In the reconstituted Legislative District 7, two-term incumbent Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) is being challenged by Democrat Lisa Daniels, an East Rockaway resident.
After county redistricting, the 7th is now comprised of Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Harbor, East Rockaway, Rockville Centre and Oceanside. It previously included Inwood, South Valley Stream and Bay Park.
How should the county better monitor the Bay Park Swage Treatment Plant to help ensure that it operates without causing harm ton the environment?
Kopel: Before Sandy, County Executive Ed Mangano, Councilman Anthony Santino and I made real headway overcoming my predecessor’s and the previous administration’s long neglect. The plant actually recently won an engineering award and operated for the longest time in recent memory without any DEC-reportable incident. The plant runs now, but is held together by luck and the ingenuity of county public works personnel. Federal money is available to rebuild the plant, raise its elevation and ensure it doesn’t foul our water and air.
Daniels: In 2007, the Democratic majority in the Legislature approved a five-year, $700 million plan for upgrades to the sewer treatment plants; $270 million was spent on improvements in 2008-’09. The Republican administration halted repairs in 2010. This neglect caused a sewage leak for seven months in 2010 and 65 million gallons of sewage being released after Hurricane Sandy. To prevent further harm, repairs and upgrades must be expedited with quarterly hearings to monitor progress. This year, almost $300 million was allocated to repair Bay Park, yet repairs have yet to begun. The remaining $430 million allocated in 2007 is uncounted for.
What needs to be changed regarding Nassau’s assessment system to make it fair and reasonable for residents and the county?
Kopel: Nassau’s assessment system has been a mess for many years, following a failed $70 million investment by the prior Suozzi administration in a computer system. It got so bad that the then County Assessor challenged his own assessment! Strenuous efforts are being made to settle grievances as quickly as possible.
The biggest problem is high taxes (County taxes are only about 17 percent of overall real estate taxes while school taxes encompass over 60 percent.) A great deal of this is caused by unfair state rules on school aid as well as limits on governmental ability to effectively bargain with workers. We need to change this.
Daniels: Tax assessments should be based upon annual fair market value to provide accurate valuations and reduce challenges. We also need to budget for refunds. Tax assessment refunds were traditionally bonded, not budgeted, which has resulted in a $400 million backlog. We need to accurately budget for refunds to lower our debt. Grievances must be handled within the calendar year filed. Tax bills come out in January, and grievances not finalized before the next January tax bill is issued creates a pattern of multiple-year grievances, costing the county more money in refunds and interest payments.
How can the county improve to help restore services quicker and get resident and businesses to receive assistance faster after a disaster such as a hurricane?
Kopel: The county’s response to Sandy and the efforts of the great majority of other local governments and first responders, such as police, firefighters, EMS personnel and CERT members were admirable. A huge problem was LIPA’s incompetence and inability to provide services. I am ensuring that the county has more items that will aid in the event of another prolonged power outage, such as emergency lighting and other supplies. Also, we must repair and upgrade the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant and harden our infrastructure to minimize the power and other facilities knocked out of action by disasters.
Daniels: Elected officials should be present after emergencies as conduits between state and federal agencies and Emergency Management offices and their constituents. A county database is necessary to track residents impacted or displaced from any kind of disaster. The database would include information about the damage sustained, agencies contacted and the status of FEMA and insurance claims. By pulling this information, the county will be able to better help residents.
Why are you running?
Kopel: I am proud of my accomplishments, but much work still remains. Infrastructure and facilities, such as the Bay Park plant, and damaged homes and businesses must be rebuilt. I want to restore the quality of life that brought so many people to Nassau County. I am happiest when a constituent calls my office and I can help solve a problem. Most importantly, it’s critical to continue my record of holding taxes down. We have frozen overall county taxes for four years running and increased efficiencies. I intend to continue to take care of taxpayer money as I do my own money.
Daniels: I grew up on the South Shore, and raised my children blocks from where I grew up. I have two children in collee and wonder if they can return to live and work in Nassau. What was once the epitome of suburbia has become ‘suburgatory.’ Waterways are polluted, storefronts are vacant and it is to expensive to live here. Mr. Kopel voted to divide the Five Towns, East Rockaway, Oceanside and Rockville Centre, failed to implement funded repairs to our sewer plants, shelved a traffic study done in 2009, and voted to consolidate the police department. I want to make progress for Nassau without politics.