05/09/14 8:00am
05/09/2014 8:00 AM
County Executive Steve Bellone, second from right, discusses Southampton Town's Riverside plans with, from left, Councilwoman Christine Scalera, Councilman Brad Benter, Sean McLean of Renaissance Downtowns, and Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

County Executive Steve Bellone, second from right, discusses Southampton Town’s Riverside plans with, from left, Councilwoman Christine Scalera, Councilman Brad Benter, Sean McLean of Renaissance Downtowns, and Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

How refreshing it was to see the county executive touring Riverside last week, a place many elected leaders have long avoided lest they have to confront firsthand the harsh realities that exist there: unpaved roads, long-abandoned stores, boarded-up shacks, drugs, crime. And this just a few miles from — and in the same town as — some of the wealthiest Zip codes in Suffolk County and the entire country.  (more…)

02/21/14 9:00am
02/21/2014 9:00 AM

McGann-Mercy athletes: Fiona Nunez (left), Paul Annunziata and Kayla Schroeher. (Photos by Garret Meade, Robert O’Rourk)

At several points during a nearly two-hour meeting last week between McGann-Mercy High School administrators and parents of football team members, principal Carl Semmler reiterated that his decisions put the best interests of the students first.

It’s hard to see how.  (more…)

01/23/14 9:00am
01/23/2014 9:00 AM
Calverton EPCAL sign

MICHAEL WHITE FILE PHOTO | One of two signs marking the EPCAL entrance along Route 25 in Calverton.

Political science students, take note: Once again, the Zoning Board of Appeals will rule this week on an application of long-term importance to Riverhead and the surrounding areas. Town Board members regularly get lots of visibility, but it’s worth reminding readers and residents that Thursday night’s decision on plans for a 34-acre substance abuse research campus will truly shape the future of the Enterprise Park at Calverton. The ZBA should support the application. (more…)

01/17/14 8:00am
01/17/2014 8:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO  |  Educators packed a forum at Eastport-South Manor High School in December to express their displeasure over Common Core.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Educators packed a forum at Eastport-South Manor High School in December to express their displeasure over Common Core.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to award $20,000 bonuses to teachers who are rated “highly effective” in local school districts’ teacher evaluation systems is at best a politically tone-deaf head scratcher. At worst, it’s a cynical attempt to placate tens of thousands of educators incensed about high-stakes testing tied to the rollout of the Common Core curriculum in New York.

Consider that 320 of the 610 teachers evaluated in the Riverhead, Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold, Greenport and Oysterponds districts received “highly effective” ratings last year. If each of them were to receive a $20,000 bonus, it would cost $6.4 million. This from just one corner of one county. Think of the cost across the entire state.

To be fair, in his State of the State speech last week, Mr. Cuomo said such teachers “would be eligible” for the $20,000 bonus. (He’s yet to provide many details.) So let’s assume that not every “highly effective” teacher would receive a full bonus — or even any bonus at all —under his plan. How would it be decided which teachers did get bonuses? Implementing such a selective system would add to what already seems to be an exorbitant waste of resources in schools, as administrators spend more and more time observing and documenting teacher performance.

It’s also hard to imagine — especially after years of a stagnant economy — that the non-teaching public would welcome a move to further reward, by huge amounts, what are already the highest-paid educators in the U.S.

An incentive program in itself, isn’t a bad idea, but it should more closely align with incentives members of the general public might be offered — not a sum that’s over a third of 2010 median family income. Incentives could also be applied strategically to recruit and retain teachers in certain subjects, such as math or science, where a local district has a specific need.

Mr. Cuomo is misguided if he’s floating his plan as a way to get teachers to relax their resistance to high-stakes testing. The bonus program as pitched, should it be enacted, would only raise the stakes and would still be tied to a fledgling and very flawed system of testing. Besides, the best teachers aren’t motivated primarily by the prospect of making more money. For them, seeing their students excel is bonus enough.

01/09/14 7:00am
01/09/2014 7:00 AM

New York State Capitol

In his State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to make marijuana available in 20 New York hospitals for patients with cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses. An executive order creating an interim medical marijuana program could allow him to bypass the state Senate, which has been blocking medicinal marijuana legislation efforts.

This is welcome news for those seeking relief from pain and discomfort caused by illness. It’s also promising for those who consider this an important step toward modernizing state marijuana laws by taxing and regulating its sale and use, as with alcohol and tobacco. Our current system has done much more harm than good, most notably through the imprisonment and restrictive criminal records of countless non-violent offenders over the course of decades — not to mention the violent drug trades the laws have helped create.

Historic references to marijuana as treatment for various ailments go back thousands of years, and even today approximately 76 percent of doctors worldwide sign off on medical uses where it is legally available, according to survey findings recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Marijuana can be used to treat more ailments than prednisone, for example, yet isn’t nearly as harmful to the body. Something seems amiss when we live in a state where morphine is legal for medicinal use but marijuana isn’t. This contradiction can be explained by the fact that marijuana became a scapegoat drug beginning in the early 20th century — fueled by headline-grabbing politicians — without evidence to prove any real dangers or benefits. The argument that has evolved since holds that marijuana, though itself not especially dangerous, is a gateway drug that leads to other drug use. Prominent experts debunk this theory again and again, pointing out that marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug chosen by people who go on to use other drugs only because it’s the most readily available. In fact, most people consume alcohol before ever using marijuana.

Relaxing marijuana laws isn’t just something being promoted by those on the left. Fiscal conservatives point to the huge amount of money and resources being wasted on policing, prosecuting and imprisoning offenders. Many people readily recognize that marijuana use in and of itself does not infringe upon others’ health or safety, thus its use should be a personal choice and no business of the government’s. An exception would be the operation of a vehicle after having used marijuana, which is still illegal even in Colorado and Washington State, where recreational marijuana use has been decriminalized.

In the new year, New York State lawmakers, especially Senate Republicans, should rethink their knee-jerk stances against pot and pass a law that permit medical uses of marijuana. They should also reconsider the real benefits of proposed tax-and-regulate legislation versus the real costs — and imagined benefits — of the status quo.

12/31/13 12:00pm
12/31/2013 12:00 PM
Suffolk Theater in Riverhead

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The historic Suffolk Theater in downtown Riverhead reopened earlier this year.

On the fast track at EPCAL

A monumental hurdle was cleared in the effort to finally bring economic development to the Enterprise Park at Calverton. That hurdle came in the form of state legislation, passed in October, designed to fast-track development proposals for 600 subdivided acres of town land at the former Grumman site. Several EPCAL proposals have fallen apart in the past, usually because they found themselves in a jurisdictional purgatory among governments. This legislation should solve the problem. Though nothing was built this year, the work of state and local lawmakers, namely Sean Walter, Ken LaValle and Fred Thiele, should pay dividends later in the form of jobs and tax base.

Little more than a land grab

Riverhead Town had set out to subdivide 800 acres of town-owned property at EPCAL, yet the subdivision map that’s been sketched out shows 600 acres that will be sold. The loss of 200 acres comes because the state Department of Environmental Conservation outlined land that could not be developed at EPCAL due to protected species. While we’re not about ruining sensitive habitats, the last we checked, preserving huge swaths of land usually involves some sort of financial transaction. If the state doesn’t want this acreage developed, it must compensate the town accordingly. The proceeds could help fund necessary sewer plant upgrades and other infrastructure improvements at the site.

ThumbUpBye-bye sex offenders

Six years is an awfully long time for one community to house the county’s entire homeless sex offender population. In fact, it’s six years too long.

But we were happy to report this year that the homeless sex offender trailers in Riverside were finally moved and the sex offenders were placed in shelters across the county.

The trailer system was never a good idea and the county’s handling of the situation was appalling.

The only good that ever came of it was the day the trailers finally left.

ThumbdownA clear-cut disaster at Costco site

The town gave away the store by granting developers of the Route 58 Costco project the OK to clear-cut an entire 41-acre property in 2013, including 11 acres in which there are no immediate plans to build. The measure saved the developers money but short-changed taxpayers $374,100 in fees on imported fill. The reason given by the developers was that they didn’t want to disturb neighbors twice (should they build more later). Somehow this argument held water with the Planning Board, which approved the site plan in 2012, and the Town Board, which granted an excavation permit this year. Neighbors in the Foxwood and Millbrook communities now enjoy views of sand pits and strings of small arborvitae.

ThumbUpThe Suffolk Theater reopens

The history of the Suffolk Theater is too long and fraught with ups and downs to fit into this space but in 2013, the art deco-style theater saw a big “up” as it reopened after years of effort from Bob and Dianne Castaldi.

In the wake of the opening of the theater, which has hosted events from concerts to comics to debates to psychics, a variety of other businesses have opened their doors in the area on Main Street — exactly the hope of many who awaited the theater’s return.

The Castaldis were named People of the Year by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce for their efforts, with East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder calling the anchor site a “point of pride” for the town.

ThumbdownRotten to the Common Core

New York State has agreed to adopt high-stakes testing and controversial teacher evaluation systems tied to Common Core State Standards in exchange for a one-time installment of $700 million in federal Race to the Top grant money. That’s less than 3 percent of what the state spends in a single year on education, experts say. Hardly seems worth the money to tie ourselves to a system that, at best, may help already college-bound kids attend marginally better colleges but will likely cause at-risk youths, English language learners and students with disabilities to fail in school in even greater numbers. Since the overhaul wasn’t created by legislation, lawmakers can, and do, deflect blame.

12/06/13 1:00pm

Downtown2_BE_R11

People can say what they will about Route 58 being overrun with big box stores. It’s still a fact that family-run businesses (some not so small anymore) continue to be the backbone of the North Fork economy. And they’re also a huge part of what makes the region such a unique place to live and visit.

Small-business owners also serve as de facto community leaders. They sit on boards of local nonprofits. They run for office. Above all, they get involved. Their names, or those of their businesses, appear on Little League uniforms, hospital facilities, programs and pamphlets for charitable events. When a local family faces a tragic circumstance, local business owners are usually the first to open their hearts and wallets. These are hard-working men and women of vision who truly help the region thrive.

But they need your support as well.

In the pages of this family-run newspaper and on our news websites, you’ll find dozens of ads from area businesses, some funny, some pretty, some just informative. They make it possible for our editorial staff to disseminate news and information day and night and to keep the community engaged.

Even if you are the most dedicated of newshounds, please take time also to notice what your friends and neighbors are offering through their print and online ads. What you’ll find is a wide range of products and services no big box store could ever match.

What you won’t find is midnight madness, fights over doorbuster sales or, with some necessary exceptions, Thanksgiving or Christmas hours.

And isn’t that nice?

We at Times/Review are challenging all our readers this holiday season to visit North Fork stores and pick up at least one gift from a small-business owner. Then tell us about your experience — send us letters, online comments or Facebook posts. We want to know what you bought, where you bought it and who it was for. We’ll be sure to publish some of your feedback online and in print.

Tell your fellow readers why you love a small business and would hate to see it close and move away.

Because when that happens, we lose much more than we think.

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.