The community of Ronkonkoma is one of the busiest and most well-known parts of Suffolk County. Heavy mass transit, a bustling business hub, and thousands of residents make it a pure working-class community through and through. While the hamlet of Ronkonkoma is split between the townships of Brookhaven and Islip, the hamlet of Lake Ronkonkoma is split between three: the former two and Smithtown. This requires elected officials from the Town and County levels across the three townships to be on the same page in checking in with the community and collecting reports on what the residents would like to see.

Ronkonkoma elected officials did just that last Thursday evening at the Ronkonkoma Fire House on Portion Road.

Headlined by Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), the forum was joined by County Legislator Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville), Brookhaven Deputy Town Supervisor and Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point), New York State Senator Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue), and representatives for County Legislator Trish Bergin (R-East Islip), State Senator Alexis Weik (R-Sayville), and Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook).

The event was attended by several dozen members of the community who voiced their questions, concerns, and requests to elected officials regarding road maintenance, homelessness, and Ronkonkoma matters.

Senator Murray kicked off the forum, giving an update on legislative matters in Albany, starting by discussing the state’s school lunch program.

“We passed legislation, and I was embarrassed by the fact that we didn’t pass all of it. We passed most of it,” said Murray. “So, 81% of the kids could get fed, but there’s still a couple hundred thousand New York children going hungry because we didn’t fund that program. We needed $90 million more to completely fund it, and as part of that program, there was also an incentive to use fresh food from our New York farmers. So, we also help the farmers out, get some produce in it, and make the meals healthy.”

Murray explained that with one-party rule in Albany, it’s difficult to get certain bills and provisions through the legislature, especially as the budget continues to be one the largest in state history at $233 billion.

“All of March, I and all my assembly colleagues will be up in Albany as we try to get an equal first budget,” said Murray. “Unfortunately, like I said, right now it doesn’t look like the spending is slowing down.”

Murray also said that spending more money in child services would not be spending, but rather “investing.” He said that the Long Island region is the second-most expensive part of the state in terms of childcare, just behind New York City.

“We’ve got to be smart when we put together our budget right now and think of how it’s going to help us rather than just handing out money,” said Murray. “I’m sorry, I can’t see how spending $2.4 billion to feed, house, clothe, hand out phones, and everything else to someone who just got here and may not even speak the language and we know nothing about their background, their work history, and family history.”

Residents asked questions about the migrant crisis affecting New York, to which Murray replied that Albany Republicans have requested National Guard troops to be sent to the northern New York border and the southern Mexican border.

Murray then took questions from community members, many of whom expressed frustration with the state of disrepair for the Long Island Expressway service roads.

“The corners are so blocked [by overgrown brush] that we have constant accidents with pedestrians,” said one attendee. Residents said that brush, litter, and garbage have made the corners hazardous and an eyesore. Senator Murray asked for pictures to be sent to his government email in order to refer the cleanup to the correct highway department.

Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Neil Foley took the floor next to address questions from residents about vacant properties being usurped by criminals.

“There’s a whole cult of criminals who find these empty houses, break into them, and they have squatter’s rights,” said Foley. “The courts won’t evict anyone from October until April.” Foley also responded to complaints that the buildings are in violation of Town code and that the properties in question will be handled by the Town.

Foley also responded to blighted properties, namely a gas station in Ronkonkoma known as the Newton’s Property, where he said the Town is in the process of appraising the property to try to buy it to turn it into a pocket park.

“It is private property, and they did not accept the first appraisal,” said Foley. “We’re doing a second appraisal to try to increase it, but the goal is to turn it into a pocket park.”

Foley also addressed residents’ concerns regarding maintenance of crosswalks and the high rate of smoke shops popping up in the community. Foley said he can’t legally stop the opening of certain types of businesses as long as they are zoned correctly. Residents also expressed frustrations of marijuana commerce in the area, to which Foley said he shares the frustrations of the community. While it’s difficult to get rid of certain businesses, such as cannabis stores, Foley said that the community can continue to be vocal and with the help of the police department, unlicensed vendors can be shut down.

“Here’s what we can do as a community: you let me know,” said Foley. “Some of these places have licenses [to sell cannabis], some do not. The police can go into where they don’t have licenses.”

Foley also addressed the need for increased police presence and speed clocks at the Union Avenue Hub, the homeless occupying Town property in the woods behind the 76 gas station on Hawkins Avenue, as well as the rumors of a migrant settling location in the old King Kullen on Ronkonkoma Avenue. Foley said that Lidl is looking to occupy the space.

Legislator Anthony Piccirillo then spoke of his role in the County Legislature, working alongside Legislators Kennedy and Bergin to ensure fiscal responsibility and sensible clean water solutions. He said that with Republican control of Suffolk County, he is intent on putting pressure on Albany to give back more of Suffolk’s tax dollars.

“They make us grovel at the altar of the governor and the Democratic State Assembly and the Senate to get our own tax dollars back, to do the public works projects that enhance our quality of life,” said Piccirillo. “So, that’s my biggest issue with the state of New York. But now that we have the majority, I think we need to put more pressure on the state to make sure that we get more of those dollars back, whether it’s at the town or county level, that you expect as a taxpayer to be done.”

One resident asked about the progress on the position of Lake Keeper, a new county role announced in August to task someone with studying and maintaining Lake Ronkonkoma. The Lake Keeper would be tasked with seeking grants not only for the maintenance of the lake, but as well as his or her salary.

“We have had eleven people apply, none of whom meet the civil service qualifications,” said Legislator Kennedy. “When that position was created, we had a lot of people who were not in the civil service qualifications. The only thing I asked was that it be somebody with experience with fresh water. They can have all the saltwater experience that they want, but fresh water is completely different. The algae, plants, birds, fish, and species that we get are completely different. We have had one person that had the criteria of working with freshwater, but she didn’t speak to the other qualifications.”

Piccirillo mentioned a plan of his and Kennedy’s, along with County Executive Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), to write a letter to Governor Hochul (D) to “pressure our state representatives to bring home some of the $250 million [from the Bond Act] to clean up Lake Ronkonkoma.”

“We can at least try to get it restored to what it was twenty years ago,” said Piccirillo. “I know it won’t be Lake Ronkonkoma circa-1935, but even if we can get it to Lake Ronkonkoma in the 1990s, we can still swim on the beach without worrying about a bacterial infection.”

Piccirillo also addressed questions on Amtrak service regarding the Midway Crossing, for which many residents did not understand the need. Residents also asked about the “curve” at Ocean-Rosevale Avenue, County Route-93. A representative for Legislator Bergin said that the traffic study is still being conducted to determine if a roundabout is a practical solution for the intersection.

The elected officials urge all residents to reach out to their offices with questions, concerns, and complaints as applicable to the level of government in question.

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Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.