Republican John Venditto, the 59th supervisor of the Town of Oyster Bay, took office on Jan. 1, 1998, and brings nearly two decades of experience in public service to the supervisor's office. He served as town attorney from 1991 to December 1997 and as a town councilman from 1981 to 1991. He is running for re-election to this third term as supervisor of the Town of Oyster Bay.
"When I became the supervisor, I was surrounded by a responsible town board and I put together a hardworking staff and I have a workforce that is second to none," said Venditto. "I feel very strongly that during my first two terms in office, we together, the board, my staff and employees, have done a lot of good things in the Town of Oyster Bay and I am running on that record."
Nassau County's fiscal crisis is a debate between candidates at election time and the need for a solution is evident. "If Nassau County did the things that we did here in the Town of Oyster Bay, they would not have had their problems," said Venditto. "I refuse to allow the problems that visited Nassau County come to the Town of Oyster Bay. We have an A-1 bond rating. The investors, the people who are willing to invest literally millions of dollars in this town are very comfortable with the Town of Oyster Bay to the point where they put their money where their mouth is."
The 2002 budget was just recently completed in the Town of Oyster Bay and, according to Venditto, there is no tax increase for 2002. "When I became the supervisor, this town was facing a looming $30 million deficit," said Venditto, who classifies himself as a fiscal conservative. "I said at the time I needed three years to correct the situation and the budget that I just introduced and adopted is the culmination of all of that hard work. We had a looming $30 million deficit, that was averted and now the economic outlook of the town is bright. This is an incredible statistic - when all is said and done, on the average, the amount of town taxes that are going to be paid in 2002 are approximately $37 less than they were in 1989. That is incredible and demonstrates that we are getting more for less in the Town of Oyster Bay."
Venditto explained that at the beginning of the 1990's, the Town of Oyster Bay had a $40 million surplus and over the next eight or nine years, instead of returning the surplus to the residents, the town board cut the tax rate and reduced the amount of taxes that residents were paying and used the surplus to make up the difference each year. Venditto viewed this move as a mistake. "Eventually you run out of surplus," he said. "Now with no surplus left, the tax rate was cut and the town was not getting the same amount of revenue anymore."
When Venditto became the supervisor, he had to make a decision to either increase revenue or cut expenses and he decided on a combination of the two. "I asked for three years to correct the problem and in the course of three years through a combination of cutting expenses, we restored some of the tax rate, roughly 15 percent of it through increases, and made up the rest in cutting expenses so now we have everything back in sync again. Despite where we were three short years ago, we now have a hold-the-line budget, which I hope will be the foundation for the future economic growth of this town and the return to once again accruing a healthy surplus. The town was on life support when I first took over and we now have it breathing on its own again."
Something that Venditto plans to continue if re-elected is to watch out for the generation of seniors in the town. "The people who built this town are finding it difficult to maintain the homes they lived in," said Venditto. "In the last four years, in response to that growing need to do something, we have just about tripled the amount of affordable senior citizen housing. In turn, as our seniors move into the more affordable units, the younger people can now move into the homes that they vacate and the cycle can continue."
The Town of Oyster Bay houses all of the open space in Nassau County and that generally makes land development a hot election topic. "This town is 348 years old and the word has always been build," said Venditto. "One of the things that I made very clear from the start is that there are always things to be built, but the accent is now on a different syllable; while it was once the time to build, in my view it is now the time to protect and preserve the things that were built for us rather than build, build, build."
Venditto describes the application for a nearly 1,000,000 square foot regional mall on the Cerro Wire property, as something that had the potential to forever alter the personality of the Town of Oyster Bay. "From day one, it was a quality of life issue," he said. "All of the members of the town board and I had a steady hand on the wheel and we allowed every point of view to be expressed and we did the right thing by all of the residents of this town. It would have forever altered the quality of life in the town."
Viewing the zoning record, according to Venditto, stands to show the town's record when dealing with open space. "We have largely said no to any type of development that would impact open space," said Venditto, who said that the matters that the town does approve are generally when a landowner comes in with an eyesore and the town gives permission to refurbish and rebuild it.
The town recently completed the process of recodification. "We took a zoning that was created in 1953 and we brought it into the new millennium," said Venditto. "It is done and now exists. We created this umbrella concept known now as Vision 2020, which is our way of taking control over the future development of this town. We have begun this process on a town-wide basis and we are working individually in the Hamlet of Oyster Bay, Hicksville, Glen Head Landing and we are about to embark on it in Syosset."
Vision 2020, according to Venditto, is a concept where the town conducts community meetings with professional planners who hear what is on the minds of the residents, what they see and what they would like to see. The planners work with the residents to make a master plan for the Town of Oyster Bay. "This is a plan, not a magic pill or a cure-all," said Venditto. "This is a very valuable tool to help guide and shape future development. It lays out very general concepts based on empirical data so the town can create a general statement of where we want to go in this town."
Removing adult entertainment in the Town of Oyster Bay is something that Venditto is very proud of. "There have been 19 efforts to open those establishments in this town and not one of them has succeeded," said Venditto. "The adult entertainment industry still does not exist in the Town of Oyster Bay."
Venditto is running for re-election on his past record and accomplishments. "We always have been and always will be a community with one family homes with an appropriate measure of businesses to serve those homes followed by our schools, libraries, parks and beaches," said Venditto. "That is what I am committed to protecting. If anyone can find a better place to live and to raise a family, I would like to know about it because I have lived here for 52 years and as far as I am concerned, the Town of Oyster Bay is simply the best."
Although Democratic Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor candidate Joe Lorintz is a newcomer to the world of politics, he is very familiar with the Town of Oyster Bay. Lorintz has made it his mission to meet as many people in the town as possible and hear their concerns. "Coming to the tail end of the campaign, after meeting many people in the town, I know there is tremendous concern in the entire town about the direction of our future and how we have been governed over the last few years," said Lorintz.
Regarding the financial status of the Town of Oyster Bay, Lorintz admits that getting information as a candidate to determine the true financial state of the town for himself is very difficult. From the information that he has seen, he estimates that the town has a deficit. "From my calculations, at the very least, we have a $3.6 million deficit based solely on one aspect - failing to realize revenues that were put into the budget in 2001, which were from the cell phone towers," said Lorintz. "In addition, there is no rainy day fund. Those are two very critical areas and there has to be a deficit."
Lorintz accredits most of the problems in the Town of Oyster Bay to the lack of a two-party system, referring to the predominately Republican town board. "Government runs best if there is a system of checks and balances," said Lorintz. "In two party government, regardless of who has the majority, you always have someone looking over your shoulder. In this instance, when you have had Oyster Bay town government ruled by one party for so many years, all you have to do is look at the structure and know that it is flawed."
After looking back at his tax bills since 1990 when Lorintz bought his Jericho home he found an increase in taxes in 1999, 2000 and 2001, although it has been publicly stated that Town of Oyster Bay taxes are lower now than they were in 1989. "It is disingenuous to say that our taxes are lower today than they were in 1989," said Lorintz. "Well, they are higher than they were in 1990... Over the course of the last three years, taxes have gone up over 21 percent."
According to Lorintz, zoning is directly linked to the financial situation in the town. "Over the course of the last 12 years, we have seen an increase in development in the Town of Oyster Bay," said Lorintz. " I think appropriate development with good planning is a plus and helps the economy and helps the town grow. Over the years, we have seen indiscriminant parcel-by-parcel development. It is a fact that it increases the amount of government services needed - police, fire, roadways, schools etc."
Lorintz has been involved in many environmental cases throughout the Town of Oyster Bay. "In 1996, when the town board decided to allow for the development of the Underhill Property it was based upon John Venditto's recommendation as Town attorney to settle the lawsuit with the developer to allow the 270 homes," said Lorintz, who then led a coalition of civic associations and private individuals to commence a lawsuit to reverse the Town's action. "When we won in court, overturning that determination and won unanimously in the Appellate Court, the decision of the courts pointed a finger at the town saying that the town literally violated the law and didn't base its actions on any environmental concerns, which did exist and warned the town not to repeat its actions. The effort to preserve the Underhill property is an effort that has been spearheaded by private citizens, such as myself."
Lorintz believes that the Town of Oyster Bay needs a master plan in place and it is long overdue. "If you have a comprehensive master plan in place, your decisions can be enforced," said Lorintz. "We have all experienced when the town rejects an applicant and the applicant takes it to court. We are still talking about, two years later, the possible adoption of a master plan. It is unacceptable. The administration and the machine politics that have gotten us there have to be accountable. It is not good enough to say that we are going to start to fix things that we broke... It is very frustrating to have our current elected officials profess that nothing is wrong and saying they are starting to do things differently now. Why are you doing that - because it is the right thing to do or because it becomes a political liability not to?"
After talking to residents in the town, Lorintz realized that local seniors are concerned about taxes and the ability to remain in Oyster Bay. He also realized that everyone is concerned about the amount of traffic and parking. "It all comes down to one thing - people are very concerned about the quality of life and whether or not we are going to maintain it or continue to lose the quality of life as a result of overdevelopment," said Lorintz.
First on Lorintz's agenda, if elected, is to ensure that government is open to the public. "The most simple thing that I can do is to ensure that our town meetings occur at times when our residents are available," said Lorintz. "We rely too heavily on day meetings. I think we discourage our residents by making them wait until midnight to speak. We should not put major issues on daytime calendars. It creates an atmosphere of mistrust when it can be put on a nighttime calendar." Lorintz also plans to start conducting some meetings outside of town hall and utilizing the other town hall located in Massapequa.
If elected, Lorintz would also like to speed up the process of the master plan. "I don't want to wait two years to adopt a master plan - we have to act now," said Lorintz. "I don't think that we are at the point where the tides are beginning to turn - we passed that point a long time ago and we need to make up the ground. I want to start protecting the natural resources that we have in Oyster Bay and some of the other towns don't have. We happen to be blessed with the only remaining open space in Nassau County in the Town of Oyster Bay. I don't think you could proceed quickly enough to make up for the years of neglect and years of sheer uncaring. Whatever we are doing now for political reasons to recognize the environment and quality of life issues, could have been done years ago."
Lorintz believes he is the best candidate for the position based on his record of bringing together various groups, people and coalitions and working across party lines and he believes this shows that he has the ability to tackle the problems without being influenced by special interests. "In the Town of Oyster Bay, we have experienced the virtual drawing of battle lines on issues rather than having a government that seeks solutions and seeks to prevent people from having to battle each other," said Lorintz. "My experience as an attorney and a community leader has shown me that whenever we work together to solve problems, the result has been quite satisfactory. It is when you can't work together to solve the problems that the problems continue to exist and exacerbate."
Lorintz, who was endorsed by Newsday, the Teamsters Local 808, the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Long Island Group and the Long Island Progressive Coalition, lives in Jericho with his wife Marissa and daughters Rachel and Elana. Both Lorintz and his wife are active in the community as Marissa has been an officer in the Seaman Elementary PTA and is a Girl Scout leader and Lorintz has been the vice president and president of the Oakwood Princeton Park Civic Association for a combined eight years.