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Great Neck Park District State of the Parks Message: January 11. 2012

In reporting on the state of our parks, we must first acknowledge the work of Commissioner Ivar Segalowitz for the past nine years. His dedication, hard work and skill have, without question, contributed significantly to the well being of the Great Neck Park District. Ivar, we all thank you.

The voters have now passed the baton to our newest commissioner Daniel Nachmanoff. We welcome Commissioner Nachmanoff and look forward to working with him. We know that he has much to contribute, and that he is eager to get started. We will make sure to keep him busy.

The current state of the Great Neck Park District is excellent. Our infrastructure is in good condition, and we intend to keep it that way. Our recreation programs are whole, with something for people of all ages, abilities and interests. We have learned that, especially in these difficult economic times, our residents depend on their Park District for services.

Most important, the Park District is financially stable and sound. By monitoring and controlling expenditures, we have lived within our budget, and have finished each of the last several years with a modest surplus. Thus, we are able to maintain adequate reserve funds. At the same time, we have returned dollars to the taxpayers by allocating a portion of the surplus to offset taxes to the extent it is fiscally safe. I am pleased to report this will continue for 2012. As local government, we have close control and can watch our taxpayers’ dollars while providing desired services at a reasonable cost.

During the past year we saw several accomplishments in our parks. This includes completion of new locker rooms at the ice rink. They will serve not only our own hockey teams, but they will also make the ice rink more attractive to local colleges who pay to use the facility at non-peak times. We have added to our all-abilities sensory garden and playground at the Village Green and the new Veterans’ Memorial has reached substantial completion. A new playground was installed at Ravine Park with neighborhood participation; the ominous, uninviting fence was replaced with a more friendly one.  Lo and behold, adults and children are enjoying this often forgotten park once again.

We have completed replacement of more than 60 trees lost in the 2010 microburst. Funded by donations from the community through the Friends of the Parks Foundation, the carcass of one of the destroyed trees has been transformed into a grand, flag bearing eagle. Two more carvings will follow. Hurricane Irene brought more damage, but our maintenance staff worked hard to minimize the loss and allow us to re-open our facilities within 24 hours. We appreciate their hard work.

Attendance at park programs has remained high in most cases. This is especially true at Parkwood Pool and the Steppingstone concerts. Camp Parkwood continued with full enrollment all summer.

We look forward to 2012 with a full schedule of programs. Special projects will include opening of the Veterans’ Memorial, completion of the next phase at the all-abilities sensory garden and playground, and construction of a much needed garage at Allenwood Park; these will all be accomplished with no additional debt. We shall continue to dedicate a portion of each year’s budget to maintaining our valuable infrastructure; we cannot afford to fall behind.

Sports and recreation for our young people have always been a priority to the Park District. In the coming year we shall offer new choices in certain youth sports. This will be at no cost to the taxpayers, but will ensure the availability of quality programs which are safe and properly managed.

Nevertheless, we do face some challenges. Maintaining our parks adequately while holding the line on taxes is not an easy task. We all feel the cost of living on Long Island. The state has imposed a 2 percent cap on real property taxes, but does not hesitate to increase state mandated expenses to local governments at a rate higher than 2 percent.

Many jurisdictions pass cost increases along in the form of higher user fees under the guise of controlling taxes. The Park District has always tried to strike a balance between taxes and user fees. The goal is to offset taxes for higher cost programs while keeping the fees for those programs affordable. Given the current state of the national economy, we should review that policy. If it is the will of our residents, the current philosophy should be reinforced. 

It is my hope that in 2012 we have open discussion on the future of our parks and the expectations of the community. The discussion should include a review of our programs based on the needs and desires of our residents. We need to consider the costs for these programs and how they should be funded. The Park District belongs to our residents; their input is essential to ensure that, as commissioners, we fully represent their interests. I hope that many will participate in the discourse.

We have an exceptional park system with a skilled and a dedicated staff led by our Superintendent Leonard Celluro and his deputy Peter Renick. As commissioners, we pledge to continue to operate the Great Neck Park District in the most cost effective way possible while providing the services that our residents expect and upon which they depend.