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Posted on: January 27, 2022

Supervisor Wehrheim Addresses the State of the Town

State of the Town

As we embark on a new year together, I’d like to begin by expressing what an honor it is to serve another term as your Town Supervisor. Also, I hope you’ll join me in congratulating my fellow elected Board Members, Tom McCarthy & Lynne Nowick, Town Clerk Vincent Puleo and Superintendent of Highways Robert Murphy on another term in office. On behalf of the entire administration, and Town workforce, we are eager to work with the community on the issues, opportunities and the great future that lies ahead. Over the course of this next year, the Town of Smithtown will continue our mission of protecting and preserving our environment, open space and historical properties, rebuilding and expanding our parks system, improving accessibility for people with disabilities, revitalizing our downtowns, and securing a path to modern sewer infrastructure. Additionally, we’ve taken a systemic, innovative approach to issues that affect every resident from traffic, road and pedestrian safety, to flooding, erosion and protecting our water quality. 


The Town of Smithtown was allocated a little over $11 Million in federal coronavirus aid to address the negative economic impacts caused by the coronavirus. We have already begun to utilize these funds to rebuild the local economy, revitalize small business districts, and make much needed improvements and updates to the town’s drainage, roads and environmental infrastructure. 


Protecting our Water Quality, Road Safety & Reducing Traffic:

Over the next year, our capable team at the Smithtown Department of Highways, led by Superintendent Robert Murphy, has laid out an aggressive plan to improve roadway and drainage infrastructure. The Highway Department recently invested in upgrades to equipment, geared towards maintaining safer roads while saving the taxpayer money.  New milling machines will allow Highway crews to make repairs to roads before damage evolves into a much larger, more expensive problem. Additionally, they’ve acquired a state-of-the-art pothole repair machine, which does everything (cuts, fills and paves) necessary to fix a road crater in a short span of time. These two investments alone will save drivers the expense of costly vehicle repairs, in addition to creating safer road conditions. 

In addition to an aggressive road program this year, the Highway Department has taken a proactive approach to flooding issues and water quality protection. Camera and Drain Studies are planned for known trouble spots including Meadow Road, Old Northport Road, and Woodlawn Avenue at Moriches Road. These camera studies utilize technology to inspect underground infrastructure for possible damage, deteriorated pipes, or blockages, in order to map out a strategy to properly clean and repair the system. I realize this may not sound glamorous by any stretch of the imagination. However, any resident who has ever experienced a sudden surge of fear any time it rains, will soon have comfort at last. In addition to providing a solution to minimize flooding, in residential homes and along the roadways, these studies will help to determine the order of priority for repairs and sustainable stormwater management, which helps to minimize erosion and water pollution. 


Clean Stream Team:

In search of proactive measures to address flooding, high water table issues and reducing pollution caused by stormwater runoff, the Highway Department has teamed up with department experts in Environment and Waterways, Engineering and Parks to create a Stream Team. This group will work together to study and inspect the small streams beneath us for blockages, sediment and invasive species. The team will create a database, mapping out areas where water struggles to flow through, and will create a plan to remove harmful debris, invasive species and other blockages, which prevent the natural filtration and movement of water. This is a game changer for our local ecosystem and water quality. I want to commend our department leadership; Joe Arico and his Assistant Town Park Maintenance Director Tom Heester, David Barnes, Mark Riley, Robert Murphy & his deputy superintendent Jim Deutsch for thinking outside the box to protect our local environment, in addition to homeowners who have dealt with costly and stressful flooding issues.


Traffic Safety:

In this year’s capital budget, we’ve invested in sophisticated technology to install sensors and cameras to our extensive street lamp infrastructure. This concept, spearheaded by our Traffic Safety Director Mitch Crowley, is another example of thinking outside the box to improve traffic flow, and keep Smithtown safe. In addition to collecting basic outage data, the system can be used to conduct traffic counts, snow accumulation, and can act as WiFi hotspots.

The program will allow us to dispatch appropriate town employees, from sending Public Safety out to catch vandals or inspect after hours loitering in a park, to sending Highway crews to a road in need of immediate snow removal. The equipment can also be used as a hotspot to boost internet access in town parks, train stations and downtown areas, which in addition to being an added convenience for residents, can serve in an emergency situation where cell service is known to be less than optimal. 

The initiative will allow for Traffic Safety to monitor, maintain and replace broken street lighting, rather than rely on nighttime inspections, calls to Public Safety, and complaints from residents. We’ve budgeted to install upwards of 4,000 cameras/sensors this year, prioritizing busy business districts, roads, town parks and transit stations. This investment can produce significant savings for the taxpayer. Overtime costs for nighttime inspections and snow plows can add up, in addition to the cost of conducting traffic studies. Upon installation, the Traffic Safety Department will have the modern tools needed to take a proactive method for traffic calming, road safety and well maintained night lighting, which serves the community at large. 


A Downtown Facelift:

I have spoken to many residents over the last year regarding the status of sewers in the downtown areas. While folks are eager for the infrastructure to be completed, residents want a facelift now. This is why I’ve begun the first step in allocating ARPA funds for a Downtown Facade Improvement Grant Program. This program, expected to launch in the early Spring, would give small businesses and landlords in the downtown areas grant funds of up to $20,000 to enhance or renovate the exterior of their storefronts. Eligible improvements range from new signage, windows, and painting, to masonry and/or structural or design changes. This program is intended to help those mom and pop shop owners who have struggled to get back on their feet in the wake of the pandemic, while beautifying the downtown areas. This is something we can accomplish in the near future, while we eagerly await the main event, the completion of sewer construction. 

 

Sewer Infrastructure Update:

Kings Park: Construction in Kings Park is set to break ground this fall. In addition to the installation and expansion of the sewer district into downtown Kings Park, the County has allocated revitalization funding for streetscape work, which will operate in conjunction with the sewer construction. 

Smithtown: In Smithtown, we are working with community leaders, the County and the State to make a derelict parcel at the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center available to recharge clean water back into the ground. The plan would involve removing an abandoned building, using only two (out of 17) acres of the land for the recharge basin, while preserving the remaining land as open space. This would advance the construction of vital sewer infrastructure in downtown Smithtown, using a $20 million NYS grant to fund construction. This is a large step in our greater plan which restores economic growth and the health of our precious waterways. I’d like to formally thank experts like Peter Scully, planning department, and the community/government sewer working group, which was formed in 2019 to help execute a viable plan to sewer downtown Smithtown. Without the vision, communication and support from this committee, we simply would not be at this point. 


Lake Avenue Revitalization, Municipal Lot & Celebrate Park:

We’ve made outstanding strides along the Lake Avenue Business District over the last few years. The completion of the revitalization efforts is slated for this Spring with the unveiling of the Municipal Off Street Parking Lot and Celebrate Park, which was designed by St James residents; Landscape Architect Bob Retnauer of RDA and Architect Michael Morbillo of Enspire Design Group, located in the heart of town. Construction of the park, which local Arts Organization Celebrate St James worked together with the Town to design, fund and facilitate, is well underway. The parking lot infrastructure, foundation, drainage, and base has been completed, along with utilities and minor exterior landscaping. Upon the completion of the Park, Highway crews and contractors will complete the finishing touches. 

The Park is nearing completion as well, with the recently installed pavers, featuring the names of loved ones and community supporters etched in stone. On a personal note, I’ve enjoyed seeing photos of some of the inscribed bricks from residents on social media and the overall support from the community for this project. The materials for the pergola and pavilion are expected to arrive within the next month and will be installed upon delivery. As soon as the weather permits, we’ll complete the finishing touches on the lot and park, including the lawn, entryway arches and fencing, benches, and ornate lighting. 

This park will become a unique community gathering place, in addition to providing much needed parking to accommodate that busy stretch of small businesses. This will mark the third municipal off-street parking lot completed in a central business district in a four year span. In Fall of 2020, the Town commemorated the completion of the Jumpstart Grant funded Municipal Parking Lot in Downtown Kings Park, located on Pulaski Road, just off Main Street. In 2018, we completed the Bellemeade Avenue Municipal Parking Lot. By the Spring, the Town of Smithtown will have off-street parking lots in all three of its small business districts, improving traffic conditions and pedestrian safety, while generating an increase in retail for small businesses. 

I’d like to formally recognize the incredible work of our Planning Department, led by Peter Hans and Planning and Community Development coordinator Kelly Brown. On a daily basis, they handle a great deal of behind the scenes duties which involve constant communication with the community, field and analytical work, and rarely take a bow or get the recognition they deserve. The work which the Planning Department has done with regards to the Lake Avenue Revitalization process is award worthy and is deserving of our highest praise. 


Renovations to Parks and Beaches:

We’ve had incredible success over the last few years, completing repairs and renovations to approximately 75% of our park system. Larger projects which generate a boost to the local economy, like Flynn Memorial Ballpark, are now complete and admired throughout the eastern seaboard. We’ve finished a long list of improvements, including new playgrounds, replacing the synthetic fields at Moriches Soccer Complex, total makeovers at community parks such as Morewood, state-of-the-art LED sports lighting, turf resurfacing, and reconditioned Tennis/Basketball Courts at Gibbs Pond Park, and a custom walkway at the Nesconset Library/Charles P Toner Park. Our Highway Department teamed up with Parks, Buildings & Grounds to pave over a mile of the Hike & Bike Trail in Kings Park. The Parks Department made major repairs to the pier at Kings Park Bluff, and added a new rock wall to protect against erosion and severe storms. A new stage-like platform for summer concerts was constructed at Long Beach along with a new pavilion at Schubert's Beach. Short Beach is now home to a brand new playground and upgraded restrooms, and the Long Beach Marina is now equipped with a new fueling system and dispensers. 

In the year ahead, we will continue our promise to completely reestablish our parks system as the jewel of Long Island, while ensuring all Town facilities are handicap accessible, modernized, clean and well maintained. The complete renovations at Laurel Drive and East Hills community pocket parks are expected to be finished in time for the spring weather. In the upcoming years (2023-2026), we plan to make major repairs to the Long Beach Marina. Planning is currently underway for the project, which includes stabilizing the docks, replacing bulkheading, upgrading utilities and electrical equipment. But before we look too far into the future, we have an exciting lineup of improvements in store for 2022. 


Park Improvements Planned for 2022:

Hoyt Farm: At Hoyt Farm, Parks teams will be doing extensive renovations at the busy and popular pavilion and picnic area. We will be replacing the two existing pavilions along with installing new barbecue stations and repaving the restroom area. Additionally, the Parks Department will oversee the refurbishing of the existing water tower to restore it to its original condition. 

Brady Park: We plan on making improvements at Brady Park this year, with the refurbishing of the tennis and basketball courts, along with replacing the fencing around the entire area. Previously completed work at Brady includes the resurfacing of the Deck Hockey courts, new energy efficient LED lighting, and last year we installed a new playground. 

Synthetic Turf Sports Fields: I’m very pleased to announce that we’ve been in talks with the St James Smithtown Little League in planning for field improvements. We have begun the process of replacing the ball field at Moriches Park and the little league field at Gaynor Park with Synthetic Turf. At Moriches Park, plans are to install a 90 foot synthetic turf field at the largest softball field, closest to the basketball courts. This will allow for use for both boys baseball and girls softball. At Gaynor Park, we plan to install a synthetic turf field on the main Little League field, located closest to Woodlawn Ave. These two projects will drastically improve the playing conditions and add to field time for our youth. 

Burr Winkle Park: In the spirit of community engagement, we’ve begun a great new relationship with HRDA, Hauppauge Recreation Development Association. This community based organization is made up of volunteers to help provide accessible open space for Hauppauge residents to enjoy. In our discussions with the HRDA, we’ve made plans to make improvements to parks such as Burr Winkle and Whitman Hollow, in addition to plans for Hoyt Farm and the makeover currently underway at Laurel Drive Park. At Burr Winkle Park, we will be resurfacing the Basketball & Tennis Courts, converting one for Pickleball, which has become increasingly popular. Last year, we completed infrastructure work, new sidewalks, and drainage repairs at Whitman Hollow Park. However, our Director of Parks Joe Arico has been working with members of HRDA to plan for a much larger renovation there. 

Beaches: Last year, Mother Nature certainly left substantial damage in her wake, with the collapse of the Callahans Beach Steps and beach erosion during Tropical Depression Ida and the unexpected storm that took place in August of 2021. As a result of the damage, we’ve had to prioritize repairs to Callahans Beach, installing new drainage, seawall, walkways and curbing. Additionally, we plan on making improvements at Long Beach, renovating the men’s restroom, adding a roof over the stage, and state-of-the-art lighting for concerts. All beach improvements are expected to be completed before opening up for the season. 

Landing Country Club: Phase three of renovations at Landing Country Club will focus on the gathering places, such as the cafeteria and patio deck above the pool. Plans include a brand new design and construction of the interior of the bar area in the cafeteria. Additionally, the Parks Department will construct a new pavilion over the top of the patio, and replace the existing concrete to repair the damaged foundation. 

Last year, the Parks Department completed repairs to the pool area, restrooms and small concession area, located at the entrance of the country club (3rd and 4th hole.) This was in addition to the first phase of repairs completed in 2019, which included new golf cart paths and roadways, a custom-built starter shack, halfway house, new landscaping at the entryway island, sidewalks, benches and fencing. In addition to these improvements, our Planning and Community Development Coordinator Kelly Brown worked to execute and complete a new handicapped ramp at the Country Club with a connecting sidewalk to the buildings. This project was made possible thanks to community development funds from Suffolk County. 

Town Hall: The entryway and facade at Town Hall have deteriorated over time. As such, Parks Department crews will be constructing a new platform and steps at the front entrance. The renovations include adding brick pavers at the public (Main Street) entrance, in addition to outfitting the interior with a new mailroom, security post and improved access for residents to conduct business. 

In addition to these larger projects, the Parks Department will complete work which began late in 2021, including resurfacing the courts at Moriches Park and refurbishing the tennis courts at Charles P.Toner Park/Armory, which will also include a new Pickleball court. The complete renovations at Laurel Drive and East Hills are expected to be finished in time for the spring weather.  


New Park & Entryway to Smithtown:

In May of 2021, together with unanimous support from the Town Council, we approved the purchase of the Oasis gentlemen's club, located across from the historic bull monument. The property will be used as open space, preserving a highly environmentally sensitive piece of land along the Head of the Nissequogue River. Additionally, the Town Board has taken steps for a park swap, authorizing special legislation for the alienation of Bill Richards Park to Suffolk County. The Town plans to exchange Bill Richards Park for the Paul T. Given Park, which is adjacent to the former night club, creating a larger stretch of parkland along the Nissequogue Corridor. 

Plans for the park will include minor renovations and repairs made to the current infrastructure,  removal of invasive Japanese knotweed, bioswales to protect the Nissequogue Headwaters from stormwater runoff, added street trees and new landscaping along Main Street. Additional ideas for the 10.3 acres of waterfront park include a canoe launch, pavilion with bait and tackle shop, repairs to the bridge, new trails for hiking, picnic areas, a playground, and gazebo. We are dedicated to preserving and hopefully helping to expand the client base of the local canoe/kayak rental business which operates from Paul T. Given Park. Upon completion, the unofficial entryway to Smithtown will be a stunning refuge for humans and nature alike. 


Environmental Efforts:

Hazardous Waste: In 2021, the Town of Smithtown broke records in our quest to protect and preserve our local environment. In addition to expanding programming for our household hazardous waste events, we collected approximately 71 tons of household hazardous waste from residents. Over 730 households safely shredded close to 21 tons of paper during our free shred events in the Spring and Fall. 

Stormwater Runoff: The Department of Highways has ramped up stormwater runoff and drainage efforts, cleaning our 466 catch basins throughout the Town. Additionally, we’ve utilized a portion of ARPA funds for Highway crews to ramp up sump cleanups, removing debris, harmful plastics and other harmful pollutants to groundwater. 

Tree Planting & Preservation: Smithtown’s reputation as Tree City USA remains stronger than ever with the planting of 1250 trees by the Department of Environment and Waterways (DEW) and the Highway Department over the course of the last two years. This year, the Highway Department plans to plant 200 street trees, in addition to the Department of Environment and Waterways plans to plant approximately 700 trees. 

For the first time in Smithtown’s history, we’ve allocated capital funds for a cutting edge method for our urban foresters to inventory, assess and tend to the approximately 50,000 trees that adorn the streets. Led by Environmental Director David Barnes, and managed by Smithtown’s Urban foresters, this program will identify and treat ailing trees before they need to be removed, without needing to rely on the public’s phone calls or inquiries. This database will also help to protect trees against harmful invasive species such as the Emerald ash borer beetle. 

STEM Partnership: The Town of Smithtown began a new STEM partnership with the Smithtown Central School District this year. This partnership offers students in various age groups a hands-on approach to real world environmental issues affecting the community, utilizing the branches of science in order to apply ideas or solutions to improve the problem. Topics covered in the program range from solid waste & recycling, invasive species, stormwater runoff, nitrogen pollution and water quality. Our goal for the future is to expand the program to all local school districts who are interested. Our children are our future, and will likely be the generation to solve some of the greatest threats to our environment and quality of life on Long Island. Giving students a real world view on what it is they’re studying in class not only helps improve the learning experience, but it drastically improves awareness at home as well. 


Comprehensive Master Plan:

I am very pleased to announce that the Town will formally adopt the updated Comprehensive Master Plan this fall. In June of 2021, the Town Board unanimously voted to amend the draft scoping document for the Master Plan, in reflection of revisions made to the draft based on public input. Revisions included maintaining a Light Industry Zone throughout most of the Townline Road/Old Northport Road Industrial area, incorporating the recommendations of the Suffolk County Bike Master Plan into the Town’s plan and protecting current residential zoning, and the preservation of the athletic fields and historical structures at the New York Avenue School property. Currently, the Master Plan is undergoing rigorous environmental review and we expect a preliminary EIS, or environmental impact statement, to be done by the end of March. Adoption of SEQRA Findings and the Final Comprehensive Plan is anticipated in mid to late Fall. 


In conclusion, we’ve continued with our goals of modernizing the parks system, downtown revitalization, preserving open space and updating the Town’s master plan for the future. Additionally, we’ve made it a priority to really hammer down on innovative ways to improve quality of life, accessibility and inclusivity for individuals with disabilities, traffic, our precious drinking water & ecosystem and local economy. We’re able to do all of this without burdening the taxpayer, thanks to outstanding fiscal management, an aggressive grant program, and unconventional thinking. We are truly fortunate to have an incredible workforce, outstanding department leadership and elected public servants who consider what they do each day a calling rather than work.

Despite another year of pandemic, sacrifice & loss, economic fallout and the unknown challenges ahead, I have never been more optimistic for the future of this exceptional community. Together we will rise up, recover and rebuild… we shall prevail.

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