By Janee Law
Candidates for several Suffolk County Legislature positions displayed a fiery energy at Monday night’s League of Women Voters of Huntington-sponsored debate, discussing a variety of issues in front of a packed house at Harborfields Public Library.
Candidates in attendance were Susan Berland and Hector Gavilla, vying for the Suffolk Legislature’s 16th District; Thomas Donnelly, Michael Troetti and Robert Schuon, vying for the 17th District; and Dominic Spada and incumbent William ‘Doc’ Spencer, vying for the 18th District. Richard Florio is also campaigning for the 18th District, but was not in attendance.
Also attending the forum was Robert Trotta, who is campaigning for the 13th District. His opponent, Democrat Colleen Maher, was not in attendance, and so Trotta was not permitted to participate in the forum.
The forum began with each candidate stating whether or not they are pleased with the current operations of Suffolk. Several topics followed, including the opioid and gang crisis; cost savings through shared services; and opinions on downsizing the Heartland project.
Gavilla said he’s not happy with how the county is being operated, adding that officials are “mismanaging our money and they do not have a balanced budget."
"They’ve created over $90 million in fees,” he said. “What I would do is cut the fees, cut the taxes and cut these expenses. I’m a businessman and I know exactly how to do that. It’s time the taxpayers come first.”
Spada said he also isn’t pleased with the fees in Suffolk, adding that they, along with the current lawsuit, can bankrupt the county.
“We have contracts that are being negotiated that are cost prohibitive and when politicians, whether they be republican or democratic, take money from special interests, the best interests of the residents of Suffolk County are put behind,” Spada said. “We need to implement campaign finance reform. Without campaign finance reform, the playing field will never ever be light.”
Spencer, the only incumbent running in this round of county elections, said that although there are challenges facing the county, positive steps have been made.
“When I came into the legislature in 2012, we made tough decisions,” Spencer said, adding that the legislature was dealing with the recession of 2008. “We reduced our workforce by 10 percent, we consolidated departments, and we froze salaries. We also realize that there are people whose lives depend on what we do every day, so there have been times where we’ve made decisions to have a fee in place to be able to account for the service to make it equitable to what we’re seeing around other counties. ... But there have also been times where we have held the line on taxes and also on fees.”
On the opioid and gang epidemic, Donnelly said, “We need to stop burying our children.”
“Nobody is born thinking they’re going to be a heroin addict,” he added. “There are three parts to the triangle: first there’s education, try to educate our young people; the connecting part is law enforcement, try to stop the supply; and the third part is rehabilitation, try and treat those that are afflicted. This is a public health issue that affects all of us.”
Berland added to the discussion, saying that there need to be prevention programs in place.
“With the internet, the young kids in elementary school, they are subject to things that we were not,” said Berland, who is also a Town of Huntington councilwoman. “We really have to start getting them to say no and then we have to have intervention, we have to do treatment programs and coordinate between all levels of government to get as much money as we can to Suffolk County.”
As for Suffolk’s nitrogen pollution problem, Troetti brought up enforcement of the regulations.
“When you have 44,000 regulations and rules, who’s enforcing it? How many people are needed to enforce all those rules? The bigger question is do you need all those rules? How old are they?” he said. “Before we pass more rules and regulations, let’s take care of the ones we don’t have.”
Schuon added that the problem is enforcement.
“We want to spend money on everything we can, we want all these services, but we have to have priorities first,” Schuon said. “This is where we’re lacking. We can’t keep spending the money throwing it away while basic services are being neglected because it’s going to come back to bite us. The contamination is a symptom of what’s going on. It’s not the cause."
Read The Long-Islander's Suffolk County Election Guide 2017 for more information on where the candidates stand on specific issues. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.