Seeking his second two-year term as a county legislator, Steven Rhoads is being challenged by Bellmore resident Jeff Gold. District 19 includes Wantagh, Seaford, Bellmore, Merrick and Freeport.
The Herald conducted a Q&A to provide the public with their stances on the issues.
Herald: How will you help alleviate the opioid epidemic in Nassau County?
Steve Rhoads: Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50 — a sobering statistic. As a first responder for the past 25 years in the Wantagh Fire Department and serving on the Heroin Prevention Task Force for the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, I can tell you that this problem exists in every community and does not discriminate. The effort to combat this epidemic must extend beyond law enforcement to involve each of us and I have put that commitment into action. Recognizing that most opioid addictions start with the abuse of prescription medications, I have co-hosted several Drug Take Back Days, including one coming up on Oct. 28 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Grand Avenue Middle School in Bellmore, providing the opportunity to safely dispose of expired or unused medications. I have hosted civilian Narcan programs, training hundreds in the use of Naloxone, which is the reversal agent for an active opioid overdose and have funded numerous programs within our schools to educate students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, as well as parents on how to recognize the signs of addiction and where to reach out for help. I will continue to fight for funding for crisis intervention and youth service programs, which are vital to our efforts to break the cycle of dependency. Moreover, I believe that returning someone who has overdosed and survived back into the same environment which led to the overdose mere hours later, is a missed opportunity with potentially deadly consequences. I support legislation mandating a 72-hour hold on anyone who receives emergency treatment for an active opioid overdose. This hold period would not only allow sufficient time for the opioid to leave an individual’s system, but would also provide time to expose that individual to the variety of treatment options that are available to them.
Jeff Gold: There is no easy solution. To end the opioid epidemic in Nassau County, we need to start with teaching children the dangers of drug use both in homes and at school, before they become teens. This early training helped curb teenage smoking and drunk driving in past generations. We need to follow up with mandatory drug education as children enter high school. We need to require all physicians and dentists, including emergency rooms that prescribe opioids, to follow up with the patient regularly to assist patients who are prescribed opioids to get off the drugs as quickly as possible. Legitimate treatment should not lead to addiction, but too often it does. We need to break that cycle.
Herald: What are some issues you hope to focus on if elected?
Rhoads: Restoring faith in County government. No one is above the law and, sadly, elected officials from both parties, including my predecessor, have violated the public trust through their criminal actions. That is unacceptable. Since becoming a Legislator just two years ago, I have sponsored and passed legislation reforming Nassau's contracting and procurement process; created a Director of Procurement Compliance to ensure strict adherence to all policies and empowered the County's Board of Ethics and Commissioner of Investigations to provide unprecedented independent oversight with the ability to investigate any vendor, government employee or elected official and refer any suspected criminal activity to the District Attorney. I have also sponsored and passed legislation making Nassau the first in NY State to ban convicted felons from holding elected or appointed County office. This ensures that those who would put their interests ahead of taxpayer's will never get the chance and warns those in government today that there is zero tolerance for corruption. As a taxpayer, you have the right to expect that every tax dollar is spent honestly and wisely, and I will continue to demand transparency and accountability from all serving in County government.
Fighting to keep Nassau affordable. That means controlling government spending. Government should not take one more dollar from you than it needs to fund its legitimate functions. I have never voted for a tax increase. I’m part of a majority in the Legislature which has cut over $360 million in spending by eliminating duplicative services and inefficiencies allowing us to hold the line on taxes. During the last Democrat administration, we had annual tax increases of 4.3% and annual spending increases of 4.7%. Compare that to today where Republican leadership has held to those numbers to 0.3% and 0.7% respectively. At the same time, we have paid down County debt; cut borrowing; substantially closed Nassau’s budget gap and nearly tripled the County’s reserve funds earning Nassau its first positive bond rating outlook in years.
Keeping Nassau affordable also means fixing the broken assessment system my opponent helped to create while on the Board of Assessors. Eliminating variable levels of assessment; returning to an elected County Assessor who is directly accountable the voters; investing in technology and conducting County-wide revaluations at regular intervals will make the system more fair and will ultimately reduce homeowner’s need to grieve taxes annually by getting valuations right the first time.
Gold: Without questions, my number one priority is to make sure that the pending reassessment is performed accurately and, once accurate, sustainable. The current system is inaccurate and places an inordinate and unfair burden on those that chose to believe the information on the County Website, and elected not to grieve their taxes. Next, I think it is essential that we address the hidden tax contained within virtually the entire District's water bills. I will work with state officials to craft legislation to make American Water tax-free and that will save all residents of the District thousands of dollars. Third, I will seek to revitalize the civic associations, so that all residents can take pride in our community and will seek to incentivize volunteerism. Fourth, I will obtain the necessary funds to re-pave Merrick Road in Bellmore, and unlike my opponent, I will not approve a capital plan that does not include such funding. Fifth, I will increase my accessibility in the District with a District Office, regular office hours, an interactive Facebook Group.
Herald: How do you differentiate yourself from your opponent?
Rhoads: Community service isn’t something you do because you’ve decided to run for office or as an opportunity to promote your business. It’s something you do because you believe that we all share a responsibility to give back. I hope my constituents see that commitment displayed not only by my years of service in a variety of civic organizations, but in all that has been accomplished in the two years I’ve had the honor of representing them in the County Legislature.
Over that time, I’ve helped to hold the line on taxes, produced two balanced budgets and cut $70 million in spending, sponsored legislative reforms to fight corruption and make County government more open and transparent, wrote the law expanding the county’s panic alarm system to cover schools, houses of worship and other places of mass assembly to help keep our citizens safe and authored legislation extending county fee waivers to residents still rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy. I’ve sponsored 10 tax grievance and tax exemption workshops, multiple public safety forums and community meetings and even sponsored a “Caretakers of the Congregation” seminar with the NCPD to teach our area religious leaders strategies to better protect their schools and congregations.
I have fought for our communities, leading the effort before the Town BZA to block a cabaret from opening next to a residential neighborhood in Wantagh; lobbied in Albany for additional public bus funding; challenged unfair NY Rising elevation deadlines threatening Sandy victims; went after the LIRR on behalf of homeowners for deforestation next to their homes; fought at the Public Service Commission against outrageous NY American Water rate hikes; expanded ShotSpotter technology in Freeport; completed $4.5 million in renovations to Wantagh Park; obtained grant funding for community projects such as the Bellmore-Merrick Roller Hockey rink, Seaford Harbor Access Road; Merrick’s Wynsum Avenue Playground and as vice-chair of the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, fought to obtain funding for our local fire departments to purchase live-saving equipment.
Complaints don’t solve problems. Actions do. When I ran for this office two years ago, I vowed to work tirelessly on your behalf to produce results and I’ve fought hard to keep that promise.
Gold: After nine months on the job, my opponent voted to nearly double his part-time legislative salary to $75,000. In contrast, every decision and vote that I make will have my constituent's interests at heart - not my own. I intend to commit $20,000 of my legislative salary to open a District Office and Community Help Center so that residents do not need to travel to Mineola to get the help that they need. Additionally, I intend to take $10,000 of my legislative salary and donate it to local charities that are assisting our district’s residents, and which are having to make do with less, because of budgetary cuts. I will also reject the County’s health insurance saving the County an additional $25,000. My opponent's party opposes the appointment of an Inspector General to oversee all contracts with the County, so he opposes it, without being able to give a legitimate reason. I support the appointment of an Inspector General and stringent review of all contracts.
Herald: How can you maintain or fuel revitalization of downtown areas of the district?
Rhoads: There is no single approach that will fit every community. In many areas, businesses are not confined to a discernable downtown. For that reason, I’ve focused on continuing forward with our Streetscape projects along major County roadways, having completed a section on Merrick Road in Bellmore last year with plans to continue both west to Newbridge Road and east into Wantagh. I’ve also focused on infrastructure, working with the Village of Freeport to secure funding on its North Main Street project; repaved a section of Merrick Avenue in Merrick and fought to insert a $1 million capital project for concrete panel replacement on Merrick Road which is awaiting funding.
A major concern is housing opportunities for our kids being in short supply. Where appropriate for a community, the revitalization of downtown areas can go hand in hand with transit-oriented development. For example, the Village of Farmingdale has taken an industrial area adjacent to its Main Street and train station and partnered with private business to transform it into transit-oriented apartments and condominium units so as to create housing opportunities for young professionals. These units contain ground-floor restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses designed compliment existing businesses in order to provide traditional services required by any community within walking distance. The key, however, to any such proposal is working closely with the local community and civic organizations as well as the chambers of commerce to build consensus.
Gold: I support the conversion of vacant retail stores and factories into artisan spaces where artists can both live and display their works. Many people in the arts cannot afford separate spaces to live and sell their works, so they gravitate to communities that encourage such living/work arrangements. We already know that people live in our downtowns in illegal apartments, so we need to properly regulate such properties and appropriately tax them. I would support higher density projects in the downtowns, in largely industrial areas, and on Freeport's Nautical Mile, because they will have a beneficial effect on local businesses. We also need to make sure that commercial properties are appropriately assessed.