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Denise M. Bonilla

Denise M. Bonilla has covered the Town of Babylon since January 2009. Since starting at Newsday in 2003, she has covered a variety of beats, including criminal justice and immigration. In 2006, Bonilla was part of a team honored for Distinguished Breaking News Coverage by the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. In 2010, she received the President’s Choice Award from the nation’s oldest press club, the Society of the Silurians, and a first place features award from the Press Club of Long Island for her series on Alzheimer’s disease.

Twitter: @denisebonilla

Lindenhurst bans use of electronic cigarettes in public buildings

In this file photo, an electronic cigarette is

In this file photo, an electronic cigarette is demonstrated in Chicago. (Credit: AP / Nam Y. Huh, File)

Lindenhurst has banned the use of electronic cigarettes in public buildings in the village.

The village board earlier this month unanimously approved the new policy targeting e-cigarettes, in which a liquid solution containing nicotine is heated and vaporized, producing an aerosol that mimics tobacco smoke. The regulation falls under the village's restrictions on smoking and states that the use of e-cigarettes "of any kind" is prohibited inside all village-owned buildings and vehicles as well as within 50 feet of any entrance or window of a village building. Since the regulation is a policy and not a part of village code, there are no penalties for offenses, officials said.

Village Mayor Thomas Brennan said the amendment to the smoking policy came about after an incident in which someone was smoking an e-cigarette in Village Hall. "It could become an issue so we're trying to be proactive," he said.

Electronic cigarettes have been growing in popularity as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes. The village's move comes as many municipalities begin to work out regulations for e-cigarettes, even as general no-smoking rules on Long Island have been expanded to public outdoor spaces, such as parks and beaches. Earlier this year, the City of Glen Cove added electronic cigarettes to its regulations on tobacco and barred the sale of them to anyone under 19 years old.

In New York City, it is illegal to use e-cigarettes in any location where smoking is already prohibited, such as bars, restaurants and parks. In addition, this year several bills were introduced in the State Legislature calling for a ban of e-cigarettes in public indoor spaces where smoking is prohibited.

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Lindenhurst teachers reject fact finder's proposals on pay, step increases

President Donna Hochman, right, with Superintendent Daniel Giordano,

President Donna Hochman, right, with Superintendent Daniel Giordano, second from right, listen to community concerns during a Lindenhurst school board meeting, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (Credit: Danielle Finkelstein)

The Lindenhurst teachers union, which has been without a contract since June 2011, has rejected a state-appointed fact finder's proposal for a new contract.

The fact-finder stage is one of the last moves that can be made under state law to resolve impasses between school districts and unions. Greg Guercio, Lindenhurst's labor attorney whose Farmingdale firm represents 40 school districts on Long Island, said it is rare to not reach an agreement after a fact finder's report. "It's a powerful influence on parties that have been at odds over a long time," he said.

In October 2012, the district declared to the state that it had reached an impasse in negotiations with the Teachers Association of Lindenhurst and a state-appointed mediator began to work with the two parties. However, those sessions did not yield results, and last February the district requested a state fact finder intervene.


RESULTS: See which budgets passed, failed; and school board candidate vote totals


Fact finder Thomas J. Linden released his report last month, focusing on salary and health insurance contributions, referring other issues "back to the parties for resolution."

Linden proposed a seven-year contract, backdated to 2011, in which the teachers would receive 2 percent annual step increases as per the existing contract through 2015. The union would take a hard freeze in the 2015-2016 school year with no pay or step increases. He proposed no step increases for the following year, but a 1 percent pay increase, and in the final year, 2017-2018, step increases and a 1 percent pay increase. Earlier this month the board of education voted unanimously to accept Linden's proposal.

Union president John Mansfield said they had to reject the report because without addressing other issues such as working conditions, the report is incomplete. "Our proposals and the district's proposals went far beyond wages and benefits," he said.

Under state law, the union's expired contract continues indefinitely, including 2 percent step increases with no pay increases per year, until a new contract is worked out. According to the district, for the current school year step increases will cost $1.2 million.

Amityville and Lawrence school districts are also in their fourth year without a new contract. At least a half dozen other Long Island districts are in their third year without contracts. Among the latter is Babylon, which Guercio said is also entering the fact-finder stage.

Guercio said that since the state imposed a 2 percent tax cap in 2012, the district has struggled to keep up with step increases, which, he said, "devour all of the levy increases if you stay under the cap."

Mansfield said the union is "not blind to the district's position" and understands the constraints of the tax cap. But, he said, "there are different ways to see savings" other than a wage freeze, and the district "left money on the table" this year by offering only a 1.48 tax levy increase. "It's incumbent on the district to go to the cap every year," he said.

Mansfield said the report gives both parties "something to discuss" and that the union hopes to continue negotiations.

The district is holding a workshop on the report on Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at the high school.

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Residents of S. 4th St. in Lindenhurst concerned about visiting anglers

From left to right: Rhonda Verrier, Mildred Perrotta,

From left to right: Rhonda Verrier, Mildred Perrotta, President of the Heer Park-Meridale Civic Association David Woods, and Linda Vanderhoof are shown in front of a hole in the fence at the end of South 4th Street in Lindenhurst, where uninvited visitors are disturbing residents. (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

They come with lawn chairs and coolers, radios blasting and cars blocking the roadway.

Fishermen, crabbers, boaters and teenagers looking for a secluded spot have taken advantage of the dead-end alcove of Lindenhurst's South Fourth Street where it meets the Great South Bay, and residents are reeling with anger. They say the uninvited visitors leave behind garbage and raise fears among homeowners still dealing with break-ins that started when properties were damaged by superstorm Sandy two years ago.

The trespassers are the latest consequence of Sandy, said residents in the dozen homes near the dead end, all of which were damaged by the 2012 superstorm. With many homes still empty -- their owners either still trying to restore them or having taken state buyouts -- fishermen and others have taken advantage of the quiet street, residents said.


PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections


"They know nobody is staying there, so they do what they want," said Luigi Stolfa, 32. He said he has found beer cans on his lawn and seen fishermen use the portable toilet for the workers fixing his house.

Already frustrated by the rebuilding process, residents said they now must confront interlopers, take photos of illegally parked cars and call code enforcement officials.

"We are constantly arguing with these people," Rhonda Verrier, 64, told officials at a recent village board meeting. "We are trying to repair our homes, and this is just another slap in our face to have to deal with this on a daily basis."

 

No crime spike

Despite residents' fears, Insp. Gerard Gigante, commanding officer of the Suffolk County Police Department's First Precinct, said police have not seen an uptick in break-ins in Sandy-hit areas, but have seen an increase in concern about abandoned homes in the area.

"There's a lot of frustration, and some of it is based on legitimate problems," he said, noting he has assigned patrol checks for South Fourth Street.

Despite "no parking" and "no loitering" signs, the angling-minded have always found their way to the street, said Millie Perrotta, 65.

"You don't mind if a few people come for an hour or two and leave," she said. "But since the storm it's been nonstop, and it's an all-day thing."

Residents said they have gotten into arguments with some of the visitors, who they said have come from as far away as Westbury. "They curse at you if you get too close to their car," Perrotta said.

Verrier, who has lived in her house for 37 years, said she has found liquor bottles, drug paraphernalia, food wrappers and used condoms near her home. That portion of the block floods almost daily, she said, and cars trying to avoid the flooding park in the middle of the street, which is drier, forcing residents to drive through the sometimes foot-deep water on either side of the road.

Two weeks ago, the situation escalated when Stolfa caught two men using bolt cutters to tear open a fence put up after a home was demolished. Gigante said a police report was taken but no criminal charges have been filed. Not long after, Verrier's husband, Remi Verrier, 66, presented the village board with a petition containing 50 signatures from neighborhood residents demanding action.

After meeting last week with residents on site, Lindenhurst Mayor Thomas Brennan had workers repair the fence and install six additional "no parking" signs to join the one already there. He said he also planned to install a sign limiting fishing to only Lindenhurst residents.

"It's a start," he said. "Let's hope the signs take a lot of this away, and we'll go from there."

 

Anglers respond

While the mayor toured South Fourth Street, West Babylon residents Michael Panicello, 35, and his father, Bob, 66, fished and crabbed nearby. Panicello, who opposes limiting the spot to Lindenhurst residents, said he and his father have been coming there for years and like it because it's accessible for the elder Panicello, who has trouble walking.

"It's a nice opportunity for him to just sit and fish for a while," Panicello said, adding that fees to fish off local docks have become expensive.

Panicello said he and his father are quiet and respectful, never leaving trash and picking up garbage they find.

"There's a lot more dangerous guys out there than two guys going fishing," he said.

Another South Fourth Street resident, Alex Fokine, said his house had previously been looted and was broken into again this summer. Gigante confirmed police reports had been taken for both incidents.

"Things have gotten worse because people know there's not too many people living down here now," said Fokine, 47, who has been a resident of the block for five years and is living in his home while he makes repairs. "And with these guys coming down here, every time I look out the window, I'm seeing people I don't know."

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Lindenhurst community group to hold solar energy workshop

A Lindenhurst community group is hosting a workshop

(Credit: iStock)

A Lindenhurst community group is hosting a workshop Tuesday night on using solar energy in homes.

The free event is being sponsored by Adopt-A-House, a volunteer organization helping superstorm Sandy victims. Providing information at the free event will be Solar Universe, a national company with a location in Mattituck.

According to the group, the workshop will provide detailed, up-to-date...

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Lindenhurst school district proposes $25M bond for building repairs

Lindenhurst school district officials are proposing to bond for $25 million to make what they said are crucial repairs to district buildings.

But dozens of residents at a workshop Wednesday night challenged plans to use some of the money to repair a school that the district has considered selling.

District architect John Grillo said most of the bonding is attributed to a need for new roofs on buildings throughout the district. Of the 758,186 square feet of roofs, only 74,318 square feet is still under warranty, he said, and chronic leaks are present throughout the schools.


PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections


The roof work is divided into three phases, with the high school, middle school and Harding Avenue Elementary School given top priority. Phase two targets the five other elementary schools and the McKenna Administration building. Phase three would replace roofs on two former elementary schools, Bower, which the district has tried to sell, and Kellum.

The estimated cost of all roof replacement is $19.6 million, he said.

School officials are also looking to replace an 80-year-old steam heating system in the middle school. Grillo cited nonworking thermostats and an inability to verify the amount of fresh air coming into the school. The cost of that work is estimated to be $4.4 million.

In addition, the district wants to replace windows at the middle school at a cost of $641,000, and repair the clock tower atop the school at a cost of $185,000.

Superintendent Daniel Giordano said that if the district bonds for the full amount, the annual tax increase for residents whose homes are assessed at an average of $4,500 would be $109.51.

Residents bristled at the increase, with many noting the continued struggles of those recovering from superstorm Sandy. John Lisi, president of the Daniel Street Civic Association, also noted the potential loss of Sandy-damaged homes to the tax rolls, the impact of a veterans' tax exemption that is being considered by the board and other unknowns that could drive up tax bills.

Lisi, like many others, urged the district to sell Bower, saying "to spend any money on repairs for it is ludicrous."

The board last year voted to put Bower on the market and earlier this year received several offers -- largely for senior housing -- ranging from $2.8 million to $5.2 million -- but didn't pursue them. The building is partially leased, but the district pays more than $150,000 per year for maintenance.

Jacqueline Scrio, assistant superintendent for business and noninstructional personnel, stressed the importance of the district's roof replacements, saying "I wouldn't want to live in a home with leaks going into garbage pails and I don't think our students should have to go to school with that either."

Scrio recommended borrowing the money in stages, first bonding for $8 million and completing the first phase of roofing, delaying "the hit to taxpayers for two years" when payments would increase.

The board must first approve an amount of bonding and then a special voter referendum will be held, officials said.

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Babylon IDA lowers tax bill to draw businesses to Wyandanch Rising

Construction continues on Monday, June 23, 2014, on

Construction continues on Monday, June 23, 2014, on a residential complex is being built just north of the Wyandanch train station. (Credit: David Reich-Hale)

The Babylon Town Industrial Development Agency has revised a tax abatement for the developer of the Wyandanch revitalization effort to attract retail businesses.

Albanese Organization Inc., of Garden City, is building two apartment buildings with a total of 177 units and 35,000 square feet of retail space. The buildings are considered a vital part of Wyandanch Rising, the town's massive public-private redevelopment of the community's downtown.

Albanese executive vice president George Aridas said no retailers have committed to the location. The Babylon IDA last year gave Albanese a 15-year tax break on the retail portion: a 75 percent abatement for the first five years, 50 percent for the next five years and 25 percent for the remainder.

The current proposal is for a 100 percent tax abatement for the first five years and then a gradual phasing in of taxes starting in year six with 21.5 percent until reaching the full amount after 15 years. The change will give the company an additional $375,525 in savings, according to IDA chief executive Robert Stricoff. The IDA last year also gave the first residential building a 73.5 percent abatement for 40 years and the second building a 69 percent abatement for 30 years. Albanese's total tax savings is now estimated at $16.6 million.

Wyandanch Rising "continues to be very much a priority for the entire town and our economic development policy revolves around Wyandanch Rising succeeding," Stricoff said, adding that despite the tax break, the property -- which previously held a strip mall -- will bring in more than the $151,000 in taxes it had generated. The estimated taxes for the first year are $163,000.

Aridas believes the abatement will be a motivator by lowering rents.

Aridas said they have received letters of interest from a bank, a takeout restaurant and a shoe store, but getting a commitment from retailers has been difficult. He said the problem is not the area's reputation for criminal activity. "They're not saying, 'I don't want to have a business there,' " he said. "They're saying, 'I don't want to have the only business there.' "

He added, "We're trying to sell the vision, the long term. But if I'm a retailer, long term is next week," he said. "It's been difficult to get stable, neighborhood-oriented retailers to commit to being pioneers."

A public hearing on the abatement will be held Monday at 8:45 a.m. at the IDA offices, 47 West Main St., Babylon.

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Lindenhurst schools to meet with community to discuss bond referendum

Travel deals

The Lindenhurst school district will hold a community workshop next week to discuss a bond referendum.

The forum is intended as a way for the district to receive community input about a proposed bond referendum for capital projects. The board of education will discuss potential plans for "critical building renovation projects," according to a district statement. These projects involve "critical infrastructure updates in order to ensure the health and safety of district students and staff," the statement said.

District spokeswoman Alison DeMaria said that among those projects are new roofs for every district building. She said officials are unsure of the amount of the bond at this time.


PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections


DeMaria said there is not enough money in the district's capital projects fund to make the upgrades. She said the fund is budgeted for $350,000 for the school year and most of that money is slated for a project to upgrade the high school's fire alarm system. She said the state will fund 69.3 percent of capital projects through state aid that is distributed throughout the term of the project.

According to DeMaria, the last time the district issued bonds was in December 2011 for $5.5 million for an energy performance contract that provided a series of energy conservation upgrades.

The community input workshop will follow a special meeting of the board of education on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the McKenna Administration Building.

The district is asking residents before the meeting to participate in a survey about the district's facilities. The survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/s/NJCMV5N

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English language school in Deer Park grows, wants to expand on Long Island

Graduates of the El Centro Comunitario de Educacion

Graduates of the El Centro Comunitario de Educacion program in Deer Park say goodbye to Alexis Shore, 16, a volunteer teacher in the program on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (Credit: Johnny Milano)

Maria Morales, 33, wants to become a pharmacist. Tony Agurcia, 29, wants to help his daughter with her homework. Mariaes Quiñones, 53, wants to get a job in a day care center.

Although their reasons vary, all of the students who come to El Centro Comunitario de Educación in Deer Park have one goal in common: improving their English skills.

The group, which has a sister campus in Brentwood, celebrated its 10th anniversary last month and is preparing to take its mission across Long Island.

Operating out of Ascension Lutheran Church on Bay Shore Road, El Centro began after Marlene Ramos-Velita, 49, who emigrated from Peru in 1982, saw a need for more outreach to the Latino community. With the church's support, she began to hold English as a Second Language classes on site, with her teenage sons and a handful of church volunteers as teachers.

At first, the students who showed up were all young males and they were often shy and embarrassed, she said. To keep the classes going, Ramos-Velita turned toward her existing job as a Spanish teacher at Syosset High School. She thought the experience could benefit her Syosset students, whom she said did not have any personal experience with immigrants.

"I was looking at who wanted to take this beyond the classroom and make this symbiotic," she said. With former El Centro teachers returning as mentors, Ramos-Velita said she has created a self-sustaining model that now attracts students from other than just Spanish-speaking countries. For 10 weeks each summer, 12 of Ramos-Velita's junior or senior high school students teach free classes at El Centro twice a week.The program has become an internship that has helped many get into Ivy League schools. "It's become very competitive," she said. Lynn Hur, 17, of Syosset, taught this year and realized she's "making a difference" but also learned that "these people are very wise and have much more experience in life so I'm always interested in listening to what they have to say as well." El Centro will undergo a change next year: Ramos-Velita has left her job in Syosset to be an administrator and middle-school teacher in Great Neck. She's hoping now to attract teachers from high schools across Long Island to El Centro. She said the group is in the process of becoming a nonprofit and would like to open another location.

"There is a growing need," she said. "We want to give immigrants the resources to empower themselves."

There now are whole families who come, she said, with children taught separately while their parents attend the beginner, intermediate or advanced classes. The group also has GED, computer and citizenship classes and served about 30 students this year. The Brentwood program begun three years ago has 50 students.

Tony Agurcia, 29, was one of the first students at the Deer Park El Centro. As a single Honduran immigrant, he said he "didn't even know the ABCs" when he started. This year he returned to El Centro, married with three children. He took the advanced English class, he said, because he wants to be able to help his daughter Valerie, 7, with her homework and better understand what is discussed during school meetings.

"If you live in this country, you need to know English," Agurcia said. "It's everything."

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Lindenhurst starts academy for high school students who need social, emotional support

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The Lindenhurst school district has introduced a new program for students who need more support at school.

The Lindenhurst Academy, which will open this month with 11 students, is geared toward high school students in need of additional social and emotional support, district spokeswoman Alison DeMaria said.

Nancy Scaccia, an assistant principal at the high school who is overseeing the academy, said the program will be "an extension of the high school." Speaking before the board of education last week, Scaccia said the academy will give students the opportunity to "thrive in an accepting, nontraditional academic setting that is the least restrictive environment."


PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections


Scaccia said the district based the program on a similar one started last year in the Three Village school district.

The academy will have eight teachers, she said, with social workers and psychologists also available. Staffing will come from the high school, as well as some individuals who had been laid off by the district. Students will be able to participate in all high school functions, clubs and sports.

"They are definitely going to feel more a part of the community and feel less isolation than they normally would," Scaccia said. "We're really trying to establish a safe haven for these kids. This is going to be a place for them to grow and succeed."

The district expects to enroll a maximum of 25 to 30 students and also expects to save money in the long run. Sending a student to BOCES programs costs the district $62,000 per year. The program's start-up costs were $53,207, which were covered through a federal special education grant.

The budget for the academy is $746,000, said Superintendent Daniel Giordano. The district stands to break even compared with BOCES, and could see cost savings as more students enroll.

The program, which will be housed in the district's McKenna administration building, will include individual and small group academic instruction, as well as supplemental special education services.

There will be resource room support, individual and group counseling as well as optional family counseling in the evenings. The family counseling will be provided for free, courtesy of Clair McKeon, Babylon Town's executive director of youth and disabled services.

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