By Eden Laikin
Delivering his State of the County Address today, Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano outlined 8 years of campaign pledges he’s fulfilled during his two terms in office: to freeze property taxes and eliminate the home energy tax; create jobs and new housing opportunities, reduce crime, improve infrastructure and parks, renew the county’s commitment to its veterans, and transform the Nassau Coliseum into an attractive option for the Islanders.
Hundreds of supporters came to hear his 8th annual speech, given at the previously dilapidated arena – now a modern, state-of-the-art entertainment destination: the New Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, presented by NYCB Live.
“Friends and neighbors, tonight I report to you that the State of our County is strong,” Mangano told the crowd, gathered inside “Our economy has transformed, adding thousands of new jobs and attracting new employers. 2017 kicked off with the strongest job growth in more than 3 years and our unemployment rate is consistently among the lowest in the region. New housing opportunities continue to open in our downtowns, and the Federal government declared that Nassau County has effectively ended veteran homelessness. County finances continue to strengthen, and crime is at the lowest level since records were recorded.”
“Simply put, when we make promises, we keep them,” the County Executive said.
Mangano went on to speak about the nationwide opiate epidemic, which is killing on average one Long Islander a day. He said that while many have chosen to avoid talking about this unpopular subject, his administration has brought the issue of addiction to the forefront. He said that his staff has trained nearly 8,000 citizens to administer the life-saving overdose reversal agent called Naloxone, and that a least 50 residents’ lives have been saved because of those training sessions. “That’s 50 or more families that remain whole,” he went on to say. “Nothing is more important than keeping families whole through effective recovery programs.”
Strengthening Law Enforcement and Increasing Community Safety
“Terrorist acts across the country have changed the way in which we police,” he continued. “We’ve bolstered the police force by hiring 150 additional police officers, 911 operators and Ambulance Medical Technicians. In 2016, we swore in the largest number of police recruit graduates in more than 20 years.”
“This increase in force provides our police department a greater ability to intensify police patrols throughout local communities…assign officers to special crime prevention units, such as those combatting gangs and drugs…and protect large public assemblies, such as the Presidential Debate, from any threat.”
He noted how Nassau’s enhanced Anti-Terror Police Training Exercises and high-powered rifles came into use at Long Island Rail Road Stations in September when bombs exploded in Manhattan and Seaside Park, New Jersey.
In the coming weeks, County Executive Mangano will unveil a new Civil Defense initiative – that will offer residents’ training in active shooter situations, heroin awareness, crime prevention, homeland security, and general scams. Graduates of the program will be provided access to a Virtual Neighborhood Watch that includes live crime data, awareness bulletins, a blog within their precinct and the ability to provide direct tips or concerns to Nassau Police crime analysts.
Major crime is down by 27% since Mangano took office, including a 50% decrease in residential burglaries, a 46% reduction in stolen vehicles, and a 37% decrease in robberies. “I attribute this success to the brave men and women of the Police Department and our investment in assets,” he said. “From an intelligence-led policing model to advancements in technology, such as computers in patrol vehicles; license plate readers; and our Shot Spotter system, we have made Nassau a much safer community.”
War on Drugs
Calling it a “scary and frightening battle that is tragically destroying families and taking too many lives,” County Executive Mangano said he has personally witnessed the destruction heroin abuse brought to his friends and their families in his hometown of Bethpage.
“No one is immune; no one community is exempt; and sadly, this plague can be found in more homes than you could ever imagine,” he said. And he noted the recent passing of a former county intern who not too long ago, volunteered with his office to help others with drug abuse. Garrett Kassler, 26, helped launch a recovery program that has helped save countless lives. He tragically relapsed and lost his battle to addiction earlier this year. The County Executive thanked Garrett’s mother, Lisa, who was in the audience, for Garrett’s dedication. “We will never forget him and will never stop fighting for families impacted by addiction,” he said.
With respect to enforcement, Nassau and Suffolk counties joined forces last year and with support from the State Police and DEA, continue to track down the sources of fatal heroin overdoses. The team has arrested more than 200 drug dealers, conducted 12 search warrants, seized over 10 guns, 5,000 glassine bags of heroin and over 10,000 Xanax pills. “We will continue to aggressively hunt down drug thugs and remove them from our streets,” County Executive Mangano said.
Regarding available treatment, Mangano said help can be found at the County’s residential crisis center in Freeport, where medical professionals are ready to assist those just revived from an overdose or in eminent danger of overdosing; at St. Bernard’s Church in Levittown, where a Support Group meets weekly to discuss a new and successful medication assisted recovery program; and at Nassau County’s Opiate Treatment Program on the grounds of NUMC.
“All should know, you are not alone,” Mangano said. “The only shame in addiction, is not seeking help when help is available.”
New Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
“Eight years ago, we began with an ambitious plan to transform our County for your benefit,” Mangano said. “While there has always been criticism to go around, we can proudly state that we succeeded in our plans and kept our word by fulfilling the pledges we made.”
He said he pledged to jumpstart the previous efforts to improve the Coliseum and build a new economy on the property – and succeeded. “In just two days, the New Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will officially host its first performance – Long Island’s own Billy Joel. The grand opening of the Coliseum will be a celebration for all of Long Island.”
Billy Joel will be followed by hundreds of world-class performances and events, including acts like Marc Anthony, Bruno Mars, Barry Manilow and Tony Award-winning icon Idina Menzel – as well as sporting events and family shows.
No taxpayer dollars were used for transformation of the arena. It was a $165 million private investment, as part of a public-private partnership, that not only led to a world-class arena but also shed millions in expenses formerly paid by taxpayers, including utilities, parking lot repairs and capital improvements. Moreover, Nassau County is guaranteed $4.4 million a year in revenue from the arena’s operations, which will help keep taxes down and provide opportunities for employment, he said.
“We now have an opportunity to showcase a new arena to the New York Islanders,” Mangano said, adding that he met with officials from the Barclays Center and the Islanders – and strongly believes “there is a path for the Islanders return to their home.”
“I believe Nassau County has positioned itself for serious consideration by the team,” he said.
New housing opportunities are being discussed for the surrounding Plaza, along with restaurants, retail, and family entertainment options. The Mangano administration seeks to make the Nassau Hub a Center for Innovation in the healthcare and homeland defense industries – with the help of $88 million in state aid. The funds will be used for a parking structure that will free up room for other development, and to help connect the Coliseum site with surrounding property through the use of pedestrian bridges.
“Together, we can attract billions in private investment and create thousands of new, permanent jobs to complement existing educational institutions, financial companies, research and development and the Coliseum,” he said. “Nassau’s Hub should, and can, provide daily economic activity, improve our quality of life and create a job-generating economic engine for millennials and generations to come.”
The County Executive noted other successful public-private partnerships he’s entered into, including one with United Water for the operation and maintenance of wastewater facilities that saved more than $233 million; and the NY Cosmo’s new practice soccer field at Mitchel Athletic Complex, constructed without taxpayer dollars and open for use by our residents.
Frozen Taxes and Decreased Government Spending
Mangano said that since he took office, the County portion of a homeowner’s total tax bill went down from 19% in 2009 to 16% of the bill in 2017. And that while many neighboring municipalities and school districts increased property taxes by double-digits since 2010, his administration froze property taxes for 6 out of 7 years. “We have improved finances by addressing two decades of non-structural fiscal policies with systematic reforms; and we’ve reduced the size of government by 1,700 positions, reducing costs by $154 million. By tightening our belt, we produced budgetary surpluses which have increased our Reserve Fund from $60 million to $160 million.”
He said that together with the County Legislature, his administration implemented reforms that successfully slowed the debt accumulation from Nassau’s beleaguered tax assessment system. In 2017, he said, the County will no longer borrow money for this purpose – saving $32 million in interest alone. Reforms include the implementation of a successful Residential Assessment Settlement Program to curtail at least $20 million in annual waste; and a Commercial Disputed Assessment Fund, which will drastically reduce commercial assessment debt and save tens of millions of dollars annually.
But, he said the courts have ruled that he doesn’t have the jurisdiction to make the necessary legislative reforms needed to truly reform this system. “It’s time for Albany lawmakers to address this issue,” he said. “State laws governing Nassau’s assessment system must be amended if we are to fix Nassau County’s finances once and for all.”
He added that the Department of Assessment works to make homeowners aware of their right to challenge their assessment and is the only County department in the state to offer an opportunity to grieve on the Internet. A step-by-step video, to help residents with the process – if they believe their home is unfairly assessed, can be found on the department’s website.
Job Growth Boosts Local Economy
“Together with my economic development team, we have created more than 25,000 new jobs and employment opportunities, by aggressively soliciting companies to establish their headquarters here,” Mangano said. “Amazon opened a customer fulfillment center in Bethpage recently, creating hundreds of jobs; and an underperforming office building in Westbury was transformed into a telecommunications hub with 89 new good-paying jobs.”
He went on to speak about the County’s Film and Television industry – an area of enormous growth, which he said has benefitted our local economy “to the tune of a billion dollars over the past four years.” And the County’s recent purchase of the Morrelly Homeland Security Center, an important step forward in plans to create a Cyber Defense Accelerator in Bethpage.
Mangano said that his administration incentivized the private sector to increase housing opportunities by adding more than 3,500 new apartments – to address an expanding workforce. They helped transform vacant and under-utilized real estate into 1,974 residential units near transit-centers, including 353 affordable apartments, for the young workforce, seniors and veterans, he said. Success can be viewed in Great Neck, Great Neck Plaza, Farmingdale, Hempstead, Manhasset, Mineola, New Cassel, Roslyn and Westbury.
End to Veterans Homelessness in Nassau
Keeping a promise made in 2009 to create veteran housing, the County Executive has since established 60 homes at Mitchel Field to provide affordable housing for veterans, active duty military and their families. He has also partnered with Beacon House to rehabilitate five two-bedroom townhouses in Hempstead for homeless veterans and their families; and worked with a not-for-profit organization to build a home for a returning Iraq-war veteran in Hicksville.
“In July, the White House and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development declared that we effectively ended the homeless veteran crisis in Nassau County,” he said. “This commitment is the least we can do for our veterans, who we salute for their commitment to our homeland and way of life.”
And this year, Mangano said he and his administration officially welcomed home a generation who was dishonored by the American public upon their arrival home from Vietnam. “I was proud to host Long Island’s largest Welcome Home Ceremony and demonstrate our never-ending respect and appreciation for the service of our Vietnam veterans.
The County also helps vets-in-need by partnering with local veterans’ groups to provide food and clothing at Stand Downs twice a year, and free toiletries and meals at its Vet-Mart open weekdays. To assist those injured while serving our nation, opportunities were enhanced for Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses to further participate in government contracts, he said.
A Commitment to Improve Parks and the Environment
“After a decade of poor upkeep and outright neglect, my administration is proud to have kept our promise by transforming our park system into vibrant destinations for our children and families,” County Executive Mangano said. “In Nassau’s backyard, Eisenhower Park, we joined with the League of YES in opening two new athletic fields with turf designed for walkers, wheelchairs and individuals with prosthetics. New playgrounds were also constructed in Eisenhower, including a second playground designed specifically for differently-abled children.”
Another public-private partnership led to the building of indoor twin ice skating rinks and an outdoor rink known as Northwell Health Ice Center in Eisenhower Park – at no cost to taxpayers. The facility hosts official NY Islander practices, youth hockey leagues and share their profits with taxpayers.
Mangano went on to speak about investing in the County’s overall environment, with the largest project taking place at the South Shore Water Reclamation Facility in Bay Park, where funds are being invested to protect waterways and surrounding communities from nitrogen. “From these efforts, to the preservation of land, installation of solar energy and the conversion of traffic lights to LED, our environmental record is one of our many continued successes,” he said. “With assistance from local water districts, as well as the Towns of Oyster Bay and Hempstead, we continue to apply pressure on the State and Federal governments to ensure the safety of our residents and drinking water.”
The Mangano administration is also working with the Department of Environmental Conservation and Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen the seven-mile barrier island (Point Lookout, Lido Beach, Long Beach, Atlantic Beach and East Atlantic Beach) from new dunes to new berms and jetties to protect that shoreline.
Reiterating fulfilled pledges
“Nassau is the place to be as our quality of life is second to none,” Mangano said in closing. “We kept our commitment to transform our parks, and the improvements we made have resulted in some of America’s finest parks and recreational facilities. Together, we have renewed our war on drugs by transforming the way in which we combat addiction. Through awareness, education, enforcement and treatment, we have put the programs in place to keep families whole. With families and seniors always on our minds, we kept our commitment to hold the line on property taxes by freezing them 6 out of 7 years. We committed to reducing the size of government, and we succeeded by eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars in waste. We formed public-private partnerships to save taxpayers millions more, and succeeded in gaining privately funded improvements to our parks, museums and entertainment venues. We saved millions more through labor concessions and have strengthened the County’s finances more than any prior administration. We have upgraded our wastewater facilities and strengthened shorelines while protecting marine life. We have transformed County infrastructure through investments in roadways, downtowns and police precincts. And, we kept our commitment to our veterans by honoring their sacrifice and serving them better than ever before.”
“There is so much to be proud of, and Nassau residents have much to look forward to!” the County Executive said. “We have earned awards for government performance and efficiencies, public-private partnerships, safer roadways, transit-oriented housing, environmental improvements, excellence in public health, and for our work in combatting the heroin epidemic. Friends, this team has succeeded in making Nassau County a better place to live, work and raise a family.”
“Together, they have tackled the status quo and defied the critics, who – in the name of politics – seek to hold back our County from progress. I thank them, and our entire County workforce, for the good work they perform day in, and day out.
And, I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your County Executive!”