It was with sadness but not surprise that I read the recent report about the demise of French in the Mattituck School District. As the school population on the North Fork continues to ebb and our school districts are put under more and more economic pressure, cutting programs continues to be a technique we use to save money. Is this wise? (more…)
Broken Down Valise bartender Michelle Suarez (right) talks with customers (from left) Scott Nietupski, Jon Allen and Ed Grohoski on a recent Friday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
New York on a hot day in June felt like mid-August, with the heat shimmering off the sidewalk; there was little shade in midtown. Walking by open doors blasting frigid air made it seem even hotter. Close to noon, the thought of a cold beer crossed my mind.
In my mind’s eye: the beer, ice cold, golden amber, in one of those Coca-Cola like glasses, condensation on its side, droplets of water running down to the cork coaster sitting on a glistening polished mahogany bar, the glass topped by a perfect crown of frothy white foam. (more…)
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.
KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Teacher Jen Skuggevik teaches pre-k writing in Greenport
There has been a great deal of press about the Common Core curriculum, testing and what schools will and won’t be doing to improve the education system. Suffolk Times editor Michael White’s column raised some excellent points and concerns about whether these efforts will actually help all children.
As a retired teacher and grandparent, I am concerned. What can teachers, parents and caregivers do while the decision makers plan their next move? We must preserve the curiosity and love for learning that our children have at birth and not lose or stifle these traits in the scuffle.
I have spent the last seven years, reading, tutoring, meeting with teachers and creating I Can Do That! Kids, a web and printed resource that helps children stay motivated and excited about learning. I have found that there are some simple, proven ways to help children stay energized, persevere and achieve their “personal best” — even as schools raise the bar.
We read “The Little Engine That Could” to a child when they are very young to inspire them to say, “I think I can, I think I can” when faced with a challenge. As they grow up they need to learn, “How I can! How I can!” strategies and actions to work at something difficult.
There are some easy ways parents and caregivers can help children know what to think, say or do when faced with a challenge. Put aside the back-to-school ads. Here’s a different way to get your child “ready for school” with these five tips.
1. Talk about “hard stuff” — challenges. Ask your child to tell you about something difficult that they recently accomplished. Explain that kids have to do lots of “hard stuff,” called challenges. Obstacle courses are a challenge, but are fun. Video games are challenging and that’s why kids love playing them. Make the connection that doing “hard stuff” is really like an obstacle course or a video game and rather than think, “Oh no, this is too hard!” think, or say, “This is a challenge that I can’t do … yet!”
2. Break it down. “There’s too much to do.” Help a child work at a challenge by starting with a small, doable piece. Think of it as a large puzzle with pieces that need to be assembled. When they have a page of math problems to solve that seems overwhelming, get a blank sheet of paper. Say, “Find the one that you think is the easiest to begin with”, and then cover the others. Help them focus on just one piece of an assignment at a time.
3. Increase ‘think time.’ Don’t jump in too quickly when you hear, “I don’t remember what to do.” Provide them with time to stop and think. Suggest that they look for clues or ask them to explain what they are unsure about. Delay giving them hints or information until you are certain that they have exhausted their resources. You will be providing an opportunity for them to think for themselves and to realize what they are capable of achieving.
4. Making mistakes is good! The surest way to succeeding is by working through mistakes. We tend to make a very big deal about achievements and not enough emphasis is put on the fact that mistakes will happen. It’s normal; everyone makes mistakes and they actually help us get very good at something! Mention the most recent mistake you have made, how it felt and what you did to eventually succeed.
5. Use ‘process praise.’ Acknowledge how your child is achieving, rather than just the achievement. For example, say, “That was a lot of work. I really like the way you stuck to it and didn’t give up!” Or, “You finished your homework and I’m impressed that you didn’t let anything distract you from getting it done!” Research has proven that children who are praised for how they accomplish a task build confidence quicker and are more willing to take on difficult tasks that come their way.
These are a few ways to build a child’s feeling of “I am capable!” Post this column on the fridge. Remember and use these tips. When a child comes home from school, you may find yourself on automatic pilot, saying or doing what you have in the past to help motivate them. These tips will provide you with an opportunity to do something different and perhaps challenging. It means you will experience what your child is experiencing.
JIM COLLIGAN FILE PHOTO | A town deer forum will be held Sept. 26.
The recent motorcycle accident in Peconic and scheduling of yet another town deer forum on Sept. 26 serve as reminders of our continuing failure to come to grips with a serious deer overpopulation problem.
Although our town government has made admirable efforts to increase culling of our deer population by recreational hunters, the harvest over the past five years has essentially remained flat, according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation records. In 2012, more deer were taken out by motor vehicle collisions in the Town of Southold than by hunters.
In addition to being a safety menace on our roads, our superabundance of deer is responsible for a massive increase in the local tick population and a high frequency of tick-transmitted diseases in humans that constitutes nothing short of a public health crisis. According to New York State Health Department statistics for 2011 (the last reporting year), Suffolk County ranked No. 1 among counties for babesiosis, No. 1 for ehrlichiosis, tied for No. 2 for Lyme disease and No. 4 for anaplasmosis. Unfortunately, these dry statistics do not adequately convey the seriousness of the misery inflicted; these are not innocuous diseases. Some manifestations of Lyme disease can be difficult for many doctors to recognize and treat. In its chronic forms, Lyme disease can also cause a serious long-term decrease in quality of life.
The second most prevalent tick-borne disease in Suffolk, babesiosis, also provides great reason for concern. The incidence of babesiosis has been steadily increasing in the county over the past five years. Among patients exhibiting clinical symptoms, babesiosis has a significant mortality rate of about 5 percent. Among high risk groups (e.g., the elderly, premature infants, immune-compromised patients, those lacking spleens and patients receiving blood transfusions), the mortality rate is even higher, at 10 to 30 percent. Furthermore, one can contract babesiosis without ever walking through a tick-infested meadow.
Many people with babesiosis exhibit no symptoms, but can still pass it through blood transfusions. There currently is no approved screening test for the disease in blood donors or donated blood. According to the CDC and the FDA, babesiosis has now become the most frequently reported transfusion-transmitted parasite in the United States, and the number of cases resulting from transfusions has increased steadily since 1985.
Finally, it has been widely recognized by naturalists that the presence of too many deer is ruining our natural environment. In many parts of our town, overbrowsing by deer has stopped or severely compromised forest regeneration, wiped out valuable native plants, promoted the proliferation of noxious and invasive plants and destroyed critical habitat for other desirable animals.
What can be done about our overabundance of deer? First, it is important for more of the public to become aware of the scope of the problems that have been created. One way to do this is to attend one of the town’s periodic deer forums. Second, we as a community must press for meaningful change in deer management practices. Recent history does not suggest that further tweaking of our recreational hunting regulations will have the desired effect.
Limiting the reproductive capabilities of the animals is technically feasible, but unaffordable and prohibited by state law. Furthermore, that approach would not ameliorate the public health, safety and environmental problems that are currently at crisis levels. Any viable program must involve skilled, professional sharpshooters along with a continued recreational hunting program. It is scientifically indefensible to permit the unrestrained proliferation of large, wild herbivores in the absence of any natural predators. This is not the way nature is supposed to work.
Dr. John Rasweiler, a resident of Nassau Point, is a retired medical school professor. He is a Cornell-trained reproductive physiologist, who has spent most of his scientific career working with wildlife, including management issues. He serves on the Town of Southold deer management committee and the board of the North Fork Deer Management Alliance.
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Long Island Power Authority trucks on Factory Avenue in Mattituck.
LIPA savaged my trees.
They say they are protecting the power lines, but cutting the trees in half wasn’t necessary. There has to be a better way.
I know it’s not an easy job. Perhaps it always will be thankless, trying to provide utility services in an efficient, cost-effective manner. We might not even notice if it were done well, but we always notice when it is done badly. But LIPA seems to have a uniquely self-defeating approach in the way it carries out its duties.
With power overhead, every strong storm will bring down some lines. It’s inevitable. But how serious is the outage, how effective the response? Are there steps that can be taken to minimize damage and maximize restoration? And what about the needs of the individuals and the communities affected?
The last few storms have wreaked havoc on electric service for North Fork and much of Long Island. Numerous news articles suggest that LIPA has failed to adequately answer almost every one of these questions. Several of my neighbors had a chance to chat with some of the out-of-town emergency crews. These professional linemen were astounded at the sorry state of the utility equipment. Worn out, damaged components, often patched and jury-rigged during a prior storm response. Out-of-date equipment, structurally unsound poles and even a lack of poles on hand to replace those fallen or at risk.
LIPA’s response to Sandy was too slow, too disorganized and some repairs have yet to be completed. The storm snapped a tree in my front yard in half. It pulled down the power line to my house, leaving a hanging live wire in my yard. I phoned LIPA, twice. Two days later, someone came to look. They said the attachment point, a three-dollar hook, was pulled out and they wouldn’t fix their line until I had an electrician fix the hook. An electrician came in and did that immediately, then he called LIPA to attach their line to my service. They again refused and told him to patch it in as best he could. He did it, but told me it was a temporary fix and to get LIPA in to rewire the support as soon as possible.
I called again, but LIPA still hasn’t responded. There are numerous such stories, maybe thousands, many much, much worse.
I should be a proponent of trimming trees to protect power lines, right? I am. I know we have to try to keep trees off and away from the high-voltage lines. The power lines on my street keep the safety systems on Plum Island humming.
There are ways to trim trees to keep them clear of power lines, but still let us have the shade, the air-cleaning qualities, the beauty of a rural setting. In fact, LIPA claims on its website to use an arborist to guide them in tree trimming.
LIPA has trimmed my trees before and they’ve regularly cut off the thin upper branches on the 10 sycamores lining my property that were getting close to the power lines. I’m fine with that, but they recently cut six of my trees in half before I saw a stunted trunk and went out screaming. They’d taken about 20 feet off two of the trees and almost as much on the rest. Few branches are left and I’m far from confident that the trees have enough structure left to survive.
LIPA is supposed to file a plan for trimming with the town, and it appears that they may not have done so. Regardless, LIPA has an obligation to do its preventive maintenance in a responsible way. This was not responsible.
While we’re looking at how to fix the delivery and maintenance of our grid, perhaps we need to revisit the issue of overhead lines. The oft repeated claim is it costs a million dollars a mile to bury the lines. But what does it cost to repair the broken lines over a five-, 10- or 20-year span? Or to replace broken poles and trim trees? What is the harm to businesses, homes and families when the power goes out?
Maybe a look at long-term costs and benefits might prompt LIPA or its successor to reconsider and decide that it is worth the investment to put our power safely underground.
KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Students in Ms. Salmaggi’s class work with iPads in December at Southold High School.
I like to say good morning to our students. No, actually I love saying good morning to our students.
When I say this I mean to several hundred students as they arrive, and not a few as I may see them passing in the hall. It’s a simple act that has a powerful set of returns. Normally I greet the students who arrive by bus, but recently I took this simple act a step further and held the door open to those high school students who are dropped off, or who drive to school. They slowly trickled in at one of the entrances to our secondary building, perhaps surprised that the superintendent of schools was there to hold the door open and greet them with a smile.
At a time when budgets are straining, security of our public spaces are practicing lockdowns, lockouts, active shooter and evacuation drills, or as the pressure to perform on standardized tests ratchets up, it’s all the more important to demonstrate the importance of common decency and courtesy. The civility of our engagement with our youth is perhaps under the greatest strain of all.
Sure, I have many other pressing matters, all attenuated to the items that every school system must address. I must gather data to inform decisions that will impact the education of all students. But one set of data that I find important is to study the faces of our students, and to listen carefully to the tone of their disposition as they arrive at school to start a day of learning and growing.
Do they appear sad and withdrawn? Is there a sense of possibility and promise, a hopeful spirit filled with curiosity? To greet them early each morning is to get a glimpse into their hearts and souls. Some say good morning, others say hi, while others may still be a bit sleepy. There are those however, who have the demeanor of disengagement. Of the few hundred students that I greet, my mind wonders who is hurting inside.
Recently our school community had the misfortune of not seeing one of those faces entering our high school building. I am extremely pleased that our student is no longer missing.
The question still remains: How do we best prevent whatever hurt may be inside a young person’s heart that would keep them from coming to a safe place greeted with a smile, eager to journey down a path that respects them, stimulates their curiosity about life and leads them toward a better understanding of the world around them and their place within it? There are many pieces to such a complex puzzle.
The current zeal to rank, order, weed out, poke, prod and race to the top is no way to figure this out. Of this I’m sure.
Let’s take the time to be there, fully present, genuinely evaluating the whole child. Let’s start by everyone giving an unranked, non-rubric-scored, simple “good morning” each and every day that we have the good fortune to work in the company of children.
Mr. Gamberg is superintendent of Southold School District.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Vince Taldone and his put bull, Champ, just a few weeks before Champ was put down.
In the fall of 2010, I read an article in the Riverhead News-Review about the Town Board reconsidering the town’s animal shelter euthanasia policy.
In the article, Supervisor Sean Walter was quoted as saying, “Some of them have been in there for close to six months. The more humane thing is not to leave them in there for another six months.”
In part, I agreed. Certainly warehousing animals is not very humane.
Councilman Jim Wooten, the town’s liaison to the shelter, noted that most dogs do get adopted, but the less desirable animals, primarily pit bulls, remain.
Pit bulls (including the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier and the Staffordshire bull terrier) are some of the gentlest breeds of dogs. The American Temperament Test Society (ATTS.org) gives the pit bull a very high passing rate of 90.6 percent, which is better than the beagle, the cocker spaniel, the miniature poodle and more than 100 other breeds.
I decided that I had to save one of the dogs, so I visited petfinders.com and saw a photo of a senior pit bull mix named Champ, who had been at the shelter for more than one year.
With Supervisor Walter’s comment in mind — as well as my 92-year-old mother’s recent comment that she was lonely — I went off to the shelter.
I fell in love with Champ as soon as I met him. He was quiet, friendly and had a funny walk. A kind volunteer named Pat Lynch explained that Champ never barked and was a very gentle animal who was found abandoned.
When I looked at Champ, standing in the prison-like atmosphere of the shelter, I could almost hear him saying, “Take me home, please!”
So I did.
My mother expected me to return with a small fluffy dog that could sit on her lap. She took one look at the 70-pound Champ and immediately decided that she was afraid of the gentle dog. In time, though, he would win her over.
Shortly after we brought him home, we discovered that he had Lyme disease, hook worm, advanced heart worm and a bladder infection. I could have returned him to the shelter because of medical treatment costs, which the town certainly would not cover (euthanasia is much more affordable). Champ was so loving that I couldn’t imagine parting with him. He had quickly become part of the family. He stayed.
Champ survived the treatments. I was thrilled. So thrilled that I installed a new back door with a sturdy doggie door especially for Champ.
He became even happier when I started taking him on two long walks a day.
I think I enjoyed the walks as much as he did. After living in my neighborhood for almost 12 years, I recognized many but knew almost none of my neighbors. Champ loved every one them and soon my neighbors began to recognize us. We had conversations and I got to know them better.
As for my mother, she started spending her time reminding me (as if I needed to be reminded) to make sure that the water bowl was full and to feed Champ on time. Champ made her giggle like a little girl whenever he would charge out his doggie door and run around the yard to meet me by the grill when I cooked chicken.
He made both of us smile every day and brought us great joy when he lived with us.
In addition to spending more time with Champ, I also started spending time walking dogs as a volunteer at the Riverhead animal shelter. I got to know a number of volunteers who selflessly spent much time and effort to walk, play and otherwise socialize the dogs to keep them from going crazy being locked up for long periods without human contact. Animals need a comforting, human touch as much as we humans do.
Initially, I joined in discussions with the town’s animal shelter advisory committee but the politics were overwhelming and the town was clearly not going to spend any additional monies to make things substantially better for the dogs. I decided to focus on the animals at the shelter and also on Champ.
Over the past almost two years, Champ’s “funny walk” became worse. It was, as we suspected, neurological damage (either from the Lyme disease I treated him for or his previous home). On the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 8, Champ went out of his doggie door for the last time. He fell and lost the use of his hind legs.
We had no choice but euthanasia. We adopted him so he wouldn’t be euthanized but the choice was the only responsible course of action.
The next night, I closed Champ’s doggie door. He was gone from our lives and changed the way I thought of pit bulls, as well as many of my friends, family and neighbors who all fell in love with this kind and loving animal. Although he lived only two more years after adoption, he certainly had a loving home that he deserved.
For all of Champ’s buddies at the Riverhead shelter, as well as other town and private facilities, I can only hope that other people will skip the puppy mills and find a place in their lives for the unconditional love of a shelter dog. For me, I will take a little time and surely find another kind, loving animal for whom I can open that doggie door again!
If you are interested in adopting a dog, visit the Riverhead animal shelter. You also may want to visit the YouTube site for New York Bully Crew (a rescue group on Long Island) where you can watch videos of dogs who need a loving home:youtube.com/NewYorkBullyCrew.
Vince Taldone, a retired urban planner, is an executive board member of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association. He lives in downtown Riverhead.
Change is hard, and unless it’s a change for the better, don’t do it. Time has proved that the yellow-bag system works and works well.
Simply put, you pay for the amount you throw out, no more no less. That’s fair, and property owners aren’t carrying the full cost.
By purchasing the bags, homeowners, year-round and seasonal renters, office workers and short-term tourists all pay for the trash they put into the system.
Want to pay less? Then put less into the trash. How? Compost household plant and vegetable waste. Remove paper, plastic, glass and metal recyclables and buy products packaged in the least wasteful way.
The result of the yellow-bag program is that Southold finds itself with one of the highest recycling law compliance rates on Long Island. That’s something we should be proud of and not throw in the trash.
Still, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We need to see if there’s a better plan. But we shouldn’t think that shipping our trash elsewhere, as some carters profess to do, is a solution. It’s just passing the buck, and maybe even passing many bucks.
If another municipality is willing to take our trash, the only reason is they’ve found a way to make money from it. There is money in recycling paper, plastics, glass and metals, not a lot, but some. Perhaps the solution is for Southold, either alone or together with other East End Towns, to find ways to process, bundle and sell recyclables in a more cost-effective and profitable manner.
New York City requires the recycling of all plastic material with codes from 1 to 7. Southold Town accepts only codes 1 and 2. New York City also accepts all milk, juice and other beverage cartons as well as cardboard egg cartons, used aluminum foil and trays, and household scrap metals like chains, locks, scissors, etc.
If we want to help reduce the volume of household trash and, perhaps increase revenues from the sale of recyclable materials, perhaps Southold should expand and encourage the recycling of more items. That will reduce the need for yellow bags and so lower the cost per household. And increased revenues from recyclables sales may offset the reduction in yellow-bag use.
There may seem to be a disconnect when Southold says it’s looking to eliminate store plastic bags — and for good reason — while relying on yellow bags as a solution to the trash/recyclable problem, but the two policies are not out of sync.
Because of their relatively small size and sheer volume, it’s inevitable that a number of store plastic bags will find their way into the environment. They are known to cause the death of birds, turtles, fish and sea mammals that ingest the bags, mistaking them for jellyfish and other foods. Eliminating store plastic bags is a positive move.
Does that mean we should also get rid of the yellow trash bags? In this case, the benefits outweigh the cost. And we can still reduce the number of yellow bags used by increasing recycling options. Still, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for new, possibly bagless solutions.
What about cost? If Southold were to permit the dumping of unsorted trash at the transfer station, additional funds would be needed to build, run and maintain a clean and acceptable dumping, sorting and carting facility. Add that to the loss of over $400,000 generated by the yellow bags and you’re looking at the need to levy new taxes. By shifting the cost to the property owner instead of the individual user, a household of one person would pay the same as a household of four, six or more. Is that fair or right? No.
In these challenging times, cost often drives behavior. Some carters play the cost card and say people should be able to choose a less costly solution, even if it creates more waste here or elsewhere. But what may cost less today may cost more in the end.
The yellow-bag program is in the best interest of Southold and its future. And it’s fair. If you don’t want to take the time to separate your recyclables from your regular trash, then you should pay more. It’s your choice, but it’s also your responsibility to the community.
It’s efforts such as the yellow-bag program which make Southold a cleaner and more desirable place to live for all.
What’s the right solution? At this time, we don’t know. The matter needs more study, discussion and input from all sides. But we do know that the yellow-bag system has worked and should not be cast aside until a better, more effective and equitable system is developed.
Mr. Toedter, who lives in Southold, is president of the North Fork Environmental Council, but the opinions expressed here are his own.
Painful property tax increases could cease if state legislators wholeheartedly enacted Governor Cuomo’s property tax cap that limits annual property tax increases to 2 percent.
It is what voters want. In fact, last month’s Sienna College poll said that New Yorkers overwhelmingly favor the idea of a tax cap, 75 percent to 21 percent.
A tax cap with mandate relief for Long Island can be achieved, but it presents a real test for all of us, specifically our state elected officials.
First, it will be a test for the governor. Can he effectively leverage the overwhelming 3-1 margin of support for a tax cap so that a bill enacting a cap finally becomes law?
The governor’s “put people first” statewide tour, which I attended this past week, shows that he is striving to pass that test. Rather than just negotiating with the obstinate state Legislature, he is taking his advocacy to the citizenry and asking us to take action by educating our neighbors and fellow voters.
His message included sharing the findings of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, which found Suffolk’s property taxes to be 281 percent higher than the nation’s median real property tax base. In fact, all New York’s counties are in the top 20 percent nationwide.
Equally disturbing was last week’s survey that determined 26 percent of all New Yorkers plan on leaving within the next five years — that number includes 36 percent of those under 30 — due largely to New York’s crushing tax burden.
However, the governor anticipates that not all districts would welcome a 2 percent tax cap, and that is why he included an override provision if 60 percent of the voters in a school district chose to opt out of the cap. Also exempted from the tax cap are capital expenditures, such as the cost of new buildings or buses.
Second, it will be a test for the state Senate. To the Senate’s credit, on a bipartisan basis they passed the governor’s hard cap bill in January. But a bill passing only one house of the Legislature provides no relief to taxpayers. There is quite a bit of heavy lifting that our state senators must do if they really are serious about a tax cap.
Such an effort should include Long Island’s nine state senators building a coalition with their 21 fellow Assembly members to lobby as a regional bloc, rather than remaining complacent in their safe cocoon blocs of Republican versus Democrat or Assembly versus Senate. To date, such a Long Island non-partisan regional bloc has not transpired, even though there is just over one month left before the Legislature leaves Albany for the year. Such a regional bloc can not only push forward a tax cap, but will have the muscle to obtain true mandate relief for townships and school districts.
Third, it is also a test for eerily silent suburban Assembly members, especially those in the Democratic majority, of which there are seven on Long Island. They must join the governor by insisting that a mutually agreed upon property tax cap bill, with the appropriate mandate relief, passes both houses and is delivered to the governor’s desk.
Finally, it is a test for us as citizens to truly begin holding our elected officials accountable.
Our yardstick should be the old mariner’s adage: Don’t tell me the seas are rough, just tell me that you brought the boat to harbor safely. The opponents of a property tax cap may create choppy seas, but East End taxpayers must no longer tolerate excuses of political turbulence.
Our message to our legislators is simply this: Bring an enacted property tax cap and mandate relief law back to harbor.
Ms. Calcaterra is a New Suffolk attorney who made an unsuccessful bid to gain the Democratic line in last year’s First State Senate District election.