03/03/14 10:00am
03/03/2014 10:00 AM

Cigarettes After a contentious public hearing in the middle of last month on raising the age to purchase tobacco from 19 to 21, the Suffolk County Legislature will hold a second hearing on Tuesday afternoon at its general meeting in Riverside.

Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport), a doctor himself, sponsored the measure, which saw plenty of support and opposition at the two-and-a-half hour long Feb. 11 public hearing.

Some opponents had argued that their civil liberties were being encroached upon with the raise, while business owners cited a predicted loss in sales revenue and Legislator Tom Barraga said that if health advocates were that afraid of the consequences of smoking, an outright ban on sales should be what legislators are after.

On Friday, Dr. Spencer said he respects the public’s right to purchase tobacco too much to ban sales outright — though he said developmentally, people under age 21 are still too susceptible to addiction. “I don’t think we have the right to tell an adult what to do,” he said.

“But I choose to define an adult based on the development of the brain, as opposed to to whether they can serve, they can vote, drink or work … As a public official, I think we should be making decisions based on medical evidence.”

Dr. Spencer said that 18-year-olds are three times less likely to smoke if they don’t smoke by then. He said for that 21-year-olds, the likelihood would be 10 times less.

In 2004, Suffolk passed legislation to raise the legal age to 19. It was one of the first municipalities in the country to do so. Violators could face a fine between $300 and $1,000 for a first time offense, and between $500 to $1,500 for subsequent offenses, according to the resolution.

If approved, the countywide law would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

The public hearing is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. at the County Center in Riverside

Scroll down to view the draft law.

Suffolk County proposed law to raise the legal age to 21 for tobacco purchases.

02/24/14 7:00am
02/24/2014 7:00 AM
Engorged ticks. (Courtesy photo from the University of Nebraska)

Engorged ticks. (Courtesy photo from the University of Nebraska)

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman is sponsoring a bill to create a tick control advisory committee.

The legislation is expected to be discussed at the county Legislature’s Public Works & Public Transportation Committee meeting at 2 p.m. in Hauppauge.

(more…)

02/12/14 12:33pm
02/12/2014 12:33 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | County Legislator Kara Hahn introduced a bill aimed at examining the benefits of using beet-based brines, like the one above manufactured by East End Organics.

With snowfall totals soaring this winter season — and another storm on the way — area highway crews have been coating the roads with mixtures of salt and sand, but those mixtures are only so effective once temperatures dip below 20 degrees, according to town highway superintendents.  (more…)

01/12/14 10:00am
01/12/2014 10:00 AM
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO  |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO |  The rise in deer population has become one of the biggest concerns for North Fork residents.

As a lifelong resident of the North Fork, I have witnessed the explosion of the deer population.

When I was growing up, it was rare to find deer tracks in fields or in the woods, but now it’s common to come across several deer in one’s backyard. Historically, populations of deer were dramatically lower than they are today, and we know that without natural predators and with plentiful food sources, deer populations can double in two to three years.

The agricultural industry, a critical part of the East End economy, has experienced millions of dollars of crop loss due to white-tailed deer. Farmers have spent thousands of dollars on deer fencing to protect crops; this is an expense most cannot afford. As a fourth generation farmer, I understand this all too well.

As a Suffolk County Legislator and a former Southold Town Councilman, I have spoken to hundreds of constituents whose lives have been seriously impacted by deer, whether it is by a tick-borne illness or a car accident or, as in some cases, both. I have walked through many acres of preserved open spaces and parks in my district and seen firsthand the destruction deer have done to the natural environment.

All efforts must be made to bring the population of white-tailed deer, which has reached crisis proportions in eastern Suffolk County, down to sustainable levels. The USDA sharpshooter program is one tool that can be employed to help achieve this goal and, at least in Southold Town, the community will utilize the program to decrease the herd size and protect human health, biodiversity and property.

This does not mean that there is unanimous support for culling the herd or that no controversy surrounds the program, but if the alternatives are considered objectively, the logical conclusion is that we need to act.

Tick-borne illnesses have cost millions of dollars in treatment and lost work and caused much pain and suffering. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported almost 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in New York State in 2012, but it is believed the actual number is much greater due to misdiagnosis, inconclusive testing and underreporting. New York State has one of the highest incidences of tick-borne illnesses in the country and Suffolk County has one of the highest infection rates in the state.

Lyme disease is not the only tick-borne illness associated with deer. Others, such as Babesiosis, can be particularly harmful to people with compromised immune systems. In addition, tick-borne disorders unfamiliar to scientists are emerging, such as a potentially life-threatening red meat allergy that develops in some people bitten by lone star ticks.

The Suffolk County Tick Management Task Force concluded that “the issue of tick-borne disease is inextricably linked to deer overpopulation … Any strategy for tick control must reduce the number of deer and/or the number of ticks on deer to have any chance of success.”

Unchecked growth of the white-tailed deer population has devastated the natural environment and this will continue until we act to reduce the population to a sustainable level.

Conservationists and those who advocate for the protection of wildlife alike should support policies that cull the herd to protect habitat and biodiversity. In many areas deer have destroyed the woodland understory. Invasive plant species, like mile-a-minute vine, have taken over because beneficial native plants have been gobbled up by deer.

The insects, birds and other animals these native plants and ecosystems support are now threatened and have decreased in numbers. Some forests are so stripped they may not be able to regenerate.

The problems caused by white-tailed deer overpopulation are multi-faceted and costly. As a community, we need to make the hard choices and manage the herd to lessen the occurrence of disease, habitat destruction and property loss.

If you are concerned about the well-being of individual deer, perhaps you should stop driving, because hundreds are killed or maimed in car accidents yearly. It is not a pretty sight to see an animal writhing in pain after being hit but not killed.

The USDA program is conducted safely, professionally and humanely. The meat harvested is a good source of protein and will not go to waste but will be donated to food pantries and homeless shelters feeding many people in need on Long Island.

Al Krupski is a Suffolk County legislator whose district encompasses the North Fork. He lives in Cutchogue.

01/07/14 12:15pm
01/07/2014 12:15 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory and Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schndierman.

COURTESY PHOTO | Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory and Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schndierman.

Despite holding just two of 18 seats in Suffolk County Legislature, the East End will be represented among the legislature’s leadership, as South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman was selected as the county’s next Deputy Presiding Officer earlier this month.

Schneiderman (I-Montauk) will serve as deputy to new Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who was voted to lead the body unanimously by all legislators who were present (four were absent). Mr. Gregory takes over for Wayne Horsley, who left the county legislature for a job in state government.

According to Mr. Schneiderman, the title of deputy presiding officer doesn’t technically bring with it any added responsibilities — though the title is “more of a reflection, I think, of the support of my colleagues. It doesn’t give any special powers unless the presiding officer is not present. Then I would chair the meetings.”

The longest-tenured legislator in the county, Mr. Schneiderman represents the South Fork, Shelter Island, and part of Brookhaven town. He will be termed out after this term, and was voted to the post by 12 legislators, with five legislators — all Republicans — voting against the Independence Party member.

“It’s unfortunate — I would think they would like to start the new year out with some effort of bipartisanship,” he said. “I hope it’s not indicative of that kind of year.”

According to the county, Mr. Schneiderman will be the first member of the Independence Party to hold a leadership position at the county level.

12/18/13 4:00pm
12/18/2013 4:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

A measure by Legislator Al Krupski to amend how the county purchases farmland and open space failed to pass on Tuesday, even after the Cutchogue Democrat revised the proposed bill after it initially drew the ire of some environmentalists.

In June, Mr. Krupski proposed his original farmland preservation amendment, which suggested splitting the use of the county’s Drinking Water Protection Fund 50-50 between open space and farmland purchases. But dedicating a specific portion of the revenue stream to one use or the other proved too much to ask, and the legislator later altered his proposed amendment, pitching a watered-down version of the legislation in July.

Mr. Krupski’s amended proposal made no mention of setting aside a certain percentage of land purchases for open space or farmland. It did, however, set certain standards that parcels must meet in order to be appraised by the county — a required step before legislators vote to purchase land.

“I find it surprising that in any way, we could find it controversial that we would spend our money more wisely,” he said before the vote at Tuesday’s general meeting.

But the added benchmarks concerned at least 13 legislators, who voted to table the amendment in the final meeting of the year Tuesday, effectively killing it.

Attention to Suffolk’s land purchases through the Drinking Water Protection Fund came to the fore in the past year after the county bonded out against future revenues and subsequently used nearly all the funding. While land was at that time available for historically low prices, Suffolk County, Southampton and Riverhead towns were just a few of the municipalities that borrowed to buy now rather than later.

Legislator Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) said before Tuesday’s floor vote that he didn’t believe the proposed appraisal rating system was designed to be considered a threshold for whether a particular parcel could ever be purchased.

Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) said Mr. Krupski’s amendment would likely favor the first and second legislative districts — the North and South Forks — as they would codify the process of appraising land parcels, and most parcels available for open space and farmland preservation purchases are located out east.

“To set a rule that would cause me to put my constituents at a disadvantage permanently — I have a very difficult time doing that,” he said.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), chair of the county’s environment, planning and agriculture committee, said last week that those proposed thresholds, in effect, favor purchasing farmland over open space, as the standards were harder to meet for open space buys.

“It’s not treating them equally, and we have a preference for open space because this is drinking water protection money,” she said. “And a wooded parcel that’s open space is protecting drinking water more than preserving farmland would.”

While the Mr. Krupski’s proposed amendment wasn’t rejected, having been tabled Tuesday, it would have to be re-introduced next year in order to be considered once again. Mr. Krupski said he doesn’t intend to bring it back up immediately and will see how previously approved alterations in the land-buying process, which go into effect next year, work out.

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.