Candidates vie for Town of Hempstead District 4 seat

Long Island Herald

Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, of Island Park, is seeking re-election as East Rockaway resident Douglas Mayer looks to take his seat and represent District 4.

D’Esposito was appointed to the Town Council in February 2016 by Town Supervisor Anthony Santino, and defeated Mayer in his first election last year to keep his seat. Santino named D’Esposito the Town’s deputy supervisor in April.

The Herald asked both candidates questions of interest for residents in the 4th Councilmatic District, which comprises Island Park, Oceanside, East Rockaway, Hewlett, South Hempstead, Rockville Centre and portions of Baldwin, Cedarhurst, Lynbrook, Malverne, Valley Stream and Woodmere.

Herald: What do you see as the biggest challenge in balancing the Town budget and how, if elected, do you plan on addressing those issues?

D’Esposito: I’ve worked with Supervisor Santino on his second budget as town supervisor. The spending plan continues his rehabilitation of our municipality’s finances by cutting costs, reducing staffing levels, holding managers accountable and slashing the 2018 operational budget by $3.7 million, compared to the 2017 fiscal document. The main budgeting challenges rest in having the dedication to carefully assess governmental spending, the commitment to reduce discretionary costs, as well as the discipline to continually monitor departmental operations and develop innovative ways to provide services at the lowest possible cost.   

The proposed 2018 budget continues a commitment to slashing personnel costs. The 2017 budget axed salary costs by $14.6 million, and the 2018 plan further reduces those costs. It also rightsizes the workforce, reducing the number of employees by 44 people.  What’s more, both the 2017 and the 2018 budgets actually constrain overtime spending to $3 million, which is a 46 percent reduction from the amount expended in 2015.

A great way to judge the financial well-being of a government is to read what independent fiscal experts have to say. Our government has just been placed in the most favorable category available in a State Comptroller’s report that gauged the fiscal stability of local governments. 

Mayer: In an attempt to alleviate the town’s fiscal stress, in addition to the standard approaches of minimizing or holding tax rates, building reserve funds and borrowing less, I believe many small, cumulative changes equal changes in spending, which should hold or minimize the tax burden on residents.

For example, the current administration has cut the town workforce by about 5 percent and has minimized overtime. However, they have not made a proportional cut to administrative staff or held administrative pay to 2016 or 2015 levels. In fact, they are adding to the administrative budget. The town’s update mailings, especially during election cycles, are relentless. Residents are paying for high-grade paper stock with a glossy finish, which often tout recycled news stories about the candidates’ accomplishments. These “updates” could be delivered electronically for a fraction of the cost. The town board needs to proactively negotiate with surrounding government entities — as New York state law now dictates — on consolidating infrastructure spending on supplies and services. I do not see any “updates” regarding this cost-saving issue in the mailings.

These small changes will add up to substantial savings over time. We can also replenish our reserve funds so that when we need to borrow money, our credit rating is stronger.

Herald: What will you do to improve the Town’s infrastructure?

D’Esposito: Improving the town’s infrastructure is an important priority. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, our town workers have rebuilt bulkheads in Island Park, Merrick, Bellmore and at other coastal locations. Further, we are rebuilding roadways and drainage systems, as well as executing associated upgrades with a robust $20 million commitment in 2017.  I am also working with Supervisor Santino on identifying additional resources to expand our commitment to infrastructure projects in 2018 and beyond.  Further, I am working with him to access over $35 million in Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery funds to elevate roads, improve storm drainage and protect low-lying areas with important infrastructure enhancements.

Mayer: To improve infrastructure, the town needs to have a cooperative plan with villages, county and state departments of public works for purchasing, planning and implementing services. Moreover, utility agencies should be included so that once a road is repaved, we minimize the after-the-fact underground repairs that seem to often exist.

Herald: Even five years after Hurricane Sandy, many people along the South Shore are still struggling. What are some of your priorities in terms of rebuilding efforts, as well as storm-mitigation measures going forward?

D’Esposito: The Town of Hempstead was slammed by Hurricane Sandy, and we have done more for victims of the storm than any other local government. Since Sandy, our government has waived almost $6 million in building-permit fees for neighbors who are rebuilding their homes. We are the only town that continues to waive these fees for Sandy victims. What’s more, we have expedited building permits for storm victims and relaxed certain non-safety building permit requirements for other homeowners who want to elevate houses. 

We have also waived storage unit permit fees for storm victims and extended the hours that construction may occur for those who are rebuilding.

The town was the first municipality to authorize the Long Beach Island Storm Damage Reduction Act, which resulted in the rebuilding of our barrier island coastline by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We even negotiated with the federal government to cover the entire cost of this coastal protection project. Our government has assumed “lead agent” status on a variety of coastal-hardening projects to ensure their completion and proper workmanship. Finally, our township has dredged clogged waterways and built up protective sand dunes along the coast, which has spared our residents from more severe storm damage.

Mayer: We, as town board members, need to be more active and vocal in our relationships with the state and federal government agencies. We should work on bringing assistance programs and updates into our town on a regular basis for residents to have the opportunity to ask questions and be informed on the programs available to them.

We could also work harder in growing wetland areas and protecting what is currently there, as well as planting more trees and cleaning storm drains. When erecting new homes and condominiums, or when rebuilding old homes, we need to consider that incentives for elevating structures are available, as well as measures such as modified taxes for those types of buildings, expedited building applications and reduced applications fees.

Herald: What are your plans and priorities to revitalize downtowns in District 4 and help drive local business?

D’Esposito: Downtown Oceanside has been transformed with the help of Supervisor Santino. Attractive building facades and impressive streetscapes with brick-paved walkways, decorative benches, Victorian streetlamps and stylized trash receptacles can be seen on Long Beach Road, Lawson Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue and other commercial roads.

I’ve worked to expand this effort by having debris cleared and dangerous structures removed from neglected commercial properties on Oceanside’s Atlantic Avenue. Removing blight at these sights has made them ready for redevelopment.  Further, I have worked closely with Supervisor Santino to designate a developer to remake downtown Baldwin along Grand Avenue, just north of Merrick Road.  The developer is pursuing a project vision that includes mixed-use development, featuring retail stores and housing.

Mayer: As town leaders, we need to work closely with other districts that have been successful in obtaining downtown revitalization-intuitive monies and applicants to that program, as well as development groups that specialize in downtown development. Using land for mixed-use and affordable housing has the potential to bring in younger couples and singles to our town. It also allows for the elderly to have an affordable place to go when they sell their homes.

Herald: What are your thoughts on Supervisor Santino’s recent ethics reforms proposals? Erin King Sweeney’s proposal of having an independent Inspector General? What more do you think must be done in terms of local ethics reform?

D’Esposito: I fully support Supervisor Santino’s comprehensive ethics reform law. It enhances public disclosure and targets conflicts of interest with an array of sound and sensible regulations. Among the provisions is a prohibition against town staffers and elected officials from working for other entities that do business with the town. Further, detailed online financial disclosures for elected officials will provide the public with important information on the sources of income and assets of their officials.

Speaking fees are banned for elected officials, retirees from town service are forbidden from lobbying the town for a period of two years after retiring, and the use of town equipment and resources for non-town purposes is a violation of the ethics law. Other provisions include the online publishing of all public works contracts and bids, prohibiting elected officials from voting on measures that affect family members, and a ban on convicted felons from serving as elected officials in town government. Perhaps the most important provision of the law is a $125,000 limit on outside income for elected town officials. As an alternative, there is an option to provide full disclosure of clients and outside sources of income.

Mayer: I propose ethics reform for the town’s elected officials and their administrative staff, as well as scrutiny of the source of outside income, not the amount. I think that no political-party position may be held other than a committee member, and one may not hold another government position, paid or not, within Nassau County. There should be affidavits under oath stating that any clients or groups represented by elected government officials or their administrative staff do not have any dealings or business with the TOH for contracts, services or the like, and there should be an independent inspector general for review and recommendation of all contracts, bids, proposals and similar submitted to the TOH. I think the ethics reform Santino presented, and which my opponent supports, is a political stunt equivalent to a bad joke.