Steve Bellone

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Jumpstart Program: Boosting Suffolk’s Downtowns

Downtown Riverhead during the Reflexions art installation. (Photo by Arthur Rast)

Over the last month, I have been traveling across Suffolk County, meeting with local leaders and government officials to award this year’s Suffolk County Jumpstart Program funding.

The program is part of a comprehensive economic development plan designed to encourage the development of regionally significant projects in and around Suffolk’s downtowns. Since 2013, the county has awarded more than $11 million in jumpstart funding. We know that our downtowns are the hearts of our community, and we need to do everything we can to ensure their vitality and vibrancy. 

If we are serious about keeping our region competitive, we need to invest in the types of projects that will attract the high-skill, high-knowledge workforce we need to grow our economy. And that’s just what this program does.

We are laser focused on building better downtowns, creating more affordable housing, and spurring economic prosperity in our communities that will lead to a better quality of life for all residents. Jumpstart funding provides just that and more, allowing our towns to improve upon blighted areas, invest in infrastructure, and create walkable-friendly downtowns.

Through Jumpstart we restored Argyle Falls in Babylon, expanded parking in Port Jefferson and Kings Park, created a more walkable downtown Lindenhurst, implemented bike network improvements in Riverhead and East Hampton, and improved Bay Shore’s Bay-Way.

We call this program Jumpstart for a reason. These projects are specifically designed to jolt our economy. And you might see a pattern to these projects. They focus mainly on pedestrian connectivity, revitalizing blighted commercial properties, and regional economic growth. These are all things we need to accomplish to not only keep our young residents here, but attract new residents.

All these projects are not being done in a vacuum. They are building upon the significant progress already made, complementing redevelopment projects. We are working to create opportunities for our residents to live, work,-and play without having to drive, and make it easier to get around our downtowns using public transit.

We will continue to work with our partners to create a brighter future for Suffolk. I look forward to the completion of all these projects, as they remain a gamechanger for not only the communities, but the county as a whole.

Bike Sharing Offers Suffolk a New Ride

Officials announced the debut of the new Suffolk bike sharing program on Wednesday, July 10, 2019.

Bike share is coming to a town near you.

Suffolk County is launching the first-of-its-kind program, with 100 bicycles and 24 stations throughout four communities, including Patchogue and Babylon, thanks to the sponsorship of Bethpage Federal Credit Union.

The program will not only reduce congestion and improve air quality, but it will help solve the critical problem of that last-mile connection when using public transit, allowing residents and visitors to easily access our parks, waterfronts, and other recreational assets.

Residents will be able to go to a nearby train station, park, or downtown and right through an app on their phone have instant access to a comfortable, user-friendly bike.

This will change the mobility landscape in Suffolk, effectively extending the reach of our existing transit system, putting once out-of-reach locations within easy biking distance.

For years, the equation for Long Island life has been one adult equals one car. The freedom to go anywhere with an automobile has turned into the tyranny of not being to go anywhere without one. But now, residents and visitors will be able to comfortably leave their cars behind with the knowledge that a healthy, fun, convenient option is waiting for them.

Users will have the ability to download an app and will either be able to pay per ride or buy a membership. Riders can pay $1 per 15 minutes, but can also opt for a monthly plan for $10 or a yearly plan for $60 per year. Both plans allow for unlimited trips of up to 30 minutes. 

Most importantly, bike sharing will improve traffic safety. Bike share programs raise awareness of cyclists on the road, which ultimately leads to improved safety. And once our Hike-Bike Master Plan is complete, we will have a countywide network of both on- and off-road bike paths so that cyclists and pedestrians will be safe when out and about.

Suffolk will continue to be a leader in embracing cutting-edge transportation alternatives and technologies that better connect residents to our vibrant downtowns. We are focused on modernizing our transit and ensuring our residents have efficient and reliable alternative transportation options.

Steve Bellone is the Suffolk County executive.

OpEd: Elect More Moms

National Popular Vote Movement

Last May, Liuba Grechen Shirley made history in her race against Congressman Peter King when she became the first female candidate to get permission from the Federal Election Commission to use campaign funds to pay for child care. Shirley brought to light an issue that has made it disproportionately difficult for mothers to run for public office. 

 The facts are the facts. Child care is an issue that effects predominantly women and can be a barrier to those who want to put their hat in the ring. Many mothers struggle with the new cost of child care that comes along with campaigning, and the imbalance in the numbers of mothers holding elected office prove it.

In 2018 there were only about a dozen women in Congress with children younger than 18. But thanks to those who have the courage to take on the fight and blaze the trail for those who will follow in their footsteps, that number nearly doubled in 2019. But the number still remains an unequal representation.

While Shirley may have lost the election, that hasn’t stopped her advocacy. Her legacy is helping to create change across the nation as more and more states allow mothers to use campaign funds for child care.

Motherhood should not been seen as a liability when running for office — it is a strength. This is about leveling the playing field, ensuring everyone who wants a seat at the table is given an equal and fair opportunity.

It is time New York State does the same, and I urge our leaders in Albany to embrace the new faces of leadership and work to propel more mothers into elected office. The cost of child care should never be a deterrent for any mother who wants to run for office.

While it remains an uphill battle, we must keep pushing forward. I look forward to the day when all state and local candidates running for office are given the same chance.

It is time for equal representation, and allowing campaign funds to be used to pay for child care is what is fair and right.

As New York State has done before and continues to do, we must set an example for others to follow.

Steve Bellone is the Suffolk County Executive.

Suffolk311: Government Made Accessible

Over the course of my time as county executive, my office has worked diligently to create a government that is smarter, more efficient, and more effective than ever before. We are implementing best practices and embracing modern technology, and as part of these reform efforts, the county will now be leveraging a new tool that has transformed the way government and constituents interact.

I am proud to say that Suffolk311 is here, working to make government more efficient and accessible to the public. 311 is deployed in almost all of our nation’s major cities, such as New York City, Boston, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., with major success. And here in Suffolk we continue to lead the way as we are the first suburban county in New York State to implement this kind of system.

So what is 311 and how does it work? It is a sophisticated constituent response system that uses cutting-edge cloud technology to provide more professional, timely, and effective customer service for all municipal residents.

By dialing 3-1-1, residents will be directed to a central call center that will drastically simplify constituent interactions for tracking and completing common inquiries and concerns, such as reporting potholes. And because we know our residents are always on the go and need access anywhere at any time, the Suffolk311 system will include a website, mobile application, and social media platform so residents may choose from a variety of methods to initiate service requests.

Not only will 311 make county government more responsive and accessible, it will improve public safety by reducing the burden on our 911 call centers. Our 911 call centers receive over 900,000 calls a year. By offloading the tens of thousands of nonemergency calls to the new 311 system, our emergency call centers will be better positioned to respond to true emergencies.

On top of all that, this initiative will transform the way county government utilizes data to make critical management decisions, better allocate resources, and spend taxpayer dollars. The system will capture critical details on each call, question, or request, allowing us to gather unprecedented insight into the issues our communities are facing in real time. 311 is about connecting residents to government, but also refining the way our government functions.

By improving the lines of communication between our residents and each facet of county government, we are creating an efficient, transparent, and accountable problem-solving process. This new system incorporates the best elements of public safety, data management, and constituent satisfaction. Suffolk has, and will continue to be, a leader across the state when it comes to bringing county government into the 21st century.

Steve Bellone is the Suffolk County Executive.

New Suffolk Plows Ready for Snow

Winter is upon us, and that means the inevitable: snow. The good news, however, is that Suffolk County is more prepared than ever to handle what the weather throws our way.

In an effort to better serve our residents, I recently announced a $5 million investment to upgrade our fleet to improve road safety, better assist stranded motorists, and use less salt on the roads. And to protect the local taxpayer, nearly 40 percent will be funded through federal grants.

The upgrades include the purchase of 12 new 10-wheel Mack dump trucks equipped with wing plows. In addition to enhanced plow capabilities, these trucks are equipped with the functionality to pre-wet the salt as it is being spread onto the road. Rather than bouncing off the road surface or being cleared off by flowing traffic like rock salt, the pre-wetted salt clings to the pavement. This technique requires less salt, making it not only more effective, but environmentally friendly as well.

We also purchased three brand-new payloaders, fully funded by federal grants. Payloaders are a vital component of the snow removal operation because they can move large amounts of snow or salt over short periods of time without taking any plow off the road. To accompany these payloaders, we purchased snow blower attachments for each. They will strengthen our East End response efforts by helping to clear roads along vast open spaces like farmland that see significant snow drifting.

Additionally, earlier this year the county began the process of building a new salt barn along the Nicolls Road corridor, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The new facility will include a streamlined layout and increased capacity.

Not only are we focused on clearing and plowing the roads, we are focused on better assisting motorists. We have all seen motorists, during the height of a storm, becoming trapped or stuck. A stranded vehicle in the snow is a major safety risk, not only for the passengers in the car, but for our police officers as well.

In order to better assist stranded motorists, our police department has invested in four new power winches. These powered winches are the preferred method for removing stranded vehicles because they are not only more reliable, but greatly reduce the risk of damage to either vehicle during the towing process. We are committed to using safer, faster, more effective equipment.

Residents can rest assured that we are ready for any snowstorm in the new year, with new state-of-the-art equipment designed to improve safety and our responses.

Equal Pay: The American Dream

For 200 years, this country has been telling a story of our American Dream. There are variations of that story, but the basis of the moral has always been consistent — that if you work hard, you can achieve your dreams.

What makes this aspiration so powerful is that the creation of our society works to support this claim: Hard work — in school, in sports, in workplace achievement — is often recognized and rewarded. That professional reward comes in the form of a paycheck. A bonus. A raise. A fair and equitable salary.

The last part, unfortunately, is often too hard to come by. On a local level, right here in Suffolk County, women earn only 78 percent of what their male counterparts make. In New York, women of color fare more disproportionately than women of other identities — with black women earning just 64 percent of what men earn, and Latina or Hispanic women earning only 55 percent.

In Suffolk, we are taking steps to close the pay gap. Beginning in 2019, we will institute the Restricting Information on Salaries and Earnings Act (RISE Act), which I signed last month. RISE will reshape pay negotiations to focus on applicants’ experience, qualifications and the responsibilities of the new position, by making it illegal to inquire about salary history. This will be a significant step toward stopping the perpetuation of wage inequity for those who have been historically and systematically underpaid.

As I’ve often witnessed in the past, doing the right thing reverberates beyond the immediate scope of action. In this case, the economic benefits reach far beyond those whom this act targets. Closing the pay gap in Suffolk will result in an annual net spending increase of approximately $664 million, increasing the county’s total economic output by an estimated $1.14 billion.

One of the best parts of my job as a public servant is being able to help right the wrongs of the past and continuing to make Suffolk a better place for all. With the help of my colleagues in the legislature, the RISE Act brings us one step closer.

Suffolk Sewers: Flushing Water Woes

Installation of an innovative wastewater treatment system (Photo courtesy of Wastewater Works Inc)

When Superstorm Sandy hit six years ago, parts of Long Island were completely devastated. And although government agencies, businesses, and countless volunteers jumped in to aid in the recovery, South Shore communities still feel the effects of the flooding.

While living in coastal communities will always involve some level of risk, it is up to us to address the new reality of extreme weather. As Suffolk County Executive, it is my responsibility to do so in a way that mitigates the financial burden and protects the taxpayer.

In a rare perfect storm, Suffolk has an historic opportunity to take on a fully funded project that can help protect the coastal communities from the impacts of storm flooding.  The answer boils down to a simple fact: We must reduce the flow of nitrogen pollution into our water bodies.

There are more than 360,000 cesspools and septic systems in Suffolk that do not adequately treat for nitrogen. Excess nitrogen from cesspools and septic systems degrades our wetlands, which help to protect Long Island from storm surges like the one we experienced during Sandy.

How can we start to reverse the tide? By installing active wastewater treatment to reduce excess nitrogen from entering our environment. That means connecting communities to sewers where possible, and using Innovative and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (I/A OWTS) where sewering is not an option.

The need to connect homes to sewers has been apparent for more than 40 years. Never in history, however, have we had the chance that we do right now to use $390 million in state and federal grants to connect nearly 7,000 homes to sewers, eliminating thousands of polluting cesspools and septic systems at almost no cost to homeowners.

The Suffolk County Coastal Resiliency Initiative would provide new sewer infrastructure along four South Shore river corridors — the Carlls River, Connetquot River, Patchogue River, and the Forge River. On January 22, 2019, voters in each of these project areas will get the opportunity to approve these historic projects, and their support is necessary for the initiative to move forward.

The improvements to water quality that would result will have multiple benefits, making our waters safer for wildlife; increasing recreational activity on our bays; and boosting the region’s tourist economy, which accounts for more $5 billion annually.

It is safe to say that there will never be another opportunity like this in our lifetime. By taking advantage of post-Sandy grants that will be lost forever if these projects do not move forward, this project will help to fulfill a promise to future generations that we are doing our best to preserve this island.

Fighting Back Against The Opioid Epidemic

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, a time to acknowledge and confront the enormity of the substance abuse issue and its impact on the lives of the people living here in Suffolk County, and continue the hard work of prevention.

Addiction can destroy lives and it does not discriminate. Substance abuse and dependence wreak havoc on families everywhere — and Suffolk is no exception.

The good news is that substance abuse can be prevented and that addiction is treatable. In Suffolk, we understand that neither of these comes easily.

Substance abuse problems include both alcohol and drugs. It can be an expensive problem from a county perspective, in terms of law enforcement, rehabilitation, legal fees, health care and more. But in personal terms, substance abuse can be far more costly.

This is why Suffolk is so deeply committed to doing everything we possibly can to prevent substance abuse. The county is leading New York State in a landmark lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin. Suffolk hopes to not only recoup funds spent addressing the wreckage caused by the opioid epidemic, but to actually curtail its influence by targeting Purdue Pharma’s misleading marketing practices.

The county Department of Health Services has put together a comprehensive approach to combating substance abuse from myriad angles centered on education, including programs targeted to the public, in schools, in correctional facilities and for both residents and physicians.

In addition, Suffolk has implemented workshops designed to train residents in using Narcan™ (naloxone, an opiate antidote) to prevent opioid overdoses. Since the inception of the county’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Program in 2013, the health department has trained 11,256 nontraditional responders, each of whom received a Narcan™ kit. Residents on the scene of an overdose become equipped to act as first responders, with the capability to save lives.

Suffolk’s upcoming DASH program, a Diagnostic, Assessment & Stabilization Hub to be operated by Family Service League, will open this December to provide licensed and credentialed professional care 24/7 for individuals suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders.

We have enacted a multitude of strategies to combat substance abuse, including public service announcements and partnering with the Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (LICADD) to operate a 24/7 hotline to link callers to appropriate treatment.

We have a lot of work to do to prevent substance abuse and addiction. In Suffolk, we’re committing to this work together.

Improving Democracy: Campaign Finance Reform

National Popular Vote Movement

With campaign season ramping up and the mid-term elections on the horizon, now is the perfect time to take a good, hard look into our election process. In this amazing experiment called democracy, we have organized systems at every level of government designed to allow equal opportunities for a wide swath of candidates to enter the political process.

That process, however, has become disproportionately political. So much so that voters are left with choices that are often decided by a convoluted system fed by political party bosses and special interest groups whose interest in public service comes second to their self serving principles.

The process has become a gateway to backdoor deals and at times corruption. It has eroded the public’s trust in our political system, leaving them to feel disenfranchised with the entire process. The result is low voter turnout and a rarely challenged status quo. The numbers bear this out. In the 2016 general election, only 57 percent of eligible voters participated, making voter turnout in New York State 41st in the nation.

Unless the system changes, the pathway to democratic elections will remain entrenched in their dysfunction. This is why Suffolk County enacted campaign finance reform legislation modeled after New York City’s election laws. It establishes a 4-to-1 public match with individual contribution limits and a new Campaign Finance Board to ensure compliance.

By drafting this legislation, Suffolk became the first municipality statewide, with the exception of New York City, to establish public financing of elections, effectively expanding opportunity for ordinary citizens to run competitive races for public office.

Here is how it works: a candidate who runs for county legislator and receives at least $5,000 in contributions of $250 or less will be eligible to participate in a 4-to-1 public matching system. This will even the playing field for candidates who do not have access to deep pockets and special interests, including those who challenge incumbents, who traditionally enjoy deeper war chests than brand new candidates do.

The influx of new and varied candidates who have real shots at being heard by the constituency will go a long way toward reinvigorating voters, rebuilding their trust, and bringing them back into the democratic system.

We hope that by our example, other counties and municipalities across the state will implement their own versions of campaign finance systems and that ultimately, word will spread to Albany, where a comprehensive public finance bill will see the light of day.

Glamping Comes to Cedar Point in East Hampton

The sun is shining and the kids are out of school. Long, bright summer days stretch out before us. For so many of us, this signals the time to pack up the car and head out for a family vacation—perhaps some- where with a world-class beach, an award-winning winery, or maybe to try out the latest trend: glamorous camping, or “glamping.”

Luckily, those on Long Island don’t have to travel far for any of these vacation experiences. In fact, Suffolk County is a prime destination. Our beaches line the Atlantic Ocean, Great South Bay and Long Island Sound, each offering its own culture and experience. The wineries on the North Fork are host to music performances, weddings and events catering to connoisseurs and casual wine drinkers alike who enjoy the breathtaking ambiance of the vineyards. And now, in Cedar Point County Park in East Hampton, residents and visitors can enjoy an outdoor adventure with luxury amenities with the brand new glamping site by Terra Glamping.

Why camp when you can glamp? At the ADA-compliant resort at Cedar Point, visitors can enjoy a water-facing sleeping tent, luxury bathroom/showers, a campfire area, lounge tent, outdoor lounge areas and a kitchen area with propane grills. Not exactly roughing it.

We are committed to constant improvement of our recreational land. For example, by this fall, one thousand donated saplings will be planted in Southaven County Park,
Suffolk’s first park, which had been infested by the Southern Pine beetle. This park offers camping, trap and skeet shooting, a miniature railway, picnic areas, hiking, fishing, horse trails, sports fields, rental rowboats, and historic structures. Five hundred blue spruce trees and five hundred pitch pines will grow into a lush landscape once again.

To make it easier to get to and enjoy our stunning parks, we have introduced two seasonal Suffolk Transit bus lines that will provide direct transportation to Robert Moses State Park and Montauk Point Lighthouse. The county will also be providing a free shuttle bus service for visitors and residents from the Smith Point County Park campsites to the beach. There’s such a profound economic advantage to vacationing in Suffolk. Not only do residents save on travel costs, but tourism helps the local economy, supporting the small businesses that are the bedrocks of our communities and make up the distinct character of our downtowns.

No matter how you choose to spend your summer vacation, know that Suffolk has an abundance of recreational options to make this a vacation destination to suit every whim. There truly is nothing like experiencing summer on LI. When mixed with Suffolk’s world class offerings, the possibilities are endless.