01/31/15 5:00pm
01/31/2015 5:00 PM
Governor Cuomo giving his State of the State address the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany Jan. 21. (Credit: Courtesy Flickr photo)

Governor Cuomo giving his State of the State address the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany Jan. 21. (Credit: Courtesy Flickr photo)

During his annual State of the State address earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined a 66-part presentation he dubbed New York’s “Opportunity Agenda.”  (more…)

06/29/11 12:29pm
06/29/2011 12:29 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Assemblyman Dan Losquadro at his desk in Calverton. He will soon move his local office to downtown Riverhead.

As Assemblyman Dan Losquadro winds down from his first session in Albany, he told Times/Review Newsgroup he plans to turn his focus to local issues this summer, while still preparing to pick-up where he left off next year by pushing for school district relief from state mandates.

Mr. Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said in an interview that he had a “very productive” first session, because he believed Governor Andrew Cuomo “pushed the same agenda” as the freshman assemblyman and other representatives did in passing a balanced budget on-time and to control spending.

The final vote Mr. Losquadro cast after midnight Friday was in favor of a 2 percent property tax cap bill, which the governor proposed and passed in both houses. Included was about $125 million in mandate relief, a measure Mr. Losquadro described as “a good start.”

“I thought the governor gave in far too easily on the mandate relief issue,” Mr. Losquadro said. He believes key driving costs in school districts and local governments — Medicaid and pensions — will be more thoroughly addressed next year.

While Mr. Losquadro’s first session was consumed by hot-button issues such as tackling a $10 billion budget deficit and same-sex marriage legislation — which he said he voted in opposition because of his Catholic beliefs — Mr. Losquadro said he was pleased with his bills addressing local issues passed during his freshman year.

Some of those pieces of legislation include repealing the state’s saltwater fishing licence fee and restoring promotional funding to wineries.

“Tourism is such an important part of our economy,” he said. “Quality of life and the character of our communities is very important to keep.”

Mr. Losquadro, who defeated incumbent Democrat Marc Alessi in November, said that while he plans to meet with residents this summer to address their concerns and create a plan-of-action for next year, he believes some of his constituents won’t be in his district for long.

Redistricting occurs every decade following the completion of the U.S. Census. The 2010 census data shows Mr. Losquadro represents a population of nearly 149,000 residents, making his Assembly district the largest in the state.

“How that’s going to go is anyone’s guess, but it’s going to happen,” Mr. Losquadro said of redistricting process.

Another change for Mr. Losquadro will be his office, which he plans to move next week from Calverton to downtown Riverhead.

“It’s smaller, has greater access and it used to be Patty Acampora’s office,” he said, referring to the 400 West Main Street office of the former assemblywoman. Mr. Losquadro said he’ll move by Aug. 1.

While Mr. Losquadro said he’ll miss his long drives to Albany, during which he listened to Pulse on satellite radio, he’s looking forward to spending the summer with his 17-month-old son.

“That aspect of it is difficult, but the fact is everyone up there is in the same boat,” he said. “Everyone is stuck away from home. Everyone is stuck away families. So there’s a great camaraderie [and] a great friendship that you build with people.”

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06/25/11 12:32am
06/25/2011 12:32 AM

The State Senate approved a bill late Friday that makes New York the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Marriage Equality Act, championed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, was approved 33-29 Friday in the GOP-led Senate.

The Democratic-led Assembly passed a same-sex marriage bill last week and earlier Friday they approved an amended version.

“New York has finally torn down the barrier that has prevented same-sex couples from exercising the freedom to marry and from receiving the fundamental protections that so many couples and families take for granted,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.

Each of Long Island’s nine Senators voted in opposition to the bill, making up nearly a third of the no votes. Locally, the bill was voted down by both Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham).

Neither legislator issued a public statement in the first few hours following the vote.

PROPERTY TAX CAP APPROVED

Local Republicans rejoiced Friday with the passage of a 2 percent cap on annual state property tax increases.

Assemblyman Dan Losquadro called the bill perhaps the most important of his first session in Albany.

“A tax cap will provide Long Island homeowners with important relief from some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and I am pleased that I helped to pass this important taxpayer-protection initiative,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Losquadro said the tax cap is an important first step toward true tax relief for local residents. He said the next step will be to expand on the unfunded mandate reforms also passed Friday, which he said in its current form won’t do enough to ease the burden on local school districts.

Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-Medford), who has cosponsored legislation for a three-year moratorium on unfunded mandates, called the mandate-relief component of the legislation a disappointment.

“Our work to eliminate all unfunded mandates needs to begin immediately,” he said in a statement.

06/16/11 8:03am
06/16/2011 8:03 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The Blue Inn.

For the first time ever, the town has enlisted the help of the State Liquor Authority in addressing code enforcement issues, such as amplified music neighbors find objectionable, at several local businesses, including a winery.

The town routinely receives notices of local applications for new and renewal liquor licenses — and routinely offers no comment. But that changed when the town filed objections against the The Blue Inn in East Marion (formerly the Blue Dolphin), the Orient Inn bed and breakfast and Croteaux Vineyards in Southold.

The Blue Inn, the source of many noise complaints over several years, has changed hands and the new owners have yet to reopen it.

“The town wants to ensure that the new owner operates the facility within the scope of what is allowed under zoning,” said Supervisor Scott Russell. “Once bitten twice shy, as they say.”

In a March 15 letter to the SLA, Town Attorney Martin Finnegan said that under state law, the inn’s bar could remain open until 4 a.m.

“A commercial/retail establishment that is open seven days a week until 4 a.m. is inappropriate in this area and greatly concerns the town,” the attorney wrote.

Accompanying the letter was an analysis of calls to the police concerning the inn from May 2006 to November 2009. Most are “complaint of loud music.”

In one case, a complaint came in at 1:22 a.m. regarding noise from a wedding, with a notation that the then-owner had turned the volume down. Shortly after that, according to the report, “complaint that when officer left, band turned music louder at 1:50.”

The inn has a new owner, Sam Glass, who also owns the Ocean Resort Inn in Montauk. He paid just over $2 million for the property, now undergoing renovation, over the winter. Mr. Finnegan said he’s spoken with Mr. Glass, who has expressed a willingness to avoid the inn’s previous run-ins with police and neighbors.

“He’s trying to work it all out,” the town attorney said.

Mr. Glass said he was surprised to learn of the inn’s recent history.

“We didn’t know we had a problem until we purchased it,” he said. “We’re not going to operate that way.”

He said there will be no amplified music after 9 p.m. “I’m looking to attract middle-aged people who want to go to sleep at 11 or 12.”

Southold is currently the only township in Suffolk County without a noise ordinance, although the Town Board is working on one.

Mr. Glass said he has no objection to a noise code, except “if they make it too onerous people won’t go out there. Either you want to attract tourists or you don’t.”

The inn could reopen in a couple of weeks, initially without a liquor license.

“The sooner we get it the better,” said Mr. Glass. “It’s a necessity.”

The town’s objections in April to Croteaux Vineyard’s farm winery license failed and the renewal was issued in May, said co-owner Michael Croteaux.

“If there’s an objection letter, I’ve never seen one,” he said. “As far as I know, we’re in compliance and the town hasn’t notified us differently.”

In a letter to the SLA regarding Croteaux Vineyards, Mr. Finnegan says the winery is operating without the required site plan approval, does not have the necessary certificate of occupancy and that the only approved use for the property is as a single-family home.

Mr. Croteaux counters that he has COs for his agricultural buildings, which state law says can be used in wine production. He adds that he previously filed a site plan application with the Planning Board “and have heard nothing from them.”

With regard to the Orient Inn, the town told the SLA that its B&B code prohibits the sale of alcohol.

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06/16/11 5:24am

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Senator Ken laValle has sponsored a bill he says would save the seahorse from extinction on Long Island.

They’re not on any menu. You can’t order them baked, fried, broiled, steamed, sautéed or even wrapped in rice and served raw.

So why have both houses of the state Legislature approved bills banning the commercial harvest of seahorses?

To save them from extinction, said state Senator Kenneth LaValle, sponsor of the bill amending state conservation law to give seahorses protection never before afforded.

“The survival of seahorses in the wild is threatened by loss of habitat, pollution and overfishing,” the senator said. “Seahorses are harvested for medicinal purposes, as souvenirs and for the aquarium trade, often at unsustainable levels that could lead to extinction.”

Although people don’t dip them in butter or tartar sauce, seahorses are a part of the marine food chain and are consumed by crabs and some finfish.

The Assembly previously approved its version of the ban, which awaits action by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. One unanswered question is how the state Department of Environmental Conservation would enforce the law.

Long Island is home to a single seahorse species, the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus), named for its distinctive markings. They’re bred in captivity at Atlantis Marine World aquarium in Riverhead and, to a lesser extent, at the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center at Cedar Beach in Southold.

Atlantis biologist Todd Gardner, who completed his master’s thesis at Hofstra on seahorse reproduction, actively lobbied for the state bills’ passage.

“There’s a proven demand for them,” he said. “We shouldn’t just do nothing. It shouldn’t be a free-for-all while we’re trying to protect other species.”

Seahorses inhabit shallow waters and are frequently found in South Shore bays. Their fate has been intertwined with the health of the East End’s eelgrass beds. The small fish with horse-shaped heads rely on color-changing camouflage to avoid predators and find safety in the shelter of aquatic vegetation. But eelgrass, which serves as a nursery for other species, including the bay scallop, has been all but destroyed by the “wasting disease” blight of the 1930s, along with pollution from shoreline development and the brown tide. By one estimate, only 10 percent of the eelgrass that grew in the bays in the 1930s grows today.

Cornell Cooperative Extension researchers involved in an ongoing eelgrass restoration project had not seen seahorses in the Peconics until 2008. They were spotted during a dive on an eelgrass bed off Ram Island on Shelter Island.

Since there’s never been an effort to count them, researchers can’t say how the current population compares to the past.

Seahorses are routinely collected from South Shore bays for aquariums and are also prized in the traditional Chinese medicine market. While the new law permits the taking of a small number for personal use, it would ban the use of large seine nets. While seahorses are the target, those nets catch other forms of marine life that can perish as an unused “bycatch.”

“I’ve gone into fish stores and seen whole tankfuls of seahorses I know were collected locally selling for $50 to $60 each, so I know there is a market,” Mr. Gardner said. “There’s a worldwide trade of over 30 million seahorses a year, and that’s just a rough estimate. Because you don’t see them in a seafood store, people don’t realize what’s going on.”

Atlantis Marine World has maintained a seahorse exhibit since it opened in 2000. There are currently 50 to 100 seahorses on display there, and another 100 held in reserve.

The Cedar Beach tank holds just six seahorses, four females and two males. But Kim Peterson Manzo, a seagrass expert and part of extension’s eelgrass restoration project, hopes one day to have many more in the tank to release and help restock the seahorse population.

“Fortunately, we’re getting better at breeding them in captivity,” she said. She’s reached out to Mr. Gardner for his advice and expertise.

She’s also pleased with the Legislature’s action. “Taking seahorses commercially would only hurt the situation,” she said. “The ban is a good thing.”

One of the Southold seahorses is a pregnant male. When seahorses mate, the female deposits eggs in a kangaroo-like pouch on the male’s front. The male holds on to the fertilized eggs for the full gestation, usually 2 to 4 weeks. As they begin to hatch, the male pushes them out.

Seahorses are said to be monogamous and are believed to return to the same area each spring.

“We want to find out if that’s really true,” Ms. Manzo said.

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06/14/11 3:34pm
06/14/2011 3:34 PM

If the bill to legalize gay marriage in New York is voted on in the Senate this week it will not have local support.

Drew Biondo, a spokesperson for Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), said in an email Tuesday that the Senator has not changed his position on gay marriage. Mr. LaValle voted in opposition to a marriage equality bill that passed the Assembly, but was shot down in the Senate in December 2009.

“He fully supports equality and civil unions, though not gay marriage,” Mr. Biondo wrote.

Mr. LaValle was one of 38 Senators to vote in opposition to gay marriage in 2009, when no Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill.

This time around though, Republican Senator James Alessi of Western New York has stated publicly he will support the gay marriage bill when role is called, something that could happen before the legislative session ends this week. Several media outlets say there is already enough support for the bill, and Senator Alessi has been quoted as saying the bill could pass with 35 votes in the 62-member Senate.

At least one Democrat, Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, has publicly opposed the bill, sponsored by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Mr. LaValle, who represents the entire East End, told The Suffolk Times in the days following the 2009 vote that he didn’t think his constituency was prepared to accept gay marriage.

“What I have heard from a lot of people is that we are just not ready for it,” he had said. “It could happen someday in the future, but just not right now.”

New Yorkers United for Marriage, a gay marriage advocacy group, recently launched an aggressive advertising campaign that included direct mailing to encourage constituents to call Senator LaValle to urge him to support gay marriage.

Mr. Biondo said that as of Tuesday morning about two-thirds of the phone calls the Senator’s district office has received have been opposed to the bill.

“The mail campaign from New Yorkers United for Marriage had an opposite, unintended result,” he wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon.

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06/06/11 9:58am
06/06/2011 9:58 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO

Local state senators introduced a bill in the Senate Monday that, if approved, would repeal the Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax for all employers in counties outside New York City.

Approved in 2009, the tax imposes a .34 percent levy on payroll for all employers, including schools and governments, in New York City and the seven surrounding suburban counties.
Many local lawmakers have challenged the fairness of the tax since its inception, claiming that eastern Long Island receives paltry service from the MTA. Bill cosponsor state Senator Ken Lavalle (R-Port Jefferson), who represents the North Fork and voted against the original legislation, called the payroll tax “ill conceived and onerous.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way.

“There is absolutely no doubt that the MTA, without increasing fares or cutting services, can balance its books after this legislation is implemented,” state Senator Lee Zeldin (R-Mastic), one sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

Mr. Zeldin gained traction in his bid to oust former senator Brian Foley by campaigning on Mr. Foley’s vote to support the MTA tax.

As ways of relieving the transit authority’s budget woes, the freshman senator, who took office in January, cited real estate transfer taxes, eliminating overtime abuse in the MTA and investigating having a private agency run the MTA.

Under the proposed legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less, as well as schools, would not have to pay the tax as of January 1, 2012.

The payroll tax would be reduced to .23 percent for all other employers in the seven counties outside New York City, including Suffolk, as of that date. It would be further reduced to .12 percent as of January 2013 and repealed as of January 2014.

As of January 2014, the tax would remain at .21 percent for all businesses within the five boroughs.

Marcus Povenilli, Mr. Zeldin’s deputy chief of staff, said the bill was introduced Monday but it is not known when senators will vote on it. He added that state Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Mamaroneck) will introduce the same bill in the Assembly.
“We hope that it moves swiftly through the system,” he said.

But Desmond Ryan, a New York State political analyst and the executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, said it might be hard for the bill to gain momentum in the Assembly, which would also need to approve the repeal.

“It will probably gain some traction in the Senate, but I’m not sure where the Assembly stands on the bill,” he said. “The Assembly is predominately made up by people who are city-centric.”

An MTA spokesperson defended the tax Monday, calling it vital support for the transit authority.

“The payroll mobility tax, passed by the Legislature in 2009, provides a vital $1.4 billion in annual support for public transportation across the downstate region — 15 times more money than was saved by last year’s painful service reductions,” said MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan in a statement. “The MTA’s focus is on using this revenue as efficiently as possible, which we are achieving by identifying savings projected to reach $1 billion annually by 2014.”

Mr. Donovan indicated that higher fares could be coming down the line.

“Because we have already taken these steps, finding additional savings from means other than fare increases or service reductions would be very painful,” he said. “As we continue cost-cutting, further reductions become harder and harder to achieve.”

The repeal of the MTA payroll tax would be welcome news to William Schoolman, owner of the Bohemia-based Classic Coach company, which directly competes with the MTA yet pays more than $15,000 to the agency due to the tax. In 2009, Mr. Schoolman filed a lawsuit against the transit authority claiming the payroll tax is unconstitutional, and he has also started the website www.mtataxpayerabuse.com.

“This year [the company’s payroll tax] will be more than last,” he said. “We certainly hope [the local senators] are successful in their efforts.”

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