Friday, 10 December 2010 00:00
The Manhasset Lakeville Water/ Fire District is holding an election, Tuesday, Dec. 14 at the firehouse located at 35 Bayview Avenue, Manhasset, from 3 to 9 p.m.
Of note, the Water District oversees the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire District. A combined Water/Fire District is relatively unique, there are only three such districts in Nassau County.
This year the district is holding a vote to elect one of three Water Commissioners. Donald O’Brien, Manhasset resident, is challenging incumbent Commissioner Rudy Barranco, of Great Neck, for the one open position.
The Manhasset Press requested the two candidates in the contested election submit a headshot, a short biography, and answer five questions giving the community the opportunity to learn about them.
I am currently completing my first three-year term as a commissioner of the Manhasset Lakeville Water/Fire District.
I’ve been a resident of the district for over 25 years. I am the proud father of two daughters, Tracey and Andrea. I currently work in the district as a building superintendent in Great Neck Plaza. I received a technical degree from Nassau Tech in Building Maintenance (both residential and commercial).
I am a longtime Manhasset resident and a graduate of St. Mary’s Schools. I have a BS in Finance from CW Post College and an MBA in finance from NYU Stern School of Business.
I have over 20 years of experience as a vice president of three major financial firms based in New York City. I am currently working as a commercial real estate finance consultant. I am a trustee and the financial secretary of the Manhasset Public Library. I served in the US Army and am a vice commander of Manhasset’s American Legion Post 304.
My wife Pat is a retired vice president of MTA-NYC Transit and now serves as president of the American Legion Auxiliary, Manhasset Unit 304. She is also a Consolation Minister for St. Mary’s and a Eucharistic Minister for the parish, St. Francis Hospital and The Bristol.
Our daughter Kelly is a graduate of Manhasset High School and Tulane University and received her master’s degree from Bocconi University in Milan. She is married to Andrea Paciaroni of Florence, Italy. They reside in Manhasset Hills. Kelly is an Italian teacher at Pearl River High School and Andrea is a consultant for Accenture.
1. What in your background makes you a good candidate to be Water Commissioner? To date have you had any involvement with the Manhasset Lakeville Water District? Have you attended any monthly meetings? Incumbent please state what you have achieved.
Barranco: I bring a unique set of technical skills to the position of commissioner. I hold certifications in heating, plumbing and electricity, which are critical in having a first-person understanding of many of the technical aspects of the operations of the district. I received a certificate from the U.S. Army in management and leadership skills. I am a 20-year member of the Fire Department having held the positions of lieutenant and captain. I served as a member of the department’s board of directors for six years, two of those as president.
As a commissioner I have been intimately involved in the operations of the district and attended virtually every meeting.
With respect to achievements during my first term, some of the significant projects on the water side were the completion of a full overhaul of the Thomaston water tower, the re-construction of our Lakeville well and new water mains on Stoneytown Road & Lake Road, which improved capacity for both residential and fire fighting use.
On the fire side, achievements included the upgrade of over 140 old fire hydrants to ensure a steady water supply for fire suppression, installation of non-slip flooring on the firehouse garage floors for the safety of our firefighters, and we broke ground for the construction of a state-of-the-art training facility that will sharpen the skills of our volunteer firefighters.
O’Brien: If elected, I will be the only Commissioner with a financial background and private sector management experience. The Board of Water Commissioners oversees the management of our Water District with a $9.1M budget and our Fire Department with a $5.7M budget. Financial expertise is essential because of the monetary impact of decisions made on an annual and long-term basis. Many future capital improvement projects are required to maintain the water distribution system which dates back to 1911. Fire truck replacement, a major capital expense, should be funded by establishing adequate reserves in the budget based on a 5-year plan. If the district continues underfunding, it will mean bond financing which increases the operating cost for taxpayers.
2. Why did you decide to run (again) at this time?
Barranco: I am running again because there are a number of initiatives still under development that I feel are important for our long-term fire protection and drinking water safety. My skill set is unique and brings value to the operations of the board. We are a young board (all three commissioners are in their first term) and have made significant improvements in both water and fire district operations.
O’Brien: I visited the five volunteer fire companies and learned in 2009, the budget was approved with zero funding for truck replacement and it continued to underfund the modest pension of $20 per month for each service year.
The total cost of the Fire Department, including ambulance service, is approximately 2 percent of our property taxes, a low rate because the volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel receive no salary or benefits except a modest pension.
I am a trustee and financial secretary at the Manhasset Library, another great community organization. The library budget is approximately 4 percent of the property tax bill primarily due to employee salaries and benefits.
Therefore, it is not prudent to underfund a department already operating at a low effective cost to the taxpayer. If this were to continue, the only alternative would be to issue bonds to fund truck replacements and major building expenses, thereby increasing the annual operating costs resulting from the bond interest.
3. If elected what would you like to achieve?
Barranco: On the water side, I will pursue the replacement of the remaining older fire hydrants and the installation of new water mains in key areas of the district. On the fire side, we need to continue to replace older vehicles according to our long-term replacement schedule. I want to ensure phase two of our training facility is completed. Something near and dear to me and critical to fire fighting operations is the continued recruitment of an adequately staffed, trained and equipped fire department.
O’Brien: I would work on improving the relationship and the final decision-making process between the board and the management teams of both departments at weekly board meetings. I have observed a tendency to defer decisions even after the superintendents or chiefs have done a thorough analysis. I do not support micro managing the managers on issues that are part of their job description.
Both departments should prepare 5-year business plans, which highlight major capital improvement projects with cost projections and present them to the board for review. The plans would improve the understanding of department goals and serve as support for annual budgets and long range planning.
4. What, in your opinion, are the top agenda items for the coming year?
Barranco: My highest priorities are the completion of the Nitrate plant at our Searingtown station and getting our new well at IU Willets Road into service.
O’Brien: • Develop a 10-year schedule for upgrading our water distribution system • Properly fund truck replacements and pensions • Assist the Fire Department in its goal to increase membership
5. With the focus in the community on transparency, fiscal and otherwise, what is your position on the issue?
Barranco: I am a firm believer in transparency for municipal entities. I am always available to discuss district issues with members of the community. An important part of transparency is educating the community on how district operations impact them and, more importantly, how our budget process works. Unfortunately, there is a gap in this area. For example, some community members have questioned whether funds should be “set aside” as the sole funding for capital purchases as oppos ed to a combination of reserve funds and the issuance of bonds. The combination of funding sources is a necessary and balanced approach for capital spending. As expressly noted by our County Comptroller in 2008, issuing bonds is a routine and expected source of funds for capital purchases. Below are some quotes from the Comptroller’s Nov. 25, 2008 report, available in its entirety on the county website.
“Water districts should not over-tax to accumulate money to pay for long term capital improvements. This office disapproves of this practice....By inflating taxes unnecessarily they take money interest-free from current taxpayers… When current taxpayers are overcharged to accumulate funds for a capital project, the taxpayers who pay for the improvement may be long gone by the time the improvement is in operation and benefiting the district. When major capital expenditures are funded through borrowing, the taxpayers who benefit from the new improvements pay for them”
O’Brien: More transparency and full disclosure are essential. There appear to be conflicts of interest that may be technically legal but clearly create a concern that future board decisions could be impacted. I would work toward elimination of even the appearance of conflicts of interest.