Long IslandTowns

LI's top pols weigh in on challenges ahead

Developer Michael Pontillo, left, and Mayor Ralph Suozzi

Developer Michael Pontillo, left, and Mayor Ralph Suozzi discuss the proposal of building a European style piazza with both residential and commercial uses on the site of the current Village Square pedestrian plaza. (May 10, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Newsday asked the leaders of Long Island's 13 towns and two cities what they saw as their biggest challenges for 2012. Scroll through the gallery to read their answers:

This story was reported and written by Aisha Al-Muslim, Stacey Altherr, Jennifer Barrios, Bill Bleyer, Denise M. Bonilla, Sarah Crichton, Emily C. Dooley, Mitchell Freedman, Carl MacGowan, Emily Ngo, Candice Ruud and Patrick Whittle.

Babylon -- Richard Schaffer Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard
Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

Babylon -- Richard Schaffer

Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer likely will be appointed by the town board next week to a temporary post as supervisor. He would serve until a November election for the remainder of the term, which expires in 2013.

Schaffer said he plans to continue the work started by predecessor Steve Bellone. In particular, Schaffer said he wants to bring to fruition Bellone’s vision for Wyandanch Rising. The $500 million public/private redevelopment is reaching a critical stage, Schaffer said. The redevelopment of Geiger Lake Park — which will turn the space into a water park, botanical garden and conservatory — is under way and the town hopes parts of it will open this summer, Schaffer said.

Regarding the budget, Schaffer said he wants to meet with the town’s financial team to “see where the pressures will be and try to stay ahead of those pressures.” Schaffer, who served as supervisor from 1992 to 2001, also said he wants to focus on creating jobs and attracting businesses and will meet with various chambers of commerce and village mayors.

(April 27, 2011)

Brookhaven -- Supervisor Mark Lesko Supervisor Mark Lesko
Photo Credit: David Pokress

Brookhaven -- Supervisor Mark Lesko

Supervisor Mark Lesko said the biggest challenge for Suffolk County’s largest township will be the daunting task of reorganizing town government. The town has had to dip into its surplus in recent years but will not be able to do that in 2013, Lesko said, necessitating a top-to-bottom review of town services to determine which it can afford to continue providing.

Declines in mortgage taxes and landfill revenue — and the overall soft economy — have spurred the changes, he said. “The road we’re on now is not sustainable,” he said.

The economy also is a major concern for 2012, Lesko said. Brookhaven needs to keep its landfill — the source of about 40 percent of town revenue — competitive in the marketplace, he said.

Brookhaven’s other big challenge is keeping code enforcement aggressive, Lesko said. The town has increased fines for quality-of-life violations by more than 300 percent since 2008 and needs to keep up that pace, he said.

(June 28, 2011)

East Hampton -- Supervisor Bill Wilkinson Supervisor Bill
Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

East Hampton -- Supervisor Bill Wilkinson

Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said he wants to improve the town?s metrics next year ? the measurements of how well the town functions ? but added that it?s not a criticism of current town workers. ?We have a great workforce. They just have to be led better,? he says. ?We have to get our goals out and our timetables out, and measure people against those goals.?

He said the town will continue to show financial discipline in an effort to hold down taxes and pay off years of accumulated debt.

(June 30, 2009)

Glen Cove -- Mayor Ralph Suozzi Mayor Ralph
Photo Credit: James Escher

Glen Cove -- Mayor Ralph Suozzi

Mayor Ralph Suozzi said the city must tackle economic challenges, but also the tasks of environmental cleanup, maintaining infrastructure and quality of life, and advancing development projects.

“We’re working on environmental cleanup still,” he said. “There’s one more site on the waterfront property and other sites downtown that we’ve engaged the state in.”

The city must also maintain its “bread and butter” — roads, sidewalks, streets and waterworks systems, he said. Park roofs and bathrooms need attention, too, he said.

“We want to improve quality of life and bring our families up in a healthy environment,” said Suozzi, re-elected in November.

Waterfront redevelopment and plans to revamp the downtown piazza will reach critical planning and financing stages in 2012, he said.

(August 11, 2011)

Hempstead -- Supervisor Kate Murray Encouraging development, stimulating
Photo Credit: David Pokress

Hempstead -- Supervisor Kate Murray

Encouraging development, stimulating the local economy and maintaining quality-of-life services are among the challenges Supervisor Kate Murray said the town will face in 2012.

Murray said she would continue to maintain the town’s “rock solid finances” while attracting private developers seeking to partner with the town. Major development initiatives will add housing choices and new commercial assets to the town’s inventory while creating needed jobs, she said.

Murray said her administration is moving ahead with a $50 million capital upgrade program that includes road repaving projects, marine bulkhead replacement, infrastructure maintenance and construction of a new recreation building for children with special needs.

The town’s one-stop career resource center, HempsteadWorks, will continue to help thousands of people find “meaningful and rewarding” employment, she added.

(June, 2011)

Huntington -- Supervisor Frank Petrone Security, development
Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Huntington -- Supervisor Frank Petrone

Security, development and code enforcement in Huntington Station will continue to be key issues, said Supervisor Frank Petrone.

Petrone said he hoped incoming County Executive Steve Bellone would offer an ?expanded commitment? for additional police protection for Huntington Station, which recently saw the installment of ShotSpotter technology to aid authorities in determining the source of gunfire.

Petrone said he plans to increase code enforcement in Huntington Station, targeting quality of life and housing issues. Petrone said he also wants the state to allow Huntington to re-create its civil violations bureau, which was shut down several years ago when the state objected to the town, and not state court, handling certain violations.

Petrone said he wants to bring together disparate voices in and around Huntington Station in an effort to seek ?common ground, common objectives.? Townwide, a new initiative dubbed ?Huntington At Your Service? will be launched early in 2012, featuring an interactive website that allows residents to more easily ask questions and lodge complaints, Petrone said.

(October, 2009)

Islip -- Incoming Supervisor Tom Croci Incoming Supervisor
Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Islip -- Incoming Supervisor Tom Croci

Incoming Supervisor Tom Croci’s transition team is producing a report on the state of the town to set goals for the new administration. Croci said his team is seeking input from chambers of commerce, the building industry, and neighborhood and civic groups.

Chief among his goals will be encouraging economic development and job growth, he said.

With a “fiscally challenged environment” and a 2013 budget hole that could exceed $10 million, Croci said the town has three choices: “Reduce services, which we’re not going to do because the residents deserve to get what they’re paying for; you can raise taxes, but already Long Islanders can no longer afford that; or you can reduce the size of government and figure out where you can save money within government.”

Another goal he set as a marker of “good, functioning government” is maintaining community outreach and a positive relationship with town workers.

(Nov. 8, 2011)

Long Beach -- City manager Jack Schnirman Jack
Photo Credit: Handout

Long Beach -- City manager Jack Schnirman

Jack Schnirman will take office as city manager, two weeks after the new city council tapped him for the position.

Schnirman — once chief deputy supervisor in Brookhaven Town and most recently vice president of management consulting at Bowne Management Systems — said he and Long Beach’s five-member council will immediately begin work to stabilize the budget and determine the depth of the city’s financial crisis.

“Number one: Put the city’s finances on the road to recovery,” Schnirman said. “That is goal number one and it’s a crisis we have to address.”

But, he added, he and the council also intend to increase transparency and sharpen the focus on constituent service. “We really want to build a team atmosphere working with the city’s workers to accomplish great things,” he said.

North Hempstead -- Supervisor Jon Kaiman Next year’s
Photo Credit: David Pokress

North Hempstead -- Supervisor Jon Kaiman

Next year’s major challenges include funding operations while waiting on revenue from the county, maintaining infrastructure, and streamlining staffing while offering the same level of service, Supervisor Jon Kaiman said.

North Hempstead is wrangling over money with Nassau County which, Kaiman said, owes the town millions in mortgage tax and sales tax revenue but has said it can’t pay because that might cause a dire financial strain.

“That’s put quite a burden on us,” he said. “We’re going to be required to go for short-term lending if they don’t pay the bills.”

Other challenges include maintaining infrastructure and facilities — from filling potholes to addressing flooding issue — with less revenue, and providing services that attract and retain residents while holding the line on staffing. “We are absolutely looking for ways to hold the line on staff or reduce staff,” Kaiman said.

(May, 2011)

Oyster Bay -- Supervisor John Venditto Supervisor John
Photo Credit: David Pokress

Oyster Bay -- Supervisor John Venditto

Supervisor John Venditto said “continuing to ensure the financial integrity of the town” is a critical challenge.

He said the town has made “unprecedented” infrastructure improvements — including roads, beaches, new parks, an indoor ice rink and a new parking facility in Hicksville. “While the town will continue to make improvements, we need to do so cautiously in view of the continuing difficult economic times,” he said.

“An equally important challenge is continuing to protect our suburban way of life against forces that are trying to erode the character of our neighborhoods and transform them into urban communities,” said Venditto, who strongly opposes projects to create higher density multiple uses in downtown areas near railroad stations, such as one planned for Farmingdale.

Venditto said the town would remain “vigilant in protecting our environment.”

(June 24, 2011)

Riverhead -- Supervisor Sean Walter Supervisor Sean Walter
Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Riverhead -- Supervisor Sean Walter

Supervisor Sean Walter said he wants to “continue on the path toward balancing the town budget,” noting the town has kept taxes down for several years by using a $17 million reserve fund from the sale of land at town-owned Enterprise Park at Calverton. That fund, he said, is now mostly depleted.

Walter said he hopes that, by midyear, the State Legislature will have created a new agency to perform environmental and planning reviews required to subdivide and sell land at the 3,000-acre EPCAL.

In addition, he said he hopes that ongoing negotiations will bring a new movie house to downtown Riverhead, along with the expected reopening of the Suffolk Theater as a fully-operational Performing Arts Center, 25 years after it closed.

And he expects the store-by-store redevelopment of downtown Riverhead to continue, with similar improvements following along Railroad Avenue and in Polish Town.

(August 11, 2011)

Shelter Island -- Supervisor James Dougherty Supervisor James
Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Shelter Island -- Supervisor James Dougherty

Supervisor James Dougherty expects to have a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do next year, much of it unfinished business from this year.

Each of the town’s three collective bargaining units will have an expired contract — the Highway Department contract expired Dec. 31, 2010, the other two contracts at the end of this year — and Dougherty said rising long-term health care expenses might require future employees to pay more for that care than current workers, if that can be negotiated.

“With respect to future employees,” he said, “they will have to pay more.”

Dougherty also will work with the town’s planning board and zoning board of appeals on implementing the town’s new zoning code on the Ram Island Causeway; a series of complex changes severely limit where new homes can be built on the environmentally fragile piece of land.

(June 27, 2011)

Smithtown -- Supervisor Patrick Vecchio Preparing a town
Photo Credit: Handout

Smithtown -- Supervisor Patrick Vecchio

Preparing a town budget in the era of the state’s 2 percent tax cap is no easy task, and that won’t change next year, Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said.

The declining economy has dried up some sources of revenue, leaving towns little choice but to raise property taxes or cut services in 2012, he said.

“Revenues continue to fall, making it difficult to keep taxes at no increase or even tolerably low,” Vecchio said.

Smithtown’s 2012 budget raises taxes 0.72 percent. To avoid hiking taxes even more, Vecchio dipped into reserve funds. He said the reserves are “sufficient to get us through another a year or two,” but when they dry up, “You have nothing to lower taxes with.”

And, he said, there is not much fat in the budget.

“We’re bare minimum now, and certainly I would appeal to the [town] council to let jobs go by attrition,” Vecchio said. “No department is really overstaffed. There are no patronage jobs in the town.”

Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst
Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst

Southold -- Supervisor Scott Russell The town’s master
Photo Credit: David Pokress

Southold -- Supervisor Scott Russell

The town’s master plan most likely will be completed in 2012, but that pales in comparison with keeping the town fiscally viable, Supervisor Scott Russell said.

“To be candid, maintaining our sound fiscal policy, that’s a struggle in and of itself,” Russell said. “And that is always the first order of business.”

So far, several chapters of the town’s comprehensive master plan have been finished, but there is more to do, he said. The town board most likely will also spend time in 2012 looking at land use issues, such as updating zoning maps and laws, he said.

Vincent Orlando has left the town board after four years, and fellow Republican Jill Doherty will take his place. Russell said the board has always worked together and said he expects that to continue.

“It’s a nonpartisan board,” he said. “And you will see that carry forward next year.”

(June 25, 2011)