Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko

State of the Town

January 19, 2012

"Choosing Our Future"

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 sustainable.

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 another day.

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Working Together

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 budget.

Fiscal Matters

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 contract.

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 applause.

Economic Development

Along with our fiscal responsibility, after three tough years, we have some reasons to be positive about our local economy.

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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 Brookhaven.

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 development funds.

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 receive $670,000.

Blue Green Farms in Yaphank will receive $517,293 for its hydroponic and aquaponic farms.

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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 others.

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 story.

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.

Carmans River

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.

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Employees

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.

Eileen Gerle

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 Eileen.

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.

Tommy Roach

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.

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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 sticks.

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 dock.

Waste Management

Jim Arroyo

Jon Geraci

Walter Stroud

Bill Mirabelli

Parks

Eddie Gregory

Larry Aughtman

John Bornschien

Jeff Bornschien

Brian Sullivan

Brian Malia

Cary Palmer

Greg Borri

Chuck Swan

Ken Grella

Carlo Fusco

Jim Hannon

Mike Morris

Kent Caypinar

Jim Coppolla

Willie Strebel

Jack Levine

Lou Capersino

Tom Boullianne

Joe Fiorelli

Joe White

Tony Luisi

Jim Bivona-Eaton

Frank Perotta

Richard Kratzel

Letís give these guys a round of applause.

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 thankful.

Future

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.

The housing 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. Insolvent. Bankrupt.

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 Brookhaven residents.

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 partnerships?

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 move towards

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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 them.

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.

Redistricting Commission

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 that process.

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.

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The commission should not include anyone who has been an elected official at any level since 2007.

And it should also not include anyone that holds a party office above that of committee person or has held such a position since 2007.

In addition, no relatives of any current elected official of the Town or anyone in a party leadership position should serve on the Commission.

Lastly, any plan approved by the commission needs 6 votes to be presented to the Town Board.

This way we ensure that any redistricting is controlled by the people, not the parties.

Perspective

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 in Afghanistan.

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 behalf:

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 2002

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 2007

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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 as well.

God bless those brave souls.

God bless Brookhaven.

And God bless America.

Thank you.