Written by Pat Grace Friday, 05 February 2010 00:00
The League of Woman Voters has been hosting the Supervisor’s State of the Town address for over 20 years; the format is familiar—introduction, speech and questions from the audience. The league, especially Rita and John Tanski, Jane Thomas and Amy Bass, was thanked for its efforts in coordinating the event.
North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman launched his speech citing Barack Obama’s election by a nation yearning for leadership, bold decisions, change. The country faced the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression, he said, and the continuation of unsolvable problems involving health care; the environment; and education. The economy appears to be coming back, Kaiman noted, but the electorate is angry.
The Town of North Hempstead, almost a quarter million strong, is at a crossroads wondering what the future holds for us, said Kaiman. “Residents wear their frustration on their sleeve and express it at the ballot box, sometimes by voting, sometimes by staying home,” he said.
Kaiman said he wanted to speak about 311, TownStat, Project Independence, the Office of Inter-municipal Coordination and the School Recycling Partnership.
Admittedly, Kaiman said, he discusses these things every year, but they continue to evolve and are important features of town government.
He said there are issues of national concern that give perspective to our local existence. “In the Town of North Hempstead our finances our solid,” the supervisor noted. “We have maintained our current credit rating, the highest in town history, and we have avoided layoffs while reducing our work force through attrition.”
Kaiman claimed the town parks, roads and services, expanded through grants, continue to get the attention they need. He mentioned new programs launched last year, specifically the pharmaceutical return program where in two days they collected over 900 pounds of unwanted pharmaceuticals that may otherwise have been disposed of improperly or used inappropriately. And, he noted, Project Independence now has medical and grocery taxi rides, portal to portal, for little or no cost.
Mentioning the arts community, he advised exciting things lay ahead, including a film festival, art contests, and community art for all to appreciate. New Cassel revitalization continues to move to conclusion with Prospect Avenue reconstruction beginning and the Platinum LEED-certified Community Center on the verge, he said, of going out to bid. He announced Plandome Road in Manhasset will soon see half a million dollars in Safe Routes to School monies making the road safer, better and prettier. He continued saying that Mill Pond, Roslyn Pond, Hempstead Harbor, Manhasset Bay and Manhasset Valley Park will all see improvements in the coming months—as so many other ponds and parks have seen in the last few years.
“Our Housing Authority is making great strides in redeveloping its properties on behalf of its residents,” Kaiman explained, “and our Business and Tourism Development Corporation will be reborn as a vehicle to provide resources to not-for-profits looking to invest and grow in our community.”
Listing other accomplishments, he said town hall has been restored, Tully Pool is being rebuilt, Manorhaven Pool is next in line and North Hempstead Beach Park is becoming a great venue for all to spend quality time on the North Shore of Long Island.
Additionally, Harbor Links Golf Course and Clubhouse continue to thrive, and North Hempstead TV is becoming a resource for local television about local people and local government. He also noted flow control is here and garbage costs are going down.
Kaiman then devoted time on his signature programs in the Town of North Hempstead.
Kaiman said accessibility to government has topped the list of priorities since he took office and the 311 Call Center is one of the initiatives he is most proud of. The 311 Call Center delivers on two fronts: helping employees to better manage their workloads while improving responsiveness to constituents’ inquiries and concerns. Last year, he said, 311 logged a total of 117,406 requests for service, an increase of more than 3,000 calls from 2008. As a first point of contact where constituents’ questions can be answered immediately, the call volume reaching departments townwide is reduced. Each call is logged, tracked to resolution and documented.
Early in his stewardship, Kaiman said the town had always been separate from the schools and there wasn’t any mechanism to work together on recycling.
A request to buy recycling bins for the Port Washington School District, he recalled, led to supplying 47 buildings in 11 school districts with recycling bins. Doable, he added, because the town was awarded a contract and picks up the recycling for nine of its 11 schools districts, with over 30,000 students participating in the North Hempstead School Recycling Program.
Recently added were industrial scales to weigh the garbage, e-waste collection which generated almost 100 tons of unwanted electronics last year and, Kaiman said, “we are off and running with one of the nation’s leading recycling programs. We recently received the New York State Environmental Excellence Award for this program and received an A+ by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment for our recycling efforts.”
Other environmental initiatives, he added, include Operation Clean Sweep, the Green Team, the construction of a LEED-certified Community Center in New Cassel, the reseeding of Hempstead Harbor with shellfish, the pharmaceutical drop-off program, Mill Pond restoration and the removal of hundreds of tons of debris from Sheets Creek in Port Washington.
The office provides a central hub to help coordinate the town’s interaction with the myriad of local governing bodies. The Town of North Hempstead has within its borders 31 villages, 11 school districts, over 50 special districts and a number of authorities and associations. To date, he said, there are over 50 intermunicipal agreements where the town provides road resurfacing, signs, salt, emergency services, and other such items to other governments or agencies within the town.
Former Commissioner Madge Kaplan once suggested, Kaiman recounted, that the town do an urban NORC, Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, but in the suburbs. “We called it Project Independence,” Kaiman said.
He explained that two tracts in New Hyde Park where 40 percent of the community was 60 years old or older became the pilot program where seniors received all sorts of services, including visiting nurses and social workers along with medical transportation and access to friends, neighbors and organizations that were there to support seniors when they needed help. The pilot program eventually became a town wide program. To maintain that individual connection to the people Project Independence was linked to the 311 system. There are now eight geographic areas throughout the town covering all residents and Project Independence, he said, has been taken townwide.
Money Magazine ranked the town one of the top 100 best places to live in America and then again ranked it as the second best place for a healthy retirement, Kaiman noted. “One of our projects featured in these designations is Project Independence,” he said.
Successful local government is all about partnerships, Kaiman said, and in North Hempstead that has meant partnerships with schools, villages, and special districts. “And partnerships,” he added, “with elected officials at all levels.”
“State Senator Craig Johnson deserves special mention for one particular grant,” Kaiman said, and then explained why. “For 50 years, flooding has plagued certain areas of Mineola and Carle Place. The damage to people’s homes and public property has been enormous. Many years ago, Senator Johnson brought the county, the town and the village together with representatives from his office to take this flooding issue head on. Progress was made but the real solution to the problem required millions of dollars and intermunicipal cooperation that is rarely seen. Senator Johnson came through this year with the over $2 million needed to remediate this issue once and for all.”
Kaiman said thoughtfully, “Working together across governmental and political lines is what successful government is all about. And as I have highlighted for you here today, it’s one of the reasons why residents of North Hempstead can be proud of those that serve them at all levels of government.”
Questions followed covering topics such as what is the timetable for completion of Tully Park Pool. It is an indoor pool with terrific amenities, Kaiman explained, and should be finished by midyear. He encouraged more residents to use it.
When asked what the town is doing to combat teen drug use he cited the pharmaceutical drugs drop-off program to keep drugs out of their hands. He mentioned youth programs such as the work force investment board, a consortium with Glen Cove and Oyster Bay that would provide job training. And he said the Business and Tourism Development Corporation is working with the private sector to generate jobs. Community centers are great places for youth and Kaiman said the town is expanding its community center base in North Hempstead by acquiring the community or senior center in Port Washington that could be used for youth programs. Kaiman added that New Cassel is a Platinum LEED Certified Community Center, one that meets the highest standards for energy conservation, and will be extraordinary. A skate park in Manorhaven, Kaiman continued, will debut sometime this year.
He was asked about plans for North Hempstead Beach Park and stated it has been cleaned up, has volleyball, walkways are redone, rocks have been removed from the sand, and more new trees have/will be planted. Additionally, Kaiman explained, there are 160 acres behind Harbor Links Golf Course that are now town land.
The program ended with a moment of silence for those suffering in Haiti and for our troops serving around the world and their difficulty being assimilated back home once out of harm’s way.