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Suffolk Legislature approves fair housing task force

The last Suffolk County Legislature meeting of the

The last Suffolk County Legislature meeting of the year on Tuesday. Credit: Heather Walsh

The Suffolk County Legislature voted Tuesday to establish a fair housing task force in the wake of a Newsday investigation that found widespread evidence of racial discrimination by real estate agents on Long Island.

The new task force would review county human rights laws to identify areas for improvement and offer other recommendations to combat housing discrimination after Newsday’s three-year investigation found minority testers seeking houses on Long Island were not treated equally to white testers.

“The idea that these types of practices continue to influence home ownership in this day and age is offensive, divisive, and unacceptable,” Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said in a statement. “We are a region that is built on diversity and our communities should reflect who we are. Clearly, our laws need to close whatever loopholes exist to permit this discrimination.”

In the last legislative cycle of the year, members also approved giving raises to high-ranking police and allocating $9 million for a potential new police fingerprinting lab. Legislators also eased some residency requirements for employees and prohibited advertisements for products like e-cigarettes and tobacco near schools and playgrounds.

The $53 million Suffolk County Superior Officers Association contract will give sergeants, lieutenants, captains and other senior officers top base salaries ranging from $183,000 to $273,000 by 2024, officials said.

“It’s a fair deal for our members and the taxpayers, and I’m happy they approved it overwhelmingly,” union president John Cowie said.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a former police detective, was the sole legislator to criticize the contract. But he missed the vote because he briefly attended the hearing at which former District Attorney Thomas Spota and his top aide Christopher McPartland received guilty verdicts.

Trotta said the contract offers too high a salary increase — 11.25% over six years — compared with the average county resident's cost of living increase.

“This is a time when the county is flat-busted broke,” Trotta said.

Legislators were split along party lines on a new $8.9 million accredited fingerprint lab, which police officials said could be needed to meet changing standards.

Republicans said they wanted to hold off the vote until after a task force examines whether to build a new police headquarters and whether a new lab is needed. But Democrats said they wanted to set aside the funding without bonding for it, to give the department the option to go forward with the lab next year.

Legislators also eased some residency requirements to give new county employees five years to move to Suffolk and to exempt certain positions in the health department from the requirements entirely. Supporters said the measure will improve recruitment efforts while detractors said a five-year window is too long.

Volunteers serving on policy-setting boards will be required to live in the county, under a new residency requirement approved Tuesday.

In an effort to prevent children from smoking, vaping or drinking underage, legislators voted to prohibit ads for products such as alcohol and e-cigarettes within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, parks and day care centers. Businesses within that distance may still have those ads inside. Violations of the law would come with a fine of at least $250.

Legislators also:

  • Applauded Legis. Gregory and William J. Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) for their service at Gregory’s last meeting as presiding officer and Lindsay’s last as a legislator. Gregory is stepping down in January to join the Babylon Town Board, and Lindsay lost a reelection bid to Republican Anthony Piccirillo.

“Thank you for all that you’ve done for me,” Gregory said to his colleagues and staff. “I wish you all the best, and don’t be strangers. I love you all.”

  • Appointed Priscilla Zarate to the Suffolk County Community College Board of Trustees. Zarate currently serves as a language coordinator in the Islip school district and previously served as executive director of the New York City Department of Education Division of English Language Learners and Student Support.
  • Allotted $200,000 in salaries for the campaign finance board, which will oversee the public financing of campaigns starting in 2020.

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