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Business groups line up against Huntington districts

Several business organizations have lined up against the move to bring council districts to the Town of Huntington.

The Huntington Township, Melville and East Northport Chambers of Commerce, the Commercial-Industrial Brokers Society, the Association for a Better Long Island and the Long Island Builders Institute all have announced their opposition. A referendum calling for districts is on the ballot in a special election Tuesday.

"We spoke to as many people, civic organizations, businesses and clubs" as possible, said Ken Christensen, a former town board member and co-organizer of Keep Huntington Whole, a group that opposes council districts. "And they are listening to what we have to say."

Mark Cronin, co-organizer of Concerned Citizens of Huntington, which submitted a 788-signature petition supporting council districts in October, said political "insiders" are now trying to buy the election.

"Because the opposition lacks popular support," Cronin said, "they are relying on the politically connected and special interests to fund a campaign that seeks to scare and confuse residents."

Politicians have lined up on both sides of the issue. Backers include County Executive Steve Levy; opponents include town Supervisor Frank Petrone. Town board members now are chosen in a townwide vote.

Supporters of districts say the change would lead to more diversity and debate on the town board and also make council members more responsive to their constituents. Opponents say districts would make it harder to enact measures beneficial to the entire town, as council members would act only in the districts' interests.

After months of campaigning by Cronin's pro-districting group, Christensen's group responded with a campaign that includes lawn signs saying vote "no" on Dec. 22.

The ballot will ask if a "ward system," the term used by the state, should be established for the election of the town board.

The vote will be held at the normal polling places from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Cronin said he is frustrated by what he calls "manipulation of the truth to confuse residents" by Christensen's group, especially the claim that districts would mean higher taxes. "It has not raised taxes in other towns that have adopted council districts," he said. "They've taken a single line item out of the town budget and manipulated it as if it were increased costs."

Christensen agreed that taxes likely would not be raised immediately but said council budgets would rise because each board member would have his or her own staff.

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