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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 proposes amending zoning law to allow prosecution of tenants in rental units

The Village of Lindenhurst is proposing changes to

The Village of Lindenhurst is proposing changes to its zoning law that would put tenants in rental units or houses on the hook for violations. Village clerk-treasurer Shawn Cullinane said depending on the circumstances, both landlord and tenant could be ticketed. Cullinane is pictured here on Feb. 7. 2012. (Credit: Judy Cartwright)

The Village of Lindenhurst is proposing changes to its zoning law that would put tenants in rental units or houses on the hook for violations.

There will be a public hearing on the law change Tuesday night. The village is proposing that tenants face penalties for any violations of village zoning law, such as having abandoned cars on the property or doing work on the building without a village permit, said village clerk-treasurer Shawn Cullinane.

Previously, Cullinane said, "tenants were almost immune and they didn't care what was going on because the landlord was the one being targeted." The proposed change "gives us a lot more authority and a lot more teeth to the law," he said.


PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections


Depending on the circumstances, both landlord and tenant could be ticketed, Cullinane said. Penalties start at $250, according to the proposed changes, up from the current $50 minimum.

The village is also proposing adding a section to the law that stipulates penalties for any person who "enters or remains in any structure, building or premises" that has been deemed "unsafe, unlawful or not fit for human occupancy" by a building or zoning inspector or a fire marshal. Those found guilty face a fine of $2,500 to $7,500 and up to a year in prison.

The changes also now make it unlawful for renters, in addition to owners, to take up residence in a building that does not have a rental permit. The village also added a "validity" section to this portion of the law, should it be challenged in court, noting that if any part of it is "held to be invalid or unconstitutional by any court of competent jurisdiction, then said holding shall in no way affect the validity of the remaining portions of this law."

The public hearing will be at 7:30 p.m. at Village Hall, 430 S. Wellwood Ave.

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Lindenhurst schools and teachers continue to disagree on key financial issues

Travel deals

Lindenhurst school officials have warned residents that the district will not be able to remain solvent if the conditions of the current teachers' contract continue.

The teachers union said such claims are overblown.

The district's warning came last week at a meeting that drew nearly 300 teachers for a presentation on a report by a state-appointed fact finder, which the district requested after it said negotiations with the union were not progressing.

The Teachers Association of Lindenhurst has been without a contract since June 2011, but under state law, the union's expired contract -- which includes 2 percent step raises but no salary increases per year -- continues indefinitely until a new contract is worked out. District officials reported 381 of the district's 517 teachers are eligible for the step increases this year, with the average salary districtwide currently at $98,039.

The fact-finder's report recommended a seven-year contract backdated to 2011, in which teachers would receive 2 percent annual step increases as per the existing contract through 2015. That would be followed with a hard freeze in the 2015-16 school year with no pay or step increases; no step increases for the following year, but a 1 percent pay increase; and, in 2017-18, step increases and a 1 percent pay raise.

The board of education last month approved the findings but the union rejected the offer, with union president John Mansfield saying at that time that because the report mentioned only salary and health care, it was "incomplete." After last week's meeting, Mansfield called the presentation about the fact-finder's report "one sided." He referred to a state comptroller's report from last year that stated Lindenhurst was not under any financial stress.

During his presentation, Greg Guercio, Lindenhurst's labor attorney whose Farmingdale firm represents 40 Long Island school districts, painted a picture of impending financial doom for the district, saying that declining revenue, increasing costs, reduced aid and the state tax levy cap have combined to make a "perfect storm" for the district.

"Lindenhurst is in a situation which is truly extraordinary," he said. "In the 40 years that I'm doing this, the financial condition of this district, if not the worst, is among the worst I've ever seen."

Guercio said that because of a projected 1.49 percent tax cap for the next school year, the district would be able to raise only $1.35 million through taxes. He said the cost of the teachers' step increases plus retirement and federal payroll taxes is estimated to be $1.53 million.

"It's just not sustainable," he said.

Some challenged Guercio, asking why the district wasn't more focused on bringing down costs.

"The district has drawn a line in the sand and that's not negotiating," said resident Michelle Martin. "You seem to be targeting teachers' salaries."

Other residents said there was little more that could be cut.

"I don't begrudge teachers anything, I love them all," said parent Maria Kalish. "This board has done a lot to save money for this district . . . there are so many programs that are gone now. We've done so much already and we've come to this point because there's only so much we can do."

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Babylon to begin Town Hall Annex renovation at cost of up to $9 million

The town is renovating its town hall annex,

The town is renovating its town hall annex, which was formerly an elementary school. (Credit: Ed Betz)

The Town of Babylon is gearing up to begin the first year of a planned five-year renovation of its Town Hall Annex, which is housed in a former North Babylon elementary school.

The town recently finished planning for replacement of the building's roof and hopes to begin construction early next year. The repairs are being done in phases so as to not disrupt services at the annex, which houses two town departments and more than a dozen divisions of other departments.

The renovations are the first major investment in the building, which dates to the 1950s. Although the town paid $900,000 to the North Babylon school district for the building in 1987, a clause in the contract maintained the district had the right to take back the building at any time during the next 25 years should the school be needed because of an enrollment increase.

"It didn't make financial sense for the town to invest millions into major repairs for the building," in the past, said town spokesman Kevin Bonner. But as of 2013, the town owns the building outright and wants to make the investment.

The total cost of the renovation is expected to be $8 million to $9 million, he said. So far the town has bonded for $2.4 million: $1.4 million for the roof; $700,000 for heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning; and $300,000 for design and engineering services.

Planning for the renovations has come with some controversy. The town had explored moving some services, including its drug and alcohol division, to a former convent owned by Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst. Residents and officials there protested, but before talks progressed, town officials determined the renovations needed to move offices to the building -- carrying a tab of nearly $750,000 -- were cost-prohibitive.

In June, when word got out that the town planned to consolidate its drug and alcohol operations at a rented building in Amityville with those at the annex, some parents protested, saying the move would endanger children at nearby Phelps Lane Memorial Park, William E. Deluca Jr. Elementary School and Robert Moses Middle School. So the town merged the Amityville operations with the division at the annex over the summer.

Interior work on the annex will begin first with the building's cafeteria, which will be converted into office space for the drug and alcohol division. The space that group occupied will then be renovated and used for another division, allowing for a continuous shift of the 70 to 100 employees in the building.

"It's going to be kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle," said Vinny Piccoli, buildings and grounds manager for the town public works department.

The human services department and its division of senior citizens services will be permanently relocated to another site, 1 Commerce Blvd. in Amityville, a town-owned building.

The annex is open beyond business hours, used for classes and as a meeting spot for various organizations, Piccoli said.

"It's certainly time for the building to get renovated so it can better serve the public," he said.

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Lindenhurst puts on hold effort to write a science-based noise law

The Village of Lindenhurst was founded by Thomas

The Village of Lindenhurst was founded by Thomas and Abbey Wellwood in 1870. (Credit: Alexi Knock, 2011)

Lindenhurst Village officials are taking another look at a proposed noise law after some residents voiced concerns Tuesday at a public hearing.

The village proposed scrapping the existing noise law, which relies on a definition of "unreasonable" noise that is defined as "any excessive or unusually loud sound" that "annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of a reasonable person of normal sensitivities."

Instead, village officials proposed a law with scientific standards for measuring noise. Under the proposed legislation, the village "shall order an immediate halt to any sound which exposes any person . . . to continuous sound levels" in excess of decibel levels and time periods that range from 90 dB(A) for 24 hours to 108 dB(A) for 22 minutes. The proposed law includes subsections for specific types of noise, such as sounds from motor vehicles and air conditioning units. By comparison, noise from a vacuum cleaner is considered to be around 70 decibels, while a thunderclap or chain saw measures 120 decibels.


PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections


Several residents spoke at the hearing, questioning whether specific decibel readings were needed in the noise law. Civic leader John Lisi said the existing law gives the village "more latitude" in addressing noise complaints. "It gets a little confusing when you try to pin it down to these decibel levels," added resident Dunstan Bradley.

Residents said that they wanted to learn more about the specifics of the law and asked the village board to hold off on approving the legislation until more discussion takes place.

Mayor Tom Brennan agreed and the bill was not put up for a vote at the board meeting that followed the hearing. Village Clerk-Treasurer Shawn Cullinane said the village will continue to receive written public comments on the proposed law -- a copy of which is available at village hall -- for at least the next two weeks.

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Lindenhurst Village moves toward a better noise ordinance

The Village of Lindenhurst was founded by Thomas

The Village of Lindenhurst was founded by Thomas and Abbey Wellwood in 1870. (Credit: Alexi Knock, 2011)

The Village of Lindenhurst is holding a public hearing Tuesday on a proposed law that would clearly define excessive noise levels.

The village's current noise code does not provide specific standards. Instead it uses a basis of "unreasonable" noise that is defined as "any excessive or unusually loud sound" that "annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of a reasonable person of normal sensitivities."

Village Clerk-Treasurer Shawn Cullinane said that in cases where a resident complains about noise levels, a police or code enforcement officer could come to the site and determine whether the noise level was "reasonably" loud.


PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections


The problem, Cullinane said, is that "one person's thought of reasonable might be different than another person's thought of reasonable." As issues have come up about music from block parties and other situations where noise levels were discussed, the village decided to give the code a "scientific standard" Cullinane said.

There was no particular incident that sparked the proposed law, he said. "There were maybe a series of things where our own people found it difficult to enforce on a regular basis," he said.

The proposed law would break down noise regulations for specific categories such as construction work, air conditioning units and motor vehicles. The law states that the village "shall order an immediate halt to any sound which exposes any person . . . to continuous sound levels" in excess of decibel levels and time periods that range from 90 dB(A) for 24 hours to 108 dB(A) for 22 minutes.

The code includes two exceptions: "Sporting, amusement and entertainment events during practice, rehearsal and performance" and "emergency work and safety and protective devices used to alert persons of an emergency."

The proposed law also would increase penalties for noise violations, from the current "not less than $50 nor more than $500" to "not less than $50 nor more than $1,000."

The public hearing will be held at 2:30 p.m. at Village Hall, 430 S. Wellwood Ave.

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Lindenhurst schools propose spending $8.8 million in bonds for needed improvements

The Lindenhurst board of education has approved a bond referendum to pay for what the district says are much-needed building renovations.

The board voted unanimously Wednesday night to bond for $8.8 million, a significant drop from the $25 million proposal made by the district last month. That money was to be used for improvement projects at all of the district's schools, including two buildings not used for regular classes.

After residents spoke out against the proposal -- and with a recommendation for a lower amount from Jacqueline Scrio, the district's assistant superintendent for business and noninstructional personnel -- the district came back with the $8.8 million proposal.


PHOTOS: Around Lindenhurst | Superstorm Sandy
DATA: Village elections


The money would be used on the high school, middle school and Harding Avenue elementary school. The district plans to replace the roofs on all three buildings, citing expired warranties and continuing problems with leaks. The total cost would be about $8 million. Also being replaced, at a cost of $650,000, would be a leaking window wall at the middle school, which district officials said has resulted in damaged ceiling tiles as well as classroom materials. The third project that would be undertaken is reconstruction of the middle school clock tower, which the district said is rotting and requires $185,000 in work.

"We felt these were critical," Superintendent Daniel Giordano said at the meeting. He later noted in a statement that officials "want to be sure that when our students come to school they are safe, secure and comfortable."

According to the district, the state will provide aid to fund 69.3 percent of the project over the life of the bond. The district estimates that for homes assessed at an average of $3,287, the project's annual cost to residents will be $26.76.

A handful of residents at Wednesday's meeting thanked the board for the reduction in bonding, which must be approved by public vote at a special referendum. The referendum will cost the district $20,000 to $22,000, Scrio said.

Voting is Dec. 2 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the district's five polling places.

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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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