The new year brings Suffolk property owners a chance to earn new tax breaks for green construction, but also new restrictions on park and beachgoers, and new attention to the blight of old utility poles.
County legislators in 2012 passed 52 local laws, more than double the total in Nassau. All but a dozen -- most of which still await final filing with the state -- are already effective.
While the majority of Suffolk's recently enacted measures are procedural, a handful could impact many people:
A law, sponsored by Legis. Jay H. Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and set to become official in January, provides county property tax exemptions for homes and businesses built or renovated to LEED standards for energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions. Those reaching the highest standard can get the exemption for six years.
"The hope is that it's not only good for the homeowner, but good for the businesses that do the work," said Mitch Pally, chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute. "Those looking to do modifications to their home, that they maybe held off on for cost, could decide it's worth it now."
A law, sponsored by Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) and effective Nov. 14, prohibits smoking at county-operated parks and beaches. Suffolk followed the lead of New York City and several Long Island towns, but won't fine violators.
Facing resistance, Spencer exempted parking lots as well as campgrounds and golf courses. He said his aim was more awareness than enforcement. "The law was really treading a fine line with people's civil liberties," Spencer acknowledged. "It came down to the taxpayer's right to smoke versus the taxpayer's right to clean air, but at the end of the day, I'm happy that it could allow someone to feel better when they say, 'Hey, do you mind putting that out?' "
A law, sponsored by Schneiderman and effective Nov. 6, requires utility companies to promptly remove old, nonutilized poles, which have been called neighborhood blights. If a utility doesn't comply within 60 days of county notice, it faces a fine of up to $1,000 per month.
Verizon was the one major utility to oppose the law, saying it often must wait for third-party companies to remove their equipment from its poles. When asked what impact the law's enactment has had on Verizon so far, spokesman John Bonomo declined to comment.
Two other notable laws approved in 2012 won't be effective until late next year or early 2014. Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) led efforts to require that all boat operators in Suffolk take a safety course, or face a fine. But the law -- prompted by several high-profile boating fatalities last summer -- won't kick in until October, after the busiest boating season is past.
Stern also sponsored a measure approved last month to ban retail receipts coated with the chemical BPA, which health advocates link to some cancers. Enforcement won't begin until early 2014.
In Nassau County, many small-business owners will immediately begin facing tighter government regulations and will pay more to operate.
As a result of laws passed in 2012, new two-year licenses are now needed for businesses involved in home services, such as carpet and gutter cleaning, and all appliance repairs. Scrap metal processors, junk and secondhand gem dealers, and dry cleaners, laundries and storage centers also will be licensed for the first time.
Each license and subsequent renewal will cost $500. Nassau projects the new fees will generate $805,000 through 2014.
In addition, individuals who present documents to the county clerk for recording a claim or lien must now pay a fee of $150, up from $75. Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the fee changes amount "to a backdoor tax increase" that could drive some small businesses to close.
But Deputy County Executive Tim Sullivan said Nassau still has some of the region's lowest service fees, adding that the changes increase "accountability in industries prone to receive stolen goods."
The Nassau Legislature also added a number of plants to its list of invasive species that can't be sold, transported or disposed of in area waterways beginning on Jan. 1. Among the prohibited species in 2013 are varieties of the Norway maple, the winter creeper, the Amur cork tree and the black locust.
With Robert Brodsky