Steve Bellone

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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.

Bellone: Don’t Play Politics With School Safety

The frequency of school shootings across the country has prompted school districts to take immediate action to provide teachers, administrators, and students a variety of tools to protect themselves in the event of an incident.

Suffolk County is no exception, and that is why we have made it a priority to partner with school districts to enhance their own security plans.

One of these unique partnerships is through our Rapid Response Project. Under the new initiative, Suffolk would provide teachers and administrators access to the Rave Panic Button, a school safety mobile application that quickly alerts law enforcement and first responders of an active shooter situation or emergency. With the click of a button on any smartphone device, details of an emergency situation would be sent through a notification to other staff members in the building, alerting teachers and staff to take quick protective action.

During a medical emergency, the system also alerts first responders and staff with specific training such as CPR or AED certifications, so that they can provide care until an ambulance arrives on scene. We know that seconds and minutes can mean the critical difference between life and death.

However, politics is now preventing the implementation of this common sense measure. Minority Leader Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) and the Republican Caucus are holding up funding for the program. Their excuse is nothing short of bizarre and ill informed. They claim they “had no choice” because the capital bond for this project was tied to  other projects.

The problem with their argument is threefold. First, virtually every other county in New York State votes on capital bond projects this way. It is more efficient and in line with best practices. Second, every member of the legislature, including the Republican holdouts, already voted to authorize the project. And finally, there are some things that should never be held up by politics. School safety is at the top of the list.

We owe it to Suffolk children, teachers and families to ensure they feel safe when entering a school building each and every day. Suffolk residents deserve better. Enough with the political games and trivial issues. Now is the time to take action and uphold our duty to keep our kids safe.

Steve Bellone is the Suffolk County executive

U.S. Open a Hole in One for Long Island

This month, the coveted and historic 2018 U.S. Open Golf Championship makes its retur to
the prestigious Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton. For the fifth time, June 11 to 17, the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) will kick off this annual rite of passage. Long Island has a rich history of hosting major golf events, and this year we will continue that tradition.

This game is fortuitous for our county. It develops the region, cultivates tourism, delivers employment, and ultimately allows residents and audience to meet some of the most prestigious and big-name golfers in the world, including Tiger Woods.

World-class events such as this offer considerable job opportunities. This year, there will be more than 2,000 temporary food service and hospitality jobs, event security and staff positions, parking attendants and shuttle/bus depot attendants jobs, and many more positions.

Our partnership with companies such as Ridgewells/Purple Tie, MTK Resources, Country Club Services, and Andy Frain Services is a testament to our Suffolk County Department of Labor and local businesses helping our residents secure gainful employment.
Amazingly, event security leader Andy Frain Services will also help unlicensed applicants become licensed for free. This means that even after the U.S. Open, individuals that are now licensed can go on to find other permanent positions.

There is also a regional economic benefit as well. The golf championship is anticipated to generate between up to $130 million, and there is no doubt that it will attract extensive tourism. With millions of people in more than 150 countries tuning in to watch the championship, Suffolk will experience tremendous economic
development through the region.

Approximately 8,000 hotel rooms are expected to be booked with the anticipation of an expected attendance of more than 200,000 people, including players, fans, volunteers, vendors and media. There are also additional options for hotels. Suffolk will make available our county parks for those seeking to leisure and stay in our picturesque campgrounds.

With more than 46,000 acres of parkland, 200 historical sites and 100 public beaches within its boundaries, Suffolk is a natural playground, and camping is an immersive alternative to lodging during the U.S. Open. Those looking for a convenient, low-priced  substitute for hotels can easily visit, reserve, and enjoy a scenic stay at Cedar Point, Sears Bellows, or Indian Island county campgrounds.

We look forward to working together to make this, and many other future USGA events, a resounding success for both our region and the sport of golf. We are truly excited about this opportunity to allow the world to experience the hidden gems our residents enjoy daily.

Steve Bellone is the Suffolk County Executive.

Empowering Women Through Equality at Work

We often talk about empowering women through the context of history. But we have come a long way since the days of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone.

This year has been one of the most consequential regarding fairness, equality, and protections. The issue of workplace sexual harassment has become a topic for national discussion. No longer isolated incidents, these reports are sweeping every industry.

Movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp are encouraging women to speak up. We must confront these issues head on and work to ensure a safe and supportive work environment where female employees can succeed.

Suffolk County has led the way by implementing workplace safety measures. We value the dedicated employees who work hard and give back to their community. At the same time, we want to prevent inappropriate workplace conduct.

In February, we strengthened employee protections by signing two bills into law to combat sexual harassment and discrimination. One requires annual reporting of sexual harassment and discrimination claims in the county workplace. The second requires newly hired employees to receive “Know Your Rights,” a pamphlet detailing county policy on reporting inappropriate workplace behavior.

Last year I signed legislation requiring county elected officials, department heads, and chief deputies to receive sexual harassment training every two years. Now, Suffolk will provide sexual harassment training to more than 9,000 county employees. This ensures that every employee partakes in an online training video to better equip them with the tools and resources to prevent sexual harassment in county government. Our employees’ safety is a top priority, but it is also necessary to recognize the unique views and perspectives female colleagues.

In March, I met with several groups of hard-working women staff members who are exceptional role models and leaders. They are instrumental to our work every day.

One staff member I met with was Geri Hart. When I nominated Geri to become the next Suffolk County Police Commissioner, young girls, including my own daughters, were inspired. Geri is an inspiration for countless women who want to shatter the glass ceiling and work in high-ranking positions.

Besides Geri, a number of women serve in leading roles in my administration – from commissioners, deputy county executives, directors and more. I have always believed in the importance of inclusivity, diversity and fresh perspectives. That is why we must continue to empower women in high-ranking positions in Suffolk, in New York State and nationwide.

Leading The Way on Water Quality

Just over three years ago, I declared nitrogen Public Enemy Number One. Nitrogen is the single largest cause of degraded water quality. In Suffolk County, water — our oceans, bays and harbors — are essential to both the local economy and our way of life.

The increasing frequency of beach closures, restrictions on harvesting of shellfish, harmful algae blooms and fish kills has raised awareness of the problem. Scientists have made clear that the primary source of nitrogen pollution to our surface waters are outdated cesspools and septic systems, which are not designed to remove nitrogen from wastewater.

Over the past several years Suffolk and its partners in the environmental and business communities have made significant progress in the effort to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution. An important part of these efforts has been establishing a foundation to replace outdated cesspools and septic systems with new state-of-the-art Innovative
and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (I/A OWTS). Just as important are the county’s efforts to reduce the cost of the new systems for homeowners.

To make these new systems affordable for homeowners, Suffolk established the very first program in New York State that provides financial incentives for replacement of cesspools and septic systems with new IA technologies. A new IA system would cost most homeowners between $16,000 and $20,000, an amount that should be reduced over time as more systems are installed. Under the program, homeowners who decide to replace their cesspool or septic system with the new technologies are eligible for
grants of up to $11,000 and may also qualify to finance the remaining cost of the systems over 15 years at a low 3 percent fixed interest rate.

A fund approved by county voters in 2014 provides $2 million a year for the program through 2021, enough to fund 200 grants of $10,000 each year. Since the county began accepting applications last July, 1,045 homeowners have registered for the program, 286 residents have completed applications and 208 residents have been awarded grants.

Suffolk is recognized statewide as being at the cutting edge of efforts to address long-standing concerns about nitrogen pollution from cesspools and septic systems. Counties across the state are poised to follow Suffolk’s lead.

As I have said many times, the water quality crisis we face was created over decades and cannot be solved in one year, or even five. But we in Suffolk are committed to staying the course and working hard to keep the momentum going forward. We are making progress in the battle to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution each and every year. The residents of Suffolk and future generations deserve nothing less.