Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko
of the Town
Welcome everyone to our 2012 State
of the Town speech. After last yearís speech,
Councilman Dan Panico offered me some unsolicited
feedback on the speech Ė he said it was boring. So
Dan, Iíll try to make this speech less boring than
last year and spice it up a bit.
Iíd like to start by recognizing our
Town Council, Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, Jane Bonner,
Kathy Walsh, Connie Kepert, Tim Mazzei and Dan
Panico. Our Town Clerk Patricia Eddington, Our Tax
Receiver Lou Marcoccia, and our Superintendent of
Highways John Rouse.
Today Iím going to talk a bit about
our recent past as well as our future. Because we
stand at a crossroads now in the Town of Brookhaven.
We face a cold hard fiscal reality Ė a time we all
hoped would never happen - and we are called upon to
make some very difficult policy decisions that will
determine what type of services this Township
provides its residents in the 21st Century.
There are no sacred cows. Nothing is
off limits. And we will make these choices. The
entire Town Board. Not just the Supervisor. These
decisions have to be made collectively, with
vigorous input from our community, as well as our
employees. That is the only way we will be able to
create lasting change in this Township.
You know politicians talk about
change a lot. Governor Cuomo, when he was speaking
about his budget, put it best when he talked about
change. Change in government, in a relationship,
pretty much in any context. He said the funny thing
about change is that we all want it, but when it
comes down to it we want you to change, the other
guy to change, but we donít want to change
ourselves. No, I donít have to change, because Iím
just fine, but I want you to change. And thatís
because change is hard. It is difficult. Itís
unnerving and risky. But we have no other choice
now. The Town of Brookhaven must change, we must
change now, and that change must be lasting and
Before we talk about change in the
future, letís talk a little bit about some of the
positives from the recent past. Because we have much
to be proud of.
I talked about being spicy, and I
think itís fair to say that last year was a pretty
spicy year. Many of us started the year by
responding to the propane gas leak in Shirley. We
had multiple blizzards, a hurricane, an earthquake,
and a devastating fire in Fire Island Pines.
I want to again thank all of the
dedicated employees of the Town of Brookhaven, as
well as all the first responders, who worked
tirelessly to serve the residents of the Town during
these times of need.
And on the topic of natural
disasters, we can talk a little bit about the Jets
and the Mets, but thatís probably a topic for
Along with pulling together during
emergencies, we should also talk about working
together on a daily basis. Thatís what the people
want now. They donít want politicians who fight all
the time, take unreasonable positions based on party
or ideology. They want people who will work together
to try to find common ground, but who are willing to
have vigorous debates on policy matters.
And I donít know of a single
legislative body in the entire state that is split
right down the middle on party lines and works
better than our Town Board. And it is to everyoneís
credit. We continue to lead the way when it comes to
taking partisanship out of the equation in the Town
of Brookhaven and nothing exemplified that better
than the fact that we unanimously passed our 2012
Frankly, on most fiscal matters we
have much to be proud of.
First and foremost, the Town of
Brookhaven has frozen taxes three years in a row.
Since 2009, we have reduced spending
by over 26% in our general fund. And since 2010 we
have reduced our debt by 39%.
Weíve had our high bond rating
affirmed eight times in the past three years.
We partnered with our White and Blue
collar bargaining units and negotiated an extension
of the collective bargaining agreement that will
save the Town about $25 million over the life of the
We put three caps on the ballot Ė a
spending, a tax, and a debt management cap Ė and all
three passed with over 75% of the vote. In fact, we
may be the only municipality in the state that has
three such caps.
And, perhaps most importantly, we
have managed our budget annually in a responsible
way. For instance, in 2010 we budgeted to use $23.6
million in surplus to balance our budget and only
used $2 million. And last year, although I must
qualify this by saying that these are unaudited
numbers, we budgeted the use of $14.6 million in
surplus but we only used $5.1 million.
And part of the reason for that was
due to the work of John OíNeill, who is leaving the
Town to return home to Nassau County. Thank you John
for your service and letís all give John a round of
Along with our fiscal
responsibility, after three tough years, we have
some reasons to be positive about our local economy.
President Clinton had a saying,
"Itís the economy stupid," and that saying is
perhaps more true now than ever. Itís all about the
economy, and in Brookhaven we must work with our
large economic drivers like Stony Brook University,
BNL, US Rail, and the Ronkonkoma Hub, to help them
maximize their economic potential.
Just yesterday, the Long Island
Index unveiled its Innovation Index, which
essentially said that if we get our act together, in
just five years we could build a leading innovation
economy like San Diego or Silicon Valley. And I
would suggest to you that the center of that
innovation economy would be right here in
This has to be one of the top
priorities of this Township, to partner with
potential huge job creators to ensure economic
prosperity in the future.
And last year was a surprisingly
good year for many of our economic partners.
The US Rail inter-modal rail
facility in Yaphank opened to rave reviews.
The Ronkonkoma Hub project is moving
at a fast pace. We entered into a groundbreaking
Inter-municipal agreement with the Town of Islip and
our design committee has unanimously recommended
designating Tritec as the Townís Master Developer.
Ronkonkoma will also receive $4
million from the state for the design of a sewage
treatment plant. That was a central part of Long
Islandís winning strategic plan for state economic
In addition to the Ronkonkoma Hub,
many other Brookhaven projects will receive state
economic development funding.
Accelerate Long Island will receive
$500,000 for a seed fund for new technology
companies. And I would like to personally recognize
the efforts of the LIAís Kevin Law, who over the
past several months has established a Board of
Directors for Accelerate, obtained funding to get
the initiative started, incorporated Accelerate as a
non-profit, and held two very successful showcases
of BNL research projects for potential investors.
Amneal Pharmaceuticals in Yaphank
will receive $3 million to expand its operation.
Stony Brook and Hofstraís EngINE
project, which will boost the number of engineering
graduates, will receive $2 million.
Smart Grid 3, a Stony Brook
University and Brookhaven National Laboratory
collaboration to create a national smart grid
center, will receive $5 million.
Stony Brook and BNLís STEM
initiatives, that will promote education in science,
technology, engineering and math, will collectively
Blue Green Farms in Yaphank will
receive $517,293 for its hydroponic and aquaponic
Stony Brook will receive $49,875 for
various Green certificate training programs.
Uncle Wallyís in Shirley will
receive $1,469,419 for expanding its business and
purchasing new equipment.
And Port Jefferson will receive
$100,000 to complete our Harborwalk.
In all, of the 13 so-called
"transformative projects" on Long Island, Brookhaven
is home to six of them, totaling over $17 million in
grant funding for these projects.
And we continue to fight the battle
against suburban blight with our Blight to Light
initiative. I think itís fair to say that last year
was a bad year for blight in Brookhaven, with
Raymour & Flanagan and ShopRite opening at the old
Home Depot on Route 112, the opening of Buckleyís in
Center Moriches, and great projects at an abandoned
car dealership in Port Jeff Station, the UA Theater
in Coram, and the Kmart in Middle Island, among many
And of course, many of us were there
when we tore down the Plaza Theatre. Although I will
say we all got a little scared when Tim Mazzei
started talking about Gorbachev, but thatís another
Quality of Life
Along with our economy, improving
the quality of life of our residents has remained a
top priority for the Town and I must say Iím
incredibly proud of our Quality of Life Task Force.
Since its creation, the Task Force, which goes after
the worst of the worst suburban slumlords and serial
offenders, has been incredibly successful.
For example, in the past three years
fines levied on code enforcement violations have
increased by 332%. In fact, 2011 is the first year
in the history of the Town where fines levied
exceeded $1 million dollars. These are cases
involving things like illegal housing and animal
hoarding, things that have corrosive effects on many
of our communities.
Iíd like to take a moment to
recognize our Law Investigators, who do an
outstanding job on a daily basis.
I should also mention the Carmans
River Protection Plan. I thank our state delegation,
particularly Senators Lavalle and Zeldin as well as
Assemblymen Thiele, Englebright, Sweeney and
Losquadro, for passing historic legislation allowing
for the expansion of the Pine Barrens. It is now up
to the Town to complete this plan. Failure is not an
option. The Carmans River is a jewel of a natural
resource that must be protected and must be
protected now, and this Town, with input from the
community, must complete this Plan this year.
Let me pause for a minute not to
focus not on me, or on our elected officials.
Because when I was thinking about this speech, and
the state of the Town generally, it became apparent
to me that the state of the Town is, on a daily
basis, a condition defined by the state of our
employees. A Town is really an entity that is the
sum of its parts, and at the government level the
parts that matter most are our employees. Employees
who frankly oftentimes donít get the recognition or
the credit they deserve.
Employees in our call center, who
answered thousands of calls last year. Employees who
deal with difficult housing issues, or who serve
at-risk youth, or seniors, or women.
Employees who work at a landfill,
care for our parks, or represent us in court.
Employees like the men and women of
the Highway Department, who worked around the clock
last year, and in some cases put their lives in
jeopardy, to keep our roads open during blizzards
and a hurricane last year. Letís once again thank
our dedicated Highway employees, and Superintendent
John Rouse, with a round of applause.
Our employees certainly deserve
praise, and today I would like to tell you
specifically about a few of them because I think
their stories show that many of our employees go
well above and beyond the call of duty.
First, Iíd like to ask Eileen Gerle
to come forward. Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld fought for
years to bring Eileen to West Meadow Beach and now
that sheís here we all can see why. Eileen is our
beach ranger and environmental educator at West
Meadow Beach. Her nature programs include a public
lecture series, Horseshoe Crab Walks, Junior Beach
Ranger Program, Beach Cleanups and Full Moon Walks.
Over 2,000 visitors came to West Meadow Beach last
year and many participated in programs run by
For her "dedication and passion,"
The Times Beacon Record Newspapers named Eileen
Environmentalist of the Year, an honor she well
deserved. Eileen is one of our gems in Brookhaven,
and I want to take this moment to thank you for your
dedication and passion.
Next, Iíd like to ask Tommy Roach to
come forward. Tommy is also one of our most
dedicated and passionate employees on a number of
fronts. Most of us know Tommy as our Public Safety
Director who always gets the job done when it comes
to Code Enforcement. We also know Tommy as a guy who
has a huge heart, who drove around the Town with me
in the middle of the night during Hurricane Irene,
buying milk for kids who were at a shelter at
Longwood High School.
What many may not know is that in
his free time, Tommy spent a tremendous amount of
time the past several years working on the Special
Olympics Polar Plunge at Cedar Beach. Tommy helped
to organize the Town-sponsored event and raised over
$5,000. 500 plungers, including me, Kathy Walsh and
Jane Bonner, took the plunge and this great event
raised a total of over $75,000 for the Special
Olympics. And Tommy plunged in style. Thanks Tommy
for all you do for Brookhaven.
Parks Employees Ė Davis Park
Next, Iíd like to ask the Parks and
Waste Management employees who worked on Davis Park
to come forward. Now this is an amazing story. As
you know, Hurricane Irene hit right before Labor Day
weekend and did a lot of damage, and perhaps the
worst damage to Town property occurred at Davis
Park. The storm literally destroyed the interior
docks at our marina, reducing it to a pile of
After the storm, I went to Davis
Park with Tim Mazzei and the damage was
catastrophic. Our dock operator told us we had to
close the marina for the rest of the year. So weíre
walking around, and Tim and I are talking, and we
decide that weíre going to try to rebuild the
marina. In 48 hours. So that it would be open for
Labor Day weekend.
When I told Ed Morris, our Parks
Commissioner, this he looked at me and said, "Youíre
kidding, right." We werenít kidding, and Ed had a
crew of Parks and Waste Management employees who, in
48 hours, literally performed a miracle, rebuilt the
marina and it was back up and running for Labor Day.
So now letís recognize the following
employees for their amazing effort at the Davis Park
Letís give these guys a round of
Eileen, Tommy and
the Davis Park crew are just a but a few of the
100ís of Town employees who commit themselves,
oftentimes anonymously, to make the Town of
Brookhaven a better place, and for that we are all
So weíve talked a
bit about the past and itís now time to talk about
the future. As I mentioned earlier, we are at a
crossroads and we need to change. Weíve spent the
past three years plugging gaps and cutting spending,
trying to kick the fiscal can down the road hoping
the economy would recover, but weíre at the end of
that road. Let me take a moment to explain and,
unfortunately, the explanation is fairly simple.
market collapsed and our mortgage taxes disappeared.
Theyíve dropped 73% since 2004, when they were at a
high of $37.6 million. Now weíre at around $10
million, consistently, for the past three years.
Mortgage taxes havenít come back and no one is
predicting they will come back in the foreseeable
future. Thatís reality.
So what does that
mean? Letís say for the past few decades mortgage
taxes have averaged around $20 million or so and now
weíre down to $10 million. And for the past few
years, weíve used surplus to make up the difference.
But this practice is not sustainable.
Our most recent
projections show that if we keep using surplus to
balance our budget, weíll have a gap to fund balance
policy of between $6-10 million in 2013, and that
the Town will be essentially broke by 2015.
So what should we
do? We should put everything on the table. Make
tough choices. And agree on a new type of budget
that no longer uses surplus, doesnít rely on one
shots, that is lean, and that operates this Town
like a business. We need a structurally sound budget
not only for today, but for future generations of
To do this, we
must change. We must understand that, along with
reduced revenues, our fixed costs continue to rise.
Pension costs, health care costs. There is a new
cost reality we are all facing and we must deal with
it. To do this, we must abandon the bureaucratic
mindset that too often permeates this building and
search for solutions. We must all think like
entrepreneurs to find ways to cut costs and,
potentially, and generate new revenue sources.
And we must think
long term and ask tough questions, like which
services should we continue to provide? Which
business units should continue and which units would
be areas where we should explore public-private
We need to start
talking about the long term plans for our landfill,
which is a wonderful asset from a regional waste
management perspective as well as for the Townís
finances, but a tough place to live next to for its
neighbors. What are our future plans for the
landfill? Can we take in more tonnage in the short
term to help address our fiscal problems? Should we
single stream recycling? Should we
expand the landfill? These are all questions that we
need to work on at the Town Board level, along with
our Landfill Liaison Committee.
Core Services Working Group
So where do we start?
Today I am announcing the creation
of a Core Services Working Group. The Group will be
chaired by Chief of Staff Brian Beedenbender and Iím
asking each council member to appoint one of their
legislative aides to the group, which will also
include staff members who will serve as writers for
the group. The group will be asked to do two things.
First, the Working Group will
conduct an analysis of what our core functions are
and what our discretionary functions are. What are
we as a Town mandated to do and what have we over
the years done on our own?
Second, out of those discretionary
functions, Iím asking the Group to make a
presentation to the Town Board at our public work
session on March 1st and provide us with a set of
policy choices regarding which functions should
remain, which we should end, and which one would be
appropriate for public/private partnerships. The
group should be preparing RFPs for those
partnerships should the Town Board choose to approve
Some examples of functions I would
like to see the group explore are our Amphitheater,
our Airport, our Animal Shelter, and our marinas.
These may be areas where public private partnerships
may be a much more efficient and cost effective way
to provide those services.
This will be an open and transparent
process, with all policymakers at the table. The
time for change is now, and my hope is that we as a
Town Board embrace that opportunity to ensure the
fiscal viability of this Town.
Along with addressing our fiscal
future, the time is upon us to address our political
future. Ten years ago our councilmatic districts
were formed and it is now time to redraw those
lines. And I propose to take the politics out of
Today, I am proposing a Bipartisan
Redistricting Commission modeled after the Countyís
Commission. The Commission should make redistricting
recommendations to the Town Board, as the Board is
the body that ultimately sets the lines.
There should be eight members on the
commission, three Democrats, three Republicans, and
two at-large from the minor parties.
Each major party must appoint at
least one person from an established voter rights or
civic organization and one person from an
established minority organization.
The commission should not include
anyone who has been an elected official at any level
And it should also not include
anyone that holds a party office above that of
committee person or has held such a position since
In addition, no relatives of any
current elected official of the Town or anyone in a
party leadership position should serve on the
Lastly, any plan approved by the
commission needs 6 votes to be presented to the Town
This way we ensure that any
redistricting is controlled by the people, not the
I want to end by putting everything
into perspective. I said earlier that our Town is
the sum of its parts.
As we all know, the Iraq war ended
fairly recently and I think itís too easy to forget
this country spent seven years at war in Iraq.
Longer than the Civil War. World War I and World War
II. Itís also easy to forget that weíre still at war
And itís all too easy to forget
that, among this Townís parts, heroes do exist.
Heroes who gave their lives to protect our freedom,
to allow us to engage in democracy, as we are about
to do at our Board meeting.
So I close by asking you to remember
those bravest of our parts, those heroes from
Brookhaven who made the ultimate sacrifice on our
Staff Sergeant Frank Adamski, US
Army, killed in Kunar Province, Afghanistan in 2011
Specialist Matthew E. Baylis, US
Army, killed in Baghdad in 2007.
Staff Sergeant Keith Bishop, US
Army, killed in Darren-Ye-Bum, Afghanistan in 2009
Staff Sergeant Scott Nelson
Germonsen, US Army, killed in Gardez Afghanistan in
Corporal James Edward Lundin, US
Army, killed in Baghdad in 2007
Staff Sergeant James McNaughton, US
Army, the first NYPD officer killed in action,
killed in Camp Victory outside of Baghdad in 2005.
Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy, US Navy,
killed in Kunar Province, Afghanistan in 2005, and
Michael received the Medal of Honor.
Corporal Paulo Marko Ufina
Pacificador, US Army, killed in Qayyarah Iraq in
Staff Sergeant Jason Santora, US
Army, killed in Logar Province Afghanistan in 2010
Corpsman Jeffrey Weiner, US Navy,
killed in Western Iraq in 2005
Specialist Thomas Wilwerth, US Army,
killed in Balad Iraq in 2006
These brave heroes all died on the
battlefield. But some heroes lost their battles here
at home, heroes like Private First Class Joseph
Dwyer, US Army, and we must remember their sacrifice
God bless those brave souls.
God bless Brookhaven.
And God bless America.