11/27/13 11:59am
11/27/2013 11:59 AM
TIM KELLY PHOTO | Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer, County Executive Steve Bellone, Legislator-elect Al Krupski and Legislator Wayne Horsley.

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer, County Executive Steve Bellone, Legislator-elect Al Krupski and Legislator Wayne Horsley.

In signing Suffolk County’s 2014 budget last week, County Executive Steve Bellone put his John Hancock on a plan devised by a majority of county legislators that calls for borrowing nearly $33 million from its sewer stabilization fund. This revenue stream was created as part of the Drinking Water Protection fund — a tax county residents voted to impose upon themselves for the purpose of preserving their underground aquifer in years to come.

With the county’s decision to dip into this reserve fund, environmental groups have raised a red flag . One is even ready to go to court on the issue, noting that the sewer fund, as part of the Drinking Water Protection program, was created with explicit uses — and that “balancing the county’s books” is not listed among them. The tax has been renewed by voters several times, most recently in 2007, extending it through 2030, indicating the public’s support for ensuring the future health of their drinking water.

While a court may someday rule on the legality of this issue, it won’t be anytime soon. A court case over a similar action taken by the county in 2011 is still moving slowly through the justice system, so it looks like the sewer stabilization fund will be down by $32.8 million come next year. Legal or not, it’s happening.

Until the day a court mandates replenishment of the fund — if that day ever comes — Suffolk County leaders have a chance to get ahead of the curve and mandate it themselves. The language in the approved budget states that “it is the intent of the Legislature to replenish the [fund] beginning in fiscal year 2017 with an appropriation in the General Fund.”

Legal questions aside, it’s encouraging to see a plan that could save county taxpayers over $40 million in interest payments as opposed to Mr. Bellone’s plan to borrow to close the budget gap in next year’s $2.7 billion spending plan.

But we all know what road is paved with good intentions.

If leaders truly intend to start repaying the funds in 2017, they should be comfortable passing further legislation, with teeth, that specifically mandates repayments from the general fund.

Such a requirement would protect the integrity and original goals of the sewer stabilization fund — and others dedicated for specific purposes.

11/15/13 9:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO |  Grapes & Greens will yield tangible results in terms of jobs, which will allow other businesses to grow.

Grapes & Greens on Sound Avenue in Calverton has all the components of a good and wise public investment in private enterprise.

Here’s why. Unlike so many other government-funded initiatives, the shared storage and processing plant for locally grown produce and wine will yield tangible results in terms of jobs — and not just those at the facility itself. This project allows other businesses to grow, something especially important for the agricultural industry so central to the North Fork’s way of life.

Jim Waters of Waters Crest Winery told this newspaper that smaller winery owners have known for years that a shared facility would be needed to help grow the industry. Without one, individual winery owners would have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each on storage space in order to expand.

It’s hard to imagine the building of such a facility would ever have been possible without public money. Like a lighthouse it offers a public benefit that couldn’t be achieved without government involvement. (This is why our local growers are so fortunate to have a strong advocacy group in the Long Island Farm Bureau, which secured a $500,000 state grant for the project.)

Perhaps what’s most promising for the project is that the right people are on board. The state and local farmers have partnered with an established Long Island-based company in J. Kings Food Service Professionals. This is not some fly-by-night startup or national conglomerate either. Owner John King has an interest in seeing this project succeed that goes beyond turning a profit. This is his home, too. As Joe Gergela of the farm bureau often says, the best way to preserve farmland is to help make farms profitable. And this project helps, especially as the small farms that dot the North Fork brace themselves for daunting new federal regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

It also helps that Grapes & Greens set up shop in an existing vacant warehouse rather than clearing more trees to build.

Of course, the facility has yet to be fully operational, so the jury is still out on whether Grapes & Greens will prove to be the huge success so many are expecting. Either way, this project is a shining example of how public investment should work. Unlike so much government spending <\h>— be it in the form of grants, tax incentives or (once upon a time) legislative member items — this makes perfect sense to the average person and doesn’t appear to be about chasing unrealistic ideals or simply spreading money around to help keep politicians in office.

11/08/13 7:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Chef Rosa Ross will hold a special cooking class at Scrimshaw in Greenport on Saturday as part of the Taste North Fork promotion.

A 2011 study completed by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council concluded that one of three critical issues facing the region’s natural assets is “expanding infrastructure for ecotourism and tourism.”

According to that study, one hurdle in reaching the goal of using those natural assets fully is “limited public access to some notable natural areas.” Recognizing that problem, this weekend’s Taste North Fork will serve as a pilot program to identify some pros and cons of offering free shuttle bus service to the public from hamlet to hamlet, all the way from Riverhead to Orient Point.

Taste North Fork was funded as part of a $335,000 grant funneled through the Long Island Regional Development Council, and tourism businesses from wineries to bed-and-breakfasts will offer discounts. It’s often said that studies sit on the shelves long after they’re completed, so it’s nice to see the area getting funds back from Albany to inject some late-fall life into the economy.

So get out and Taste the North Fork this weekend.

Read about Taste the North Fork events on northforker.com

11/07/13 7:00am
11/07/2013 7:00 AM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Tonight's Riverhead school board meeting is at 7 p.m.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | A public forum on the Common Core State Standards Initiative was originally going to be held at Riverhead High School.

Close to a month ago, New York Education commissioner John King canceled the only meeting on Long Island he had scheduled for hearing direct feedback from the public about the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a controversial federal program that has dominated headlines over the past few months.

To his credit, Mr. King not only rescheduled the canceled meeting, originally planned for Garden City, but added three more as well – two in Suffolk County and another in Nassau.

But getting from the scheduling phase to the implementation phase – particularly in the case of the new meeting scheduled in Riverhead on Nov. 26 – appears to be a little more challenging than it should be.

State Senator Ken LaValle told News-Review staff this week that Riverhead High School’s auditorium wouldn’t be big enough to host the meeting. Mr. LaValle said he hopes to find a venue that can hold 1,000 people, 200 more than a brand-new Riverhead auditorium can handle.

And that leaves us scratching our heads.

As if getting the state education commissioner to Suffolk County wasn’t challenging enough – and, lucky us, his office even suggested meeting in Riverhead – Mr. LaValle, our elected official — it seems, is making the process even more complicated than it needs to be. A state education spokesperson told us last week, “We are working with the senator to pick a location” — but it sure doesn’t seem like it. While we’re being told by Mr. LaValle that the meeting won’t be held in Riverhead, the state’s website, as of presstime, still said it would be.

We certainly understand the desire to include as many people as possible in the meeting. This is an important topic that affects children all across Mr. LaValle’s district. However, we do have to question the logic of attempting to add 200 seats at the expense of throwing another wrench into this already messy and contentious process. It’s a sad state of affairs when leaders who play such a large role in our children’s future have such difficulty scheduling public meetings on a topic as important as this one.

Then they wonder why there’s so much skepticism surrounding the Common Core initiative in the first place.

10/24/13 7:00am
10/24/2013 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Waterfront homes in Jamesport along the bay.

For a weekend trip or even just one night, those wanting to stay in Riverhead Town have options that go beyond a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast. Just visit websites like homeaway.com and VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) to see what’s out there.

While renting private homes for short stays has long been a normal practice in town, neighbors have complained about living near these veritable hotels for perhaps just as long. They’ve had to deal with the raucous bachelor, bachelorette and wedding after-parties that come with them.

Such transient rental properties not only disturb neighborhoods but cost the state and county money as well. The owners of these homes often skirt tax laws, town officials say, by failing to pay the sales and hospitality taxes assessed hotels and motels. And the state has been acting through local municipalities to crack down on non-business operators who don’t acknowledge or observe rules that govern the legitimate innkeepers they compete against.

Of course, for every rowdy group of weekend visitors, there are probably dozens of other short-term renters who are well behaved and well meaning — and their money likely translates to a net gain for the overall local economy. So in some ways, it’s a shame a few bad apples are ruining what could be an otherwise quiet, win-win-win for renters, homeowners and the economy.

But this is a problem that has come up repeatedly for years, and it’s a good thing the Riverhead Town Board has finally done something about it, in the form of a local law passed last week that would require a minimum of 29 days for such residential rentals.

To prove the law is more than election-year pandering, Town Board members must make sure the rules get enforced. Neighbors who don’t see relief from these so-called party houses after Election Day should make their voices heard through letters to this newspaper or letters and calls to Town Hall holding officials accountable.

10/17/13 9:00am
10/17/2013 9:00 AM

Testing1

Thousands of frustrated parents and educators from across Long Island were expected to attend a forum at Garden City High School Tuesday night for an opportunity to speak with New York State Education Commissioner John King about Common Core curriculum and state testing.

Then the meeting was postponed.

The New York State PTA, which was to sponsor the event — one of a series of forums across the state — announced on its website Saturday that the event and three similar forums had been postponed indefinitely at the request of the commissioner’s office.

It was bad enough that only one forum was scheduled for Long Island on this very important topic — more than an hour from the North Fork, no less. Now it appears the discussion won’t happen at all.

Considering the concerns of parents and teachers across the state, we’d expect Mr. King to schedule more forums on the topic of Common Core, not suspend the few he had already scheduled.

The commissioner said in a statement this week that the first two forums on the topic — held in Poughkeepsie and upstate Whitesboro — had been “co-opted by special interests whose stated goal was to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.”

“The disruptions caused by the ‘special interests’ have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments,” his statement continued.

But news coverage of those two forums indicated that most speakers — who were granted just two minutes apiece after the commissioner had spoken for more than an hour — were teachers and parents. Aren’t those the very people Mr. King should be hearing from?

Since it appears the forums have only been postponed and not yet canceled for good, there’s still time for Mr. King to change his mind and carry on with the program. We hope he does, because the commissioner should be hearing more of what the public has to say, not less.

10/11/13 5:00am
10/11/2013 5:00 AM

It’s about this time each year that the job of putting out a quality weekly newspaper and maintaining 24-hour news websites gets jammed up with phone calls and emails from local political party leaders, candidates and their supporters regarding letters to the editor. Many complain about how letters or Guest Spots were edited and which letters ran or didn’t run.

First, anyone reading this paper should know that, above all, Times/Review Newsgroup strives for fairness in its editorial content — including reader input, be it letters or other opinion pieces. That means if some items of factual concern were removed from your letter or your language was changed for some reason, please trust that other submissions are being treated the same way. All letters, guest columns and even political ads are vetted for blatant factual errors or potentially libelous charges. Other than that, the editors try not to be too heavy-handed.

As for which letters make it into the paper, here are the basic ground rules (in addition to our standard letters policy):

• Each candidate will be allowed just one letter each between today, Oct. 10, and Election Day.

• Letters from supporters will be considered for publication. In the past, Times/Review Newsgroup has rejected such letters outright but that stance has softened in recent years. Letters voicing political support for a candidate may run, but they will be judged according to several criteria, including whether the paper is being fair in giving equal space to other candidates’ supporters and whether the letter itself raises clear, factual and interesting points.

• Letters that pour in as part of an obvious writing “campaign” will be largely ignored. If several letters come in regarding one particular candidate before an edition’s publication date, we’ll publish one of them.

• No letters critical of a candidate or raising issues new to the campaign will appear in the Oct. 31 edition, the last one before Election Day, since that candidate would have no opportunity to respond in print.

• Letters expressing thanks to community groups and residents will be given minimal priority during the election season.

Above all, the Opinion pages of this newspaper should be an informative and enjoyable experience for the average reader.

And the average reader is our primary concern, even in a local election season.

10/03/13 8:00am
10/03/2013 8:00 AM

Riverhead PoliceFrom Riverhead to Mastic, Wading River and South Jamesport, it seemed as if town police were everywhere at once this past week.

A steady stream of high-profile crimes began last Wednesday morning with an alleged burglary at an East Main Street gas mart and an attempted armed robbery at CVS on Route 58. In the CVS case, the suspects fled on foot before cops could arrive. But it didn’t take police long to track the suspects to a farm field and take them into custody. Three men were charged and the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case believes they may have been involved in other pharmacy robberies in Suffolk. We’ll learn more when a grand jury indictment is unsealed.

In the gas station burglary, responding officers used the help of a K-9 cop to corner a suspect who was still inside the building when they arrived, according to police. He was arrested on the spot.

Cops again called for a police dog when tracking a suspect accused of burglarizing a South Jamesport home Thursday and crashing a getaway van before fleeing on foot.

Then on Sunday, police tracked a man accused of stabbing his girlfriend at Tanger Outlets  Saturday night to Mastic, where he was apprehended the next day.

In between we saw a burglary bust in Wading River that also ended in Mastic and a handful of DWI arrests, among others that didn’t make the paper.

Congratulating police could be seen as celebrating a glass half full. A conversation could instead focus on why so many people now find themselves desperate enough to commit such crimes in town — and what can be done to identify and address contributing problems within our communities.

But that’s not the job of the police department. The police are paid to enforce the law. And they’re doing a fine job of it.