Brendan J. O'Reilly


Complaint Portal Launches For Housing Discrimination Based On Source Of Income

Photo by woodleywonderworks

A new online complaint portal is now available for New York State residents to report if they suspect that they have been subject to discrimination based on their source of income when trying to buy or rent housing.

Attorney General Letitia James announced the portal last month. Her office explained that legislation that took effect in April 2019 makes it illegal under the New York State Human Rights Law to deny someone housing based on the type of lawful income they receive, and the law applies to nearly all types of housing. Among the sources of income protected under the law are public assistance, Section 8 vouchers, child support, alimony, foster care subsidies and Social Security.

“Every New Yorker deserves safe and decent housing, regardless of their lawful source of income,” she said. “Across New York State, landlords, rental agents, and brokers continue to post ads specifying that they will not accept vouchers or housing assistance — an act that is blatantly unlawful and discriminatory. This new portal will allow New Yorkers to report these instances of discrimination and help my office hold bad actors accountable.”

Anyone attempting to rent or sell a housing unit can be accountable for discrimination, according to the attorney general’s office, including owners, management companies, brokers, real estate agents, co-op boards, and condo associations.

The only exceptions to the law are one- or two-family homes occupied by the owner; room rentals in properties for individuals of the same sex, such as college dormitories or boarding houses where all residents are of the same sex; and housing intended for seniors.

Listings or advertisements break the law if they use phrases such as “no section 8/no DSS/no SSI,” “no payment programs,” or “apartment has not yet been approved for any vouchers/subsidies,” according to the attorney general’s office. It is also illegal to provide different terms or privileges to residents based on their sources of income, such as a rooftop patio that is available to all residents except those with a voucher.

The complaint portal can be found at ag.ny.gov/source-income-discrimination.

Daily Show Correspondent Roy Wood Jr. To Appear At Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center

Roy Wood

Speaking from his Daily Show office in Manhattan earlier this month on a Tuesday, Roy Wood Jr. was just starting his work day.

But Daily Show correspondent is just one job the Birmingham native holds. He’s the host of Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening and a stand-up comic who’s bringing his act to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Friday, June 21. He also recently finished filming a television pilot back in Alabama that, with a bit of luck, will be picked up for a series.

The 40-year-old, who now lives in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, said he “officially” left Alabama in 2007, though he noted that he went back in 2010 to host a radio show he wanted to build for national syndication. Now, he says it’s more of an adjustment for him to go back South than it is for him to be a Southerner living on a coast.

“I still get home when I can to do chores for Mom,” he said.

Wood’s been a Daily Show correspondent since Trevor Noah took over as host of the show in 2015, but prior to, that he auditioned once before without success. In fact, he said it was painful.

“I actually auditioned for The Daily Show in ’07 and just crapped the bed. Literally, just did not do it—did not do well,” he shared.

Wyatt Cenac was hired instead.

“Not only did I have a bad audition, but I left my phone in the room so I had to sit outside the room and listen to Wyatt Cenac crush and then walk back in the room to get my phone.”

Wood is very appreciative of having the job now, and it lends itself to his past as a broadcast journalism student at Florida A&M University.

“It’s crazy because The Daily Show is literally the perfect merging of those two skill sets. To be able to do stand-up and be funny and have some smidgen of performance instincts, and to also have a job that draws on my journalistic background, it’s perfect,” he said. “And you know, as it stands right now there’s only six people in this building—there’s only six people in this country—that have this position. I think at any given time there’s never been more than six correspondents. There’s been a lot of contributors, but this is an extremely unique job.”

As a correspondent, rather than a contributor, Wood goes out on the road for field pieces. He recently reported on the Trump administration’s changes to school lunch programs and on why more people don’t grasp climate change.

There are a few different types of days Wood has at the office: Researching to find a story to pitch, preparing to shoot a story, editing a story he already shot, or working with writers on a segment that will be shot in studio.

“I enjoy the research the most because you get to find all the stories,” Wood said. “And also, everything isn’t about me. So, it’s cool to find something that you think is funny, but it might not be for you. It easily could end up going to another correspondent, which I’m perfectly fine with. John Stockton went to the Hall of Fame because he passed the ball. So, I don’t have to be the one that scores and gets the punch line. At the end of the day, we just all want to be part of a funny show.”

And The Daily Show is not the only funny show he is part of; since 2017 Wood has hosted This Is Not Happening, in which comedians tell real-life stories on stage.

“It wasn’t my show originally. I inherited it from the former host, Ari Shaffir. I’m kind of the Trevor Noah of that show—white guy being replaced by a black man,” Wood said. “But it’s fun because you get to hear all these different stories, and I get to tell … more than normal as the host.”

Exactly why he was chosen as the new host is a question he cannot answer, outside of the fact that he was already part of the Comedy Central family.

“I didn’t ask why,” he said. “You know, when the gorgeous girl says, ‘Let’s go out,’ you don’t go, ‘What is it that you see in me?’ You just go find a nice jacket to put on and pray the debit card doesn’t get declined.”

But he has yet another project for Comedy Central in the works: Wood was back in Alabama just last month as he filmed Jefferson County: Probation, which grew out of his own experience on probation as a teenager.

When he was 19, he was arrested for stealing credit cards and sentenced to probation. “My probation officer did things that helped me in my early years in comedy, making my career,” Wood said. “A lot of what that probation officer did for me was above and beyond.”

He explained that the show is about “two probation officers handling their caseload and showing how recidivism does and doesn’t happen with certain people that go through the criminal justice system.”

Mr. Wood said he wanted a television show that looks at criminal justice from a different prism: “Everything on TV, you know, it’s the cop, it’s the courtroom, it’s the jail, or it’s a bounty hunter with his wife tracking down criminals in Hawaii or wherever the f— they live. But the process of merging back into society, I think there is something interesting in that and I think that there’s a lot of hilarious characters and people and scenarios.”

Whether the pilot episode is picked up for a season remains to be seen.

“It was just a pilot order,” Wood said. “Now we do like every other TV show: We edit, send it to the network—and then we start emailing Jesus!”

Earlier this year his second one-hour special, No One Loves You, premiered, and he said Comedy Central has ordered a third, which he plans to shoot next year.

On this current tour, he won’t be relying on material from his past specials.

“We’re cooking fresh, man. If it’s on TV, it’s dead,” he said, “I might do the firefighters joke I did on ‘Fallon’ earlier this year, saying that I get why cops are jealous of firefighters, and that’s because there are no firefighter misconduct videos. Firefighters have figured out the secret: Just do your job and get naked on a calendar, then everybody will love you.”

Though he routinely makes jokes about controversial topics, he said he’s never had anyone get angry and walk out on his performances.

“They might get quiet. They might get a little uncomfortable, but I’ve never set out on stage to attack people for feeling the way they feel,” he said. “I’m simply explaining to you why I feel the way I feel. And I think there’s a distinct difference in how you approach those topics. I’m not here to tell you whether or not it’s right or wrong.”

For example, he said that in his first Comedy Central special, Father Figure, he addresses kneeling during the National Anthem. He didn’t tell people whether they should stand or kneel, and he didn’t attack them for feeling one way or the other about the issue.

“What I will say is that for you to assume that black people are patriotic by nature is a misstep, because if you look at black music, we’ve never written a patriotic song. … And that was a joke that starts in a very divisive place but ultimately gets to the premise that black people don’t sing about America. We sing about specific cities where you can have a good time, and that was the joke. And even with James Brown, ‘Living in America,’ as the song ends he starts naming cities. When you get to the end of that joke, I haven’t attacked you.”

When discussing a controversial topic, not everyone will agree, Wood noted.

“You have to be OK with that. If you’re not OK with that, then talk about airline food,” he advised. “But I enjoy juggling a little dynamite, and I think that the people who like my material, they enjoy having their beliefs challenged. They enjoy figuring out another prism of exploration on a topic.”

Of course, being a correspondent for a political satire show gives him an outlet to discuss politics. “Which is part of why I don’t talk about a lot of politics in my act on stage,” he said. “I talk about world issues here and there, but I’m not going to sit here and talk about Trump for 45 minutes. It’s just not my lane. If I got a good Trump joke, I’m pitching it to Trevor Noah, or I’m going to give it to our writers so we can do a deeper segment.”

Roy Wood Jr. will perform on Friday, June 21, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $48 and $58. Call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.

This article first appeared in The Southampton Press

Garden Designer And Writer Noel Kingsbury To Present At Parrish Art Museum’s ‘Landscape Pleasures’

Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury is a man outstanding in his field—and his field is gardens.

The British garden designer, researcher and writer is among the renowned experts traveling to Water Mill this weekend for the Parrish Art Museum’s annual Landscape Pleasures symposium.

The symposium will take place Saturday morning, with Mr. Kingsbury and landscape designers Simon Johnson and Eric Groft each making presentations. 

Mr. Kingsbury is slated to share memories from his more than 30 years working professionally in horticulture, as well as examples of wild-style planting designs implemented in Europe. He’s become best-known for his promotion of naturalistic planting design, often working with Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf, who is recognized in the United States as the designer of the High Line, the elevated park on the former New York Central Railroad on the West Side of Manhattan.

Speaking Monday from Europe, Mr. Kingsbury explained that naturalistic planting design does not mean copying nature—rather, it is a very stylized version of nature that evokes the best aesthetics of natural habitat. And it is reliant on native perennials.

Some people might not consider it tidy, Mr. Kingsbury acknowledged. On a gradient between suburban gardens and somewhere wild, naturalistic planting design is “somewhere in the middle,” he said.

The seed of his partnership with Mr. Oudolf was planted in 1994, when he decided to spend time traveling and looking at garden design, primarily in continental Europe. Though most of his focus was on Germany, he arranged to meet Mr. Oudolf in the Netherlands. “He was doing fantastic things with perennials,” Mr. Kingsbury recalled.

“It’s got a really, sort of, solidity about it,” he said of Mr. Oudolf’s design style. “It’s not just about short displays of pretty flowers. It’s something really long-lived, not just through the year but year to year.”

It was a distinct Dutch approach not seen in Britain, he said. He also took notice that Mr. Oudolf was not attached to his gardens conforming to plans: “He designs very, very detailed plans, yet once everything is implemented, he seems very phlegmatic about how they actually develop.”

Mr. Oudolf’s clients don’t always feel that way. “He is always so surprised when they try to take things back to the original plan,” Mr. Kingsbury said.

In fact, when it comes to his personal garden—it had been open for the public to visit up until recently—Mr. Oudolf hasn’t done a thing to it in 25 years, aside from weeding and an annual cutting back, Mr. Kingsbury said.

The style calls for dense planting: seven to nine plants per square meter. That fills the space quickly, which denies that space to weeds, Mr. Kingsbury pointed out.

Naturalistic planting involves less work than traditional methods—less watering, less fertilizing—but requires more skill, like recognizing which seedlings to get rid of and what to let grow. “We shouldn’t be afraid of plants that self-seed and spread a bit,” Mr. Kingsbury said.

Though naturalistic planting design may leave something to be desired for some, he said there is other compensation to be considered, such as the longer growing season and the seed heads on display through winter. There also is less clearing to do at the end of the year because of less growth, he added, noting that many traditional practices have led to overfeeding and taller plants that topple over.

Natives also are resilient—they survive extremes, he said, and that is key for gardening. Although some gardeners do push the boundaries of hardiness, he added.

Mr. Kingsbury said he visited Mr. Oudolf again a year later and began writing articles for British garden magazines about him, and books became the obvious next step.

“I try to explain what he does to the world,” Mr. Kingsbury said, noting that, “like a lot of artists,” Mr. Oudolf does not do a great job explaining his own work.

They have done three books together about how to design with plants, and Mr. Kingsbury wrote a biography of Mr. Oudolf, “Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life,” but, he noted, “We mustn’t call it a biography, because the Dutch are very modest.”

There is also a 2017 documentary about Mr. Oudolf and his gardens, for which Mr. Kingsbury was interviewed. Titled “Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf,” the film will be screened at the Parrish Art Museum on Friday, June 7, at 6 p.m. in conjunction with Hamptons Doc Fest. Admission is $15, or free for Landscape Pleasures registrants. The director, Thomas Piper, will be on hand following the screening for a conversation with Parrish Director Terrie Sultan.

Also on Friday, Mr. Kingsbury will lead a workshop at Marders in Bridgehampton from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The $500 workshop is on long-term plant performance and will encourage participants to observe garden and landscape plants, focusing on their growth through the year, looking at how they compete with each other, and determining how to assess their longevity and their suitability for different garden locations.

“Observe what your plants are doing overtime,” Mr. Kingsbury advised. “Try to understand them.” Work with the plants that are doing well, and don’t be afraid of change, he added. “Don’t stick rigidly to some design you had in the first place. Go with the flow.”

He said there has been a boom in interest and expertise in naturalistic planting design in the last 10 years. And though Mr. Oudolf’s style was developed in the Netherlands, it is applicable to the United States. “In some ways … his style is more adaptable to most of the continental United States than to most of the British Isles,” Mr. Kingsbury said

Much of the reason has to do with the breadth of native plants in the United States. “Using native plants is hugely popular in the United States at the moment, which is fantastic, because you do have an amazingly rich flora,” he said.

At Saturday’s symposium, Mr. Kingsbury will present “New Ways with Perennials” at 9:15 a.m. Mr. Johnson will follow at 10:15 a.m. with “On the Making of Gardens,” and Eric Groft will conclude the program with “The American Museum and Gardens in Britain: Building a Living Collection” at 11:30 a.m.

Then, on Sunday, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., ticket-holders may take self-guided tours of private gardens: a Bridgehampton garden by landscape designer Tina Raver; a Springs garden by landscape architecture group Oehme, van Swedenl; a second Springs garden by Abby Lawless Farm Landscape Design; and Woodlands, Vincent Covello and Carol Mandel’s East Hampton woods, with 31 garden areas and more than 80 species of moss.

Tickets to Landscape Pleasures start at $250, or $200 for Parrish members, inclusive of the Friday film program, the Saturday symposium and the Sunday garden tour. Register at parrishart.org.

This article first appeared in The Southampton Press.

Changes To STAR Program Could Cost Some Homeowners

Changes to New York State’s School Tax Relief program, known as STAR, could cost homeowners some of their benefit—even 100 percent of their benefit, depending on the taxpayer’s income level.

The changes came with the recently passed state budget. While homeowners who purchased their properties in the past few years are unaffected, those who have been homeowners for longer and have enjoyed a lower property tax bill will have to make a switch to maximize their tax relief.

STAR, which first became law in 1997, exempts the first $30,000 of a primary home’s value from school district taxes. Homeowners receive a lower property tax bill, and school districts get a check from the state to make up the difference.

However, for homeowners who purchased their residences after August 1, 2015, it works differently. Rather than receiving an exemption, they get a tax credit. They pay the full property tax bill up front—then receive a rebate check from the state later.

State Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) offered this analogy: It’s like the difference between using a coupon at the grocery store and sending for a manufacturer’s rebate in the mail. The savings for the customer is exactly the same, but in the second scenario the customer had to front the money and then wait to get it back.

Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new state budget, homeowners who currently receive a STAR exemption will continue to do so as long as their annual household income is less than $250,000—but their benefit will be frozen. In order to receive annual increases of about 2 percent, these STAR recipients will have to change from the tax exemption to a tax credit.

Those with incomes between $250,000 and $500,000 must switch to the credit, or they will lose their entire benefit. Those with incomes of more than $500,000 are ineligible for STAR.

“The STAR program, as it was originally constituted, worked extremely well and was probably one of the most popular programs that the State of New York has ever implemented,” Thiele said. “It wasn’t broken, and there was no need to fix it. And the governor tinkered with it. And the reason why he tinkered with it: It’s, pure and simple, a budget gimmick.”

Thiele explained that the change from a tax exemption to a tax credit has to do with accounting. As a tax exemption, in which the state sends money to school districts, STAR is on the expenditure side of the state budget. But as a tax credit, in which the state refunds money to taxpayers, STAR instead is accounted for on the revenue side.

“It’s going to reduce our revenue, but it’s not an expenditure,” the assemblyman said. “If you look at any ledger, on one side is your income and on the other side are your expenses. Basically, instead of being an increase in our expenditures … it’s a reduction in our income.”

The reason for the move has to do with the governor’s 2 percent cap on tax levy increases, according to Thiele. The governor has self-imposed a 2 percent limit on state budget increases.

“It’s not in the constitution. It’s not statutory,” Thiele noted. “Simply, the governor has said every year, there’s a 2 percent limit on property taxes for local governments and school districts, so we’re not going to increase spending on our side by more than 2 percent.”

To meet that limit, the governor is moving STAR to the other side of the ledger, which gives him more room on the expenditure side of the budget.

Thiele added that he also expects that some taxpayers will not make the switch to the credit, which will save the state money.

“If you make people affirmatively have to file for something, there is going to be a certain percentage who don’t,” he said.

And how many fail to take action will depend on how effective lawmakers are at getting the word out to their constituents, according to Thiele.

Those with incomes under $250,000 who are presently receiving the exemption may choose to keep receiving their STAR savings up front rather than getting a check later. But Thiele pointed out that while the 2 percent or so annual increase that they will be giving up may be a relatively small amount in one year, it does compound over time for homeowners who stay put for many years: “That’s going to result in some real money.”

Thiele said the Assembly and the Senate have rejected these changes in one-house budget bills, but the governor has the leverage in the budget process under the State Constitution and was able to institute this change.

“But I’m not happy about it,” Thiele said. “I think it’s a change that wasn’t necessary, that doesn’t make the program better. It makes the program more cumbersome and makes people pay money up front and makes them have to go to the state to get it back.”

STAR is particularly popular on Long Island.

“If you look at the numbers statewide, probably no area of the state benefits more from this program than Long Island and Westchester County, the Lower Hudson Valley,” Thiele said. “Those are the areas where property taxes are the highest and the STAR benefits are the greatest.”

Enhanced STAR, for homeowners age 65 and older, offers more tax relief, though the household income cap for eligibility is much lower: $86,300 for 2019 and $88,050 for 2020.

In order to register for the STAR tax credit, homeowners need to have the names and Social Security numbers of all owners of the property and their spouses; the primary residence of the owners and spouses; the approximate date of purchase and the name of the sellers; a 2018 school tax bill; addresses of residential properties owned in other states; the legal name of the trust, if applicable; and 2017 federal or state income tax returns for all owners.

To register, visit tax.ny.gov/pit/property/star/default.htm.

This article first appeared in The Southampton Press

Suffolk Exec Seeks End Run Around SALT Deduction Cap

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. (Photo credit: Suffolk County Executive's office)

In April, Suffolk County became the first county in New York to take advantage of state tax code reforms designed to provide an end run around the new federal cap on state and local tax deductions, known as SALT.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed legislation to establish a county-sponsored charitable gift reserve fund, allowing taxpayers to make contributions that, in turn, result in a reduction of their county tax bills. Because the contributions are treated as charitable gifts, they would not be subject to the SALT deduction cap—therefore enabling taxpayers to reclaim the full tax deduction they had enjoyed before the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

However, the IRS has indicated that the plan will not be allowed to proceed. The IRS has proposed regulations that would prohibit taxpayers from taking a deduction on their federal tax returns if their “charitable gifts” to their state and localities are made for the sake of reducing their state and local tax bills.

The county’s move is part of Bellone’s “SALT Cap Response Plan,” which seeks to mitigate the cap’s effects on Suffolk County’s economy and housing market and also includes advocacy on the federal level to repeal the cap.

The SALT deduction cap is now $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for married couples. High-tax states like New York are particularly affected by the cap, because many homeowners have property taxes that exceed the cap even before counting their state income taxes.

The county executive’s office noted that, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington, a total of nearly 530,000 homeowners, or more than one in three tax filers in Nassau and Suffolk counties, are affected by the cap.

There already has been tax shock for thousands of families, Bellone said during a recent interview.

“We were with people the other day who didn’t change anything, but they normally get a couple of thousand in a refund, and not only didn’t get a refund but owed thousands of dollars,” he said.

There is an immediate impact on the ability of families to take a vacation or invest in their kids’ education, he added.

“If we don’t reverse this, there are long-term implications for our economy and our housing market—and they’re not good,” Bellone said. “And that’s why there is an urgency to this. This is going to take some time to get up. … It’s not something we can start on a dime. So we need to be doing this now, in the event that we’re unsuccessful in getting this repealed.”

In August, the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS proposed rules on whether taxpayers may take charitable contribution deductions while expecting to receive a corresponding state or local tax credit. The proposal states that if a taxpayer receives a local or state tax credit in exchange for a contribution, the amount of the credit cannot be declared as a tax deduction on federal tax returns.

Bellone said the charitable gift reserve fund plan put forth by New York State uses existing provisions of the federal tax code. He noted that when he went to Washington, D.C., last year, he made the case to the IRS directly that if the agency wants to change the rules to prevent what New York is doing then it must go to Congress to seek the change.

For the IRS to change the rules independently in response to states’ actions, is arbitrary and capricious and will not withstand legal scrutiny, he said.

“We’re hopeful that the IRS will amend those proposed regulations, but if they don’t, then we are willing to go to court on this issue,” the county executive added.

For the plan to have a significant effect on Suffolk residents’ federal tax bills, it will require buy-in from an array of jurisdictions. Each taxing authority that appears on a homeowner’s property tax bill, from town governments and school districts to fire districts, would have to create charitable funds and allow taxpayers who send money to those funds to offset their tax bills.

“We’re very hopeful that once people see this that every taxing jurisdiction is going to want to protect their taxpayers,” Bellone said. “So we’re going to be having those conversations. We’re looking to have this live for 2020, so we’re going to be having these conversations over the next six months with jurisdictions as we put these structures in place.”

If successful, the county will also seek to streamline the process for taxpayers.

“It would apply to every part of your tax bill where the jurisdiction has authorized you to do this or created the structure,” Bellone said. “So what we’re trying to do—we want to make this as seamless and easy for people as possible. We want to set up a framework as part of our shared services program where the county could act as administrator for the different charitable funds that exist throughout the county.”

Checks would be sent to just one entity, rather than to every individual taxing authority that participates.

Because putting this together will take time, the earliest that taxpayers would feel the benefit would be when they file their 2020 taxes by Tax Day in April 2021.

While repeal of the SALT deduction cap would be his preference, Bellone said that repeal cannot be counted on.

“We have businesses here who are constantly getting pitched by different jurisdictions around the country, so this is a long-term issue for us,” he said. “If this is not repealed, we’ve got to have something in place that is going to mitigate the damage from this. And that’s why we’re moving now to set this up. Hopefully, honestly, we never have to use this, and this gets repealed. But the potential damage to our economy and our housing market is so great here that we’ve got to make sure that we’re moving to get these structures set up.”

Though there is a fair degree of bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal the cap and reinstate the full SALT deduction—including the support of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)—the idea has no traction in the U.S. Senate, where Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says he will not take up the matter.

Bellone, a Democrat, said the Long Island congressional delegation—a mix of Democrats and Republicans—favors repeal.

“We don’t always agree—but on this, this is really a Long Island issue,” he said. “They understand that we send way more money to Washington than we ever get in return. When we come together on issues like this that are really about protecting Long Island and protecting New York, I think it’s a good thing.”

Repeal is not likely to pass in Washington right now, Bellone acknowledged, but he added that things change there.

“We’re going to keep the pressure up, and we’re going to keep the issue in the forefront,” he said. “And that’s an important point. If Washington thought that this is something that will be a short-term issue—people will be upset for a short period of time, and then it will eventually fade away—we want to make it clear to them that this is never going away. We are not going to stop till this gets repealed, until our SALT deductions are fully restored.”

This article first appeared in the Southampton Press.

Suffolk County Water Authority Introduces New Tiered Rate Structure

(Shutterstock photo)

In an effort to curb excessive water use and promote conservation, the Suffolk County Water Authority has adopted a tiered rate, charging 15.4 percent more than the standard rate after a customer’s water demand surpasses a certain level.

The new rate structure took effect April 1. The base drinking water charge for all SCWA customers increased from $1.95 per 1,000 gallons to $2.028 per 1,000 gallons. For household consumption in excess of 78,540 gallons per quarter, the rate is now $2.34 per 1,000 gallons.

Additionally, the quarterly basic service charge, which is applied at a flat rate regardless of how much water a household uses, rose from $24.27 to $27.91. That’s an increase of $14.56 per year.

Considering average household usage and the new usage rates, typical SCWA customers who use 160,000 gallons of water per year can expect their total annual water cost to rise $25, or about 6.5 percent, according to the water authority.

According to the utility, tiered systems are used throughout the country, including on Long Island, but this is a first for SCWA. Jeffrey Szabo, the water authority’s CEO, said that there are several reasons why the SCWA board elected to introduce tiers this year.

“Every five years we hire an independent firm to do a rate study to look at our finances and our capital projects, and our treatment and infrastructure, and all that stuff, and they provide a report and make recommendations to the board here on how much rates should increase in order to support our operating and capital expenses,” Szabo explained.

“When they did the report three years ago, they recommended about 6.5 percent every year. We have not done that,” he said. “The last three years, we’ve done in the neighborhood of a flat 4 percent, without a tiered rate structure. And we’ve tried to mitigate the need for that 6.5 percent by using what we call one-shots.”

Those one-shots have included the sale of surplus water authority property that was not needed for water purposes, and $2.25 million from merged cellular service providers that canceled leases for antennas on SCWA tanks.

Now, the water authority is out of one-shots, Szabo said, and additional recurring revenue is necessary to operate successfully with the highest credit ratings in the face of aging infrastructure and new state mandates expected on unregulated compounds in drinking water.

He said there is a strong likelihood that the state will institute a low minimum contaminant level for PFOS and PFOA. The per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are man-made chemicals used in stain resistant and nonstick products and other common household products, as well as firefighting foam. They are considered contaminants of emerging concern, with evidence that exposure can lead to adverse human health effects, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

In order to remove PFOS and PFOA, the utility will need to invest in new infrastructure that can filter out or destroy the compounds. Simultaneously, the state is urging Long Island water providers to reduce consumption.

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has an initiative that is strongly encouraging at this point an overall reduction in islandwide water consumption by 15 percent over three years, and we’re trying to comply with that,” Szabo said.

He also noted that consultants recommended charging the heaviest users more “because it costs us additional dollars to get them water.”

The 78,540-gallon limit before paying a higher rate applies to SCWA customers with 5/8-, 3/4- and 1-inch water meters. That encompasses the vast majority of customers. Above 1-inch, the threshold increases as the meter size increases.

Larger meters typically serve larger institutions, such as skilled nursing facilities, hospitals and schools, Szabo said, noting that the tier is 12 million gallons a quarter for an 8-inch meter.

To reach the new tiered rate, average residential SCWA customers would have to more than double their annual use, according to the utility. Heavy users can avoid hitting the tiered rate by not wastefully watering lawns in the spring and summer, SCWA advises.

In an average year, SCWA pumps approximately 68 billion gallons of water. That can be a few billion higher in a year with a particularly dry summer.

Szabo said between 20 and 25 percent of SCWA customers will likely fall into the higher tier. That is about 70,000 of 400,000 accounts serving 1.2 million people, he said.

SCWA customers with questions about the new rate structure may call customer service at 631-698-9500.

This article first appeared in The Southampton Press.

Fight To Uncap SALT Deduction Waged On County And Federal Fronts

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on March 5 announces a plan to restore SALT deductions.

In Suffolk County, the fight to uncap the deduction of state and local taxes, which was limited to $10,000 by the 2017 federal tax law, is being fought on two fronts.

On the local level, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is planning a “charitable gift reserve fund” as an end-run around the new law. It’s designed to allow the county’s homeowners to be able to receive a full federal deduction for the cost of their property taxes by instead paying them as a charitable donation. On the federal level, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is working with a bipartisan coalition toward reinstating the deduction, known as SALT, for “state and local taxes.”

Before the new tax law, sales, income and property taxes paid were deductible when determining taxable income at the federal level, and there was no cap on the deduction. With SALT deductions now capped at $10,000 — and the standard deduction pegged at $12,200 for single filers and $24,400 for married couples for 2019 — the tax benefit of being a homeowner in New York has become nonexistent for many. It also means the same money is being taxed twice, first by local and state governments, and then by the federal government.

Zeldin, representing New York’s 1st Congressional District, was one of 12 Republicans who voted against the GOP tax bill, based largely on the inclusion of a cap on SALT deductions. He renewed his call to reinstate SALT during a House floor speech on Wednesday, March 13. House members joining him in the effort are fellow Long Island congressmen Peter King (R-Seaford) and Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), as well as Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey).

“It was a geographic redistribution of wealth that impacted too many,” Zeldin said during a phone interview the day following his floor speech, explaining his 2017 vote against his party’s tax bill. Now, Zeldin expresses optimism that the plan to uncap SALT will gain traction in the House.

“I believe that it has the support to pass in the House of Representatives,” he said. “The House Ways and Means Committee has members who are very interested and focused on the issue. Hopefully, the Ways and Means Committee passes legislation and sends it to the floor to send over to the Senate.”

He said that he expects the House to act on reinstating SALT before the Senate acts, and that Senate action will require an effort on the part of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and others in the Senate. But because New York is among the states affected most by the new measure, it’s likely that the senator will support the effort.

“I believe Senator Schumer and his conference would be more inclined to support a change,” Zeldin said. “So whatever I can do to assist him and his colleagues with that effort in their chamber, I certainly would offer myself to help however they think would be best. And also advocating directly with the administration — the White House, with the president, directly.”

The Democrats wrested control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans in the 2018 election, and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts), became chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the House’s chief tax-writing committee.

“The leadership of the Democratic Party appears to be more inclined to make a change to the SALT deduction, and I have been eagerly working with them on ideas to help make that happen, even though I’m in another party,” Zeldin said. “It shouldn’t matter whether you’re a Republican or Democrat when fighting for these important issues.”

But, according to Zeldin, the negative impact that the tax bill had on LI is overstated.

“Some people like to attempt a branding of the tax bill as if Long Island is about to capsize and tip over in the Atlantic Ocean because of its devastating impact across the board on all Long Islanders, and that’s not the case,” he said. “Approximately half of [1st Congressional District] residents were previously standard deduction. They all benefited from the tax bill. They’re paying less now because of it. They are not paying more.

“As far as the itemizers in the 1st Congressional District, there are many who are paying less in taxes and not more,” he continued. “There were many different changes that were made in that tax bill. And some people, those changes benefited them more than the change to the SALT deduction impacted them negatively. My opposition to the tax bill was based primarily on the fact that too many were going to have to pay more, not because everyone was going to have to pay more.”

He added that he does not believe that reducing the corporate tax rate should be paid for by making personal income taxes higher.

“It’s just something that I don’t believe fundamentally is the right approach toward providing relief on the corporate tax side,” he said. “I’m happy that the corporate tax rate was reduced, but I don’t believe that this is the way to do it.”

Zeldin said he is working with Gottheimer, his colleague from across the aisle, to brainstorm options to pay for reinstating SALT, such as closing loopholes in the tax code that benefit wealthy individuals who have avoided paying taxes.

“We also have someone scoring these various proposals for us voluntarily — someone who used to work for the Congressional Budget Office — so we can see how the CBO would be scoring these various proposals,” Zeldin said. “And then based off those numbers that we get back, we’ll make a decision as to which ones to include.”

Zeldin noted in his floor speech that New York is one of most taxed states in the nation, and said that while SALT should be reinstated, New York also needs to reduce the tax burden on its residents.

“As I pointed out in my floor speech, what’s very important is for all of us to understand that the reason why our deduction was so high was because our state and local taxes are so high,” Zeldin said. “And all levels of government need to do their part to provide tax relief—especially the New York State government up in Albany. We have some of the highest tax rates in the entire country, one of the worst business climates in the entire country. And while Washington is, hopefully, doing their part, the elected officials in Albany will, hopefully, do their part.”

He said the three biggest tax concerns in New York are income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes.

“If we just were paying one at the rate that we were, it wouldn’t be much of an issue,” he said. “But when you have one of the highest income tax rates, one of the highest property tax rates, and one of the highest sales tax rates, it really adds up. And Albany needs to pursue efficiencies, especially with the size that its Medicaid program has grown to. And pursuing those efficiencies allows state officials to … pursue tax relief for New Yorkers.”

This week, the New York State Legislature made the 2 percent cap on annual tax levy increases permanent. The measure was instituted in 2011 to slow the growth of property taxes and was set to expire next year. Zeldin, a former state senator who was first elected to office in Albany in 2010 — the same year that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was first elected governor — supports the tax cap.

“New York State had reached its breaking point with the size of property taxes when that tax cap was enacted,” Zeldin said.

He added that Albany should also pursue mandate relief.

“Approximately 70 percent of our property taxes go to our local schools districts, and there are efficiencies to be found with regards to our schools as well,” he said. “We need to be delivering a quality education to our children and finding ways to make it more affordable. There are ways that the federal government can provide mandate relief. There are ways that the state government can provide mandate relief. And I believe that whenever the federal or state government is going to pass along a mandate to a local school district, that it should fund it. You either fund what you want to mandate, or you don’t require it.”

On the county level, Bellone is pursuing the “charitable gift reserve” plan that was suggested by the governor. According to the county executive’s office, Suffolk would be the first county in New York to establish the reserve to protect homeowners from the new tax law.

The IRS last year proposed regulations to ensure that charitable gifts that result in a corresponding state or local tax credit will not be eligible for a federal tax deduction. However, Bellone remained undeterred.

“My message to the IRS is clear: If you try to stop us from protecting our SALT deductions, we will see you in court,” the county executive said in a statement earlier this month. “Governor Cuomo took the lead in fighting back against the federal SALT tax law with a plan to protect localities, and, today, we are following that guidance prescribed by state law. And while we continue to push for Congress to restore these tax deductions, Suffolk County will not wait for Washington to act.”

Bellone’s plan also calls for reducing mortgage fees and freezing them for three years, and increasing access to affordable housing programs for young people with student loan debt.

This article first appeared in The Southampton Press.

Governor Launches ‘Buildings of Excellence’ Competition

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in Woodbury Oct. 22, 2018.

To advance his goal of making New York State’s entire building stock carbon neutral, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched this month the “Buildings of Excellence” competition, which promotes the design, construction and operation of low- or zero-carbon emitting buildings.

The competition, which will award $30 million in prizes, is part of Cuomo’s “Green New Deal,” an initiative included in his 2019 executive budget. The aim of the initiative is to provide clean energy and green jobs while supporting the state’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The three-round competition, administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, will award up to $10 million per round and each project is eligible to win up to $1 million.

The first round is focused on multi-family buildings, with applications accepted through June 4 and awards expected this summer. Proposals can be for new construction or rehabilitation projects. Projects must demonstrate design and construction methods that can be easily replicated and adopted by professionals for future projects.

Awards are available for projects in any of four stages: early design, late design, under construction, and post-completion performance optimization.

The governor’s office noted that New Yorkers pay about $35 billion annually for electricity and heating fuels, and buildings account for 59 percent of statewide greenhouse gas emissions.

“The time for addressing climate change is now and today we are doubling down on our commitment to lead the way with a revolutionary path toward carbon-free buildings,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The development of low- to zero-carbon buildings will create healthier living spaces and communities for all New Yorkers, while driving down harmful emissions from one of our highest contributing sectors—our building stock—and pushing us forward on our path to carbon neutrality.”

More information can be found at nyserda.ny.gov

This article first appeared in The Southampton Press.

Stand-Up Comic Pete Lee To Appear At Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center On February 7


Stand-up comedian Pete Lee describes his style as clean comedy with an edge, or “cleaner comedy that’s very true.”

Take, for instance, a joke he performed during his Tonight Show debut in 2017: “I never want to offend anyone, especially nowadays, Like, the other day this guy sneezed and I wanted to say, ‘Bless you,’ but instead I said, ‘Happy holidays.’”

He performed the same joke at the Comedy Cellar in New York City the night that Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon popped in to catch his set.

“Jimmy was there and he stood up and clapped and said, ‘I love this guy,’” Lee recalled.

Immediately after, Lee was invited on The Tonight Show and his set could not have gone any better—he was the first stand-up comic during Fallon’s time as host to receive a standing ovation. Lee said he couldn’t comprehend it in the moment.

“I thought that there was a sign above me that said ‘stand up,’” he said.

Now, he appears on The Tonight Show almost quarterly. He can also be seen regularly on Comedy Central, TruTV, the NFL Network and even the Nicktoons channel.

He can be seen locally on Thursday, February 7, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center when he becomes the first comic to appear in the venue’s new Toasted Thursdays series.

He explained his sensibilities when it comes to preparing a stand-up set.

“A lot of comics open up with really edgy material that is sort of off-putting to people,” he said. “And they forget that it is somewhat of a date activity. And if your date’s into really edgy stuff, that’s cool. But I think most, probably 80 percent, of the people aren’t into that. And so, I’m real cognizant of that and I like to do humor that’s very joyful. … I like to give wisdom to people and I like my comedy to have deep meaning, but you don’t have to be super vulgar within that to accomplish those ends.”

Speaking from Los Angeles, where the Wisconsin native moved last year after 12 years in New York, Lee discussed the triumphs and tribulations of his career, including when he called himself “the grim reaper of television.”

It was a successful appearance on Comedy Central’s stand-up showcase Premium Blend that motivated him to relocate to New York in 2005. But that same year, Premium Blend was canceled. He later had his own half-hour on Comedy Central Presents, a program that was canceled soon after. He competed in the sixth season of Last Comic Standing in 2008, and the show was off the air in 2009.

Then he was cast as a doctor in the long-running CBS soap opera As the World Turns.

“So I was having a complete Joey Tribbiani from Friends experience,” Lee said.

The show had been on television since 1956. The crew was looking forward to the 90th season, Lee said.

“When I walked in, they had a giant gold 89 in the lobby, and then underneath a terrycloth they had a giant gold 90,” he recalled. “I joked, well you can put that gold 90 in storage because you’re never going to get to it—because the show’s going to get canceled.”

He was on a total of seven episodes—and the show got canceled.

“I literally got blamed for it,” Lee said. “Since then I’ve been on shows that have gone three or four seasons, so clearly I’m not the grim reaper of television.”

He was selected to be on VH1’s Best Week Ever.

“I got to write jokes for the show, and then I got to perform those jokes, and then we also got to do sketches,” he said. “We were on the air for three seasons and that was really neat.”

He worked behind the scenes on Duck Dynasty, the A&E reality television series about the Robertson family, ostensibly as a producer.

“If you break it down, Duck Dynasty and those guys, they were basically doing a family comedy,” Mr. Lee said. “And you had almost all the character tropes you would have or characters types that you would have on most sitcoms. And I’m not the manliest guy in real life but I’ve performed in the Midwest enough and I have enough family members that I felt like I could write from that point of view.

“I took a job where I was technically a producer because none of the stuff is supposed to be written,” he continued. “It’s all supposed to be stuff that came off the cuff from those guys. But now that the show’s off the air, I can tell the secret: A lot of the lines from those people on those shows were stuff that they came up with, but then there were also producer-writers that were feeding them jokes in their ears. But it was crazy because there are sitcom actors in Hollywood that can’t deliver a joke that’s given to them as well as the Duck Dynasty guys did. It was incredible how funny they really were for literally being average people that just decided to do a TV show.”

He’s also a cast member of TruTV’s Greatest Ever, or at least he was.

“I think that our TruTV show got canceled without them telling us—which happens a lot in television,” he said. “When did you find out you were canceled? When the phone didn’t ring for a year.”

He also does Top 10s for the NFL Network. For Nicktoons, he riffs on football bloopers as if he were a SportsCenter personality for four-minute segments geared at children.

This past June, he moved to the West Coast. The timing worked out funny.

“As soon as I moved to Los Angeles, I got booked on a TV show out in New York,” he said.

It’s the topical comedy show This Week at the Comedy Cellar on Comedy Central.

The show is currently on hiatus, but when it’s filming, he commutes.

“I would get on a plane every Tuesday morning at 6 a.m., try to sleep while flying across the country,” he said. “I’d wake up, I’d write jokes, then go for a run and sweat out my Ambien. And then I would basically go film a TV show for two days and then I would fly back to L.A. I guess New York is like working for the government. You try to get out, then it pulls you back in.”

He doesn’t regret the move.

“There are no seasons here,” he said. “It’s 70 degrees out right now almost and the sun is starting to come out.”

Meanwhile, he checks Instagram and he sees his friends posting photos of themselves freezing on subway platforms.

“You know what? I made a good choice.”

So what brings him to Westhampton Beach in February? It’s his connection to Gram Slaton, the new Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center executive director. He said Slaton is a really good friend who he knows from Slaton’s days running the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.

“He does great shows in the most remote places on earth, I believe,” Lee said.

Lee said he is using this upcoming show as an excuse to come back to New York for a few days. He has a few meetings planned, including one with Kelly Ripa to pitch a show. Then he looks forward to riding the Long Island Rail Road to Westhampton with a “tall boy” in hand.

“Flying back to New York is actually a real treat,” he said. “I’ll bring my puffer coat, and I’ll get my good New York scowl going on my face when it’s cold. And I’ll feel like a New Yorker again.”

Pete Lee will perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Thursday, February 7, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.

The article first appeared in The Southampton Press.

Union Burger Bar Debuts In Southampton Village

Restaurateur Ian Duke and chef Scott Kampf of Southampton Social Club and Union Cantina are introducing a third restaurant to Southampton Village: Union Burger Bar.The burger-focused spot with an intimate dining room and bar shares 40 Bowden Square with the Mexican restaurant Union Cantina but has its own entrance. 

At Union Burger Bar on Thursday, January 17, the eve of its opening to the public, Mr. Duke spoke excitedly about the new venture.

“Scott and I started talking about doing a burger bar a little over a year ago, more because we both happen to love burgers more than anything else,” Mr. Duke said. “It wasn’t really necessarily about a need—more just wanting it and enjoying it. 

“With our little village losing a few restaurants over the last year, it sort of sparked my attention to thinking, ‘Well, we don’t have an awful lot of options on places to go where you can get a burger.’ There are restaurants that serve burgers—I’m not arguing that—but, I mean, a restaurant that’s focused on a burger.”

Union Cantina opened in 2016 after the building’s former longtime occupant, the Southampton Publick House, moved out. Union Burger Bar takes over the interior space that was formerly Union Cantina’s tequila bar. 

“We didn’t have the degree of interest in tequila that I would have expected,” Mr. Duke said. He also noted that he no longer needed the space for private events, because last spring the beer brewing tanks—vestiges of the Publick House—were removed from the dining room, freeing space for tables.

“I found that the degree of interest for most people for Mexican food is a once-a-week idea, and the idea behind this: People eat burgers two, three, four times a week,” Mr. Duke said. 

He is clearly proud of the beef they have chosen to serve: Niman Ranch hormone- and antibiotic-free black Angus from humanely raised cattle. “Our meat is absolutely undeniable,” he said. “It’s fantastic. Once you have a bite, you’ll keep eating, even if you’re full. You can’t not. It’s hilarious.”

The menu offers seven chef-recommended beef burgers with various toppings and sauces, but patrons can elect for a custom burger with their favorite ingredients.

“Our menu is designed for those who are looking to enjoy burgers that we have created, as well as burgers that you can create your own,” Mr. Duke explained.

The Coopers Beach Burger, for instance, is 8 ounces of beef with avocado, bean sprouts, pineapple marmalade, lettuce and tomato on a multi-grain bun. The Mac Attack! is made with mac and cheese and onion hay on a pretzel roll.

Besides beef, there’s also chicken breast, turkey and veggie options, and bun options include potato bread, English muffin, brioche and—for those counting carbs or allergic to gluten—lettuce wrap.

However patrons enjoy their burgers, Mr. Duke just wants them to have a good time. 

“What’s better than sitting down, having a burger, French fries, a killer shake, a beer, and, to be quite honest, bourbon?” he asked.

Union Burger Bar’s small-batch bourbon menu includes such rarities as Pappy Van Winkle from Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, which Mr. Duke called truly exceptional.

“Pappy Van Winkle is a famous bourbon that is not really available anywhere anymore,” he said. “They only make about a hundred bottles a year. And so, when people get it, they don’t put it on menus—they keep it and drink it themselves. And I want to try and expose people to it.”

The drinks menu also includes an extensive list of tequila in a nod to the space’s former use as a tequila bar—and because Mr. Duke is a fan. “It’d be remiss if I wasn’t going to include it,” he said.

The choice of shakes is also extensive, from $8 “Classic Shakes,” such as vanilla, peanut butter and caramel, to $15 “Boozy Shakes,” with Bailey’s, vodka or Chambord. The $14 “Real Deal Shakes: feature frosted rims and ingredients like Blue Bunny ice cream cones, Oreo ice cream bars, a giant lollipop and Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Mr. Kampf designed his own signature milkshake, “The Kampfire,” a vanilla-and-marshmallow milkshake with a chocolate graham cracker rim, topped with whipped cream, a s’more, chocolate sauce and a cherry. 

Mr. Duke, who conceived of the “Not Sorry,” with Nutella and Reese’s, said that heads turn when the shakes come out of the kitchen. “They’re fantastic. It’s indulgence at another level.”

The room is set for 50 people, and he could open up the sliding wood wall to spill over into the main dining room that Union Cantina uses. But that’s not his intent, he said. He wants to maintain the intimacy of the space. In a place that holds 50, everyone knows or gets to know each other, he said, while in a larger venue, no one meets.

He noted that the Manhattan bar that his father, Jim Duke, ran from 1968 to 1995, Drake’s Drum on the Upper East Side, was only slightly larger than the space Union Burger Bar occupies. Small bars like that, that served burgers and pub food, “they were the precursors to what we all do now,” he said.

Mr. Duke has another burger joint, Lucky’s Famous Burgers in Manhattan, with locations on 23rd Street and 52nd Street, but Union Burger Bar and Lucky’s have no similarities between them, other than serving similar foods, he said.

Lucky’s is quick, made-to-order burgers. “The idea is to cook it fast and get you your food, in and out,” Mr. Duke said of Lucky’s. “That’s not at all what I want here. This intimate setting is designed to serve, to eat and enjoy great food that’s comfort food. But we’re not rushing you. 

“I do think we’re going to do a tremendous amount of take-out business because there is a void in the market for being able to get a good burger take-out, and that will also apply to delivery when we start that,” he added.

There will be happy hour Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. with $5 beer, $7 wine, $9 mixed drinks and half-priced appetizers, and a $10.95 daily lunch special with a burger and side.

On Wednesdays, Union Burger Bar has a throwback: $5 burger night. The deal revives the recession-busting “Bail-Out Burger” special offered a decade ago by Barrister’s, the Southampton Main Street restaurant that closed in 2013 after 34 years in business.

Mr. Duke recalled how that restaurant would fill with locals on Wednesdays. 

“I think it’s a great homage to something that everyone loved and, again, a great way to get out and have a little bit of fun,” he said.

Union Burger Bar opens for dinner daily at 5 p.m. Lunch will be added to the schedule starting Friday. For more information, visit unionburgerbar.com.

This article first appeared in The Southampton Press.