Pulse of the Peninsula: Bosworth message renews optimism

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North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth delivered her “State of the Town” address at a luncheon at the town’s Harbor Links country club, an event hosted for the 30th year by the League of Women Voters of Port Washington and Manhasset (a league which includes Great Neck and other areas which no longer have their own local leagues).

This was Supervisor Bosworth’s second “State of the Town” – having completed her first full year as the town supervisor – and there was a lot to crow about. 

But more significantly, just as the town’s budget lays out its priorities and values, the speech provides a clear window into the mind and heart of her administration. It is more than mere rhetoric or sloganeering because there is a record to build on.

The contrast to the political process and actual governing could not be starker. People have become so cynical about politics  – and for good reason – with daily stories about how moneyed interests completely dominate not just the message but form the images of a candidate that consciously or unconsciously determine the voter’s choice. 

And in the next breath, we hear of the corruption of political figures like New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

What is more, that is the way the power brokers want it: billions of dollars have been spent discrediting “government” and what “government” means in our lives.

Who can blame citizens from being cynical?

And then, in a State of the Town address, you hear what government is capable of doing and are reminded how local government has the greatest impact on the quality of our daily lives – the seemingly mundane and unglamorous things like snow removal, protecting our drinking water, sanitation and sewage treatment, fixing pot holes, providing police protection and emergency management (those hundred year storms that are coming every couple of years) – the list goes on and on. No community is livable without these essential services.

Bosworth went to battle with PSEG-LI over the 80-foot tall poles, laced with carcinogen put up seemingly overnight without community input, and with OTB about the gambling parlor they intended to install at the former Fortunoff’s site in Westbury, with 1000 video lottery terminals, which would be open 20 hours a day, from 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. (really, really bad idea, and that battle seems to have been won, with OTB saying they will look elsewhere – of course, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano loves the idea of gambling as a false God to remedy the budget imbalance).

Now Bosworth is going to battle with New York City to protect our water supply.

“Long Island is facing a real threat due to New York City’s troubling plan to re-open dozens of now-dormant Jamaica wells in Queens, while repairs are being made elsewhere to the City’s water supply infrastructure,” she said. “These wells are expected to draw up to 40 million gallons of water per day from our Long Island aquifers. This proposal raises numerous questions and concerns at a time when our aquifer system is already under tremendous stress. The re-activation of wells in Queens, where ocean water has already invaded the aquifer system, could cause further saltwater intrusion, threatening the viability of our water supply. It could shift the trajectory of existing plumes of groundwater contamination, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in additional cleanup costs – and could create new pathways for groundwater contamination to enter the deeper aquifer system. Most troublingly, the City does not plan to examine the impacts to Long Island’s water supply before it goes ahead with this project.

“I am adamantly opposed to reactivating the Jamaica wells until a rigorous and impartial scientific study is performed and I will continue to be a strong voice in opposition to this project until we have the assurances to which we are entitled – that our water supply will not be compromised by this plan.”

Bosworth has made a priority of “strengthening laws, improving regulations and raising awareness to safeguard our aquifers and our drinking water and is  advocating the creation of a state oversight and enforcement mechanism to ensure the sustainability of our water supply here on Long Island and I will press strongly at every opportunity to achieve this goal.”

The supervisor laid out a vision for the town’s waterfront, including a one-mile extension of the Hempstead Harbor Shoreline Trail in Port Washington and Roslyn.

“Our beautiful waterfront and shoreline are among our town’s most valued – and valuable – resources. Waterfront property along Hempstead Harbor, in Glenwood Landing, Roslyn Harbor, Roslyn and Port Washington is second to none. However, the reality is that beautiful residences, businesses, Town parks and municipal facilities co-exist along with industrial uses that have been there for decades. We can’t turn the clock back, but we can – and must – make the most of our incredible Hempstead Harbor waterfront for the future.

“We are working to develop a comprehensive vision for our Hempstead Harbor waterfront that could include dining facilities, a marina, tennis, paddleboard, Jet Ski rentals, and an extended shoreline trail, improved rowing facilities and enhanced recreational opportunities for all residents.”

She is consulting with New York City’s Department of Parks and recreation and other municipalities for “inspiration,” and  the town recently issued a “Request for Expressions of Interest” from qualified proposers for a restaurant at North Hempstead Beach Park. 

“Working with our villages, civic and environmental groups, and interested citizens, we will take the lead in making the 34 acres of North Hempstead Beach Park a true destination spot in our Town!”

Among the other projects underway that Bosworth highlighted include work on North Sheets Creek to “create a deeper bay that will attract more business via our waterways and help make it better suited for recreational water sports. For our smaller ponds, the removal of sediment will improve ecosystems and filtration systems, with the goal of turning these ponds into a more hospitable environment for wildlife and making them more aesthetically pleasing for visitors.”

Affordable Housing

Bosworth has also focused on affordable housing – a kind of third rail for local government, which hears clamoring on a daily basis from seniors, from young people, from workers and yet so many projects are beaten back by NIMBYism. 

Of the two projects being proposed so far, I sat in on the presentation for one, by the same builder who created the excellent re-do of the Spinney Hill houses. 

The developer laid out a plan for affordable senior housing on a blighted field across the street (it is also across the street from Whitney Park and across the road from North Shore LIJ Hospital), which would make it an ideal location, and the community gets a clean-up of a brownfield in the bargain. (Important to note that “affordable” doesn’t mean cheap or “low income.”)

A second affordable senior housing project is being proposed for the old Grand Street School property in New Cassel.

“It’s so important to be able to provide our aging residents with safe and secure places to live, so they are not priced out of the community that they themselves helped build,” Bosworth said. 

This goes for workforce housing, as well. In September, the town held a home ownership lottery for the North Hempstead Housing Workforce Program, consisting of 15 affordable newly-constructed homes in New Cassel, for those eligible households that meet certain income requirements. 

“I had the opportunity to attend the lottery and meet with the prospective homeowners, which was really thrilling. North Hempstead remains committed to creating more opportunities for affordable housing, to make the dream of home ownership a reality for as many families as possible.”

There are other building projects underway, which point to the economic vitality of the town: including a new hotel under construction in Carle Place and a second hotel in Port Washington, off West Shore Road. 

“North Hempstead is a great place for building and development, so long as it is environmentally responsible and is a good fit with the community,” she said.

Sustainable development is the key.

Long Island is considered the world’s first suburbia, but the model is no longer sustainable – high property taxes reflect the low-density structure, while the suburban sprawl taxes energy use, traffic which generates pollution and harms the environment. The whole economic model for suburbia, which is based on retail (shopping), and services like education and health care, also is unsustainable. That is why a plan for a business incubator in Great Neck Plaza is a good sign for a sustainable future.

A People Place

The program that very possibly best exemplifies North Hempstead is Project Independence, nationally recognized for enabling people to age independently in their own homes. Implemented by former Supervisor Jon Kaiman, it is the first of its kind in a suburban setting.

In 2014, 2,000 new members joined Project Independence, for a total of 9,774 North Hempstead seniors who participate regularly in the no cost services and programs provided by the Town. In 2014, over 26,565 service requests were made by seniors, for everything from medical appointment trips to shopping at no or minimal cost.

Project Independence also launched a Virtual Health website for members in 2014, where they can register for senior programs online, including making reservations for transportation to the supermarket or medical appointments and household maintenance through the Help at Home program. They also can view and RSVP to the full slate of social and recreational events held weekly by Project Independence. 

This year, Project Independence will be working with SelfHelp Community Services and the Kimmel Housing Development Foundation on an innovative program that uses technology to connect the homebound elderly with live interactive classes and online activities.

Indeed, the Town of North Hempstead is the first town in Nassau County to receive the World Health Organization Global Network of Age-Friendly Communities designation, conferred by AARP on municipalities “having progressive and forward-thinking public policies that serve older populations and that are friendly to all ages.” This designation opens the way for more collaborations between the town and AARP.

311 Call Center

The responsiveness of local government is epitomized by the 311 call center which people may not realize was another first for a suburban community, implemented by Kaiman who adapted it from a municipal system), and in various new technologies the town is implementing to improve how services are delivered.

In 2014, the 311 Call Center answered 168,280 calls, an average of more than 3,000 a week.

A new “My North Hempstead” mobile app makes 311 accessible 24/7 and callers receive e-mail confirmation and a tracking number, so they can follow up on a request. The app also allows users to make tee time reservations at the Harbor Links golf course, check the recycling schedule, or report a pothole. A new Webtrac system makes viewing and registering for the town’s parks programs easy and convenient.

Town board meeting agendas are now paperless, residents now have the ability to watch the meetings live on their computers, tablets and smart phones. 

More forms are available online, so residents can enter and, more importantly, check the status of a service request. The town will be adding even more user-friendly initiatives, such as credit card payments, to the Town Clerk’s Office, Animal Shelter and Building Department. 

Restructured Building 

Department

The building department has been a source of frustration, and many of this administration’s improvements have been focused on making it more efficient: redesigning and restructuring the department “down to its foundation.”

What does this mean in practical terms? The department has been completely restructured; an Applicant Advocate was appointed to work as the supervisor’s personal representative to the department and liaison to residents; building department mobile office hours were established so residents can meet with staff in their home communities and special mobile office hours were instituted to help seniors navigate the process. 

The department also made itself available Wednesday evenings by appointment; the department now accepts credit and debit card payments (before only cash or check), and educational presentations are being scheduled for this year to inform residents about requirements and processes.

Also, the Building Department website was redesigned, to make forms more easily accessible. “In fact, we’re close to being able to make it possible to fill out and submit most Building Department forms on line.” Soon, it will be possible for residents to check the status of their applications on line.

But, Bosworth said, “for all that has been accomplished, there is more to be done. In 2015, we will focus on further reducing the wait time for both residential and commercial plans review, final inspections and plumbing inspections. We are optimistic about achieving these goals, as more and more residents give us feedback that they are receiving better answers, more accurate information and real assistance from our Building Department. Yes, we have more work to do – but we are on our way to a Building Department that is user-friendly, thoroughly professional and more efficient and responsive.”

Transparency 

& Engagement

If there was a key overriding theme, it was how Bosworth has worked to make local government more responsive and efficient, including the important steps to increase transparency and engagement in local government, including streaming town meetings on line and making the draft budget available for the public online.

This time, she said, “The entire budget process was accessible, open and transparent.”

And, for the first time since 1982, the Town Board voted on the budget before the November election, which Bosworth pledged to do for each future budget cycle.

“You as residents, community leaders have a right to know what the budget is before you go into the voting booth and decide what you are voting for, who you are voting for,” she said. “The budget is a black-and-white document that is the philosophy of the administration. Everything you do has a fiscal ramification. The budget really shows you where the administration’s priorities are and where they will be placing resources – so seeing that before voting is important.”

As for the budget, she noted, “We’ve made some changes over the past year — changes that were implemented after thoughtful review and evaluation of each department and always with the goal of delivering the best services to our 226,000 residents…

“The 2015 budget is fiscally conservative, while taking into account some of the challenges we will face in the coming year, such as dipping sales tax revenue and decreasing mortgage tax receipts, while maintaining all Town services.”

She pointed to a key focus of the financial plan to reduce the town’s debt, by  slowing the rate of new borrowing, paying down existing debt, and refinancing debt at more favorable interest rates. The result is that, in just one year, the town reduced outstanding total debt by 11 percent or $22 million.

As a result of debt reduction and reducing reliance on structured borrowing to fund the New York State Retirement System obligations, the town maintained its Aa1 bond rating from Moody’s, the highest in Town history, and has the highest rating attainable (MIG1) on its short-term notes. 

The Town Board adopted a comprehensive five-year Capital Plan for the town, which is posted on line, along with the funding sources and bonding authorization.

The town has been enormously successful – and active – in seeking and winning federal and state grants, last year receiving nearly $7.8 million in grants.

One of the truly interesting grants is a $625,000 grant as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Annual New York State Regional Economic Development Council Awards for the Town will be the project manager for seven other Long Island towns and Suffolk County, in creating an East-West corridor of electric vehicle charging stations along the Long Island Expressway. 

The goal is to encourage more widespread use of electric vehicles and reduce auto emissions, by providing convenient charging locations for motorists.

The town also received a $75,000 grant through the Market NY Program that will be utilized to promote the Gold Coast International Film Festival, an important collaboration between the Town and the Gold Coast Arts Center, now in its fourth year. 

“This grant serves as recognition of this important arts initiative, brainchild of Executive Director Regina Gil, and underscores its value to the community,” Bosworth said. “The additional funding will enable us to broaden awareness of the exciting programs and events we are presenting right here in the Town of North Hempstead, which are open to all residents, as well as visitors to our Town.”

The town also will be utilizing grants including $250,000 secured by Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, to make improvements at Clark Botanic Gardens, and a $330,000 grant from the National Park Service’s National Maritime Heritage Grants program toward the effort, with the Great Neck Historical Society and Great Neck Park District, to restore the Stepping Stones Lighthouse.

And the town will be receiving $5.8 million from FEMA for repairs and upgrades at North Hempstead Beach Park.

The supervisor detailed many other initiatives and programs that point to local government that is sensitive to the needs of its residents and is capable.

And when we are so frustrated and cynical about government, it is good to be reminded what effective government can accomplish.

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