Shortfalls in mortgage and sales tax revenues have stunned municipalities Islandwide but despite the troubling economic downturn, North Hempstead, even with a diminished budget, remains "solid, storm-ready, and stable," Supervisor Jon Kaiman declared Jan. 28 in his fifth annual State of the Town address at the Harbor Links Golf Course clubhouse.
Hosted by the League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset, event chair, Amy Bass, noted the league has been hosting the event for over two decades. Bass provided an overview of Kaiman's accomplishments mentioning technology, 311, town's infrastructure, environmental legacy fund, clean sweep, hybrid vehicles, recycling program, and senior citizen initiatives.
After acknowledging distinguished guests and establishing the town is home to almost 240,000 people covering 58 square miles, Kaimen said he continues to believe the financial stability of town government is paramount, the environment is a priority, and that quality of life issues are the key to fulfilling the town's obligations to their residents.
"We are well aware that our residents and businesses are shouldering the burden of a sluggish economy and weak real estate market. Wages are stagnant or falling, businesses are scaling back, and jobs are becoming increasingly more difficult to come by," Supervisor Kaiman told an audience which braved icy conditions to attend the early afternoon address. "But North Hempstead has responded to the crisis by utilizing reserve funds, capitalizing on our large pool of grants obtained over the last five years, sharing costs and services, issuing a small tax increase and reducing our annual expenditures," Kaiman said.
As Washington and Albany address the economic crisis the Town of North Hempstead is aggressively positioning itself and has a long list of shovel-ready projects set to go, Kaiman said. "They include a community center in New Cassel; a multitiered parking garage in Port Washington; a number of multimillion dollar road projects from Plandome Road to Prospect Avenue; flood mitigation projects in Carle Place and Mineola; sewage treatment plant projects in Great Neck and Port Washington; and the reconstruction of recreational facilities in New Hyde Park and Manorhaven," he said.
Addressing senior issues affects not only those who have reached that designation, but those that are caregivers, family members, neighbors, friends and providers of the panoply of services and programs, Kaiman said, and cited astounding facts: "According to the last national census, the town's population of residents aged 75-84 increased 40 percent, and those older than 85 increased 60 percent." Creating a Department of Services for the Aging, Kaiman said, will allow the town to provide much-needed services to this fast growing segment of our population.
Among the new initiatives for 2009, Supervisor Kaiman announced the townwide roll out of Project Independence, a program designed to help North Hempstead's growing population of seniors "age in place." The program, which is linked to the Town's 311 system, provides such services as social worker assistance, health screenings and immunizations, information and referral, support and other community programming. It will be accessible to every senior throughout North Hempstead in a phased, community by community roll-out, beginning early this year.
With the expansion of Project Independence, the growing participation in town-sponsored events and community programs, Kaiman proposed the reorganization of the Community Services Department into two separate entities to better meet the needs of constituents.
One, the Department of Senior Services, would primarily focus on Project Independence. Meanwhile, the Department of Community Services would be reorganized to focus on community events, outreach and volunteer coordination, and activities for residents of all ages.
For the last five years, Kaiman acknowledged, a concerted effort has been made to pursue three themes in organizing their administration: first, connecting to constituents, (311 and North Hempstead TV); second, finding the best practices and methods for managing resources and running departments (TownStat, establishing auditing and control division, and expansion of technology as a management tool); and third, working together with others whose responsibilities overlap or connect in one way or another with theirs (Office of Intermunicipal Coordination, efforts in Washington, DC and Albany).
In regard to community-based planning and visioning, Kaiman said, they continue to build on their original efforts.
CNN/Money Magazine named the Town of North Hempstead one of the 100 best places to live in the United States of America, Kaiman said. "We are the highest ranked community in New York, one of only three in the State to make the list."
Supervisor Kaiman spotlighted one of the projects that has become a hallmark of his administration, the townwide comprehensive recycling program. It's in gear and is gaining momentum, he said. The initiative, which so far has put recycling containers in the town's network of parks and town buildings, has partnered with most of North Hempstead's 11 school districts to "institutionalize" recycling among the youth, Kaiman said.
"The town will also commit to developing a plan to manage the collection of all recyclables from our partners, saving schools, businesses and parks money while ensuring that what is collected is actually recycled," Supervisor Kaiman added.
He noted that plans are ongoing to expand the recycling effort-negotiations are shaping up, for instance, to outfit Long Island Rail Road stations in the town with recycling receptacles-by working with the business community to get recycling ingrained in the fabric of the town.
Connected to recycling efforts is the larger issue of solid waste removal. The town's solid waste removal contract expires in April of 2010.
The town board in December adopted a flow control ordinance. Flow control allows state and local governments to designate where and when all solid waste is transported for disposal. Kaiman noted that all of the villages within the town, most of which currently are contracted to dispose their waste at the transfer station in Port Washington, will have the option of continuing their relationship with the town or making their own arrangements.
The town has also been working for the past year with the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District and the Village of Great Neck to consolidate their two plants into one. Both are required to rebuild their plants to meet modern standards and Kaiman said he pushed to have the two plants and systems consolidated into one. The least expensive solution, and the one Kaiman believed most environmentally friendly, he said, was rejected by the district commissioners. That solution would close both plants and divert the sewage to the county's Cedar Creek facility that has the capacity to handle the additional waste and in so doing, save tens of millions of dollars.
The consolidation, if attained, will remove one sewage plant from the bay and save millions of dollars for Great Neck taxpayers.
For the complete text of Supervisor Kaiman's 2009 State of the Town address log on to www.northhempstead.com.