Western Suffolk County: 2013 challenges

A Southwest Airlines' 737 comes in for a

A Southwest Airlines' 737 comes in for a landing at MacArthur Airport. (March 29, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Newsday asked the leaders of Long Island's 13 towns and two cities what they see as their biggest challenges in 2013. Here are the answers from the leaders of the five towns in western Suffolk County. Responses from the five East End supervisors will appear Thursday and Nassau's leaders will run Friday.

BABYLON TOWN

Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said the "survival of certain neighborhoods is at stake" two months after superstorm Sandy pummeled the South Shore, and promised to make recovery and repair priorities in the new year.

In coming months, Schaffer said, he will seek federal and state funding for hundreds of residents and business owners seeking help to raise their properties above flood level and for others who can't afford needed repairs in neighborhoods along Great South Bay.

"If there were people who were on the edge already, who were facing the potential of foreclosure or were figuratively underwater with their mortgages, people may start to walk away from these properties," he said.

Meanwhile, the $500 million Wyandanch Rising redevelopment, which seeks to revitalize the downtown with mixed-use buildings and open park space, is slated to break ground by spring, he said.

A related project -- the development of a downtown transit hub -- also is under way.

In East Farmingdale, Schaffer said, the town will continue to plan for the possible reopening of a Long Island Rail Road station at Republic Airport, which could be combined with a bus rapid transit system along Route 110, one of the region's busiest north-south corridors.

BROOKHAVEN TOWN

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine said next year's agenda will be dominated by the same issue he's faced this year: recovery from Sandy.

"My first priority is to work on recovery from Sandy, and make sure we have sufficient funds to do so," he said, pointing to the high cost of recovery for Fire Island alone, which he's estimated at more than $44 million. But his work doesn't stop there, he said -- another pressing issue is the $247 million town budget.

Romaine, who took office in November after winning a special election to replace Mark Lesko, said he hopes to restore some staffing eliminated as part of the austere budget's proposed layoffs of more than 140 jobs, but acknowledged that funding to do so would be hard to find.

"Where is the money to hire people back? Revenues continue to decline," said Romaine, adding that he also is looking to fill "crucial positions" such as purchasing director and community development director.

Romaine said he also wants to have a better relationship with the highway department, citing a criminal investigation into an alleged drug dealing ring that resulted in the arrest of a highway department employee earlier this month.

"Although I don't have control, I'm concerned about what's going on with highway," he said. "I'm looking to sit down and see where their plans for remediation are on this."

HUNTINGTON TOWN

Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone said issues tied to the economy once again present the greatest challenges in 2013.

"The economy affects both income such as mortgage tax revenues and expenses such as pension and health insurance payments," Petrone said in a statement. "We need to track closely necessary Town infrastructure projects scheduled for 2013 to maintain the delicate balance between preserving Town assets and controlling capital spending."

He said the town also needs to closely monitor the final tally on Sandy-related costs and how much of those costs will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Petrone said other challenges for the upcoming year include developing a plan for how to use the Huntington Station Armory, 100 E. Fifth St., once the town takes the title from the state. He also will encourage increased public input in Huntington Station's revitalization through Renaissance Downtown's public participation process and in the survey to identify solutions to the parking crunch in downtown Huntington.

"We expect to see concrete proposals from Renaissance and to decide how to proceed in increasing Huntington village parking," he said. "As Canon moves its Americas headquarters to Melville in the next few months, a challenge is to build upon their presence to further stimulate business and job growth in the Melville employment corridor."

ISLIP TOWN

Islip Supervisor Tom Croci named two familiar challenges for 2013: Sandy and the budget.

After the predominantly Republican administration grappled to close a projected $26 million shortfall in 2012, it approved a $112.5 million spending plan for 2013 that included layoffs, closing one department and several divisions of town government, and a 28 percent town property tax increase.

Croci said the challenge will be to do more with less, which will be especially difficult while recovering from Sandy, which devastated the South Shore.

"We're keeping our commitment to the town residents by getting our parks and pools open, and our facilities open after Hurricane Sandy," Croci said.

Sandy, he said, will involve a long-term recovery process. "We're going to have to take on a lot more work. We're not getting a lot more staff . . . so this is going to be an increasing challenge," Croci said.

One hurdle unique to Islip is increasing commercial traffic at town-owned Long Island MacArthur Airport, which has the potential to be a regional economic engine, Croci said.

The airport has about 23 flights a day and two commercial airlines, down significantly from 2008 when the airport boasted close to 50 flights per day.

"The economy and fuel prices definitely have an effect" on the slowdown at MacArthur, Croci said, but added that's not an excuse. "If you look around the country at other airports of our size, they didn't have the same kind of downturn in their activity. I believe that with a renewed emphasis on the airport you're reminding people that MacArthur Airport is there."

SMITHTOWN TOWN

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio wants to enforce more spending discipline and protect residential zoning in 2013.

As he contemplates a possible run in 2013 for his 13th term in office, Vecchio said he plans to continue the town's efforts to promote "green energy," and he wants to limit the number of zoning variances granted to property owners.

Vecchio, 82, who took office in 1978, has not announced whether he will run for re-election.

He said he wants to discourage what he called "budget creep," which he defined as adding expenditures not included in the town budget; Smithtown's $103 million spending plan for 2013 was adopted in November by a unanimous vote of the town board. Such additional spending is common to meet emergency needs over the course of the year.

Vecchio said he wants to purchase more natural gas-powered vehicles for the town fleet and add more solar panels and wind turbines at town facilities. On planning issues, he said properties zoned for homes should not be rezoned for other uses, and zoning variances should not be approved "unless truly a hardship has been proven."

Reported and written by Sophia Chang, Mackenzie Issler, Carl MacGowan, Candice Ruud and Nicholas Spangler

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