A Rush to Vote

vecchio retires

The three Smithtown incumbents running for re-election were in an awful hurry to rush a vote that would cost approximately two million dollars of capital budget funds for what they call “Beautification of Lake Avenue.”  The project includes brand new brick, cobblestone-like sidewalks, new trees and a street paving overhaul. The capital budget which was approved just weeks ago, originally called for a $175.000 spend along Lake Avenue,  for beautification. However, despite not knowing where the Two Million will come from, department head memos addressing concerns about the project and obvious confusion,  a 3-2 vote to include the project in the amended 2017 capital budget was official Tuesday afternoon.

The Highlights:

During the Tuesday morning work session, Supervisor Vecchio definitively said, if the Lake Avenue project was paid for by bond, he would refuse to vote for it.  In that same work session, talks of using the funds from the Kings Park-Smithtown Sewer project, quickly united members of surrounding civic groups in protest. And finally, later Tuesday night, McCarthy and Vecchio went on-the-record with Newsday, stating that the town would be seeking grants and funding assistance from other levels of government to pay for the Lake Avenue project. The only problem with that statement, is that this project is slated to begin this Summer… Grants and funding from other levels of government would not be made available until the following year, at least. In other words, the Town Board voted 3-2 to approve a Two Million dollar project, before the funds have been made available.

Planning Director David Flynn explained the details and a timeline of events leading up to the project to Supervisor Vecchio at the Tuesday morning work session. The 87 year old Supervisor was reluctant at first,  unable to understand why they were adding to a capital budget, when it was already voted on.  Flynn expressed his observation that Lake avenue “had a lot of vacancies and was looking worn out.” His recommendation was based on the curbs and sidewalks being in such poor state of repair that paving alone would be a waste of money.

Councilman McCarthy reaffirmed the need for the project, stating “There’s not a curb that’s not broken, everything is broken.”  He referred to the original plan for paving, adding trees and flashing lights as putting  “lipstick on a pig… do the job completely right or don’t do it at all.”

The M.V.P.’s of the Town Board Meeting, where the two sitting council members, currently not running for re-election. Councilman Wehrheim and Councilwoman Inzerillo voted to table the amendment for a week or two, so they could do their due diligence on the project, obtain assurances from department heads and most importantly, figure out where the money was coming from to pay for it.  

Councilman Ed Wehrheim brought up communication barriers and concerns during the work session stating, “I think it’s a wonderful project and something necessary, and this is something we should be working on for all of our towns and maybe this a starting point. But when something is thrown on my desk and from what I’m hearing, the Supervisor is just seeing this too. And 3 ½ hours from now, you want me to sit up here and vote on spending two million of taxpayer dollars… it’s unfair to force elected officials into a vote. If this has been going on for months, then every elected official sitting here should have been put into the loop. I think anything of this magnitude should be done in a setting with the entire town board. Having said that, I need assurances that we can pay for this project, without taking money earmarked for sewers in Smithtown-Kings Park.”

The project details:

lakeavebeautiful1A complete “reconstruction of Lake Avenue”

The project includes new street trees, concrete gutters, larger curbs, brand new sidewalks, brick snow strips, ornamental street lights, signs, waste receptacles, bollards, and benches, crosswalks and decorative concrete intersections.

The sidewalks would be paved in a vintage cobblestone style, combining brick and concrete

Concerns Regarding Rushing the Project:
  • The two million dollar Lake Avenue reconstruction project does not include repairs to the infrastructure beneath the roads and sidewalks.
  • Replacement of the Water Main is not included in the budget. There are mixed opinions and concerns regarding potential damage to the water main when ripping up pavement and doing that magnitude of construction. According to both Planning Director and the Superintendent of Highways, the water main is okay, however there is always a risk of damage to the water main when ripping up that much pavement.
  • Superintendent of Highways Robert Murphy noted that “If you going to be doing that much construction from now until the end of the year, we would like to contact the Utility company to get the conduit underground.” As of yet, there has been no response from PSEG.
  • Murphy also addressed sewers, in stating, “You would hate to do all this work and then have to undo it to put sewers in three to four years later.”
  • No municipal parking or widening of Lake Avenue is included in the plan.
  • Engineering survey will be done in house by the town Engineer, Mark Riley and not by an outside firm. He has assured the town that he is capable of designing the drawings and in a timely manner.
  • Using requirement contracts vs. putting project out to bid, means the town can not affix penalties on the vendor if they do not complete the project on time. In short, if the vendor can not perform, Lake Avenue stands to be shut down much longer than the anticipated three to four weeks.
  • The estimated “Break Ground” date is during the summertime, after the Elementary School is closed, which means construction may coincide with several community based events, concerts and festivals.

During the work session, the department heads that addressed their concerns, also mentioned the speed of which the project has moved. Additionally, members of the town board, including the Supervisor, addressed the very same point; that this project was never mentioned as a possibility or something in the works, while the capital budget was being looked over. And yet, just four hours later, without any definitive answer as to how it would be funded, the project was amended into the budget. There is no doubt that a St. James makeover has been literally 85 years in the making. Some might say, it’s better late than never while others would ask why it took the long-standing incumbents until the end of their current tenure to do so. Regardless as to what the reasoning behind the rush to break ground, the taxpayers deserve to be informed as to the duration and cost of quality of life, the effect monetarily on small shop owners and confirmation of the source of funding for the project.

*Smithtown Today will follow up with this story as it progresses. We will also be featuring a community spotlight with Kerry Maher-Weiss of the Community Association of Greater St. James to discuss plans for Lake Avenue and a calendar of events, geared toward bringing residents and small business owners together during the Summer.

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