Barbara Hafner, a teacher from West Hempstead, is challenging Vincent Muscarella in the Nassau County Legislator’s 8th District race. The district encompasses West Hempstead, Franklin Square, Floral Park, Bellerose, Bellerose Terrace, and portions of Elmont, New Hyde Park and Stewart Manor. Muscarella, who is also a West Hempstead resident, has retained the seat since 1995.
Recently, the Herald sent questions to both candidates on issues that might be of importance to residents.
Hafner: Many factors contribute to economic conditions and improvement. Two that come to mind are affordable housing and public transportation. The county and towns need to work together to develop housing that is affordable and close to public transportation. I know many young people who live in Brooklyn because they do not need a car to get to work, and the apartments are affordable. They walk or take public transportation to the places where they want to eat and shop.
Muscarella: Taxes in the county are too high, making it difficult for small businesses to survive. Small businesses have overhead expenses that online and big-box stores don’t. When you put that together with high taxes, it makes it very difficult for small businesses to survive.
My number one priority is lowering taxes. County taxes now make up only 16 percent of the property tax bill, as opposed to 19 percent in 2009. We must continue to minimize the tax burden that businesses pay. Additionally, we must all understand and take responsibility for how technology has changed the purchasing experience. We all need to make a concerted effort to shop locally. The ease and savings that we might get by shopping online is not worth the damage that we cause by empty storefronts and a diminishing tax base.
Hafner: The assessment process overhaul is long overdue. However, residents must understand the process. We must know how the assessments are calculated and we must know if the process is working. If it is working, great, make it transparent to everyone. If it is not, fix it, and make that transparent as well.
Muscarella: Reassessment needs to happen, but the county executive’s process has been flawed. It has been rushed, hidden and improperly explained. I am continually hearing from residents that their new assessments are based on incorrect information and are at odds with actual market values. Phone calls to the Department of Assessment go unanswered, the assessor has not held public hearings and the algorithm used by the assessor is hidden. That is why I co-sponsored legislation to require that tax impact notifications be mailed to every homeowner to explain the tax ramifications of the reassessment. I also co-sponsored legislation to require the department to disclose the complete assessment algorithm it uses to determine the new assessments. Additionally, I have co-sponsored legislation to require the Department of Assessment to answer the phone calls of residents, and to force the assessor to hold public hearings.
Hafner: We need to examine the county’s departments and services structures and ask, “Do we have redundancies?”
Services, transportation, and recreation are important to our residents. We must support and promote recreation for our seniors and our children and ask, “Are we, the residents, getting the services we want and need to enjoy our lives in Nassau County?” Budgets are very complicated. If we are getting more, we should be paying more.
As a teacher, resident, and local union president of the West Hempstead Education Association, I sat through the annual school budget process. We examined each budget line and asked questions. After that we, as a union, supported and promoted the school budget. It was never an easy process, but we were part of the decision-making, and it helped to make the budget more transparent and easily understood by the community. That should be the same for the residents of Nassau County.
Muscarella: I have always been a strong proponent of zero-based budgeting. Currently, most budgets are put together by taking the prior year’s budget and adding to it. I believe that this makes monetary managers lazy and complacent. Zero-based budgeting requires all expenses be justified every year beginning at dollar one. This method requires a complete evaluation of needs and expenses for every new budgetary period.
But savings are just half the solution. A strong economy and healthy budget also means expanding the tax base. Pro-growth and smart development, such as transit-oriented development, must also be pursued. And government investment in Nassau’s infrastructure is vital.