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Supervisor Gives State of the Town Address

Kaiman discusses the town’s finances, programs, and the building department

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman presented the 2012 State of Town at the Clubhouse at Harbor Links in Port Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 25. The League of Women Voters, Port Washington/Manhasset Chapter, hosted this event as they have done for decades and about 170 people were in attendance.

LWV Vice President Amy Bass welcomed attendees, which included various elected officials from the villages, town, county, and state. She introduced Kaiman by stating that he has been town supervisor since 2004 and this was his ninth address.

At the start of his address, Kaiman provided some current figures on the Town of North Hempstead. He said that according to the 2010 census, the population of the Town of North Hempstead is 227,000, which is a slight increase from ten years earlier, and this makes North Hempstead the seventh largest municipality in the state.

As for the finances of the town, Kaiman said that both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s upgraded the town’s bond rating to its highest credit rating in the town’s history. He said, “The success we have in this area means real savings to the residents of our town. Accordingly, the North Hempstead financial picture is strong…. Our 2011 budget is balanced and our reserves have been maintained in a manner consistent with financial industry standards.” He added that his administration “continues to be aggressive in its pursuit of grants and continues to bring in millions of dollars in grant money helping to stretch our taxpayers’ dollars further.”

Kaiman said that there has been a slight reduction of work force in North Hempstead and that there has also been work with union employees to reduce costs. “Our most recent union contract limited raises to 0 percent in 2010 and 2 percent in 2011. I would note that in the Town of North Hempstead, employees contribute up to 15 percent toward the costs of their medical benefits,” he said.

One negative part of the town’s finances rests with Nassau County, Kaiman explained. “Of major concern to schools and towns alike is the county’s decision to end the county guarantee, which covers the costs of the mistakes that the county makes in setting property assessments. The result will be that towns and school districts will be paying millions of dollars to cover bad decisions made by the county while being denied any role in the process,” he said.

Kaiman noted the there has been job growth in the town, and several local businesses were awarded multimillion dollar economic development grants through Governor Cuomo’s effort to stimulate the economy through Regional Economic Councils. He added that North Hempstead currently has the lowest unemployment rate of Long Island’s 13 towns.

In speaking about the town’s investments over the past eight years, Kaiman said, “Even in bad times, it is critical that local government maintain its infrastructure, provide essential services, meet the needs of our local residents and invest dollars to solve community problems while also investing in long-term improvements.” He also noted that the town is taking advantage of historically low interest rates.

Some of the programs and services he described include the 311 system, Project Independence, the school recycling program, the e-waste collection program, and the pharmaceutical take back program, in which the town has collected over 4,000 pounds of unused pharmaceuticals that they dispose of through incineration. Kaiman described other town programs with an environmental focus, such as providing residents with biodegradable leaf bags and obtaining grants to convert the town’s vehicle fleet to hybrid cars and trucks. Noting the town’s work to create cleaner waterways, Kaiman said that the town has refurbished ponds and waterways such as Mill Pond, Ridders Pond, Searingtown Pond, Hempstead Harbor, and Manhasset Bay; they have installed new filters in storm drains to prevent contaminants from draining into the waterways; and the town’s bays and harbors have been reseeded with shellfish.

Describing the town’s work towards improving parks, Kaiman said that the town acquired several county parks that were deteriorating and revitalized them. He noted that pool memberships bring in revenue for the town, and since they built a new pool at Manorhaven Beach Park, membership has increased from 1,200 members to 4,400 members in one year. Since the indoor pool at Tully Park was rebuilt, memberships have increased from 511 members to 1,833 members and daily passes increased from 4,777 to 11,876, also raising revenue.

A community center in New Cassel is in the works, he said, which will include many green components such as solar walls and will house two NBA-sized basketball courts, a dance studio, a TV studio, an Internet café, a seniors’ lounge, computer rooms, a multipurpose room, a stage and more. He said that the cost of this project is covered by a $10 million grant as well as federal stimulus dollars. “We joined with the private sector and the community and all levels of government to revitalize New Cassel with $80 million in private development. We had setbacks and bumps in the road, but the job is almost done with a brand new main street, new housing, and dozens of new stores already filled to the brim bringing this community to life like never before,” Kaiman said.

The town has established many different festivals, Kaiman said, such as North Hempstead Day, which commemorates the town’s historical beginnings; the two-day EcoFest at Clark Gardens; the Family Beach Fest; the Asian festival, two Sons of Italy feasts in New Hyde Park and Port Washington. New events this past year include the Greek Festival, the Gold Coast Film Festival and Kidstock.

The town’s animal shelter has grown, and a feral cat program has been safely decreasing the feral cat population, Kaiman said. “We continue to support and benefit from the Shelter Connection program, a private volunteer-based organization, which works with our animal shelter walking and training our dogs so that they are highly adoptable,” he said.

Moving onto the building department, which was a large focus of last year’s election, Kaiman detailed a tragic event that happened recently in nearby Connecticut. “A fire broke out in the middle of the night and a couple lost their parents and their children Lilly, Grace and Sarah ages 9, 7 and 7 on Christmas day. The investigation showed that the house was under construction and that it was not sufficiently building code compliant for people to be sleeping in that house,” he said, adding that while building codes can be inconvenient, time-consuming and expensive, they are in place to keep people safe.

“Unlicensed contractors, plumbers, and electricians who do work contrary to the code put people in danger. And working without permits or in violation of the code is unfair to those that play by the rules. It also may put other people in jeopardy who are just visiting a home for coffee, for a sleepover, or simply having a play date,” Kaiman said. “Most people want to do the right thing when it comes to making improvements to their home or business. The culture of beating the system, however, makes it very hard for anyone, on their own, to simply play by the rules,” he added, and said, “Our job as the town is to make sure that those on the government side and those on the private side can all have confidence that the rules matter and that they are being applied consistently, fairly and professionally.”

Kaiman said that in 2005, when the economy was in better shape, 4,765 building permits were issued. He further stated that in early 2006, a full overhaul of the building department began and the issuance of building permits started to slow down during this time. However, as of today, he said that the permit and certification processes are faster, and 4,753 permits were issued in 2011, which is a return to the 2005 number.

“The process can be long and arduous… it is because our review is extremely thorough and when we find a problem we hold onto it until it and all others are resolved. We have gotten to the point where we now catch everything and we forgive nothing. We have set high standards and require rigid compliance, but the system is credible, honest and fair,” Kaiman said.

 At the end of the address, attendees were offered the opportunity to ask questions. Gail DeRizzo from Great Neck asked about how the town deals with zoning codes for multifamily housing. Kaiman said that in terms of apartment complexes, there are codes and building requirements, and if you have a question about whether or not something in your building is up to code, you should call 311. He further explained that if that building is within a village, the town would contact that village to let them know there was a question or complaint. If the building is within an unincorporated area of the town, the town sends out a building inspector who will look at that situation.

A resident from New Hyde Park spoke about her own lengthy process with the building department and asked what could be done to make some of the forms easier to fill out and how to avoid needing an expediter or an architect. Kaiman said that one of the greatest frustrations for residents is that even though they are doing the right thing by starting off with the building department, the town finds something else that the resident did not even realize was in violation of the code, which makes the process take longer. He said that they are developing mechanisms to fix these problems faster, such as expediting these issues through the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) process. “I think between some additional personnel, the new partnerships we are creating, the rules that we’re changing, the implementation of these ideas that were generated with the private/public partnership, you will find that in the next few months, it will be a much quicker process to get through the system, even if your home was not compliant,” he said.

Evelyn Strauss of Port Washington also spoke about issues with the building department, stating that they find more and more problems with a structure through a back and forth process, which takes several months. She suggested that the town should make a general list for everyone who comes to the building department to help guide them on what they need to check for all at once instead adding up more problems to check for over a longer period of time.

Kaiman responded that it could not be done this way, because the building department needs to check for other problems that a homeowner might not even realize are in violation. “At the end of the day, we need to narrow the period from the first to second list. We need to get the architects and the contractors to build the structures that don’t have the violations to begin with,” he said, adding that it is also important for people to fill out applications correctly in order to save time.

The entire State of the Town Address can be found on the town’s website at www.northhempstead.com.