04/09/15 10:00am
04/09/2015 10:00 AM

Thumbs upFARMLAND PRESERVATION

A big thumbs up to the state’s decision to give its Farmland Protection Program a $35 million boost, bringing the program’s budget up to $177 million for 2015-16. Like repairs to roads, bridges and other infrastructure, preserving farms is a sound investment — and much less speculative than pricey economic development “pet” projects. The farmland program, which was understandably slashed in half during the recession in 2008, is now back to full health and monies will continue to be available for towns to use to protect farms. Although most of the money will go upstate, it’s in the interest of agricultural communities statewide to remain healthy, forward-thinking and, most of all, intact for generations down the road.

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04/06/15 8:00am
04/06/2015 8:00 AM
The Riverhead Town sewer plant off Riverside Drive. (Credit: Paul Squire file photo)

The Riverhead Town sewer plant discharges into Peconic Bay (Credit: Paul Squire file photo)

Several million dollars in the state’s newly passed $142 billion budget has been allocated to fund water quality initiatives across New York State, including two projects on Long Island.

Here is a breakdown of water quality initiatives supported in the 2015-16 state spending plan:

NITROGEN MITIGATION

What’s going on?

The state budget includes $5 million in funding to create The Long Island Nitrogen Mitigation Plan, a comprehensive strategy for mitigating nitrogen pollution in Suffolk and Nassau county waterways.

Why is it needed? (more…)

03/23/2015 8:00 AM
Mattituck-Cutchogue School District tk, left, and school board trustee Bill Gatz at Thursday's meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Mattituck-Cutchogue School District Michael Engelhardt, left, and school board trustee Bill Gatz at Thursday’s meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District has found itself in an uncommon situation when it comes to preparing its spending plan for next year. Last May, voters approved a $39.6 million budget for the 2014-15 school year. In September, however, that budget was increased to $40,124,885 — without any impact on taxpayers.

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02/06/15 12:00pm
02/06/2015 12:00 PM

state leadersAlbany is in need of serious reform. It’s been known for years, even decades, and is obvious to anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to our state government.

There appeared to be hope with the 2010 election of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who ran on a reform agenda. But he ended up shutting down his own highly touted investigative body, the Moreland Commission, when its members began to hone in on the root of all problems in Albany: outside money earned by lawmakers, and specifically lawyers who have long claimed they couldn’t disclose details of their work — including their clients — because that would be a breach of lawyer-client privilege. (more…)

09/30/14 3:04pm
09/30/2014 3:04 PM
Tom Schiliro (left) and Anthony Palumbo, who are running for the  first district state assembly seat, debated Monday night in Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Tom Schiliro (left) and Anthony Palumbo, who are running for the second district state Assembly seat, debated Monday night in Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The Women’s Equality Act, and specifically, the parts of it dealing with abortion, was a hotly debated issue between the two candidates for the second district state Assembly seat during a debate Monday night at Polish Hall in Riverhead, which was sponsored and moderated by news website RiverheadLocal.com.  (more…)

05/23/14 3:10pm
05/23/2014 3:10 PM
Waterfront homes in Jamesport along the bay. (Credit: Barbarellen Koch, file.)

Waterfront homes in Jamesport along the bay. (Credit: Barbarellen Koch, file.)

New construction and any big renovation projects on Long Island would need more modern waste treatment systems installed to better filter nitrogen from reaching ground and surface waters.

Registered pesticides that appear in groundwater in “multiple clusters” would be “prohibit[ed] for use.”

And, starting in 2017, no one would be allowed to repair cesspools in certain “priority areas,” of Nassau or Suffolk Counties. Those people would instead have to install denitrification systems.

These are just a few of the restrictions outlined in a new water quality control measure touted by state Assemblymen Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), during a conference put on by Long Island Clean Water Partnership advocacy groups in Islandia Thursday. (more…)

04/25/14 8:00am
04/25/2014 8:00 AM
A mute swan mother with her cygnets in East Marion. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

A mute swan mother with her cygnets in East Marion. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Stakeholders on both sides of a life-or-death debate met in Albany last Thursday to discuss the future of the mute swan, an invasive species on the cusp of widespread population growth in New York.

There are approximately 2,200 mute swans in the state, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation, which are expected to reproduce at a rate of 13 to 20 percent annually.  (more…)

04/25/14 6:00am

060207_taxes_vmed_11awidecLegislation signed in December by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that made school tax exemptions for available to certain veterans took effect with little advance notice, making it difficult for school boards tasked with deciding whether their districts would participate in the program to make well-researched and educated decisions.

But while the law certainly has good intentions — offering financial assistance for our veterans — it’s yet another example of state politicians patting themselves on the back while pushing the tough decisions down to the local level — in this case, to elected but volunteer school boards.

Related: School board approves property tax exemptions for veterans

Unlike with STAR exemptions, which provide property tax breaks for homeowners earning less than $500,000 per year, the state doesn’t chip in to make up for the tax revenue lost to the new veterans’ exemptions. That’s up to the other taxpayers in each district.

While most people would agree helping veterans who protected the country during wartime is a worthy overall goal, creating unnecessary tension among neighbors is a side effect that has the potential to damage local communities. School officials have already expressed worry that, should they vote against the exemption, future school budgets could be voted down in protest. Yet at the same time, there are legitimate concerns about whether the local school tax burden is already too much for the average taxpayer. In some Long Island districts that have implemented the new exemption, taxpayers are expected to see their annual school taxes rise by as much as $70.

There are also many other questions to be asked, aside from computing the tax impact on taxpayers who don’t qualify. Riverhead school board vice president Greg Meyer asked a good one earlier this month, when he wondered whether local clergy and volunteer EMTs and firefighters would be the next groups to get school tax breaks.

At best, this recent legislation sends very mixed signals — especially since state lawmakers have spent so many years talking about reducing the property tax burden on New York State residents. And don’t forget their 2012 2 percent tax cap on year-to-year tax levy increases for all schools and local governments.

If New York State lawmakers wanted to offer tax breaks for veterans, there were myriad alternative ways to do so — state income tax credits and lower DMV fees come to mind.

Another logical fix could be to alter the STAR program itself: Reduce the $500,000 eligibility cutoff and shift the savings to veterans.

Admirable or not, if Albany wants to enact statewide tax breaks for some, thereby raising taxes for others, then Albany should do the work itself instead of passing the buck.

Clarification: Volunteer EMTs and firefighters, as well as clergy, are already entitled to school property tax exemptions. However the exemptions are different: 10 percent for volunteers, and $1,500 off of assessed value for clergy members, according to Riverhead Town Assessor Laverne Tennenberg.