04/03/15 10:00am
04/03/2015 10:00 AM
Leaders with PBMC Health note that a decade ago the organization would not have been quite as attractive a candidate to merge with a larger health system. But improvements such as the Kanas Center for Advanced Surgery, a $35 million project completed in 2009, have made it a 'juicy piece of fruit,' according to board member George Summers. (Credit: PBMC)

Leaders with PBMC Health note that a decade ago the organization would not have been quite as attractive a candidate to merge with a larger health system. But improvements such as the Kanas Center for Advanced Surgery, a $35 million project completed in 2009, have made it a ‘juicy piece of fruit,’ according to board member George Summers. (Credit: PBMC)

Don’t be alarmed. That’s some sound health advice for anyone concerned about Peconic Bay Medical Center’s pending merger with North Shore-LIJ Health System, one of the country’s largest integrated health care systems and the biggest in New York.  (more…)

08/29/14 7:00am
08/29/2014 7:00 AM
Two of four buildings that house six numbered apartments at the Cutchogue business property where town officials say people are living illegally. Residents there, who pay more than $1,000 a month, say they can't afford anywhere else.

Two of four buildings that house six numbered apartments at the Cutchogue business property where town officials say people are living illegally. Residents there, who pay more than $1,000 a month, say they can’t afford to live anywhere else in town.

The Southold Town Board approved zoning changes this week that could lead to the building of higher density affordable housing complexes within the town. At least, on paper that could happen. The realities of economics and infrastructure were quickly noted. Specifically, Supervisor Scott Russell pointed out Tuesday that affordable housing complexes are often economically infeasible, even when developers are offered grant money. The town’s lack of sewer systems also poses a roadblock to such projects.

(more…)

06/18/14 12:00pm
06/18/2014 12:00 PM

Farmer Phil Schmitt (left) and his sons Matt (center) and Phil Jr. loading boxes of cabbage onto a flatbed at the family’s Riverhead farm (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

A law aimed at ensuring government agencies are purchasing foods from the businesses they represent has cleared the state Senate and is on track to potentially boost business for local growers, according to a release from state Sen. Ken LaValle, who supported the initiative.

(more…)

04/14/14 4:23pm
04/14/2014 4:23 PM
Bags of Hollywood-branded heroin seized by the East End Drugs Task Force during an investigation into a Riverhead drug ring. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Bags of Hollywood-branded heroin seized in February by the East End Drugs Task Force during an investigation into a Riverhead drug ring. (Credit: Paul Squire)

A new program intended to help stem an onrushing tide of heroin use across the East End was announced Monday by local politicians.

Elected leaders at the state level — state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and assemblymen Fred Thiele (R-Sag Harbor) and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) — said the Heroin Addiction Legislative Task Force, or HALT, will meet for the first time next month, with the hope, according to Mr. LaValle, of “combating the scourge of heroin and other opiates.” (more…)

02/03/14 2:55pm
02/03/2014 2:55 PM
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Residents running low on fuel may qualify for help. Visit the HEAP website or call 1-800-342-3009.

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Residents running low on fuel may qualify for help. Visit the HEAP website or call 1-800-342-3009.

Residents at risk of running out of home heating fuel or having their heat shut off this cold winter may qualify for additional federal funding recently released thorough the Home Energy Assistance Program, officials announced Monday. (more…)

06/01/13 10:00am
06/01/2013 10:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork's corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Some of the North Fork’s corn crops are known to be grown from genetically modified seeds.

New York could become the first state in the nation to require that genetically modified foods be labeled as such, a move farmers say could put locally grown produce at a disadvantage.

State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) have sponsored legislation to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified food. The bills follow years of debate over the safety of genetically modified foods, which were introduced in the early l990s. Legislation has been proposed in several states, including California, where it was put before voters in 2012 as Proposition 37 and failed by a slim margin. Bills have been introduced more recently in Connecticut and Maine.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is produced when genes from one species are extracted and artificially introduced into the genes of another, according to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary.

The practical applications of this process include giving a plant the ability to produce its own pesticide to deter insects, thereby saving farmers having to apply costly and potentially dangerous pesticides, according to the Institute for Responsible Technology, which investigates the risks and impacts of GMO foods.

Major GMO food crops include soy, cotton and corn, said Dale Moyer, associate executive director of agriculture for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk. It’s not employed on fresh fruits and vegetables such as oranges or peppers.

Varieties of sweet corn are the only GMO crops grown on the North Fork intended for human consumption, but they’re very limited, Mr. Moyer said. Some area farmers also grow field corn, used primarily as animal feed, he added.

Under the pending legislation sweet corn varieties grown from genetically modified seeds would fall under the mandatory labeling requirement.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Mr. LaValle. “Essentially, if a foodstuff is produced using genetic engineering, this must be indicated on its label.”

But Steve Ammerman, spokesperson for the NYS Farm Bureau, said mandatory labeling is unnecessary.

“We believe the policies should be based on sound science, and the science so far is that GMO foods are safe,” Mr. Ammerman said. “Labeling would imply that GMO foods are not.”

He argues that labeling will put GMO-grown products at a disadvantage when placed next to other produce. “If a consumer walked up and saw a label that said ‘Contains GMO,’ it misleads the consumer,” he said.

Kathleen Furey, director of GMO Free New York, said genetically modified foods have not been proven safe. There have not been any long-term, independent, peer-reviewed human consumption studies to support that claim, she said. The longest study to date on GMO foods ran about two years and involved rats, not humans, she said.

The study, led by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini, found that mice fed a diet of genetically modified corn experienced increased mortality, tumors and organ damage compared to a control group that was fed non-modified corn, said Ms. Furey.

“We deserve the right to know what were eating,” she said.

About 80 percent of what shoppers see on supermarket shelves contain GMOs, said Ms. Furey. Many of the products are processed foods, including infant formulas.

Consumers do have one way of spotting GMO-free foods. Certified organic foods do not contain genetically modified products, Mr. Ammerman said.

If labeling is mandated, farmers would rather see labeling say something like “GMO free” as compared to “contains GMO,” said Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

The legislation is expected to come up for a vote before the current legislative session ends June 20.

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03/29/13 3:58pm
03/29/2013 3:58 PM

Aside from school aid bumps, other items in the New York State budget adopted Thursday include a “middle class” tax rebate for families with kids, a creation of a bar-type exam for prospective teachers and financial incentives for top-performing teaching.

The spending plan will also increase the state minimum wage, and provide more highway improvement funds for local towns.

The budget deal extends from last year a higher tax on top earners, which reportedly raises about $1.9 million annually.

The 2013-14 budget is the third consecutive state budget that’s been adopted before the April 1 deadline by which it’s supposed to be adopted. That hasn’t always been the case, as the state routinely missed the budget deadline for many years prior to that.

This is the first time since 1984 the state made the deadline three years in a row.

Overall, the $135 billion budget increases total state spending by under one percent, according to state documents.

“This budget agreement puts New York on track to have the third consecutive on-time, balanced, budget that holds increases in spending under 2 percent,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release.

The adopted budget “includes direct tax relief for middle class families in the form of a $350 Family Tax Relief credit,” according to officials.

Over the next three years, each New York family with at least one dependent child and a household income between $40,000 and $300,000, will receive a “Family Tax Relief” credit in the amount of $350.  The statewide amount of these payments will be $1.23 billion over three years, beginning in 2014.

The budget extends the “middle class” personal income tax rate reductions enacted in 2011, which were due to expire in 2014. Those reductions will provide 4.4 million taxpayers with $707 million in tax relief per year, according to state officials

The new budget also calls for creation of “Bar Exam for Teachers,” officials said.

“To ensure the best and brightest are teaching our children, the State Education Department will increase the standards for teacher certification to require passage of a “bar exam,” in addition to longer, more intensive and high-quality student-teaching experience in a school setting,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The state also plans to reward “high performing teachers” under the new budget.

“To improve results and incentive high-performance, the budget implements a program that will offer $15,000 in annual stipends for four years to the most effective teachers beginning with math and science teachers,” the governor said.

A total of $11 million in incentives will be given statewide. Specifics were not available on how teacher performance will be judged.

Local municipalities on the North Fork will see an increase in Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding under the new budget, which increased that fund by $75 million statewide.

“This nearly $7 million in funding for towns and villages in the First Senatorial District will allow us to put New York back to work by repairing roads and bridges,” said state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

This is the first time since 2008 that CHIPS funding has increased.

Locally, Riverhead Town will receive $372,218 in CHIPS funding for 2013-14, an increase of 26 percent over the previous state budget allocation.

Likewise, Southold Town will get $421,071, a 28 percent increase, Southampton Town will get $842,159, a 28 percent increase, and Shelter Island Town will get $123,321, also a 28 percent increase.

Greenport Village is getting $52,902, a 24 percent increase, and the tiny Village of Dering Harbor on Shelter Island, is getting $59,891, a 27 percent increase.

The new budget also raises the minimum wage in New York State from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour, but over three years.

“Recognizing that New York’s minimum wage is unlivable and that 19 other states have higher minimum wages than New York, the budget raises the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour over three years, beginning with $8.00 by the end of 2013, $8.75 by the end of 2014, and $9.00 by the end of 2015,” the governor said.

The budget also provides hiring tax credits to businesses that hire returning veterans and young people.

The credit will equal 10 percent of wages paid for hiring veterans, and 15 percent of wages if the veteran is disabled, officials said.

The budget includes a refundable tax credit for businesses that hire people under the age of 20, which officials say will save those businesses a total of $112 million over three years, statewide.

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