Republican Don Clavin is challenging incumbent Democrat Laura Gillen in the race for Hempstead town supervisor.
Clavin has been the town’s receiver of taxes since 2001, while Gillen became the first Democratic supervisor in the town in more than a century when she defeated Republican incumbent Anthony Santino in November 2017.
The Herald recently asked both candidates about issues that are important to residents in the Town of Hempstead.
Herald: What more can be done to provide tax relief to Town of Hempstead residents?
Gillen: We must eliminate the corruption tax burden that every resident in the Town of Hempstead has been forced to pay for decades. The previous two Republican supervisors raised taxes nearly $100 million (64 percent) with the support of my opponent. During my tenure, taxes have gone down two years in a row because of fiscally conservative measurers I have implemented. I will continue to eliminate wasteful contracts and the corruption and patronage that has fleeced residents.
Clavin: I’ve met with thousands of taxpayers, both at my office and at my community forums. The top issue that they are concerned about is taxes. Unfortunately, Supervisor Laura Gillen has distinguished herself for three things: a proposal to raise taxes by millions, her vote against tax cuts and trying to take credit for the tax cut that she voted against. In her first major fiscal action as supervisor, Gillen presented a tax-hike budget, which was filed with the town clerk on Sept. 28, 2018, and called for $275.2 million in property taxes, up from the $273.2 million figure for 2018. I decided that day that I would run for supervisor. About a month later, she voted no to Hempstead Town Council Members’ bipartisan 2019 tax-cut budget. Every other member of the Town Board, even her Democratic colleague, Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, supported the tax cut budget. Now Gillen is trying to take credit for the 2019 tax-cut budget that she voted against. Honesty is the best policy, and I’ll always put taxpayers first. My first act in office will be to slash the supervisor’s office payroll in half, by $1 million. One of my first actions will be to eliminate all take-home vehicles for appointed officials and to perform a full performance review of all town departments in order to provide the best services to residents at the lowest cost.
Herald: There has been some talk about cutting staffing within the town, what are your staffing plans?
Gillen: After I was elected in 2017, I cut the budget in the office of the supervisor by nearly half a million dollars. My opponent increased his office budget by 80 percent, or $1.7 million. Hempstead Town residents have been paying for patronage for too long. Under my tenure, staffing is at its lowest level in years. I will continue to push forward on eliminating the nepotism and cronyism that has plagued Hempstead for decades and continue to trim payroll and hire on competence, not connections, to end the corruption tax.
Clavin: My first act in office will be on the first day, when I slash the supervisor office’s patronage payroll in half, by $1 million. I will call for the resignation of all exempt department heads, who are appointed and serve at the pleasure of the Town Board. I intend to conduct a full management review of department heads and will consider all staffing options based upon the needs of the township and the qualifications of candidates for various positions.
Herald: Since Hurricane Sandy, the Building Department has been under a lot of scrutiny from residents and there has been talk of adding a state monitor. Do you believe this is a feasible idea, and what more can be done to fix the issues within the department?
Gillen: Upon taking office, I set out to improve the Building Department after hearing many complaints from residents and businesses. This only intensified after we discovered the outrageous mismanagement that occurred after Sandy and was covered up for years. I sought to bring in an outside independent expert to do a complete audit of the department to streamline operations, find efficiencies and establish protocols that would reduce the potential for corruption. My efforts have been obstructed by the Town Council, who want to keep prying eyes out.
A state monitor is a start, but an independent audit is what the town needs. The council’s proposal merely throws money at the problem and relies upon the same people who created the Sandy debacle to fix the department. The need for an outside, independent examination is even more apparent after the arrest and indictment of holdover deputy commissioner John Novello. I plan to push this forward, bring in modern technology and increase code enforcement to address quality of life issues. To deal with the Sandy substantial damage issues, we are seeking grant funding to assist homeowners who need to elevate and creating an appeals process.
Clavin: The Building Department will be a priority as I perform a full performance review of all town departments in order to provide the best services to residents at the lowest cost. We don’t need a $500,000 study to figure out what is wrong in the Building Department, and we don’t need the state intervening. I’m going to take my experience in the tax office to implement cost-effective solutions to revamp the department. If that means having the office open on weekends to eliminate any backlog of building permit applications, then that is what we’re going to have to do. Performing a full review of the management staff is critical. Bringing in leaders in the development, building and real estate industries to work collaboratively to find ways to make the department more “consumer friendly” is a component of my plan.
As supervisor, I will increase communication between the administration and department heads. Updates are also sorely needed to the town’s arcane building and zoning codes, as well as the permitting process. Issues like interior alterations should not take as long as major building construction. I’ll make sure that departmental managers and my administration are working collaboratively. The possibilities are endless, and I look forward to tackling them head on in the Building Department and also where necessary in departments across the Town of Hempstead.
Herald: Given the amount of infrastructure issues within the town, how can necessary projects get completed while still keeping taxes low and keeping the work within the proposed budget?
Gillen: Under the previous Republican supervisors, taxes went up nearly $100 million while our roads fell apart. When I took office, I discovered that previous administrations would tell the public they were allocating money to repaving the roads and budget for the projects, but then never do the work. Money for roads was funneled into more patronage and the corruption tax that we are paying. My administration has allocated an unprecedented $59 million to road repairs in its first two years, all without increasing taxes. We did this by slashing wasteful contracts and instituting good government practices that save taxpayers money.
Clavin: The town’s roadway infrastructure is crumbling and is in need of major capital investment. These are dangerous conditions that put motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians at risk. I recently met with John Frisolone, owner of Bellmore Towing, who said that bent rims and flat tires have increased as a result of monster potholes within our crumbling roadways. The deteriorating conditions of our roadways are unacceptable, and we need to be proactive by making a long-term investment in our township’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, the current supervisor presented a woefully inadequate capital budget for roadway repaving and related work totaling $31.5 million in the spring of this year. Thankfully, the Town Council members boosted the supervisor’s road-repaving allotment by 16 percent, increasing that total to $36.5 million.
However, we need to make a significant long-term investment to save money in the short-term on repairs and to protect people from dangerous, crater-filled roadways. In the first year of my administration as supervisor, I will double the capital roadway budget to at least $70 million. Keep in mind that capital expenses are different from operating expenses. While operating expenses are necessary for the day-to-day operation of the town, a robust capital program that is planned smartly and efficiently would bring much benefit for the future. While taxes have been the top concern expressed by residents, addressing crumbling roadway infrastructure is the next top priority, and I look forward to taking it on right away.