Despite the bitter cold, over 150 constituents, community leaders, and elected and appointed officials gathered Jan. 27 for a luncheon hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Port Washington-Manhasset at the George Washington Manor to hear North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman deliver his second State of the Town address. In summary, Supervisor Kaiman said, "The state of the Town of North Hempstead is good. In fact, it is great and getting better all the time."
Specifically, Kaiman addressed the town's financial health. He said, "I am proud to say the town is in excellent financial shape." He pointed to continued surpluses, a stable fund balance; increased revenues from sales taxes, permits, and fines; and a falling debt burden. The supervisor added, "The town's financial picture is brightened even further by the aggressive pursuit of outside resources." He told Anton Newspapers that the town has received about $3 million from the federal government and $1 million from the state in categorical funds, as well as numerous other grants from public and private agencies. "I want to emphasize that our new initiatives are all being accomplished within the confines of our budget - there will be no raised taxes," he said.
Kaiman announced that a major priority for the town continues to be the establishment of a "311" constituent response system. This project was addressed in last year's State of the Town message. This past year, Kaiman said, they have investigated other, similar systems (primarily the one in Baltimore which will serve as a model) and pursued the required funding (the federal government will provide approximately $500,000 and the state $75,000). The town has also hired the required staff and consultants, instituted staff training, developed the necessary processes, and met with potential technology service providers and regulatory agencies. Kaiman said that they are currently in the process of selecting a vendor among those who responded to the Request for Proposals, and by March 1 will have chosen the two vendors - one for the telephone system and one for the computer system. "The infrastructure is in place, so by the time they throw the switch on we will be ready," said Kaiman. "My goal is to have it fully up and running by June 1."
The "311" system will provide a single phone number for constituents to call with questions or problems. "We will be the center of a new management system that will allow for better oversight....We will be able to track when a call comes in, how it is processed, who is handling it, and how issues raised are resolved," stated Kaiman in his address.
Although the incorporated villages are not currently part of the system, Kaiman said in response to this reporter's question, "We are talking with them, and we hope to keep them in the loop and figure out how we can help them." Following the Baltimore model, the Town of North Hempstead proposes to include a "CompStat" - type statistical analysis program that will enable them to monitor patterns of problems and their resolution. (CompStat is the police-based statistical system that some have credited as being a primary factor in New York City's ability to prevent and reduce crime.) "This will change the way the town works," said Kaiman. "It will transform the way that we think about government."
A second priority for the town is enhancement of parks and roadways. Kaiman said, "With the town's financial position as strong as it is, we have the opportunity to dedicate resources for parks and roads in a way that we have been unable to for a long time." According to the supervisor, the parks are in "wonderful shape" right now, but many improvements are planned. Among them are new irrigation systems where required, resurfacing of tennis and basketball courts, building or rebuilding athletic fields, refurbishing bathrooms, re-doing some walkways with brickwork instead of asphalt, replacing some of the chain-link fencing with more attractive cast iron fencing.
"My goal is to make parks look more like a destination than they do now," he said.
In addition, Kaiman said that the town has authorized funding for new ADA-compliant playgrounds in Westbury, New Hyde Park, Great Neck, and another location to be announced. Other plans include educational signs along the harbor explaining the fauna along the trails, and designing a kayak launch in Port Washington. He added that they are planning to program more activities, including concerts, children's theater, and perhaps a children's art center. Kaiman confirmed that the town is planning to take over Hempstead Harbor Park from the county, something that has long been the subject of discussion, and that came up at a number of community meetings in Port Washington. "The county and the town have come to a meeting of the minds and we are working out the details," said Kaiman. In that regard, Kaiman said that the town expects to re-institute the fireworks at Hempstead Harbor, adding that Frank Castagna of the Americana shopping center has agreed to sponsor the event. Other county parklands may be taken over by the town as well.
With respect to the roadways, Kaiman said that the town is upgrading their equipment, including a dozen new trucks and salt-brine equipment that will melt snow and ice better and quicker. GPS (Global Positioning System) technology will help track sweepers and plows as they move through the town. In addition, he said, "The town will continue our aggressive repaving policy and we welcome Senator Balboni's continued financial support through the State's Multi-Modal program." According to the supervisor, town residents can look forward to another "Clean Sweep" program to do a "spring cleaning" of the streets throughout the entire town, "sweeping and re-sweeping each town street until it is clean of the winter's dirt, salt and sand." Kaiman proudly announced the purchase of seven hybrid SUV-type vehicles for the town, and said that the town may purchase more in the future. In a later interview, he said, "These just came out; we are among the first."
Kaiman said that community outreach is the third major priority, saying, "We are stepping up our organized outreach through our Community Services Department." The town will be adding new youth programs, anti-gang programs, cultural events, educational activities and "programs that are simply all-out fun." In his formal remarks, Kaiman said, "This administration is determined to make accessible, open government and community participation a core focus of all that we do." He added that community-based planning meetings have been held in many parts of the Town; the most notable being New Cassel. In Port Washington, the town is pursuing a community-wide visioning process which will address many issues such as water and the waterfront, recreational needs, traffic, density, and code enforcement.
Code enforcement is an issue of great concern to the government and the constituents of the Town of North Hempstead. In his address, Kaiman promised "to continue our aggressive approach to code enforcement and illegal housing." He pointed out that in 2004 they pursued over 100 illegal housing cases, joining forces with the Nassau County District Attorney's office. "I am aware that the people we are displacing are moms and dads, sons and daughters, old and young, people like you and me," Kaiman said. The Town Department of Community Services, together with social agencies like the North Shore Family Guidance Center and others, is working to help relocated individuals and families who lose their housing.
Other subjects addressed by Supervisor Kaiman included continuation of the revitalization of New Cassel, the establishment of the Town of North Hempstead Labor Advisory Board, and a major overhaul of the town's cable studio and additional programming.
Amy Bass, who co-chaired the event for the LWV with Rita Tanski, moderated a lively question-and-answer period. Subjects included water availability for new development, affordable housing, code enforcement, and traffic concerns.