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Thursday
Oct032019

Suffolk Closeup - Election 2019 County Finances Are The Big Issue

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

On Election Day next month, on Tuesday, November 5, the leading political contest in Suffolk County will be for county executive. The incumbent, Democrat Steve Bellone, is being challenged by County Comptroller John M. Kennedy, Jr., a Republican. 

County finances are the big issue.

As a Kennedy posting on Facebook declares: “Steve Bellone has been a fiscal disaster for Suffolk County. Under his tenure…Big Tax Bellone has raised taxes and fees by over $200 million to pay for his $3.11 billion budget.” And the piece goes on.

Mr. Bellone, meanwhile, is stating on Facebook: “My 2020 Recommended Operating Budget focuses on one thing: Protecting the taxpayer…Freezes General Fund property taxes for 8th straight year…Complies with 2% Property Tax Cap…Without any new fees or one-shot revenues.”

The “Big Tax Bellone” nickname Mr. Kennedy is using harkens back to a situation in Suffolk three decades ago when incumbent County Executive Patrick Halpin, a Democrat, was labeled by the GOP as “High-Tax Halpin.” (The principal difference in the nicknames: a hyphen used in the one for Mr. Halpin.)

The strategy of describing Mr. Halpin (now chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority) as “High-Tax Halpin” and ripping into an increase he arranged in the county property tax was effective. He was defeated in his run for re-election by Republican Robert Gaffney.

Will a political battle involving the handling now of county finances hurt the incumbent county executive again? How effective might it be considering the extreme difference in the campaign chests of Mr. Bellone—$2 million—and Mr. Kennedy’s, just over $200,000? 

Posting on Facebook is free. We will, however, see the contest fought with direct mail, newspaper and radio ads and TV commercials. Polished TV spots for Mr. Bellone have just begun to air. Paid political advertising, of course, costs—a lot.

The “Big Tax Bellone” and “High-Tax Halpin” nicknames illuminate how Suffolk government has gotten into financial difficulties—with now hundreds of millions of dollars in debt that the county must repay.

Back in 1988 Mr. Halpin was just elected county executive and to deal with county fiscal problems his administration moved for an increase in the county property tax. This was done in a less than transparent way with a true amount of the hike acknowledged only at the last moment.   

The Halpin property tax jump struck a raw nerve politically in Suffolk. 

Mr. Halpin never asked for a property tax increase again but wasn’t forgiven by voters—three years later losing re-election. And increasingly Suffolk County executives have favored depending on sales tax money—usually small yet repeated hits for residents—over a politically-sensitive single amount due on the yearly tax bills. 

Now half the budget of county government is based on sales tax money. Borrowing has ensued when sales tax dollars haven’t come in as anticipated. Meanwhile, the sales tax rate has climbed upwards to today a combined total in Suffolk of 8.625 percent. 

Also, Mr. Kennedy has repeatedly—as the county’s fiscal watchdog as comptroller and before that as a county legislator—charged Mr. Bellone with fiscal mismanagement. 

Mr. Kennedy’s current Facebook posting states: “As a result of fiscal mismanagement, Suffolk County has declared 7 fiscal emergencies and received 7 bond downgrades. Suffolk County is now issuing JUNK BONDS!”

Moody’s Investment Service cited Suffolk’s “deteriorated financial position” in its downgrading of county bonds in 2018. Last year, too, the county’s non-partisan Budget Review Office reported Suffolk government has accumulated $883 million in debt to pay for operating expenses over the past decade.

Mr. Bellone denies financial mismanagement and says on his county executive website: “When I first took office, the county was in financial ruins, and we have been making significant strides to implement structural reforms ever since. We are laser focused on creating a new financial future for Suffolk County.”

Mr. Bellone of North Babylon is seeking a third, four-year term. He previously was Babylon Town supervisor. Mr. Kennedy of Nesconset has held positions in Suffolk government since 1986—including 10 years as a legislator—and he served in the offices of county executive and county clerk. He was elected comptroller in 2014 and was re-elected last year. Both are attorneys.

An indication that campaign chest size might not be all-important: when Mr. Kennedy ran for comptroller in 2014 he defeated Democrat James Gaughran (now a state senator) despite being outspent $800,000 to $100,000.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.   

Wednesday
Sep252019

Suffolk Closeup - St James Resident Robert Lipp Retires From County Budget Review Office

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Robert Lipp of St. James retired this month as director of Suffolk County’s Budget Review Office. It was created in 1976 following the establishment of a Suffolk County Legislature in 1970. It was seen as a Suffolk version of the U.S. General Accounting Office (now called the Government Accountability Office).

It was a brilliant concept for Suffolk. And Dr. Lipp has been a brilliant director of BRO. 

The GAO was formed in 1921 to be, as its history relates, “a U.S. legislative agency that monitors and audits government spending and operations. The GAO tracks how the legislative and executive branches of the government use taxpayer dollars…The GAO serves as a congressional watchdog over government spending.” It’s “an independent and non-partisan government agency.” 

Likewise, Suffolk’s BRO is as its “mission statement” declares “the professional, non-partisan” entity with a “civil service staff that assists in the function of legislative oversight by reviewing and monitoring the budget for the legislature.”

The BRO not only critiques the county’s recommended annual Operating Budget and its Capital Program and Capital Budget—and the BRO reports are hundreds of pages long analyzing details of these spending programs. It reviews, as well, other county financial plans from proposed labor settlements to the yearly budget of Suffolk Community College and requested fare increases on ferries that run within the county.

Of all the directors of BRO through its 43 years—and as a journalist I’ve dealt with all them—Dr. Lipp has had the strongest academic credentials. Indeed, he has been a visiting professor at Stony Brook University where he received a doctorate in economics. (At Stony Brook he received an “Excellence in Teaching Award.”) After graduating from Stony Brook, he was a professor at Adelphi University for more than three years before deciding to join BRO.

A call to Dr. Lipp on any county fiscal subject results in tapping into a Suffolk official with an encyclopedic knowledge of county finances—able to provide information in seconds. Moreover, he is a straight-shooter personifying the word “non-partisan” in the BRO’s description of itself.

When his retirement was announced at the bi-weekly meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature on September 4, he was given a standing ovation. 

He’s had a very hard year personally. His wife, Linda, died, and so did his brother, Michael, as did a cousin, too. At 68, Dr. Lipp decided to retire.

He was director of BRO for seven years, on its staff for 35.

Also, in doing financial analyses for Suffolk in recent decades, he has been faced with a conflict between what he terms the “analytical and the political”—analyzing a program and its need and what politically could be done. The key issue here is what has become the increasing dependence by Suffolk through the years on a sales tax—a variable source of government income. New York State first adopted a state sales tax in 1965. Then Suffolk began a county sales tax in 1969. Of Suffolk’s $3 billion annual operating budget, now half is dependent on sales tax money.

The sales tax rate in Suffolk now is 8.625 percent—which includes the state getting 4 percent and Suffolk 4.25 percent. (The MTA gets the remaining fraction.) 

In years that are flush, when business is good and there’s “a gravy train,” Mr. Lipp commented, all is OK. But that’s not always the situation. In “the last quarter of 2008 and all of 2009,” Dr. Lipp was noting last week, sales tax revenues didn’t come in as expected, Suffolk and the rest of the U.S. were hit by the Great Recession. And Suffolk had a “negative growth rate.”  Said Dr. Lipp about the ups-and-downs of sales tax revenue: “It’s a real problem.” And this “is not a recent revelation.” Decades ago there was the view that depending on a sales tax “was asking for trouble.” 

In response, the county has done borrowing, and the payments on millions of dollars in debt that’s due makes financing many new and important county initiatives difficult if not impossible.

Dr. Lipp and his late wife had three daughters—two of whom live on the island of Maui in Hawaii. He enjoys visiting them, one a high school mathematics teacher, the other the director for a health care provider—which connects to the subject of his doctoral thesis at Stony Brook: health economics. He mentions that an “interesting aspect” of the findings in his thesis was that “in any single-payer health care system there is a safety valve and people who have the money can get to the front of the line.” A third daughter has remained on Long Island and is an art school director.

At Stony Brook his courses have included Health Economics, Public Finance, and Regional Economics. He has taught what he very much knows. 

 

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.   

Wednesday
Sep182019

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Green Energy Future Is Before Us

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Substantially reducing climate change is technologically feasible. What’s needed? Action. The main cause for climate change and global warming and consequent sea level rise is the burning of fossil fuels—oil, coal and gas. Technologies are available today to replace oil, coal and gas with non-carbon emitting green energy.

Suffolk County has been a trailblazer. In 2014, the East Hampton Town Board voted unanimously “to establish a goal to meet 100% of the town’s community-wide electricity consumption with renewable energy sources for the year 2020.” Also, the town would “meet the equivalent of 100% of…energy consumption…in all sectors…including heating and transportation with renewable energy sources by the year 2030.” In doing this, East Hampton became the first municipality on the East Coast of the U.S to set a 100% renewable energy goal.

The Town of Southampton in 2017 followed with its100% renewable energy goal.

In Brookhaven Town, Ed Romaine, among the most environmentally committed Suffolk officials as a county legislator and now town supervisor, has led in green energy initiatives.

In 2019 “100% clean energy mandates have swept the nation with many passed in the last six months,” reported PV Magazine in June. The article pointed to the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act enacted in June aimed at a “100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions…by 2050 with the stated goal of ‘exercising a global leadership role on greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaption.’” The word “Leadership” in the act’s title is telling. As Governor Andrew Cuomo said in signing the measure: “As Washington turns a blind eye and rolls back decades of environmental protections, New York turns to a future of net zero emissions.” 

President Trump calls climate change a “hoax.” But that hasn’t stopped government action through the U.S. As the Sierra Club states on its website: “Over 90 cities, more than ten counties and two states, have already adopted ambitious 100% clean energy goals.” U.S. cities include Chicago, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Denver, Cleveland, St. Louis, San Francisco, Orlando, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Santa Barbara, Atlanta, Amherst, Gainesville, Madison, Milwaukee, Palo Alto, Aspen, San Jose, Spokane, St. Petersburg. Santa Barbara, Sarasota, Burlington, Cambridge, St. Paul, Tallahassee. 

There is action at the grassroots. Google “100% Renewable Energy” and there is website after website of Non-Governmental Organizations and environmental groups laying out where 100% renewable energy is happening and the mix of green energy being used in reaching the goal. “The Solutions Project” (solutionsproject.org) declares: “A world powered by the wind, water, and sun is not only possible—it’s already happening.”

There’s deep involvement by religious leaders with Pope Francis in an important role.

A top analyst in detailing the abundance of green energy alternatives is Dr. Marc Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University. This includes solar photovoltaics, concentrated solar power, wind, hydroelectric, wave-power, tidal-power, geothermal and the list goes on.  He appeared last month in the national TV program I’ve hosted for now 28 years, “Enviro Close-Up.” You can view this show—the title is “The Hoax That Nuclear Power Is Green”—online at www.envirovideo.com  

There’s more political and media attention to climate change than ever. Notable this month was CNN’s Climate Crisis Town Hall with 10 leading Democratic presidential aspirants. In coming days there’ll be a Global Climate Strike led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. On September 23 a Climate Action Summit will be held at the UN organized by its secretary-general, Antonio Guterres. He says: “We are in a battle for our lives. But it is a battle we can win.” The Inconvenient Truth of Al Gore is center-stage.

The oil, coal and gas industries and their cronies in government will keep trying to stop the momentum. Their strategy is exposed in the book Merchants of Doubt by science historians Naomi Oreskes of Harvard and Erik Conway of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They document how the climate change-denial strategy is modeled after the decades-long tobacco industry strategy of casting doubt over the link between smoking and cancer.

Others are trying to sabotage what’s happening. These include the anti-environmental president of Brazil giving his go-ahead for the burning of Brazil’s rain forest which supplies 20% of the world’s oxygen. And “the Indian industrial giant Adani” which after “lobbying and politicking,” as the New York Times recently reported on its front page, was given the OK by Australia to extract coal from the “vast, untapped coal reserve in Northeast Australia” to be burnt in Adani power plants in India. This “despite warnings by scientists that reducing coal burning is key to staving off the most disastrous effects of climate change.”

Nevertheless, the road to a green energy future is before us—to be taken. 

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.   

 

Monday
Aug192019

4JRYSKDS For Jerry's Kids The Fight Against Muscular Dystrophy 

 

4JRYSKDS

By June Kempf

“ Mema, what do the letters on your license plates mean? “                                  

 “What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I suppose it means something to you - or about some organization you are in.”

“Well, they mean, For Jerry’s Kids,” I said.

“Who?”

It is a reaction I come to expect these days. In the past, people I met along the road figured it out. They voiced their support by honking their car horns and giving thumbs up signals as they passed me – especially around Labor Day. But today, 13 year old G G, didn’t have a clue. Clearly, I had some explaining to do.

After all, I have been driving around with the same vanity plates for over 25 years. I keep renewing them time and time again, even though they are essentially stale dated. Today, few people know what ‘4JRYSKDS’ signifies; although one truck driver recently gave me what I perceived  to be a friendly gesture  – while I was negotiating that turn from Moriches Road heading  west on 25A – the one without a turn signal.  That driver’s ‘acknowledgement’ was so enthusiastic, I am considering holding on to the tags for sentimental reasons.

I looked to G G for her opinion. She looked up from her iPad with a blank stare on her face and asked again, “So, who is he?”

Ok, I thought. Why should I seriously expect a teenager to recognize the name Jerry Lewis? Come to think of it, can I really expect anyone under the age of 30 to remember? They missed all of it.

“Jerry Lewis was a comedian, an actor and a super hero to kids all over the world - especially to those who suffered from Muscular Dystrophy.”

“Oh, Uncle Jay,” she whispered as she swiped the screen. 

“Listen to me…. Every Labor day, since the fifties Jerry (Lewis) hosted a super fundraiser called the Jerry Lewis telethon - to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association…” 

G G   rolled her eyes, half listening. I went on anyway to tell her all about that once famous telethon that no longer exists.  

“I can google it, Mema.”

“Well, Google can’t tell it like I can.”

As briefly as possible, I told her that Jerry Lewis, the father of the MDA telethon, was once idolized for his comedy and his devotion to his kids who suffered from this deadly disease. He and the telethon raised millions of dollars to support research and the families of ‘Jerry’s kids.’

In the beginning, the telethon was aired nationally, straight through the Labor Day weekend. Jerry Lewis entertained and pulled at viewers heartstrings.  His show presented cameos featuring the plights of the patients and their families, while Jerry passionately pleaded for listeners to pick up the phones and make a pledge.  Almost everyone who faithfully watched the show, made a pledge -  even if they couldn’t contribute much.

There were several centers around the country where volunteers took calls and processed the pledges as they came in. One such center was located in Hauppauge at the Sheraton hotel – right on the Vanderbilt parkway. 

The telethon meant so much to me and my family. It brought to the public eye, all the wonderful assistance MDA gave to victims of 40 different neuromuscular diseases including ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).The show demonstrated how difficult it was for patients and families to cope with just the daily routines. Jerry Lewis would beg viewers for funding to supply medical services, support groups and summer camp that gave respite for the families of ‘his kids’. We were one of those families.

We’d arrive at the call center on a Sunday afternoon after personally canvassing the neighborhood for donations. After turning in our collection packets, we’d work the phones in shifts through the night and all through Labor Day. Periodically - just when we were about to collapse, the tote board would display the local and national pledge amounts. This released an exponential burst of energy that would rally everyone in the room. In seconds all the volunteers were enthusiastically answering the calls.

“Good evening, Jerry Lewis Telethon…” 

Some donors would call in their pledges in the middle of the night to ‘talk’ and sometimes offer consolation to those volunteers who had kids with the disease. Some callers set challenging conditions.  One woman pledged five thousand dollars, If she could speak to Jerry Lewis.  Since Jerry Lewis was in Las Vegas and we were in Hauppauge, we ran all around the call center looking for our in-house Jerry Lewis impersonator:

“Hello, Ladeee…?”  Our man schmoozed the caller with wise cracks and shtick. It worked. Ladeee followed through with a check for the full amount - all because of that conversation with ‘Jerry’. 

We worked the telethon for 30 years, until MDA headquarters changed the venue. The old format wasn’t working well.  Jerry Lewis’ health was failing and people were not calling in or watching telethon anymore. The system had to be updated and streamlined.  Today, G G can contribute on her iPad - instantly. But what the fundraiser gained in efficiency, It lost in spirit – no longer providing that special ‘personal touch’ that Jerry and his Love Network, brought to all on Telethon weekend.  

While MDA operates with less hoopla today, it now receives support through social networking, ads and large corporations that operate their own fundraising activities.  One such entity has been the US Post Office, a long time friend to Jerry’s kids. 

A few weeks before Labor Day, local  post offices all over the country  run their own fundraisers, quietly seeking donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association,  enabling their patrons to continue Jerry’s mission and ultimately find a cure. 

“Can I donate?” GG WAS listening.

“Sure, but what do you think about my license plates? Should I keep 4JRYSKDS or get new ones?”

“Keep them, but you should change one letter.”

“What one?”

“Change  the S to a Z. I thought 4JRYSKDS meant ‘For Jersey kids.”

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why that truck driver waved at me the way he did. He had Jersey plates. 

June Capossela Kempf: Author: Yo God! Jay’s Story and Lady of the Dollhouse traditionally published by Keithpublications www.ml. facebook.com. www.Keithpublications.com www.https://BarnesandNoble.com
www.Junesstories.us www.Amazon.com

 

 

Wednesday
Aug142019

Hauppauge HS Teacher Arrested For Sexually Abusing Student

Mark KimesSuffolk County Police have arrested a Hauppauge High School teacher for sexually abusing a teenage boy at the teacher’s home in Moriches.

An 18-year-old male reported to detectives that when he was a 16-year-old student at Hauppauge High School, located at 500 Lincoln Boulevard, he was sexually abused by his chorus teacher, Mark Kimes, at the teacher’s home. Following an investigation, Seventh Squad detectives determined Kimes had inappropriate contact with the teen while serving as his teacher.

Kimes, 53, of  Moriches, was arrested at his home at approximately 6:45 p.m. on August 13 and charged him with Criminal Sex Act 1st Degree and three counts of Endangering the Welfare of a Child. He was held overnight at the Seventh Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip on August 14.

The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information is asked to call the Seventh Squad at 631-852-8752 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

 

A criminal charge is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.