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Wednesday
Nov072018

Calling County Budget A Political Stunt Trotta Asks NYS Comptroller To Investigate

 

Suffolk County Legislators Trotta, McCaffrey and Flotteron Call County Executive’s Tax Cap and Entire Budget a Political Stunt

 “There are simply too many loopholes in the State’s tax cap law when a County Executive can raise taxes by 9% over a two-year period and claim he’s operating with a 2% cap,” said Legislator Trotta.

(Smithtown, NY)… Three members of the Suffolk Legislature’s Republican Caucus, Suffolk County Legislators Rob Trotta, Kevin McCaffrey and Steven Flotteron call County Executive’s Steve Bellone’s claim that his budget is staying within the tax cap is a political stunt. “He is lowering the sewer tax for 76,000 people in the Southwest Sewer District when it should have been lowered in 2012, when the bond was paid off – but he continued to impose the tax. In addition, over 300,000 households will be above the tax cap. This is nothing but a shell game,” said Legislator Trotta.  We would like the New York State Comptroller to investigate this matter. 

The legislators noted that the action by the County Executive to continue taxing the residents of the Southwest Sewer District to pay off a debt that was already retired prompted a class of ratepayers to file suit in the New York State Supreme Court to invalidate the Executive’s illegal taxation and force the return of the funds to the ratepayers. The case is presently pending.

Instead of having immediately returned all that improperly raised money to ratepayers, the County Executive has played a cute game of selectively returning only enough money from the illegally created fund to offset the huge tax increases he has proposed in the police district over the past several years. All this so he can make the bogus claim in his campaign literature that he is living within the 2% property tax cap.

“His mismanagement of county government is evident by the five bond downgrades during his administration,” added Trotta.

“County Executive Bellone is up to his deceitful practices again. I am outraged that the County Executive would single out and abuse the rate payers of the Southwest Sewer District by overtaxing them millions of dollars. This is the same shell game that he played in Babylon with the garbage tax,” said Legislator Steven J. Flotteron.

Bellone’s critics point to multiple audits by the New York State Comptroller, who excoriated  Bellone’s practices as Babylon Town Supervisor in improperly overtaxing garbage district taxpayers in order to create a slush fund that would later be used to offset a 13% general fund property tax increase.

“This is about transparency, or the lack of it. The County Executive is claiming to lower the taxes for the ratepayers of the Southwest Sewer District to help them but in only so the decrease can be used as an offset to raise your taxes elsewhere and stay under the tax cap. The truth is the ratepayers of the sewer district were overcharged and our sewer taxes shouldn’t be as high as they are,” said Legislator Kevin McCaffrey.

The legislators demand that the County Executive give the taxpayers back all of the money he improperly took from them and give it back now, and not through drips that help paper over his huge tax increases in other parts of the budget,

 

Friday
Oct262018

LWV Debate County Comptroller Candidates John Kennedy And Jay Schneiderman

Part II 

Suffolk County Comptroller candidates John Kennedy and Jay Schneiderman

John Kennedy has lived in Smithtown most of his adult life. He is seeking a second term as Suffolk County comptroller. Prior to getting elected comptroller, he served on the Suffolk County legislature in 12th LD for 10 years   Kennedy has an MBA in business Administration from Adelphi, a JD from St. Johns and a BA in psychology from Stony Brook. When he ran for the office of comptroller his platform was for more audits, less debt and better service. He believes that he has fulfilled that platform saying, “promises made promises kept.” 

Jay Schneiderman grew up in Hauppauge. He has a bachelor of arts from Ithaca and a masters from Cortland University. He is the Supervisor of the town of Southampton and in the town of East Hampton, and served as a Suffolk County Legislator for 12 years. Schneiderman emphasizes his strong fiscal management in both towns that have received Triple A bond ratings. He sees himself as a strong independent watchdog and touts his 19 year record in elected office of having never raised property taxes. Schneiderman said that he is running to help resolve some of the county’s fiscal challenges.

Complete guestions and answers can be found on the League Of Women Voter YouTube page

There were seven questions asked of the candidates. 

Question #1 Suffolk County recently suffered a downgrade in its credit rating from Moody’s Investment Services and the NYS Comptroller rated the county’s finances as suffering from “significant stress.” What impact does this have on the citizens of Suffolk County and as comptroller what impact can you have?

Both candidates explained the role of Suffolk County Comptroller as being that of a chief fiscal officer having the responsibility for providing oversight, but having no policy function. Kennedy expressed the sentiment that the downgrade would have no impact on the interest the county is paying on prior debt. He said that it was a “very ominous warning” that the county is in dire financial strains and that the 2019 budget presented by County Executive Bellone “included shaky and problematic estimates.” Schneidermann  was a more concerned about the Moody’s downgrade. He said the county has borrowed a lot including $300 million to cover pension costs and he explained that the debt service on that money amounts to $41 million a year. He expressed the sentiment that the downgrade should be revisited since the proposed 2019 budget was sound with no one shot revenue generators and that the sales tax revenue had increased. 

Question #2 - What is status of Suffolk County revenues and projections and do we get our share of online sales tax revenues? Schneiderman - Was a bit optimistic when talking about county sales tax revenue which generates $1.5 billion for the county. He pointed out that recently there was 5% growth amounting to $30 million more in sales tax revenue than projected. He added that the county needed do everything possible to support small business and to avoid making policy that might adversely affect them and reduce sales tax. Saying revenue suffered with the growth of the internet, he acknowledged that Amazon and other major retailers were now collecting sales tax.  He agreed with John Kennedy that the 2019 projections for sales tax revenue might be ambitious. Kennedy - Called Suffolk County a $3 billion municipal corporation. Kennedy said the projected 3.5% increase in projected tax revenue is higher than Nassau’s 2.5%, “we’re trying to gauge what impact would be on consumption.” He pointed to $32.9 million transfer being used to plug a 2018 hole in the budget. “We have to have a smaller budget, we have to spend less that is what the majority refuses to accept.”

Question #3- Suffolk County Comptroller is elected directly by voters and should be independent of county executive yet it is vital to have good communication and align on goals. Is it a partisan or nonpartisan office? Kennedy -  No, there is no democratic, republican, or minor party way to audit the audit function, vouchers for payment of vendors, payroll, plug every there is no politics associated in a ministerial function. “Some might say there appears to be a push and tug, I say bravo, that’s the way the charter was set up.” The comptroller needs to be independent, arms length, it is a non-policy office charged with verifying financial transactions. Schneiderman- A comptroller needs to put party behind, be party blind, go where trail leads. You are charged with rooting out corruption, fraud and misappropriation and you need to do that without favoritism and animosity. I will be vigilant in rooting out corruption.  I will be an independent watch dog not a political attack dog.

Question #4 -A new Deputy police commissioner and Deputy DA were appointed after they retired (from their county positions) some legislators say this is another product of the broken system. Can you clarify how this occurs?  Is there any role for the comptroller or audits? Is this something that can be fixed in someway? Schneiderman - The comptroller does not negotiate contracts. He stated that in terms of payouts, all the comptroller can do is make sure that it is accurate based on hours served, look at time sheets and make sure protections are in place. If they’re due the money, they’re due the money. Schneiderman believes that a comptroller can have an elevated role in advising policy, “say if I believe that it’s a risky scheme that might undermine county’s financial position going forward. If they are going into a contract and i have some concerns about outlying years that might lead to tax increases and other ways they are going to have to generate the revenue.” Kennedy - Addressing the issue of waivers under which these appointments were made. Kennedy said the enity must make the case to NYS Civil Service, that this individual is the only individual that can perform that particular function.  “I think that we have to be mindful of the fact that each one of these individuals is collecting their pension and did so at the time they were picked”.  he question the position that out of 1.5 million people they are the only two with the skills to do the job.

Question #5 - LWV observes the SC Waiver Committee. Some legislators say it is a way not to use the RFP for bid process, to go around the bidding process. Does the comptroller have imput or a fiscal responsibllity, imput here and where does it fit together? Both candidates expressed concern about the waiver process. Kennedy explained that the waiver committee is a mechanism to relieve the county from the obligations of the rfp process and its requirement to engage in the solicitation of bids obligation which is  to select the lowest most qualified bidder. When waiver committee either there were not three bids submitted or extra necessary or urgency. Kennedy was emphatic in his belief that there are abuses in the waiver process. Schneiderman concurred  and said he also has concerns with the process. He explained how he has, in his role as town supervisor, discarded bids and began a new rfp to get better results and stressed the need to be more aggressive in outreach.  “if you don’t like the numbers you have to go out again, not skip the harder step and issue a waiver.” 

Question #6 We have a NYS comptroller office that sends out weekly emails that summarize and presents the audits The League wants to see transparency and sunlight in county government. Is this something that would be useful? Does the county work with state comptroller? Both Schneiderman and Kennedy expressed support for NYS Comptroller Tom Dinapoli, the information his office provides and the helpful assistance they receive. Both indicated that they would continue to work with NYS on auditing and other projects.

Question #7- How do you do more with less in comptroller office? Kennedy-  I’ve kept the comptroller’s budget static. Combining the two offices of  treasurer and comptroller through the accelerated consolidation we have saved $1 million salary savings having five less positions a year. Comptroller’s office has brought in  $8 million in audit recovery reduced $35 million in interest debt by refinancing debt.  Schneiderman - Can’t always do more with less, sometimes you do less. He sited work being done in the health dept where less is being done and the county’s public transportation system (less bus routes) as an examples of not being able to do more with less. Schneiderman talked about the difficult decisions that are required when the funding is not available. Sometimes doing less means layoffs and closing a nursing home, you can’t always do more with less sometimes you have to make tough choices.

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Oct252018

LWV's Debate With Assembly, County Comptroller And Town Council Candidates

The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Smithtown hosted a debate for candidates in NY Assembly District 8,  Suffolk County Comptroller and Smithtown Town Council. The event was moderated by St. James resident and member of the LWV Lisa Scott. The LWV has been hosting candidate debates for decades this event was professional and very informative. Voters can watch the debate on YouTube *

The questions asked allowed audience members an understanding of who the candidates were, why they were running and what they hoped to accomplish.  Ms. Scott began the event by announcing the cancellation of a planned debate with the candidates running for office in  Congressional District 1. Both congressional candidates Perry Gershon and Lee Zeldin had accepted the LWV’s invitation to participate in a Smithtown debate, the LWV was unable to secure a location after a local church declined.

Ms. Scott read the following statement : “We regret to announce that church leaders advised last night that they cannot host the 1st CD candidate event on Oct. 23. Although they strongly value civic engagement and they realize that the League of Women Voters as well as the campaign teams have worked for months to thoroughly plan for candidate dialogue and discussion of positions on issues, they are most concerned that the state of civil discourse and polarization at this time make it impossible for anyone to guarantee that there will not be problems. Since this would have been the first true debate between the two candidates and only 2 weeks before election day, the probable large turnout of candidate supporters outside the church building would have overwhelmed the site and the surrounding neighborhood, even with public safety present.”

The debate was broken-up into three parts; NYS Assembly candidates Michael Fitzpatrick and David Morrisey, John Kennedy and Jay Schneiderman for Suffolk County comptroller, Smithtown Town Council candidates Amy Fortunato and Tom Lohmann. 

PART I

NYS Assembly candidates Michael Fitzpatrick and David Morrissey -

Opening statements - Michael Fitzpatrick is seeking a 9th term in the NYS Assembly he would like to continue the fight for fiscal responsibility, “the hallmark” of his career in government”, stem the population flow out of NYS, improve the business climate which he believes will increase resources which can be used to deal with the opioid problem. David Morrissey is a first time candidate, a software engineer with an MBA in business admin. He is a former Republican who changed affiliation to Democrat 15 years ago. Morrissey’s oldest son William suffered from mental illness and drug addiction before becoming a “statistic”  dying  from a drug overdose.  He is running to address the opioid epidemic, women’s issues, infrastructure and the environment.

Question #1 - Opinion on the loss of the SALT (State and Local Tax Decuctions) deduction. Fitzpatrick -expressed some concern but said most people in NYS will see a reduction in taxes. “In the long term the potential benefit is that it sends a message to states like NY that spend a lot to get their houses in order.” Need mandate relief. Morrissey- Said the loss of the SALT deductions is a big middle finger to NYS and an assault on the majority of Americans who live in largest states. Declaring that Fitzpatrick wants to strangle Albany, he believes Albany is a positive enabler. “We need to ask more from our government to harness it with vision and goals to address infrastructure and opioid addiction.”

Question #2 - New York Health Act(NYHA) Would you sponsor and vote for NYHA- Fitzpatrick - Does not support and called it very dangerous. Fitzpatrick stated NYHA would ban private health care coverage. Competition and the market forces to bring down cost of drugs. Fitzpatrick believes that there is universal support for coverage for preexisting conditions. The cost of covering preexisting conditions would be spread out. Morrissey - Wonderful law. Believes in a single payer system and sees a need to develop systems to simplify administrative overhead that will save money. He would also hold big pharma accountable for the opioid crisis.

Question #3 What concrete steps can be done about MS13?  Fitzpatrick -It should concern us all begins with immigration, illegal, unaccompanied minors coming in. Cannot afford to take care of illegals education and health care passing the NYHA would allow illegals access to health NYS must get tough in terms of penalties. Morrissey - Spanish translating cops and detectives. Cops have a difficult time working with people when they don’t understand what they are saying. We can’t demonize hispanic people. We need to work with hispanics who make up twenty per cent of Suffolk County population. Morrissey believes the first step is to engage in communities. 

Question #4- What single legislative action could you take to reduce gun violence in NYS? Morrissey - The Red flag law preventing firearms in homes with domestic violence where spouses are at 20 times more risk for gun deaths.  He believes that the public has no business carrying assault rifles, there should be no reciprocity, no concealed carry in NY and guns should not be brought into schools. Fitzpatrick - Red Flag law was too rushed to be supported and needs to be improved. Possible problem with double jeopardy The problem is not law the abiding who own guns for protection and hunting or the wealthy people who carry gun for protection.

Question #5 A Drunk Driver hit a boy scout who died. what kind of offense is drunk driving, is it considered murder? Should NYS make Drunk Driving law stronger.  Morrissey - Not sure of a legal aspect. I am a person in recovery, vehicular homicide is horrific for the victim’s family. He said that alcoholism is no excuse and that treatment must be available in jail. Fitzpatrick - I am not an attorney. In addition to having to live with this crime those who get caught will be prosecuted with penalties that are severe. 

Question #6 NYS is 46th in voter turnout, do you support early voting.. Morrissey - Supports early voting pointed out that some people are unable to get to the polls. Wants to make it easeier for college students to vote. People need more time to vote which is a privilege and a right. Supports early voter registration. Fitzpatrick - No excuse absentee voting “early voting costs a lot of money” two day voting and Sat. or Sunday voting. Request online absentee ballots. Political parties already work to get college students to vote. 

Question #7 School Financing Is there a more equitable way to finance schools position and opionion on charter schools. Morrissey - Current system guaranteed to keep social inequities. Charter schools do not adhere to same standards and are select students. Money that is spent on charter schools could go to improve education for all students. Fitzpatrick - We spend record amounts in aide to education $26 billion for schools which is threatened by NYS senate becoming Democratic in the election and the city delegation gains control. Property tax because you can’t depend on income tax. On charters parents deserve choice in education. 70,000 people in NYC waiting to get into a charter school.

Question #8 - NYS’s government has been found to be one of the most corrupt and unethical and ineffective governtment in the country. Why run and how can you clean it up? Morrissey - One problem is conflict of interest. Pay legislators more to avoid conflicts, require transparency and legislators must recuse themselves when there is a conflict . Fitzpatrick - “You can’t legislate morality. Some very, very smart and bright and ethical people in the legislature on both sides.”Get every elected official out of defined benefit pension the mustard seed from where this all comes. Elected officials must go into a 401K program. 

Morrissey used the two minutes alloted for closing comments to say that part of the problem in government are leaders who stopped representing the public’s interest. He then went after Fitzpatrick’s record saying he voted against women’s right to privacy with doctor, equal pay, red flag law, he said Fitzpatrick sides with insurance companies and big pharma, Wall St. over Main St., supports coupling tests scores with teacher evaluations. He stated that he hasn’t heard anything Fitzpatrick had done proactively to address the opioid crisis, called him out on Kings Park sewers and local infrastructure. 

Fitzpatrick used his time to make closing comments to criticize Morrisey’s closing calling him “full of crap” which drew a negative response from the audience. Fitzpatrick focused on Democrats who he said needed to answer to charges of corruption. ‘I am proud of my record. I have been a lone voice advocating for change in Albany to stop the flow of people out of NYS. They are leaving because of policies put in place by Cuomo, Spitzer through Democratic controlled Assembly and the NYS Republican Senate which leans too far to the left.” Fitzpatrick said that Morrissey’s account of his record was wrong and mentioned his support for an opioid task force and stated that he supported a lot of things in the budget that have brought money back for the district.  “I have served this town admirably.”

*Listen to complete questions and answers on LWV YouTube page

Monday Part II Suffolk County Comptroller candidates 

Monday
Oct222018

Campaign Signs Become An Issue In Town Council Race

By Pat Biancaniello

An unanticipated snafu in the town council race has some Smithtown Democrats riled up. Specifically, the issue is the wording on town council candidate Tom Lohmann’s lawn signs, which according to Tom Lohmann, was a mistake. Lohmann’s signs inform residents that they should re-elect Lohmann who has never been elected. Lohmann was appointed by the Republican town board to his position on the board to fill a vacancy that resulted when Ed Wehrheim became town supervisor.

Candidate Amy Fortunato gave Smithtown Matters the following statement: “Obviously, signs don’t vote. Lawn signs or any other political advertisements are intended to inform voters, not to deceive.  It’s a logical impossibility to re-elect someone who wasn’t elected in the first place.  It’s clearly misstating the will of Smithtown voters. It’s pretty clear that the intent of these lawn signs is to mislead voters into thinking that my opponent was ever elected in the first place. The truth is Mr. Lohmann came in last place in the 2017 election with the fewest number of votes of all the six candidates.  For someone who was never elected to office to advertise for ‘re-election’ is a blatant mistruth and conveys to voters the false impression of legitimacy. It’s a strong reminder of our need for integrity, transparency and ethics by those who serve in public office.” 

Sounding a little frustrated in a phone conversation Tom Lohmann said that the signs cost over $700 and that they would remain. He emphatically denied that he was trying to mislead voters. Saying that he did not personally order the lawn signs, he stated  “the Re-Elect should have been removed, it was a mistake. When I am out campaigning I tell everyone that I was appointed.” 

Lawn signs are used by candidates to increase name recognition and when posted at a residence it signals support. The effectiveness of lawn signs on the voting public is debatable. A study of the impact of lawn signage on a political campaings from 2015 shows mixed results with a small impact on influencing elections.

Tuesday
Oct162018

Indefatigable Amy Fortunato Asks Respectfully For Your Vote

By Pat Biancaniello

Amy Fortunato is on a mission to become Smithtown’s newest council person by winning the November 6th special election and she is indefatigable in her effort. Answer your door and you might find her standing there. Attend any event in any part of the town and you will see Ms. Fortunato shaking hands, listening to people and talking with them about her ideas. According to Fortunato her motivation comes from a strong belief that taxpayers need an “independent voice for transparency”  which she feels is missing on the current Town Board which is currently one hundred percent Republican. Willing to set aside partisan labels, Amy feels compelled to be an advocate for Smithtown taxpayers, pledging to hold government accountable; irrespective of party.   

This is the second attempt to win a seat on the town board for both Fortunato and her opponent, Republican Thomas Lohmann.  In November 2017 she received 10,196 votes to win 17.60 per cent of the total vote count finishing third behind Lynne C. Nowick 14,132 votes and Thomas J McCarthy 12,969 votes.  Thomas Lohmann finished in sixth place receiving 5,394 votes or 9.31 percent of the vote in the 2017 election. Thomas Lohmann was appointed by the Republican town board to fill Ed Wehrheim’s vacant seat.

Amy Fortunato at 2018 Regatta on the RiverA political novice Fortunato is a pastor with a Master of Divinity from New York Theological Seminary, and a former Citibank manager with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. “While attending seminary, I learned what it means to truly listen.  I believe we need public servants who are stewards of the public trust.  We need honesty, transparency, and accountability.  We also need someone who will advocate for all interests, and not just those who are the most vocal or financially invested.”  She added, “It’s too easy for us to bring our own preconceptions and partisan opinions into a conversation, preventing us from effectively hearing another person’s concerns.  I plan to approach this position with an unbiased ear, endeavoring to listen to all points of view.”

Fortunato hopes to focus on taxpayer/residents quality of life issues which she says encompasses the need for discussion and action on taxes, water quality, traffic safety and congestion as well as crime and substance abuse. She hopes to work with other board members to create an independent citizen’s advisory board to guide development in the town. “ The mirage that exists adjacent to Whisper the Bull, is a travesty.  We must take action as a community to ensure that our children and residents can enjoy Smithtown’s natural environs, like the Nissequogue River without the visual affront of an adult entertainment venue.  It’s past time that we addressed this blight that our politicians have been unwilling to address.”