Written by Carol Frank: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 15 June 2012 00:00
The rules of the evening did not allow for any questions other than those that were emailed to the Kings Point Civic Association.
Candidates for positions on the Board of Trustees in the Village of Kings Point were asked to open the debate with short statements. The first speaker, challenger, Freydoun Elnekaveh recounted that his business experience, in which he oversees a $250 million budget, makes him qualified for serving as a trustee in Kings Point. He added that by utilizing zero-based budgeting in the village, money should be saved. Challenger Margie Sasson who is running for the position of mayor said, “Change is something we believe in, not something that we fear.” She said that as a managing attorney in her firm, she would be able to work with contracts and budgets to “steer the village into a better situation.” Challenger David Schifter said that as a physician, he would want to preserve Kings Point. “It’s a great place to live. Can it be better? We think so,” he said.
Trustee Sheldon Kwiat said that he served originally on the board of zoning and appeals, eventually becoming its chair. He stressed that the experience on that board was invaluable before becoming a trustee. Currently, he also serves on the Architectural Review Board and the Landmark Commission. Mayor Michael Kalnick emphasized that the village services are exemplary and that in his view the board has been accessible, open, and honorable. Trustee David Harounian said that work on the board takes many hours away from families and friends. He says, “I have helped anyone who has approached me for help.”
The first question was addressed to Kwiat and Elnekaveh. “How will you encourage maximum participation of Kings Point residents so that they are engaged in government?” Elnekaveh said that the candidates coming forward to run against the incumbents has sparked participation. Kwiat said that the real work of government takes place at all the boards’ meetings, such as the Planning Board, the Architectural Review Board, the Board of Zoning and Appeals and the Landmark Commission. “A contested election is a good thing, but I would hope for honest criticisms,” he said. Kwiat referenced flyers that were circulated throughout the village comparing the election last year in Kings Point to elections in Iran or North Korea.
“How do you keep people informed?” was directed to both candidates for mayor. Sasson said that the website could be improved and that she would send out a mayor’s letter once a month or more frequently. She also suggested holding more meetings. Kalnick said, “We are transparent...we hold budget workshops in which we go over everything line by line. I’ll go to any group to talk at any time. We have security alerts … we have a reverse 9/11 system that allows us to notify residents of emergencies.”
A question was asked about whether the village had the right to give fines for unsightly properties.
Schifter said, “I like to have a positive spin on things … I don’t like the word fines...I like to be positive. People make a community..we should foster a community feeling.” Harounian said, “Yes. If a homeowner does not take care of his property, it will affect other homeowners’ properties.”
Then the moderator gave Harounian an opportunity to ask a question of Schifter. First, Harounian pointed out that Schifter has never voted in a village election or attended a trustees meeting and then asked him, “How would you handle the village?” Schifter said, “I have plenty of experience. I was president of a medical board and have been active at Temple Emanuel.” He said that the average village meeting lasts 17 minutes … everything is settled beforehand.”
Schifter was given the same opportunity. He said to Harounian, “Allow me to give you a slight history lesson...George Washington was asked to stay on and he refused...what is your opinion on term limits?” Harounian said, “Term limits for the presidency came many years later than George Washington...There has never been anyone who has wanted to take the responsibilities away from us...they have been happy with us...you are trying to divide the community.” He also stated that after last year’s write-in campaign, the board had invited Sasson to serve on the planning board. “We are still waiting for her response,” he said.
(After the meeting, the Record asked Sasson why she did not take the position. She said that after consulting with her constituents who were “very hurt about how the election was handled,” they “thought it wasn’t a good idea.” She added, “As a real estate lawyer, I have plenty of experience with planning boards.”)
Sasson asked Kalnick: “How do you justify a 47 percent increase in our taxes since 2006?” Kalnick said, “We have state mandates that we do not control. We are subject to mandatory arbitration awards for our police … when the pension fund investments lose in the market, we pay...Our health costs for employees have risen. We have lost a tremendous amount of revenue. The mortgage recording tax revenue has been lost … tax certiorari refunds alone cost the village $430,000 last year. Interest rates are low...But our employees understand our plight and took a zero percent increase this year. We are working with the state and local officials to reduce the impact of taxes on us. We want to adjust the equalization rate at the state level and we believe we will be successful and can bring your taxes down.”
Kalnick asked Sasson: “In emails, you have tried to distance yourself from the Kings Point Chabad, yet campaign disclosure documents show that the major source of your contributions come from Curtis Katz, the leading financial supporter of Kings Point Chabad, his employees and his vendors. Documents also show that you have contracted with Chabad professionals operating from 640 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. How can you possibly deny any affiliation with Chabad when the documentation shows you are clearly working in coordination with them?”
Sasson said, “I have no affiliation with Chabad. Chabad will have no influence with us in the village. You can trust and believe what I say or not, but I have no affiliation with Chabad. Everybody has their own beliefs. Our personal beliefs will never interfere with village affairs. We are not beholden to any religious organization.”
(In a New York State Board of Elections Disclosure Statement as of May 11, Curtis Katz had loaned the campaign over $23,000. Donations are listed from three of Katz’s employees who have made maximum contributions of $3,000 each. A builder, listed online as having renovated Katz’s home, also made the maximum contributions from a business account and a personal account. The incumbents campaign contributions for the same time period was $19,000.)
Kwiat was allowed to ask a question of Elnekaveh. “You say on your website that you would reduce employee benefits and reduce public works staffing. What would you cut?” Elnekaveh denied that he had said that on a website. Instead, he said that he would save money by not purchasing security cameras for $900,000, or building an “elegant” village hall for $5 million, or spending $350,000 in legal fees to fight the Kings Point Park lawsuit. “I would have warranty on the leaking roof and I would give the money back to the people.” (The Record has reported that, to date, the title insurance company has paid the legal fees associated with the lawsuit.)
Elnekaveh’s question to Kwiat was, “How do you justify the expense of bonds?” Kwiat replied, “We have outstanding about $14 million in serial bonds and about another $3 million in bonding anticipation notes...We use bonding for big projects, mainly road projects. We spread the cost of the roads over time...future residents pay their fair share of the cost of roads. That’s why we do bonding.”
Harounian said that the village has only installed three cameras and that the costs quoted by the challengers are incorrect. He said that future security cameras will go out for bid.
Schifter said that if the village had waited to buy cameras, the costs would have come down.
A question was asked about the village’s environmental commitment. The charge was made that the village garbage collection service does not recycle. Kalnick said that the village pays for recycling and that the company used has a recycling depot which sorts the recyclables after collection. He added that the village is complying with stormwater management requirements to keep contaminants out of Long Island Sound.
Sasson was skeptical about the recycling procedures and said that the trucks should have separate compartments for the trash. She also raised concerns about the development of properties on Split Rock Road near tidal wetlands.
Term limits came up again. This time Kwiat responded and said, “We need people to serve on boards. It is a major commitment. We have people here tonight who want to serve, but they want to start at the top instead of learning the ropes through working on other boards. Many villages that have tried term limits have rescinded them.”
The nuisance of low-flying helicopters was raised. Kalnick said that over the years he has worked with the FAA, along with the late Mayor of Saddle Rock Leonard Samansky, to change the turning pattern from planes out of LaGuardia which was successful. He added that he has worked with Senator Schumer and that in the coming months an improvement will be seen in the helicopter patterns as they will be flying over Long Island Sound. Sasson said that more coordination is needed with other villages so that there would be strength in numbers.
Bonding came up again. Schifter said, “AAA bond rating is like using a credit card. It’s easy to keep up a AAA bond rating because the creditors love us. You keep a AAA bond rating by passing along the taxes to the residents. We propose zero-based budgeting...other villages have no bonds.” Harounian said, “The interest for bonds is 0.6 percent...it is minimal and we are then able to do big projects.”
How would you keep Kings Point number one? Sasson said, “We are number one. We are proud of this village. Cutting service would reduce our property values. We are not cutting services. Taxes are not keeping up with expenses. These bonds are increasing our debt...it is accumulating...like Greece, like Nassau County.” Kalnick responded, “I appreciate Ms. Sasson’s statement. Kings Point is number one. I would ask her, how did it get that way? Our board has been dedicated to this village for years. The AAA bond rating attests to our fiscal responsibility...it is not a credit card to be spent... The security cameras will give us added security and prevent the need for additional police officers.”
The ambulance service came up: Elnekaveh said, “We need to team up with other villages for ambulance service, then we can make the expenses lower. The police is also trained and has equipment for emergencies.” Kwiat said, “Our ambulance service is provided from the Vigilants and our fire protection from the Alerts. We do share the cost of the ambulance with other villages. We pay $195,000 for ambulance services. The Vigilants have been very responsive; however, we are exploring other options as the Vigilants do not take insurance reimbursements. Currently, we have the Vigilants and they do a wonderful job.”
Each candidate asked for voter support next week on Tuesday, June 19. Voting begins at noon and the polls close at 9 p.m. at village hall.