Wantagh resident Gina Barbara, a transportation and accessibility advocate, announced last week that she was running for Nassau County legislator in the 19th District. The seat is currently held by Steven Rhoads, a Republican from Bellmore.
The 19th District includes parts of Bellmore, Freeport, Merrick, Seaford and Wantagh.
Barbara, a Democrat, said she decided to run for the seat after listening to ongoing debates about property assessments. “The property tax rolls were a mess under [former County Executive] Ed Mangano,” she said. “Laura Curran promised to fix them, and that’s what she’s trying to do.”
Barbara said that Republicans in the County Legislature, including Rhoads, were guilty of what she called “fear mongering” in their efforts to persuade voters that Curran’s proposals would raise their property taxes unfairly. “Laura Curran is trying to get it right,” Barbara said. “The majority had 10 years to fix it. They didn’t.”
In addition to the assessment issue, Barbara, 39, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, is concerned about cuts to Nassau Inter-County Express bus service that have resulted in reduced service, including in the 19th District. “Between Main Street in Freeport and Hicksville Road in Massapequa, there’s not a single north-south bus line connecting Sunrise Highway and Hempstead Turnpike,” her campaign adviser, Robert Schoenfeld, said. “There’s on-demand shuttle-bus service, and you can take a taxi, but not all of those are accessible” to people in wheelchairs or who use walkers, he said.
And they’re more expensive,” Barbara added.
“Last year’s budget for transportation included an additional $5.7 million for buses,” she said. Accessibility advocates wanted the money to be used to restore discontinued lines or to make existing service more disabled-friendly. “We don’t know what this money was used for,” she said. “What is the county planning?”
Rhoads said that the money would be used to avoid further reductions in service due to rising costs, and that the lines that were eliminated would most likely not be restored.
On the assessment issue, Rhoads countered that what Barbara called fear mongering was only a desire to educate the public. “State law limits property tax increases to no more than 6 percent in any year and no more than 20 percent over any five-year period,” he said. “Curran also promised not to change the basis of the formula” for calculating property tax.
Curran signed an executive order last September reducing the level of assessment to 1.0 percent from 2.5 percent, while gradually eliminating the below-market valuations that have resulted from the tax grievance process. Rhoads and the Republican majority in the Legislature contend that the order will lead to property tax increases that exceed state-mandated limits.
Barbara agreed that the assessment process needs to be explained, although she differed about the explanation itself. “We haven’t had accurate assessments since Ed Mangano tore up the old rolls,” she said. “It’s going to take time to get this mess cleaned up. We need to support Laura Curran while she’s doing it.”
The Nassau County Democratic Committee declined to nominate a candidate to run against Rhoads when it met on Feb. 13, leaving him unopposed. Barbara has registered with the State Election Commission and submitted her name to the committee. She will have the opportunity to present herself as a candidate in the coming weeks in an effort to become the party’s standard-bearer. “There’ll be two other candidates, too,” she said. “I don’t know yet who they’ll be; [the committee doesn’t] have any names. So far it’s just me.”
Barbara, who has lived in Wantagh since 2000, has a degree from Hofstra University in rhetorical studies. She is a medical coding and billing specialist, and also volunteers for the Nassau County Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged and serves on the Nassau County Transportation Advisory Committee.
She said she was also concerned about the fees the county charges seniors and some charity groups for the use of public facilities such as event sites and meeting rooms, as well as parking fees at county-owned venues such as the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where parking costs $40. “Fees hit seniors and other people on fixed incomes harder than anybody else,” she said.
Barbara is in the process of forming a campaign organization. In addition to Schoenfeld, she has a core of about two dozen volunteers serving as campaign staff, she said.