Jeff Berman

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Experts: It’s Never Too Early or Too Late to Plan for Your Golden Years

Joseph La Ferlita, partner at Uniondale law firm Farrell Fritz, discusses estate law at the LIA event.

Far too many people wait much too long to make plans for their retirements, as well as all aspects of old age for that matter, with some never making such plans at all.

The consequences of not planning can be devastating for them and their families, according to a group of experts who discussed aging on Long Island this week.

“You’re never too young to plan, you’re never too old, you’re never too poor and you’re never too rich,” Jennifer Cona, managing partner at Melville-based Genser Cona Elder Law, said Nov. 15 during a panel discussion presented by the Long Island Association (LIA) Small & Mid-Sized Business Committee at LIA’s Melville headquarters.

The event was billed as “The Top Challenges of Baby Boomers: Health, Caregiving, Finances, Retirement Anxiety and the Economy,” and LIA said the discussion was designed to “reduce your stress” about our golden years.

“I think the most important issue facing us as caregivers and our aging population is how it’s going to impact us as working elder caregivers and businesses,” Cona said. After all, “as business owners and as people who are trying to work and juggle these issues, it’s going to impact us both ways.”

Businesses are already seeing the impact from the lack of planning because many workers with deadlines and important meetings scheduled are often instead “flying out the door to deal with emergency issues for their parents” because “they haven’t planned ahead, they’re not prepared for those issues – whether it’s the hospitalizations or the home health aide didn’t show up or mom fell,” she noted.

In addition to the stress on those workers, businesses often suffer as well due to lost productivity and other issues, she said.

“Businesses have to get prepared for this silver tsunami, as they say, so that they can mitigate those issues,” she added.

The amount of money that many Americans have saved for retirement, meanwhile, is “woefully inadequate,” according to John Rizzo, LIA chief economist and a professor of economics and statistics at Stony Brook University. “Nearly half of Americans aged 50 and over have saved $25,000 or less for retirement,” he pointed out.

Compounding the issue, a growing number of young adults are living at home with parents due to issues including the high cost of housing and living on LI. Nearly three times as many young adults were living with their parents on the Island in 2016 as the rest of the U.S., he said.

Options for the elderly on Long Island include senior living communities that allow residents to remain independent in their golden years, such as Jefferson’s Ferry Lifecare Retirement Community in South Setauket, according to Linda Kolakowski, its vice president of resident life. Jefferson’s Ferry provides various levels of healthcare to residents and those services change and adapt as their healthcare needs change, but the cost remains the same throughout the time they live there, she pointed out.

“It gives you safety and security,” while keeping residents in their home environments, and also provides security for residents’ families and makes planning easier, she explained.

“People plan for retirement, but nobody plans for aging or for getting old,” Kolakowski said, adding that the result is many people regularly face new crises. “Nobody ever thinks it’s going to happen to them. It’s going to happen to the other person.”

Noting that about 57,000 people on Long Island have Alzheimer’s disease, Tori Cohen, executive director at the Westbury-based Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation, pointed out her organization helps not only those suffering from that disease, but family members who are balancing caregiving and work responsibilities.

When it comes to legal planning, it’s important for everybody to consider issues involving what will happen both before and after they die, according to Joseph La Ferlita, a partner at Uniondale law firm Farrell Fritz who specializes in trusts and estates.

“The key takeaway is planning for the inevitable because it is going to happen,” La Ferlita said of death. All too often, he told attendees, he “sees the outcome of the problem” of lack of planning when meeting with surviving spouses and others who’ve just lost loved ones, and the clients are confused and “don’t know where the assets are” in some cases, or “they’re concerned whether they’re going to have enough to live, they’re concerned about taxes and liquidity,” and also concerned about special needs children and family businesses.

La Ferlita also stressed the importance of everybody having a will, as well as health care proxies and power of attorney documents. The results of not having these legal documents is often unnecessary added misery and stress for family members who are already going through a tragedy.

Catholic Health Services of Long Island’s Dr. Patrick O’Shaughnessy: Taking Patient Safety to New Heights

Dr. Patrick O'Shaughnessy

As executive vice president and chief medical officer of Catholic Health Services (CHS) of Long Island since 2013 and its executive vice president and chief clinical officer since last year, Dr. Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s areas of expertise include population health management, medical informatics and high reliability science. He’s become a recognized leader in high reliability health care and has published and spoken nationally on patient safety and quality improvement processes in health care. We recently spoke with Dr. O’Shaughnessy to learn about his organization’s patient safety initiatives and get his take on the current opioid epidemic, as well as his love of flying.

Why are high reliability health care, patient safety and quality improvement processes in health care so important to you? We have successfully applied methodologies of high-reliability organizations to better serve patients, raising awareness throughout the system, promoting robust process improvement tools such as Lean and Six Sigma principles and creating a culture of safety with a new campaign, Safety Starts With Me. To promote this philosophy, we created the Daily Patient Safety Principles that stress a culture of safety, the importance of communicating clearly, paying attention to detail and having a questioning attitude along with supporting best practices and guidelines to reduce harm. This is layered with CHS Red Rules, which stress using two-patient identifiers, conducting a time out before invasive or high-risk procedures and a two-provider check before administration of blood, blood products and high-risk medications. Thanks to these initiatives, CHS has been improving patient safety and achieving consistent performance. The result: best practices, high reliability, better outcomes. This equates to safe, high quality care for CHS patients and has realized a 70 percent reduction in hospital-acquired infections.

Can you tell me about your efforts to address the heroin and prescription drug epidemic on Long Island? I have served on the Suffolk County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Task Force that helped frame legislative recommendations. Also, I provided key legislative testimony to Governor Cuomo’s task force on heroin and prescription drug abuse last year. At CHS, I implemented policies that aid emergency department physicians in preventing drug-seeking individuals from obtaining addictive medications. Additionally, CHS has partnered with the Family & Children’s Association (FCA) to assist people with substance abuse issues who are treated in our emergency departments. Known as SHERPA, this free service is provided by FCA and is made up of peer recovery coaches trained to meet with overdose survivors and with their families in emergency departments. The team connects people to treatment, offers peer and family support and provides follow-up.

In addition to being a doctor, you are also a licensed pilot. Is there anything you’ve learned as a pilot that you’ve been able to use in the field of medicine? I have applied the concepts of military and commercial aviation safety best practices to health care systems clinical operations to the benefit of thousands of patients.

What other accomplishments are you especially proud of? I established the CHS annual Pinnacle Awards for Quality & Patient Safety, where clinical teams from all six hospitals and the system’s continuing care division submit projects that advanced quality patient care. Through the Pinnacle Awards, we have introduced CHS staff to a host of experts, such as John J. Nance, author of Why Hospitals Should Fly and more than 20 other books. Another such guest speaker was former NASA astronaut Story Musgrave and Dr. David B. Nash, founding dean of the Jefferson College of Population Health. We are making care safer and recognizing those driving these changes.

What do you like most about your job? The ability to make a difference.

Do you have any sayings? I always say our mantra for our patients should be: “Don’t harm me; heal me; be kind to me.” To positively impact patient quality of care, we launched CHS on a journey to high reliability. CHS may not be the biggest health system, but we will be the best!

What would readers be surprised to learn about you? I’m on TV as the host of CHS Presents: Dr. O: Faithfully Transforming Health Care, which airs on Telecare, now known as the Catholic Faith Network.

Flushing Bank CEO John R. Buran: Nothing Is Impossible

John Buran, CEO of Flushing Bank. The Bank serves a large customer base on Long Island.

As president and CEO of Flushing Bank since July 2005, John R. Buran has played a key role in the company’s continued success, as well as its ability to overcome challenges facing Long Island, the banking industry, and the country.

Before taking over, he served as the bank’s executive vice president and COO beginning in January 2001. Prior to joining Flushing Bank, he held senior positions at both Fleet Bank and Citibank.

We recently spoke with Buran to discuss his company, its mission, and the importance of giving back to the communities Flushing Bank serves.

Do you have any sayings? As a matter of fact, I have one hanging in my office: “It can be done.” It inspires a positive attitude and means that nothing is impossible. If you put the right resources, thought, and effort into any challenging situation, a solution can be found.

What is your company’s mission? Quite simply, our mission is to build profitable customer relationships to enhance shareholder value. We are committed to being the preeminent community financial services company in our multicultural market area by exceeding customer expectations.

How significant is the Long Island market for your company? We have three branch locations on the Island currently. A few years ago, we relocated our corporate headquarters to Uniondale. We serve many customer segments including the personal, business, and commercial segments. Our Government Banking team serves many public entities on Long Island, along with towns and villages, water, fire and school districts. We will continue to expand prudently as opportunities present themselves.

What specific challenges are present in the Long Island market? Long Island is a large and diverse market with many segments that require a targeted approach to ensure that we meet the needs of the market. Our goal in any new market is to develop a presence and provide something above and beyond what a big bank provides. Our community-based approach is about building sustainable relationships with our customers. I grew up in New York City but spent most of my adult life on Long Island and raised my family here, so I consider it my home.

Why are charitable initiatives important to your company? As a community bank, Flushing Bank is committed to giving back to the communities we serve. Over the years, we have contributed millions of dollars to charitable organizations that make a difference in our community. We are proud to sponsor cultural and charitable events throughout our markets. Our work within the community does not end when the workday ends. Many of our employees participate as board members or volunteers of local community organizations. Their participation helps keep us connected with the community and supports the economic and social vitality of the communities we serve.

Why did Flushing Bank decide to partner with Island Harvest? Island Harvest has become Long Island’s largest hunger relief organization. It provides hunger awareness and education and is a key ally for our community. Flushing Bank has three branch locations on Long Island and serves many customers who live and/or work on Long Island, as do many of our employees.

What philanthropic effort or efforts have you been most proud of? It is difficult to select just one. One that I am particularly proud of is our affiliation with the United Way of Long Island. We have sponsored several initiatives that help students, veterans, and families. A particular program of theirs that stands out in my mind is Project Warmth. Project Warmth’s Emergency Fuel Fund can make a significant difference for families in our region. As Long Island’s only non-government islandwide emergency fuel fund, Project Warmth is a safety net for individuals and families who are unable to pay their heating bill. Supporting organizations such as United Way of Long Island and Island Harvest ensures that the basic necessities of life are addressed for those most in need.

What do you like most about your job and what would you say has been your top accomplishment to date as CEO? The best part of being the CEO of Flushing Bank is leading an organization of extremely talented and dedicated people to deliver outstanding service to our customers throughout Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan each and every day. I think the top accomplishment of my tenure as CEO was ensuring that we not only remained stable, but we grew profitably throughout the recent economic downturn (a.k.a. The Great Recession). We consistently delivered a dividend each quarter and were laser focused on providing value to our shareholders.

NYCBS Breaks Ground on New State-of-The-Art Cancer Treatment Facility

Elected officials joined NYCBS for a ground-breaking ceremony.

New York Cancer & Blood Specialists (NYCBS) held a ground-breaking ceremony Oct. 10 for what it said will be a “state-of-the-art” cancer treatment facility in Port Jefferson Station.

The new, modern facility will be “the most advanced, patient-friendly cancer treatment center of its kind on Long Island,” according to NYCBS, pointing out the 15,000-square-feet center was “designed to treat the whole patient, not just their cancer.” The new center will have everything patients need to fight cancer in one convenient location right in their own backyard, including a pharmacy and radiology services, said Dr. Jeffrey Vacirca, CEO of NYCBS.

“About three years ago, we decided that we needed really to redesign and have a new office that was more centered on what the patient experience needs to be,” Vacirca told the Press.

The goal was to provide patients with everything they needed for their care in one center, “from the beginning of their treatment to survivorship after they finish treatment,” he said. “Our mission is to take care of patients in their community. But also our whole belief in our cancer care model is that we don’t want patients to have to be admitted to hospitals, spend unnecessary time away from their home and unnecessary cost if we can do everything for them locally and do it better.”

The existing Port Jefferson Station facility will remain open after the new center opens, which is expected before summer 2019, he said, noting “we’ll probably add about 30 people” to its existing staff of about 100. A nearby East Setauket facility will close after the new center opens, according to NYCBS. 
 

Also planned are two additional, state-of-the-art large cancer centers in Suffolk County that will open in the next 12 months. New facilities in Riverhead and Patchogue will follow the one in Port Jefferson Station, Dr. Vacirca told the Press. On tap as well are NYCBS’s first two locations in Nassau County, also scheduled to open in 2019, but those plans – including their exact locations – are “still in development,” he said.

NYCBS is also planning an expansion into Brooklyn and upstate New York, he said, noting it now has 30 offices, including 13 in Suffolk (where it first started) and the rest in Queens, Manhattan and The Bronx.

Dr. Vacirca told attendees at the ground-breaking event: “To kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, New York Cancer & Blood Specialists is proud to announce the home of our newest cancer center.”

He thanked NYCBS patients attending the event “for allowing us to care for you,” adding “this is not going to be your normal cancer center.” Among its other unique features, the facility will be open 365 days a year, he said.

Dr. Vacirca also thanked attending local elected officials: Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine.

“I’m very happy to see that they’re here,” Romaine told the Press of the new NYCBS Suffolk facilities, adding: “I think they’ll help a lot of people who normally would have to think about seeking treatment in” New York City.

Pointing out that he himself is a “two-time cancer survivor,” Toulon told attendees: “I wholeheartedly know how important it is to have not only good patient care, but have compassionate, caring people when you walk in through the doors.”

One “appealing” feature of the new facility for Keith Seidel, a 53-year-old Farmingville cancer survivor who has been a NYCBS patient since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014, is the fact that it will have doctors, a pharmacy and radiology services all in one location, he told the Press. That is convenient and will “definitely” save time for patients, he said.

An artists rendering of the new building.

Hamptons Classic Panel Tackles Wild Horse Issue

From left to right are Moses Brings Plenty and Manda Kalimian, both of the CANA Foundation, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), author Roberto Dutesco, and equestrian show jumping rider Kelli Cruciotti at the First Annual Hampton Classic Legislative Panel. Photo by Jeff Berman.

Equine advocates and elected officials from both sides of the aisle recently joined forces on Long Island to brainstorm how best to address the crisis facing America’s wild horse population in the West.

The CANA Foundation, an East Norwich-based nonprofit horse rescue organization, sponsored the First Annual Hampton Classic Legislative Panel on the topic September 1, the last day of the Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton, to raise awareness of the issue.

“This is really an issue of horses and habitat and humanity,” said former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), CANA advisor and panel moderator. “This is a good example of one of the bipartisan elements that exist in Congress right now – and that is Democrats and Republicans working together to protect horses, to protect our heritage.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates that there are 47,683 wild horses and burros in captivity as of August 2018; most of those animals are on pastures. Polls show 80 percent of Americans oppose either euthanizing or sterilizing the animals. Opinions vary about how to best manage the horses, which advocates say have been driven from their native rangelands by the oil industry and agricultural interests.

“We believe rewilding is the answer to many environmental problems … and to the wild horse crisis,” said CANA founder Manda Kalimian, who defines rewilding as “putting things back to the original state of being.”

Related Story: Long Island Advocates Bridle Over Trump Plan to Euthanize Mustangs

The group is seeking people willing to adopt wild horses and “find lands to rewild,” she told attendees. The group is “cautiously optimistic” that Suffolk County legislators may help them place wild horses on the North Fork, she told the Press.

“This is something we have to work together on,” said U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). “There may not always be easy answers. But the main goal should be to preserve and protect as much as possible when it comes to wildlife and wild horses.”

“Horses saved my life,” said Moses Brings Plenty, an actor and CANA advocate who was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Now, he’s looking to return the favor.

Also on the panel was author Roberto Dutesco, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.); and equestrian show jumping rider Kelli Cruciotti.

CANA Foundation is recruiting volunteers and donors for its #RewildOurWorld movement. More info can be found at canafoundation.org.

Moses Brings Plenty, CANA Foundation’s director of relations and rangeland acquisitions, and CANA Foundation Executive Director Manda Kaliman.
U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), author/photographer Roberto Dutesco and equestrian show jumping rider Kelli Cruciotti.
Jean Shafiroff, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), New York State Assemb. Rebecca Seawright (D-Manhattan), Long Island Press Publisher Victoria Schneps-Yunis and Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King-Sweeney.
Claudia Pilato and Kevin Cummings of Bridgehampton National Bank at the Hampton Classic.

Deirdre O’Connell: Long Island’s Top Realtor

Deidre OConnell, CEO of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. Photo by Matthew Kropp.

As CEO of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, Deirdre O’Connell has played a key role in its success and the development of strategic initiatives and goals for the future as the company approaches its 100th year in business. O’Connell oversees the sales management of a $3.3 billion organization that has 950 sales associates in 26 offices spanning Nassau, Suffolk and Queens, with another location opening soon. She has also been instrumental in the company’s growth and expansion over the past decade. We recently caught up with O’Connell to get her take on what makes her company and the Long Island market so unique, and how her family and growing up here have helped her achieve success. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

What is your company’s mission? Our sales associates are trained, experienced and committed to diligence, discretion and luxury service. All are well versed in our philosophy of caring service and strictly adhering to the company’s code of ethics, with genuine knowledge of the local communities, as well as unequaled skills in the arts of marketing and negotiation.

What do you like most about your job? While our traditions of service, integrity, professionalism and always doing the right thing will forever be at the heart of our organization, with our 100th birthday approaching, it’s critical to our success to demonstrate to today’s market that we are 100 years young and reflective of today’s sellers and homebuyers.

How did you get started in realty? I got my first taste of real estate doing public relations for the real estate department of a large insurance company (MetLife.) I had two children at the time and wanted to be in more control of my career, so I went to work at Thomas O’Connell and Sons, a real estate company in Manhasset owned by my husband’s uncle.

How significant is the Long Island market for your company? While we are a Sotheby’s International realty affiliate with sister offices around the world, Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International is owned and operated right here on Long Island. We opened our first office in 1922 in Huntington. Long Island has the best of the world right here.

What specific challenges are present in the Long Island market? One of the largest problems in the Long Island real estate market today is [that] buyers, regardless of generation, are looking for homes that are completely done, smaller in size with smaller yards, and convenient to town and transportation. Our agents are, therefore, working very hard with sellers of larger homes on multiple acres to price the properties appropriately, stage them to attract today’s buyers and market them with professional photos and video on digital and social media platforms.

How much of an impact did growing up on Long Island have on your worldview? I grew up on the North Fork of Long Island in the small town of New Suffolk. My mother taught me entrepreneurship, hard work, love of family. Born in Ireland, my mother came to the states at 18. She married, had five children and began a pie-baking business, in peak season selling over 100 pies at a farm stand. We all helped — peeling, chopping, mixing, labeling and other tasks. Later, both my parents opened a specialty market and deli in Cutchogue and that is where I learned from my father the significance of quality versus quantity and concierge customer service. Our store provided only the highest-quality meats, cheeses and specialty items and we were all trained to engage with all customers in a professional, warm manner, which included carrying bags to cars, delivery to homes and always smiling.

What philanthropic effort have you been most proud of? Every October, each of our offices becomes a coat drive drop-off, collecting hundreds of coats to be donated to the local charity with the greatest need in each market. Then, in the spring, we sponsor a Dress for Success month and collect professional clothes for men and women. Our company, agents and employees love Long Island and want to help our fellow Long Islanders.

Do you have any sayings? Kent Gale had a saying, “Do the right thing,” and Pat Petersen, our chairman and president, continued to build the company around that saying. At our company meeting in February, when I was announced as CEO, we unveiled our new company campaign, “Your Way Forward.” I believe in our deep, strong roots of luxury, professionalism and doing the right thing and I will always bring those values forward as this very special Long Island company continues to grow.

Roger Tilles: The Importance of Education

Roger Tilles represents Long Island on the New York State Board of Regents and generously gives to the arts. (Photo by Bob Giglione)

Elected three times as a Regent on the New York State Board of Regents, Roger Tilles has been representing Long Island’s educational interests since April 2005. He also serves as a patron of the arts in our area. After serving as director of his family’s investment company, he retired to focus on philanthropic and educational initiatives, such as creating the Long Island Arts Alliance and his involvement with the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post. We recently caught up with Tilles to discuss his work and charities.

Why is philanthropy important to you? I believe my religious upbringing was important to my understanding of giving back as an adult. I’ve been involved since I was 5 years old in different kinds of philanthropy. It’s very important for our family to be able to not just write a check, but to get involved. Why are the arts so important to you? Without the arts, I’m not sure I would be as aware of the world, as good a citizen, as good a person, because I wouldn’t be complete. The arts have really enabled me to express things and to hear things that I wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

Have you taken part in the arts? I got involved with my introduction to music, [was] very active in the glee club, started a barber shop quartet and then my singing got me into Amherst College. When I went to law school, I became an usher at the May Festival in Ann Arbor, which was the Philadelphia Orchestra. The music moved me so tremendously that I became passionate about the kinds of music I listen to, not just perform.

What do you like most about representing LI on the Board of Regents? It gives me an opportunity to be active in schools and libraries and museums and higher education. As a result, I get to meet fantastic people – wonderful people – in education at all levels and I get to enhance my own ability and love of the arts because I’m chair of the Cultural [Education] Committee. One of the goals that I’ve had that I think has been successful is to bring the arts and the culture of New York State into the public schools.

What is your goal for the LI Arts Alliance? We wanted to highlight and have all our arts institutions collaborate with each other, cooperate with each other, market together and create education opportunities, which is what the Long Island Scholar-Artist [program] is.

What philanthropic effort are you most proud of? I started an organization 31 years ago with Monsignor Tom Hartman – Father Tom. We both realized that we grew up in pretty much unique ethnic communities. He was in an Irish Catholic community in East Williston and I was in the Jewish community of Great Neck. And it wasn’t until we went to college that we met many people of another faith. By then, it was us and them or we and they. We said, “Let’s try to do something earlier.” We started a program called Project Understanding, which just now finished its 30th year of taking Catholic and Jewish kids to do projects together on Long Island … and then sending them for almost two weeks to Israel.

Do you have any sayings? Growing up, somebody told me, “Do the best you can with what you have. And you don’t wish you had more. You just take what you have, and you do the best you can with it.” I found that that has been very successful for me in terms of getting things done and not just wishing for things.

You were quoted earlier this year referring to the Hempstead school district as “a zoo.” Do you regret that? I used the term in its general usage, which is a chaotic kind of place. Although some people took offense and said that I equated people in the district with certain animals in the zoo, I have gotten a lot of support from the black leadership in the community and across the state from people who said that they’re way off base if anybody calls me a racist because I have exhibited a great deal of time, energy and productivity in race relations. But also, jokingly, I could say, “Well, I should have probably called it a circus instead.” But then the clowns would have been offended.

Muttontown Voters Elect New Village Board After Scandal, Red Tape Complaints

From left to right are the Muttontown village board’s new members: trustee Brian Fagen; James Liguori, who won the mayorship; plus trustees Dr. Sudha Prasad and Chris Economou

Village of Muttontown residents frustrated with questions raised about the outgoing administration’s impact on quality of life in the tony community voted June 19 to elect a new mayor and three newcomers to the Board of Trustees that he will head.

The majority of incumbents were unseated in a landslide. The victory came amid allegations of attempted voter suppression by village officials.

Nassau County prosecutors “were alerted that voters were allegedly being denied the opportunity to cast ballots in the Muttontown elections,” says Brendan Brosh, spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.

Before the vote, Muttontown homeowners shared stories of costly bureaucratic nightmares they and neighbors faced when trying to build on, repair, or sell their properties.

“We have tried to comply with the building department comment letters, but their requests are ever changing due to their code interpretations,” says Susan Dasilva, whose home has been without a certificate of occupancy (CO) since January 2014. “These changes are costing excessive amounts of money in professional fees and making it next to impossible to complete the final steps to get my CO.”

Another Muttontown resident, who wanted to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal from the village, says it took him more than a year just to get a permit for a generator and he knows residents who have waited even longer for the same thing. He argues that a generator should be treated as an emergency need.

“The permit fee structure is much higher than any other local village,” he says, adding that “a lot of architects don’t want to work in the village” because it’s so hard to get projects approved.

Other Muttontowners who have tried to get building permits for their homes report that it’s taken up to four years. The aggravation has made it harder to sell homes in the otherwise sought-after community. A real estate broker who asked to remain anonymous says it’s especially hard to sell homes there that need a lot of work.

“I had one homeowner who said to me they were given a list of 20 items” that had to be addressed before work could be done on a home and “they got everything cleared up and then there was another 25 items that came back.”

Several builders and investors she knows “won’t even go into Muttontown,” she adds. The issues crescendoed ahead of the election.

Playing a key role in that uproar was the recently formed group Neighbors for a Better Muttontown led by a group of political newcomers seeking change, including Dr. Jim Liguori, who beat village trustee Julie Albernas to become the new mayor and replace outgoing mayor Julianne Beckerman, who opted to not seek reelection. Albernas, Beckerman and the other trustees didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Beckerman and her husband were arrested last year for allegedly failing to pay their income taxes for the past five years. Beckerman and her husband pleaded not guilty to tax fraud and repeated failure to file personal income and earnings taxes.

Running with Liguori to serve as trustees were Chris Economou, Brian Fagen and Dr. Sudha Prasad. Fagen, an attorney and an associate real estate broker with Douglas Elliman, expressed the same frustration as the other homeowners.

Other localities require permits, “but very few municipalities, when you apply for a permit, look for other things that you did that weren’t permitted… They’re actively looking to find violations – whether they occurred while you had title to the property or before,” he says.

Fagen chalks up the excessive red tape to an “inability to find other ways to cut expenses and raise revenue, and the low-hanging fruit is the people that are doing work on their homes and that’s what they grab at.” He vowed to fix the problem so that “Muttontown can be the great place it was.”

Liguori received 1,077 votes compared to only 315 for his rival. Trustee victors Economou, Fagen and Prasad received 1,054; 1,056; and 1,069 votes each, respectively, while their rivals each received under 340 votes.

Liguori told us he was “thrilled that the village overwhelmingly decided to give myself and my trustees an opportunity” to lead the village.

“Goal number one is fixing the building department/permitting process,” he says.

Linda Armyn: Community Outreach is Key

Linda Armyn is the face of Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s many philanthropic efforts.

As senior vice president of corporate affairs at Bethpage Federal Credit Union, Linda Armyn has played a key role not only in spearheading efforts to make it the largest credit union in New York State, but also in developing some of the organization’s most popular community outreach initiatives and branding campaigns. Among the most visible of those branding initiatives is the annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, held each Memorial Day weekend. We recently caught up with Armyn to discuss her philanthropic and community outreach initiatives.

Can you explain why philanthropy is important to you? I believe when one person needs help, those who can help should, and it all comes around in the span of our lifetimes. As a cooperative credit union, Bethpage has always operated under the promise of people helping people. Our vision is to enrich the lives of our members, employees and communities we serve. If we are doing business in a community, giving back is an important piece of our business model.

Can you tell us about the Heart of Bethpage philanthropic effort? Heart of Bethpage started in 2003 as a community-wide program. This program has grown significantly over the years. Under it, we provide financial grants for programs, volunteer hours, community-based sponsorships, and we also host various collections throughout the years for food, clothes, toys and pet food. The impact has been great. We have donated millions of dollars and volunteered thousands of hours. It serves as a source of pride for our team. We recently renamed the program Bethpage Cares.

What made you start the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program? We have been participating in the IRS VITA program for more than 15 years. [Bethpage volunteers have prepared] close to $20 million in returns [to date for low income Long Islanders]. It is the largest program of its kind on Long Island and we partner with community organizations, libraries, labor unions and colleges to make it happen. This is a tremendous volunteer effort, with 150 volunteers preparing taxes for low-income families for free each year. In the last five years, we have processed more than $2 million in tax returns, helping approximately 2,400 families. This puts more money back into the people’s hands to save or spend locally rather than in fees to tax preparers.

What philanthropic effort are you most proud of and why? One of the efforts I love is our Turkey Drive with Island Harvest that has benefited thousands of families for what will be 10 years on Nov. 16. The whole credit union participates, either by bringing food or volunteering. We have many companies who participate by bringing food and donating money each year. We also have Girl Scouts all over the Island collecting, as well as local middle school, high school and college students who come to lend a hand. It’s a true community effort.

Do you have any sayings? “Keep it simple” and “Cool beans.” Everything today moves pretty fast and it’s really easy to overcomplicate things we do. So, lately, my mantra has been “Keep it simple.” I’ve been saying “cool beans” since I was a kid whenever something makes me smile. It has stuck with me and it seems to make others smile too. Probably because it’s a bit hokey.

Is there anything I should have asked but didn’t? I am enthusiastic about our community programs because I hope to also serve as a role model for others, especially kids. My kids have participated in many of our efforts and they bring their friends along too. They now are involved in their own projects and that makes me happy and proud.

Heritage Farm & Garden: Greening Long Island

Heritage Farm & Garden

The Dubner family’s half-century-deep roots in the local horticultural industry grew deeper last year when they opened Heritage Farm & Garden, allowing their passion to blossom in the retail garden center market.

The 42-acre store in Muttontown is run by Wendy Dubner Master, daughter of Long Island landscaping and nursery industry veteran Steven Dubner — both of whom pursued careers in law before plowing ahead with the family business.

“When I started the landscape business, it was purely a vehicle to help me pay for college and law school,” Steven says. “Once I was a member of the New York State Bar, I said to myself, ‘I will just keep the landscaping business two more years.’ And here I am still doing it. I get to live my passion.”

Steven founded the eponymous Steven Dubner Landscaping, Inc., 52 years ago, Northeast Nurseries in Cutchogue three decades ago and Metro Green Visions, which shares Dix Hills office space with his landscaping company, about eight years ago.

Last year, the family bought Martin Viette Nurseries, which closed after 87 years, and opened Heritage, which boasts an impressive selection of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees and more — including Wendy’s acclaimed pottery designs. Prior to opening Heritage, Wendy worked in the industry for over 25 years, designing  pottery and home décor, as well as consulting with many national retailers providing trend direction.

The family, while being reluctant to publicize it, has always been heavily involved in philanthropy.  Steven started a local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America troop for kids with Down syndrome and learning disabilities, created a children’s garden at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove and most recently, the Center for Developmental Disabilities in Woodbury recruited Heritage to form an educational program for some of its 5 to 21-year-old students with learning disabilities.

Wendy will help, but her mother, Candy, will oversee the program for Heritage and handle most interaction with the students, Wendy says, adding that it represents a way to “use the facilities and location here to do something good for people in the community,” which is “one of our goals.”

It’s just another example of how this family is making the Island more beautiful.

Heritage Farm & Garden is located at 6050 Northern Blvd., in Muttontown. They can be reached at 516-922-1026 or heritagefarmandgarden.com.

Wendy and Stephen Dubner opened Heritage Farm & Garden last year.