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Smithtown awards contract to controversial tree-removal firm

Smithtown Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said Reliable Tree

Smithtown Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said Reliable Tree Services was "the lowest responsible bidder" for a contract awarded by the town. Vecchio is seen in a file photo from 2011. Photo Credit: Handout, 2011

Smithtown Town Board members have voted unanimously to award a nearly $500,000 bid for tree services to a company that has a contentious history with the town, where it has operated at least a decade without approval.

The bid from Reliable Tree Services, owned by Frank Prisco and located at 927 Jericho Tpke. in Smithtown, was about $150,000 less than the one from the second-lowest bidder, Integrity Tree Care, of Sayville, town officials said. The contract is for one year.

"He's the lowest responsible bidder," said Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio. "What he does at this site has nothing to do with his ability to take down trees and remove stumps."

Neighbors have complained that the company ground trees into wood chips stored in open containers, leading to unpleasant odors, and has removed trees from a rear buffer on its property that separated nearby homes from a town sump.

The board voted 5-0 last week to award the contract, which is worth $448,475.

Smithtown Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said there "wasn't a sufficient legal basis to disqualify" the company because "there are standards to declaring a bidder non-responsible, such as past performance issues."

Town officials said they have been pleased with Reliable Tree's past work and that the company was working to comply with conditions -- such as completing all fencing and landscaping on its site by early June -- of zoning approvals granted last month.

Councilman Edward Wehrheim said there were concerns about bid language that required Reliable Tree to supply proof of permits and a certificate of occupancy that was not in other vendors' bids.

Neighbors said they were disappointed by the vote -- particularly since the company lost a bid with the town last August due to zoning violations at its Jericho Turnpike site.

"I understand he is the lowest bidder," said one neighbor, Linda Jablonsky. "But last year, they were able to put language into the two tree service contracts that he wasn't an eligible bidder because he didn't have a certificate of occupancy, and this year you're saying, 'Oh, that's not legal.' I'm surprised how hard the town is working to make sure he gets this contract."

According to town officials, that's not the case. "We can't withhold a public bid as a means of punishing a contractor," Jakubowski.Reliable Tree did not have a site plan approved until earlier this month, despite the fact that owner Frank Prisco had been ordered to file the plan within a year of a March 2011 conditional discharge agreement in Suffolk County District Court -- after the town issued violation summonses in 2003, 2008 and 2010 -- but failed to do so, said Jakubowski.

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