Suffolk County Executive Bellone delivers 2018 State of the County address

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone delivered his seventh State of the County Address that proposes to reform the County procurement process, facilitate collaboration with local governments and neighboring counties, and capitalize on significant state investments that will enhance our mass transportation system. The County Executive addressed an audience of nearly 500 guests that included students, school superintendents, community leaders, and local officials at Newfield High School in Selden. As part of his speech, the County Executive discussed community-driven efforts to strengthen school safety while boosting public safety measures that will combat gang violence and stop the recruitment pipeline.

“I can tell you that the state of Suffolk County – this amazing place that we all call home – is strong,” said County Executive Bellone. “I remain committed to making Suffolk County a model for effective and efficient government, a government that is as good as the people it is there to represent. We can build a stronger economic future, we can protect our water quality, we can transform this government, and we can do big things in Suffolk County and on Long Island if we do them together.”

Highlights of the County Executive’s 2018 Agenda include:

A Regional Approach to Economic Development

County Executive Bellone believes that creating vibrant downtowns will help Suffolk County attract and retain the young talent necessary to grow our tax base.  The Ronkonkoma Hub project, which broke ground last year, and the recently announced Ronkonkoma South project, are perfect examples of how public-private partnerships can work together to transform blighted areas and to realize their full potential.

Ronkonkoma South

Suffolk County recently announced the initial selection of the Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) team to serve as Master Developer for the project on the south side of the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road Station. The selection follows a robust two-year community-driven planning process led by the Ronkonkoma Civic Association and other community stakeholders that resulted in a Destination Hub concept for the site. Suffolk County is working towards the execution of a Memorandum of Agreement to enable the developer to begin its due diligence period to turn their concept into a full proposal, engage potential tenants and solidify its financial plan.

The private elements of the project would be financed by the JLL team and allow for the Ronkonkoma South site to be transformed into the region’s premier entertainment destination. The concept calls for a sports and entertainment venue in which the market would dictate the size and scope. The concept also calls for a hotel and convention center, community public space, two community ice rinks, medical and office space, pedestrian connections over the Long Island Rail Road to the Ronkonkoma Hub, offsite community development and more.

A Train-to Plane-Connection

Suffolk County and the Town of Islip recently unveiled Transport Long Island: A Train-to-Plane Connectivity Study that identifies and evaluates modes and technologies to increase connectivity between Long Island MacArthur Airport and the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road Station. A Train-to-Plane connection addresses linking transit and airport services; integrating the airport in the LIRR network with a scalable and flexible connection, and enhancing Suffolk County’s transit and aviation assets to foster economic growth. The report documents the study process and its outcomes in the form of four implementation plans over the short, medium and long-term time frames. These include upgraded taxi service; upgraded shuttle on public roadways; autonomous vehicle shuttle on private airport roads; and a moving walkway to a relocated North Side Terminal, respectively.

This project figures prominently in Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s $160 million plan to “Transform Long Island,” in which $20 million was identified to support the development of a direct connection between the Airport and the Station. The project also capitalizes on Governor Cuomo’s historic transportation investments in Double Track and Third Track on the LIRR as well as East Side Access Project.  The Long Island Rail Road serves more than two million passengers annually, and the Ronkonkoma LIRR Station is the most utilized in Suffolk County.

Regional Bike Share Program

County Executive Bellone understands that vibrant downtowns in isolation alone are not enough grow our region. Last week the County Executive announced the selection of Zagster, a bike-share company that will design, build, finance and operate a first-of-its-kind regional bike-share program in Suffolk County – at no cost to County taxpayers. This program not only extends the reach of existing transit networks, it provides the critical last-mile connection between transportation hubs, popular destinations, and our vibrant downtown areas. To complement this program the County Executive directed the Department of Economic Development and Planning to undertake a county-wide Hike-Bike Network Study in order to develop a Master Plan for improving hike-bike infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists across the region.

U.S. Open Golf Championship

The United States Open Golf Championship in June is coming back to Suffolk County, making its fifth appearance at the historic Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton. The County Executive recently announced that more than 350 campsites remain available for residents and visitors during the U.S. Open weekend, providing golf enthusiasts a chance to enjoy a stay outdoors at one of our four county campgrounds. The Golf Championship is anticipated to generate between $120 million to $130 million in economic impact for the region, with an expected weekly attendance of over 200,000 people, 8,000 hotel rooms booked, and an average of 3,500 temporary job opportunities.

Government Transformation

The Suffolk County procurement system, in law and practice, is burdened by endless technicalities and onerous processes for even the simplest of purchases.  County Executive Bellone has directed staff and departments to undertake a top-to-bottom review, led by Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman, to structurally reform a system that is responsible for procuring nearly $1 billion in goods and services each year. The reformed system will focus on smart government and best practices in the public sector, reorganization, streamlining regulations, simplifying the payment process, and upgrading outdated technologies.

First-Ever Inter-municipal Procurement Conference

County Executive Bellone announced that Suffolk County is hosting a first of its kind Inter-municipal Procurement Conference at Timber Point Golf Course on July 24, 2018. The conference, in connection to the Suffolk County Shared Services Initiative, will discuss procurement challenges and roadblocks, innovation and trends, and cooperative bidding. The conference will be made up of municipal procurement officials, government organizations, and thought leaders in academia.

Shared Services, Shared Benefits

A central facet of the County Executive’s effort to reinvent government involves greater collaboration between local governments – including the County, towns, villages, and school districts. While many have already been working together to reduce costs over the years through various inter-municipal programs and projects, under County Executive Bellone’s leadership, Suffolk County has become the statewide leader of the New York State Shared Services Initiative, gaining recognition for its innovation and cost-saving efforts from the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

  • Suffolk County has partnered with towns and villages to jointly procure roofing services and police vehicles to provide significant savings to municipalities. The County recently sold two used county dump trucks to the Town of Riverhead and a retired Suffolk County Accessible Transportation (SCAT) bus to the Town of Smithtown providing additional savings to the Towns and local taxpayers.
  • County Executive Bellone recently announced the Suffolk School Recycling Program, a partnership between Suffolk County and six school districts that deployed 1,000 recycle bins to 11 schools empowering more than 6,000 students to recycle and protect the environment. The partnership helps school districts meet their individual recycling statewide mandate and encourages students to be active participants in the recycling process all while shrinking the County’s carbon footprint. The County will look to expand this program countywide.
  •  Suffolk County is working with Nassau County to implement Raise the Age, a new state law requiring county jails to separate sixteen and seventeen-year-olds from the incarcerated adult population. The partnership seeks to foster inter-county opportunities in the most cost-efficient manner possible.
  • Suffolk County is finalizing an agreement with Veratics, a service-disabled veterans owned business, to develop and configure the SuffolkShare online portal. Once developed, the online municipal marketplace will serve as a one-stop shop for participating local governments to engage in shared services and cooperative purchasing opportunities.

Ending the Water Quality Crisis

Nearly four years ago, County Executive Bellone declared a water quality crisis on Long Island.  In order to address the issue that has manifested itself over decades, the County Executive launched the “Reclaim Our Water” initiative – a multi-faceted effort that works to reverse the decades of nitrogen pollution while also creating local jobs and new industries. The initiative includes connecting parcels to sewers where it is practical and economically viable and using new Innovative and Advanced Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (I/A OWTS) where connecting to sewers is not feasible.

First-in-the State Septic Improvement Program

Last July, Suffolk County began accepting applications from residents for its first of its kind Septic Improvement Program in New York State. The Program provides grants of up to $11,000 that will effectively cut the up-front cost of purchasing these advanced systems by more than half.  Residents who opt to participate will be able to finance the remaining cost of the systems, up to $10,000 over 15 years, at a low fixed interest rate. As of April 30 of this year, nearly 1,200 homeowners have registered for the program, more than 300 homeowners have completed applications and 230 homeowners have received grant certificates. The County has also been awarded $10.25 million in funding from New York State, out of the $15 million allocated for the first year of the New York State Septic Upgrade Program. Suffolk County is currently working to incorporate this funding into its Septic Improvement Program.

Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan

Suffolk County is committed to bringing together public officials, environmental advocates, business leaders, academic institutions, and community organizations to address different aspects of the water quality crisis. Last year, the County Executive released the Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan and over 100 stakeholders came together last week to advance the process. The Suffolk County Health Department will soon be releasing the Suffolk  County Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan, which will provide the information needed to make science-based decisions about where to place Innovative and Advanced Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems that will have the greatest benefit.

Keeping Suffolk Safe

Crime in Suffolk County is at the lowest levels in recorded history. This downward trend continued in the first quarter of 2018 as a result of effective crime-fighting strategies utilized by the Suffolk County Police Department, which includes a nearly 19% reduction in violent crime; 10% reduction in property crime; 47% reduction in shooting incidents; 25% reduction in traffic fatalities; and 24% spike in narcotics search warrants. At the same time, overtime costs have dropped by 17% even while the Police Department has made continual progress.

Enhancing School Safety

This year, the County Executive unveiled S.H.A.R.E. – Sharing to Help Access Remote Entry – a school safety initiative that enables school districts to directly connect their closed circuit security camera systems to the Suffolk County Police Department. Understanding the vital importance of enhancing safety measures at schools, the County Executive detailed ongoing efforts between the Suffolk County Police Department and school districts preparing detailed school safety plans and performing nearly 50 active shooter trainings at schools throughout the County.

Eradicating MS-13

While the Suffolk County Police Department continues to work closely with its partners in federal and state law enforcement to eradicate MS-13, the County Executive understands that we must do everything we can to undermine this violent gang’s ability to recruit vulnerable individuals into their criminal organization. The Suffolk County Police Department last year made 222 arrests of alleged MS-13 gang members, and in the FY 2018-19 state budget, Suffolk County was awarded $16 million dollars in funding for programs and resources to keep vulnerable youth from gang recruitment.

Ending the Opioid Crisis

Suffolk County will also continue to support efforts in combatting the opioid crisis. The Suffolk County Department of Health Services operates the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program, providing Narcan Training and dispensing Narcan to non-traditional responders effectively saving precious moments before 911 responders arrive. Since its inception in 2013, the Program has conducted 361 classes, dispensing over 10,500 kits to individuals who would otherwise not be in a position to save lives. Suffolk County has also partnered with 11 local hospitals across the County that have committed to distributing Narcan to appropriate patients and families in the emergency department and inpatient settings upon discharge. Suffolk County has partnered with nine hospitals to serve as Alternate Dispensing Sites for the program, targeting patients and families that come in by Emergency Medical Services post-resuscitation from an opioid overdose.  Since July 2016, 792 kits have been dispensed by participating hospitals.

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