friends who no longer want to visit with us. They say, ‘Why would I want to come if every time I go outside I have to check for ticks?’ Our children won’t bring our grandchildren to see us.”

Numerous people told the task force horror stories of their children’s lives after they were bitten by ticks.

Jen Brown of North Haven told the task force that her son was first bitten by a tick at age 2. Now 5, he has been through weeks of hospitalization and has had more than a thousand brain seizures.

“He’s currently so fragile the infection cannot be treated because of the seizures,” she said.

Dr. John Rasweiler, a retired medical school professor who studied mammalian biology, said “deer are a terrible, terrible problem.”

Dr. Rasweiler, who serves on the town’s deer management committee, said last year only 382 of the approximately 10,000 deer in Southold were killed by hunters.

“I’m sorry. It’s just not cutting the mustard,” he said of Southold’s deer hunting program.

Dr. Rasweiler suggested that car insurance companies could pay for more aggressive deer management programs through a special surcharge on local car insurance bills. He said he had researched the cost of deer-related car accidents, which he estimated at about $200 million in New York State each year.

“This could pay for the program, and in the process take care of the problem with ticks and environmental damage” caused by deer, he said.

Supervisor Scott Russell said that in order to have a truly effective deer hunt, he needs the state to change the law to allow hunters to bait deer.

He said he has been pressuring local representatives in the state Legislature to introduce such a bill. Once it’s introduced, he said, he’d like Southold residents to launch a letter writing and phone call campaign in support of the measure.

“We have the hunters, the [meat] cooler and wildlife butchers. We need legislation allowing us to bait,” he said. “We need to have some flexibility at the state level.”

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10/09/12 4:34pm

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) filed a bill on Tuesday urging the county to go to court to seek a refund of about $12 million in MTA payroll taxes the county paid to the state over the past four years.

A similar resolution was submitted in Brookhaven Town by Councilman Dan Panico, who said that town is seeking a refund of about $917,000 from the MTA.

Mr. Romaine is also running for Brookhaven Town supervisor in November.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine and Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico discuss plans for Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven to receive refunds from the former MTA payroll tax.

10/03/12 3:15pm

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, and Legislator Jay Schneiderman, right, at a press conference earlier this year.

East End lawmakers are divided over County Executive Steve Bellone’s recent recommendation that more county health centers transition to a federally operated model.

Touting the “successful” transfer of the county’s Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram to Hudson River HealthCare earlier this year, Mr. Bellone’s preliminary 2013 budget proposes to shift three East End county health centers into the Federally Qualified Health Centers program, known as FQHC.

County officials said Hudson River HealthCare — a federally operated, not-for-profit group with a network of 18 community health centers throughout the state and an office in Greenport — is being considered to take over county health centers in Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton as well as The Maxine S. Postal Tri-Community Health Center in Amityville.

There are currently no plans to move remaining western Suffolk county health centers out from under the county’s jurisdiction.

Mr. Bellone said the move will save the county money because it will shift the overall cost of medical malpractice to the federal government. He maintained it will also improve the level of care by offering longer hours and providing dental services.

The executive said budget limitations prevent the county from achieving these types of offerings and believes expanding additional health centers to FQHCs will enhance services at a lower cost.

South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), whose district includes the Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton county health centers, said he agrees the county should look into the FQHC model because it will save the county money while increasing the quality of health care.

If approved, he said, the plan could go into effect as early as March.

“I like the federal model much better than what we have now,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I think it will improve the level of service to our residents.”

North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said he’s opposed to moving quickly because he hasn’t seen any information that warrants such a change.

He said the decision to transfer the county’s health center in Coram to Hudson River HealthCare was a special case because it was the only alternative to keep it open. Former County Executive Steve Levy cut the funding for that facility in his 2012 budget and a partnership with Stony Brook University Medical Center didn’t come to fruition.

Mr. Romaine said an evaluation of how well the Coram health center is doing under Hudson River HealthCare hasn’t been completed and he hasn’t seen any information showing that the Riverhead health center and the two South Fork satellite offices face the same financial peril.

“I haven’t seen any information showing the Riverhead health center isn’t financially viable,” he said. “I have grave concerns because, at first blush, [Mr. Bellone] hasn’t provided any compelling information.”

County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Mr. Bellone’s office held a conference call June 28 with legislators to discuss the county health center overhaul recommendation.

Although an official evaluation of the Hudson River HealthCare takeover of the Coram site six months ago hasn’t been completed, Ms. Baird-Streeter said a steering committee will help the county decide the feasibility of switching other health centers to the federal model.

Other recommendations in Mr. Bellone’s proposed $2.77 billion spending plan, which freezes general fund taxes and doesn’t call for any layoffs, include increasing the county police district budget by $12.4 million next year to fund a new police class of 75 officers in September. Only households in western Suffolk County towns will see the $27 hike in their tax bill to support the increase, since East End towns run their own police forces. The county passed a similar tax increase last year to pay for a new police recruiting class of 80 officers.

Earlier this year the county laid off 658 employees and approved two controversial deals to sell the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility and surplus land in Yaphank. Mr. Bellone said those decisions will help the county close its budget gap. Financial experts estimated in March that the county’s three-year shortfall will be large as a $530 million.

“While we are making the tough choices to address the problems that have accumulated over the years, we must remain vigilant,” Mr. Bellone said in a press release. “My proposed 2013 budget is balanced, holds property taxes under the New York State tax cap, includes no general fund tax increase and will not lay off any additional employees … I look forward to working with the Suffolk County Legislature to enact this fiscally responsible budget.”

Mr. Romaine, who is the GOP candidate in this year’s race for Brookhaven Town supervisor, said he plans to draft amendments to restore funding for East End Arts’ annual Winterfest event and for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County programing. Those amounts weren’t immediately available.

The Legislature is expected to vote on the preliminary budget Nov. 7, the day after Election Day.

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09/14/12 3:00pm
North Fork Apostolate, President Obama on immigration

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Sister Margaret Smyth of North Fork Apostolate in Riverhead.

Leti was one of hundreds of incoming freshmen to walk into Riverhead High School on the first day of school last Wednesday.

The 15-year-old dreams of going to college in Boston to become a teacher or social worker. She likes to play soccer and enjoys learning about plants and food in science class.

But the quiet, dark-haired girl is different from many of her peers: Leti, a bilingual Guatemalan native who followed her mother to America when she was 6 years old, is an undocumented immigrant.

Leti, whose real name has been withheld to protect her identity, was brought to the United States in 2004 by a family friend, four years after her mother immigrated illegally.

Since then Leti has learned English and studied in school, all while keeping her status here a secret.

But a controversial new government policy may give North Fork immigrants like Leti a chance to study at local colleges and earn money at jobs in town without worrying that they may be deported if caught.

One Hispanic outreach group has already seen hundreds inquire about the program.

The Obama administration’s deferred action executive order would allow young undocumented immigrants to remain in the country for two years, obtain jobs and pay taxes, as well as study at schools and universities — provided they meet certain conditions. Plans haven’t yet been made to determine what happens to the immigrants after two years.

Applicants must be at least 15 years old and no older than 30, according to government documentation. They must also have come into the United States before age 16 and must have lived in the country for the past five years.

To prove they came to America as children, the applicants must provide documentation such as school, medical or travel records showing they were in the country at that age, according to a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The immigrants must also be educated — either in school or with a GED diploma — or must be a honorably discharged member of the U.S. military.

An immigrant who has been convicted of a felony, a “serious” misdemeanor or three other lesser misdemeanors, or who poses a risk to national security, would be ineligible for the deferred action, the spokesman said, adding that new policy will affect more people than any previous measure of its kind.

While Leti and her mother are in the country illegally, Leti’s two younger siblings were born in America, making them legal citizens. Leti said it’s “weird” that her sister and brother are allowed to go on plane trips while she cannot leave.

Leti smiled as she talked about where she’d want to travel in the U.S.: Florida and Hollywood.

“[My sister] can travel,” she said. “It was kind of not fair.”

Leti said some of her close friends know about her immigration status, though most people in school don’t react strongly to the news that she is an illegal immigrant.

“When I tell them, they say, ‘I don’t care’ and keep going,” she joked.

Leti’s mother said she heard about the opportunity from reports on television. She said it was “very emotional” to find out her daughter might qualify.

“It’s a great help for these students to continue to study,” she said through a translator. Leti’s mother said the family pays taxes, but the policy would let her daughter get a job without worrying about whether she has the proper paperwork.

Leti’s mother said the policy would allow her daughter to become “another success in the American dream.”

Since the policy went into effect on Aug. 15, Sister Margaret Smyth at the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, a Catholic outreach group for North Fork Hispanics, said she’s seen a steady stream of immigrants, numbering in the hundreds, seeking more information about the deferred action program.

“Last Thursday we were jammed in here,” Sister Margaret said, adding that many want to learn more about what documentation is needed to apply and whether or not they would be eligible. On Monday, her office on Roanoke Avenue was filled with men and women, some of whom asked about the policy.

Some who come into the office, like Leti’s mother, do so on behalf of their children.

“Some of [the children] have been here for so long that they have no memories of their home country,” Sister Margaret said. “These kids are American.”

Many of the immigrants are currently attending school or trying to learn English, since they were put to work to help their families almost immediately after arriving in the U.S., Sister Margaret said.

She believes the children should be given a chance to work and study and not be punished for decisions she says they did not make.
“When you look at young people you want to give them a chance,” she said. “What we’re saying to begin is, ‘You can stay, you can develop something [that’s a] contribution.’ It comes back to the community.”

U.S. CIS has already received more than 72,000 applications for deferred action since Aug. 15, said Department of Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard.

But East End government officials said they haven’t seen the outpouring of interest that Sister Margaret described.

Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said that although roughly 1,200 people could be eligible for the policy across his district, only about 40 or 50 have come to his office. Mr. Bishop, who recently held an information session about the deferred action plan, said he believes many immigrants may be afraid to come forward to government representatives for fear of being deported.

Mr. Bishop said that would not happen, and a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed this week that the department does not share applicant information with the government’s enforcement wing, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Mr. Bishop said he supports the president’s plan, which he sees as a stop-gap measure to address immigration concerns while a longer-term solution is crafted. Government officials have not said what will happen after the two-year deferment period, though Sister Margaret hopes there will be some kind of renewal program.

Mr. Bishop said that while the immigration system is “flawed,” the government should focus its efforts on hardening the country’s borders and deporting immigrants who pose a threat to the public, not those who were brought to the U.S. when they were young.

“We have a population of young people who came here through no control of their own … yet our current law sort of relegates them to a life in the shadows,” Mr. Bishop said. “I’d like to think we’re a more tolerant country than to relegate to second-class status a little girl who came here at age 2.”

Yet the policy is not without controversy, with many in government criticizing the plan as a stop-gap measure that does little to solve the broader issues with illegal immigration.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in a June speech that he would “put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President’s temporary measure.”

“I will prioritize measures that strengthen legal immigration and make it easier,” Mr. Romney said. “And I will address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner.”

Others in politics have taken issue with how the administration used an executive order to push the policy through after legislation called the DREAM Act, which offered a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who came here at a young age, failed in the U.S. Senate by a narrow margin.

Among them are Mr. Bishop’s Republican opponent Randy Altschuler, who criticized the executive order when it was announced in June, saying President Obama “sidestepped debate” on the topic by pushing the measure through.

Mr. Altschuler also said the president did so to curry favor with Hispanic voters.

“While I understand the predicament facing children who were brought to this country illegally through no fault of their own, President Obama’s unilateral decision to override U.S. law and effectively grant amnesty to nearly 1 million illegal immigrants less than five months before the election is political pandering at its worst,” Mr. Altschuler said in a statement. “No matter how contentious the process, [immigration] policy must be debated and determined in the United States Congress, not decided by the president in a meeting with his pollster.”

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said the federal government has not come up with a long-term solution to tackle illegal immigration. But while he said he supports protecting the country’s borders, Mr. Romaine said he agreed with the new policy to defer deportation of young immigrants.

“I’m not an ideologue, I’m a pragmatist,” Mr. Romaine said. “These people are here, what are you going to do? What do we do with these kids who came here not of their own volition?”

The legislator said he believes there should be some compassion for young immigrants looking to learn and become a part of society.

“I agree, these people should not be here and we should solidify our borders, but we need a policy for people who are here,” Mr. Romaine said. “I feel bad for these people, I see the humanity in them.”

As for Leti, the process is just beginning. She has documentation to retrieve, forms to fill out and weeks and weeks left to wait for an answer. She hopes she will be approved, so she can start working to save money for college.

“I need it, and other people need it,” Leti said.

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