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Huntington POV: Numbers Don’t Lie

Justin Thompson

Justin Thompson

Dr. Teodoro’s recent VT POV on illegal housing in Huntington Station capitalized on the methodology originally developed in The Thompson Report, a 2005 analysis of crime, citizenship and illegal housing in the community.

At the time of its release, a copy of The Thompson Report was delivered to Town of Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone as well as every member of the Town Board. Retiring Public Safety Director Bruce Richard was also given a copy. Within a few weeks of publication, this writer met with Messrs. Petrone and Richard. I explained the research methodology, described the significance of the findings and illustrated the impact that continued implementation of the monitoring process could potentially have on the area. Shortly thereafter, Supervisor Petrone wrote me and committed the full resources of the Town Code Enforcement Department. He promised complete follow-through by Town employees.

It’s five years later. The problem is immensely more critical. The proliferation of unlawful apartments in Huntington Station is so egregious that violators seem to have no fear of being caught. They use all sorts of public venues to advertise their illegal dwellings including bulletin boards, Craig’s List© and Apartments.com. Some are even brazen enough to list multiple apartments in the same building even though a check of Town records clearly indicates that the property is zoned solely for single family occupancy.

“So what does it mean to me?” you might ask. “I don’t live in Huntington Station.”

Well, let’s start with the $4,793,889 of OUR money that the Public Safety Department has been allocated for their 2011 operating budget.

Then, let’s look at the Code Enforcement Department’s “Performance Measures” as stated on page 111 of the 2011 Town of Huntington Budget. Their Department’s self imposed achievement standards include an “increase in the number of animal adoptions” and “enhanced security in the train station parking lots and Town parks with expanded use of video surveillance equipment”. Oh yeah, they committed to “monitor” code violations, too.

Look also at the fact that they seem to think that the number of animal adoptions is something that those of us who pay the tab consider important. They’re waving the flag about the fact that they “fostered” 224 animal adoptions in 2008 and 208 in 2009. They project 185 animal adoptions in 2010! In this writer’s opinion, a report on the number of illegal apartments cited during the same time frame might be more valuable. How about a weekly publication that lists who has been cited; where the property is located, what the violation is and when they’re expected to be in court. There are NO secret arrests (or government proceedings) in the United States. Open government is guaranteed by our Constitution and the Town has an obligation to disclose the Code Enforcement Department’s proceedings. It’s not a big task. They’re already computerized. They just have to get the info up on the Town website.

While you’re at it, look at the Code Enforcement Department’s self-imposed scorecard which is also on page 111 of the Town budget. It shows that in 2008 they issued 13272 summonses. In 2009, they issued 10065 summonses and in 2010, they set a target for themselves of 10000 summonses. All of this in spite of the fact that illegal housing in the Station has, by this author’s estimation, increased by more than three hundred percent (300%) since the original release of The Thompson Report. Simple logic says that violations are UP and enforcement is DOWN. Why??

It doesn’t stop there! According to the New York State Department of Education’s website, in the 2008-2009 academic year, each non-ESL and non-Special Ed student in the district cost a Huntington homeowner $14532 (for grades K thru 6) and $14634 (for grades 7 thru 12). At the same time, a Special Ed pupil cost district taxpayers a whopping $51282 (for grades K thru 6) and $51684 (for grades 7 thru 12). The average was $19181 per student. If just one of these children is living in an unlawful apartment, we are ALL chipping in mightily.

Now look at the budget requests from Huntington Community First Aid Squad (HCFAS) and Huntington Manor Fire Department (HMFD). These are the two volunteer emergency service agencies that selflessly protect the Huntington Station community. Respectively, their 2010 budgets are $1,733, 500 and $4,743,690.

Year-to-date, HCFAS has responded to 5130 alarms. At next year’s budget, that’s $377.91 per call. Thus far in 2010, HMFD has responded to 935 alarms. If they keep the same pace next year, they will average $5073.47 per call. How much of that money – OUR money – is being spent to serve landlords who are sucking the very life-blood out of our community?

The situation has reached a crisis point and ACTION, not words, must prevail.

Pending the release of the next issue of The Thompson Report, this writer urges the following steps before the end of the year.

  1. The retirement of Public Safety Director Richard gives Supervisor Petrone a golden opportunity to immediately commence a professional search for a fully qualified replacement. The new Public Safety Director must be skilled in investigative process, personnel management and budget administration. No more back door political appointees!
  2. Before being hired by the Town, Supervisor Petrone should give the taxpayers an opportunity to meet all of the Public Safety Director candidates in an open question-and-answer forum.
  3. The new Public Safety Director must ensure that the deployment of every Code Enforcement employee is re-evaluated. Specific skills for each position must be defined and each individual’s capacity to meet those standards must be evidenced, in writing.
  4. Weekly, the Town must publish an updated summary of Code violations issued. It must include the date of infraction; the Town Code allegedly violated; the name of the alleged perpetrator; the site of the alleged violation; the owner of the property where the alleged infringement took place; and the date of the scheduled court appearance.
  5. Meaningful performance criterion (excluding dog adoptions) for the Public Safety Department must be created and posted. In addition, every Public Safety employee must be given clearly defined job objectives. These norms must be (a) timed, (b) measureable and (c) pointed toward the rescue of our Town.

Click here to read The Thompson Report

About the author:  Justin Thompson is a 35 year Huntington resident. He owns a circa 1820s Centerport home that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Sites.  He maintains a non-owner occupied accessory apartment permit for this building.

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