11/01/10 12:02am
11/01/2010 12:02 AM

Riverhead’s Police Benevolent Association, the union representing 70 town police officers and detectives, has agreed to a lag payroll that eliminates about $230,000 from the town’s proposed 2011 budget.

Supervisor Sean Walter asked all town bargaining units to agree to a pay cut or a lag payroll, in which employees defer a portion of their salary until retirement.

The PBA agreed to accept pay for 78.4 hours of an 80-hour pay period, with the remainder due when they retire, according to PBA president Dixon Palmer.

The Superior Officers Association, which represents the 12 police sergeants or lieutenants, also has been asked to vote on a lag payroll. The results of that vote are not yet known.

The town’s $49.9 million tentative budget calls for a 4.3 percent town tax rate hike and a 1.5 percent spending reduction.

Curtailing police overtime will be another key to the success of the 2011 budget. Mr. Walter’s budget calls for $600,000 in police overtime in 2011. Since 2003, the town’s actual expenditures for police overtime have never been lower than $720,000.

Mr. Walter acknowledged that it will be difficult to keep these costs down, and said in a recent interview that he’s considering appointing an “overtime czar” in the police department.

Mr. Palmer said it’s difficult to reduce police overtime costs because officers often can’t leave when their shift is over if they are investigating certain kinds of cases.

The Civil Service Employees Association, which represents most non-police employees of the town, has refused to take either a pay cut or a lag payroll, and as a result, Mr. Walter has proposed cutting six full time CSEA positions and seven part-timers in his budget.

The Town Board last Thursday discussed the possibility of restoring several of those full-time positions, with the full-time fire marshal position sparking in the most debate. Mr. Walter proposed cutting one of the town’s three full-time fire marshals.

At the Oct. 19 Town Board meeting, volunteer firefighters packed the meeting, demanding the Town Board restore the fire marshal position held by Craig Zitek. They said cutting back on inspections puts firefighters in harm’s way when they enter an unsafe building to fight a fire.

Assistant town engineer Kerri Fetten tried to convince the board to restore Mr. Zitek’s position last Thursday. She said there are new state regulations requiring additional inspections and that Mr. Zitek had been responsible for 207 inspections this year. The town will not meet the $80,000 projected for inspection fee revenues in Mr. Walter’s budget without the third fire marshal, Ms. Fetten said.

Councilman Jim Wooten was most vocal against eliminating the fire marshal position. He also said he opposed eliminating one of the two animal control officers, as Mr. Walter has proposed.

“When it comes to public safety, I think there’s other ways we can cut,” Mr. Wooten said.

Councilman John Dunleavy at one point said he opposed cutting any positions in the budget.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the fees the town charges for inspections are much lower than what other towns charge, and she suggested raising them.

“We can’t just say we’re going to increase fees,” Mr. Walter said.

The supervisor said Suffolk County will do inspections for all of the schools within the town, relieving the town of having to have its fire marshals do those inspections.

tgannon@timesreview.com


This post was originally published Oct. 25

10/31/10 8:32pm
10/31/2010 8:32 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO Riverhead fire chief Nick Luparella and other firefighters urged the town to avoid cutting a fire marshal position Tuesday night.

Members of the Riverhead and neighboring fire departments turned out in force Tuesday night to urge the Riverhead Town Board not to eliminate a fire marshal position, as proposed in Supervisor Sean Walter’s tentative 2011 town budget.

Several of the six other full-time employees whose positions are slated to be cut also spoke in an attempt to save their jobs.

As with previous meetings, town Civil Service Employees Association members also showed, wearing red shirts and protesting any layoffs.

The firefighters showed up in uniform at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting and even parked several fire trucks outside Town Hall with their light flashing to protest the proposed elimination of town fire marshal Craig Zitek’s position. Riverhead Fire Chief Nick Luparella and others pointed out that by checking that sprinklers work, pathways are clear and buildings meet codes, fire marshals often ensure that firefighters don’t get trapped in burning buildings.

“Public safety is not the area to be cutting,” Mr. Luparella told the Town Board.

Animal Control Officer Sean McCabe, site plan reviewer Theresa Masin, Juvenile Aid Bureau secretary Cheryl Behr, Community Development department program technician Liz Plouff and Mr. Zitek also made their cases as to why they believed their jobs should not be cut, as the supervisor has proposed.

Mr. McCabe noted taht he is one of only two Animal Control Officers in the town. As for Ms. Masin, she said town officials had pledged to streamline the review process when they took office, and that eliminating a planning position will do the opposite. She said applications she has reviewed that have been approved also generated about $150,000 in fees for the town. Ms. Plouff said she has been responsible for obtaining and managing grant money for the town, while Ms. Behr said her position also is vital to maintaining grants obtained by the JAB.

Councilman John Dunleavy and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio both publicly stated support for restoring the fire marshal position.

tgannon@timesreview.com


This post was originally published Oct. 20, 2010

10/31/10 6:30pm

Assemblyman Marc Alessi (D-Shoreham) has introduced two bills aimed at job creation on Long Island.

The first would increase tax credits for start-up companies. His second bill, if it were to become law, would give tax credits to investors as an incentive to invest in companies in the state, and would also give tax credits to companies for expenses such as testing, prototyping, designing, lab equipment, product promotion, market research and licensing fees.

Mr. Alessi argued that New York State lacks the business ecosystem to foster innovation, but has a wealth of potential jobs looming due to the state’s many assets, including the workforce, research and patents. The state is currently losing jobs to places with similar tax issues, he said, such as Boston, Mass., Silicon Valley, Calif., and Houston, Texas.

Mr. Alessi, who chairs the Assembly’s subcommittee on the emerging workforce, said the state needs to offer assistance in business planning and, most importantly, provide incentives for investors to grow small businesses in the state. His recommendations come after a year of researching New York’s assets, the findings of which he published in a report released Monday.

“We have more engineers and researchers per capita in our area than most other areas in the U.S.,” he said at a press event in Shoreham. “With that intellectual quotient, we should be doing a whole lot more in terms of creating new products and creating new jobs.”

The goal of both bills is help facilitate the process of turning concepts into products.

“This is the new model for creating jobs in New York State,” he said. “The old model of throwing tax money at a target to bring retail jobs to New York State — those jobs are coming anyway, and it’s a waste of our tax dollars.

“These targeted tax credits will make a difference and will create good-paying jobs right here in our community,” Mr. Alessi said.

samantha@northshoresun.com


This post was originally published Oct. 13

10/27/10 2:08pm
10/27/2010 2:08 PM



KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO Handyman Ernie Fox checks equipment on a boat at Sea Tow in Southold, where, after a brief hiccup in 2008 that required workers to accept a pay cut to save jobs, salary levels were soon restored and the company continues to grow. Local business owners’ outlook on the future balances optimism with caution.

A sampling of North Fork business owners shows they are more optimistic than pessimistic about the regional job market.

Some admit the economic downturn has resulted in some layoffs or loss of jobs through attrition. And they agree some jobs won’t be recovered because remaining personnel will cover the bases.

ATLANTIS MARINE WORLD

The most optimistic picture was drawn by Atlantis Marine World general manager Brian DeLuca. Because the company is in the process of building a 100-room Hyatt Place hotel, banquet center and exhibit space adjacent to the Riverhead aquarium, it has been a year for creating construction jobs.

Mr. DeLuca estimated that 150 construction workers are employed at the site. He’s already hiring staff for the hotel, banquet center and exhibit space, anticipating that 75 to 125 permanent jobs will be created. Although still about eight months away from opening, Mr. DeLuca wants them to be ready to hit the ground running on opening day.

As for Atlantis Marine World’s ongoing operation, off season, about 150 people are employed off-season and about 250 during the summer. Many summer workers are students who return to school in the fall.

While this summer’s business wasn’t the best, it remained steady, Mr. DeLuca said. Sunny weekends brought a lot of people to the North Fork, but because of the heat, many spent their days at the beach instead of in downtown Riverhead, he said.

“Nonetheless, we are tremendously optimistic,” Mr. DeLuca said.

SEA TOW INTERNATIONAL

“We’re a little unique,” said Capt. Joseph Frohnhoefer of Southold-based Sea Tow International. His company not only serves boaters in distress, but also assists in situations like the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Sea Tow has also diversified into building pontoon boats to work on at oil spill sites, he said. His workers are also involved in reseeding oyster beds in southern states, he added.

When the stock market crashed and companies began laying off workers in 2008-09, Capt. Frohnhoefer asked his staff to take a 5 percent pay cut to save jobs. They agreed and, within a few months, Sea Tow was able to restore the pay cut, he said.

Because the company has operations around the world, it continues to grow, which means job opportunities are growing too, he said. Even on the North Fork, where he employs about 50 workers, he continues to hire staff and is always looking for good people, he said. During the summer, Sea Tow employes between 500 and 600 workers worldwide, he said.

Business was about 30 percent better this summer than last, Capt. Frohnhoefer said. People who kept their boats in port last year were more inclined to take them out on the water this summer as gasoline prices declined. Still, with all the optimism about Sea Tow’s business, the captain saw a very slow recovery from the Great Recession.

He is skeptical about other businesses adding staff and believes there are questions about how health care reform is going to affect small businesses.

“Small business is going to hurt. But maybe the East End is a little recession-proof,” Capt. Frohnhoefer said.

“You can’t stand still,” he added. “You have to keep moving.”

STIDD SYSTEMS

Walter Gezari of STIDD Systems in Greenport takes a philosophical approach to the economy.

“Every job begins with a purchase order,” Mr. Gezari said. His company has been a longtime government contractor, fabricating boat seats and other marine parts, but also serves luxury yacht owners.

Those who place orders with him now aren’t so much customers of the past as people who have come into money — largely Wall Street money — and are looking to spend.

As for people who find too much month left after their paychecks are spent, they can’t cut spending to get out of the red, Mr. Gezari said. “The only solution is to make more money,” he said.

His quick answer for how to do that in a jobless economy: open a hamburger stand. It’s a business that has never failed in the United States, he said.

“The first thing that you’ve got to ditch is the whole idea of security,” Mr. Gezari said. He sees the recession as a natural part of a cycle and isn’t sure anyone can shorten it.

When consumers were buying high-ticket items manufactured abroad, they weren’t thinking about how their purchases were promoting jobs offshore, not at home, Mr. Gezari said.

At STIDD, about 90 percent of the positions that existed at the beginning of the Great Recession are still filled. The other 10 percent evaporated, but only as people left the company. By cross-training remaining personnel, Mr. Gezari said he was able to keep his manufacturing arm functioning without hiring replacements.

RIVERHEAD BUILDING SUPPLY

With nine stores, including those in Riverhead and Greenport, Edgar Goodale has seen a downturn in his business as people delay construction work in the tight economy. He said he can’t quantify it, but there have been some layoffs and he’s not hiring until business picks up.

The winter months are never the best for his business, he said. Whether or not next spring will see an upswing remains to be seen.

“I’m not that terribly pessimistic, but I’m not optimistic either,” he said. He’s taking a “wait and see” stance, but predicting that it will be years before the economy achieves a full recovery.

jlane@timesreview.com