Nonprofits to rehab homes for veterans

Suffolk officials announced plans to turn over eight blighted houses, seized for unpaid property taxes, so that nonprofit groups can transform them into affordable rentals for veterans and their families in danger of becoming homeless.

Representatives of nonprofit groups say they expect to get needed state funding and finish work on the houses, which will accommodate 10 veteran families in about one year's time. The groups will also manage the rentals.

"It's a tragedy for any of our military heroes to return home and not have a place to live on the very land they fought to protect," said County Executive Steve Bellone, a U.S. Army veteran.

Bellone, standing in front of a Copiague house that has been vacant for two years, said the program will help veterans and bolster neighborhoods.

The sites, valued at between $780,000 to $935,000, include a vacant Central Islip parcel where three homes will be built; properties in Mastic, Medford and Yaphank where houses will be demolished and new single-family homes built; and a four-bedroom house in Mastic that will be rehabilitated and house three senior veterans with a manager.

The properties are being turned over to the nonprofit groups for $1 each, and past taxes owed will be forgiven.

Rentals will be set at no more than 80 percent of the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development median income for Nassau-Suffolk adjusted for family size.

County officials say veterans will also receive services to help them readjust to civilian life after war. "This can't just be about providing four walls," said Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who sponsored legislation to make the program possible. "It has to be about developing a home and services so our veterans can put their heads on a pillow at night."

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Board weighs hike in construction fees

The village board is mulling whether to increase the fees it charges for new homes, house renovations, the subdivision of lots and other costs related to new construction.

The board recently debated fee changes suggested by the village's building inspector, Joseph Richardson, but postponed further discussion until its next meeting in September.

"We're just in the early discussion stages now of what we should do," said village trustee and budget director Andrew Farren.

The goal is for the fees to cover the city's costs, to avoid raising taxes, he said. Farren said the postponement in discussion is in part so officials can research past and future costs to the village.

Mayor Lawrence Schmidlapp said "most of those fees haven't been changed in five or 10 years."

Among the suggestions was to maintain a $100 fee for certificate of occupancy and architectural-review-board applications for construction costing under $100,000 and raise the price to $500 for construction costing more than $100,000, Schmidlapp said.

The mayor said he is leaning against such a sliding-scale fee structure because it appears the city's costs don't vary greatly based upon the cost of construction.

But he said he's more open to increasing fees for costs incurred by the planning board and the zoning board of appeals.

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Those costs vary depending on the complexity of the application and the size of houses, Farren said.

Richardson's suggestion was to double the clerical fee for such applications from $250 to $500 and increase the amount of money applicants put in as a deposit for the village's costs from $2,000 to $3,000 for the zoning board of appeals and to $3,500 for the planning board.

The city refunds money if the cost is less than the deposit and bills the applicant for any extra money needed, Farren said. In recent years, it hasn't been unusual for village costs to significantly exceed the amount of the deposit, he said.


State AG distributed $7G in gun buyback

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The state attorney general's office has updated the amount of money it gave out to residents during the gun buyback event it hosted in Huntington on Saturday.

The figure increased from an initial tally of $3,100 to $7,200, after last-minute guns were accounted for, officials from the office said.

The money was given to residents who wanted to turn in their firearms anonymously. The spokesman said 109 guns were collected at the event.

Cold Spring Harbor Lab marks 125 years

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is celebrating 125 years of scientific research this month.

The private, nonprofit organization has focus areas in neuroscience, cancer, genomics and plant biology. It's home to eight Nobel Prize winners, 54 laboratories and more than 600 researchers and technicians.

The lab opened in July 1890 as a place where the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences could train high school and college teachers in marine biology. By 1904, the organization established a department of genetics.

Cold Spring Harbor is where James Watson, a co-discoverer of DNA, first publicly presented the concept in 1953. Watson became the director of the organization in 1968 and helped shift the lab's focus to the study of cancer. Watson became chancellor in 2003 before retiring in 2007.

In the 1970s, the laboratory received significant financial support from philanthropist and investment banker Charles Sammis Robertson of Lloyd Harbor. His nearly $8 million gift, along with the donation of his nearby estate, allowed the lab to establish endowments.

Since then, the research organization has continued to expand, adding new labs and research areas. It opened the Hillside Laboratories in 2009, six buildings that increased active research space by 40 percent.

It has an annual operating budget of $150 million and a $440 million endowment.


Supporters rally for SUNY, CUNY bill

Students and leaders of faculty unions at the State and City Universities of New York called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo yesterday to sign a bill to strengthen the state's commitment to public higher education.

The Maintenance of Effort bill, passed overwhelmingly by the Assembly and the Senate in June, would ensure increased state funding to SUNY and CUNY for inflationary and mandatory expenses such as heating and electric bills, building rentals and other costs.

The group of about a dozen people held a news conference on the issue outside the Nassau County State Supreme Court Building in the early afternoon.

Vicki Janik, a distinguished professor of English and the Humanities at Farmingdale State College and a local union official, said state support to SUNY and CUNY has been cut by $1.5 billion since 2008 while enrollments have soared.

"As a result, cash-poor campuses have been forced to use revenue raised through five consecutive years of tuition hikes. The MOE bill will go a long way toward rectifying this situation."

Charlotte Rosengarten, a student at Nassau Community College -- part of the SUNY system -- said: "For too long, SUNY students have been burdened with financing the lion's share of SUNY's operating budget.

"In 2014-2015, students covered 63 percent of those costs through tuition and fees, while the state covered the remaining 37 percent. The MOE bill will lift some of that burden off the backs of students."

Eileen Landy, an officer with the United University Professions union based in Albany, said the bill will be put on Cuomo's desk on Aug. 3, and he must sign it within 10 days "or the process will have to begin again."