League of Women Voters president Jane Thomas (far right) said that this was the 25th anniversary of "Lunch with the League." Pictured with her and Supervisor Jon Kaiman are previous Town Supervisor May Newburger (third from right), and co-chairs of the event Rita Tanski and Amy Bass. (Photo by John Meehan)
At the annual State of the Town luncheon sponsored by the Port Washington-Manhasset League of Women Voters, Jon Kaiman, Town of North Hempstead supervisor affirmed, "The town has never been in better shape." Thanking all the town officials, department heads and other employees, Kaiman said, "Looking back over the last four years, I can see that we have done so much and I am proud of the contribution that the administration has made towards making this wonderful town such an extraordinary place to live."
Regarding the town's finances, Kaiman said that the town is in the black, finishing the year with a surplus. He said that the bond ratings remain at the highest level and asserted "our finances are in exceptional condition." Kaiman added that the tax rate was cut by "a nominal amount" in 2008 and pointed out that the town continues to stretch the tax dollars by bringing in grants from federal, state, county and private sources. "This town is one of the wealthiest in America, so we pay a lot of taxes," he said, "It's only fair that we get something back.
Kaiman said that the town's good financial position makes it possible to launch new initiatives. One of these is "Project Independence," which helps seniors to "age in place;" that is, to remain in their own homes with the support of the government and the community. Launched as a pilot program in 2006 primarily in New Hyde Park in partnership with North Shore-LIJ Medical Center, Kaiman said that it now will be implemented townwide. The program will be linked with the town's 311 systems, and could include everything from transportation and handyman help to assistance navigating the medical and social services system. "It is an extraordinary program," Kaiman said, adding that other communities, including the state of California, are looking to TONH as a model.
Kaiman said that they have enhanced and expanded the "Keep it Green" campaign. In the summer of 2007, for example, they asked the public to report litter to 311; as a result, the town's Green Team picked up about a ton of litter. The annual spring cleaning of town streets ("Clean Sweep") continues; Kaiman said that they picked up over 1,000 tons of dirt, sand and refuse and disposed of it an environmentally responsible way. He also announced that the town's first hybrid bus was delivered this year; they named it "The Madge" after the late Commissioner Madge Kaplan who passed away last year. Of all the environmental initiatives, Kaiman said that this year recycling will be a top priority. He said, "This year I will be submitting a plan to the town board...that will bring all of our school districts, park districts and libraries into a unified program that makes recycling a reality." In addition, he said that the town is working on a long-term disposal agreement with the villages to make sure that all of the solid waste is disposed of in "an environmentally sound and safe manner."
The town, Kaiman said, has partnered with the county to clean the bays and harbors, including the re-seeding of Hempstead Harbor with shellfish that help clean the water. In addition, the cleanup of Sheets Creek continues. Kaiman said that since the inception of this project, they have pulled over 500 tons of debris from the creek, 300 of them in the past two years.
Kaiman announced that other plans for 2008 include substantial improvements to the town's infrastructure, the Mill Pond (Port Washington) restoration, a new community center in New Cassel-Westbury, a parking garage in Port Washington, and an indoor sports facility on the land the town acquired from Nassau County (across from Bar Beach on West Shore Road), upgrading the Senior Center in Manorhaven that was recently acquired by the town, and continued improvements of parks, ball fields, playgrounds and the like. The town has partnered with Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington to begin the redevelopment of the North Hempstead Beach Park, a merger of Bar Beach Park and Hempstead Harbor Park (the latter recently ceded to the town from the county), as well as improvements to Blumenfeld Park and Sunset Park.
Other achievements mentioned by Kaiman included: improved intermunicipal cooperation, emergency management efforts and flood damage control. He also announced that the town, together with Senator Chuck Schumer's office, has reached an agreement with the Eastern Region Helicopter Council whereby the flight path from New York to the Hamptons will be changed so that the copters will, for the most part, fly over the water instead of over the peninsula. This was in response to many complaints from residents in Port Washington and nearby communities about the noise.
Kaiman said that the town is addressing the issue of affordable housing. He said that he has proposed an amendment to the town code to allow for a density bonus when the developer adds affordable housing, as well as an amendment to allow accessory housing under some circumstances.
During the discussion period, a few residents raised questions about the building department, the investigation of which resulted in the recent arrest of four employees. Kaiman admitted, "We have had a lot of problems," but he pointed out that it was this administration that discovered and investigated those problems. He said that one step taken to correct the situation is an investment in additional management and enforcement personnel. Kaiman announced the recent hiring of a new commissioner, Kevin Cronin, and a deputy, Ed Sullivan. The additional personnel, together with a new computer system, will facilitate the tracking of approved sites, and in particular will help to ensure that what was approved is what is actually built. Kaiman added that steps are being taken to reduce the backlog in the building department.
There was also discussion about the 168 acres of parkland across from Hempstead Harbor Park. Kaiman said that they are "looking to see what the community wants." He reiterated that the town is considering an indoor sports facility at that site. In response to the concerns of some Beacon Hill residents, Kaiman said that they are planning to do a traffic analysis, as well as an analysis of any plan on fire, police, and so forth.