As local elections approach, the League of Women Voters put candidates vying for seats on the Nassau County Legislature and North Hempstead’s Town Board in dialogue before voters.
At an Oct. 14 forum sponsored by the group’s Port Washington and Manhasset chapter, incumbents and challengers discussed issues ranging from the county’s contract process and property tax refund system to local budgets and public works projects.
The forum also gave the public a chance to question candidates directly leading up to the Nov. 3 election.
Tax rates and the government’s role in maintaining quality of life in the county were major themes in the candidates’ prepared statements and their responses to questions.
North Hempstead Town Supervisor
With the floor to herself — Republican Anthony Bulzomi canceled his appearance the day before the forum — Democratic Supervisor Judi Bosworth touted her administration’s progress toward efficiency in the town building department.
In addition to a highly publicized program that partners a town “advocate” with residents applying for building permits, Bosworth and the Town Board have hired three additional building inspectors and a plan examiner.
John Niewender, the new building commissioner whom Bosworth appointed last year, has “absolutely internalized our values of the building department being our residents’ advocates and not their adversaries,” Bosworth said.
Bosworth also touted her decision to stream Town Board meetings online and move the public comment period to the beginning of each agenda, both of which she said are moves toward greater government transparency.
She said she tries to be active in the community and follow up on residents’ concerns as quickly as possible.
“Many people will come up to me and say, ‘I see you all over the place,’” Bosworth said. “That’s because I am all over the place.”
North Hempstead Town Receiver of Taxes
Both North Hempstead Town Receiver of Taxes Charles Berman, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger Scott Diamond discussed ways they would help residents should they win the election.
Diamond said he wanted to create a pilot program to help residents in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure through working with the Nassau County Bar Association and various attorneys and law students.
Although he said he did not have any banks lined up to work with, he said, he would hold forums throughout the town that explain to residents what they can do if they are in danger of losing their home.
Berman said the Nassau County Bar Association already offers “a lot of legal help” for residents facing foreclosure.
He also said the county also has a hardship program that delays the foreclosure process for residents.
Berman said he was proud of his accomplishments, especially his public seminars that explain to residents how to file property tax grievances as well as what goes on behind the scenes of the Assessment Review Committee.
He said that it was the only seminar he knew of that explains why the residential assessment roll is so uneven and unfair.
Diamond said he would also hold public forums should he be elected, but also be available to residents through Facebook and various social media applications.
He also said he would reduce his salary 20 percent should he be elected.
Nassau County Legislature, Ninth District
While Democrat Mal Nathan criticized the county for mismanaging its finances and burdening residents with high taxes, incumbent Republican Richard Nicolello touted his colleagues’ record since taking control of the Legislature.
The current Republican majority came into power with a larger budget deficit than the Democrats faced in 2000, Nicolello said.
Rather than raising property taxes, which he said was the Democrats’ plan, Nicolello and the Republicans have cut spending and formed “public-private partnerships” that he said save tens of millions of dollars annually.
Nathan disagreed, saying current property tax rates are “untenable” and that Republican County Executive Edward Mangano’s proposed budget is “chock full of contrived items.”
He also criticized the county’s property tax grievance system, which costs the county about $80 million in refunds each year, calling it a “charade” residents must undergo for a fair tax rate.
Nathan, North Hempstead’s chief bay constable, said he would thoroughly examine the county’s system for assessing property values in order to ensure residents’ tax bills show the right amount.
As he did in a sit-down interview with Blank Slate Media, Nicolello promoted the Legislature’s solution to the refund problem for commercial property taxes — a requirement that business owners provide income and expense reports with their grievance up front, paired with the creation of an “escrow” account separate from the county’s budget out of which refunds will be paid.
The measures, which were passed this year and will take hold in 2017, put the Legislature “on the cusp of solving something that nobody’s been able to do for generations,” said Nicolello, an attorney from New Hyde Park.
But Nathan said he thinks it is “illogical” to hold commercial refunds in a separate account when many small businesses need the money.
The Ninth Legislative District includes Plandome, Plandome Manor, Plandome Heights, Munsey Park, Roslyn Estates, Albertson, Williston Park, East Williston, Mineola, Garden City Park and New Hyde Park.
North Hempstead Town Board, Second District
Democrat Peter Zuckerman, who was appointed to the board in 2014, said he and the town administration have made progress in strengthening North Hempstead’s finances, which he said is the most important issue.
He noted several times that the board has cut $600,000 from the town’s budget and reduced its debt by $30 million over the past two years.
Zuckerman also said the town was set to approve its annual budget before Election Day for the second straight year, which he said is “unheard of.”
Republican Henry Golis, who worked in the town’s public works department for 35 years, said the town could save more money by returning some of its maintenance and paving work to its own purview.
Outside contractors, he said, are charging more for vehicle maintenance while $1 million worth of town-owned paving equipment goes unused.
Golis also said he has heard that day laborers who look for work outside the Benjamin Moore paint store at 35 Mineola Ave. in Roslyn Heights cause problems in the area by urinating in bushes and walking in the street.
He proposed setting up a place in the Roslyn Community Center on Lincoln Avenue where day laborers and employers could meet.
Zuckerman said he would look into the problem although it was not in his district, which includes Greenvale, Roslyn Harbor, East Hills, Roslyn Heights, Albertson, East Williston, Searingtown, Herricks and Manhasset Hills.
But the town’s district map shows the paint store, located at 35 Mineola Ave., is actually within the boundaries of Zuckerman’s second district.
In another proposal to increase town revenue, Golis said the town could expand its recycling program by accepting electronics, adding that the town does not collect all of its recycling profits.
But Zuckerman said the town does in fact collect 100 percent of the proceeds from recycling.
Nassau County Legislature, 10th District
Both Democratic candidate Ellen Birnbaum and Green Party candidate Cassandra Lems said county contracts need have stronger oversight to help balance the county’s budget.
Under current policy, the county Legislature is not required to vote for approval on checks under $25,000.
“We really need to examine where money in the county is going and there needs to be a more transparent process for contracts given out in our county. Too many of them are pay to play,” Birnbaum said. “There is not enough oversight, there is not enough public disclosure of the contracting process. I would like to create a system where there are different directors and internal auditors to make sure funds are being used properly.”
She added that she was not in favor of raising taxes.
Lems said the county’s political system allows for the misuse of funds.
“The system as it stands now leads too easily to corruption, cronyism, and favoritism, especially with the awarding of county contracts,” she said.
Lems also said the county should get rid of the current property assessment tax and replace it with a county income tax.
She added that the county should institute a real estate tax for residential and commercial real estate valued over $1 million, as well as collect taxes on medical marijuana sales.
Lems said she believes that the county’s political system is in need of someone other than a Republican or a Democrat because there was “not enough effort to find common ground for innovative solutions.”
As a Green Party candidate, she said, she would oppose the privatization of public utilities and services such as transportation, drinking water and sewage.
Since coming into office in January 2014, Birnbaum said she sponsored “nine pieces of legislation which have brought community revitalization project funds for items such as LED lights, trees, new road signs, portable radios for fire departments, and new paved areas.”
She also said she would fight against wasteful spending should she win the election.
Lisa Benjamin, the Republican candidate for the seat, did not participate in the forum.
The 10th Legislative District includes Great Neck, Herricks, North Hills, North New Hyde Park and Searingtown/Albertson.
Nassau County Legislature, 11th District
Democrat Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a ranking member of the Legislature’s finance committee, also touted the assessment reform, saying it had bipartisan support.
“We, across the board, are hoping that this works,” she said.
Matthew Connolly, her Republican opponent, said he would tweak the grievance system to make it “a simple, transparent process that’s going to save people money.”
He also favors more transparency, he said, in the county’s contract process.
He said he would hire an internal auditor and procurement supervisor, as recommended by an independent commission on contract reform, and create “a series of checks and balances” on the contract system.
DeRiggi-Whitton said she has introduced a bill to provide for legislative review of all contracts, even those less than $25,000, which the county executive can currently push through without the Legislature’s approval.
The 11th legislative district includes Sands Point, Port Washington, Port Washington North, Manorhaven, Baxter Estates, Flower Hill, Roslyn, Roslyn Harbor, Glenwood Landing, Sea Cliff and Glen Cove.
North Hempstead Town Board, Fourth District
Republican candidate Mary Kay Barket criticized her Democratic opponent Anna Kaplan’s claimed achievements, saying the projects began before she was in office.
“Her biggest accomplishment was mostly accomplished before she was elected. Manhasset Valley Park, thanks to Roger Coleman and former Supervisor Jon Kaiman. The approvals were done and the funding was in place,” Barket said. “We appreciate the bathrooms, thank you, but most of it was actually not her work and I think we should give credit where credit is due to Mr. Coleman and Mr. Kaiman.”
Although she gave credit to her office, Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth’s office, and community leaders, Kaplan touted work completed at Manhasset Valley Park as one of her top achievements.
During her four years in office, Kaplan said, they installed two multipurpose fields for $2.7 million, field lights for access during the fall, and the opening of a new comfort station.
She added that in the past two years she was able to get 20,000 feet of roads repaved in Manhasset alone.
Barket, who spent 25 years in the insurance industry, said she wanted to install a sidewalk on Bayview Avenue in Manhasset.
She said because there is currently no sidewalk, the street is dangerous for pedestrians.
“It would make our community better for a place to walk with your kids,” Barket said.
Kaplan agreed that she would like to see a sidewalk there, but she said the town only owns the main road so any sidewalk implementation would not need to be conducted by the county.
“The town only owns the main road,” Kaplan said. “The remainder is the county and it is really the county’s role to do a sidewalk or initiate this.”
Kaplan said her experience as town councilwoman, as well as previous experience on the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals and as a trustee for the Great Neck Library District, qualify her to continue the job.
Barket said she was running because she wants local government to be more efficient, and not to further her political ambitions.
The fourth district of the Town of North Hempstead includes the villages of Roslyn, Roslyn Estates, Munsey Park, North Hills, Great Neck, Great Neck Gardens, Kensington, Kings Point, Thomaston, and the unincorporated areas of Manhasset and Great Neck, including Great Neck Gardens and Allenwood.
North Hempstead Town Board, Sixth District
Republican Dina De Giorgio, who was elected to the town board in 2011, addressed resident concerns about a possible conflict of interest serving on the town board due to her and her husband’s work as a developer in Port Washington.
She said that she and her husband are not developers in the Town of North Hempstead so there is no conflict of interest for her serving on the board.
“Every decision I have ever made as a councilwoman has been made with only the best interests of my constituents and the town as my primary focus,” De Giorgio said.
Her opponent, Democrat Emily Beys, said she had no business or professional interests in the town and did not believe that someone who does should be in office.
“In order to be a councilwoman you should not have any professional business interest that could potentially conflict,” Beys said.
Beys was questioned by a resident about files from the Nassau County Board of Elections stating that she only voted in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but never in a local election.
She said she had no explanation why she did not vote in local elections, but since she moved to Port Washington in 1995, she was active with the school community and voted on all school elections.
Beys added that during her campaigning she found that residents were unsure of the duties of her position, something that she admitted to not knowing about in the past, thus causing her inaction during elections.
“Perhaps I am a victim of that,” she said. “Perhaps I did not know what the job was. I would like to change that perception.”
De Giorgio said she has voted in every election since 2008 and fully understands in the importance of local government.
During the forum, De Giorgio also said the number one issue she has been told by residents during her campaigning has been about maintaining infrastructure and beautifying the town.
“What I’ve done over the last four years is try to advocate that the town spend more of it’s resources on things like road paving, sidewalk repair, infrastructure improvements, and picking up garbage,” she said. “The day to day things that make your quality of life better.”
She added that although the town has done a lot, they can still do more to improve these issues.
Beys said although she has heard concerns about the aesthetics of the town, more should be done about empty store fronts.
“It is important for Main Street to be clean, it is important for Main Street to look pretty, but more importantly it is important for stores to be filled,” she said.
Beys added that she would work with landlords, real estate brokers, and store owners to figure out why there were so many empty storefronts.
The Town of North Hempstead’s 6th District comprises Port Washington, including the villages of Baxter Estates, Manorhaven, Port Washington North, and Sands Point, as well as the villages of Flower Hill, Plandome, Plandome Heights, and Plandome Manor.