In less than two weeks, voters head to the polls, casting ballots for mayor, two trustees, and a village justice.
General election day is Tuesday, March 21, where voters will choose from three leadership slates, each led by a mayor candidate. They include the incumbent mayor, Edwin Fare, and the two people who want to unseat him — first-time challenger Cristina Arroyo, and Anthony Bonelli, seeking his second bid for Village Hall after an unsuccessful run in 2019.
Candidates are making their last pitch to voters ahead of the big day, showcasing their stands on a range of tough issues while promoting their distinct vision for the future. Figuring most prominently in the debate for mayor is the village’s projected financial state over the next four years.
And it’s not good — at least according to Bonelli and Arroyo. They believe the village’s $34 million budget has been mishandled for more than a decade under the current administration. The leader of that administration, Fare, says the village’s wallet has suffered a short-term setback. But that’s only setting the stage for a long-term gain, and “the best is yet to come.”
When Fare and his party took office in 2011, noted Bonelli, the village’s once enviable Aa credit rating by Moody’s Investors Service has seen a steady decline, sinking to its current Ba1 rating in 2019, which financial experts largely regard as an investment liability.
A downgraded credit rating — which often means higher borrowing costs when financing for capital projects — is not the only barometer of the village’s deteriorating financial health. The state comptroller warned in 2021 that the village’s financial situation had reached a breaking point when it had fallen into the “significant fiscal stress” category. The village, however, has since moved under a “susceptible fiscal stress” category.
But the fiscal assessments in both cases point to a fundamental issue: An inability to balance projected expenses with revenue.
The village’s inclination to run up costs, Fare said, was partly out of his control. He inherited from his predecessor, Ed Cahill, a village that, on paper, was fiscally healthy thanks to his predecessor’s tight-fisted spending that kept roughly $11 million in reserves.
But Cahill’s fiscal caution ultimately left major big-ticket items unaddressed.
“Ed’s management style was to save every penny,” Fare said, “and not repair roads and not make improvements.”
Aggressive steps were needed to pump money into the village’s outdated, cash-starved infrastructure, argued Fare. Fixing a dilapidated swimming pool. Modernizing an outdated fleet of street sweepers and snow plows. Purchasing new ambulances and fire trucks.
“We wrongly thought the smartest thing was to take out of our cash reserves to buy for these improvements,” Fare said.
But now that those big-ticket items have been taken care of, Fare argues the village’s overzealous spending phase is behind them. And because of that, its finances are turning a corner.
“We have $2 million in the bank, and we just sold Parking Lot 26 for $7 million,” the mayor said. “So, we’ll have $9 million back in the bank within a month or two.”
Recent belt-tightening efforts appear to have worked for the moment, halting further financial stress. But challengers are quick to point out the village’s sour credit rating hasn’t budged, sharing in the opinion of financial observers that the outlook of a fast fiscal recovery remains doubtful.
To shore up the village’s financial position, Bonelli said bold cost-cutting measures must be made — starting with cutting back on what he perceives as a bloated village bureaucracy.
“I would consolidate titles for jobs like hired security guards, public safety officers, and code enforcement under one title,” Bonelli said.
He would also eliminate certain perks like take-home village vehicles for the managers — something the incumbent party argued is indispensable for managers to have to respond quickly to late-night calls and other emergencies.
Arroyo described the village’s financial damage is a symptom of a larger problem.
“There is an aspect of carelessness and lack of future thinking that led to where we are today,” she said. “There’s a vacuum of expertise in the village that needs to be filled.”
Arroyo called for a renewed focus on securing a better-qualified workforce, especially for those steering the village’s major development projects to avoid well-intentioned proposals from backfiring.
She cited an example of mismanagement reaching back to 2017 when the village planted ornamental pear trees throughout the Rockaway Avenue downtown district.
“It was awesome that they planted trees,” Arroyo said. “Study after study says that a downtown that’s green, that is aesthetically pleasing to walk through, encourages more foot traffic and more business.”
But the trees had eventually succumbed to a fungal infection and were ultimately cut down, an incident that Vincent Drzewucki Jr. — a horticulture expert at Cornell University’s cooperative extension — said could have been avoided had they not planted the same species of tree within the same area.
“A grown-up tree costs thousands of dollars, so they spent thousands of dollars to beautify the downtown,” Arroyo said. “If you have a good policy with bad implementation, that’s just a bad policy. It’s the outcome that people have to live with.”
But that’s not what’s happening in Valley Stream, the mayor said.
“Nothing that we do is short-sighted,” Fare said. “We have long-term goals that are bearing fruit today. Our deputy treasurer David Sabatino in charge of development is a bona fide expert with a degree in urban planning. He educates the board about improving our streets.
“We defer to expertise when needed.”
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