01/09/13 10:38am

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | School board president William McGrath (right) said the district could lose nearly half a million dollars in state aid this year because of a union dispute.

The Shoreham-Wading River school district is poised to lose nearly half a million dollars in state aid for the current school year after negotiations over a state-required teacher performance review plan with the administrators union have stalled, school board officials revealed at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Board president William McGrath said state education commissioner John King notified the district on Dec. 28 that unless the performance review plan for teachers and administrators — called an APPR — is approved by Jan. 17, the schools would lose out on state aid increases for the 2012-13 school year totaling $457,000.

Mr. McGrath said contract negotiations with the nine members of the administrators union were holding up the APPR plan’s acceptance.

“The district has continued attempts to bargain as to the APPR as required by law,” Mr. McGrath said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Our efforts in this regard have been thwarted by the administrators association, which has refused to conclude such bargaining without a settlement of a contract negotiation where the association’s demands regarding benefit changes and salary increases have been rejected by the board.”

The cut in state aid would represent roughly 5 percent of the district’s $8.3 million in total state aid for the 2012-13 school year.

If that state aid is lost, the district would have to cover the funds this year, Mr. McGrath added. The cut in state aid would also have an effect on next year’s budget, as a rollover budget would have to change to reflect the decreased state aid total, school officials said.

The district originally submitted the APPR plan on July 1, with only the signatures of the board and the head of the teachers union, after a general counsel for the state education department informed the district it could still have its plan reviewed without signatures from all the bargaining units.

On Dec. 28, Mr. King reversed that policy, stating all APPR plans across the state that would be reviewed needed to have all the proper signatures, Mr. McGrath said.

Mr. McGrath said the board will “continue to act in good faith” and praised the teachers union for its cooperation, but said no deal has been made with the administrators union as of Tuesday.

Stephen Donohue, president of the administrators union and principal of Wading River Elementary School, was unable to be reached for comment first thing Wednesday morning.

School officials said they are unsure what will happen if they miss the Jan. 17 cutoff date. There is no guarantee that state aid lost after that date will be returned should the district and the administrators union later reach an agreement.

psquire@timesreview.com

09/19/12 8:00am
09/19/2012 8:00 AM

The New York State Comptroller’s Office has begun an audit to look into undisclosed areas in the town’s finances, officials confirmed last week.

The audit will look into areas highlighted by a recently completed “risk assessment,” said state spokesman Mark Johnson.

Mr. Johnson said the state could not discuss which areas of the town’s finances the audit will look into.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter had invited the audit during his first term, but the state had required that the town complete previous audits that were never finished before a new audit was started.

Those audits —for the years 2008, 2009, and 2010 — were all completed, Mr. Walter said.

“Early this year I went in and saw them, asked them to come in to do the audit in the spring,” Mr. Walter said, adding that the state said they’d need to do a risk assessment first.

Mr. Walter said the assessment was supposed to last two to three weeks; due to the complexity of the town’s different districts like water and sewer, state workers finished the assessment more than two months later.

Mr. Walter said he will welcome the state’s audit results.

“I’m a big boy,” he said. “If the comptroller comes in and says something was done wrong, even though I may not have been the reason, I take responsibility.”

psquire@timesreview.com

09/06/12 5:00am
09/06/2012 5:00 AM

National Parks Service historian Edson Beall said it simply: Owners of income-producing buildings in the downtown area just added to the National Register of Historic Places “are free to do as they please.”

“That includes tearing down the building,” he told the News-Review, in an attempt to dispel misconceptions about the federal designation.

Downtown business people and property owners are free to do what they will, he said — unless, of course, they are receiving generous state and federal tax credits to help fund historically appropriate rehab work and renovations in the district.

The historic designation carries no restrictions for people not using tax credits.

Sadly, misunderstandings concerning the designation abound, with the knee-jerk reaction being that another layer of government will soon be sticking its nose in more of the moving parts of our daily lives. These assumptions are wrong and have taken away from this notable achievement.

With the designation, 46 properties, each at least 50 years old, now qualify for tax credits ­— and more will qualify as the years go on.
The state and federal credits — which are full refunds (read: cash) from the government, not just deductions — can amount to up to 40 percent of the value of exterior improvements. That’s a huge chunk of what could amount to pricey rehab projects — projects that might never get done without the financial incentives.

What a potential boon for downtown. What a group of volunteers to get it done.

So celebrate, Riverhead. As Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, said in an interview this week. “You’re on the map!”

This milestone was accomplished thanks to the drive and knowledge of the town’s volunteer Landmarks Preservation Commission members — “and without any taxpayer dollars,” said Ms. Giglio, Town Board liaison to the commission.

Led by Richard Wines of Jamesport, commission members spent countless hours over more than three years lobbying government officials for support for the designation application, then poring over and compiling pages of information — some of it hard to find — and giving updates and presentations to the board and public, all while meeting strict deadlines.

This all for no reason other than that these volunteers recognized the huge benefits inclusion on the National Register could offer.

The commission is now pushing to get Second Street, just one block north of Main, and its intersecting streets onto the register. Everyone should support this effort.

For over two centuries, downtown Riverhead has been “an important center of business, culture, entertainment and government” on Long Island’s East End, Mr. Beall said.

Federal recognition will only help ensure that this status is preserved and that Riverhead flourishes for centuries to come.

08/31/12 8:00am
08/31/2012 8:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Jennifer Maertz (left) and Bridget Fleming are squaring off in a Democratic primary for the opportunity to oppose Senator Ken LaValle.

Over the years, the list of Democratic opponents against longtime incumbent state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) reads like a “Who’s Who” of candidates nobody remembers.

Some of them were on the ballot, but went the entire campaign without making much noise on the campaign front.

This year, there’s a Sept. 13 primary between two Democratic candidates who are seeking to take on the 36-year incumbent.

Jennifer Maertz, 36, an attorney from Rocky Point, lost against Mr. LaValle two years ago as a last-minute replacement for Regina Calcaterra, who was knocked off the ballot on a residency issue.

Now Ms. Maertz will square off against Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, 52, of Sag Harbor. Ms. Fleming was elected to fill the remaining year of a vacated council term in 2010 and then was elected to a full four-year term in 2011. Prior to that, she was an assistant district attorney in New York City, where she prosecuted sex crimes and headed a unit that prosecuted fraud in public programs.

The two squared off in a forum sponsored Wednesday night by the Southampton League of Women Voters in the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton.

Both candidates took their shots at the incumbent, who was not present.

“The incumbent senator has been in office for 36 years,” Ms. Fleming said of Mr. LaValle, 73. “He’s become over these many years a part of the culture in Albany, more responsive to special interests than to the immediate needs of the people in the first district.  He has overseen steady tuition hikes and failed to protect our economy while moving to raise his own salary.”

“We send more tax dollars upstate than we get in return,” Ms. Maertz said. “And upstate, the opposite is true. And this has been going on a very long time and our state senator has done nothing about it and has not changed this. Do you want to know why? Because the Republican party has its power base in upstate New York and he has to go along with the party.”

The two candidates agreed on a number of the issues raised by audience questions in Wednesday’s forum, such as the need to fully repeal the MTA payroll tax, support for same-sex marriage, and support for a Shinnecock casino, but not on the East End.

One area they differed was on campaign funding. While both supported public financing of campaigns, Ms. Fleming said one of the reasons to vote for her and not Ms. Maertz was that she has raised far more money and would have a better chance in November against Mr. LaValle because of that.

According to the most recent campaign disclosure forms on file, Ms. Fleming’s campaign had raised $44,020 at the end of August and had $56,802 left, while Ms. Maertz hadn’t raised anything in the most recent filing period and had a total of $3,206 remaining.

“It’s one of the reasons I think you should chose me on Sept. 13,” Ms. Fleming said. “In order to be viable, you’ve got to be able to raise money. It’s such a shame, but our opponent, Ken LaValle, has gotten $76,000 from Albany PACs (Political Action Committees). These are the business council for the industry PAC that write checks to (Senate Majority Leader Dean) Skelos, a check to (State Senator John) Flanagan, a check to LaValle. They come out for the incumbents because that’s the way things operate.

“And that’s got to change. We don’t have a level playing field and we turn into to a government where we have incumbents who are in office for decades and who have lost touch with their constituents.”

Mr. LaValle’s latest campaign disclosure forms show he had raised $198,591 in the most recent filing period and had $252,590 remaining in his campaign war chest.

“I agree with you on public financing of campaigns but I disagree that funding should be the number one reason you should be choosing a candidate,” Ms. Maertz responded. “If that were true, then neither one of us should be here because neither one of us is going to outspend Ken LaValle this year. I believe the voters of this district are more sophisticated than that. I believe that with today’s technology you can get the word out about these elections online and by old fashioned door-to-door campaigning and talking to voters. Voters are not going to be looking at how much money you have in the bank, they’re going to be looking at your viewpoints on the issues, your dedication to serving,  and your follow through with your commitments, and your interest in serving the people.”

Another slight disagreement came during a discussion on same-sex marriage. Both candidates said they supported same sex marriage, and both were critical of Mr. LaValle’s vote against the issue, in which he said the people of the district were “not ready” for it.

Ms. Maertz said polls showed the people of the district overwhelmingly supported same-sex marriage. But she added, “while legislatures must answer to their constituents, when it comes to civil rights issues, I don’t care what the constituents say. It’s a matter of civil rights. You cannot impose segregation, for instance, because you feel the polls are in favor of it.”

Ms. Fleming responded, “Having served as an elected official now and having been reelected for a second term, I do care what the constituents say. I support marriage equality unquestionably, but I do care what constituents say. Sometimes you have to adjust and be sure that you’re serving the community you’re serving.”

Ms. Maertz said that on civil rights issues, “I don’t care if 70 percent of the people were against it,” she’d still vote in favor.

On the issue of the state’s 2 percent tax cap, both candidates felt changes were needed.

Ms. Maertz feels there should be more exemptions to give schools and governments more leeway, and Ms. Fleming said Southampton Town had to eliminate some needed services to comply with the cap. Both candidates felt there should be more relief from state and federal mandates, if there’s going to be a tax cap.

The date of the primary, Sept. 13, falls on a Thursday.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/23/12 12:00pm
08/23/2012 12:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | A state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax is unconstitutional.

Local lawmakers are celebrating this morning following a state Supreme Court decision Wednesday calling the controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax unconstitutional.

Many legislators have challenged the fairness of the tax since its inception, claiming that eastern Long Island receives paltry service from the MTA. Approved in 2009, the tax imposed a .34 percent levy on payroll for all employers, including schools and governments, in New York City and the seven surrounding suburban counties.

In June 2011, the state Senate, which has a narrow Republican majority, passed a bill to repeal the MTA payroll tax, but the legislation didn’t pass in the Democratically dominated Assembly.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who sponsored a bill to have Suffolk join Nassau County’s lawsuit, described the recent decision as “wonderful.”

“This is an illegal tax never that should never have been imposed,” Mr. Romaine said Thursday morning on his way to Mineola for a press conference about the court’s ruling.

Mr. Romaine called the MTA payroll tax “wrong, morally and legally” because East End service was cut after the tax was imposed. Since that time, Mr. Romaine said the tax has cost Suffolk County $10 million and $150 million for small businesses in the county

Mr. Romaine said although he’s pleased with the court’s recent decision, he believes the fight isn’t over because the next step would be local municipalities and business owners getting reimbursed from paying the tax over the past few years.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement the MTA will “vigorously appeal” the decision.

“We believe this opinion will be overturned, since four prior challenges to the constitutionality of the law making the same argument have been dismissed,” he said.

State Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said Thursday he’s “thrilled” about the decision and believes it will be upheld upon appeal.

“Myself and my colleagues have been fighting this egregious tax and I think [the decision] is certainly a step toward its complete removal,” Mr. Losquadro said.

jennifer@timesreview.com

08/22/12 12:00pm
08/22/2012 12:00 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Town officials presented Jerry & the Mermaid owner Jerry Dicecco (third from left) with a $50,000 check from New York State Tuesday.

The owner of Jerry & the Mermaid on East Main Street says that a $50,000 grant he recently got from the New York State Main Street program inspired him to spend about three times that amount on renovating his restaurant.

“This gave us the initial start of it, and we probably spent more than $150,000 on renovations,” owner Jerry Dicecco said as Riverhead Town Board members presented him with a ceremonial check Tuesday.

The grant was a matching grant, which means he had to spend $50,000 to get the $50,000.

Mr. Dicecco says he used the money to renovate the kitchen and the interior of his restaurant. He’s planning more renovations as well.

The town received $500,000 in grants in 2010 from the Main Street program, which was distributed among about 10 businesses, said Joe Maiorana of the town’s community development office.

The Suffolk Theatre received the largest share, about $250,000, as it was considered the “anchor” business for the grant, Mr. Maiorana said.

The state Office of Community Renewal administers the program.

“The program provides funds to carry out local projects or programs that can effectively stimulate reinvestment in properties located within mixed-use commercial districts, neighborhoods and on New York’s historic Main Streets,” a town press release states. “Since 2004, the Town of Riverhead has been awarded $900,000 in Main Street funding.”

Mr. Dicecco, whose son, Jerry Jr., now works with him as a chef, said he’s optimistic about the future of his business.

“I’ve been here 19 years,” he said. “I’ve seen the town take its turns and now it’s really moving forward.”

Mr. Dicecco said celebrities are discovering his restaurant, too, as customers like Charles Barkley, Bernie Williams and some of the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” have dined there recently.

“I am not sure if we could have completed this project without the assistance of the New York Main Street funds,” Jerry Jr. said of the grant.

tgannon@timesreview.com

06/05/12 9:01am
06/05/2012 9:01 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | State Senator Ken LaValle voted in favor Monday of exempting libraries from the MTA payroll tax.

The state Senate passed legislation Monday to exempt libraries from the controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax.

Approved in 2009, the tax currently imposes a .21 percent levy on payroll for employers, including schools and governments in Suffolk County with payrolls above $1.25 million.

The new legislation aims to help libraries meet the needs of their communities since library usage has increased by 11 percent since 2007 while state funding for libraries has declined by 23 percent, according to the bill.

Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said in a press release that he supported the legislation sponsored by fellow Long Island Republican Jack Martins.

“Repealing the tax would save libraries in the downstate MTA region $1.3 million annually,” Mr. LaValle said.

Now that the bill has passed in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrow majority, it has been introduced in the Democratically dominated Assembly.

In January, the Senate passed a bill co-sponsored by Mr. LaValle to repeal the MTA payroll tax for certain small businesses, public and private schools and other entities with payrolls under $1.25 million.

jennifer@timesreview.com

05/16/12 2:44pm
05/16/2012 2:44 PM

Senator Ken LaValle

The state Senate passed legislation Wednesday aimed to decrease hazing, underage drinking and drug use at colleges and universities.

Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), the bill’s sponsor, said in a press release that colleges would be required to adopt rules prohibiting those activities and to establish penalties that strengthen existing laws. In addition, colleges would be required to educate its campus communities and inform its incoming students and residence hall staff about the dangers of three issues.

Last month, SUNY Binghamton halted all pledging activity on its campus after receiving several hazing complaints, officials said, and in November, a member of the Florida A&M’s marching band was beaten to death as part of a hazing ritual.

“Hazing can create physical as well as emotional scars that may last a lifetime,” Mr. LaValle said. “There is nothing good-natured about hazing and it cannot be tolerated on our college and university campuses.”

The bill will be sent to the state Assembly for approval.

jennifer@timesreview.com