Jason Fenley and Trish Bergin Weichbrodt
There are four people running for two seats on the Islip Town Council this year. Only one of them is an incumbent, Republican Trish Bergin Weichbrodt (R, C, I WE) and three are newcomers: Jason Fenley (D,WF), Sam Gonzalez (D,WF) and James O’Connor (R,C,I WE).
The Islip Bulletin spoke with two of the candidates, Fenley and Bergin Weichbrodt, for this week’s paper. Articles on Gonzalez and O’Connor will appear in next week’s edition.
Jason Fenley (D, WF)
Jason Fenley, a resident of Brightwaters Village, is taking his first plunge into the political arena. He said he decided to do so after feeling frustrated at the direction the town and Long Island in general was heading.
“I complained about it a lot,” he said. “I decided to stop complaining and do something.”
Fenley, an attorney in his own practice in Bay Shore, also has an MBA. His expertise is in infrastructure and commercial matters through experience gleaned while working for a large NYC litigations and public infrastructure and construction law firm. He said he has dealt in many municipal matters.
The candidate believes his background would be an asset to dealing with many of the issues locally.
“It’s wildly expensive to live here,” he said, adding he’s concerned for future generations.
“A lot of my peers from childhood [and colleagues] have already moved away because it’s just too hard to make it here,” he said. “If we don’t make serious changes now, this will not be a place for the middle class to live anymore. That shouldn’t happen.”
The candidate said that despite Long Island’s many assets – proximity to NYC, beaches and other natural resources – the cost of living is driving people to places like North Carolina, Texas and Colorado, where the economy is a lot better.
“There are a lot of inefficiencies in the Town of Islip,” said Fenley. He used Long Island MacArthur Airport as an example of that statement, noting that there is a $100,000 structural deficit despite the fact that the airport “is an amazing asset,” he noted, adding that more of an effort needs to be made to use those assets to generate revenue for the town, thus lessening the tax burden on homeowners.
Fenley said he is for smart development. However, the recent approval of the Heartland project is troubling for the strain it would put on local school districts and roads.
“The [Heartland] developer got this huge [zoning] change that increased the value of that property, but no one pressured him for more money for infrastructure. He only [allotted] $13 million for infrastructure. Who’s going to pay for it?
“The Suffolk County Planning Commission made a recommendation for that property to be linked to the railroad. I haven’t seen anything about that, though.”
While a mass transit link from Heartland would make a lot of sense, Fenley said the proposed Island Hills development doesn’t make sense at all since there’s even less of an opportunity to take mass transit.
“It’s just… garden apartments that are a mile and half from the railroad station and four miles from the Oakdale merge. The 1,375 apartments allow for 1.75 cars per unit, which means an extra 2,399 cars on the road. That’s a complete nightmare.”
While he approves of smart builds in Bay Shore, he said some parking management is necessary. However, he says he’s 100 percent against the parking meters that have been installed there.
“The town lied to the community,” Fenley said. “The back parking lots were never on the table.”
Fenley said that he is also upset because the money collected in Bay Shore through parking meters does not necessarily end up back in the hamlet. It goes into a general fund for the entire town. “That money is not getting reinvested in Bay Shore. They are just taxing businesses and customers,” he added.
Fenley said he is also concerned about the northern sections of Islip Town. “The board doesn’t serve their interests. They’re ignored,” he said. “There are lots of serious issues in those communities and they [need a voice]. You have to serve everyone.
“And there needs to be more programs there giving kids something to do.”
Fenley, who is married and the father of four sons – three of them identical triplets – said he’s looking forward to serving all of the constituents in the town. In the meantime, he has enjoyed meeting people on the campaign trail and attending Meet the Candidates events. “I’ve gotten good feedback from them,” he said. “People have said about me, ‘This guy really knows what he’s talking about.’”
Trish Bergin Weichbrodt (R, C, I, WE)
Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt was first elected to her position in 2009. She is currently seeking a third term in office. She said throughout her tenure she has focused on a fiscally conservative approach to government and would continue to do so and always with the taxpayers in mind.
The former award-winning journalist is a lifelong resident of Islip Town. She said having that background has provided a deeper understanding of the issues that are important to other Islip residents.
Bergin Weichbrodt says she has spoken out – often bucking fellow board members – on a number of issues that have plagued the Town of Islip. After a situation was brought to her attention, her warnings to board members to correct the problem went unheeded, and eventually led to a town commissioner being convicted of coercion after a trial last April.
The councilwoman said she has strived to hold the line on taxes over the years and voted against piercing the cap when working on the town’s budget. “I’ll continue to hold the line on taxes,” she said.
When the Bay Shore parking meter pilot program was first initiated, Bergin Weichbrodt said she was all for it, before realizing it turned into something else. “I embraced the idea, and I don’t mind them on Main Street, but then I started to see [the meters] in the back parking lots and at the train station.
“This program isn’t working. Now they should be ripped out.”
Bergin Weichbrodt said when the board introduced a new bond that would have continued the meter program into Islip and all downtowns farther east, only she and fellow councilwoman Mary Kate Mullen voted against it.
“We stopped the continuation of that program,” she said.
As for the toxic dumping that occurred at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, the councilwoman said, “It was a terrible situation, but we learned a lot of lessons from that and made changes in policy,” which includes periodic testing of soil. She added that the park is now safe and there are many plans for it in the future, including a spray park.
The councilwoman has initiated many other policies and programs over the years. The Employee Sick Bank was started during her first term in office. The program allows employees to donate accrued sick time to the bank for other town employees who are facing catastrophic illnesses and have run out of personal time. “We’ve helped dozens of families,” she said.
She spearheaded a program to identify the town’s surplus properties for private sale. That program has resulted in more than $8 million in revenue while putting those parcels back on the tax rolls. “It’s been quite a success,” she remarked.
In addition, she was at the forefront of developing a TNR (trap, neuter and release) program that has helped to minimize the feral cat population without any cost to taxpayers.
“It’s a humane program that minimizes the stray cat population. Everybody really appreciates it.”
During her campaign, the councilwoman noted that Islip residents all seem to have similar concerns that include taxes and traffic. “Maintaining the quality of life here is getting more difficult,” she said. “We have to start looking at solutions.”
One of her ideas is to team up with the Town of Brookhaven for a comprehensive traffic study on one of the busiest roadways, Sunrise Highway from Oakdale to Hospital Road in East Patchogue. And based on that new study, she said, “We may have to reevaluate new development.”
She said she doesn’t need the traffic study to know that the proposed development of over 1,300 apartments on the Island Hills property in Sayville shouldn’t be approved.
“It’s ridiculously large, an overreach in development and nothing I can support,” she said.
She did vote to approve the development of Heartland in Brentwood, but noted that it was only for the first phase, which will be monitored closely. “If it creates a problem, then Phase 2 will never get approval,” she added.
The councilwoman said she is looking forward to serving another term while keeping the best interests of the people of Islip in mind. That approach includes smart growth, promoting green initiatives and always maintaining a conservative approach to government.
Bergin Weichbrodt is married and resides in East Islip with her husband and four children.
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