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Frustration with tax increases, toxic dumping at year end town board meeting

By: 
RICK CHALIFOUX
Publication: 
ISLIP BULLETIN
Dec
19
2014

ISLIP TOWN—The Islip Town Board Meeting on Tuesday afternoon marked the final one of the year and the last ever for Supervisor Tom Croci, who will assume a new position in the State Senate starting in January.
During the meeting, officials expressed their collective frustration with the progress of the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) approval process for town plans to clean up the approximately 50,000 tons of toxic debris from Brentwood’s Roberto Clemente Park.
Deputy Town Parks Commissioner Inez Birbiglia said that she most recently convened with DEC officials on Wednesday, Dec. 3 to go over and give pages of DEC feedback regarding the town’s plans. The letter, which the town received on Nov. 26, included the addition of two groundwater-monitoring wells to the three that were already installed at the park on Sept. 24.
“We’re hopeful that this round of comments from the state will be the last, and we will soon receive an approval to clean up the park,” said Birbiglia. “Entering the winter season without an approval in hand is a concern to our team, as we still need to advertise a public procurement document, organize a bidder walkthrough, select and award the work to a qualified contractor, enter into contract with that vendor, and allow time to organize materials, equipment, and manpower before any materials are removed from the park.”
“I’m also frustrated with the slow pace of the DEC,” responded Croci. “Thank you for keeping the pressure on, and I will do the same from wherever I’m sitting.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, a few individuals came forward to offer critical takes on Croci and the town board’s overall impact on the Town of Islip.
One of the speakers was George Hafele, a former Islip Deputy Parks Commissioner who unsuccessfully ran for a town council seat last fall. In his speech, Hafele heavily criticized Croci and the rest of the town board for various facets of their tenure, listing what he called improper personnel changes through the hiring of “criminal” employees (specifically pointing out the recent indictment of former Parks Commissioner Joe Montuori), the continued regression of Long Island MacArthur Airport, as well as unwarranted tax increases.
“Mr. Flotteron explained [the latest] tax increase was necessary to fund new jobs…hiring more criminals?” said Hafele. “But you wouldn’t know if you were hiring criminals because they fill out their applications…and they lie on them, which is a criminal thing to do. And there are no repercussions.
“Those are just some of the greatest hits of what has been termed the worse town board in the 300 year history of the Town of Islip,” added Hafele to some applause.
Croci disagreed with much of Hafele’s statements, stating that the tax increases were due to an inherited budget deficit from the prior administration. He remarked on Hafele’s point regarding questionable personnel changes.
“Our employees are fingerprinted, and they are what they are,” said Croci. “If they come back and we don’t have any indication that somebody has committed a felony or a misdemeanor, then that’s something that the town attorney and the director of personnel have to take into account.
“I understand that there are troubles in the town for sure,” continued Croci. “But there also is due process, and those individuals are getting it, both from the district attorney and this town.”
Brentwood resident Joe Fritz remarked specifically on the Croci administration’s legacy. He was critical of the “inattention” that led to the parks dumping scandal, the selection of a non-voting supervisor to serve during Croci’s yearlong absence overseas, as well as Croci’s unwillingness to vote on the 2015 budget. However, he did have some positive things to say about Croci’s administration.
“Your brief tenure has accomplished one thing,” said Fritz. “You have been professional in your approach to people. Having attended board meetings many times, I do note that you have elevated the board in its professionalism in dealing with the public. I complement you on your warmness.
“Your new legacy will be dealing with wider and broader issues,” continued Fritz. “Do not become parochial in your approach. Think globally and vote locally.”
Croci, however, was not interested in discussing his legacy.
“Part of the problem in government is that people who get into elected office look to see about their legacy instead of doing the job and making hard decisions,” said Croci. “I’m not looking for a legacy in public office. I’m looking to fix broken things and I want to make the process better so that people get served better.”
At the end of the meeting, Croci took a few minutes to give his parting words to the employees and residents of the Town of Islip.
“It’s been an education and a great privilege to serve as chief executive of this town,” said Croci. “I can tell you that when we came to town hall in 2012, it was dark, cold, and messy. It was something that required the windows to be open and the light to be let it. Physically, the town looks better, and financially, the town is in better shape.”
Croci also noted that he believes 2015 will be a “banner” year for MacArthur Airport and the Foreign Trade Zone, and that he believes the future of the town is looking bright.
“I hope we’ve laid a lot of seeds in the last few years that will come to fruition next year,” said Croci. “The mark of a good organization is how it’s tested when times are bad…in every generation there have been problems, but if you have the commitment to serving the residents and if you’re motivated to solve problems and make things better, then this is the best job going.
“To the residents, it has been the greatest honor of my life to serve, and to serve in this capacity has been a particular privilege,” added Croci. “I thank you for the opportunity to do it, I look forward to serving you in another capacity as a strong ally for the town in the State Senate in Albany. Wherever I go in government and private life, Long Island will be my home; it’s always a place I will fight for, and the Town of Islip has a very special place in my heart.”

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