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Bellone Hearing It From the People

Brittany Wait
Times of Smithtown

As part of his transition into a new seat, Suffolk County Executive-elect Steve Bellone held one of the first of many small business roundtable discussions in Kings Park Monday. There, business leaders told him that without county-funded infrastructure improvements, small businesses won't thrive in Suffolk County.

Over 20 business leaders from communities like Kings Park, Smithtown, Bay Shore and Copiague came to the Kings Park VFW to ask Bellone to improve sewer infrastructure, simplify the permitting process for businesses and create a more business-friendly climate for all residents.

Suffolk County has already begun 22 studies to determine which areas need funding for sewers. Smithtown and Kings Park are on the list, but business leaders like Mark Mancini, president of the Smithtown Chamber of Commerce, say enough studies have been done. It's time to do something and "put these plans in place."

Mancini rose from his seat Monday night to explain Smithtown's need for a safer roadway on Main Street and how Main Street restaurants have been unable to expand outdoor seating because they can't connect to the sewer system.

In comparison to Smithtown's lack of sewers, he referred to Huntington as "a growing, thriving community" that keeps growing. He would like to see the county fund sewer infrastructure in Smithtown, giving the town the "backbone" to create business growth.

The county's Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund, funded through the quarter-cent sales tax, is capping its funds at $140 million and anything over that will be used to improve sewer districts for the next 10 years.

But even with that plan from outgoing Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to fund sewer district improvements, Bellone said there just isn't enough money at the county, state and local levels.

"The federal and state governments aren't prepared to make an investment, so the burden falls on us locally," he said.

Before the roundtable discussion began, Jack Hessel, executive vice president of the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, was skeptical that anything discussed could be changed.

"The reality is that everything that's going to be proposed is going to cost money," the Kings Park resident said. The problem is, "how do you tap into those resources? To do that you have to raise taxes. We want everything, but we don't want to pay for it."

Charlie Gardner, president of Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, explained to Bellone how government bureaucracy gets in the way of business when it comes to applying for permits and getting government approval for projects.

Other business leaders said the county should focus on providing affordable apartments to keep young people from leaving Long Island.

In response, Bellone said he would like to see the county go on the offense to get businesses to move to Long Island, and at the minimum, keep local businesses from leaving.

"We have assets here," he said. "We don't have to match incentive for incentive, but we can't be so noncompetitive. You have mayors from other states coming to Long Island to recruit."