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SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Rising Costs On LI And Population Exodus


By Karl Grossman

I was unaware of a problem that is hitting most Suffolk schools hard—a declining number of students—until talking to a former college journalism student of mine, Tim Laube, now an administrator in the Eastport-South Manor Central School District. “The drop in enrollment,” said Mr. Laube, “is directly attributable to affordability—the cost of living on Long Island.” 

The cost of housing is now very high in Suffolk and the rest of Long Island and so many young people are leaving and not having children who would go to school here. “They go off to college and don’t come back,” said Tim. 

Where are they going? Tim spoke of a meeting he attended at which the speaker told of “20 new school buildings a year” being constructed in South Carolina. Meanwhile, in his district, in which he is assistant superintendent for business and operations, there has been a reduction in students since 2010, when the total was 3,888, to “now 3,268. That’s a drop of 16 percent.” As a result, the district has had to reduce staff and hiring. A further decline in students is foreseen.

From Sag Harbor, my school district, I obtained in exploring the issue a detailed “Long Range Planning Study,” a “Demographic and Enrollment Analysis” covering 2018 to 2027. It was done for the district by the Western Suffolk BOCES Office of School Planning and Research. The study says the district “is expected to experience a decline in district K-12 enrollment during the projection period.” Cited are “the challenges young adults face with high rent costs and with saving money for the down payment required to purchase a home.” Also pointed to are “significant student loan debt” and “lower starting salaries.”

My wife and I purchased our first house—a seven-room home in Sayville—for $18,000 in 1964, A comparable house today would cost many, many times that. Newsday reported last year that the median sale price of a house in Suffolk was $380,000, citing data from the Multiple Listing Services of Long Island. The story’s headline: “LI HOME PRICES UP AGAIN,” and the article noted this was “a 7 percent increase from” the year before.  The median sale price in adjacent Nassau, meanwhile, was $525,000.

What would be the payments on a mortgage on a $380,000 house? An online “mortgage calculator” says with 4.5 percent interest, payments on a 30-year mortgage would be $1,925 a month. Then you have to figure on property taxes, 70 percent of which, ironically, goes to schools. With other expenses, if two people are involved, both have to work—and scrape by.

That’s why it’s hello South Carolina, hello upstate New York, etc.

In the Hamptons, the median prices of houses are astronomical. “The median price of homes currently listed in Southampton is $2,100,000,” reported Zillow last year. “The median price of homes currently listed in East Hampton is $1,595,000.” According to the online “mortgage calculator,” at 4.5 percent, payments on a $1 mortgage over 30 years would be $5,066 a month. To make payments of that kind you have to be loaded. 

In Smithtown, the median price of a house is higher than the Suffolk median. “The median price of homes currently listed in 11787 is $587,000 while the median price of homes that sold is $457,600,” said Zillow online last year. 

Now not every school district in Suffolk has declining student enrollment. On stable Shelter Island, enrollment in the pre-K-to-12th grade Shelter Island School has “been steady,” its superintendent Christine A. Finn was saying last week. “We watch enrollment very carefully. It’s 209 this year and was 213 last year.” But “all over Long Island,” said Dr. Finn, who previously was a principal in the Patchogue-Medford School District, “declines in enrollment have been a trend.” A key, she said, is high housing costs. When she graduated from Islip High School in 1980 it was with a class of 400. “Last year the graduating class was 280.”

There is a desperate need on Long Island for affordable housing to deal with declining school populations and other issues. Government on several levels are taking steps to encourage it. 

In the Town of Smithtown is an organization that has been in the fore in advancing affordable housing is the Long Island Housing Partnership. It is located at 180 Oser Avenue in Hauppauge. Its “Mission Statement” declares: “Since its inception in 1988, the mission of the Long Island Housing Partnership has been to provide affordable housing opportunities to those who, through the ordinary, unaided operation of the marketplace, would be unable to secure a decent and safe home or remain in a decent home.”

The phone number for the good people of the Long Island Housing Partnership is 631-435-4710.

There was a headline in the New York Post last month: “The exodus of New York City’s endangered middle class.” The article below it said, “New York City’s shrinking middle class is in full retreat,” and cited were “the city’s high—and rising—housing and other living costs.” We can’t let that happen here, impacting on our communities and decimating the numbers in new generations brought up in Suffolk.

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. 


SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Suffolk County's Taking On E-Cigarettes


By Karl Grossman

The nicotine cabal is hard at it, what with smoking tobacco having declined, promoting continued nicotine use by pushing electronic cigarettes and what’s called vaping. And Suffolk County, which for years has been a national leader in challenging the use of cigarettes, which had been the main delivery system of nicotine, is taking on “e-cigarettes.”

E-cigarettes have become a new major delivery system for nicotine, with young people particularly targeted, with flavors added—including cherry, chocolate and vanilla.

Among the final pieces of legislation enacted by Suffolk County last year was a law increasing the penalties for retailers that unlawfully sell e-cigarettes to those under 21. Meanwhile, Suffolk County is considering restrictions on flavored e-cigarettes.

The key county legislator behind Suffolk’s efforts is Dr. William Spencer who is a physician specializing in otolaryngology (conditions of the ear, nose and throat).

 “This is a public health emergency,” said Dr. Spencer last month at a hearing on his legislation to restrict flavored e-cigarettes. “We are seeing the astonishing increase in vaping among those aged 12 to 17, and to wait for the FDA or state to take action is not acceptable at the expense of more children becoming addicted.”

Last month, too, another doctor, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, called for “aggressive steps” by health professionals and governments on e-cigarettes. In e-cigarettes the nicotine is not in tobacco as it is in regular cigarettes but is included as a liquid. “Nicotine is dangerous and it can have negative health effects,” said the surgeon general. And in e-cigarettes, “it can prime the youth brain for addiction.”

A recent federal report estimates that 3.6 million teens in the U.S.—one out of five high school students—are using e-cigarettes. A survey found twice as many high schoolers using e-cigarettes than the year before.

E-cigarettes and other forms of vaping have become a $6.6 billion business.

Proponents of e-cigarettes pitch that it’s less harmful than cigarettes containing tobacco. However, as earlier county legislation by Dr. Spencer—prohibiting the sale in Suffolk to persons under 21 of e-cigarettes and passed in 2014—noted: “E-cigarettes do contain carcinogens, including nitrosamines” and “toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol…a common ingredient in antifreeze.” As for e-cigarettes and vaping leading to people quitting smoking tobacco cigarettes, these “smoking cessation assertions made by e-cigarette companies have been disproven in laboratory tests conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

Regarding nicotine, it “is a known neurotoxin that is also one of the most highly addictive substances available for public consumption.”

Meanwhile, a marriage of the e-cigarette and tobacco industries is underway. The biggest e-cigarette maker, Juul, was reported last month by The New York Times to be “near to signing a deal to become business partners with Altria, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies.” Said The Times: “The union—which would create an alliance between one of public health’s greatest villains and the start-up that would upend it—entails cigarette giant Altria investing $12.8 billion for a 35 percent stake in Juul.” Altria is the renamed Philip Morris company. The cigarette brands it manufactures include Marlboro, Lark, Virginia Slims and Parliament. 

This partnership could be expected as Juul and lesser e-cigarette companies follow in the tobacco industry’s tradition. The Times noted in its article how “Juul is under intense scrutiny from public health officials and the FDA for an explosion in the number of teenagers vaping with its sleek products following a youth-oriented marketing campaign.”

Suffolk has been in the forefront in the fight against smoking banning it in restaurants and other public places and raising the legal age to purchase cigarettes—and in 2014 e-cigarettes, said to be a first-in-the-nation move. The tobacco industry years ago fought back fiercely. Delegations from the Tobacco Institute, the industry’s PR and lobbying arm, descended on the Suffolk Legislature denying a link between smoking and cancer. But, finally, court cases including those brought by state attorney generals, an anti-smoking stand of an earlier U.S. surgeon general and, at long last, media scrutiny (tobacco industry advertising and hardline PR held back for decades wide media investigation of the dire consequences of smoking) led to the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998. 

The cigarette companies agreed to, among other things, compensate states for medical costs of those who smoked, finance anti-smoking campaigns and abolish that band of liars-for-hire, The Tobacco Institute. Smoking tobacco cigarettes in the U.S. has been reaching all-time lows, down to 14 percent of adults. But e-cigarettes have come through a back door.

In Suffolk, there has not only been movement by the county on e-cigarettes but the Town of Smithtown has acted, too. Last April, the Town Board voted 5-to-0 to limit “hookah lounges” and stores that sell e-cigarettes from operating within 1,500 feet of parks, playgrounds, schools and religious institutions in Smithtown. 

Smithtown already had a ban on vaping as well as smoking regular cigarettes in parks, beaches, playgrounds and other town facilities or within 50 feet of any Town of Smithtown building.


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. 


"More Work To Be Done" Legislator DuWayne Gregory Reelected Presiding Officer 

Legislators Reelect Gregory, Calarco to Leadership Roles, Appoint New Counsel

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y.  – Suffolk County Legislator DuWayne Gregory was reelected to a sixth term as Suffolk DuWayne Gregory takes the ceremonial oath, administered by Hon. C. Randall Hinrichs. Gregory was reelected to the leadership position of presiding officer at the Suffolk County Legislature’s organizational meeting Jan. 2.County Legislature Presiding Officer at the Legislature’s 50th organizational meeting, held Jan. 2 at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge. 

“It has been a productive year for the Legislature and yet, there is always more to be done,” said Gregory, who is legislator for the 15th Legislative District. “With a new year comes opportunity, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start anew. It offers reflection and promise, a look back and a look ahead, a way to view things differently and to inspire change. I am encouraged by the strides we have made and filled with anticipation and hope for the future. It has been my honor to serve as the Presiding Officer of the Suffolk County Legislature for the past five years, and I look forward to continuing our good work in the future.”

Legislator Rob Calarco, who represents the Seventh Legislative District, was reelected Deputy Presiding Officer for a fourth term. Additionally, a new face was sworn in as Counsel to the Legislature after the departure of George Nolan, who had filled the position since 2006 and was recently elected to serve as a New York State Supreme Court judge. Taking over the role will be Sarah Simpson, a Touro Law Center graduate who had served as Assistant Counsel to the Legislature under Nolan for 10 years.

Legislators also adopted the rules of the legislature and approved the reappointments of Jason Richberg as Clerk to the Legislature and Amy Ellis as Chief Deputy Clerk to the Legislature.

In his remarks, Presiding Officer Gregory outlined accomplishments of 2018 and priorities for the coming year. He said this past year has seen significant strides in public safety and combatting gang violence through community programs, education and outreach. In tackling the opioid crisis, Gregory pointed to the expansion of the life-saving Narcan program and to the recently-created Emergency Department Opiate Response Working Group, which will be tasked with developing and approving a protocol model for hospital emergency departments to improve the care of opiate-addicted patients. He added that the county’s mobile app, Stay Alive LI, which provides direct access to assistance for young adults who are using drugs, has been a lifeline for many struggling with drug addiction.

Gregory also praised efforts to enforce laws that prevent dumping in county parks and to allocate funding for clean-up efforts to ensure these precious assets are preserved for the next generation. In that same spirit, he vowed to continue to explore new transit-oriented development that will inject new life and taxes into areas that are struggling as well as opportunities for millennials who want to remain on Long Island but who are burdened by student loan debt and hampered by the lack of affordable housing.

Looking toward the economy and government efficiency, Gregory said the Legislature is bringing residents, employees and community leaders into the governmental process by extending opportunities to offer ideas that identify ways to make Suffolk County more competitive in business and manufacturing and to improve and enhance efficiency of county government and reduce costs.

The Presiding Officer added that he will continue to find new ways to battle homelessness and to assist returning veterans by connecting them with the services and resources they need to return to life as they left it before serving our country. He pointed to his efforts to expand the minority- and women-owned businesses law to include businesses owned by service-disabled veterans who will now be given priority in competing for county contracts.




SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - 2019's Political Contest Is Suffolk County Executive Race



By Karl Grossman

The leading political contest in Suffolk in 2019 will be the race for county executive, the top post in Suffolk County government.

As the new year begins, the most likely Republican candidate against Democratic incumbent Steve Bellone is one of two county officials from the Town of Smithtown: either Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy, Jr. or Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta—although the entry of other would-be nominees is possible.

Both Messrs. Kennedy and Trotta have strong views on Mr. Bellone, considering him inept particularly on county financial matters. “We have a complete absence of leadership in this county and we are balanced on the precipice of financial crisis,” said Mr. Kennedy after his re-election to the comptroller’s post in the past election.

The county’s fiscal watchdog, Mr. Kennedy has described Mr. Bellone’s county budgets as “fraught with peril. It is not unlike what we see to the west of us,” referring to the financial problems that have occurred in neighboring Nassau County resulting in the state imposing a Finance Authority to oversee Nassau fiscal matters. “It’s as if,” maintains Mr. Kennedy, “he [Bellone] is standing on the 12th floor” of the county’s H. Lee Dennison Building, where the county executive has his office, “with a megaphone calling on the state to ‘take us over.’”

Mr. Kennedy is considering but hasn’t yet made up his mind about running for county executive. 

Mr. Trotta has decided “to test the waters” for his making a run. A retired detective with the Suffolk County Police Department, Mr. Trotta in criticizing Mr. Bellone’s fiscal policies has zeroed in on his pushing increased fees in order to balance the county budget. He has called it “nothing more than a tax disguised as a fee. It’s death by a thousand knives.” Increasing fees for general county purposes, says Mr. Trotta, “is not even a grey area. The New York State comptroller has stated you can’t do this, and there is case law stating it can’t be done…It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Both Messrs. Kennedy and Trotta are experienced in Suffolk government

Mr. Kennedy, an attorney from Nesconset, served 10 years as a county legislator before first being elected county comptroller in 2014. He was minority leader of the legislature. He previously worked in the county clerk’s office. He has a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in capital budgeting from Adelphi University. 

Mr. Trotta, of Fort Salonga, was first elected to the Suffolk Legislature in 2013. For 25 years he was a member of the county police force. For over 10 of those years he also served on the FBI Violence Crimes Task Force. He graduated from C.W. Post with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and got a master’s in labor management relations from Stony Brook University.

Mr. Bellone, of North Babylon, was first elected county executive in 2011. He had been Babylon Town supervisor and earlier a member of the Babylon Town Board. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science and communications from Queens College, a master’s in public administration from Webster University in Missouri attending classes at night during his Army service in Missouri as a communications specialist, and a law degree from the Fordham University School of Law.

Mr. Bellone’s re-election drive is beginning. Last month he raised $400,000 at a fundraiser attended by 300 people adding to a campaign war chest of $1.65 million already.

He will likely emphasize in his campaign his efforts at boosting the economy of Suffolk with the “Ronkonkoma Hub” and other programs and will staunchly defend his fiscal management. 

If Mr. Bellone wins re-election this year, it would be his last term as county executive due to the county’s term limits law that restricts being county executive to 12 years.

Mr. Bellone was re-elected in 2015 after what some in politics have regarded as a “free ride.” His GOP opponent was unknown in Suffolk. James O’Connor was a former member of the North Hempstead Town Board and moved from Nassau to Great River in Suffolk in 2004 so his wife could be closer to her cardiology practice. He received the GOP nomination for Suffolk County executive after those whom the party considered stronger challengers declined to run. Mr. O’Connor also scored Mr. Bellone over what he termed the “precarious” shape of county finances charging that county government under Mr. Bellone “is not heading in the right direction,” indeed was “hurtling over a financial cliff.” 

Although either Messrs. Kennedy and Trotta are now considered the most likely candidates against Mr. Bellone this year, other possibilities are State Senator John J. Flanagan of East Northport, majority leader of the State Senate from 2015 until last year—and with Democrats having just gained a Senate majority losing that position, and Suffolk Legislator Tom Climi of Bay Shore who has been the minority leader of the Suffolk Legislature.

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.