By Eden Laikin
It was his fifth State of the County address, but Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano began his speech last night in a first-of-its-kind way – by walking onto the stage and taking a “selfie,” with his iPhone, of himself and the heads of both the Republican and Democratic sides of the County Legislature.
Mangano spent the next 45 minutes
detailing the last years’ initiatives which he says has put Nassau on the “road to fiscal recovery.” Yet, he began as he often does, by recognizing and honoring veterans in the audience, members of the police department, volunteer firefighters and the DPW employees who worked around the clock to plow the streets before during and after a rash of winter snow storms.
And, he said, this dedicated workforce “is one important reason we are working with NIFA to lift the wage freeze to recognize jobs well done, while achieving long term structural and reoccurring savings.”
The two-term County Executive delivered the annual address before a packed theatre in the SPACE in Westbury – a state-of-the-art performance center at the site of the former Westbury movie theatre. The Nassau Industrial Development Agency assisted in getting the long languishing vacant site redeveloped.
Among the hundreds of people in the audience were District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Comptroller George Maragos, NIFA and NY Rising Chair, Jon Kaiman, Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro
“Friends, four years ago we gathered together for the purpose of setting forth a plan to address the many problems Nassau County was facing after years of failed policies,” Mangano told the crowd. ”Those policies gave us high taxes and a poor economy. It was a recipe for disaster.”
“Today,” Mangano said, “We are successfully creating an environment for economic growth. We are seeing new job opportunities emerge for our residents. We are encouraging programs that ensure our young workforce can reside in Nassau County. And we are vigorously waging war on the devastating heroin epidemic that is plaguing our County, Long Island and the nation.”
He said legislators have worked with his administration to eliminate much of the $378 million dollar deficit they inherited, and ”moved Nassau County forward in a way that has helped our residents afford the quality of life we have come to expect in our great county.”
“It is these policies and this mindset that has helped to ensure that Nassau is NO LONGER the highest property taxed county in the nation and Nassau now provides opportunities for all who want to call it home,” he said. “My administration has, and continues to be dedicated to, the task of cutting wasteful spending, developing new and efficient ways of providing services and rightsizing Nassau County’s government. We put it on a diet by reducing the workforce by 20%. Nassau County government now has 6 less departments thanks to efficient consolidation efforts and 123 fewer administrators.”
His administration has, he said, cut energy costs, reduced the number of vehicles in the fleet and took on the task of eliminating 2,500 excessive copy machines and 1,700 duplicative phone lines. “These innovative, practical and efficient solutions not only saved tax dollars but allowed us to continue important services to our residents.”
Mangano spoke about public-private partnerships that have saved millions of dollars and created efficiencies.
For example, a private company now operates Nassau-owned buses – saving taxpayers $33 million a year and provides ridership with reliable, efficient bus service and more routes – all without raising cash fares.
Efficiencies were also made at the County jail, where the Sheriff produced an annual saving of $7 million by bringing private health care professionals into the jail to provide health care onsite – thereby eliminating the costly expense of correction officers accompanying convicts to local hospitals and clinics for treatment.
He said the County was also administering several cost-saving programs in the Department of Public Works, including converting all traffic lights to LED and instituting a state-of-the-art snow plow monitoring system that provides real-time data showing the location and speed of the plow, whether the sander is on or off, and if the plow is in operation on county roads.
“We have successfully met every weather challenge – from the ravages of Hurricane Sandy to this year’s relentless series of snow storms,” Mangano said. “The men and women of our Department of Public Works have provided superior service to our residents.
County Executive Mangano recognized employees of Nassau’s Office of Emergency Management for superior response to Hurricane Sandy. “Their efforts under crisis were spectacular. Due to the efforts of our first responders, no lives were lost during that powerful storm. In fact, Nassau County received the prestigious National Weather Service Designation as “Storm Ready.”
He recognized the Department of Social Services’ fraud investigators for recovering and preventing $15.3 million in Medicaid fraud while continuing to deliver “outstanding social services;” the Fire Marshall for helping to consolidate and establish a state-of-the-art training and education center at Nassau County’s Firefighting training facilities; and the Health Commissioner for his leadership in safely evacuating 6 nursing homes and a hospital in the face of Hurricane Sandy and for bringing national honors to our County by winning 3 National Model Practice Awards, the highest number awarded to a local health department in the United States in 2013.
He congratulated the Parks Commissioner for expanding athletic and family entertainment options, such as the FREE summer concert series, Octoberfest, Barkfest, Candlelight Nights, the Long Island Fair at Old Bethpage Village Restoration and the Annual Cruise to the Show Car Show and Parade. And Commissioner Lisa Murphy, for successfully overseeing the merger of 6 departments which resulted in a new Department of Human Services which includes the departments of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency, Developmental Disabilities Services, Senior Citizen Affairs, the Office of the Physically Challenged and the Nassau County Youth Board. And, lastly, the Economic Development team who he’s partnered with, to attract new businesses to Nassau, create and retain jobs and create housing opportunities for the young workforce.
“Collectively, my team has reduced wasteful spending, as well as implemented efficiencies and technology which have reinvented County government and saved tax dollars,” Mangano said, adding that the administration’s success in cutting wasteful spending resulted in Nassau County receiving Governor Cuomo’s New York State Government Efficiency Award along with a $5 million dollar grant.
He said that with the support of Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves, the County has “tackled the decade old dilemma” of redeveloping the Hub by launching a 100% privately financed new Veterans Memorial Coliseum and entertainment district. He added the new Coliseum will retain its history of honoring our veterans while sharing in revenue with County taxpayers, employ 2,700 people and provide $10 billion in economic benefit to Nassau County and complement Hofstra University and Nassau Community College.
An attractive, first class destination, the Coliseum will include family fun, sports and entertainment, including: Islander games; The Brooklyn Nets; The New York Yankees Coaching Clinics; Heavyweight Boxing; an New American Hockey League Team; and Star-Studded Performers and Family-Fun Entertainment.
But, he said, the transformed Coliseum is only the beginning. “After completion, new developments will take shape including a movie theatre, bowling center and themed restaurants. We should all be excited about our future as this economic development project will enhance our quality of life and provide job opportunities for residents.
No longer will County residents pay the electric bill, pave the parking lot or buy million dollar scoreboards. These practices are not sustainable and are personally unacceptable to this administration.
Instead, County taxpayers will shed costly expenses and share in the revenue generated at the Coliseum. In addition to a new coliseum, other 100% privately financed projects are underway which will result in new Indoor Twin Ice Skating Rinks and a new indoor pool to accommodate National sporting events and will increase tourism while providing youth athletes with state-of-the-art facilities.”.
Another public private partnership is underway at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, where together with the History Channel and philanthropist Lawrence Kadish, the County is establishing the Museum of American Armor. The facility will serve as a living museum and education center, as well as a vibrant and dynamic tribute to the tens of thousands of U.S. G.I’s in Nassau County who dedicated their lives to protect our nation and the lives of those who have faced tyranny around the world.
“The positive financial benefits from public-private partnerships, along with a vibrant, iconic sports and entertainment center, are only part of the success we achieved,” Mangano said,
But he cautioned that a fundamental part of the solution lies in providing housing options, while keeping property taxes down and rental properties affordable. To assist young professionals and meet employers need for an educated workforce, the Mangano administration has partnered with the private sector to create more than 1,000 new housing opportunities adjacent to transit hubs in Hempstead, Great Neck Plaza, Farmingdale, Mineola and Westbury. The program encourages developers to convert empty office buildings to apartments and is looking to continue the successful program in Baldwin, Lynbrook and Valley Stream – not only assisting young families, but also revitalizing downtowns by increasing economic activity and removing eyesores.
Mangano went on to say that Nassau County has quickly become the Hollywood East of the movie and television industry, generating $144 million in economic benefits throughout the area and employing nearly 2,000 people. Nassau now has more filming days than four of the five New York City boroughs and regularly employs electricians, carpenters and artisans. Most recently, Carrie Underwood performed a live television broadcast of the Sound of Music on NBC from Grumman Studios. The most expensive motion picture in history – The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was recently filmed in Bethpage and will be released in May.
To continue growing jobs, Mangano said he’s been in contact with the New York Institute of Technology, Molloy College, Long Island University and Start Up New York to attract digital editing post production companies to Nassau. “It is initiatives such as these that have strengthened our local economy. Never again will the loss of a single company such as Grumman be allowed to assault Nassau’s economy,” he said.
“After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, good middle-class jobs have begun returning to Nassau,” he said. “We stand here today with a record that includes creating and retaining nearly 20,000 jobs and employment opportunities. From the new Hain Celestial Headquarters in Lake Success to attracting a New York City lighting company bound for L.A., jobs are coming back to Nassau.”
Most recently, Mangano announced that manufacturers – New York Vanity and Supreme Screw – are both moving from New York City to Nassau. Many local companies are also expanding their operations, including employers such as Clever Devices, AriZona Iced Tea, New York Community Bancorp, Nassau Candy, the new beverage manufacturer Agua Enervivá, R Best Produce – parent company of Uncle Guisseppe’s and many more.
“My aggressive economic development plan does not stop there. Through public-private partnerships, we are making an economic future possible for Nassau that, previously, would have been unimaginable.”
Recently, the State Department of Labor released statistics indicating a drop in unemployment to 5.1% – considerably lower than the state average. As part of that success, Mangano pointed to several successful job fairs he’s held, including one in November where more than 10,000 job seekers visited the free event at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And to the launch of Nassau County’s smart phone app named Nassau Works. This app lists tens of thousands of jobs available for residents – all on your smartphone and at the touch of a screen.
And he spoke about the success of another smart application, Nassau Now, which provides an efficient way to receive important emergency alerts and to report neighborhood issues such as downed trees, traffic hazards and pot holes. The application allows you to simply take a photo with your smart phone of the issue and send it to the appropriate department for action.
Mangano said the County has steadily improved Nassau’s finances through a ”renewed and mutually respectful partnership” with NIFA, and recognized NIFA Chairman Jon Kaiman for creating a cooperative, progressive path to fiscal strength.
Regarding finances, Mangano said the County’s fund balance had increased 28% to $82 million since he took office in 2010 and added that he expected the positive trend to continue when the 2013 audited financial statements show a growth in the fund balance to over $100 million.
He went on to call on all stakeholders to work together to end the present flawed assessment system, end the billion dollar waste and treat Nassau taxpayers as other taxpayers are treated throughout New York State. “We ask for nothing more but will insist on nothing less,” he said.
Mangano spoke about the many lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy; from elevating homes to strengthening critical infrastructure and said that although devastating, the storm provided the opportunity to rebuild smarter and stronger.
One example he gave is the securing of $830 million in funds to rebuild an even stronger Bay Park Waste Water Treatment Plant which serves 550,000 residents and the advocacy for the dollars necessary to construct an ocean outfall pipe. Historically and presently, Bay Park Waste Water Plant discharges directly into Reynolds Channel. Mangano and environmentalists want to move this discharge 2 miles out into the ocean thus protecting the environment and increasing recreational boating and commercial fishing opportunities.
“A stronger, smarter and more resilient Nassau County is in our future and will soon be a reality,” Mangano said.
He went on to say Nassau County is the safest large suburban county in the nation, with an 11% decrease in overall crime since he took office and a 14% reduction from 2012 to 2013.
“Nassau’s intelligence-led policing is a model other police departments from across the nation are studying as it combines good old fashion police work with state-of-the-art technology and best practices,” he said. ‘From a zero-tolerance for domestic violence to our ground breaking Active Shooter seminars, N.C.P.D. is making certain our educational institutions, places of public assembly and neighborhoods are safe and will remain so.
He pointed to the two-way communication devices that each school in Nassau will be eligible to receive this year, which when activated, immediately connects with the 911 Emergency call Center, providing GPS coordinates and recording all audio. And, the Nassau Gun buyback program which, in partnership with the District Attorney’s Office, has taken 3,000 illegal guns off the streets.
Mangano thanked the “dedicated” Nassau County Police force “who keep our residents and neighborhoods safe.”
He spoke about stepping up the war on heroin, an epidemic the claims the lives of more than 120 residents a year and causes hundreds more non-fatal overdoses. “Far too many lives are lost and families heart-broken due to this scourge on our society,” Mangano said.
In addition to aggressive education, awareness and enforcement campaigns, Nassau is the first county in New York State to train citizens to administer the life-saving overdose prevention drug, Narcan. For this, Mangano thanked Eden Laikin, his wife Linda and “all those dedicated to this second chance on life program.
Then he took a moment to recognize the many students who joined the County’s efforts to prevent heroin use by creating Public Service Announcements for their peers, asking the students from MacArthur, Valley Stream South, Division and Hewlett High School to stand and be recognized.
Mangano said the County plans to hire approximately 125 police officers a year for the next three years to replace retiring officers and said construction of a new state-of-the-art First Precinct to replace the dilapidated facility in Baldwin has begun.
Other achievements recognized by County Executive Mangano included: the creation of affordable camps for children, the continuation of the Games for the Physically Challenged; holding numerous ceremonies honoring our veterans; enhancing the lives of the County’s senior citizens with programs such as senior birthday celebrations; and, certifying the highest number of women-owned and minority-owned businesses while also helping a record number of new Americans obtain citizenship.
“Nassau County no longer taxes too high, spends too much or reforms too little,” Mangano said. “We have met each challenge WITHOUT raising County property taxes and that will be our goal for the future while creating more well-paying, private sector jobs.”
“The next four years are already full of challenges and opportunities that promise to make Nassau County an even better place to live, work and raise a family,” he added. “From … the planning of a job generating phase-three for the Hub, exploring new opportunities at Belmont Park, renovating the shuttered social services building into a state-of-the-art family court, building a new crime lab, planning emergency worker dorms, building a state-of-the-art public safety training center, increasing housing options for our youth, strengthening our public transit system, to making certain every Sandy victim is back in their home – there is much work to accomplish… much planning to be done.”
While there are always critics on the road to reform, Mangano said, “I am reminded of the words of Abraham Lincoln “He has a right to criticize who has the heart to help.”
“So let us leave here tonight committed to work across party lines to honor the people of Nassau County. This is not about partisanship but leadership. We have accomplished much and can truly accomplish much more through cooperation and mutual respect. Together, we can and will meet every challenge and continue to make Nassau County an even better place to live, work and raise a family. Friends, the future is bright and we here in Nassau County have so much to look forward to.”