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Fix Rath Park

Town officials meet with Franklin Square residents to work on fixes

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Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen appeared at the Franklin Square Public Library on March 27 to hear residents’ concerns about Rath Park, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years. The meeting followed two years of intense lobbying by Franklin Square residents Marisa Filardo and Joel DiGillio, who have called for a complete make-over of the park.

Dozens of residents attended and expressed frustration over the lackluster condition of Rath Park and what they said was the “poor service” provided by some park employees. Gillen, whose administration sent out surveys to gauge the community’s concerns about their parks, said renovations at Rath Park were a long time coming.

“I have seen the steady decline of our parks over the years,” Gillen said. “We want to address this concern. That’s why we sent out the survey, and we want you to get the most bang for your buck.”

Subhed: Security concerns

The survey, which 382 residents responded to, revealed that two of the biggest concerns people have about Rath Park are safety and use of the park by non-residents. Carl Gerrato, a long-time Franklin Square resident, described a time in the past when guards used to check visitors’ IDs at the gates. Now, residents said, the guards appear apathetic, allowing too many non-residents to wander in.

Hempstead Deputy Commissioner Raymond Rhoden explained that many non-residents have been found playing on Rath Park’s tennis and basketball courts, but because they were accompanied by residents, security could do nothing.

“We can’t evict a guest when they’re with a Franklin Square resident,” Rhoden said.

On safety, residents said they felt frustrated by the lack of security at Rath. Parents said teenagers and squatters gather at the handball court and empty lots, smoking marijuana and experimenting with other drugs. Filardo said needles have been found on the ground at the park.

Officer Jorge Diaz, a former Problem Oriented Police officer with the Nassau County Police Department’s 5th Precinct, said during a Franklin Square Civic Association meeting last year that police often make arrests for marijuana possession at Rath.

Residents also said that children have been assaulted or approached by strangers at the park.

Gillen agreed that park security needs to be upgraded. Her chief of staff, Jim LaCarrubba, said the town would seek to install additional security cameras and implement better patrol practices at the park. Town officials added that they would make sure the lights at Rath Park, which are normally turned off at night, would remain on, as they were intended to be.

“We have protocols in place, and if they’re not being followed, it’s a problem with the staff and supervision,” Rhoden said.

The park’s supervisor, Denise Micheletti, did not return the Herald’s calls.

Subhed: What’s in the budget?

For the Town of Hempstead to address residents’ concerns about safety and maintenance at Rath Parth, the Franklin Square Special Parks District budget must be increased, officials said. Franklin Square residents pay about $200 a year in taxes for their special parks district, which amounts to $4 million for the district’s four parks.

Rebecca Sinclair, Gillen’s deputy chief of staff, said that nearly the entire budget goes to pay operating expenses, including employees’ salaries and benefits, as well as maintenance, leaving about $300,000 in the spending plan for improvements at Rath Park.

Residents said they did not know that the parks district includes Cherry Valley Ball Fields. The park was acquired during a special district meeting in 2014 for more than $3 million from Garden City, with little notice given to the community, one resident said. Several people also said they believed the fields were for use by Garden City’s little leagues only. Residents are still paying off more than $400,000 in debt for Cherry Valley.

“If you’re paying for the acquisition of the park, then you should be allowed to use it,” Gillen said. She vowed to have her administration look into the use of the Cherry Valley fields.

By phone, Councilman Bruce Blakeman said the town is awaiting $100,000 from the state Dormitory Authority to put toward a turf field at Rath Park.

Gillen said she is creating a list of improvements based on residents’ requests, along with their costs. The town will present its findings in late May or early June, and decide from there which improvements to start with

The Hempstead Town Board must approve any renovation work.